Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Claiming Game

Each night lately, I wake up around 3am and can't get back to sleep. I toss and turn and annoy the cat with my restlessness. Last night while I tossed and turned I started to think about a couple people I know who are waiting to get their special Off Track Thoroughbred.

One of them is a girl I don't know that well at all. She wrote on my facebook page that she was inspired by me and Jaguar Hope. She waits patiently and cheers on a horse named Pay Attention. Pay Attention has earned over $500,000 and his owners are now running him in lowly $4,000 claimers at Penn National. He's on The Top Bunk List, a list of race horses who have earned over $500,000 and are now running in $5,000 claiming races or lower. She attends his races and brings him carrots and apples. He's an absolutely lovely animal.

He will be racing this Saturday. Let's hope he will run safely, not be claimed and be retired afterwards to this lovely woman who is so devoted to him.

Then my thoughts wandered over to a dear friend of mine who, since the time I've known her, has told the world she wants to have Ballast when he is retired. Yesterday, 8 year old Ballast, winner of several Grade III turf races, was running in a $50,000 claiming race at Gulfstream Park. Sadly, he was claimed and will no longer be training with Graham Motion. My friend and I are friends with most everyone at Herringswell Stables (Graham Motion's stable) and cheer on their horses and visit them with multiple bags of carrots in tow. Ballast was always high on our list, along with Better Than Bonds, Shake the Bank (now retired), Independent George, Icabad Crane, Rebellion and his royalty Better Talk Now, just to name a few. Ballast running in a claiming race left me wondering, "why would Ballast's owner put him in the claiming ranks? Hasn't he proven himself?"

Ballast (IRE)

Ballast at Fair Hill

Although claiming is part of the sport, I feel strongly that it hurts horses such as Ballast and Pay Attention. Typically, horses on their way down get jumped around from owner to owner each trying to squeeze out what they can financially from the horse. Sadly, many very successful horses, such as Brave Miner, Mighty Beau, and Sky Diamond don't make it to retirement. This, in my opinion, is a huge black eye for the sport. These horses deserve to be retired with dignity and not end up at low level tracks in low level claimers. They should be celebrated.

I was lucky with Jaguar Hope. He had a great owner during his racing days. He wanted to retire him sound and give him the opportunity to have a second career with me. For that, I'm so grateful. Although our time was cut short, Jaguar Hope had the life of Riley being my dressage project and love of my life. Thank you Dr. Gorham for caring for the horses and being a good representative for the sport. I'll always be grateful to you.

Looks like Ballast may have some good dressage moves! :)



  1. Great post Wendy! And I couldn't agree more. It's shameful that these guys end up running their hearts (and sometimes their very lives) out in these low level claimers. I hope Pay Attention and Ballast wind up being two of the lucky ones

  2. Excellent post about an issue in racing that really can be fixed but that, for now, breaks a lot of hearts. Thanks so much, Wendy.

  3. Thanks Wendy. Don't know what I'd do without you!

  4. I have to distance myself from the industry, because the "use them up and toss them out" mentality is just too common -- and troubling. My husband is an equine veterinarian, and feels that morally he could not do track work, again because too often owners and trainers want vets to do whatever it takes to get their horse through the next race, even if it's not in the horse's best interest. In November 2007 I went with Rick to a conference in Lexington, and we got to visit the "Old Friends" racehorse retirement home there ( Such a wonderful place, but they can help so few!

  5. Yes, here's to Pay Attention - may he run a safe race and kudos to his "guardian angel", looking out for him!! Dr. Decherd might have a thing or two to say about the claiming system too... ;) Kat

  6. I am looking out for Principle Secret. He ran against Street Sense in the 2006 Juvenile Breeders Cup. He has been racing ever since and is getting into lesser and lesser claiming races. He is beautiful. He is a dark bay almost black, with a white star and the tiniest little white blaze.....