The Equiery Salutes 2017 Stallion of Distinction
Salute the Truth
By Katherine O. Rizzo (first appeared in the December 2017 issue of The Equiery)
This past summer, Maryland said goodbye to sport horse stallion Salute the Truth [Willie], as the 22-year-old Maryland-bred Thoroughbred was euthanized due to failing health at Dodon Farm, the Davidsonville farm where he spent nearly his entire life. Owner Steuart Pittman wrote that evening on the farm’s Facebook page, “He did everything I ever asked of him, and he kicked my ass when I needed it. He pushed me to my limits and I pushed him to his. We lived a hell of a great life together, jumping terrifying cross-country courses, suffering through endless hours of dressage, and sharing thrilling moments in the breeding shed. Everything that horse did in his life was with dignity, and he sure as hell went out that way. Thank you Willie. I love the hell out of you.”
Although “Willie” started out life as a flat track racehorse, his eventing career spanned from Beginner Novice through the CCI3* level. And as with many great stallions, many of his offspring have surpassed his own achievements on the track, in the show ring and out cross-country either jumping fences or following hounds. His legacy reaches far past Maryland’s borders with offspring all over the country putting Salute the Truth on the sport horse breeding map. But he did not just put his own name on that map, as Salute the Truth and Steuart Pittman became names rarely uttered without each other.
Deep Maryland Roots
One of the attractions for those with mares looking to breed to Salute the Truth was his extensively successful bloodline. The mares and stallions in his lineage have produced top racehorses and sport horses such as Olympic medalists, international eventers and jumpers as well as champion steeplechasers and amateur hunters.
Felicity A.B. Stisted bred Salute the Truth at her farm next door to Dodon Farm. His sire is the famed Maryland stallion Salutely, who also sired top distance runners and steeplechasers such as Saluter (see sidebar). Salutely, was bred in Maryland by Mrs. Richard C. duPont, and stood at Green Willow Farm until his death. Salutely’s sire is Kentucky-bred Hoist the Flag, who produced both champion racehorses and sport horses. Salutely’s dam, also a Maryland-bred, was Politely, from the renowned Bohemia Stable of Allaire duPont. Politely earned $552,972 over 49 starts in her long career on the flat track.
Salute the Truth’s dam is Good Queen Liz, another Maryland-bred (Hideaway Farm), whose sire is Maryland-stallion Sir Raleigh, bred by Jacques Wertheimer. Sir Raleigh raced overseas in France and stood at stud at Bonita Farm in Harford County.
If you look farther back in Willie’s pedigree, you see War Admiral, Tourbillon, My Babu and Spy Song–all known for their racing success and also for producing top sport horses for a variety of disciplines.
With all of those great horses in his lineage, one would think that Salute the Truth would be a perfect flat track horse, which was the hope of breeder/owner Felicity and trainer James M. Casey. The big-bodied colt was so leggy as a yearling that Steuart remembers him being laughed out of the annual Maryland Horse Breeders Association Yearling Show. Felicity gave him time to grow and did not race him until his three-year-old season. Registered with the Jockey Club as Boy Done Good, he had five starts in 1998, finishing second once and third once, for earnings of $8,830.
“I remember watching him race at Laurel that year and he was winning for most of it ‘til the final stretch,” Steuart said, adding “then Edger Prado rode a horse right past him and Willie didn’t even care he was being passed.” He finished out the season with a third place finish at Colonial Downs before returning home for the winter.
A small suspensory tear prevented Willie from going back into race training, and so he moved next door into Steuart’s barn as a four-year-old.
Retraining a Racehorse
Although Steuart did not officially buy Salute the Truth until 1999, Steuart had a history with the horse before the colt was born. Steuart, who had been making a name for himself retraining ex-racehorses, was looking to branch out into the breeding business when he rode Felicity’s mare Good Queen Liz. The mare had been bred to Salutely, but Felicity was convinced she had not taken. “I really liked the look and feel of her,” Steuart said.
He and his father purchased the mare and brought her home. A few months later, it was clear she was in foal. “So Felicity took her back to foal out at her farm. She didn’t come back to us until after Willie was weaned,” Steuart explained. Felicity often hacked the horse around Dodon, and Steuart had first right of refusal on the colt. “It was a lot of waiting and watching and really wanting him for myself,” he added.
