For the past 20 years, Blue has been a pony at Pimlico Race Course. He is quite a contrast to the sleek Thoroughbreds. He is highly visible with his dynamic black and white coat and his startling “Paul Newman” blue eyes. He has a huge head that sometimes looks like it belongs on a different horse. His pink, leathery lips are loose, and his mouth always seems to be open. He can be a challenge to photograph because from some viewpoints, he is somewhat dinosaur-like. Yet he has a certain cache about him. Not exactly a swagger, but he is blessed with a presence that belies his unconventional appearance.
Blue is owned by Maryland resident Sharon Greenberg, who takes a week off from her job with the Baltimore County Department of Health to pony at the Preakness. She started ponying at Pimlico and Laurel around 1983. It took time, but she started picking up accounts and began her ponying business in 2003. She loves being involved with the Preakness and is a great ambassador for the sport. She enjoys bringing her “Grey Horse” and Blue to the Sunrise at Old Hilltop Tours. “This is Maryland’s week to shine in horse racing. We take great pride in making it work in our world.”
She purchased Blue in 2003. He was foaled on April 14, 1997. He is a registered American Paint horse named Shadows Amigo (out of Storm Shadow, by Deal Me Amigo). Greenberg said that originally he was chestnut and white, but his papers were changed to reflect his black and white coat.
A trainer at Pimlico had him out in a field. He told Sharon, “I’m thinking about making that big jughead into a pony.” The trainer had a person try to break him and said Blue just ran off with him. Another person tried to break him. It didn’t go well. He went to Charlestown to a third person. “She broke him into being a pony. I watched them work a couple of races and said, ‘OK! I will buy him now!’ ”
When Greenberg went to pick him up, he was “skinny, all ribs and hips with girth sores.” That is how he got his name. Sharon immediately thought of the scene in the movie “Cool Hand Luke.” The sheriff is holding his skinny, limp Bloodhound in his arms and says plaintively, “Look at what you did to my dog Blue.” Sharon knew that this would be her “Blue.” She brought him home for some TLC. He immediately bonded with her pony Pumpkin. “They became besties.”
Greenberg calls Blue “an earth horse because he is very attuned to the earth. He loves to live outside. He knows how to take care of himself. Other horses will stand out in the rain shivering and he is not. You can’t put a blanket on him until it’s about 5 degrees. He just does not get cold. He could live off grass. He’s very sensitive. He makes friends with any other horse that he meets.”
Is he smart? “He’s smart enough to know that he didn’t enjoy ponying. He never really did. When he was younger (until a few years ago) no matter where he was, he was the alpha. He was never mean about it. He would just lay down the law with his presence. He’s never been a violent horse. He doesn’t kick. Blue has a way about him with other horses. If another horse is annoying him in the field, he backs up to them, raises his butt and pushes them back. He’s very personable.”
“Blue likes the young girls. Once they get up next to him, they settle down. He has a great presence for the 2-year-old fillies. He has a quiet demeanor.” Several years ago, Blue shared a field with an ancient Paint horse. “Blue brought him back to life. He would pick up sticks and hit the horse with it until he would grab the other end and then they would play tug of war. He even started jogging around. He really brought the old horse back to life!”
Now retired from ponying, Blue returns to the track every year for NBC analyst Donna Brothers. Greenberg gives him a tune-up spin on the track and tacks him up for Brothers use during her jockey interviews.
Brothers enjoys his presence. “He’s one of those horses that just has a calming effect on the horses around him. Case in point, on Black-Eyed Susan day, as the horses were in the paddock, for the BES, they had a massive marching band on the turf course – and they were loud!
“All of the lead ponies and a couple of the outrider ponies were scattering to get away. None of the horses wanted to be the one closest to the marching band. I quietly walked Blue over to the edge, where he would be the horse closest to the marching band and every other horse would have him between them and the band. Blue wasn’t super happy about the assignment because he wasn’t fond of the band either, but he quickly got what I was asking him to do. He also quickly realized that, while the band was indeed loud, they were not posing any immediate threat.
“Blue dutifully stood stock still between the marching band and the rest of the horses, and one by one the horses nearest him began to settle down which sent a ripple effect into the rest of the ‘herd,’ and they too began to relax. To be sure none of them were loving the situation, but Blue’s calm presence seemed to settle them just enough – and just in time! Because it was right at that point that the field for the Black-Eyed Susan began to walk onto the track (from the tunnel) and these lead horses needed to be ready to provide a calming effect on the 3-year-old fillies who also didn’t love the marching band.
“Blue may be 23 years old (or so), but his desire is still there. If I ask him to take off galloping, I will not have to ask him twice – he loves it! So, while he’s old in terms of a lead horse, he still loves to be on the track with the other horses and he still loves to take off into an open gallop.”
Blue has also caught the eye of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He turned to Greenberg as he was loading his horse trailer and pointed to Blue. “Am I taking him with me?” Lukas has high praise for Blue. “It’s very rare that we find a pony horse that excels at what he does with that many years of riding. I have always liked Blue and only wish that she would have sold him to me many years ago. He’s special!”
Greenberg loves her “big jughead. He’s family. Everybody loves Blue. When I think of Blue, I think of a peace sign. To me, he’s a hippie.” That is high praise for an unconventional horse who is successful his own way.