And The Winner Is…
Each of the three judges—Wofford, Conrad and Alex Brown, a racehorse exercise rider and assistant trainer who wrote the book Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy—complimented the trainers on their work. Wofford made a particular point to commend them on the horses’ coats and overall condition.
Each judge had 100 points to award, and Brown kicked off the evaluation by giving Catledge the majority of his points, 55. He awarded Dierks 30 points and Blackmer 15. Wofford gave 20 points to each horse in recognition of their excellent work, then gave his last 20 points to Dierks. “I thought that horse was the most typical of what people think of in an off-the-track Thoroughbred. She’s a difficult ride, and Eric has done a very good job to being her along,” Wofford said.
Conrad praised each of the trainers on their work, and she noted that Tempyst might be the one she’d steal if she had a chance. She gave Catledge 40 points, and then Dierks and Blackmer 30 points each.
After the points were tallied, Dierks was declared the winner. He’ll receive a portrait of a horse of his choice from noted equine artist Leland Neff. When asked what horse he’ll choose for the portrait, Dierks recalled Stonehedge Heritage, an off-the-track Thoroughbred he evented to the four-star level. “His barn name was Kibbles, because he was actually on the way to the meat wagon,” Dierks said. “But we turned him out real quick and chased him, and he had this gorgeous, floating trot. I think I paid $800 for him, and he took me to the Rolex Kentucky CCI****.”
All About The Education
After the riders had put their horses away, they all returned to the RRTP booth in the Expo area, along with judges Conrad and Brown and three of the horses’ owners—Pat Dale, Bev Strauss and Robin Coblyn. They each shared their impressions of the experience with a whole gaggle of fans that crowded the booth. I even overheard Brown giving advice to a teenage girl who described trouble she’d been having mounting her off-the-track Thoroughbred.
Brown noted that the racehorse world has been watching the RRTP trainer challenge with a great deal of interest. Flyers about the program were distributed on tracks, and many racehorse people tuned in to the live web broadcast of the final. "This is really what the industry needs. I think a lot of racing trainers don't really know what horses can do after a race career, so to see what can happen in a month is brilliant," Brown said. Pittman noted that several exercise riders and others who had worked with the RRTP challenge horses during their racing days had been following them via videos and blogs and had emailed their support.
After the conclusion of the challenge, all four horses were offered for sale. Solidify returned to Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue in Chesapeake City, Md., with Strauss. High Level, owned by Jim Falk, returned to Catledge’s Middleburg, Va., farm to continue training. Tempyst, owned by Robin Coblyn, stayed with Blackmer in Adamstown, Md., and Brazilian Wedding returned to owner Pat Dale’s Three Plain Bays Farm in Conowingo, Md.
Pittman crafted the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s mission statement, which stated its purpose as “an effort to increase demand for retired Thoroughbred racehorses as pleasure and sport horses through public events, clinics, training publications, videos and Internet tools. Our mission is to facilitate the placement of retired Thoroughbred racehorses in second careers by educating the public about the history, distinctive characteristics, versatility of use, and appropriate care and training of the iconic American Thoroughbred.”
The trainer challenge, by giving a multitude of fans an inside look into the first few weeks of an off-the-track Thoroughbred’s conversion to sport horse, definitely fit that bill.
Pittman revealed that while plans weren’t finalized, there will be a RRTP event held on April 28, the Saturday evening of the Rolex Kentucky CCI****. He plans to combine an educational event with the marketing of some Kentucky Throroughbreds, held at the facility of the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program near the Kentucky Horse Park.
Pittman didn’t rule out the possibility of a second RRTP trainer challenge, and he discussed the possibility of an upcoming program in which riders in different situations—professionals and amateurs–would choose an off-the-track Throroughbred on their own to participate.