02/09/2018 12:06PM

Overdriven's latest career comes via aftercare program

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Guilia Garcia/New Vocations
Overdriven, at New Vocations in Lexington, Ky., on Jan. 31, is being trained for a new career at the aftercare facility.

The white stripe down the dark bay’s face and his four white feet are familiar as he steps out of the barn into the sunlight. But Grade 2 winner Overdriven isn’t heading to the racetrack – he’s walking to the arena at New Vocations’ historic Mereworth Farm facility in Lexington, Ky., for an afternoon ride.

After standing five seasons at stud, the son of Tale of the Cat has been pensioned and gelded and is in a retraining program at the Thoroughbred adoption facility, a rare approach with an active stallion.

“We might have had one other horse, a Standardbred, that was a breeding stallion,” New Vocations program director Anna Ford recalled. “We get plenty of [younger] colts gelded prior to coming here, but they weren’t standing at stud anywhere, so it’s totally different.”

Overdriven will soon be made available for adoption at New Vocations as he eyes a third career following racehorse and stallion.

“I think he just screams hunters,” said Melissa King, manager and trainer for New Vocations’ Lexington facility. “He’d also be very well-suited for dressage, but ‘hunters’ is written all over him.”

Overdriven sparked excitement when he debuted at Belmont Park in July 2011 for Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher with a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, a rare accomplishment for a 2-year-old first-time starter. Overdriven went on to win the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga by four lengths, posting a 93 Beyer. But prior to the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, for which he likely would have been favored, Overdriven went to the sidelines with an injury. He returned more than a year later, finishing fourth in the Mr. Nasty Stakes in November 2012 at Belmont, before another injury caused his connections to retire him to Ocala Stud for the 2013 season.

Overdriven covered 110 mares in his first season, according to The Jockey Club’s Report of Mares Bred, and a healthy 81 in his second season. He has been represented by 41 winners from 71 starters through Feb. 6 for earnings of just over $2 million. The stallion is led by Arms Runner and Drive Sandy Drive, both stakes winners last year, and Nieve Morena, a Group 3 winner in the Dominican Republic.

But interest from a fickle market has waned in recent years, and Overdriven’s book sizes dropped below commercially viable levels. After covering 44 mares in 2015 and 47 in 2016, Overdriven was bred to just 11 mares last year.

Repole is a vocal Thoroughbred aftercare advocate who has supported New Vocations and Old Friends, among other entities. The owner sought out options for his youthful stallion – he turned 9 this year – that would allow him to keep a close eye on the horse’s future, and that led to the exploration of another career and taking the unorthodox approach of reprogramming an active stallion.

Ford said that Ocala Stud’s David O’Farrell was willing to give it a try.

“But we didn’t know if it would be successful or not,” Ford said. “He’s got to be socialized with other horses, turned out with other horses, be able to be ridden around other horses and behave himself. They’re used to that on the track, but they’re also not breeding stallions.”

Overdriven was gelded, and after healing from the procedure shipped from Ocala to Lexington shortly after Thanksgiving. Now, several months after being gelded, his personality has mellowed somewhat as testosterone clears his system.

“He’s still cheeky, but he’s settled in well,” Ford said.

Overdriven took up residence in the Robsham-Repole Barn, an equine residence co-sponsored by his owner and Robsham Stables. Fittingly, Overdriven’s coach for the next phase of his life was New Vocations pensioner R Ranger, who was bred by the Robsham family. The 10-year-old gelding, a full brother to Grade 1 winner Discreet Cat, never raced due to a leg anomaly and has resided at New Vocations since age 3, socializing Thoroughbreds who are not accustomed to turnout and have not interacted extensively with other horses.

“Ranger is kind of a professional at socializing naughty colts,” Ford said. “He’s big. He grew up to be a really big horse, and he’s stout.

“Naturally, the other horses, I feel, pick up his calm nature and disposition.”

King began riding Overdriven in January, and the athletic gelding quickly made an impression.

“He feels like a dreamboat,” King said. “He’s very much your ideal hunter type. His trot, he swings very freely through his shoulder, and his canter, he’s naturally collected and balanced. He carries himself. He is a showman, for sure.”

On a brisk but sunny day in late January, Overdriven appeared forward and interested as King puts him through his paces, trotting and cantering around the outdoor riding ring with his ears pricked. Despite gusty winds and the sound of nearby machinery, he displayed good composure for a green horse, only once jumping sideways when a chain on the arena gate rattled.

“He’s got a good mind,” King said. “It’s funny – some of your big, bold stallions ... silly little things will ruffle their feathers. He doesn’t react hugely.”

After a moment and a pat on the neck, the Thoroughbred was trotting down the side of the ring ready to respond to the next request.

“He gets a little worried, but he’ll listen to you when you say, ‘It’s fine, let’s keep going,’ ” King said. “That’s the professional side of him. He’s very much a professional.”