On a muggy afternoon in July, the infield at Pimlico Race Course rumbled with the sound of galloping hooves of a different kind—an all-Thoroughbred horse show designed to showcase the versatility of the breed and raise funds for rehoming organizations.
“Don’t take off; you’re not a race horse anymore!” a girl is overheard saying as she leads her bay Thoroughbred across the track and into the infield at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md. The horse was one of more than 300 taking part in the first Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show, a show-hunter style competition limited to Thoroughbreds that took place on July 14 at the home of the Preakness Stakes.
The competition was conceived by Georgeann Hale, racing secretary for the Maryland Jockey Club, and Stacie Clark-Rogers, of Adena Springs Retirement Program, to raise awareness and funds for various charities that try to help racing Thoroughbreds move on to second careers. The day featured seven classes, from leadline to a 3' over fences class, and all horses competed under their Jockey Club names.
For the most part, the ex-racers seemed to consider it just another horse show—one that happened to take place in the infield of a racetrack. The riders, however, were a different story.
Hillary Hytken of Olney, Md., stopped her mount Wild About Harry under a sign marking the intersection of Secretariat St. and Affirmed Ave. and asked a friend to snap a photograph. “Because it’s cool!” she exclaimed, beaming under the sign.
Hytken, who rides with Rolling Acres Farm in Brookville, Md., normally shows “Harry” (who competes under the name D’Orsay) in the high/low children’s/adult jumpers, and he has also evented through training level.
“Today he’s masquerading as a hunter, and doing a pretty good job!” she joked. The pair placed fourth and second in two under saddle classes. The 11-year-old gelding, who was Breeders Cup nominated, is by Wild Rush and out of Ashlea’s Debut.
“He’s the only Thoroughbred at my barn, and I want to get another one,” she said, adding that she wanted to attend the show to support the Thoroughbred industry, and especially to promote the horses’ abilities in other sports.
“I felt it was important to put my money where my mouth is,” she said. “These horses are too talented, too kind, and too many of them get destroyed before we know what they can do.”
The day was a celebration of all things Thoroughbred—t-shirts and hats were for sale emblazoned with the show’s logo, leadline competitors donned jockey silks and goggles, and competitors were invited to chalk messages or their horses’ names on large blackboards set up by the main ring. By the end of the day, the boards were full of inscriptions and doodles. The show announcer read a proclamation from Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, declaring the day “Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show Day,” and paying tribute to the long history of racing in the state.
The passion shown by the owners of these repurposed racehorses surprised even the organizers. By the Wednesday before the show, show manager Hale realized she was going to need to add a third ring and had to scramble to secure more jumps and another judge. There were about 800 total entries, and around 200 of them were added the morning of the show, making for a hectic start to a competition day that started with heavy downpours and lasted almost until sunset.
“It was a long day, but everyone enjoyed themselves,” Hale said. She noted that almost all of the competitors were from the Mid-Atlantic states, proving that the region has a wide customer base of potential competitors for such shows. She plans to run the show again in 2013, although perhaps as a two-day event to accommodate more competitors.
An Inspired Idea
Hale and Clark-Rogers hatched the idea about a year ago, when Clark-Rogers asked for a meeting to discuss how to raise money for Thoroughbred retirement and rehoming efforts. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a horse show?’ ” Hale recalled. Pimlico, where Hale is the director of racing, was the logical choice—it boasted an expansive infield, and the facility sits unused after the Preakness each May. Stabling was plentiful, and of course there was the allure of riding across the track where Triple Crown winners once galloped.
Hale traveled to Lexington, Va., to watch one of the Thoroughbred Celebration shows held at the Virginia Horse Center, taking notes on how the concept could be adapted for Pimlico. She decided to keep the show simple with just seven classes—a leadline and walk class, open to children ages 6 and under, and 10 and under, respectively; walk/trot and walk/trot/canter under saddle classes, and 1', 2' and 3' over fences classes. She asked friend and colleague Rodney Jenkins, former show jumping star and current trainer of race horses at Laurel Park, to be one of the judges, along with eventer Steuart Pittman Jr., president of the board of directors of the Retired Racehorse Training Project. Leonard Hale also agreed to judge when it became clear the number of entries would require adding a third ring.
Pittman judged the flat classes, which were all split into three sections to accommodate the large number of entries. “All the judges were good sports, but he had the hardest job,” said Hale with a chuckle.
Pittman turned down offers to take a break or find a substitute to spell him and kept the mood light into a hot and muggy afternoon with some added commentary over the bullhorn. “Did you ever see so many laid-back horses? Downright lazy!” he joked during one of the flat classes.