Monday, September 17, 2018

Now, He's Just Immortal

By the time this post is published I will have been to visit Justify at Winstar Farm in Versailles. Kentucky.  My wife and I will take as many pictures of the horse I've called "the living statue" as possible and add the best ones later.  We'll keep the crappy ones on our computer and no one will be the wiser.

None of the photos taken by his admiring fans have captured his imposing size, 16.3".  Nor does the poor light of Winstar's viewing area do justice to the beauty of the copper coat that stretches across his ribs, or the muscle mass gathered in knots beneath skin that threatens to rupture. 


This is Justify.

No, in most of the photographs he seems to slouch, his muscular frame a bit atrophied, his color washed out and his expression dull and lifeless.  Perhaps he is mortal and not the mountain I have seen bolting from a starting gate, dashing to the lead and carrying his speed until that speed breaks the horses in his wake.  His turn of foot reminds me a good bit of California Chrome and like Chrome, the innate ability to turn back the pressure that came to him.  To Bob Baffert the key to each of Justify's six races was the same: Justify had to get away cleanly from the starting gate.  With Baffert the strategist and the tactician, Mike Smith aboard, Justify romped, with strides thought to be longer than Secretariat's, to 9-1/2 and 6-1/2 length margins in his first two races.


Justify jumping tracks in the mud at the Preakness.


But wait a minute, his six consecutive wins were not enough for many.  One of the chief complaints, one most champions have had to reckon with, the caliber of his competition.  Yet those in the know felt the 2018 Derby field to be the strongest in many years.  He is a proven winner on dirt, whether dry or in the primordial glop of Churchill Downs, or the Preakness.  And in the Santa Anita Derby he ran with a sprung shoe (I understand that is not uncommon). Proving that he could run at the front or stalk from just off the lead as he did in the Derby, haunting Promises Fulfilled before leaving him in his wake.


A loose shoe on Justify's right front during the 2018 Santa Anita Derby.


2018 Kentucky Derby

If the lack of quality competition were not indictment enough, here are some comments about Justify's confirmation that appeared in a thoroughbred chat room that I belong to...and sometime wish I didn't.  No names though.  

Lovely shoulder.

I don't like him.  I honestly cringed when I saw it.  Post-legged behind, very upright pasterns...but his front legs seem off.  (Off what, his body?) Nice hip, but I still don't like the appearance of his hindquarters.

I like the length of his neck.  Pretty face.  He is nothing compared to American Pharoah.

Wouldn't pay a cent to breed to him.

...but a horse with confirmation like that, who had physical problems as a yearling, wasn't sound enough to race at two and retired unsound after four months at the track...  I wouldn't send a mare to him even if he was at $20,000.

...it will take an impressive mare to throw a foal that doesn't have some of his more major faults.

...looks like a typical Ghostzapper.

I will add that some of the comments are made by former race track denizens, exercise riders, grooms and several who specialize in breeding and confirmation.

When asked where they would rank Justify among the thirteen Triple Crown winners, the groups were equally unkind.  Most ranked Justify near the bottom of the list and one ranked him ahead of American Pharoah.  This person is usually unhappy if their ice-cream is cold.  One thoughtful person said, "Not bottom, but not top. Still a really great horse who could have probably gone a lot farther later in his career,"

Then I added my wordy two-cents worth: Its all subjective.  He is not number one, but after all he did win the Triple Crown  and I don't care what people say about him, (and I have heard and seen written a lot of sour grapes regarding him lately) he is a damn fine horse. I saw him in person on Thursday and I can tell you that having seen both CC and AP immediately upon their retirement, Justify looks much the worse for the experience. He is not a particularly pretty horse, especially when compared to AP. He is extraordinarily muscular and it is obvious that it will be months before he is no longer a race horse. He is anxious, restive and bores very easily. It is evident to me that there was and may still be a bit of a problem on his left rear. Could be just the hair, but it looked like he may have had a procedure of some kind. I could be dizzy with oxygen deprivation. I was very, very surprised that he was still wearing shoes! To me he looks tired and he may well be. 200 pounds and several months rest will make him a different horse. I really think we should all be glad that he survived. As far as ranking, well, he is in the top 13.



This is the only good photo (Including mine) that I have seen of Justify taken at Winstar.
I believe the photographer is Delana Harp Bryant.

These are my comments after seeing Justify:

I saw Justify today and I was not as impressed as I thought I might be. He is not as massive as he appears to be in most photographs, or when he is underway. The irony is that several others on the tour felt exactly the same. He also looks a little worse for wear to me, there is the cinch rub that you can see in this picture and you can tell something has been going on in the left hind. He is fit to the point of being almost too trim, perhaps a bit over trained, who knows? His muscularity is incredible however and his hind quarters are massive. His back legs have been criticized as "post legs" and having pasterns that are too upright. I looked and I looked again and I don't believe there is a major problem back there. He does have foot problems and Winstar are allowing him a lot of r & r. He seemed very restless, but you would expect that with his having so recently been in training. Part of what I observed may be answered by a comment made by the tour guide. When asked if he were being ridden, as half of the Winstar stallions are, she said that if he were saddled today he would mentally return to his last race, The Belmont. And then there is that biting thing. But when he puts on a couple of hundred pounds and is rested and begins to relax, he will be spectacular. By the way, his coat shimmers in the light. I saw both AP and CC shortly after they retired and just thought they came out of their careers in better physical shape. Mentally, who knows? They can't tell us what they are thinking or how they feel and that is the shame of it. All in all Justify is the Champ and I am still a fan.

