by Katherine O. Rizzo with photos by Canter Clix (first published in the December 2021 Equiery)
On October 12-17, 400 Thoroughbreds competed at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY for the honor of being named the Retired Racehorse Project Mega-Makeover champion and in the end, the winner for the Class of 2021 was Maryland-bred!
Because the 2020 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Makeover held two competitions at once, one for horses that would have competed in 2020, and one for new entries for the 2021 competition. Thus, the “Mega-Makeover” was created.
Trainers selected one to two disciplines, out of 10 choices, to showcase their training projects. Preliminary competition began at the start of the week, and the winners of each discipline were then brought back for the finale. All discipline judges came together to judge the finale.
There were special awards, including the People’s Choice Award, with the winner selected by people at the Mega-Makeover and online.
Bred, trained, and raced by Maryland native Donna Lockard, Forthegreatergood is a 2015 16.1 hand grey gelding by Scipion and out of No Peeking, by Langfuhr. Laura Sloan of North Carolina acquired the horse through his racing connections and was in the saddle at the Mega-Makeover for the win.
On the track, the gelding posted 22 starts with one win, two seconds, and two thirds for career earnings of $46,734. His most successful year by earnings was 2018. He was raced exclusively in Maryland; his win was at Laurel Park in August of 2018. During the Mega-Makeover, Sloan and Forethegreatergood earned top marks all week in the Field Hunter discipline. Their performance in the finale class impressed the judges who then crowned them 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover Champions.
Forethegreatergood also won the Top Maryland-bred Horse Award, sponsored by Judy Hartman’s Copper Beech Stables.
The Class of 2020 overall winner was Kentucky-bred Thunderous Affair, who was trained and shown by Lindsey Partridge of Ontario, Canada. Partridge had also won the 2015 Makeover with Soar. Thunderous Affair topped both the Freestyle classes and the Competitive Trail classes.
Napravnik’s Award Winners
Maryland trainer Jazz Napravnik was one of many trainers who was disappointed that the 2020 Makeover was canceled but thrilled that RRP was adding a Class of 2020 to this year’s Mega-Makeover. She ended up bringing three horses to Kentucky and earned top awards with two of them.
The big winner of the three was Legend’s Hope, bred here in Maryland by Two Legends Farm and David Wade. The 2013 chestnut gelding was owned and trained by Edward Maher for $156,388 in career earnings. “Chester,” as Napravnik calls him, is by Not For Love out of the Polish Numbers mare Lunar’s Legend. His 45-race career was primarily at Laurel Park.
“Chester came to my barn straight from the track to be sold so I posted him on Facebook with some creative wording,” she said with a laugh. Included in the post was a request to have her ride him at the 2020 Makeover but Napravnik was not holding her breath. “Barbara Hornesser was the first to reply and came out to see him right away. She purchased him and asked if I wanted to do the Makeover on him,” Napravnik said. “She wanted to foxhunt so that is where we started with him but he’s a bit too expressive of a jumper to do well in the foxhunting class.”
Napravnik added that Chester’s early training showed that he had a talent for jumping in general but that he struggled in dressage, so she had entered him in Show Jumping only at first. “Then the Makeover was canceled and his dressage kept improving so we entered him in Eventing and Show Jumping,” she explained.
It was in eventing that he truly shined, winning the division and also winning the 2020 People’s Choice Award winner. He was named the Top Maryland-bred Horse for the Class of 2020. “It was really cool because my sister [Rosie Napravnik] was there the whole time too. She’s my best friend and won the eventing class in 2019,” she said. The pair finished third in Show Jumping.
While Legend’s Hope had been slated for the Field Hunter class but ended up excelling in Eventing, Page McKenny was thought to be a great eventing prospect but ended up loving foxhunting. “I’ve known this horse his whole life and was the one to start him as a yearling,” Napravnik said of the 2010 Pennsylvania-bred chestnut gelding by Eavesdropper and out of Winning Grace, by Yarrow Brae. “He was being trained by Mary Eppler and I just kept in touch with them throughout his career.
