JC / Railbird


The Unlucky Ones

Last week, Convocation appeared in the entries for the first race at Suffolk Downs on July 17. Trainer David Jacobson entered him for a $4,000 claiming tag, or $11,000 less than he had paid when he claimed the multiple stakes-placed gelding on May 9 at Belmont. That race was Convocation’s fourth start in six months following a 14-month layoff that began after he finished eighth in the 2011 Woodward. His fifth looked like it’d be a short, final drop to the bottom — the best case scenario, if he had run last Wednesday, was that he would win, get claimed by a local trainer, start a couple more times in East Boston, and then get listed on the CANTER New England website, where he’d be described as a well-bred former stakes-caliber horse who needed a little time off and wanted to be someone’s pet. It was a relief when he scratched.*

Monzante didn’t scratch from the fourth race at Evangeline on Saturday. It was the 2008 Eddie Read winner’s first race in eight months, and the graded-stakes winner who had earned more than half a million dollars was running for $4,000. It wasn’t his first time in for a tag — that had happened in June 2011, when he ran for $50,000 in his first race following a 14-month layoff. From there, the Juddmonte-bred kept falling in class, his losses rarely punctuated by a win, moving from Churchill to Aqueduct to Delta Downs, from the barns of Mike Mitchell and Steve Asmussen to Jackie Thacker.

Maybe there was no reason to scratch Monzante, even though he hadn’t raced in months and his last recorded work was a five-furlong breeze on June 1. I don’t know what the track veterinarian might have seen during a pre-race examination, or what Thacker felt when he ran his hands over Monzante’s legs. Maybe he just looked like any other bottom-level claimer, a little sore but sound enough. If he had been any other bottom-level claimer, what happened in the fourth at Evangeline would have almost certainly gone unremarked by most in racing: Monzante broke down. Monzante was euthanized.

That’s not supposed to be the end for a Grade 1 winner.

The Monzante case, where a G1 winner runs in a low level claimer, is a BIG flaw in our racing system,” tweeted Alex Brown.

Except, it’s not a flaw: The system functioned as designed. In 2008, Monzante was a stakes horse. In 2013, he was a claimer. He was at his level. What a case such as his exposes isn’t a defect in the system, but the cruelty that is always lurking in claiming racing, which relies equally on commodifying horses and on the ability of the people who participate in it to protect horses from its worst consequences. Too often, that’s where the system fails.

Two years ago, while I and another CANTER New England volunteer were taking listings on the Suffolk Downs backstretch, a trainer called us over to his barn. He had a horse to sell. We followed him down the shedrow to the stall of a chestnut gelding. It was Dubinsky, a horse I remembered from the beginning of his career, when he debuted in a maiden special at Aqueduct. He peaked with a third in the 2009 Hill Prince Stakes; from there, he descended through the claiming ranks. His right knee was swollen, and the trainer told us that the 5-year-old was arthritic before leading him out so that we could take a picture. He’d finished seventh in his last race.

“Dubinsky should benefit from some time off and should make an excellent flat or pleasure prospect,” read his CANTER listing.

He was limping, but alive, and he had a shot at a second career as a riding horse. He was one of the lucky ones. What kind of game is racing that that could be true of Dubinsky, but not of Monzante?

*7:00 PM Update: Count Convocation among the lucky, too — his original owners purchased him with plans to retire.

Charming Buyers, Finding Homes

Susan Salk reports on the October 14 CANTER New England Suffolk Showcase, in which 80 Suffolk Downs racehorses were featured. Thirteen went to new homes that day, another eight left shortly after, and more are purchased each day as the meet gets closer to its end. Because of Hurricane Sandy, racing at Suffolk on Monday, October 29 has been cancelled and rescheduled for Saturday, November 3. (Hey, that’s means there’s live racing at Suffolk on Breeders’ Cup Saturday!) Saturday is the last day of racing for 2012; horses must be off the grounds by November 14. Check the CANTER New England listings to see the horses available, and check frequently — at this time of year, listings change almost daily.

Get Your Used Horses Here

The 2012 Suffolk Downs meet ends on October 31, and CANTER New England will be helping move horses from the racetrack to second careers over the next three weeks. Those new jobs can be diverse:

“One of our buyers,” noted Montfort, “trained the horse for mounted skeet shooting. Hey, whatever works. The owner’s happy, and so is the horse. That’s all we’re looking for.”

Find your OTTB: Browse the CANTER listings.

After the Racetrack

Our Revival had a modest career as a racehorse — she won her maiden at Keeneland, and then won 10 more times in 34 starts, at tracks such as Tampa Bay and Suffolk Downs — but trainer John Botty remembered her well:

“She was like a street fighter. She mostly won off the pace. She didn’t mind dirt in her face, she relished it,” says Botty, who claimed her as a 3-year-old in 2003. “She was like Dustin Pedroia, never afraid to get dirty. Like Milan Lucic, not afraid to dig in the corners.”

Thank goodness, because when the mare turned up at auction in Texas, it was Botty — and a network of dedicated horse people — who ensured she ended up at Old Friends in Kentucky and not at a Mexican slaughterhouse.

Botty is also one of the many trainers at Suffolk Downs who work with CANTER New England to move horses from the track to a second career when their racing days are over. The organization’s annual end-of-the-meet showcase is scheduled for Sunday, October 14, beginning at 8:30 AM, and if you’re looking for a new jumper, eventer, or companion (or you know someone who is), be sure to put the Suffolk showcase on your calendar — it’s a chance to check out several horses up close and talk to their connections. Browse the listings of currently available horses; more will be added in coming weeks!

If you’re wondering what an off-track Thoroughbred is capable of, here’s just one success story of many: Unbridled’s Jewel, renamed The Tempest and pictured below with her owner and Susan Salk of Off-Track Thoroughbreds, was the star of a Steuart Pittman eventing clinic earlier this year, mere months after leaving the Suffolk Downs backstretch.

The Tempest

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