Chasing a Dream: Runaway Wildcat – How It Began

Chasing a Dream: Runaway Wildcat – How It Began

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Runaway Wildcat – The Dream Who Came True

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Anyone who has known me or followed my blog for a while knows that horses have always been an extremely important part of my life. I’ve often said that when one is born in Kentucky, the very first inoculation is one which ensures love of horses and bourbon. The love of horses kicked in very early with me, and some of my earliest memories are of horses – most specifically, thoroughbreds.

My beautiful picture

Me with Alysheba – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989

Without completely rehashing earlier blogs, Jim and I spent a few years in the thoroughbred breeding and racing business. While we loved the horses and everything about being around them, the business end was not kind to us. As I’ve often said, “If you want to make a small fortune in horse racing, start with a big one.” Let’s just say, it didn’t end well.

One of the brightest spots about loving horses is that you can meet some of the most wonderful people on the planet. (Yes, the flip-side is true, too, but we will focus on the good.) One of the best people I’ve ever known I met many, many years ago through the early days of computer networking – on Prodigy. My dear friend, Peggie, and her family became extended family of mine. We talked nearly every day on the telephone. She lived in the heart of horse country, near Lexington, Kentucky. Her love of horses and racing and mine dovetailed forging an amazing bond. She went through the many ups and downs of the horse business with us. She exulted with us over wins and cried with us over tragedies.

KeenelandInsideSalesPavilion

Keeneland Inside Sales Pavillion – From Keeneland.com

In September of 2009, I got a call from my friend. She’d been battling cancer and had been quite sick, so it was something of a surprise to hear from her. She said she’d gone to Keeneland to go to the yearling sales hoping it would lift her spirits. I thought that sounded just like her. Go see horses (especially young ones) = feel better. She was actually excited about one she saw there. He was from Michigan! (We had moved to Michigan in 2003, and had been out of the horse business for many years prior to that.) The thing about this colt was that he had a nice pedigree – especially considering that racing in Michigan had become all but non-existent (and, sadly, still is).

She said he was so incredibly pretty, well-built, and kind. Her big hook was that he had three Triple Crown Champions in his pedigree. Citation, Seattle Slew, and Secretariat (THAT almost got me), along with a couple of descendants of Northern Dancer – the preeminent progenitor of thoroughbreds in the current era, all figured prominently in his pedigree.

Wiley

Didn’t I want to reconsider having horses? Didn’t I want her to buy him for me? I was laughing because my never-give-up friend was so excited about something. I assured her that owning a racehorse (especially starting with a baby) was just not in the cards. I did promise her, though, that I would keep track of him to the best of my ability. I wrote down his hip number (that’s how they catalog horses in the sale), his pedigree, who had bred him, and followed his sale (for $10,000 to a gentleman from California).

Hip Number

Hip Number Example (NOT Runaway Wildcat)

In 2010, a 2-year-old horse named Runaway Wildcat started showing up as readying to race in California. Sure enough, it was the colt from the sale. Everything matched.

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Looking Forward to “Seeing” You Here Next Time on Colmel’s Blog!

Gulch: A True Champion

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One of the problems with loving horses is that they are all mortal. Even the ones whose names will live on forever – like Secretariat and Man O’War – have gone to the great, green fields in Heaven. Another of the greats has just joined them.

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Gulch at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Home – Photo by Rick Capone

Gulch was a true champion. He was a tough competitor who raced against the best of his generation (which was one of the best group of horses in history). I was lucky enough to see his gritty win in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. That was the year he won the Eclipse Award (the highest award given to a horse) as Champion Sprinter. It was also his last year to race before going to stud at Lane’s End Farm (where he would stand his entire career). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

 

Gulch was foaled (born) April 16, 1984. He was the son of perennial, number one sire, Mr. Prospector. His dam (mother) was Jameela.

 

Mr. Prospector is well known for his amazing history for siring top class runners (i.e., Fusaichi Pegasus, Forty Niner, and Seeking the Gold, etc.). His continuing sire line (through sons such as Fappiano, Forty Niner, Kingmambo, Smart Strike, and, of course, Gulch) is one of the most enduring and successful in the history of thoroughbred breeding. His prowess at siring top-notch broodmares is also well documented by being the top broodmare sire for many years.

