10/21/2015 10:25PM

Gisser: Plenty of life after racing

Keith Gisser
Heidi Leasure and Allamerican Legacy defeated 16 other Standardbreds to win the English Pleasure class at the World Standardbred Show.

This weekend, most of the top performers in our sport will be in action in the Breeders Crown at Woodbine in Ontario. It is a showcase weekend for harness racing. Will Bee A Magician win her third Crown? Can the seemingly ageless Foiled Again stun the Open Pacers? Can Wakizashi Hanover or Freaky Feet Pete stake a claim to divisional honors? Will Control The Moment stay perfect?

Regardless of this weekend’s results, at some point in the future these amazing performers will see their racing careers end. For Bee A Magician, there is a second career as a broodmare. For Freaky Feet Pete and Control The Moment, likely stallion careers. And with their notoriety, geldings Foiled Again and Wakizashi Hanover are probably assured of great homes in retirement. Is there any doubt that Foiled belongs at the Kentucky Horse Park when he is finished racing?

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But many racehorses retire less gloriously. And many Standardbreds never make it to the races. What happens to them? Most fans of the sport have heard of the Standardbred Retirement Foundation and New Vocations Racehorse Adoption program, to name just a couple of great organizations that make sure non-racing Standardbreds are well cared for in their non-racing life. But racing fans and the public rarely hear these horses’ stories. I admit, I never gave the topic much of a thought.

Until last weekend, when I attended the World Standardbred Show at the Eden Park complex in Sunbury, Ohio. There were Standardbreds (and a smattering of other breeds) galore represented and I have to say I have never been more impressed with our breed than I was after attending the show. I saw Standardbreds jumping; Standardbreds driven through a ten-gate cone course, with gates barely wider than a jog cart’s wheels; I saw them ridden in dressage, Western and English events. And I even saw some dressed in costume, accompanied by Minions. Hey, it’s not all serious competition.

I have always been amazed at the versatility of our breed, as a light-duty work horse, as a transport horse (these days pretty much limited to Amish families), and of course in the sulky. But this was an eye-opening experience for me. And, just maybe, we have found a way to create racing fans. At the Harness Horse Youth Foundation, many of our campers have riding experience, but never were involved in driving and become fans of the pacer and trotter afterwards. If we can reach out to this huge riding community at shows like this, and show them the ability the Standardbred has, maybe some of them will go to the races. Or at least adopt a retired racehorse.

While industry support for the show, through class sponsorships, was strong, attendance was not. I did see a few Northfield Park regulars, and even some of the track’s horsemen. Several folks mentioned they went to Scioto now and then. But those stands could have been filled (By the way, free admission and great barbecue in the concession area- just sayin’). The volunteers who put on this show work ridiculously hard and I am sure they are far more concerned with their exhibitors and competitors than with how many people are in the stands, but we need to get the word out. Events like this compliment racing. I spoke with exhibitors from Michigan, Ontario, Tennessee, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, and while some had racing backgrounds or experience, many did not. And even if we in the racing biz can reach those who are showing, we build a new audience. The show includes several classes for horses just off the track, and in fact, some horses who are still racing competed (there’s that versatility again). There are also a couple of classes for ‘warhorses,’ horses with at least 100 career starts. But not all these Standardbreds have a great racing history.

The late Jack Tramonte purchased a son of Dragon Again named Allamerican Legacy as a yearling for $25,000 in 2004, eventually bringing in partner Ed Mullinax on ownership of the horse.  Allamerican Legacy never made it to the races, but he is making up for lost time in the show ring for owner Debbie Guiles Schiff. Over the weekend, at age 11, he won 21 classes, including four World Championships.  Amazingly, Allamerican Legacy won each of his World Championships with a different rider or driver! He won the 2-Gait English Pleasure World Championship with 10-year-old Kassidy Leasure at the reins; the Saddleseat Championship with Becky Pitcock riding, and the 2-gait Western Championship with Kassidy’s mom, Heidi Leasure, in the saddle. And he won the Youth Driving World Championship in line to Avery Smith.  Needess to say, “Al,” was the overall top point Standardbred in the show, as well. This is a horse which could easily be used to promote the Standardbred in many, many ways, including racing, and his connections attempt to do just that.

“Al LOVES the kids and has done in hand demos at the Equine Affaire in Columbus the last 5 years in the kids pavilion - in addition to demos in the Coliseum,” Schiff explains. “We adopted him from New Vocations and he has been a joy to be around ever since.”

If a racehorse went on a winning streak like this, the industry media would be all over it. In the show ring, not so much.We are missing a great opportunity to promote, or perhaps cross-promote, racing at these shows. And Allamerican Legacy’s story is just one of many I heard from exhibitors. But its Breeders Crown week and I am out of space, so those will have to wait. Now go cash.

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