May Madness – Horse History Edition (first published in the June 2020 Equiery)

When sporting events throughout the country came to a complete standstill in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Equiery staff began brainstorming ways to create some sort of live-action competition for the Maryland horse community. Playing off the canceled NCAA March Madness tournament, we came up with a list of 64 horses to compete in a May Madness – Horse History Edition tournament. Our stable of entries includes sporthorses, racehorses, horses from history, and even a few fictional favorites from television, movies and books.

Round 1: Seabiscuit Takes the Lead
On May 1 we launched the first round of competition with 282 people voting, narrowing the field down from 64 to 32 horses. Many of the match-ups caused voters some distress as they had a hard time deciding between favorites. Wrens Nest posted on The Equiery’s Facebook page, “Cisco vs Denny in round 1? Not fair!” while Lia McGuirk added, “RIGHT! And being an Olney bred myself, the Gepeto/Seabiscuit was unfair!”

One of the early favorites was 1938 American Horse of the Year, the racehorse Seabiscuit. The relatively small in stature Thoroughbred became a popular figure during the Great Depression as he took on the 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral in the famed Match Race, held here in Maryland at Pimlico in 1938. Seabiscuit won by four lengths that day. In Round 1 of May Madness, he earned 90.8% of the votes over Maryland Shetland stallion Olney Gepeto.

Round 2: Barney Nearly Gets Knocked Out
While Seabiscuit continued to gain momentum, earning 86.7% of the votes in a match up with dressage great Rembrandt (4 Olympic Gold Medals, 3 WEG Gold Medals, 1 WEG Silver Medal for Germany), local favorite Officer Barney narrowly made it through to Round 3. He earned 53.4% of the votes over National Velvet’s steeplechaser The Pie.

It seemed the 279 voters in this round felt the pressure as well with Deloise Noble-Strong sharing our post with this comment, “An equally difficult second round for you to stress over. Such great animals making it up the tiers.” Heidi Lippy Spinkle posted, “Love it! But the Secretariat matchup? Not even fair! #manfromsnowyriver is my favorite!”

Sgt. Russ Robar of the Baltimore City Police Mounted Unit added a bit of history to May Madness by posting, “And one other cool piece of history for the Trigger vs Native Dancer matchup. Trigger’s owner Roy Rogers once donated a horse to Baltimore Police Mounted Unit. And our current retired horse Hercules lives at Native Dancer’s home Sagamore Farm.”

Round 3: Touch of Class takes out America Pharoah
In Round 3 of May Madness, the closest matchup was between Thoroughbred racehorse American Pharoah and show jumper Touch of Class. MP Panos posted, “you put American Pharoah up against Touch of Class. That was probably the hardest decision I’ve made this year.”

On the morning of the last day of voting, the Maryland-bred Touch of Class held 50.4% of the votes while 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah held 49.6%. In the end, after 281 people voted, Touch of Class held on to advance with 50.5% of the votes. Joe Fargis rode the famed mare to double Gold Medals in the 1984 Olympics.

Quarter Finals: Seabiscuit Continues to Charge Forward
Just like that, we were into the Quarter Finals with just eight horses left and the tournament had gone viral with 462 votes coming in from all over the U.S.

Morgan foundation sire Figure (more commonly known as Justin Morgan) was pitted against Seabiscuit, who came into this round as the popular vote. The Morgan community across the country came out in force with one fan, Sherri Wilson sharing our post with this comment, “Figure is in the top 8, Morgan people go vote for him!” That matchup ended up being the closest of the grouping with Seabiscuit moving on with only 54.8% of the votes.

The big red racehorse Secretariat was matched up against Touch of Class where the 1973 Triple Crown winner won with 75.8% of the votes. Secretariat ended up being the highest scoring horse of this round. Super eventing pony Theodore O’Connor had dominated in Round 3 over Canadian show jumper Big Ben but lost in the Quarter Finals to children’s book legend Misty of Chicoteague.

In the final Quarter Final matchup, police horse Officer Barney crushed British show jumper Milton to move onto the semifinals. His fan base seemed to be expanding as supporters for the former Amish plow horse turned Baltimore Police horse shared our tournament with plugs for his votes. Days End Farm Horse Rescue, where Barney currently lives commented, “Wow! Team Officer Barney, we did it again! Our big, deserving guy is in the Top 8 of May Madness! As a horse who had dedicated his life to the service of people, we can think of no horse more deserving of your vote. Be sure to vote again and let’s get Barney into the Final 4. GO Barney, GO!”

Semifinals: Match Race Version 2.0
The Semifinals of May Madness saw two legendary racehorses in a match race on one side of the tournament while two local legends faced off on the other side. Momentum was clearly growing as 622 people voted to send their two favorites into the finals!

In what was probably the closest matchup of the whole tournament, racehorses Seabiscuit and Secretariat were neck and neck throughout this round’s voting period. Early on the last day of voting, it looked like Secretariat would pull ahead for the win but in the end, it was Seabiscuit who crossed the wire first by just 1.6%. The scrappy little racehorse beat yet another racing giant winning by a whisker!

Officer Barney was matched with Misty of Chicoteague. Days End was already celebrating Barney making it this far posting, “YOU did it again! Barney is in the FINAL FOUR! Make sure to vote and let’s get our favorite boy into the final round. Go Team Barney!”

Up until this round, Misty had won each match fairly easily. Barney fans came out in force and he won by his biggest margin to date. He earned 74.65% of the votes to advance to the finals.

Finals: And the winner is…
And then there were two. On one side you had Seabiscuit, who earned the most popular votes for nearly every round. On the other side you had local hero Officer Barney, whose fan base kept pushing to get him through to the finals. Interesting fact: both Seabiscuit and Barney have made appearances at Pimlico! Seabiscuit in the famed 1938 Match Race and Barney as a working police horse managing crowds and acting as an ambassador for mounted units.

At the start of voting, METS director Brittney Vallot posted, “Officer Barney is in the finals! Vote vote VOTE!” Dan Mick posted his support for Barney with, “Please let me beg another 15 seconds of your time to click on the link and help give this one-time plow horse the bragging rights he deserves.” Several others jumped on the Barney bandwagon, sharing the voting link and asking their friends to vote for the retired police horse.

It may seem that Seabiscuit had finally met his match as Barney took an early lead. In just the first day of voting, 628 people had already made their choice with Barney leading by 79.3%. By day three of voting, 843 people had voted and Barney’s lead grew to 81.8%.

Voting for the finals stayed open for four days and Barney never yielded. The final count was 907 votes for Barney and 170 for Seabiscuit. With 1077 people voting for the final round, Barney won by 84.2%!

Yes that is right, Officer Barney is the winner of The Equiery’s very first May Madness – Horse History Edition! Thank you to all who took the time to play and stay tuned for another tournament in the near future!