 

Jameela was, by far the best runner her female family had produced for generations, and was also the best runner her sire ever had. The hard-knocking mare competed for four years and compiled a race record of 58 starts, 27 wins, 15 seconds, and 6 thirds for a whopping earnings of $1,038,714. In today’s racing, $1-million in earnings is still an amazing achievement. Considering that Jameela ran from 1979 through 1982, her total earnings are even more compelling.

 

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Gulch at Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

Gulch ran from 1986 through 1988. While best known as a classy sprinter, Gulch actually came in second in the 1987 Belmont Stakes. The Belmont is 1-1/2 miles, run on a sandy surface, and is the longest distance of any of the Triple Crown races. Gulch competed successfully at distances from 5 furlongs (a furlong is 1/8 mile) to 12 furlongs. This is exceedingly rare in racing in this day and age. Most horses show an affinity for a certain distance and are run almost exclusively in that distance or very close. Gulch showed great promise right from the start when he won several of the top races for 2-year-olds in 1986 (including the Hopeful Stakes, the Futurity Stakes, and the Saratoga Special Stakes.)

 

As a three-year-old, Gulch continued his winning ways. There were wins in the Wood Memorial, the Metropolitan Handicap (against older horses) and the Bay Shore Stakes. There were other great finishes besides the aforementioned second in the Belmont. He ran against all ages in the Woodward and the Whitney (both top American races) and finished second.

 

At four, he had his final, great year at the track with wins in the Metropolitan Handicap (for the second year), the Potrero Grande Handicap, the Carter Handicap and his tough win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. In addition, he had several seconds and thirds in the top races in the country. His final race record was 32 starts: 13 wins, 8 seconds, and 4 thirds for total earnings of $3,015,521. Again, remember this was the 1980s when purses were much less than they are today. He was appropriately named Champion Sprinter of 1988.

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A Shiny, Clean Gulch at Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

In 1988, we were attending our first Breeders’ at Churchill Downs. Jim and I had recently gotten into the racing business by buying a part interest in a 2-year-old colt in Georgia. Georgia (sadly) does not have legal horse racing (an aside – some very bright lights in the thoroughbred industry are still working on rectifying that). The plan was to race this colt in Alabama and/or Florida. We also had intentions of purchasing our own broodmare to get into breeding our own racehorses. Part of that process took us to Kentucky for a sale and to go to the Breeders’ Cup races. My hero, Alysheba, was competing for the last time of his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic; and the amazing, Personal Ensign was running in her final race in the Distaff. In my opinion, that year was the penultimate Breeders’ Cup.

 

 

I knew about Gulch. I had always loved his name considering his sire was Mr. Prospector. He had been trained by two great trainers in Leroy Jolley and D. Wayne Lukas. I loved his gritty determination and was anxious to see him get his due by winning the Sprint. An old favorite, Precisionist, was trying to win his second Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and one of my other favorites, Sunshine Forever was competing in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Now that I look back on that Breeders’ Cup, I’m struck that all of these favorites ended up at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky.

 

My beautiful picture

Me with Alysheba – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989

The next time I saw Gulch was the following May at Lane’s End. Several top runners had been retired to stud at Lane’s End and I was anxious to meet them all. Notable among the group were Alysheba, Bet Twice (the horse who denied Alysheba’s Triple Crown) and Gulch. I knew that all of the stud fees would be far out of our reach. One never knows if lightning will strike, and our first mare (a half-sister to a very good horse who had run third in the Preakness Stakes) had foals that could become stakes winners. If that were the case, the scenario could change. Of course, chances were slim, but one thing for certain in the horse business – if you don’t dream, you don’t belong.

My beautiful picture

Gulch – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989 (Does this look like a Champion?)