That career included 58 starts for $1,905,940 in career earnings. He won 22 times and finished second 16 times and third five times. His earnings placed him on the North American Top 100 Rankings list in 2014 and 2015. In his last season of racing, which was 2018, he ran five times, winning twice (Old Hickory Stakes at Gulfstream and Salvator Mile Stakes G3 at Monmouth Park) and never placing below fourth. “He had a very lucrative career on the track and his owners gave him a full year off where he just hung out with the yearlings,” Napravnik said. “Of course those yearlings ate his tail down to the last tail bone and it took over a year to grown back to a respectable length,” she said laughing.
Page McKenney took to foxhunting quickly and did well at the Mega-Makeover in the Field Hunter division, for the most part. “He couldn’t have been more perfect the first day and was so brilliant in the mock hunt till the very end,” she said, adding that he got a bit impatient and bucked a little at the very end.
This knocked them down to third place in the class but Page McKenney walked away with the 2020 Iron Horse Award, sponsored by MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, for the highest-scoring Makeover “Iron Horse” (horses who were foaled in 2010 or earlier).
As for Napravnik’s third entry, the Maryland-bred mare Crazy Bernice, Napravnik said, “she takes her dressage very seriously but has a bit of performance anxiety.” The 2013 Outflanker mare out of Smart Gossip by Smart Strike ended up in 47th place in the Dressage class. The mare was bred Pam Michael, and Napravnik says she is not worried at all about the mare’s potential because they have already competed successfully at First Level and are schooling Second Level movements. “Never in my life would I have thought of things like dressage medals in my world of racing and jumping timber but this is the horse that I’m looking to get my Bronze [Medal] scores with,” she said.
Napravnik, who has participated in these makeovers several times, noted that this year seemed particularly special with many more high quality horses. “The quality of horses and the level of training presented was heads above previous years,” she said. “It really is the happiest horse show on Earth and I highly encourage others to do it.”
Maryland trainer Allison O’Dwyer considers herself an event rider. It is in dressage, however, that O’Dwyer has now earned her third RRP Makeover title. Her win this year came aboard the Louisiana-bred gelding Kubo Cat.
The 2016 chestnut gelding is by D’Wildcat and out of Golden Diva by Gold Fever. He did not have the longest career on the track earning $24,895 in 16 starts over the course of two seasons. Although he finished second five times and third four times, he never won a race before being retired. O’Dwyer found him through a reseller in Kentucky she had heard good things about. “I saw his photos and thought ‘that’s a really nice looking horse’,” she said, adding that over the years of working with off-the-track-Thoroughbreds, she has learned to trust her eye. She purchased Kubo Cat without ever seeing him in person. “I sent a friend to look him over and she told me that if I didn’t buy him, she would!”
Although Kubo Cat was lovely to look at and was put together very soundly, he had a few behavioral problems that O’Dwyer and her husband, Laurel Park-based trainer Jerry O’Dwyer, had to work through first. “It took most of the year just to get him happy to work,” she explained. O’Dwyer felt that although he loves to jump in the open fields, his uphill canter and natural balance led him to be most suited for Dressage at the Mega-Makeover.
O’Dwyer took Kubo Cat to the Kentucky Horse Park a few weeks before the Mega-Makeover to compete in a local dressage show, “to do a practice run” for the whole trip. “He was perfect. He’s exactly like he is at home,” she said. When the real competition started, O’Dwyer said, “he’s very good in atmosphere” and the pair scored a 77.586% in their test. They led the competition from start to finish to win the 2021 Dressage division. Kubo Cat also earned the Top Louisiana-Bred Horse, sponsored by the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association.
O’Dwyer also was Dressage champion in 2019 with Fifth Ace and in 2017 with Chapter Two. Both horses have gone on to careers with top eventers, and Chapter Two is already competing at the Intermediate level with young rider Rebecca Roth. It seems Kubo Cat will be following in his predecessors’ footsteps as O’Dwyer just sold him to five-star rider Leah Lang-Glusic. “When I have these really nice horses, I really want to source them to someone who can take them really far,” O’Dwyer said.
