Each week a different expert ranks three OTTBs in terms of their suitability for a specific discipline. This week features Retired Racehorse Training Project founder Steuart Pittman.
This Week’s Evaluator: Steuart is the founder and president of Retired Racehorse Training Project, a nonprofit that he created to increase demand for Thoroughbred ex-racehorses and build the bridges to second careers. If you haven’t already, look for RRTP here and join the other 31,500 RRTP Facebook fans here.
Steuart makes his living running Dodon Farm Training Center in Davidsonville, Maryland. With assistant trainer Michelle Warro and business manager/equine nutritionist Erin Pittman they keep about 20 horses in training for clients at any given time. Some are eventing, some are for sale, some are to be started, and most are Thoroughbreds.
Steuart evented through the advanced level with his popular OTTB stallion Salute The Truth and before that made his living buying, training and selling Thoroughbreds off the mid-Atlantic racetracks for eventing. He credits these horses with putting him and many of his friends into business as trainers and encourages his students to buy from the track as well.
Steuart and Salute the Truth, his OTTB stallion that he evented through the advanced level.
Steuart’s Favorite Thoroughbred: Well, if I didn’t say my favorite was Salute The Truth (Jockey Club name “Boy Done Good”) he would pin me to the wall and squish me today when I go to collect semen from him. He is my favorite, but his sire, Salutely, is to me a legend. Salutely not only was near the top of the Maryland sire list for a time, but consistently produced big, rangy horses that could run all day and jump a house. His son Saluter won the grueling Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase six consecutive times, and his son Make Me A Champ won the Maryland Hunt Cup at age 14. Salutely-sired horses ran an average of 32 races, and 35 ran over 50 times.
At one point I devised a business plan using my list of favorite racing sires for sport. I would track the offspring of those sires and swoop in to buy them when they were running cheap. I got sidetracked by my effort to breed the perfect event horse, however, and found that breeding makes no sense when the racing industry produces such great horses, trains them for you, and tests their soundness. I should have stuck with my racing pedigree plan.
Chosen Discipline: Three-Day Eventing
This Week’s Horses:
Horse #1: She’s Out to Lunch
Foaled in Florida on February 8, 2008
17.1 hand bay Thoroughbred mare
Unbridled’s Image x Dinneratfive by Formal Dinner
44 starts, 3 wins, 6 seconds, 8 thirds and earnings of $47,666
Horse #2: Madashforcash
Foaled in Kentucky on May 11, 2008
16.0 hand bay Thoroughbred gelding
Don’t Get Mad x Personal Pizazz by Personal Flag
2 starts, 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 thirds and earnings of $640
Horse #3: Partner George
Foaled in Pennsylvania on March 8, 2006
16.3 hand dark bay or brown Thoroughbred gelding
Partner’s Hero x Livealittlemore by Mt. Livermore
46 starts, 3 wins, 3 seconds, 2 thirds and earnings of $92,801
What I look for: I look for good movers with clean legs and a good mind. All eventers look for that. Heather asked me to do this from the perspective of an eventer, but I will also look from the perspective of a re-seller. I will assume I will have the horse for six to 18 months and get him to the preliminary level of eventing so that I can sell him for $25,000 or more. Seem far-fetched? It’s not. It’s what I and most of my peers in eventing have done to get established as professionals. It works if you have the skills and make good decisions.
To us a good mover means a horse with some spring in its step that can naturally carry itself with a bit of lift in the withers and suspension with push from behind. It is the opposite of “earthbound,” and when cantering to a jump the difference has real meaning. But let’s be honest. Thoroughbreds rarely move with the clutziness found in some other breeds. I’d say 75% move well enough to be good prospects for my program but 20% can really float.
Jumping talent is hard to predict. I have had horses that moved and looked like they could spring over a house who never figured out how to make their bodies do it well, and many more who looked like they would never leave the ground but jumped freakishly well. Like movement, however, the Thoroughbred breed is pretty consistent in producing talent. Almost all can jump, but some jump better than others.