 

I had to laugh when they brought Gulch in. Alysheba was shiny and acting much the king of the hill and enjoying all the attention. Gulch, on the other hand, looked for all the world like a sullen little boy who had been pulled away from play. Indeed, he was covered with mud, was completely disheveled, and stood grudgingly in front of us. This definitely did not look like a champion. If you’d have seen him in a group, you’d never have looked twice. But, sure enough, in front of us was the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Award winning Sprint Champion. That was the moment I decided I really loved that horse. He became a “real” horse. He just wanted to play in the mud.

 

As a stallion, Gulch was a success. He sired Thunder Gulch who won the Kentucky Derby and who also went on to become a successful sire. Other good offspring include Court Vision, Great Navigator, and fellow Old Friends retiree, Wallenda. He sired more than 70 stakes winners during his long career.

 

Several times in following years we visited Lane’s End. Each time, I’d make certain to look for Gulch. We got to see famous half-brothers A.P. Indy and Summer Squall. Lane’s End has been home to some of the best stallions in the 20th and 21st century. Still, Gulch was a favorite and I never tired of seeing him.

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My favorite photo of Gulch – Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

 

When I heard that Gulch had been pensioned to Old Friends in 2009, I was ecstatic. It’s been over 20 years since we were in the horse business, and our visits to stud farms pretty much ended when we left the business. With Gulch going to Old Friends I was happy for several reasons. The first was that I knew he would continue to get the best of care. Second, other fans would get to meet this wonderful horse. The most selfish reason was that I would get to visit him again.

 

The last visit I had to Old Friends was to celebrate a landmark birthday in 2013. We planned our whole trip around making certain that we would be able to be at Old Friends on my birthday. That’s all I wanted for my birthday – to be able to see all the horses that truly were “old friends” of mine.

Gulch

My last photo of Gulch. He’d been in the mud again (his left side was caked). A happy horse

 

When I saw Gulch, I had to laugh. Once again, he’d been in the mud. He was wearing a fly mask as the August weather and lots of rain had made for a bumper crop of biting flies. Gulch was still the same horse I’d come to know. He was friendly, but still I had to feel that he’d rather be back out rolling in the mud. So, somehow, it seems fitting that my final visit with Gulch was similar to the first.

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Rick Capone’s Wonderful Photo of Gulch at Old Friends – Fields of Green

 

Gulch was humanely euthanized on Sunday, January 17, 2016. The gallant, old man lived to the ripe old age of 32 (which is very rare in horses). Old Friends took the step to put him down because cancer was starting to overtake Gulch and he deserved to be pain free and go quietly to sleep.

 

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Gulch – The Look of Pure Joy (How I’d Want His Hereafter to Be) – Photo by Rick Capone

 

One more beloved champion is racing through the never-ending fields of green (and, in Gulch’s case I hope an always-sloppy, mud hole).

 

 

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Looking Forward to “Seeing” You Here Next Time on Colmel’s Blog!

April 28, 2015

I’m Reblogging this terrific post from Old Friends. It’s time for the Kentucky Derby. Without a doubt, my favorite winner (other than Secretariat – and y’all know how I feel about him) was Silver Charm. He had the same sire as our Untarnished, and he was born and raised on the farm from whom we bought Untarnished’s mom, Permanent Cut. I got to know Bonnie’s Poker (Silver Charm’s mom) while she lived at Old Friends. I can’t wait to go and visit him – and all the other wonderful horses at Old Friends later this spring or early summer.

In the meantime, I’m trying to heal from foot surgery (in case you were wondering why I hadn’t been around for a while). I promise to start blogging again in the very near future.

Old Friends Blog

Hall-of-Famers Bob Baffert and Silver Charm share a playful moment. Hall-of-Famers Silver Charm and his trainer, Bob Baffert, share a playful moment. Photo by Tim W.

…Speaking of wonderful moments shared between our residents and their connections, here’s one that happened today. I wish I could describe the reminiscing shared by 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm and his trainer Bob Baffert when Bob, Jill and Bode Baffert took time out from their busy pre-Derby schedules to visit Old Friends.

A Silver Charm brings good racing luck, they say... Are the two veteran Derby winners exchanging perspectives on how Saturday’s race will play out? Photo by Tim W.

Or the welcome Game On Dude gave them, especially Jill–smart horses like the Dude know who loves them the very best of all.

