10/02/2017 11:46AM

Thoroughbred Makeover showcases breed in a different light

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While current Thoroughbred racing stars contest the stakes-rich opening weekend at Keeneland hoping to move on to the Breeders’ Cup, several hundred retired racehorses will be vying for their own rich prize nearby at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The $100,000 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover, which has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception in 2013, showcases Thoroughbreds in a variety of disciplines. Among the aims of the event is to increase awareness of the breed’s versatility and trainability, thereby increasing demand for Thoroughbreds as riding horses. In this year’s Thoroughbred Makeover, set for Oct. 5-8, horses are geared toward one or two disciplines or categories: barrel racing, competitive trail, dressage, eventing, field hunters, freestyle, polo, show hunters, show jumpers, and working ranch. Each division’s top finishers compete on the final day in a best-in-show competition for the America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred crown.

According to Retired Racehorse Project statistics, 341 individual riders, 40 with two horses, had applications approved for the event. The riders, ranging in age from 13 to 71, have converged on the Horse Park from 38 states, Canada, and the United Kingdom. This year’s most popular disciplines are eventing, with 100 entries, and dressage, with 89 entered.

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. Among the more accomplished racehorses who fits those parameters and is jumping into a second career this year is millionaire Mister Marti Gras, who won the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap, Grade 3 Washington Park Handicap, Oliver Stakes, Mystic Lake Mile, and placed in 15 other stakes. The gelding, now nicknamed Krewe after Mardi Gras parade organizers in New Orleans, will compete in eventing and field hunters under Mandy Alexander. In a social media post for a Retired Racehorse Project series spotlighting competitors, Alexander described how an ideal partnership was formed between herself, a former upper-level eventer who had become burned out on showing, and the gelding, whose career tailed off last fall at age 9, to find meaning in this competition.

“In the beginning, I thought the Makeover was just another competition,” Alexander said. “[But] I have found others who believe in these horses as much as I do. I learned it isn’t so much a competition as it is a gathering. It’s a place to show off what we all can teach this breed to do. And it is so much more fun than serious competition.”

Multiple graded stakes winner Nates Mineshaft, who bankrolled $858,975 during his racing career, will compete in the trail division with Shannon Reed. There, he will face multiple graded stakes winner Cary Street and Stephanie Butler, who will also compete in eventing. Other graded stakes winners competing include Speechify in dressage with Sarah Berkowitz, and Howe Great in jumpers with Dennis Murphy Jr.

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Notable trainers bringing in Thoroughbreds this year include former jockey and avid event rider Rosie Napravnik, a two-time winner of the Kentucky Oaks. Her partner is Aztec Brave, who was trained to multiple stakes wins by Napravnik’s husband, Joe Sharp. Other trainers this year include Canadian Olympian Ian Roberts, who will ride Rambling Ring and Roaring Applause in both eventing and jumpers; World Equestrian Games silver medalist Dorothy Crowell, with Agazon in eventing; and Rolex Kentucky four-star winner Nick Larkin, with Love’s Not Fair in eventing.

Lindsay Partridge (2015) and Lauren Turner (2016), whose trainees have won the last two editions of the America’s Most Wanted competition, are back with new entrants this year. Partridge, based in Ontario, has Here Comes Adri in trail and field hunters and Bowdrie in trail and freestyle, while Turner, shipping in from Georgia, has J V Three in dressage and eventing.

“We were overwhelmed not only by the number of applications but also by the quality,” said Retired Racehorse Project president Steuart Pittman. “We have very competent horse trainers in every discipline, including some who have competed at the Olympic level. Our goal has always been to increase the demand, and ultimately the value, of retired racehorses.”

The weekend event will also include several seminars on topics including selecting horses for sport, training, and health and wellness of the horse, and training clinics in a variety of disciplines. Presenters include Larkin, Napravnik, Partridge, and Roberts.