Alluring Punch, an OTTB gelding that Steuart trained for the RRTP 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge and a great example of an OTTB that will excel in the eventing world. He was voted by online fans to be the horse best suited for eventing, show jumping and the horse they would most want to own.
Figuring out whether a horse at the track is a good mover, or has potential to become one, is a challenge. Photographs give clues but also lie. Videos do the same. Even watching a horse walk and jog on the pavement outside the shedrow can be misleading. What I did first with these was look up their race records on Equibase.com. Then I poured over the photos and watched the short video clips, pausing to review stills as I went.
Soundness is key but I don’t have room here to address it adequately. Temperament is also key, but no two horses are alike. All we know is whether we like them when we meet them, and whether we feel an invitation to connect on any level when we look them in the eye. I always walk into the stall and put my hands on a horse at the track. They don’t have to like me right away, but if I don’t interact at all I have no real information.
Looking at horses is about gathering information but not letting the information get in the way of your gut feelings. I find that when I am really drawn to a horse I will get along well with him or her. That is important. It can be hard to turn down a horse whose future seems uncertain without you. Many a well-meaning person has succumbed to this feeling, filled up a farm with horses, lost his or her job, fallen behind on the mortgage, and tried to get by with bad hay on overgrazed paddocks. It seems that every month or so you read about seizures of suffering horses from farms whose owners went down that road. Don’t join them!
But on a happier note, I love what CANTER does. The service that this organization’s chapters provide around the country, by going to the tracks and putting up these photos and descriptions, is in my opinion the most important piece of the puzzle. I hope they continue to grow. Support CANTER.
So I will say in advance that I want to go look at all three of these horses and that you should ignore my placings. I only placed them because I had to.
Heather may have played a trick on me, knowing that she and I would be in Kentucky this weekend. Don’t be surprised to find videos next week of me poking and prodding and maybe even riding these horses.
THIRD PLACE: Horse #1, She’s Out To Lunch
She is a 17.1 hand six-year-old mare by Unbridled’s Image out of a Formal Dinner mare. She began racing at three and has 44 starts, including 20 as a four-year-old, 14 as a five year old, and four this year.
I like her and I like to buy impulsively. Rather than just head to the track with my trailer and a checkbook like I used to do when I was in the buying and selling business, I will try to demonstrate some restraint and judgment here.
Conformation shots lie, but fortunately we have two here and a bit of video from the CANTER volunteers. The first shot shows a big sloping shoulder, big bone, good feet, and angles in the hindquarters that I like. She appears to be high behind, but the second shot and video suggest that she is pretty level. The neck appears short and slight in both the photos and the video, coming out of her massive shoulders high enough to allow her to be light in front. I find that a slight neck like hers is a benefit in that they don’t pull as hard, but that a longer neck that is set high on the shoulder is best. The weight of a long neck seems to naturally lift the back when it stretches into the bridle, which we want for dressage and jumping.
My impression from the short video at walk and a bit of a jig is that she has a wonderful way of carrying herself. She has a little spring off the ground as she tries to jig and her hind legs seem to be in the right place under her body to carry her wherever she needs to go. She is an athlete who is bound to be light on her feet and able to jump her way out of trouble.
I like the description. She’s 17.1h and I’m 6’2”. The CANTER volunteer was clearly impressed by her presence and attitude. I can’t assess her attitude without seeing her, but I am not put off by the statement that she is energetic and best suited to an experienced handler. Over and over I see horses who were hot at the track become puppy dogs once they are let down and start our kind of training.
They addressed the big ankle (or maybe both, hard to see) by saying it’s an old osselet. I find that the weakest point in horses coming off the track is the ankles (fetlocks). I don’t mind the calcification on the outside of the joint that characterizes osselets. The loss of cartilage on the inside is what will break your heart. When I go to visit the horse I will check the range of motion, feel for heat and pockets of joint fluid, and try to get them to tell me some history. I would assume that she has had her ankles injected, and ask how often and how recently. I may not get a straight answer, but I still ask. I also ask if they have radiographs that I can see. I prefer clean ankles, but won’t assume I know the condition of what’s inside the joint without radiographs.
