Each week a different expert ranks three OTTBs in terms of their suitability for a specific discipline. This week features longtime Thoroughbred industry professional, Jen Roytz.
This Week’s Evaluator:
Jen Roytz is a life-long equestrian from Cleveland, Ohio who grew up riding and showing hunter/jumpers. She discovered racing in her early teens and fell in love with the sport and the backside culture at her local racetrack, Thistledown. She came to Kentucky in 1999 to attend college and immerse herself in the Thoroughbred business, earning her Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Morehead State University while concurrently galloping horses each morning at Keeneland, the Thoroughbred Center, and several area farms, and also training and selling newly retired racehorses as show horse prospects.
She later earned her Master’s degree in Integrated Communication from the University of Louisville. Jen began her career in marketing and public relations at Lexington-based firm Cornett-IMS, and most recently was the Marketing and Communications Director for Three Chimneys Farm, where she handled the farm’s advertising, media relations, social media, fan outreach, and aftercare. With the recent change of ownership of the farm, Jen embarked on a freelance writing and public relations consulting career and can once again be found on the backs of racehorses each morning.
All-Time Favorite Thoroughbreds: My all-time favorite Thoroughbred was Desperate Need (a.k.a. “Benny”), a French Legionaire gelding who never raced. He was the first horse I started under saddle on my own and, while he was too large to make it as a racehorse (he was wide like a Mac truck — he literally would get stuck in the gate!), he was a fantastic jumper. Together, we won more ribbons than I could count and had a bond that words cannot describe. He was my heart horse.
Some of my favorite Thoroughbreds that I’ve had the opportunity to ride were With Anticipation (Grade 1-winning turf horse), Roses in May (Dubai World Cup winner), Popcorn Deelites (played Seabiscuit in the movie by the same name) Johnny Oh Johnny (claiming horse – he was just flat-out fun to gallop!), George’s Honker (my first horse – he had a big nose); and Our Legal Eagle (raced a record 217 times – I learned to gallop racehorses on Our Legal Eagle and George in a big field in the middle of winter one year in Cleveland. I can’t remember which one did it, but one of them very purposefully dumped me in a partially frozen water trough. Brrr! That’s the day I learned the saying, “The longer you ride, the longer you ride.”).
Preferred Riding Discipline: This has changed several times through the years. When I was younger, I preferred the speed and precision of the Jumpers. In college, I had the need for speed and loved riding racehorses. While I still enjoy both of those, today I really enjoy a good Thoroughbred hunter prospect; something that has forward momentum, a steady, rhythmic canter, and confidence over the fences. Regardless of the disciplines, I’ve always preferred OTTBs and really enjoy the process of transitioning them either from the racetrack to the show ring or starting babies under saddle and preparing them for their racing careers.
What I look for in an OTTB: When evaluating a Thoroughbred for a post-racing career, I take into account their conformation, pedigree, lifetime past performances, trainer reputation and personality/temperament. Having rehomed a number of Thoroughbreds over the years, especially during my time at Three Chimneys, I was afforded the luxury to really see what different sire lines can produce not only on the racetrack, but in the show ring as well.
Jen with Olympians Boyd Martin and Linda Zang evaluating OTTBs in-hand at the 2014 Thoroughbreds for All! Event in Kentucky
Jen with Olympians Boyd Martin and Linda Zang evaluating OTTBs under saddle at the 2014 Thoroughbreds for All! Event in Kentucky
I am a big believer that just about every OTTB you can find has the potential to be something useful and enjoyable for someone. It just takes someone to really evaluate what he or she is capable of, what he/she enjoys doing, and what his/her personality will predispose him/her to do or not do. It also takes time to transition them properly from the racetrack to their post-racing life, and turn their “go” into “whoa.”
