XIN XU LIN (Wondertross/Barbiera) 

“I have a horse I’d like to show you,” said Johnny Burke, Darley America’s Keeneland trainer as we walked down his immaculately kept shedrow. 

“He was Horse of the Year in 2010 in Brazil. He won both the Grande Premio Ipiranga (Sao Paulo 2,000 Guineas) and the Derby Paulista (Sao Paulo Derby), as well as the most prestigious race in South America, the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini which is run on the turf in Argentina. Godolphin Racing, our racing operation, had really high hopes for him when he was purchased in 2011. Sadly it hasn’t worked out. He’s a special horse and deserves a special home. We know that the Secretariat Center can find him that.”

God bless Godolphin Racing, Darley and Sheik Mohammed!  Honoring a horse’s contribution as is. Not pushing it past its limits or dropping it down in class, putting the horse’s best interest first, and taking their losses quietly and with dignity. That’s horsemanship. And class.

“What’s his name?, “ I asked.

“XIN-XU-LIN. It’s Chinese.”

“What does it mean?”

“No idea,” said Johnny. “Really Great Racehorse?” he ventured, eyes twinkling.

“No doubt!, “ I agreed stepping in the stall to evaluate this Horse of the Year with the mystery name. 

Xin Xu Lin didn’t look special. He was a slight 16 hands, light in bone with offset knees and boxy upright hooves. Ebony bay, but no chrome. Wide forehead, shrewd, piercing gaze. I could tell he was sizing me up, and that I fell short. I asked Johnny if I could see him move. Xin Xu came out of his stall, dancing all over his handler. And when he jogged, he was racehorse tight, mincing  in front and tippy toeing behind. 

Clearly he was really smart, proud, and he knew he was somebody. I was intrigued by him and I wanted to show my appreciation of Darley’s responsible  handling of this horse and their faith in the MMSC. I knew he wasn’t going to be an “easy flip,” but it promised to be an interesting journey and an honor to work with him. “Send him to the MMSC, Johnny,” I said.

Xin Xu arrived at the MMSC in late April, bringing along with him a“Don’t mess with me!” attitude. Knowing that prior to turning him out for the first time we administered a hefty pharmaceutical cocktail, one that would have rendered Goliath weak-kneed. But not Xin Xu! He took  a few wobbly steps, lifted his head, and EXPLODED!  

Wow! Talk about fierce drive and formidable will. I watched him blast around that paddock seemingly ad infinitum and thought soberly: “Figuring out who this horse is and what he wants to do other than racing is going to be a challenge!”

So I decided to start simply: What did his name mean? I consulted with my nephew, Sam, who has lived in China and is fluent in Mandarin.

“There are many different meanings for each sound, Aunt Susanna.  So without seeing the actual Chinese symbols, it is impossible to know. It’s like trying to guess someone’s name based on their initials.”

So I googled “Xin” (it could mean “new,” “trust” or “mail”), “Xu” (a boy’s name, or  “brilliant rising sun”) and “Lin” (a Chinese surname.) Combined, the words didn’t make sense. I looked for emperors,  warriors, or poets  with that name. Nothing. Not even any Xin Xu Lins in the cyber White Pages.

I put that mystery on hold and went to work on the riddle of Xin’s Xu’s horsenality.  He was introverted, analytical and had a low opinion of humans. Not that he was evil or vindictive. Just arrogant and disinterested.  He did everything we asked: Natural horsemanship, trail riding, dressage, jumping. He just did it without expression, joy, or any exertion beyond the bare minimum. (We even asked him to try his "hoof" at painting to see if he had any unexpressed artistry!  But he was lukewarm about that too.)
Xin Xu Lin original
(see the blue jockey helmet and head in the center?)

Occasionally, he just closed up shop, and left the scene mentally. And that’s when the firm but fair discussions would begin. Given Xin’s Xu’s strong will, those discussions could be lengthy, but never heated. Just making the correct decision satisfying and the wrong one annoying. 

To combat his aloofness, I upped the TLC offensive: grooming, treats, even spontaneous visits with him at liberty in the paddock. Crabby about being touched, he did, in time, show that he had sweet spots--gentle finger nail scratches on his muzzle, soft palm stroking on the upper part of his neck, a circular fingertip rub on his forehead. He was a bit indifferent about treats, but his hot mash at lunch did elicit appreciation--although not undying gratitude. And I do think he liked the visits in the paddock.

 Despite the progress that I could see in his softening expression, he was still uninspired performer in the arena and several months into his reschooling, I still couldn’t figure out how get to his inner self and joy. 

It was in reading the articles written in Brazilian and Argentinian turf journals that I found some clues. Xin Xu Lin was the homebred of consummate Brazilian horseman, Oscar Faria Pacheco Borges. Borges served as the president of ABCPCC--the Brazilian equivalent of our TOBA or Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. He was the director of the Jockey Club of São Paulo. He had a breeding farm, the Haras Pirassununga, with a band of about twenty broodmares. When he died in March of 2011, his obituary hailed him as a champion of racing and stated that “the national turf world went into mourning.” Xin Xu Lin was his once in a lifetime dream horse.

Xin Xu was more than a homebred darling, though. He was a superstar to racing enthusiasts. Think how Zenyatta electrified a crowd when she came strutting out on the track.  Xin Xu Lin was the same: People clapped and screamed their adulation. It instilled this proud, competitive little horse with the will to win--and win he did--wire to wire--reaching down deeper within himself when challenged, pulling ahead. He raced for his fans. 

Which gave me an idea. On our next training session, all available Team MMSC two leggeds and the four legged Tank (who is an excellent herd dog with a clarion bark) were called to the Hitchcock pen.  

“Chant his name and clap,” I told everyone as I turned him loose.  I wondered if he would associate this narrow oval with the track?


 He picked up his head, arched his neck, and carefully trotted over the ground poles.


He popped over the cross rails, and upon landing flung his neck around proudly, Black Stallion-like, in front of Lori, who was snapping pictures of him.


He soared over the log with an impressive bascule and lift of his forearms. 

We roared with cheers!!!

And he was off, arching his neck, reaching out with lovely measured canter strides, each leap in lovelier form than the next. He had a crowd to please!

From this point on, I knew that there is nothing that this horse can’t do when he finds the right person. It’s going to have to be someone who deeply respects him, meets him half way, and who, by loving his big proud heart, inspires him. That lucky person will get not only a really great racehorse, but A REALLY GREAT HORSE. PERIOD. Johnny was right. Xin Xu Lin is special and deserves a special home. 

As for the mystery of his name, with a bit more sleuthing that, too, became clear. In an interview, Borges’ two sons explained that their family has a tradition of naming all foals born in a certain year with the same letter. Xin Xu was born in  the year X which limited choices. So they decided to pay tribute to a favorite Argentinian dish, chinchulin and swapped the Chs with Xs.  Apparently, chinchulin is a “dreamy” tasting barbecue made 
with the upper portion of the  small intestine of a cow.

“And that is how we got,  Xin Xu Lin,” they said, “The Dream Horse.

Cheery bye,


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