As a horse racing fan, I am sure you have your own opinion regarding Justify and his place in horse racing history.

Listen to Larry Collmus' call of the last race of Justify's gloriously undefeated and all too short career. Pay attention to what he says of Justify as he crosses the finish line.

 "And now ,he's just immortal."



2018 Belmont Stakes with Larry Collmus' call.

Copyright September 17, 2018 by Loren SchumacherAll photo rights belong to the photographer.I will post my own shortly.

Friday, July 13, 2018

At The Post

This was a post I did for Facebook's Justify Fan Page  yesterday, July 12, 2018.  I was profoundly surprised by the overwhelming response to what I had written, and doubly surprised by the class shown in the two or three "criticisms" posted in response.

"I happened to see a picture of Barbaro yesterday and was struck by the similarities between him and Justify.  Perhaps it is just an illusion, or I've lost my mind, you can tell me, I won't mind.

Both are chiseled, ripped into elemental muscle and the sinew that holds all things together and cloaked in burnished, hand rubbed beauty.


The legend, Barbaro at the Preakness.


The living statue, Justify.

I could find no reference to Barbaro's height, although Edgar Prado, his jockey, said he stood 17 hands high, while Justify is an inch shorter at 16.3.  Even their records are the same.  Justify is undefeated at 6-0 at this point in his career.  Barbaro was undefeated with six wins entering the 2006 Preakness where he broke his right hind leg leaving the gate.  Ironically, it was the magnificent Bernardini who won the race.


Barbaro's Agony with jockey Edgar Prado.

Even though there was never a chance that Barbaro would race again, no expense was spared by his owner, Roy Jackson, in trying to save his life.  While the leg healed, it was laminitis that made euthanasia necessary after an eight month struggle.

A nursery rhyme sums up the effort expended in trying to save Barbaro's life, "...all the king's horses and all the king's men, couldn't put Humpty together again." 

His trainer, Michael Matz said, "I think the mystery will always be how good could he have been?  I'd like to think he'll be remembered as one of the best.  He certainly brought a lot of people together."

We can all hope that this is where the similarities between Barbaro and Justify end."


In the fog, Justify leaps tracks in the turf during the 2018 Preakness.


Justify.


Copyright July 12, 2018 Loren R. Schumacher
Credit for all photos goes to the photographers.  The author makes no claim to them.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Tale of Two Horses: Arrogate and Gun Runner

Before the 2017 Breeder's Cup Classic, Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey said that Arrogate, the swashbuckling hero of the Dubai World Cup, had left his best races behind him.  Bailey, for the second time on national television, mentioned that the race had taken the measure of Arrogate, had gutted him.  Fans of the horse they call Big Blue were enraged when Bailey also declared that the powerful chestnut horse Gun Runner had surpassed Arrogate.


Arrogate training at Santa Anita in February of 2017

After finishing second to to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup, Gun Runner reeled off three consecutive GI wins, including the Stephen Foster and Whitney Handicaps and the Woodward Stakes, while Arrogate stumbled to a fourth place finish in the San Diego Handicap and a much improved second in the Pacific Classic.  Before the Breeder's Cup, Gun Runner's career record stood an 10 wins in 17 starts, but he had never won at 10 furlongs (1-1/4 miles).  His trainer, Steve Asmussen said, "He's had a lot of travel, a lot of fast races, and he is better today than he has ever been."

Gun Runner

Arrogate had shown blinding speed, the ability to race on or off the pace, and to win from anywhere on the track surface, regardless of the distance.  But the Del Mar turf was his bugaboo.  Arrogate had already lost twice on the Del Mar surface and his jockey, Mike Smith said that he had difficulty getting a hold of the track. Many looked askance at his world's number one ranking yet still made him the 2-1 co-favorite with Gun Runner entering the Classic.


Dana Barnes aboard Arrogate

While training well at Del Mar, there was guarded optimism in the Arrogate camp, but Bob Baffert, seeming to hedge his bets, arrayed a four horse juggernaut against Gun Runner.  Up and comers Collected, who won the Pacific Classic this summer, West Coast, winner of the Travers Stakes and the Pennsylvania Derby, along with the improving Mubtaahij, winner of the Awesome Again Stakes, would enter the starting gate as well.

Racing from the number one post position, Arrogate veered sharply toward the rail while Gun Runner broke smartly, taking the lead with Collected in hot pursuit.  Reaching Gun Runner from his outside post position and early traffic may well have robbed Collected of the speed and stamina he would need later in the race.

