You’re Going to Use That Thoroughbred for What?

Each week a different expert ranks three OTTBs in terms of their suitability for a specific discipline. This week features Dale Simanton, founder of the Gate to Great training program.

This Week’s Evaluator: Dale Simanton, founder and head trainer at Gate to Great and RRTP Thoroughbred Makeover Trainer

This Weeks’ Thoroughbred Placement Organization: CANTER Ohio

Chosen Discipline: Working ranch horse

Favorite Thoroughbreds: Dr. Fager, Closing Arguement, Shackleford, Finn McCool (our stallion and a working ranch horse himself)

Horse #1: Stevie the Liar

Horse #1: Stevie the Liar

Horse #1: Stevie the Liar

  • Foaled in California on April 13, 2006
  • 16.2 chestnut Thoroughbred gelding
  • By Distinctive Cat and out of With a Song by With Approval
  • 44 Starts: 2 firsts, 1 second and 3 thirds with earnings of $11,734. Last raced on December 22, 2013.
Horse #2: Decisive Call

Horse #2: Decisive Call

Horse #2: Decisive Call

  • Foaled in Florida on April 27, 2008
  • 16.0 bay Thoroughbred gelding
  • By Proud and True and out of Moment of Revenge by Timeless Moment
  • 43 Starts: 4 firsts, 5 seconds and 8 thirds with earnings of $34,779. Last raced on January 15, 2014.
Horse #3: Gray Wagon

Horse #3: Gray Wagon

Horse #3: Gray Wagon

  • Foaled in Kentucky on April 27, 2009
  • 16.0 grey Thoroughbred gelding
  • By Silver Wagon and out of Frisky Kitty by Twining
  • 23 Starts: 5 firsts, 5 seconds and 4 thirds with earnings of $41,870. Last raced on January 15, 2014.

How I ranked them: 3-1-2

Criteria: Three racehorses, in the twilight stages of their racing careers, have been presented for evaluation as potential geldings for our Gate to Great program, which uses OTTBs for ranching, roping and rodeo events in South Dakota. Discussion of each horse’s merits will focus on traits I have found useful, over the years, in rehabilitating horses through the use of cattle work and covering tough miles across the prairie pastures common in our region. While many of our program graduates go on to non-ranching careers, the tasks I expect them to master establish a solid foundation for multi-discipline use, as pleasure or competition mounts.

Dale roping calves at a branding on his RRTP Makeover horse, Duck (aka Drake's Dancer)

Dale roping calves at a branding on his RRTP Makeover horse Duck (a.k.a. Drake’s Dancer)

This grouping covers an interesting range of body types, breeding and racing success. The subjects are Decisive Call, Stevie the Liar and Gray Wagon, all based on the Southern Ohio circuit and available through CANTER trainer listings.



Horse #2, Decisive Call, had modest success on the track, having “run through his conditions,” meaning he broke his maiden, winning against other horses trying to achieve the same, continuing on against “non-winners of two” to “non-winners of three” and then “open company.” I don’t know the percentages of the breed that make it to that first winner’s photo, much less past it, but I’m sure it’s a number low enough to make anyone wanting a racehorse to reconsider the game from a rate-of-return angle.

Decisive Call was rather durable, having 42 starts, which might have been helped by his in-breeding to Damascus and the European influence on his dam’s side. His success defies logic, judging from the photos of his frame and muscle. While nice through the body, the straight hind leg is a deterrent to ranch work, especially roping and dragging cattle to the fire, which calls for a strong hindquarter and ability to “pull from the horn.” Another drawback with this individual is the narrowness through the chest, when viewed from the head-on photo, coupled with the turned-out left front foot.

Front view of Decisive Call

Front view of Decisive Call

He managed to run with these flaws and could make a useful “circle” horse, as I’m sure he’d do fine covering a lot of ground gathering cattle and is certainly tall enough to keep a cowboy’s feet out of the mud! The CANTER listing notes, “He recently developed an eye condition/infection, which his owner has been treating. It has caused some cloudiness in one eye that does affect his vision.” Time would tell on that point, but could be a real deal-breaker for most folks. His expression in the head shots leads me to believe his strong suit may be what can’t be fully determined from photos–a tough mind and enough intelligence to take care of himself. He might do very well in the English show pen, but wouldn’t be my first choice to put to work on the ranch.



Horse #1, Stevie the Liar, has a slightly less stellar race career than our first horse. While he is credited with $11K in earnings, he ground it out over 40 races, and doesn’t offer a lot to get excited about from a pedigree perspective other than Storm Cat and Caro(Ire), in the second and third generations, respectively. His low yearling auction price also suggests a page short on black-type, but was sold during a tough market for all Thoroughbred sales.

Stevie the Liar's grandsire, the immortal Storm Cat.