Her $3,500 price tag is above average for CANTER listings. That doesn’t bother me. When I was buying off the track a lot I would pay the asking price on a horse that I really wanted. It is still a fraction of what I would be putting in for training and care over the next year and I just wouldn’t have the stomach to tell an owner or trainer who had carefully protected a magnificent horse from injury that it is not worth the peanuts that they are asking. I paid $10,000 plus breeding rights for my stallion as a 3-year-old unsuccessful racehorse right after he pulled a suspensory. Call me a sucker, but he took me to Advanced and is now the top sire of three-day event horses in America for whom fresh and cooled semen is still available. $3,500 is not too much if this mare is what she appears to be.
SECOND PLACE: Horse #2, Maddashforcash
He is a 16 hand 6-year-old gelding by Don’t Get Mad out of a Personal Flag mare. He raced only twice in 2013 at the age of five.
I like him. He’s the classic Thoroughbred. The conformation shot shows overall balance. Everything is in the right place and he has a nice sloping croup. His feet look good but will need a good farrier to reverse the underrun heels in front. I like his expression in the two head shots. He has a kind eye, and the look on his face in the conformation shot isn’t as pretty but suggests that he knows how to relax.
The jogging video tells me he moves just fine. Jogging on pavement rarely shows brilliance. The trotting under saddle video, however, tells me that this horse can really move. The quality is a blur, but he shows some suspension and covers a lot of ground. I find that a horse who moves really well at the trot is not sore. If he’s not sore after racing he is probably a very sound horse and will remain so.
I may feel that at 16 hands I want more size, and know that he won’t capture the big horse dollars for resale, but this guy offers very good odds that in six months he will be a really lovely mount as an event horse or any number of other disciplines. For a price of $1,500 he’s a steal. I can’t wait to meet him.
FIRST PLACE: Horse #3, Partner George
He is a 16.3 hand eight-year-old with 46 starts by Partner’s Hero out of a Mt. Livermore mare. He won three and made $93,000. He ran only twice in 2013 and twice already this year. The description explains that he was being trained to be a foxhunter for some of last year.
This is an interesting horse. I get a sense from the photos and the short video that he’s got a high opinion of himself and is tough as nails. His neck is the opposite of the mare. It is thick and strong, for better (balance) and for worse (pulling!). He’s well put together in a compact kind of way. Yes, he seems a bit higher behind than we’d like and with the high head-set his ability to lift in the withers seems compromised, but I think that effect will disappear when he is stretching into a correct dressage frame. There seems to be plenty of bone, but the fetlock hair misleads us into thinking he has big ankles and short pasterns. I trust that it is just the hair.
That look in his eye is the look of eagles, right? It is the look of a horse who knows he’s the best. It is the horse that will run around Badminton, Burghley, and the Kentucky Horse Park in the pouring rain, fighting the mud, powering over the fences, and accelerating away because he wants to prove himself. He wants to win, and he will. But guess what. You better be a brilliant trainer. You better be a great rider. You better set some boundaries and you better offer him a way to express himself. If you do you’ll be going Novice and Training this fall and preliminary in the spring. That means he’ll be 11 when you take him to his first advanced two years later.
With his proven soundness at the track you know this guy will keep going for a long time. He’s not too old to fulfill your dreams. That’s worth $3,000 in my book.
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
CANTER stands for The Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses. CANTER started as a solution to help racehorses find new careers by connecting buyers and sellers through posting racehorses for sale on the internet. The program quickly became a national web-based phenomenon. Since the first CANTER Michigan program started in 1997, it and has grown to include chapters in California, Illinois, the Mid Atlantic Region, the New England Region, Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. All the CANTER programs are all-volunteer organizations with 501 ( c ) ( 3 ) non profit status.