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All Hail the Thoroughbred: Ex-Racehorses Set to Take on Rolex Kentucky

Written by on April 28, 2016

The Thoroughbred has a storied place in the history of eventing. Dating back to the roots of the sport — cavalry training — the Thoroughbred has long been touted as a stalwart candidate for the rigors of cross country riding and the endurance required to complete three phases of competition.

As we look ahead to the commencement of Rolex Kentucky this weekend, we have several Thoroughbreds competing in Kentucky.

In all, we’ll see a total of 25 Thoroughbreds, 19 of which had racing careers, cantering down centerline beginning Thursday. These Thoroughbreds come from all over the world, some had successful racing careers and others showed their distaste for speed and instead have found success in the eventing world.

Prime advocate of the off-track Thoroughbred Laine Ashker will be competing her own Anthony Patch this weekend. Anthony Patch, who raced as Alex’s Castledream and broke from the gate 10 times, is contesting his seventh CCI4* event in Kentucky. These two completed Rolex as well as Burghley in the UK in 2015 and are looking forward to showing the crowds what a sporty Thoroughbred can do.

“You never know if you have a four-star horse until you cross the finish line,” Ashker said. “They can have all the talent in the world, but they have to have the heart, and I’ve found the Thoroughbreds really do.”

Laine praises the stamina and athleticism of the Thoroughbred — a vital component when you’ve hit the eight minute mark on an 11-minute cross country course. “The thing that always impresses me with these horses is that I have yet to feel them using the ‘reserve tank’ on course,” Ashker explained. “(Anthony Patch) has done a lot in his life, and even at his older age (17), I have yet to feel him tire. He always has that extra ounce of go. Most Thoroughbreds do.”

While modern eventing has often gone the way of the fancy moving Warmbloods, Thoroughbreds can still very much hold their own in the first phase of competition, dressage. Anthony Patch has often won many events at the Advanced level on a dressage score in the 20s, and his flatwork has progressed to be very competitive over the years.
“I can’t take credit for his movement,” Ashker said. “I can take credit, along with all of the help I’ve had along the way, for honing and fine-tuning that movement, but he’s always had it. I saw it when his former owners lunged him when I went to see him for the first time.”

The same can be said for many of the other Thoroughbreds competing this weekend. Donner, who is ridden by Lynn Symansky, is also one to watch on the flat. A big, strapping bay gelding, Donner raced under the Jockey Club name “Smart Gorky” and raced six times throughout his career. He then went on to represent the United States at the 2014 World Equestrian Games and is making his fifth CCI4* appearance.

A big redheaded Thoroughbred by the name of Blackfoot Mystery, which is incidentally his Jockey Club name, will be piloted by Boyd Martin this year at Rolex. Blackfoot Mystery made three starts and will be running his first CCI4* this weekend. Boyd also has a second Thoroughbred competing in Steady Eddie, who also raced under the same name in Australia and who is also debuting at this level.

Boyd is also a firm supporter of the Thoroughbred, even though he has horses of all different breedings and backgrounds in his stable.

“Definitely on (dressage day), being on the fancy, shiny European show pony makes you feel like a champion,” Martin said. “But there’s not a lot of other breeds I’d rather be sitting on come cross country day. Once you get past seven or eight minutes on course and the horses have to dig deep, the Thoroughbred really knows how to dig out and find their way home. Not many people have experienced what it feels like to be on a tired horse at the 10 minute mark, and the Thoroughbreds don’t get to that point.”

Martin acknowledges that the flatwork can be the toughest phase with Thoroughbreds. “They’re taught to run fast all the time,” he said. “They can be more high strung, and dressage can be a nightmare sometimes. I’ve gotten lucky with my horses where they are good on the flat.”

Martin is thrilled to be competing a total of three horses at Rolex this year, and since they are all owned by syndicate members this is a perfect opportunity for his owners to come and see their horses in action in a picturesque setting.

What about the other ex-racers competing in the Bluegrass State this weekend? There are plenty to choose from if you’re a Thoroughbred fan. Here are some fun facts about the Thoroughbred field:

Irish Rhythm, owned and ridden by Rachel McDonough, raced an impressive 43 times. While race records are not available for all the Thoroughbreds entered, this is easily the most starts of the horses for whom we do have a record.

A.P. Prime, owned and ridden by Leah Lang-Gluscic, is also up there in starts with a total of 31.

F.I.S Prince Charming, owned by Denise Barry and ridden by Lisa Barry, was actually purchased basically sight unseen from New Zealand after Lisa wasn’t able to make the trip to try him. She purchased him on good faith and high recommendations and a video of the horse. We’ll say that was a risky decision that paid off in spades!

Rise Against, owned and ridden by Bunnie Sexton, completed his first CCI4* with Bunnie in 2015. Bunnie proved that age was just a number, clocking her first Rolex at the age of 54.

Frankie, owned by Steve and Karri Guy and ridden by Australia’s Ryan Wood, was the most successful racehorse of this year’s bunch, earning $99,000 in 19 starts under the name Pass This.

To view a comprehensive list of all the ex-racehorses competing at Rolex this year, click here.

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