O’Neil Tops Juniors
Fourteen-year-old McKenna O’Neil is a C1 pony clubber with Elkridge-Harford Pony Club and an avid fox chaser with the Elkridge-Harford Hounds. Her pony club and hunt club lead to her family buying Jarir. Jarir is a 2013 bay gelding, bred in Great Britain by Deerfield Farm and imported by steeplechase great Irvin Naylor. The gelding earned $47,492 in the United States with two wins, five seconds, and five thirds. Trained by Cyril Murphy, Jarir last raced at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in 2019.
O’Neil initially had no plans to do the Mega-Makeover and her family had purchased Jarir because, “I was just looking for a fun horse to make into a show jumper and to do pony club rallies with.” Then one of her mother’s friends mentioned wanting to do the Mega-Makeover with her own OTTB and convinced them to join in.
The trip was well worth it as O’Neil won the USPC Award in Memory of E. Marilyn Searle, which is sponsored by Beverly Strauss and MidAtlantic Horse Rescue in memory of their dear friend. O’Neil was the highest placing current U.S. Pony Club member in the competition, having finished third in the 2021 Show Jumping and fourth in 2021 Field Hunters. She was also the Top Junior in both divisions.
“I have been in USPC since I was six years old so it was really awesome to be recognized for that special award at RRP,” she said. “It didn’t seem like there were a lot of junior riders competing at the RRP, maybe because it takes place when school is in session, but it’s a really great experience.”
O’Neil had originally thought about selling Jarir but her family has decided to keep him. “He is really fun to foxhunt and compete. He literally acts like he has been hunting his entire life, it’s really cool and he really likes it and acts like he’s been around the hounds forever,” she said. O’Neil also is making plans to compete in the High Children’s 1.10m in 2022.
Tip Top Diva
Dakotah Rowel Wiles grew up in Middletown where she spent most of her riding career running barrels and roping. “I’ve done a bit of everything but that is where my heart is,” Wiles said, adding, “I like working with young horses and then selling them.” In the barrel racing world, the young horses are typically Quarter Horses as opposed to Thoroughbreds. “Thoroughbreds have these stigmas about them that aren’t necessarily true.”
This surely seems to be the case with West Virginia-bred Tip Top Diva, who won the 2021 Barrel Racing division this year. The 2015 chestnut mare raced exclusively at Charles Town with only three starts, all in 2020. Wiles was attracted to her because of her conformation and purchased her to be a broodmare. “I was thinking she’d make a great Quarter Horse cross but I needed to get her performance record going first,” Wiles said.
Wiles added that the mare got a lot of attention and positive feedback from the Western world saying, “many are really surprised when they find out she’s a Thoroughbred.” At the Mega-Makeover, Tip Top Diva consistently put in speedy rounds to win the division. “This whole process has really helped me and my riding,” she said of the RRP experience. “I really think more people need to do this and look into Thoroughbreds [as barrel horses]. They make you become a better person and better rider.”
Tip Top Divia also won the Wild and Wonderful Award, sponsored by Charles Town HBPA, for the top scoring horse to have made six starts at Charles Town, or the top-scoring West Virginia-bred to have made one start at Charles Town. Wiles sold the mare after the Mega-Makeover. “The lady is just perfect for her,” she said. Tip Top Diva is currently running barrels in Ohio.
The Polo Star
Maryland amateur trainer Benjamin Lynch entered this year’s Mega-Makeover with Ramses, a 2018 Kentucky-bred bay gelding by Pioneer of The Nile out of the Tapit mare Dancing House. Bred and owned by Godolphin, LLC, the gelding only had two starts, for career earnings of $548.
Lynch, who is from Baltimore and is currently part of the Darley Internship program in Kentucky, plays polo with the Maryland Polo Club so was looking for a polo prospect for his Mega-Makeover entry. Ramses came to him through the Darley program.
In addition to winning the 2021 Polo division, Ramses was also one of four horses to tie for the 2021 Top Kentucky-bred Horse Award, sponsored by Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders. He also won the Best Conditioned Award for the Polo division. This award is sponsored by Nina Bonnie.
Full RRP Mega-Makeover results can be found at: https://www.tbmakeover.org/past-results