Horse #1: Get Ready Go
Foaled on April 23, 2006 in Kentucky
16.0 hand Dark Bay or Brown Thoroughbred Gelding
More Than Ready x Adelantada by Rahy
48 starts-5 wins-6 seconds and 6 thirds for earnings of $68,711
Horse #2: Mr. Keeper
Foaled on March 31, 2006 in Kentucky
16.0 hand Dark Bay or Brown Thoroughbred Gelding
Lion Hearted x Talent by Cryptoclearance
64 starts-11 wins-10 seconds and 12 thirds for earnings of $191,503
Horse #3: Alex A Fortiori
Foaled on February 14, 2007 in Kentucky
15.3 hand Dark Bay or Brown Thoroughbred Gelding
Afleet Alex x Channel Crossing by Deputy Minister
46 starts-1 wins-4 seconds and 7 thirds for earnings of $37,840
How I Ranked Them: 1-2-3
I evaluated these horses from the perspective of what I, myself, would enjoy owning. Honestly, depending on what someone was looking for, I could easily see scenarios where my pics would be in a different order as, in my opinion, each of these horses is well-suited to very different off-track careers.
FIRST PLACE: Horse #1, GET READY GO
This son of More Than Ready is a big, strong, solid dude. Conformationally, he’s not perfect, but what horse is? He’s definitely got two different front feet, but both of them have a good amount of heel (as do his hind feet) so I can be okay with it as long as he has proper and regular farrier work. He’s been pin-fired, but I’m also fine with that, as it’s common in young horses and he obviously went on to enjoy a long racing career. He toes out in front and is offset in the knees, but neither is severe (though it’s hard to tell from the photos, as the head-on front he front and back aren’t the best angle). There’s a little lump on the inside of his right front leg that I am guessing is an old splint and only cosmetic at this point, but I’d want to run my hand down his legs to make sure it is located where it looks like it is and that it’s hard and cool to the touch, not warm or squishy/fluid-filled. He’s not really standing great in his photos, but looks to be a bit straight through the hock. Again, it’s minor and I’m not worried about it.
What I LOVE about him conformationally is his body. He’s got a strong hind end and equally strong shoulder. I like how his neck comes into his shoulder, and also the musculature and arc to his neck. He has high withers and there are two small scars on the left side of his withers, which would be worth asking the trainer about, but not, in my opinion, something that should make or break any consideration. He will need proper-fitting saddle for those withers and a good, comfy pad, but as he learns to use himself properly, he will really strengthen and transform through the back. He’s a bit uphill, which I also like. He’s well-proportioned and, when you look at the entire package, to me it looks like an athletic, balanced horse – not to front or back-heavy. All the parts fit together nicely. The cherry on top is his kind eye and pretty head. While looks can be deceiving, he looks to be an honest, friendly guy.
Looking at his race record, he’s changed hands more than a few times. He’s had long breaks each year, which is worth asking about, but they coincide with winter, which on the East Coast where he’s raced, are brutal, so it could just be that he was lucky enough to have the winters off. There was a race in which he pulled up and did not finish due to apparent trouble in the gate, after which he had a lengthy layoff, so that is also worth an inquiry.
His sire, More Than Ready, and his damsire, Rahy, are both known for runners who are sound and good gallopers over the turf. Turf sires tend to produce consistently good jumpers (I’m not smart enough to explain the nuances of why, but I’ve seen and heard it enough to know it’s true), and this guy is Turfy McTurfington based on his pedigree. Plus, I imagine based on his conformation that he would have a nice trot. With as much as he’s raced, to be retiring sound and with no limitations is a major indication as to his long term athletic potential. His trainer states that he’s good to gallop (and his muscling would suggest as much). This could make him a fun combined training mount for someone.
SECOND PLACE: Horse #2, MR. KEEPER
Mr. Keeper is definitely going to be a keeper for some lucky rider; he looks like a good guy. Without the variety of photos like we had with Get Ready Go, it’s harder to analyze his conformation, but there are a few key things to note. He has typical Thoroughbred feet, with not a ton of heel (but enough) and fairly long toes.
He’s run for a long time, and aside from one major layoff in 2010, he’s pretty much been in training consistently his entire career (and I’d ask about that layoff. He obviously came back from the injury and was successful for several more years, so I don’t think it’s a make or break issue, but his off-track owner should know about it so as to just be aware and informed). He’s older (8-years-old), but I look at that as a positive. He’s shipped all over the Eastern U.S. and has been there, done that. Through it all, he held up and was competitive until the end, which tells me he will be able to hold up to training and work in his second career.
