by Bob Gates
I'm back following a week's hiatus due to one of the ugliest bouts of, well, why don't we just call it a bad case of colic and leave it at that. I'm still on the mend and am writing this from what was a week ago, my death-bed. This week I have a story that needs to be told, even if I have to do it through a cold-capsule induced delirium.
The Sport of Kings has many pieces to it, but at its core is the thoroughbred. Without this majestic four-legged beauty my friends, we have nothing. If horse racing were a summer blockbuster movie, the actors, the show-stoppers would be the horses and everyone else the supporting cast. The racehorse is the rock star, no others need apply.
But what happens when they are done racing, or for that matter, what happens to those who don't quite make it to the show or aren’t quite good enough to compete. Where do they go? What happens to them?
For most of us these horses drift off into obscurity, never to be heard of again. But they live somewhere, someplace and it’s a challenge that the industry as a whole struggles to address.
I guess the harsh reality is that I never gave this much thought, but I do now! This topic took on a whole new meaning for me upon reading Darryl Kaplan's "So God Made a Racehorse." Here are a couple of excerpts from his text:
And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a hero." So God made a racehorse.
God said, "I need somebody with a heart so big and a body so strong that she can inspire children though her eyes, adults with her strength, and everybody else by her breathtaking beauty." So God made a racehorse.
God said, "I need a real champion who will deserve that roar of the crowd, the deafening cheers and the genuine adulation. In a world searching for integrity and honesty, she will live up to her heroic status, and unknowingly dedicate each moment on this earth to being a role-model, striving to be the best and most respected. She will never ask for anything in return." So God made a racehorse.
So touching was this tribute, and given that this is a historical blog, let's take a brief look at some racehorses past, to answer the question, "Where are they now?"
Some horses are a great deal more fortunate than others. Take for example former local champions Elite Mercedes and Monsoon Rain. These stars of the track were retired to their forever homes by their owners, Sue Hebenton and Larry Carter. Elite is 20 now and lives out his retirement on a farm south of Calgary, but close enough for regular visits. According to Sue, Elite is famous for his big kisses and starts talking and drooling for carrots as soon as he sees her. Sadly, they lost Monsoon a couple of years ago. A loss that still troubles Sue. When Monsoon left he took a little piece of Sue with him.
Joyce and Ed Pawluk's 23 year-old Smoky Cinder is ruling the roost out at the Pawluk homestead in Woodlands and he'll have his forever home as long as he causing chaos out in "his" pasture. Ed cusses him out every now and again, but it's all talk. Old Smoky has a good grasp on Ed's heart strings.
Then there's retiree Constant Star, a one-time star from the barn of Phil Kives' K5
Stable. After this boy's racing career ended he worked as a pony horse at the Downs until his retirement in 2012. Last I heard, the 22-year-old Star was living in Pipestone with the McKenzie family.
There's also the story of Duke Taylor or "Gus" as he was called by Linda and Randy Hill. Following his racing career Gus was adopted by the Hill family and lived to the ripe old age of 24. By the way, Gus was half brother to Manitoba Derby winner Merry's Jay.
Lastly I'd like to mention the recent passing of Master Fuzz B, he was 32! MFB found his way into the heart and soul of Louise Townsend, who ensured that he had his forever home following his racing life. In fact on Wednesday July 19, there is a race to honour the memory of Louise's friend and winner of the 1991 Inaugural Handicap. Louise said it best, "MFB was a thoroughbred champion on the records and in our hearts."
Some of the horses I have mentioned were champions, but it matters not what they accomplished on the racetrack. Each of these special creatures deserve a forever home. To this end I want to share information about a group whose aim is to provide another option for the industry, Final Furlong.
Final Furlong was formed eight years ago and is the brain child of April Keedian and Emily Johnson, who has since retired and has been replaced by Jan Melnychuk.
Final Furlong offers a free horse listing service to owners/trainers at Assiniboia Downs. April and Jan will video and photograph a horse and list them on the Final Furlong Canada Facebook Page at no charge. Buyers contact sellers directly. The goal is to help Downs' horses find their next career, promote thoroughbred horses in the province and offer a resource for new and potential Off Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) owners.
Originally hosted on a webpage, Final Furlong has evolved to successful and active Facebook page with over 3,200 Likes and an audience view of more than 80,000 for their most popular horse listing.
To be clear, the Final Furlong is not a horse rescue, but it is another option available to an industry that needs to do what it can to assist racehorses who are entering their "final furlong" in search of their forever home.
I think it's best to close with another quote from Kaplan:
At the end of a long day, I need somebody to nuzzle up to her newborn foal, encourage him on to his feet, and nurse him off to sleep, with the knowledge that one day her little colt will be a champion like she was, a hero like she is, and make the world a better place, like she does, every day of her life.
So God Made a racehorse.