Stevie the Liar’s grandsire, the immortal Storm Cat.

Based on just two photos, it is harder to give a fair assessment, but the body view presents a pleasing outline, with balance to match his size. His hind leg stance suggests he may be “camped under” a bit, or slightly sickle-hocked, but might improve when posed properly. Similarly, determining any lumps and bumps on the front end is difficult. He appears to have a keen head and expression and would probably be a nice sort for jumping, but from the perspective of having to mount and dismount a lot out on the open range, he makes this old cowboy wish for a pile of rocks at every gate, seeing how he’s 16.2 hands. He looks strong enough to work all day and rope cattle, but the description doesn’t offer clues about his mental state, so I have to assume he’s trainable when ridden down a bit, based on past experience with the Storm Cat-line breeding.



Horse #3, Gray Wagon. Gray Wagon’s description and photo made me put down the coffee cup and whistle, but not just because of his color! His compact build, pedigree, youthfulness, and five trips to the winner’s circle was enough to take notice.

Another view of Gray Wagon.  Gotta love the big ears!

Another view of Gray Wagon. Gotta love the big ears!

He’s the kind I look for when thinking about roping, as his photos suggest enough muscling, depth through the chest, and shorter back to really go to work. While his head isn’t the cutest, and his neck a tad short, everything seems to match up with the rest of the package. He’d sure fool enough cowboys out here that he isn’t at least part, if not full Quarter Horse, other than his size, perhaps. I take immense pleasure in “fooling the experts” at brandings, especially when I go to outfits that don’t know what a confirmed Thoroughbred nut I am! I ride enough different horses that I never show up with the same mount two days in a row, so I get used to hearing ” Is that a Thoroughbred, too?” I might have to rope twice the cattle to “prove up” my former racehorses, and often have to spell out, “they are Jockey Club registered, NOT appendix Quarter Horses!”

The feisty Darn that Alarm whom Dorothy, Dale's partner in Gate to Great, used to work with in Florida!

The feisty Darn that Alarm whom Dorothy, Dale’s partner in Gate to Great, used to work with in Florida!

From a pedigree angle, this Kentucky-bred five-year-old combines a couple of strains of Mr. Prospector, through Conquistador Cielo on top and Twining on the bottom. Our old broodmare program included daughters of both stallions, and their offspring where a bit hot-headed but tough as nails. An additional bonus is a shot of Darn That Alarm, another tough customer Dorothy worked with when he was a yearling and two-year old down in Ocala, Fla., back in the early ’80s. Darn That Alarm lived through many mishaps, including being run through a fence by feral dogs one night, and a van wreck. He went on to be a Graded Stakes winner and top Florida sire, before dying in a barn fire late in life.
This is my first choice of the three, and was followed up with an inquiry to purchase, but was already sold!


If you think an off-track thoroughbred might be right for you, no matter what the discipline, find out more information on what to look for, how to purchase and get re-training tips at



untitledCANTER Ohio is a free service offered to racing trainers and owners to help them find non-race homes for their retiring racehorses. There are no fees charged to new owners.






Dale Simanton is the co-owner (with Dorothy Snowden) and head trainer for the Gate to Great program at Horse Creek Thoroughbreds in Newell, SD.  From his website: “At Horse Creek Thoroughbreds, we recognize the unfavorable circumstances that many owners and trainers of race horses encounter, as their runners near the end of careers at the track. With limited opportunities for retirement and overflowing rescue facilities, the racing industry faces additional challenges to a weakened horse market. Through the encouragement and endorsement of track veterinarians, trainers, and industry representatives, we developed an option for qualifying equine individuals.

Under the program name of ‘Gate to Great Geldings’ we provide a rehabilitation process that gives Thoroughbred geldings a chance to recover from the rigors of a racing career and time to develop new skills outside the backside environment. Relying on our experience using Thoroughbreds for ranch work, we expose former racehorses to tasks necessary for success in new vocations, be it on the range or in the arena.

Allowing time to ‘let-down’ from the physical or emotional stress of stall life, our geldings work through this stage with rides across the sweeping expanses of South Dakota ranges moving cattle. Horses gain confidence being ridden in the wide open, negotiating creek crossings and varying terrain, while developing reining and maneuverability under saddle. Progressing to more intense cattle work, such as gathering and sorting, exposes the geldings to a faster pace that demands more mental focus and responsiveness. Through wet saddle blankets and long days come the preparedness for rope work and eventually, dragging calves to the fire or holding cattle at the end of the rope for doctoring. Typically a year or two is required to develop a program graduate, which we call a ‘Great Gelding’!

On this website, you will find some of our ‘Great Geldings‘ in the making. Please contact us for details on these individuals or information concerning enrollment requirements for Gate to Great. Perhaps your racehorse will become the next ‘poster boy’ for the versatility of this great breed!”


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