He’s got a big, muscular chest, which I like, and while his neck looks a bit thin in the photo, he looks to be very well-proportioned in the video, and with time and proper training he’ll really fill out and be lovely, both in the neck and the hind end. Honestly, he finished just a nose shy of first place in my evaluation and it was all because of that video. He’s got a pretty, balanced trot and, something that really struck me was how respectful he was of his handler – almost like a partner with the gentleman. He looks like a horse, in my opinion based on that video, who would excel in the low to mid-level hunter/jumpers or as an eventer. Just imagine that floaty trot if he were on the bit, on arena footing rather than concrete, and ridden in a proper frame. It would be poetry in motion!
As for his breeding, I like, I like, I like! While he is by a Storm Cat-line sire, and that can tend to give a horse a hot temper, it can also give you a horse with tremendous heart and work ethic (as long as he uses his powers (bloodlines) for good and not evil!). I’ve seen only a few Storm Cat offspring in the hunter/jumper ring, but I’ve seen several by his son, Tale of the Cat, do well on the ‘A’ circuit.
Mr. Keeper is out of a Cryptoclearance mare. Cryptoclearance was by Fappiano and that line is a key source of soundness (Cryptoclearance ran 44 times, and many of his offspring are known for running and winning year after year). Fappiano was a great race sire who stood at Lane’s End in Kentucky, and he has proven to be a fantastic infusion of scope and jump in Thoroughbred sport horses. Some of the best Thoroughbred eventers have had Fappiano blood, and I’ve seen people actively look for them to make into hunters as well. They tend to be naturally pretty jumpers, and are confident over fences.
THIRD PLACE: Horse #3 ALEX A FORTIORI
Alex is an interesting package, and looks like a little powerhouse. First off, I love that his trainer gushed about him as a horse-lover and not just as a racehorse trainer. She says that he’s one of the kindest horses she’s come across and that “a good home is a must.” To me, that is a sign of a trainer who knows, loves, and wants the best for his or her horses, and horses often reflect that. That alone holds immeasurable value.
This horse RNAed as both a weanling and as a yearling, and my guess is that was due to a combination of his conformation and the economic downturn that hit the industry in 2008, in which the bottom completely dropped out of the market and made it exceedingly difficult to sell a less than perfect horse by a mid-range sire. But, a less-than-perfectly conformed horse can still run, and that’s exactly what this guy did, running 46 times exclusively at Charles Town Race Track.
Looking at his race record, he probably has had a few physical issues, as he’s had two significant layoffs, but he came back to race competitively after both of them. Another big plus for me is that he has had the same trainer for nearly his entire career. That, combined with the fact that she is eager to find him a good home, leads me to believe she’d be very forthcoming about any and all previous injuries/issues he’s had, and that can be a huge help in reconditioning and extending a horse’s athletic longevity.
Afleet’s Alex’s Preakness Stakes, where he overcame a stumble and still won!
This guy has a short neck and short back (which I tend to like as a package), with lots of “junk in the trunk.” He’s also got a muscular shoulder and big barrel. He’s almost a bit Quarter Horse-looking. To me, he looks a good bit like his sire, Afleet Alex, and that look seemed to serve him well, as Afleet Alex won nearly $3 million on the track. I love that he has Deputy Minister as a damsire, as I’ve seen a number of his horses go onto show careers, particularly in the hunter divisions, and the few I’ve been around as second career OTTBs have had friendly, affectionate temperaments.
His bloodlines and conformation, combined with the stellar personality that his trainer described, makes me think he’d be awesome as an all-around horse – one that can go trail riding up and down hills and through streams one day and pop over a 2’6” – 2’9” course the next day.
The Retired Racehorse Project is an effort to increase demand for retired Thoroughbred race horses as pleasure and sport horses through public events, clinics, training publications, videos and internet tools. Our mission is to facilitate the placement of retired Thoroughbred racehorses in second careers by educating the public about the history, distinctive characteristics, versatility of use, and appropriate care and training of the iconic American Thoroughbred. 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 retiredracehorseproject.org
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