On the back stretch the leaders, having run a half mile in 46 and change were never more than a half length apart.  Rounding the far turn, Collected and Gun Runner began their furious assault on the Del Mar turf, where, according to Jay Privman in a Daily Racing Form article, the jockeys, Martin Garcia on Collected and Gun Runner's Florent Geroux, began shouting at one another.  Garcia turned to Geroux and shouted, " I have a lot of horse."  "Me too," Geroux replied.  And at the quarter pole Garcia said, "Let's go."

Garcia pushed Collected away from Gun Runner because he knew "Gun Runner likes to fight."  But Gun Runner's speed, power and will proved too much.  Garcia said, "I know (knew) he'd respond.  My horse tried.  I couldn't do anything. Gun Runner is a really good horse.  He got good position, and I let my horse run a little early to get position."


A fantastic photo of Gun Runner in training.

Fighting off Collected's bid, Gun Runner pulled away to an expanding 2-1/4 length lead, winning his fifth race in six starts and earning a 117 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest of his career.  By winning the Classic he assured himself of the Horse of the Year and Champion Older Dirt Male titles.

Baffert's horse West Coast finished an improving third, while Mubtaahij drifted back to a disappointing eighth place.

Arrogate, never a factor, finished in a dead heat for fifth place with Gunnevera and afterward was lead away to begin a stallion's career.  Once his sperm was worth millions of dollars, but his fall from grace eroded his fee to $70,000.00, still a healthy price by any standard.

Perhaps Arrogate was never a great horse, but just a very good one.  Maybe our expectations for him were more than he could have ever hoped to deliver.  In a Facebook chat room early in 2017  I wrote, "There is not a horse living today that can beat Arrogate."  It is likely that when all is said and done, the only horse to beat Arrogate was Arrogate himself, broken by his herculean effort on a stifling desert night.

There is a saying, "The king is dead, long live the king."  The old saw speaks of respect for what has gone before and an orderly and respectful succession.  Arrogate is gone, but but Gun Runner remains.


Gun Runner, the Breeder's Cup Classic Champion


Copyright December 30, 2017 by Loren R. Schumacher
All photo credits belong the photographers

Today is the 17th anniversary of my father, Edward C. Schumacher's death.  This article is dedicated to his memory.  Thanks dad.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Lilac Fire/San Luis Rey Training Center/Will you help?

In recent days California has been stricken with devastating wildfires, one of which, the Thomas Fire, has consumed nearly 200,000 acres.  Almost everything in its path has been destroyed, but thankfully as of now, there seem to be no human casualties.

But in San Diego County near Bonsall, California a catastrophic wildfire struck the San Luis Rey Training Center, with tragic results.  

Trainer Martine Bellocq was critically burned trying to save her nine horses from the flames.  To date there have been 46 horses killed and most assuredly there will be more casualties in an area littered with horse farms and facilities.

Sadly one of those horses trained by Peter Miller, 3 year old California Diamond, who in 14 starts won 5 stakes races and finished second in 5 more, succumbed.


California Diamond

In their panic, a small group of horses broke through a "knockdown fence" and vanished into the surrounding hills.  Spokespersons are confident that they will be located and returned to their owners.


Panic stricken, horses flee the flames and smoke.


A volunteer tries to calm an approaching horse.

There were nearly 450 horses at San Luis Rey, and those that have survived owe their lives to the grooms and volunteers who walked into the inferno in order to save them from a hideous and tortured death.

But as always, those who have the least lose the most.  Nearly all of the grooms and other backstretch workers lost all of their possessions trying to save their beloved horses.  Many funds and truckloads of supplies and clothing have been rushed in to assist in the human recovery.

Taylor Made Farm have donated a no-guarantee season with California Chrome and will donate the booking fees before they have been collected.  The money will be used to help the track workers get back on their feet.


Panic in the alleyways of San Luis Rey (SLR).

At one time 260 of the approximately 500 horses were housed at the Del Mar race facility.   Sixty more moved just across the street from SLR to the Trifecta Equine Athletic Center, an equine rehab facility, and in recent days more have been distributed to Santa Anita and Los Alamitos.  While they wait to be reclaimed by their owners, those that need medical attention for burns receive immediate attention.  It remains to be seen what effect smoke inhalation will have on them.


Horses being loaded into trailers at San Luis Rey Training Center.

In the midst of this chaos, we should remember to say a silent prayer for the home and business owners of California, whose lives have been forever altered by the fires.  We hope that they will recover their balance and find the emotional and financial resources to jump-start their lives once more. 

In the ash and rubble of ruined dreams, some smaller stables will cease operations.  Grooms and trainers will find other jobs in the racing community, but they will never again be in charge of their own futures.  But for others, like Peter Miller, sad news was offset by good news.  Miller's horse Calculator, who ran second to American Pharoah in both the FrontRunner Stakes GI and Del Mar Futurity G1, was reunited with the trainer after being missing.


Calculator

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Santa Anita Park, The Stronach Group (owner of Adena Springs Farm) and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club have created a GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/thoroughbredcare.  To date more than $598,000.00 have been donated.  No amount is too small and donations are desperately needed.  

I've donated and I hope you will too.