The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other's company. Photo by Tim W. The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert, Bob Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other’s company. Photo by Tim W.

I wish I could describe the memorable time they all had being together again…

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March 4, 2015 – Farewell Creator!

Creator was so amazing. Words cannot express the depth of his character. I am sharing Old Friends’ (bless you, Beth) obituary as the photos, story, and links need to be shared. I have added a few of my own photos of Creator. Run free, beautiful boy! I’m sure that Sunshine was waiting for you to show you to the evergreen pastures.

Creator in August 2013

Creator in August 2013

Creator  Summer 2013

Creator
Summer 2013

The Great Creator Old Friends - August 2013

The Great Creator
Old Friends – August 2013

Old Friends Blog

For three days I’ve waited for the words for a fitting tribute to Creator. They haven’t come. No words can begin to describe him, or the loss of him.

Creator, Feb. 2010, by Laura Battles. Creator, Feb. 2010, by Laura Battles.

Few who saw Creator at Old Friends saw him race, but in the summer of 1990 he was the best horse running in Europe, a superlative athlete worthy of his great lineage: Nasrullah, Never Bend, Mill Reef. He was already a character. Later, one of his grooms in trainer André Fabre’s barn would tell Michael how they called Creator “Houdini” because no matter how meticulously they’d fasten on his blanket, the next time they checked on him they’d find the blanket on the stall floor. Creator’s easy victory over In the Wings in the Prix Ganay was especially celebrated. To this day, Creator is remembered in Great Britain. Here is his obituary in England’s Racing…

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Old Friends at Old Friends – Part 1

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

To celebrate my birthday this year, I wanted to go to “Old Friends – A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds”  (http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/). It is one of my favorite places on the planet. Our appointment was for the 10:00 a.m. tour on August 23.

Having been born in Kentucky, and since we were in the thoroughbred breeding and racing business for a number of years, it always concerned me as to what happened to horses after their racing and/or breeding careers were over. This is a situation I am still uneasy about for most horses. One place I am completely at peace with is Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky.

 

Bonnie's Poker (Looks Like She'd Enjoyed a Roll!)

Bonnie’s Poker
(Looks Like She’d Enjoyed a Roll!)
Old Friends – Spring 2009

Our first trip to Old Friends was in 2009. My main focus at that time was to see Bonnie’s Poker – the dam (mother) of dual-Classics winner, Silver Charm. Bonnie belonged to Jack Dudley in Florida. Our first mare, Permanent Cut, had belonged to Mr. Dudley, and was purchased through the Ocala Breeders’ sale in January of 1989. She was carrying a Silver Buck foal. I always felt as though Bonnie and P.C. might have known each other.

Let me take a moment to HIGHLY recommend taking a tour of Old Friends! The moment you walk through the office door, you are greeted like a family member – one that people are happy to see. It’s as though you walk into a place where you are totally welcome. It’s hard to appropriately explain the feeling of complete belonging I feel once I arrive at Old Friends. People who have never been there before, or ever even been around horses, report the same feeling of tranquility. It’s almost as though the rush-around world of day-to-day temporarily ceases to exist.

Our group assembled and we headed out to see some of the amazing residents. Not all the horses at Old Friends are former champions – many are. Those who are here are the lucky ones. Someone – or some group – cared enough about these former racers to ensure that their lives after their careers are spent in complete contentment.

You can read all about the residents of Old Friends on their website. I’m going to limit this blog post to my personal memories of the horses we visited.

One of the first residents we met was Gulch, the 1988 Eclipse Award-winning Sprinter.

Gulch Lane's End - 1989

Gulch
Lane’s End – 1989

I had met Gulch many years ago just after he and a superior class of runners had been retired to stud at Lane’s End. Their stallion directory was an amazing “Who’s Who” of recently retired runners (as it still is today). New stallions at the time were Alysheba, Bet Twice, Steinlen, and Gulch. I had grown an immediate attachment to Gulch. Whereas Alysheba was regal, extraordinarily friendly, and spotless, Gulch was irascible and completely covered with mud. Something about his devil-may-care attitude completely captivated me. He’d already proven all he needed to on the track. He would go on to prove himself many times over as an amazingly successful sire.

