This past week in Lexington, Ky., the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover took place at the picturesque Kentucky Horse Park, where 403 racehorses competed in various disciplines, showcasing their versatility and readability. Some horses boasted graded accolades and earnings in the six figures for their careers, while others never reached the starting gate. Still, a common thread was showcased on the grounds — the love for the Thoroughbred and their ability to transition to a new career after running on the oval.
This year, the grand prize was taken by Alison O’Dwyer and the 4-year-old American Pharoah gelding Knockemdown. The duo competed in the dressage division, leading from start to finish and capping their weekend with the overall winning performance.
Bred in Kentucky by Fifth Avenue Bloodstock, Knockemdown never passed through the starting gates but was putting in workouts at Turfway Park during his juvenile year before the decision was made to send him to O’Dwyer.
“I’ve had Thoroughbreds for so long; it’s great to see how much recognition they’re finally getting across all disciplines,” O’Dwyer said. “I was familiar with Thoroughbreds from my background in eventing, but it’s nice to see how many other people appreciate the breed and see the breed talked about in the way of a sport horse or show horse. Outside of racing, it’s great that articles are being written about them and spreading the joy, which is one of the big things the Makeover has done.”
The Retired Racehorse Project has done just that, offering a platform to facilitate the placement of ex-racehorses into second careers in the sport horse world.
This year marked the fourth time O’Dwyer brought a horse to compete at the Thoroughbred Makeover. Alison and her husband, trainer Jerry O’Dwyer, reside in Lake Worth, Fla. Her other mount this week, Ratajkowski, a 9-year-old mare by Drosselmeyer, competed in the dressage division as well. The chestnut was a two-time stakes winner for owner Gary Broad at 5 and 6.
“It was really special to win the overall champion because I’ve been in that arena a few times before, at the end of the night, after a very long week and not gotten it before,” she commented. “I like that the judges of all disciplines had to vote. It was intriguing and nice to think that a judge of a discipline other than dressage also appreciated my horse. I took that as a huge compliment.”
Being a Grade 1 winner and earner of more than $3 million is quite an achievement, and for Arklow, adding the Field Hunter Champion title, People’s Choice, Black Type, and Top Kentucky-Bred awards all seemed in a day’s work for the Arch gelding.
Local Long Run Woodford Hounds fox hunter Gina Gans piloted Donegal Racing and Joseph Bulger’s multiple graded stakes winner through the paces this week, securing the final marks to crown them champion in their division.
“This was my first year doing it, and I’m kind of lucky the first year was with such a special horse,” Gans recalled. “He shined all week and showed what he’s made out of. It was special that so many people came out to see him; fans and his breeders, John and Frank Penn, came out. Tessa [Walden] came out from the track; she was with him for a lot of years with Brad Cox.”
Under Cox’s tutelage Arklow won the American Turf Stakes, Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup, Kentucky Turf Cup twice, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Hollywood Turf Cup, and Louisville Stakes. The Kentucky-bred boasts a record of 9-9-2 in 39 starts while bankrolling $3,025,996.
“It was unbelievable, the fans that came out and saw him and the impact that he had on everybody when he ran,” Gans said. “It was a good spotlight on the racehorses and shows how they can race until they’re 8 years old and people care about them and love them.”
She added some insight into what helped her retired racehorse seamlessly transition into a second career: “Definitely his brain. Almost all of them are plenty athletic to do what we want to do with them, not just foxhunting, but other disciplines too. His brain is so good, so smart; he’s on a different level. I’ve been around a few millionaires on the track, and they’re all on a different level. They think differently than most horses.”
A familiar face at The Thoroughbred Center, Caraway Racing’s own Emma Mulvey brought two horses to compete this past week. The stakes-placed League of Shadows, by Gotham City, in the Competitive Trail division, and Previouslytraindby, an unraced 5-year-old mare by Orb, in both Eventing and Dressage.
“This organization is incredible; this is a great event they put on yearly,” Mulvey said. “It’s friendly and welcoming, and everyone here is here for the same cause. Everybody is so supportive, and it’s great to see these horses you see at the track come out and do events like competitive trail, barrel racing, ranch work, or jumping. It makes you re-fall in love with the breed I work with every day, with a different perspective on it.”
Mulvey works with her trainer husband, Caio Caramori, from breezing a horse to being an owner and bookkeeper out of their home base here in Lexington. Both horses came from their program after retiring from the track.
“With Bee [Previouslytrainedby], from the first day I sat on her, I thought she was a phenomenal mover; she has a lot of suspension,” said Mulvey. “The other guys didn’t want to ride her; she throws you up out of the tack and has a nice big gallop to her. I wanted her from Day 1, and you don’t get on one every day that moves as well as her.
“Shadow had a much longer racing career; he retired at 8. He is a stakes-placed, multiple winner with the personality that made him everyone’s favorite at the track. He was easy to ride and do things with, so when he finished, I played around with him to see what he wanted to do, and he’s been super. He likes having a job again after having a year off from racing; I think he was bored.”
This was the third time Mulvey has brought horses to the Thoroughbred Makeover and the first time as a mother of three. Both horses are listed for sale and can be found here.
When you think of the Thoroughbred, you think of stamina, speed, and power, and Jesslyn Woodall’s mount for the RRP exudes all three qualities in spades. The 4-year-old gelding Storm Threat didn’t showcase those traits while on the track in Texas, but he is making up for it now, making a splash in the eventing world.
This past week, the striking dark bay affectionately renamed Ted Lasso showed up in the ring and on the cross-country course for Woodall, who has had him in training since April of this year. Ted has competed in six novice events, qualified for the American Eventing Championships, and the Real Rider Cup, where he had the fastest time of the day.
“He didn’t have enough desire or speed to be a racehorse, but he’s turning into an awesome sport horse,” commented Woodall. “It just goes to show that any horse can do this; they can be a flop as a racehorse. He has probably gone faster on the cross-country course than on the racetrack. He is thriving in this sport and has a great brain. He’s very game, and we are working on technique.”
Woodall, seen from afar in her trademark teal attire, used to gallop horses at WinStar Farm and Margaux Farm before desk jockeying for Kim Nardelli. This year was the first time Woodall brought a horse to the RRP.
“Some of them don’t have the best upbringing, but if you give them the right environment, they can thrive,” Woodall said of the retired Thoroughbreds. “You have to have patience, and unfortunately, in today’s world, it’s a lot more restraining and less training. If you can find a really good horseman who teaches the horse and has a good relationship with the horse, they teach each horse differently, depending on what that horse needs. Not all horses are cookie cutter, and every horse has talent; it’s just finding what will let it thrive.”