Copyright 12/11/17 by Loren R. Schumacher

All photo credits belong to the photographers

Update 12/15/17

The news is both good and bad with regard to the monstrous wildfires plaguing California.  

The Thomas Fire, already the fourth largest in California history at 250,000 acres, will no doubt grow in the face of Santa Ana and Sundowner winds from Thursday the fifteenth through Sunday the seventeenth.  Sundowner winds are unique to the Santa Barbara area and originate off-shore with wind speeds reaching those of tropical storms, 60 miles per hour.  The Santa Ana winds are expected to range between 15 and 25 miles per hour with gusts to 40 miles per hour.  Not particularly encouraging.

Still more sad news regarding the death of San Diego area firefighter Corey Iverson, 32 years of age.  He leaves behind his wife who is expecting their second child in the spring of 2018 and a 2-year old as well.  Our condolences, of course.

A filly by Grazen x Chelcees Hope, named Scathing, is the first horse from the San Luis Rey fire to race and to the delight of everyone. she won.  Racing last to first in a five furlong race, a distance which is a bit short for her, she split horses in the final furlong to win by one and one-half lengths.  


Symbolic win for Scathing

Scathing was claimed for $8000.00 at Santa Anita on October 6 and had been training well since her removal from San Louis Rey.  Her barn was never threatened and she remained in her stall while panic overcame those who had to be freed in order to save their lives.  By the way, my vet's tech told me that she heard the heat was so intense in the recent fire at San Luis Rey, that the horse's red blood cells exploded among those who perished!


Scathing

Scathing was cleared for competition after an "auscultation of the lungs and airways" by attending and state veterinarians.  All horses stabled at San Luis Rey will undergo similar tests before being cleared to return to racing.


Scathing at the wire

Finally, Juddmonte Farm auctioned a "no-guarantee" season with Uncle Mo.  The winning bid of $110,000 was matched by Juddmonte.  The money will be donated to Thoroughbred Charities of America's Horses First Fund.

Update copyright 12/15/17 by Loren R. Schumacher
Photo of Scathing copyright belongs to the photographer or race facility.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Perfect Racehorse: A final visit with Holy Bull

Life has been extraordinarily busy for the past few months and I have had very little time to write, so I hope you will enjoy the reprise of my story about Holy Bull which ran in the on-line magazine, Horse Network, earlier this year.  There is new content coming.

The stallion barn at Darley's Jonabell Farm was drowsy and still except for the droning of fans mounted over each stall door.  Most of the stallions were dozing in the early June warmth, or searching listlessly for wayward bits of hay that remained from their morning feeding.

2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist stood in the deepest shadows of his stall, as Medaglia d'Oro, stunningly large and perpetually anti-social, slouched with only his backside visible.  Frosted, "too smart for his own good," is rowdy and playful in a juvenile way.  And the magnificent Bernardini searches your soul with his placid kind eyes.


Frosted, "too smart for his own good."

But it is Holy Bull, the barn's elder statesman pensioned in 2012, who stands largely unnoticed in a corner stall near the door.  He is framed in the white light of the early Bluegrass summer, and at 26 still commands attention.  I knew very little about him other than his attention-grabbing name.


"...framed in the white light..."

A handler said that he is being treated for a melanoma common in older gray horses.  Like Alphabet Soup at Old Friends, he is being treated with a vaccine made from the cells of his own tumors.  Thankfully, it is working for Alphabet Soup.

The video images of he Haskell, the Travers Stakes, the Met Mile and the Florida Derby are grainy and time worn, like our memories of him.  Each is a blurred testament to the greatness of the horse, Holy Bull.  Tom Durkin's call of the 1994 Woodward still echoes down the years, "Holy Bull running like a champion...with devastating ease!  Holy Bull toying with the best horses in training."  His time, just 3/5 of a second off the stakes record set by the legendary Secretariat.


The 1994 Woodward (G1)

At the Travers he was tested early by the rabbit, Comanche Trail, while D. Wayne Lukas' Tabasco Cat watched and waited.  But as long, fluid strides brought the closer Concern to Holy Bull, the gray horse found a last fragment of courage under the relentless rhythm of Mike Smith's left-hand.  Winning by a neck, Tom Durkin said of Holy Bull, "What a hero."


The 1994 Travers Stakes

In 1994 he was the Eclipse Champion Three Year Old and Horse of the Year, and ultimately was elected to racing's Hall of Fame.  President of Godolphin USA, Jimmy Bell, once owner of Jonabell Farm, said of Holy Bull, "I've always said he wasn't a specialist - short, grass, long or dirt.  You can't mention his name without using words like fighter, determination and guts."

Winning 12 of his 16 starts (12 of his first 14, among them 6 GI and 3 GII races) and collecting nearly $2.5 million in career earnings, he proved equally adept at single turn races, like the Hutcheson Stakes or the Met Mile, as he was in route races.  But his career was not without failure and disappointment.  The odds-on favorite to win the 1994 Kentucky Derby, The Bull finished a dismal 12th behind Go For Gin.  To the end of his days, trainer Jimmy Croll said that someone had "gotten to" Holy Bull before the Derby.  His long time rider, Mike Smith to this day fails to come up with an explanation.  In the Fountain of Youth Stakes, a displaced palate left The Bull Gasping for breath, and finishing sixth.

