Each week a different expert ranks three OTTBs in terms of their suitability for a specific discipline. This week features former assistant trainer and OTTB Connect founder Laura Holmes.
This Week’s Evaluator: Laura Holmes, a former assistant trainer on the track and founder of the largest group on the internet connecting OTTB lovers, OTTB Connect on Facebook.
This Week’s Thoroughbred Placement Organization: CANTER Arizona
Chosen Discipline: Anything and everything. I’ve dabbled in eventing, dressage, jumping, western, barrel racing, cow work, driving, trail riding, saddleseat, etc. As long as I’m on a horse, I’m happy.
Favorite Thoroughbreds: Sunday Silence, Banshee Breeze, Cigar.
Horse #1: Snowbound Halo
Foaled in Washington on April 11, 2003
17.0 hand grey Thoroughbred gelding
By Snowbound out of Sunny Sunset by Sonny’s Solo Halo
20 starts, 7 wins, 2 seconds and 2 thirds. Earnings of $97,394. Last raced on February 8, 2011.
Horse #2: Cat’s Boy Burn
Foaled in Arizona on April 20, 2008.
16.2 hand dark bay or brown Thoroughbred gelding
By Sideburn out of Ll’s Cat by Distinctive Cat
34 starts, 3 wins, 2 seconds and 0 thirds. Earnings of $16,631. Last raced on January 17, 2014.
Horse #3: Warrens Sky Writer
Foaled in California on February 24, 2006
15.3 hand bay Thoroughbred gelding
By Ancient Art out of Stalwart Princess by Stalwart
28 starts, 1 wins, 3 seconds and 0 thirds. Earnings of $13,924. Last raced on October 9, 2011.
CRITERIA: Since I don’t have a specific discipline I stick to and like to change it up often, I’m looking for a jack of all trades, not necessarily a master of any.It’s important to be real and honest with our expectations and goals with potential horses, or we’ll just be disappointed. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t going to be Grand Prix dressage riders or going to Rolex as anything besides spectators. There’s no point in having the highest jumping, best moving horse in the world if you never get to have fun with it! I don’t care if it’s pretty or tall or is a 10 mover, I want a horse I can ENJOY riding, not something I have to baby because it’s unsound or spends an entire trail ride prancing and spooking at every leaf. Soundness and sanity are my must haves.
I look for a horse that is highly intelligent and level headed with lots of personality, a good work ethic and an eagerness to please. I like a large, kind eye, a flat profile, a long, slightly high-set neck and clean legs. Minor conformation flaws don’t bother me because if the horse has held up to racing with those flaws, there’s nothing I’ll ever do that will stress it more. I’m not concerned how their movement looks, but I want something that’s comfortable to ride. Height is only important as it relates to personal comfort and I personally find excessively tall horses a big negative.
Researching pedigrees and race records can be very helpful in some ways, but in the end, you need to judge the horse itself. Pedigrees can provide some insight into potential ability, soundness or temperament, but many of the big names you’ll know about are far back in the lines and are so common in today’s Thoroughbreds, there’s really no way of knowing which attributes are passed on to horse you see in front of you.
Most people shy away from horses who have raced often, but generally horses that have raced a lot have proved themselves to be sound or they wouldn’t still be there. We can make a lot of assumptions based on race record but mostly it should be used to gather questions and look for indications of problems. There are also videos available of these horses’ races where we can learn about their movement and personalities.
There is a Files section at the top of the OTTB Connect page where I’ve put together step by step instructions for researching an OTTB’s background that can hopefully be helpful.
THIRD PLACE: Horse #3, Warren’s Sky Writer
This is a bit unique, as he’s been off the track for several years and already showing in the jumpers. Some people might consider him small but I think it’s a great height. I don’t care for his head, his eye is a bit small and he seems entirely indifferent about everything. His neck is short and appears a little too muscled underneath. I like his short back and strong hindquarters. He’s built solid with good legs and seems laid back in the photos. His video is labeled as a “jump off,” so it’s difficult to tell if he’s really this way or if they are just going for time. He’s forward to the jumps, but he rushes, takes long spots and is inflexible. I saw some other videos of him upon searching and it appeared this was how he really was.