When the suspensory injury meant Willie’s racing career was finished, Steuart bought him for $10,000 and a promise of two free breedings a year for Felicity. “That is the most money I’ve ever spent on a broken-down racehorse!” he laughed. “But I was a big fan of Salutely and knew this was the colt I wanted to start our breeding program.”
Once at Dodon, Steuart started Willie’s rehab, which initially was stall rest and hand walking. “He was crazy! I couldn’t handle him and couldn’t even lead him around the indoor without him rearing at the end of the shank,” he remembered. Steuart sought advice from jockey turned trainer Hugh McMahon, who helped him teach Willie ground manners to keep everyone involved safe. “Even then it was clear that horse was king of the farm.”
After a winter of rehab, Willie, renamed Salute the Truth by Steuart, was entered in his first horse trials, Beginner Novice at Marlborough. At the same time his eventing career was getting started, Steuart was learning the ins and outs of running a breeding barn. “I took him to classes at Equine Reproductive Concepts in Virginia,” Steuart explained. There he learned how to collect and package semen for shipping. The plan was to be able to do everything involved with breeding sport horses at home.
Eventing at the Top
Steuart and Salute the Truth quickly moved up the ranks from local starter events to national U.S. Eventing Association recognized horse trials. In 2001, when Willie was just six years old, he was entered in his first three-day event, placing 13th in the one-star at Midsouth Three-day Event and Team Challenge Horse Trials. This was still in the day of long-format eventing, and the big chestnut stallion was foot perfect on endurance day with no time or jump faults on steeplechase or cross-country. In fact, Willie’s cross-country record is nearly spotless, having only had cross-country troubles in 13 of 66 starts, according to his USEA records.
The following year, Steuart and Willie moved up to Intermediate with their eyes set on two-stars, but withdrew at both Radnor and Jersey Fresh. “He was not too competitive at the upper levels and I was not too competitive either,” Steuart said. He could be tense on the flat and lazy over show jumps but he was rock solid on cross-country.
At that point in Willie’s eventing career, Steuart was riding with Jimmy Wofford and Bruce Davidson, Sr., and wondered if he should hand the reins over to Bruce or his son Buck. “Bruce was riding him on the flat one day down in Florida and just said how he wished he had him as a five year old. Jimmy got on him once too and told me he had to get off before he tried to buy him from me.” Steuart was not selling, but Bruce did breed several mares to Willie with at least six foals on the ground.
Willie tended to be a tense horse at competitions but Steuart kept the ride for himself, as at this point, “he was my horse. We had this relationship and he…we… had a big fan club.” Willie’s fan club grew primarily due to his yearly demonstrations at Maryland Horse World Expo, where Steuart would ride him bareback in the main arena. “People just liked what a pretty horse he was and how even as a stallion he could be so rideable.”
It was not until 2003 that Willie and Steuart made it around their first two-star, placing 29th a the Stuart CIC2*, and then 39th at the Radnor Hunt International 3-Day. They moved up to Advanced in February of 2004 at the Pine Top Spring Advanced and started working their way towards the CCI3* at Fair Hill International. They finished that first three-star in 43rd place, making Salute the Truth the only American-bred Thoroughbred stallion competing at the Advanced level.
Willie retired sound from competition at the end of 2007. For the next ten years, “The Boss” of Dodon Farm’s only job was being a stallion.
Breeding a Legacy
Although at first Steuart had big dreams of creating a breeding syndicate for Salute the Truth, he changed his mind and decided to retain full ownership of the stallion and thus, full breeding rights. “In the high point of his career, he was covering about 30 mares a season,” Steuart remarked. “But then the recession hit and breeding around the state really took a dive.”
Over his breeding career, Salute the Truth produced 148 foals that are known. “Sometimes mare owners don’t send us any updates,” Erin Pittman stated. The majority of these breedings were for sport horses. And mares were not only Thoroughbreds! “We bred my Paint mare to him and got this super sweet Belgian-looking gelding,” Erin said. “And there is a Connemara-cross down in Georgia that is really cute!”
Dodon Farm bred 11 of their own mares to him over the years with a mix of Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods. “He really complemented the Warmbloods, giving them a lighter feel,” Steuart said. “As a breeding stallion, he produced nice movers that made really quiet foxhunters and low level event horses.” Steuart went on to say that these offspring typically had a laid back personality that made them not always the most careful show jumpers. “That is what kept many of them out of the top of the sport with pros like Buck Davidson and Boyd Martin,” he added.