Skeptics opined that he was just a sprinter, but after his decisive Florida Derby victory (.46 flat for the 1/2 and a mile and an eighth in 1:47 2/5) there was little room for speculation or doubt.  Hall of Fame trainer Jimmy Croll said, "After the race he cooled out in 15 minutes and was screaming for his dinner.  He cleaned out every oat and the following morning he was bright as the sun."

For most of the 1995 Donn Handicap, it was a match race between The Bull and Cigar.  The Bull  was gaining ground on Cigar, when Mike Smith felt something off and pulled him up.  It was a career-ending ligament injury, and The Bull was retired to Jonabell Farm.

In his career as a sire he gave us a Derby winner Giacomo, as well as Macho Uno, the winner of  the 2000  Breeder's Cup Juvenile and descendants such as the undefeated Caravaggio, Judy The Beauty and Munnings.  In all, Holy Bull;; gave racing more than 700 winners with earnings totaling more than $60 million.


Holy Bull at Jonabell

These are the facts, brittle statistical validation of Holy Bull's greatness.  But it is the heart of Holy Bull and others like him that statistics alone cannot define.  Puncher and counter puncher, he was a fighter that refused to lose.  Even when pushed to the limit, dogged by first one challenger then another, Holy Bull seemed to glide across the surface as though he were out for a Sunday hack.  He ran with deceptive ease, but each stride was a demonstration of his power, thunderous, devastating and violent.

When asked by a tourist, "What is the perfect racehorse?" Holy Bull's groom, Bob Coffey, pointed to his horse saying, "Right here.  There is a perfect racehorse."


Holy Bull, The Perfect Race Horse

On that day in early June (2017) he seemed a bit restive, his head swaying back and forth as if the movement comforted him and relieved the boredom of the day's confinement.  His eyes were soft and warm, at times a little vacant as if he were lost in thought.  His ears reacted to the sounds of his small world, at times nearly flat and mulish, then pricked and alert.  And his coat, once a steely dark gray, was now a mantle of white, still dappled and with a fine silken mane.  He was beautiful.

Just five days later on June the 7th, at the age of 26, Holy Bull was euthanized due to the infirmities of old age.  Surely he went to his death in much the same way he raced - with courage and dignity.  You would expect nothing less from him.

I have nearly two dozen photos taken of him on that warm Friday afternoon, none of them very good, but they are among the last - perhaps the very last - photos taken of Holy Bull.


In retreat - Holy Bull




Post Script:   I was touched to have seen Holy Bull in his last days, and perhaps I will think of him in my last days and face their end with his courage.  I choose to believe that the light in which he stood that day was the light of Heaven as it opened to receive him.  I could be wrong, but I don't think so.


Copyright Loren R. Schumacher July 14, 2017
All photos are credited to the photographers except the photos of Frosted and Holy Bull in white light which are by Loren R. Schumacher and are copyrighted as of June 2, 2017.



Saturday, September 2, 2017

Something About B.F.Wano

There was baseball, boxing and horse racing.  At the turn of the 20th century they were the big three of American sports.  And clearly the most favored of all was horse racing, particularly harness racing, and specifically, Dan Patch, a natural pacer (both right side legs move, followed by both legs on the left side).

No sports figure of that sport-happy time in America's brief history garnered more ink in the press or cash at the turnstile.  Twice in his fabled career, Dan Patch drew crowds in excess of 100,000 at a reported one U.S. Dollar per head.  His name appeared on everything from cut-plug tobacco cans and cigars to washing machines and pool cues.


One of many products using the Dan Patch name.

He traveled in a custom built railcar with his picture appearing on both its sides, and, they say, its interior was lined in red velvet.  The Jersey Lilly, the famous Lilly Langtry, came to meet him.  President Eisenhower remembered seeing him at the Kansas State Fair in 1904 and as a boy, President to be, Harry Truman, sent him a fan letter.  Dan Patch even had his own pet dog.

So dominating were his performances that often no horse would challenge him and he would pace against the clock.  Dan Patch lost just two heats in his career and never lost a race.  Fourteen times he broke world speed records and his official record for one mile stands at 1:55 1/4.

At the Minnesota State Fair in 1906 he scorched the track in 1:55 flat, an unofficial record which stood for thirty-two years until matched by Billy Direct in 1938.  It was a four horse race with two of the contenders staying close to Dan, but video footage shows that both of these horses have broken and are galloping by the race's end.  It was not until 1960 when Adios Butler paced a mile in 1:54 .3, that Dan Patch's unofficial record was broken.

The 111 year old video of the Minnesota State Fair race of 1906 follows.  Imagine the times that Dan Patch might turn on today's modern tracks and using today's sophisticated equipment.



The following is a lovely tribute to Dan Patch.




As popular as harness racing had become, no horse approached the fame and popularity of Dan Patch.  He had no peers and every other horse raced in his long shadow.  They ran at county fairs and tracks in places that have long been forgotten.  Their careers and lives were the definition of anonymity.

