10/08/2017 1:07PM

Old Tavern crowned 'America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred'

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Old Tavern and her 17-year-old rider and trainer, Charlie Caldwell, won the vote for the “America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred” title, the crowning award presented at the Retired Racehorse Project's $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Old Tavern and Caldwell, who are based in Coldwater, Tenn., won the polo division at the Thoroughbred Makeover, besting locally based Trey Schott and Buck Schott. The latter was the defending winner. With the polo community promoting the event on official websites and social-media channels, they then picked up 27 percent of an open text-message vote against the other divisional discipline winners to earn the Most Wanted crown.

Caldwell took home $15,500 in purse money – $5,000 for winning the division, $500 for being the top junior rider in the division, and $10,000 for the Most Wanted title.

The other divisional winners were Woodford Channel and Lauren Burke (field hunter and freestyle), Cactus Willie and Allison Thompson (eventing), Late Night Mark and Isabela de Sousa (show jumping), Seeking Fame and Charlotte Cannon (show hunter), Chapter Two and Alison Wilaby (dressage), The Bowie Van and Franny Galvin-Hynes (competitive trail), Not So Silver and Mindy Stoops (barrel racing), and Think Global and Russell Littlefield (working ranch).

Old Tavern was bred in West Virginia by Larry Curtis. The 3-year-old filly is by Peak Dancer, who stands at Householder Farm, and is out of the unraced King Cugat mare Modest Madame. Old Tavern was also unraced but posted published works earlier this year at the Middleburg Training Center that qualified her for the Makeover.

In order to be eligible for the competition, horses must have raced or had a published work after July 1, 2015, and may not have started specific second-career training before last Dec. 1. Caldwell privately purchased the filly from Curtis.

"She's special," Caldwell, a Pony Club member who is the first polo rider to win the Makeover in its five renewals, wrote on his horse listing page. "With her willing-to-work attitude, she has loads of potential and is already proving to make a nice polo mare."

Competitors were allowed to cross-enter two disciplines. The lone double-division winner was Woodford Channel, who faced salty competition in both his disciplines under Burke. He first edged multiple graded stakes winner Mister Marti Gras and Mandy Alexander by less than a point to win the field hunter division. He then earned the freestyle division win over Bowdrie and Lindsay Partridge. The latter rider was the defending winner in the freestyle division and won the overall Most Wanted title in 2015.

Woodford Channel, by turf champion English Channel and out of the stakes-winning Wolf Power mare Pandora's Secret, last raced less than a year prior at Keeneland, concluding a racing career in which he went winless in five starts. Burke calls the 5-year-old gelding “Woody” around the barn.

"So surreal," Burke wrote. "My goodness, it was all him! Woody finally got to stand in a winner's circle."

Late Night Mark's show jumping victory gave de Sousa her third consecutive victory in the division. The 16-year-old, who has been training with this horse since April, is the daughter of Hidden Brook Farm managing partner Sergio de Sousa and noted equine veterinarian Karen Wolfsdorf.

"You repurpose [racehorses], and you get to see them go on and have potential to do great things,” Isabela de Sousa told the Chronicle of the Horse. “It’s a really nice feeling to know you helped them out, and you’ve done something for them, because they deserve it.”

Irish-bred Late Night Mark began his racing career in Europe before being imported to the U.S., winning 2 of 14 starts overall.