Warren’s Sky Writer Video:
He’s a grandson of Storm Cat through his sire, and that can have more of an influence. They tend to be athletic but can be hot. Again, it all depends on the horse, but I can see some of that coming out in this guy. The Lear Fan influence can contribute to jumping ability, as does the Hoist the Flag on the bottom side.
He has an interesting note next to his pedigree on Equineline, which says SI 71. This stands for Speed Index, and is a general speed rating given to Quarter Horses. Which we find out, he ran most of his career in cheap 4 1/2 furlong races, also known as 870 races (for 870 yards). These races are held at tracks which run TBs and QHs, and in 870 races, they actually compete against each other. There is no time for pace in these races, they are an all out mad dash to the finish. This kind of racing probably didn’t do much to calm his mental state. These races are also very hard on their body, which could account for some of his stiffness. Checking the left legs and a good chiropractor would be essential for a horse running these races.
Overall, I put him 3rd on my list. I prefer to do my own retraining on a fresh, clean slate so I know what steps have been taken to get them where I want them. He’s a nice horse, but I can tell we wouldn’t click well, and I’d be spending a lot of time retraining him to my speed. Although he could change with retraining, since he’s already like this after several years of it, it’s not a project I’d enjoy taking on. I like his build and I can see him being sound for a long time and able to do any task, from eventing to barrel racing, provided his mental state holds up.
SECOND PLACE: Horse #1, Snowbound Halo
This big boy is just an all around nice, classy horse. He has such a kind, intelligent and calm look about him. He’s well balanced and solidly built with good bone and a deep girth. He appears to toe out a bit and his left knee looks like there could be a scar or some filling, but it could be just the shadows. The age might scare some people but I love an older track horse. They have a “been there, done that” professional attitude. Although they can be more set in their ways and slightly more difficult to transition to a new line of work, most of them are ready for it and thoroughly enjoy having a job.
As wonderful as he is, there are a few things that concern me. Although most would love to have a 17 hand horse, for me it’s a negative. With big horses come big horse problems and no upsides to it (unless I was 6’4). I’m concerned about the “hunter’s bump” on his hind end, which although might not affect him, can be a sign of injury or strain to the area and could cause problems. In addition, he hasn’t raced in 3 years but according to his CANTER ad, he’s been in training on and off since then. I can’t possibly see the reason for keeping a horse of his age (or any) in training for 3 years without a race, so this is highly unusual.
His pedigree happens to show excellent prognosis for sport, but not so much for soundness. His sire, who was as big and solid as well, had a very short career ended by knee chips. He became a very good QH racehorse sire but also passed those bad knees to his progeny. His grandsire on his sire’s side, Meadowlake, was also 17 hands and had a short career plagued by unsoundness. He is, however, a great line to have for performance and great temperament. Snowbound Halo’s dam made just 2 starts, with one win, indicating soundness problems were the reason for her retirement, and her sire was unraced. He was used as a sport horse sire and has some very nice jumpers from his grandchildren, including a sire line of flashy pinto Thoroughbred sport horses here and abroad.
His race record is about the strangest I’ve ever seen. He made just 20 starts in 7 years of racing, with his first race more than a week before his actual 2nd birthday. He didn’t race again for a year, raced once, and then gone again for a year. I’m not familiar with Arizona tracks but I’m gathering that they don’t race in the summertime, which might account for some of the gaps in his race schedule, but there certainly must be more to it. He did manage to win a couple stakes races and I love seeing that on a page as it can indicate a horse with class.
Although there’s no video on the Canter page, I was able to view his races on CalRacing.com, and he has a big, lovely stride with a real heart to win.