B.F. Wano was such a horse.  Not much is known about him.  He was a trotter (legs move on the diagonal: right front, left rear , etc.) and not a pacer.  Like Dan Patch, Wano was a stallion and for that time, big for the breed at 15.3 hands, or just over five feet in height at the withers and weighing about 1100 pounds.  He was powerfully built, muscular and well proportioned, with a short back and very straight legs.  Across his form lay a lustrous, rich brown coat.  Most assuredly all comparisons to Dan Patch end there.


The weather on September 21, 1906 at Fort Wayne, Indiana was undoubtedly fine as the average temperature for the month was 70.4 degrees, and it must have suited B.F. Wano, because in the third heat of the day he set a race record of 2:141/4.  Or did he?  According to a piece used to advertise his availability as a "sure foal getter," he did.  But thanks to Paul Wilder at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York, I learned that he tied the record and did not set it.

The race consisted of four heats with Wano finishing second in the first and second heats, and first in the third and fourth heats.  His driver was obscure, someone named Morgan.  For now this is all that is known about B, F. Wano, but on this one day in 1906 he ran his heart out (actually he trotted) and proved himself to all who watched.

His owner, W. H. Stults of Wren, Ohio, claimed in his advertising that B.F. Wano had trotted a mile in 2:10 and a half in 1:03.  Who knows?  Perhaps Stults engaged in a bit of advertising bombast so common in the early twentieth century when he said that, "in style and action he is perfect," and "his colts are large with fine style and action."  

From the Wilshire (Ohio) Herald, May 5, 1904, "W.H. Stults and J.L. Moser were Wilshire vistiors Saturday afternoon.  The latter is president and the former cashier of the Bank of Wren.  They are both hustlers, and the leading financiers of their bailiwick."  Hustlers?  Mr. Stults later lived in Indiana where the trail ends - for now.




If anyone should know more about B.F. Wano or W.H. Stults please leave a comment.

This article, in a slightly different form, appeared in the Horse Collaborative, now Horse Network.

Copyright 2015 by Loren R. Schumacher
Photo of B.F. Wano from the author's collection.
All other photos and videos belong to Getty Images or Youtube by unknown sources.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Road To The Horse 2017: A Celebration of the Cowgirl

While the Road To The Horse (RTTH) colt starting championship's format changes little from year to year, producer and owner Tootie Bland reaches deeply into her imagination to present interesting and innovative programs to excite and engage her audience.

However, change may be in order to prevent the show from becoming a boring parody.  Why?  There simply are not enough stars in the trainer/clinician universe to maintain interest.  There are many top-flight trainers, but very few are successful and entertaining enough to sell out Altel Arena at The Kentucky Horse Park.  Once beyond Craig Cameron, Parrelli, Lyons and Clinton Anderson, not to mention Chris Cox, four time undefeated champion of RTTH, the pool becomes very shallow.

This year's contest was billed as a Celebration of the Cowgirl, but seemed to walk a fine line, perhaps unintentionally, between a contest of skilled competitors and a feminist forum. Tootie Bland often said that this event will/would prove that women are as good as the men.  Anyone with their wits about them knows that horsewomen are every bit as skilled and generally more empathetic than their male counterparts.  Woman have competed at RTTH in the past and done very well, thank you.   Several years ago Sarah Dawson, competing against both men and women, lead until the last day of the competition when she was thrown from her horse.  Little was made of the fact that Sarah was a young woman and the daughter of former RTTH winner Richard Winters.  And I don't remember the sequin spangled Bland cheerleading like a spastic marionette for Sarah, or Obie Schlom, the other female competitor of that year.

The lack of star power almost surely reduced the gate in 2017, and I am just as certain that there were far fewer men in attendance than in the past.  Men, it seems (I'm a guy), don't seem to be very interested in watching women compete athletically.  What a shame, because one of the women, Vicki Wilson, put on a hell of a show and could/can compete toe to toe with any of her male counterparts.

The Running of the Remuda (horses are provided by Texas' 6666 ranch) heralds the beginning of each Road To The Horse, and this year's herd was memorable because of two of its 3 year old cast members: a big gorgeous gray that came to be know as Checkers and hip #7, a feisty, running, bucking, kicking brat of a horse that everyone fell for immediately.  Incidentally, #7 was not chosen by any of the four competitors but was the backup choice by three of the women.



This is 2015's remuda.**


A cowboy from the 6666 ranch.  The wranglers manage the remuda and the horses selected by the four competitors.**

Tootie wanted a rodeo atmosphere for the RTTH and five years ago brought aboard the annoying magpie, Matt West.  He is an emcee for PBR (Professional Bull Riders) events nationally and in Canada.  I hear his voice and want to reach for a PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon bee).  He replaced the low-key and well-liked Rick Lamb, host of the nationally known television program, The Horse Show. Believe me it has been all down hill since Rick was sidelined.  West has not profited from his exposure to this event.   Over the years, Wests seems to have gained little or no insight into the competition and simply parrots the remarks of any celebrity he can buttonhole. Repetition, of course, breeds contempt.  His specialty is the irritatingly juvenile count-down, you know: 10, 9, 8... before introducing any act or change of direction in the program. Ugh!

