by Kara Toye, MMSC Trainer
The Thoroughbred Makeover is upon us. The nation’s stage of the "Thoroughbred Movement" where we all come together to showcase OUR breed will be taking place right here at the Kentucky Horse Park, the home of the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center. “My” charges are now down to one - Tower of Texas. I started with him as well as War of Ideas and now have had to make the choice to focus on ToT alone, because Warrior just isn't ready.
I wanted to write a little about the journey with these horses and draw some parallels to my families’ struggles in training racehorses. This particular journey is slightly different than the other hundreds of transitioning stories under my belt. This story, like all the others of course, starts (and ends) with the horse. Most of the horses that I have worked with before and work with now are slow, or were not ever or are no longer successful on the track. As you could expect, it’s generally easier to teach new careers to horses like these.
Tower of Texas & War of Ideas were neither. Tower, a multiple graded stakes winning gelding was a horse that was GOOD at what he did. Warrior was GOOD at being bad, & breaking his maiden earning a 96 Beyer shows he was also good at being fast. Witnessing his impressive form over a fence, I entered him in show hunters and jumpers, but after multiple summer setbacks that have made consistent training problematic, he has shown that he’s not ready. As a mindful trainer, I need to recognize that. But then again, the disappointment that comes from scratching a horse from a race is a feeling all racetrack trainers know.
Nothing about horse training is easy and especially on a deadline. I went through various usual processes with these horses during training at the MMSC and I encountered brick walls with both of them leading up to the Makeover. The things that I cried to my mom about made so much sense when I related them to (race) trainer woes.
“But ToT looked so good in the first videos!” …He peaked very early on when the lightbulb came on. He was forward, smooth, and jumped around gamely and took each lead. The pressure I felt is equivalent to a bullet work being shown to the world. This bullet was ‘fired’ at his home arena. Reproducing that under pressure on the big stage is the next challenge.
The New Vocations All-Thoroughbred Charity Show held at the Kentucky Horse Park is like that allowance race you enter before the stake. This was a chance to see what he would behave like and how he would ‘handle the ground’. It wasn’t all bad but we definitely saw where the improvements need to be made. Maybe its as simple as an equipment change? Maybe we both need blinkers? I study all the things to set this horse up for success and I’m admittedly very hard on myself but hey… I was born in horse racing and dang it, I’m competitive.
A great horse is not always an easy horse and ToT showed the breadth of his horsenality when he felt tension and pressure by releasing some bucks on course and during classes. They weren’t quite celebratory bucks, and weren’t exactly malicious. I had to constantly ‘talk him out of them’, but he had a quiver full of them at the ready. I had heard this was a thing he did as a racehorse. He really let one rip after smacking a jump because you know… he’s competitive too.
The final purse for the Makeover competition is comparatively extremely low from racing’s perspective, equivalent to an average claiming purse. But the desire to succeed runs deep and the stress felt by fellow Makeover trainers when I read about their journeys is insightful. My hope as a stakeholder in the racing world is that equestrians participating in the Makeover journey will get a feel for the time, hopes and dreams that owners, trainers, and breeders feel as well as an appreciation for costs endured and the setbacks they go through during the THREE years it takes from conception to track. A racehorse carries more than the weight of one rider on its back as it walks to the starting gate - it carries these hopes and dreams of every person that has played a hand in getting it to that gate and every person that cheers for it and wishes it well. This is why the world is enamored with horse racing, and this is the beauty of the Makeover - bringing the weight carried by these horses full circle with new hopes and dreams and celebrations of success.
The Makeover is here and now and the competition limits you to 2 horses. Imagine being a race trainer, having a string Thoroughbreds in training, looking for races months out, with prep limited to the hours of 5-11am daily. The concept of time is always on your mind. Smart management plus horse skills should equal success in ANY ring but alas, it always comes down to the horse… and as any wise trainer of any discipline knows - it takes the time it takes, and in the end, the horse has the final say.