Imagine being at a horse show and hearing over the loudspeaker: "And next in the ring is Mine That Bird!" Don't tell me that wouldn't send you running ringside to watch.
Icabad Crane placed third in the Preakness before transitioning to an eventing career.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
While living in Kentucky I have met many people who ride Thoroughbreds. They perform successfully in hunters, jumpers, dressage, fox hunting, polo, and, of course, eventing. But take a look at any of these horses' bloodlines and race records and you'll typically notice a few common themes: won little to no money; didn't even start; has pedigree no one wanted to pay for at the sales. And while it's great that equestrians are giving these racetrack duds new lives and careers, aren't you at least a little bit curious to know what a top racehorse could be capable of in, say, the grand prix ring?
Sure, there are the obvious reasons why the Zenyattas and Curlins of the world retire without pursuing other endeavors. Maybe their talents and pedigrees are worth a mint in the breeding shed. Or the wear and tear on their bodies from long and decorated racing careers limits their future physical abilities. Then there's the fact that horse racing is a business, and most owners would rather reinvest their stock in breeding and sales than fund a performance career.
One exception I'm sure some of you are familiar with is Icabad Crane, winner of nearly $600,000 on the track, including a third-place finish in the 2008 Preakness Stakes. Derby-winning trainer Graham Motion and his wife recently handed the gelding's reins over to eventing great Phillip Dutton, who has already piloted him around a few events--and won! From reading Dutton's quotes and watching videos of Icabad's progress, it's clear his athleticism, class, and intelligence on the track are transferring over to eventing. It's also clear that if this horse hadn't been gelded (and sound), he never would have taken a step onto a cross-country course.
If I could turn one famous racehorse into a show jumper, it would have to be Mine That Bird.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Then there's grade I-winning millionaire Kicken Kris, who is now a fox hunter and event horse in Pennsylvania following a failed stud career in Japan. And there's Liberian Freighter, stakes winning gelding of nearly $800,000 who has been retrained as a hunter. There's champion 2-year-old Declan's Moon, participant in last year's Retired Racehorse Training Project's "100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge." He, too, is a gelding. Are you now seeing the common theme among top racehorses that do go on to second careers?
Horses like these are few and far between. In my dream world we'd see more Classic contenders in the show ring. At the top of my list of famous racehorses I'd love to turn into show jumpers is (you guessed it) Mine That Bird. I always loved his expression and demeanor during post parades--forward and alert, with ears pricked, yet walking on a loose rein. And his canter and gallop always looked so balanced. I'd also love to ride any number of famous runners with head-turning trots into the hunter ring.
So, in the spirit of Triple Crown season, if you could turn any famous racehorse into a sport horse, who would it be and why?