Alysheba & Me Lane's End - 1989

Alysheba & Me
Lane’s End – 1989

 

Alysheba & Me Lane's End - 1989

Alysheba & Me
Lane’s End – 1989

Gulch Old Friends - August 2013

Gulch
Old Friends – August 2013

 

I had not been back to Old Friends since Gulch was pensioned. I was delighted to see that he really hadn’t changed all that much. He looked fantastic! His flesh and muscle-tone were good. He had aged well. And true to form, he was still largely unimpressed by his visitors, and (as evidenced by his halter) a fan of mud.

Sarava

Sarava
Old Friends – August 2013

  

Sarava Old Friends - August 2013

Sarava
Old Friends – August 2013

Up next was Sarava. I had not previously met Sarava. I remembered him as a huge upset winner of the Belmont Stakes and knew that he was a son of Wild Again (one of the most beautiful stallions I’d ever seen), but had no idea that Sarava was such a beauty!

Bull Inthe Heather

Bull Inthe Heather
Old Friends – August 2013

 

Bull Gets a Carrot

Bull Gets a Carrot
Old Friends – August 2013

Bull Inthe Heather was his normal gregarious self. He stood, not so patiently awaiting his “due” attention and carrots. Bull is a son of the great, much-missed Ferdinand.

I'm Charasmatic

I’m Charasmatic

Another new-to-me resident was I’m Charismatic. This lucky gelding was sired by the beautiful Charismatic who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and was saved from certain destruction by the late Chris Antley in the Belmont Stakes. I’ll always remember Chris jumping off Charismatic, his dual-Classics winner, mid-stretch, and cradling his left, front leg and somehow keeping him calm until help could arrive. It is an enduring, indelible image.

I'm Charismatic He Gets a Carrot Too

I’m Charismatic
He Gets a Carrot Too

It seems that I’m Charismatic got lucky, too. Even though he had the bloodlines, I’m Charismatic didn’t have the same trip through life as his sire. I’m Charismatic is a terrific example of the lot of most thoroughbred horses. They are bred to race. When they don’t show the talent to be top racers, they are dropped lower and lower in class. Unlike too many, who are sold to meat buyers from Canada or break down, I’m Charismatic had owners who cared enough to find him a retirement home. He must have been born under a lucky star, because he’s found Heaven on earth. I think he knows this, because he is a completely sweet and affectionate boy.

The last horse I’m going to tell you about in this installment is Ogygion. Ogygion is another stallion I met for the first time many, many years ago. The year was 1987, and this beautiful son of Damascus had just gone to stud at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky.

Ogygion Old Friends - August 2013

Ogygion
Old Friends – August 2013

After many years in the breeding shed in Kentucky, Ogygion was bought by breeding interests in Japan. When his fertility started declining, Ogygion was sent back to the United States where he was welcomed to his forever home at Old Friends. This (now 31-year-old) boy still is an amazing presence. Like his sire, it seems as though Ogygion has inherited the longevity gene. I was amazed to see him saunter up to the fence to receive his visitors looking many, many years younger than his years.

Ogygion Old Friends - August 2013

Ogygion
Old Friends – August 2013

In my next post, I will share photos and remembrances about many of the other wonderful horses that I was blessed to be able to spend time with at Old Friends in August. Among these are some of my very favorites – Special Ring, Danthebluegrassman, and the late (and much-loved) Sunshine Forever.

I also got to have a very special visit with Tinner’s Way.

Please take a few minutes to visit Old Friends’ website (http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/). I can’t stress strongly enough the amazing work they do and the care they give. Keeping all these wonderful horses properly cared for is no easy feat. It’s also very, very expensive. While the folks at Old Friends usually don’t stress how much money it takes to care for these special creatures, I am more than willing to remind everyone who reads my blog how much it takes. If you are tempted to help, please do! I take no remuneration from my blog or from any source about whom I write. I, usually, don’t request readers to support any cause. I’m making an exception here because I’ve seen, first hand, the fine care given to the horses at Old Friends, and I also know how much it takes to feed, house, and care for just a few horses – let alone over 100.

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