Welcome to the Thanksgiving week edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track.
Each Tuesday in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past week, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next Tuesday’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
As for this week, we’ll look back at an early Thanksgiving present for a gallant racehorse.
We’re at a time of year when people give thanks for the important things in life, which aptly describes a charitable action by some owners to take care of one of their former horses.
This story involves Divine Oath, a 6-year-old gelding who won a pair of Grade 3 turf stakes earlier in his career but whose form has declined noticeably in the last few months.
On Nov. 18 at Parx, he finished seventh in a $7,500 claimer, a humble spot for a horse with career earnings of more than $500,000.
Now owned by trainer David Jacobson and Clark Brewster, Divine Oath was quickly re-entered in a Thanksgiving Day $10,000 claimer at Aqueduct, which raised concern among the gelding’s former owners, West Point Thoroughbreds and Bob Masiello.
Calls were put in to Jacobson, who told them he no plans to run Divine Oath in the race. He had merely entered Divine Oath in the race so that it would be carded.
West Point and Masiello had approached Jacobson previously, telling them about their willingness to buy Divine Oath from him when the gelding’s racing career was at end and place him in an aftercare home. After the dull performance at Parx and with turf racing virtually at end in 2017, Jacobson and Brewster knew that time was at hand and they worked out an agreement with Masiello and West Point to send Divine Oath to South Jersey Thoroughbred Rescue and Adoption in Pennington, N.J., to begin a new life away from the racetrack.
“(Jacobson and Brewster) were 100 percent behind what we did and we worked out a fair deal to do what was in the best interest of the horse,” Masiello said.
The actions by West Point and Masiello, with some help from trainer Graham Motion, become even more exemplary in light of their association with Divine Oath. They did not own him during his glory days. Instead they bought him in the summer of 2015 for $270,000, after he became a multiple graded stakes winner.
He was second in the 2015 President’s Cup at Parx Racing, a $200,000 stakes, in his first start for Motion and his new connections but then was no better than fifth in his next five starts, with a layoff of more than a year mixed in to help him fill out and recover from some minor injuries.
He finally was placed in a $25,000 claimer on July 2 of this year and was claimed by Jacobson out of a third-place finish as Masiello and West Point suffered an overall loss at least $200,000 on the gelding.
Divine Oath failed to improve under Jacobson’s care, leading to last week’s decision by all involved to do what is in the best interest of the horse.
“I don’t deserve any credit for what happened,” Masiello said. “It was the right thing to do. We’re not the only people who do this. There are a lot of people who do it but don’t get publicity for it.”
Masiello was quick to credit the work of Erin Birkenhauer, the West Point’s racing manager and the daughter of founder Terry Finley, in keeping tabs on old West Point horses and letting the new owners know of the syndicate’s interest in caring for the horses after their racing careers.
“Erin really is at the forefront of this,” Masiello said, “and West Point is very committed to making sure all of its horses, new and old, receive the proper care. They do it all the time.”
In the long run, as much Divine Oath was the recipient of this charitable act, Masiello hopes the attention it sparks will help other horses in the twilight of their racing careers.
“I’d be happy if others hear about this and more people become more active in aftercare programs,” Masiello said. “That would make all of this even more worthwhile.”
And with that, happy Thanksgiving, folks.
The Also-Eligible List
Here are some of the other stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: