They had hoped for 60. But 300 showed up, despite the early morning downpours and threat of more storms.
Three hundred horses participated in the inaugural Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show, hosted by the Maryland Jockey Club and the Adena Springs Retirement Program on July 14, 2012 at Pimlico Race Course. They trailered in from as far away as New Jersey. The show office, quickly overwhelmed, found itself grappling with 800 entries for eight classes. Eight classes were divided into 16 classes, but many still had 40 or 50 riders.
“I didn’t expect to see this many people,” said show organizer and founder Georganne Hale. “The idea was to make people aware that Thoroughbreds can have other occupations after the racetrack. I thought we’d have 60 horses, if we were lucky.”
When it became clear that the show was growing exponentially, Georganne quickly adapted by adding a ring and a judge and hustling up some extra sponsorship money to cover the prizes, as each class paid through third place.
Georganne put together an all-star team of Thoroughbred professionals as her judges, with Rodney Jenkins as anchor.
Rodney commanded the American show ring in the 1960s, 70s and through most of the 80s, retiring as the most successful rider in the history of U.S. show jumping. He rode on ten winning Nations Cup teams, placed eighth in the 1974 World Championships, was sixth in the FEI World Cup Final, won five American Gold Cups as well as the grand prix at the National Horse Show, and won the President’s Cup at the Washington International. Rodney was finally able to ride in the Olympics and Pan Am Games after the rule prohibiting professionals was relaxed. He won team and individual silver. He was an American Grand Prix Association Rider of the Year and the 1987 AHSA Horseman of the Year. Rodney is a member of the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame as well as the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.
After retiring from the show ring in 1991, Rodney switched his attention to a lifetime passion he shared with his brothers: race horses. As he did with the show hunters and jumpers, Rodney has built a phenomenally successful race career, winning with 19% of his starters and saddling 25 stakes winners. While based at Laurel, he earned leading trainer for Laurel for 2002, and was Leading Trainer of the Year in Maryland in 2004.
This story comes full circle. Rodney’s father was professional staff for several Virginia hunts (serving as both whipper-in and huntsman at different times), and of course the family often used horses off the track. Rodney never had a riding lesson; he learned by watching and by doing. By the time he was ten, Rodney was competing horses for other people, quickly dominating the circuits in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.
One of Rodney’s most famous partners was the Thoroughbred Idle Dice, (Jockey Club name Jonlyle, by Hay Hook), and understandably he favors the breed. “I’ve always liked a typey horse,” Rodney told The Chronicle of the Horse (February 21, 2011). “I didn’t like the big, heavy horses. I like the smaller, keener horses. I don’t like to push and pull all the time.”
Obviously, Rodney was the natural to anchor the judging team for MJC’s Totally Thoroughbred Show, which he did along with Lenny Hale and Steuart Pittman (to learn more about Steuart, please see “It’s all in the Pedigree” elsewhere in this issue).
Recently retired as the executive director of The Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Maryland native Lenny Hale has a long and storied career in the Thoroughbred world.
Lenny obtained his track license in 1961 (to work as a groom), then his trainer’s license quickly followed (which he has kept current). From 1966–75, he worked as an assistant starter, starter, paddock judge, patrol judge, and/or placing judge at Hialeah Park, Calder Race Course, Delaware Park, and Garden State Park. From 1975-83, Hale served as assistant racing secretary or racing secretary at Arlington Park and the New York Racing Association tracks.
From 1983-93, Hale was vice president/senior vice president, racing and properties, for the New York Racing Association, moving back to Maryland in 1993 to become the vice president of racing for the Maryland Jockey Club as well as racing secretary at Colonial Downs. In 1993, he “retired,” became a consultant and ran a broodmare and layup business at his Rockburn Farm in Marshall, VA, before being recruited to run The Charles Town HBPA.
But, like the other Totally Thoroughbred judges, Lenny’s love for “all things Thoroughbred” extended beyond the track. He has hunted them, whipping-in for the Green Spring Valley Hounds; he has shown them, and in the process served as the president of the Professional Horsemen’s Association.
The Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show rules clearly stated that the — USEF rules were to serve merely as “guidelines” and that the classes would be judged “hunter-style,” but not in accordance with any circuit standards. All the judges selected were first and foremost Thoroughbred men, devotees and professionals within the breed.
The purpose of the show was to demonstrate the classical versatility of the Thoroughbred, in an atmosphere free of the current trends and politics. It was intended that this would be a show in which anyone riding a Jockey Club-registered Thoroughbred could compete on equal footing in a relaxed and congenial environment.
Unfortunately, a few riders were audibly upset that management did not adhere strictly to — USEF show hunter rules. However, the vast majority of riders seemed to enjoy themselves and the day, and understood the challenges facing the judges. Most were supportive of MJC hosting another show next year (or perhaps a series).
The Classes & Prizes
Classes included lead-line, walk, walk/trot, walk/trot/canter, trot over fences, trot or canter over fences, canter over fences and the championship class.
The Pimlico Perpetual Trophy was awarded to the overall champion, a 12-year-old gelding named Houston, who edged Testamonialy and Lovey for top honors.
By 1989 Federico Tesio Stakes (G3) winner Rock Point out of unraced Anita’s Magic, by Woodmagic, Houston and his rider, the 26-year-old Megan Sullivan, finished second in two classes (Class 6-Division C and Class 7-Division A) earlier in the afternoon.
“I give him all the credit,” said a proud Megan. Purchased as a yearling for $600 from the Timonium Fasig-Tipton sale, Megan displays a motherly pride. “We raised him…I have been to the Preakness almost every year of my life and to be able to show in the infield was really awesome. I have done some big shows but to do it at a very historical place was so fun. It was a very nice horse show.”
Testamonialy, it should be noted, won the Adult Amateur Classic at the Washington International Horse Show in 2007 under the name “The Patriot.” Testamonialy is by outstanding sport horse sire Reputed Testamony and his dam Don’t Pass Me By is by Preakness Stakes runner Parfaitement). Notes Denny Emerson, who acquired the Maryland-bred Reputed Testamony to serve as a foundation stallion for his breeding farm:
All but the first three of Reputed Testamony’s fifty-five races were at distances longer than one mile, and all of his races were stakes and allowances. The average modern Thoroughbred which is able to make it through training to get to the race track at all, makes fewer than twenty lifetime starts. “Rep” raced 55 times, over six years.
Additionally, only three out of 100 horses win one stakes race. Sired by Preakness winner, Deputed Testamony, Reputed Testamony won three stakes races on his way to earning nearly half a million dollars. In all kinds of weather, and on all kinds of track surfaces, from brick hard to standing water and mud, Rep placed first through third in 26 of his races. Ask any race horse trainer whether it’s a significant feat to place 26 times in stakes and allowances!
Show organizers distributed almost $10,000 in prize money to the owners of the first three finishers in each class (60%-winner; 30%-second place; 10%-third). Ribbons were awarded through sixth place.
At End of the Day
Were there management problems? Of course. The first time for any venture is going to have bobbles, and when there are 500 more entries than expected, it can be a challenge.
But the organizers worked hard the weeks going into the show and on the day of the show to resolve those issues, and will continue to work hard. They know they need to streamline the process for entering classes, perhaps ramp up the jump crew, and certainly improve the communications between the rings and the trailers.
Will there be complaints about the judging and the footing? Yes, if riders expect a rated horse show environment. Are the show organizers interested in putting on a rated show? Not particularly. “Inclusiveness and diversity are very important to us,” explained former MJC co-owner and current consultant Karin de Francis after the show, “especially when you consider our prime objective is to [raise] awareness for post-race careers for Thoroughbreds, and to raise money for such great causes—so, the more, the merrier!”
Several old-time Thoroughbred and horse show folk were delighted with the show, noting that is was “just like the old days,” riding on grass before pre-engineered footing was standard, and riding for judges more interested in the horse than the rider. And many thought that the heavy morning rains watered the infield turf “to perfection!”
“The Totally Thoroughbred Show at Pimlico was awesome!” exclaimed Ross Peddicord, executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board. Ross has a long history with the Maryland Thoroughbred. Like many others, he grew up foxhunting and showing Thoroughbreds. As a journalist, he served as the race writer for the Baltimore Sun for 18 years. As a breeder, he was proud to own one of the most dominant mares in Maryland horse history, Reethia, who was one of winningest, if not the most, Thoroughbred broodmares to have ever entered the ring at the Maryland State Fair, winning the broodmare class five times and the overall Grand Championship three times.
“It had an amazing old-timey feel,” explained Ross. “It was great to see so many longtime wonderful Maryland horsemen and women like Johnny Bosley, Lizzie Merryman, Bobbie Stedding and a host of others turn out for this event. Once again, it shows the strength of the Maryland horse industry. Given the right marketing, venue and timing, our industry is ready to burst at the seams with new energy and events.”
And what about moving it to another venue, as some suggested. Not for this crowd! As Equiery associate publisher Jennifer Sponseller Webster (who also shows hunters when she is not foxhunting or selling ads) noted, “It was like stepping back in time to see a neighborhood come out and enjoy the event. Folks who grew up next to the track, whose fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers probably groomed and hot-walked horses at Pimlico in the days of War Admiral and Seabiscuit. It was great!”
Not to mention that MJC has built-in amenities that other venues don’t have. They have an in-house catering service that provided good food at affordable prices. They have an in-house source of labor for ground crews.
And the ability to show a horse that had at one time raced at Pimlico offers a unique experience. One exhausted but brilliantly beaming young lady was walking her horse back to the trailers. Asked how it went, she gushed, “It was terrific! I was not sure what he would do when he saw that rail! He hasn’t been on a racetrack since the last time he raced, and he was SO GOOD!” Where else but a track can one conquer that fear that the white rail will cause their horse to regress? If MJC hosts a Thoroughbred Horse Show, it makes sense for MJC to host it at Pimlico.
But was it successful?
“In sheer numbers, this was phenomenal,” said owner Betty McCue, who brought nine horses down from her Baltimore County farm. “Horses from every walk of life came to do this which meant terrific competition. When we do other events, we usually see the same people and it is wonderful, but this event, with Thoroughbreds only, opened up a whole new world for us. It is great to see the different horses coming from different places.
We cannot wait for next year.”
Was it successful? The inaugural Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show raised over $16,000 for its official charitable beneficiaries: Thoroughbred Placement Resources, Angel Acres Horse Haven and Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Rescue. The funds were generated primarily through entry fees, T-shirt sales and raffle prizes.
Was it successful? HRTV.com streamlined the event and reported the largest number of visitors to the site since the day before the 2012 Belmont Stakes.
Was it successful? After 800 rides and $16,000 in revenue, the day ended just before 8 p.m., as the sun was setting…not bad for “maybe we will get 60 or so horses.”
At the end of the day, yes, the inaugural Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show was a total success!