photo by Anne Litz

by Katherine O. Rizzo

On October 2, 2019, 374 Thoroughbreds arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, for the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America. Among the entries was Diplomat, ridden by Maryland native Sara Katz. Sara first saw the 10-year-old Kitten’s Joy gelding when he won the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap in 2017 at Saratoga Race Course. “He officially came to my barn in December 2018,” Sara stated.

In order to be eligible for the 2019 Makeover, horses must have raced or published a workout after July 1, 2017 and could not have started retraining for a second career before December 1, 2018. Diplomat last ran on July 5, 2018 in the Allowance Flat for Jumpers at Suffolk Downs.

Diplomat, bred in Kentucky by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, started his racing career in 2011 in Ireland. He ran on the flat and over hurdles finishing often in the top three. He returned to the States in 2015 and after running in an Open Flat race at Piedmont Fox Hounds Point to Point, he ran the Carolina Cup Hurdle Stakes on March 28 at Camden (SC) for then owners Daybreak Stables, Inc. Jimmy Day was his trainer at the time and Bernard Dalton was in the irons for the win.

Later that year, Adam Newman and his brother Richard claimed Diplomat from a Saratoga optional claiming hurdle. He was then raced under Flying Elvis Stable and trained by Dalton’s wife Kate Dalton through the rest of his racing career. He only ran twice in 2018 before retiring with over $250,000 career earnings in 21 starts here in the U.S. His lifetime earnings are $351,220 over 43 starts.

Sara was asked by his connections to pick up the ride with the goal of competing in the 2019 Makeover. “I obviously said yes!” she reported. Sara is currently Diplomat’s owner but she says former owner Adam Newman is the gelding’s biggest fan. “He is Diplomat’s biggest cheerleader and even attended the Makeover for the whole week of competition,” she said.

Sara got her riding genes from her mother, veterinarian Dr. Drusiana N. Oliveri, who put her on a horse when she was only two months old. “My parents bought me my first pony when I was just two [years old] and the rest is history!” she said. Sara, who grew up in Monkton, rode with the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Pony Club where she achieved the C3 rating and competed primarily in jumpers and eventing. “I left Pony Club when I was 14 and began showing in the hunter/jumper world,” she explained.

Sara began hunting with Elkridge-Harford Hounds when she was about 10 years old, but did not begin hunting full-time until she was 20. Growing up next to champion steeplechase trainer Alicia Murphy, Sara always had an interest in jump racing but didn’t start training as a steeplechase jockey until she moved out of her parents’ house. “Both Billy [Santoro] and Alicia have given me endless opportunities hunting, training and even race riding,” Sara said.

Sara formally started race riding in March of 2012 at the Green Spring Valley Point-to-Point in the Senior Field Master’s Chase. She pulled up Mr. V that race but then won aboard Airolo in April of that year at the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Point to Point. Airolo was trained by Murphy and owned by Michael Wharton. The following year, Sara won the Lady Rider Timber at Green Spring aboard Sarah Pearce-Batten’s Hay Jack Black, trained by Santoro.

Sara finished fourth in the Field Hunter division at the 2018 Makeover riding Big Feat, a horse she rode over timber for Murphy that spring. With Diplomat, Sara knew she had a chance of winning the division based on Diplomat’s overall appeal, attitude and athleticism. “Diplomat is an all-around classy horse,” she said. “He is very good in company with other horses and absolutely loves to run and jump.” Sara added that Diplomat is also very smart and loves being in the spotlight.

Sara spends her winters in South Carolina and introduced Diplomat to foxhunting while hunting with The Camden Hounds. She then relocated to a new training facility in Delaphane, VA, where they hunted with Orange County Hounds.

At the Makeover, Diplomat settled right in and led after the first day of competition. The 21 horses in the Field Hunter division were watched as they hacked out in the open as a group and then navigated an individual cross-country style course complete with gates, ditches, water crossings, open gallops and natural hunt-style fences. “The following day was the mock hunt, which RRP does a great job mimicking a fox hunt scenario,” commented Sara.

Diplomat won all three phases, and the top five finishers headed into the Finale. After receiving multiple perfect scores from the judges, Diplomat was crowned the 2019 Field Hunter Champion. Sara reported that the judges cards revealed that they, “liked his jumping style, overall pleasant attitude, cute physique and of course his obvious athleticism.”

After the Finale, the winners of each discipline then compete for overall Makeover Champion based on popular votes through social media. Although they did not win the overall championship title, Sara said that “Diplomat helped me achieve a very special accomplishment and memory of a lifetime.” Diplomat also tied for the top Kentucky-bred award with Fifth Ace, Great Reward and Sanimo (winners of other disciplines).

Sara and Diplomat continue to foxhunt and plan to head into the show ring this spring.