New Tracks for the King of Closing

God writes straight on crooked lines goes the Portuguese saying. Sometimes things in life are so bewildering and circuitous, it's hard to stay positive. But this adage serves as a reminder that in the end, all will be okay. Indeed, probably MORE than just okay. It will be amazing.

Tower of Texas's racing career was written on circuitous lines. 

It began on February 2, 2011. Bred by Dave Anderson and Rod Ferguson and born in Ontario, Canada, the bay colt with a “T”-shaped blaze on his face was small but well-balanced with a hip angle that suggested power.

It was that conformational suggestion, along with the aristocratic pedigree - Street Sense out of Rare Opportunity by Danzig Connection - that caught the eye of Scott Dilworth at the Keeneland January sale. Although just a weanling, Tower "looked like a racehorse," Dilworth remembers thinking. He bought him as a pinhooking prospect and reached out to his friend Tom VanMeter to partner in the venture. They prepped him and ran him through the Fasig-Tipton October yearling sale.  “He had some baby stuff on his radiographs, and no one bought him,” Renee Dailey, Van Meter's partner and manager of the yearling division, remembers.  So they sent him to the McKathan Brothers in Ocala Florida and readied him for the Two-Year-Old in Training Sale. He performed well with a bullet work but once again, the vets picked on him and he did not sell.  

The only option left for the partners was the “circuitous line” of racing. Still having great faith in the little colt, and being a Canadian Bred, they showed him to trainer Roger Attfield and off he went on his next journey. VanMeter named him “Tower of Texas”, after the cell phone company that Dilworth's father owned, but wanting the name to refer more to the big oil pumps throughout the state of Texas with great hopes he would bring wealth the same way. Tower ran four times that year, earning a few seconds and $42,766. Good, but not spectacular. 

The mediocre performance continued into his third year. Van Meter was frustrated. "Tom just figured that Tower didn't have what it took to run past the lead horse...he was satisfied with second," Dailey says. In his second race as a three-year-old, despite breaking well and having some early speed on the backstretch, Tower went wide on the turn and got pinned in the pack coming into the stretch. VanMeter, sure of the outcome, decided to turn away and not watch his beloved horse get beat again.

Photo by the BloodHorse

Photo by the BloodHorse

“WAIT!" Dailey screamed. 'LOOK AT HIM!! HE IS GOING TO WIN!!!'" Sure enough, Tower had kicked into another gear. He lengthened his stride and dug in, picking off one, then two, then another and another, finally finishing in front by a length.  

“I was jumping up and down and making so much noise, I know I embarrassed everyone,” Dailey remembers. “But it was just so thrilling to see him run like that!"

Tower had finally figured out what the game was all about and how he liked to play it.  

Over the course of Tower's racing career, Attfield learned how to enhance and parlay that running style. Tower became a multiple graded stakes winner, making $936,312 (USD) in 32 starts. His hang back/cliff hanger/nerve-wracking/fingernail-biting stretch run ending in titillating triumph style garnered him a huge fan base and the moniker "The King of Closing."

Photo by the BloodHorse

Photo by the BloodHorse

That's the thing about circuitous lines. You never know what unforeseen outcomes or what hidden marvels the story will hold. Tower of Texas, the little horse that didn't sell, became the delight of his owners, breeders, and racing fans because he had what no consignor or buyer can ever ascertain despite scrutiny of pedigrees, conformation and health reports. Tower of Texas had heart. "You know, a lot of racing stories are like that," Dailey remembers. "It seems like when things don't go according to plan, there is a good reason for that."

But there comes a time in every racehorse's life, no matter how much heart, when the aging process wins out, and the horse's racing days are over. In some, but not many instances, a horse may go on to a career in reproduction. Tower, a gelding, couldn't go that route. 

So he went back to the farm to let down and rest up while the partnership tried to figure out the next chapter in his story. He was sound and retired from racing, but still had a lot of life ahead of him. They rode him around the farm and found him remarkably laid back, a kick ride even. Dailey and friends would trail ride him and staff would ride him bareback and in a halter for fun. But there had to be more for this great racehorse with the temperament of a kid’s pony. What should his next job be? 

Dailey decided to reach out to the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center to help answer that question. "Having worked in animal welfare and shelters myself, I know that most of the time you can't move an animal quickly through a program, especially if it is a horse, and particularly if it is a Thoroughbred. You have to know them and the horse needs to know things. Not only that, you have to know the adopter and the fit between horse and rider to be right. Moving animals fast may look good, but more often than not, the end result isn't good. We came over to the MMSC and liked what we saw. In our mind, it’s the right way to go about transitioning an OTTB, and we decided we would like Tower to illustrate that."

Tower wearing a  Bemer Horse Blanket

Tower wearing a Bemer Horse Blanket

Accordingly, Tower came to the MMSC at the end of May. Having spent many months on turnout, he had had ample time to unwind from the high gear days at the track, mitigating the necessity for multiple sessions of integrative therapy to facilitate the retraining process. Nonetheless, he was started like all of the MMSC initiates, with "spa" treatments. These include checking the balance of teeth and feet, along with chiropractic, acupuncture and various integrative therapies - magnets, laser, massage, etc., as needed. Because he was in such good shape, he transitioned very quickly to the second phase of the MMSC program: Natural horsemanship, desensitization, ground work and light riding.

From the first, Tower showed he had smarts and class and was unflappable when it came to "bombproofing." Under saddle, as promised, he was a kick ride in the arena and on hacks. 

Tower working over the MMSC obstacle course with intern Emily, in the “bombproofing” phase of his reschooling.

Tower working over the MMSC obstacle course with intern Emily, in the “bombproofing” phase of his reschooling.

But then the honeymoon ended.  After several weeks of "to-the-manner-born" best behavior, Tower decided to show who he really was - a confident, assertive leader. Given his career, one would expect nothing else, really. Seasoned competitor, proven winner, all guts and heart, "The King of Closing” - there’s only so much polite acquiescence a King of Sport in the Sport of Kings can take.  

But that is not how the human/horse partnership works. It's a herd dynamic, even though the group consists of only two. For that relationship to be effective and harmonious, there needs to be a clear leader, and the partnership must be based on the power of the connection rather than the force of orders.  

Which means that Tower has to learn, as he did at the track, what the new game is all about and how to play it in a way that is affirming for him yet good for the herd. Not that he is being bad. His desire for herd dominance is manifesting itself in intermittent challenging of human authority, disinterest in his lessons, minor protests, and agitation. All of this is to be expected in a horse with his character and past. None of this is insurmountable. It just takes patience, creative problem solving, and a commitment to empowering him with making his own choices while presenting those choices in a way that makes the right choice is easy/pleasant and the wrong one less so. 

Tower will get there in the time it takes. The lines will be circuitous no doubt. How circuitous? Who knows? In the end, if the saying is true, all will work out exactly as it is supposed to be. Tower has already proved that with his racing career.  Won’t it be interesting to see what the next part of his story is?

Tower of Texas’s first ride at the MMSC, with trainer Kara Toye aboard.

Tower of Texas’s first ride at the MMSC, with trainer Kara Toye aboard.