As much as I love this horse, I had to pick him 2nd due to his size and his questionable future (or current) soundness. If I was looking for a trail buddy or a lower level dressage horse and he passed a vet check, I’d scoop him up in a heartbeat. And who knows, he might be an iron horse who will jump into his 20s. He’s worth looking into that’s for sure. I’d talk to his trainer about the sporadic race schedule and find out what he’s been up to for the last few years. And as always, a thorough vet check, with a focus on his knees (xrays) and sacrum.
FIRST PLACE: Horse #2, Cat’s Boy Burn
Not sure what it is about this guy, but I’m really drawn to him. He looks very butt high in the main photo but he’s standing awkwardly on uneven ground. He’s handsome, with a smart face and a kind eye. I like his high set neck (personal preference) and sloping shoulder. He has a long back and long thin pasterns. There may be some filling in his ankles but it’s hard to tell from the photos and would need a look at in person. I like to see a lower hip with a little more power behind.
From the video, I like his attitude. He’s relaxed and unfazed by the bicycle going by or jogging, but still alert and curious. You have to keep in mind when they are jogging these horses that they are on concrete in a very busy area and are trying to keep the horse calm, so you aren’t going to see big movement. I love his trot, it looks smooth, like he’s floating, and I imagine the hunters would like his low action.
His sire is the unraced but well-bred Sideburn, a son of Seeking the Gold out of a Dixieland Band mare, blending together some major sire lines in Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer and Ribot (through Pleasant Colony, a name I love to see for great personality and soundness). His broodmare sire is an unraced son of Storm Cat, a name that people either love to see or run screaming from. Being 3 generations back, I’m not concerned about it.
He had an interesting race career, also making his debut just before he technically turned 2, running 3 times before taking the year off. With 2 year olds, time off doesn’t concern me as much as it does with older horses, as they could be for minor issues like bucked shins or splints. He came back hard, running 18 times in just 13 months, and most of that in New Mexico, where the track conditions are brutal. If he stayed sound enough to run that much on those tracks, I’m not worried about him a bit. Back racing in Arizona, I see a couple more breaks but again, they are during the summer when I imagine they don’t race in Arizona, and he ran consistently during the winter. I was able to view a few of his races on the Horse Races Now phone app, but couldn’t see much of him.
He’s my #1 choice, although I’m sure others would disagree. Although he has some conformation flaws that scare me a bit, he’s held up to some rigorous racing. With his way of going, I imagine he’d be a very comfortable ride. I love his demeanor, as he’s mellow but seems like there’s a bit of playful spark in there. Will he excel in anything? Probably not. But I can see him having fun and enjoying the ride as much as I would no matter what we did. He’s a good age, height and it doesn’t hurt that he’s flashy. He’s wispy right now but I can see him turning into a real stunner with the right off track program.
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 retiredracehorsetraining.org
The Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses (CANTER) provides retiring thoroughbred racehorses with opportunities for new careers. You can contact check your local CANTER listings through their website at www.canterusa.org.
About Our Evaluator: I grew up on horseback, riding before I could walk. I’ve worked professionally with horses since I was 16 and have been involved in just about every discipline in some way. I saw my first horse race when I was 6 and have been in love with Thoroughbreds ever since. I started working on the track as a hotwalker at Arlington Park and traveled around the country to various tracks, working as an exercise rider, assistant trainer, pony girl and groom. I left the race track to go back to school but still wanted to stay involved with Thoroughbreds. I started the Facebook group OTTB Connect, as an outlet to help ex racehorses find homes and promote them as sport and pleasure horses. It’s evolved into a 12,000+ member group of Thoroughbred lovers. Posts include tattoo research, finding racing photos or tracking down an OTTB’s former connections, help with feeding, training and health care issues, TB news and people sharing their love of Thoroughbreds, in addition to having helped numerous people buy and sell their horses and even networking together to rescue Thoroughbreds in need.
I’m currently working to set up a branch of CANTER here in Texas, and enjoy spending time with my own wonderful OTTB, Smart Little Habit.