Running in five prep races on the 2014 Road to the Kentucky Derby trail, Big Bazinga was a familiar face that Triple Crown prep season, though he never ran in any of the classics.
While Big Bazinga never saw stakes company again after finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, the gelding raced for four more years and posted eight wins and seven on the board finishes in 33 starts before his retirement last November.
That is when Kristina Keilty stepped in to “Ben’s” life and he began his journey to the Retired Racehorse Project’s (RRP) Thoroughbred Makeover.
"My close friend and barn manager work together to retrain and rehome a number of Thoroughbreds each year,” Keilty explained. “Big Bazinga was a horse offered to us by a trainer we know at Woodbine. We have placed a number of horses for her and currently have Ben and two others from her.”
While Ben wasn’t the only Thoroughbred in the barn, he was the only one eligible for this year’s Makeover, so Keilty decided to take a shot at showing what he could do in a second career. She originally entered the gelding in the Show Hunter and Dressage disciplines but made the decision to switch to Freestyle from Dressage after getting to know his personality.
“I have been following RRP since it started and thought, hey why not apply,” she said. “When Ben came he was fairly body sore and foot sore so it took a good portion of the winter for him to become sound and ready to tackle a new career. The whole process of developing him was something I was going to be doing for him anyway to help him find his next rider, and having a goal of attending RRP was just a bonus for his training.”
While Ben has settled into retired life after nearly a year away from the track, Keilty wasn’t sure how he’d do early on. A high energy horse at the track, Ben was originally anxious in his stall, but Keilty learned that as soon as he came out to be groomed or ridden, he turned into a different horse.
“Once I started to get to know him and realized despite his quirks, he is very eager, brave and unphased by much under saddle I thought this guy might just be my first RRP horse. We struggled with soundness and weight at the beginning, and it took him some time to adjust after being at the track for six years, it was a whole new life for him. Under saddle we struggled with the right direction, he has had a hard time with the canter lead and having smooth corners, but as we have focused on building his muscles evenly it is starting to come together,” she said.
Keilty is excited to show at the Makeover but she admits there is some pressure to hit every milestone on the training schedule in order to be ready for the show.
“I think you add a bit more pressure and expectation, you want RRP to be a successful and fun experience and I think because of that you can get in your head a bit in terms of where you should be in your training,” she said. “When you are just developing a horse for a new career you develop them on their own timeline and ability, but RRP gives you a deadline. That being said I think having a goal keeps you driven and focused, and for me and Ben it has kept our training on track and he has really met all of my milestones as we have developed together.”
While there is some pressure, Keilty also says seeing Ben thrive in his new career is something that she feels is her biggest accomplishment with him so far. An anxious horse at the track, he has taken to his new life like a duck to water and has quickly shown how brave and willing he is to work.
“For us the biggest accomplishment has been seeing Ben transition from a high anxiety track horse into a happy chill riding horse,” she said. “It really is amazing the change in some horses once they settle into their new careers. I have been thrilled with how Ben has taken to jumping, bravely jumping anything in front of him, but the true accomplishment is just seeing him become a happy and healthy horse.”
When asked about her favorite thing about the gelding since since has shown another side to himself, Keilty said that she's been impressed by his bravery and work ethic as well as his newfound calm demanor.
“I love all Thoroughbreds for their work ethic, they are such a driven and talented breed and crave routine, focus and work,” she said. “Ben has a quirky personality and I have enjoyed seeing him settle from his high intensity track energy into a pretty mellow guy. His bravery, though, has been great, he really takes everything in stride. I love seeing what new [routines] we can try to keep things interesting and he is always willing.”
A graded stakes-placed runner with nearly $285,000 in earnings, Big Bazinga is well on his way to making his second career even more successful than his first when he tackles the Makeover on Oct. 2–5 at the Kentucky Horse Park while looking for his next owner to help him reach new heights.