Worse still was his co-host Stacy Westfall, (a woman by the way), winner of the RTTH in 2006.  She is also a former NRHA Freestyle Reining Competition champion.  Her ride sans bridle created  a sensation and the YouTube video of her run has been viewed more than 1,000,000 times.  Today she competes successfully in mounted shooting, and with her husband Jesse, presents clinics worldwide, while still finding time to train horses and produce How To videos.  On the street she would have a ton of CRED.   I hate to say it, but she was a complete zero, adding little and all but disappearing on day two of the event.

Originally Barbara Cox, wife of Chris Cox, was scheduled to compete.  But due to a very serious back operation was unable to participate.  In all likelihood her competitive career is over due to the serious nature of her spinal surgery.  Her obligations as wife and mother had a significant influence on her decision to leave competition.


My wife, Carol and Chris Cox.  Chris told Carol a great deal about his wife's condition **

Rachelle Valentine worked as an intern with Clinton Anderson, worked with Dean Locke and is now an assistant trainer for Sean Patrick in Florida, From the beginning it seemed that the moment was too big for her as she made several mistakes with her gelding, the huge gray she named Checkers. And because of Checker's size, the insipid Matt West christened him "Chubby" Checkers after the 1960's singer who gave us the hit tune, The Twist.  

Like nearly all of the 6666 horses, Checkers was difficult to move forward.  Hard to imagine after you see them race the arena over and over again.  The members of the remuda are more or less wild horses with little in their past to prepare them for these three days, three of the most important days of their lives.  They know the way of the herd and little else and have spent a year or two on the plains of Texas without human contact.  Once under saddle, Checkers gave Rachelle all she could handle. But Valentine's problems began during one of the mandatory rest breaks for Checkers. On day one the great gray was left alone in the round pen saddled and bridled as were all of the other contestants horses at one point or another.  But Rachelle left one of her reins dangling and Checkers stepped on it, then danced in panic for a few moments.  Point deductions by the judges followed.

 Her barrel-chested gelding pushed past her and broke for freedom as she closed the round pen gate after riding him outside its limits for several minutes.  More penalty points.  After day one, Rachelle spent her time looking up at her fellow competitors, a place she never relinquished.


Rachelle Valentine and Checkers outside the round pen.**


After breaking free.**


Checkers pushing a ball while crossing a tarp.  Difficult work well done.**


After the obstacle course.  The use of pink and white on the course to emphasize femininity made a mockery of the contestants.**

On a horse Sarah Dawson is fluid and graceful, her every movement has a purpose and nothing is left to chance. She is a terrific horsewoman and I think often overlooked because of her quiet, almost shy demeanor.  She shares one characteristic with her father, Richard Winters, she is a phenomenal rider. I am not being crude when I say that her butt never leaves the saddle no matter the gait.  Not every competitor, male or female, can say the same.

She is newly married and with her husband Chris, they operate Dawson Performance Horses in Aubrey, Texas.  Their focus is on Reined Cow Horses and they currently have about sixty head in one state of training or another.  Her marriage and professional success have given her once flat delivery during demonstrations a boost.  There is a joy and happiness evident when she speaks now and she wears it well.

Sarah has two NRCHA (National Reined Cow Horse Assoc.) World Championships to her credit and was the 2015 Snaffle Bit Futurity Limited Open Champion and has been a finalist in every NRCHA premier event.  At this writing, Sarah is currently ranked eighth nationally, while her husband is ranked number two. Chris was in Las Vegas competing while she started her colt at the RTTH.  


Sarah Dawson on her colt. #4**

Despite her usual solid work, Sarah spent the weekend in third places with less than ten points separating her from the top spot and Kate Neubert.  Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be too good at what you do.

Kate Neubert grew up starting horses with her father, clinician Bryan Neubert, in California.  Her specialty is in cutting horses, where her winnings are approaching $200,000.  She qualified two horses to the semi-finals in the 2014 NCHA Futurity, her first year competing in this prestigious event.

She describes herself as Kate the horse trainer, the competitor and as a somewhat quiet girl from California, but also as a servant of God and student of the horse.  

As she enters her round-pen you are struck by how small she is, tiny by any measure, but tough and thorough, competent and aggressive.  In her brochure she is quoted as saying, "We can take young horses - horses that are frightened, stressed or confused, and in a short amount of time (and with the right efforts) we can teach them understanding, trust and encouragement.  We can mold them and shape them and create a willing partner, all because of our approach.  If we can apply these tactics to every corner of our lives-, just think of the growth and impact we can have on ourselves and others!"
Her comments define the perfect strategy for any horse endeavor, but especially one such as the RTTH, where the time allowed with a young gelding is at a premium and the results can define the rest of the horse's life.



Kate Neubert and her young gelding.**

In first place at the end of day one, she began day two by striding confidently into her round-pen, insisting on forward movement from her 3-year-old charger.  I've noticed over the past several years that horses provided by the 6666 ranch tend toward a bit of indolence, perhaps a byproduct of fear caused by their separation from the herd.  But it is a contest that requires forward motion.