Although we have not seen a Willie baby in the Olympics yet, there are several who have competed at the international levels, including It’s The Truth (aka “Tom”), owned by Advanced-level event rider Liz Riley of Charlottesville, VA. Liz bred her own Intermediate Canadian Sporthorse mare, The Associate, to Salute the Truth with hopes of producing her first Advanced horse. “My mare was only 15.2 hands and Tom was her only foal,” Liz said adding, “My mum thought I was crazy and that he would never grow big enough, but he turned out to be a very handsome 16.3 hand horse of a lifetime.”
Liz did all of Tom’s training on her own, stating that nothing bothered him; “I backed him in a stall and then walked him right out into the arena.” Over time, it seems that Tom had even more of Willie’s personality, as Liz refers to him as “king of the farm.” And just like Steuart and Willie, Liz and Tom moved up the eventing levels together from Beginner Novice through Advanced. “He may not be the fanciest horse on the flat, or the cleanest show jumper, but when he gets in that start box for cross-country, you couldn’t ask for a better, or safer, horse to be sitting on,” she said. Liz says the highlight of their partnership together was jumping around Fair Hill International’s CCI3*. Sound familiar?
“I’ll never forget coming through that finish line off of cross-country. I was one of the later rides and more accomplished riders before me had their troubles on course, but there wasn’t one point on cross-country that day that I was worried we weren’t going to make it home clear.” She added, “He made it all feel so easy and had enough energy to drag me the whole way on that long walk back to the stabling.”
After a few more seasons competing at the Advanced levels, Liz semi-retired Tom to her mother’s farm in Scottsville, Virginia, where he is being leased to young riders, and teaching them the ropes of the lower levels.
Sport horse breeding was definitely Willie’s calling, though Maryland racehorse trainer Jazz Napravnik sought out the stallion based on his fabulous racing lineage. “I was 19 at the time, and wanted to breed a steeplechase horse, and loved Willie’s big stature and personality. He was a good jumper and his stud fee was cheap!” said Jazz. She bred Farah’s Moment to Willie in 2002 producing the stakes winning steeplechaser Farah T Salute.
Although the plan all along was to run the filly over fences, Jazz started her on the flat track and flat point-to-point races. “She was my first racehorse as a trainer and she really helped me make a name for myself,” she remarked. By the time the filly was five years old, she seemed to lose the heart to continue running on the track. Jazz wasn’t happy with her jumping style at this point and sent her to her mom to retrain and sell as an event horse. The more jump work Farah T Salute did, the more her form improved. Nine months later, she was entered in a few hurdle races at local point-to-points and finished first or second at most of them.
“She liked to run out in front the whole time and it worked for her,” Jazz explained. But that strategy did not work as well in the big sanctioned races. “I had my jockey start to hold her through most of the races and then let her run hard to the finish. After that, she was hitting the board regularly.”
The 2003 chestnut mare won $91,700 from five wins, three places and four shows for owner Flying Horse Farm. In 2009, she broke her maiden winning the Palm Beach Filly and Mare Hurdle Stakes. The following year she won the Crown Royal Hurdle Stakes, finished second in the Valentine Memorial Sport of Queen’s Hurdle Stakes and third in the Peapack Hurdle Stakes. “Then she just started slowing down so I took her home to breed,” Jazz explained. That was in 2011 and her first foal was by Albert the Great. “Connor is super sweet, kind and pretty but never wanted to run,” she said adding that his talent was in the show ring where he won often. “I sold him last year to a friend down the road and she trail rides and foxhunts.”
As for Farah T Salute, now 15, she is Jazz’s top pony horse and babysitter. “I also teach a lot of junior riders how to jump hurdles on her. She’s so good for them!”
Beyond racing and eventing, Salute the Truth’s offspring can be seen in the hunt field, dressage ring, out on the trails, in the show ring and even as movie stunt horses! Read more stories about Salute the Truth offspring!
In the end, it was Steuart who was there at his death, as he had been at the stallion’s start. “For a while my name was synonymous with Willie’s… which was really cool for a while,” he concluded. But then again, Salute the Truth will also always be synonymous with eventing and Maryland.