With a scant ten point margin over Kiwi Vicki Wilson in second place, Kate literally did a hop, skip and jump as she entered the arena and began to prepare her horse for the obstacle course on day three. The obstacle course, as you might expect, separates "the men from the boys" and the audience responds to each competitor with encouragement,. thunderous applause and ear-splitting cheers.  

Somewhere on day three it began to go wrong for Kate Neubert. I couldn't tell you where exactly, mostly it came down to her horse's capacity to learn and willingness to cooperate.  Many have said, "How did we ever train horses without blue tarpolins?" Sluggish at pole-bending, with uncertain and ragged passages over the next two obstacles, the dreaded tarpolin reared its cobra-like head and bit Kate Neubert.  But this time the tarp was white with Zoetis printed in bold bright orange letters across its surface and may as well have been ten feet tall, because Kate Neubert's horse would not cross.

Vicki Wilson, the last minute replacement for Barbara Cox, came to the arena wearing riding breaches, a helmet, tight calf-high riding boots and a flat saddle.  A champion show jumper in her native New Zealand, she speaks in a slightly nasal clipped accent that combines a bit of English haughtiness with a demand for your respect. No one could have looked or sounded more out of place than Vicki Wilson in the good ol' boys environment of western colt starting.  



Vicki Wilson and the horse she named Kentucky. **


Notice that there is tape over the name on Vicki's saddle cloth.  Not unusual, when my horse Stormy Monday and I appeared with Rick Lamb on The Horse Show, I had to remove my Chris Cox vest!  At that time ADM, the show's sponsor, also sponsored Clinton Anderson.

Vicki and her two sisters are well known for their work saving the wild horses of New Zealand and now have brought their passion to the United States and our native horse, the mustang.  And I think it is the word "passion" that best describes Vicki Wilson's relationship to her horses and life.

It was not her accent or her garb that riveted those in the arena, but her skill in coaxing everything that her horse Kentucky had to give at any given moment and rewarding his effort with rest.

No one really saw what happened, only that it appeared she had been thrown.  In fact, she had somehow dislocated her left shoulder, an old injury, and leaped to the ground landing on her bum. Scrambling  to her feet and doing a passable job of mending the joint, she continued as though nothing had happened.  Vicki is a tough and experienced competitor and as Chris Cox said of her, "If you shake hands with her you'd better hold on to something."  Earning Chris' respect is a trophy to cherish.

Returning the next morning, day two, with her arm in a sling, she said that she had spent an uncomfortable night, had seen a "physio" and was back to to do the job she came to do.  In that moment she won over the assembly, if not the judges.  She remained in second place behind Kate Neubert by a mere ten points as day three dawned.

For three days Vicki Wilson demonstrated knowledge, competence, courage and extraordinary skill, whether showcasing her diagnostic and chiropractic skills in a demonstration (she even had adjusted Stacey Westfall's horse once and had been asked to do another adjustment), or in a dream-like spotlit performance aboard one of Dan James' horses, she simply stood taller than her fellow competitors.


Vicki Wilson and Pegasus


Vicki Wilson and one of Dan James horses in a bridle-less exhibition.**

It was among the pink and white fixtures of the obstacle course that Vicki Wilson excelled and laid claim to the 2017 title.  Her vast experience and calm reassuring demeanor led her horse, Kentucky, to accomplish what a horse with little more than three hours of training should not have been able to do.

A timed event, Vicki and Kentucky finished the obstacle course with minutes to spare.  She eliminated his fears with gentle but firm guidance, giving him courage and confidence where fear had reigned just seconds before.  In the process she was creating the brave and trusting horse that all of us want to ride. Understanding his reluctance before an obstacle, Vicki several times dismounted and walked her horse around and through or over the obstacles that shook his resolve. In particular the white Zoetis tarp that I mentioned earlier, first walking Kentucky across, then remounting and riding him across.  In that moment the audience picked their winner.  It was left only to the fickle judges to confirm the victory.  I might add that while the audience had selected a winner, the judges seem to grudgingly accept the vaguely different methods used by foreign competitors, primarily Australians, before awarding them the brass ring.

With the smallest margin of victory in the competitions fifteen year history, a new champion was crowned: Vicki Wilson of New Zealand.  And deservedly so.  She'll be back in 2018 to defend her crown and she will do an exceptional job of it, be sure of that.  We can only hope that the 2018 version is not billed as a "battle of the sexes."  This is not the WWE (professional wrestling), it is the beginning of a new life for a horse that only days before will have roamed freely on the Texas plains.  

It is not about gender, it is the about the horse - always the horse, first and foremost, the horse.


Amid the pyrotechnics the winner is...  Notice her left arm in a sling,


Tootie Bland and Vicki Wilson.


Copyright, July 27, 2017 by Loren Schumacher
All photos marked ** are copyrighted by Loren Schumacher, July 27, 2017
All other photo copyrights are by the photographer, RTTH or by Western Horseman Magazine