Horse Racing: Heartbeats & Hoofbeats: Stories of beginnings and endings

The portrait, titled “The Prodigy,” was auctioned Thursday, May 3, at the Lexington Foundation’s Derby Gala and Wine Auction to benefit cancer victims in Kentucky. The painting measures 31 inches by 34 inches, and the framing and matting were generously donated by South Hill Gallery. (Image courtesy of

By Susan Johnson
Copy Editor

We’re in that in-between time, building up hopes (or anxieties) between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Whether or not you followed the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, here’s something to consider. These Triple Crown races (or any other races) make up a small portion of a race horse’s life. What happens before that prime testing season, and what happens once it’s over?

Riding on hope — Rachel’s new foal

Thoroughbred horses are born every year, but one particular arrival was anticipated with more than ordinary interest. Following the retirement of 2009 Preakness winner and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, it was arranged to breed her with the 2007 Preakness champion and two-time Horse of the Year, Curlin. Rachel’s new foal, a colt, was born Jan. 22, 2012, and became an instant celebrity along with his famous mom. Stonestreet Stables, near Lexington, Ky., where the horses are staying, has been taking full advantage of the publicity.

They established a contest, open to virtually anyone anywhere, to suggest a name for the foal, and were literally overwhelmed by the response. A total of 6,521 name suggestions — some historically based, some denoting royalty, offering tribute to the owner, Jess Jackson (now deceased), some whimsical or funny — were received. The submissions came in from all over the U.S. (including several from Alaska), Denmark, England, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Costa Rica and Venezuela. Jackson, who campaigned both Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, died of cancer April 21, 2011. His widow, Barbara Banke, now operates Stonestreet and co-owns Rachel Alexandra in partnership with Harold McCormick. The stables is expected to choose a winner by the end of summer.

As a special tribute, artist D. Lee, a horsewoman and artist who lost her husband to cancer, was commissioned to paint a special portrait of the foal. Lee spent some time with Rachel and her baby on the farm, and Lee’s skill in capturing the foal’s unique personality is evident in her work. His eye, reminiscent of Rachel’s, perfectly reflects his heritage. He is a beautiful bay colt with a blazing white star on his forehead and immediately captivates anyone who sees him. Rachel is said to be a devoted mother who took to the foal immediately.

The portrait, titled “The Prodigy,” was auctioned Thursday, May 3, at the Lexington Foundation’s Derby Gala and Wine Auction to benefit cancer victims in Kentucky. The painting measures 31 inches by 34 inches, and the framing and matting were generously donated by South Hill Gallery.

Now, let’s look at the other end of the spectrum — what happens when a horse reaches the end of its career — and this applies not just to thoroughbreds, but other horses as well. We thank PETA for granting permission to reprint the following article from their 2011 Annual.

Racehorse saved from slaughter

PETA’s undercover investigator was documenting conditions at a crowded, terrifying livestock auction in the Midwest, where thousands of thoroughbreds discarded by the racing industry end up, when she met a timid, frightened mare. The horse was painfully thin and covered with wounds from being bitten and kicked by other horses who had lashed out in fear in the chaos of the auction. She was jammed into a holding pen so crowded that she could barely move. She had no way of knowing that she faced a horrifying journey and a bloody death at a slaughterhouse.

Her lip tattoo identified her as a racehorse who had started out with great promise, the relative of champions, but she had never won a race. Her name was Coming Home, the granddaughter of Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled and cousin of Eight Belles (who shattered both front ankles in the 2008 Derby). Coming Home was cast off by the racing industry at just 6 years old, and like 10,000 other thoroughbreds every year, she was sold to a “kill buyer” who planned to send her to a slaughterhouse in Canada or Mexico.

That’s when PETA’s investigator stepped in. A deal was struck with the kill buyer, and instead of ending up on a meat hook, Coming Home headed for rest, rehabilitation, and retirement on a PETA founding member’s beautiful mountain ranch.

The horse-racing industry breeds more than 30,000 new foals every year, and owners pay millions of dollars for the chance to acquire a winner — but turn their backs when horses don’t make the grade, as most do not. PETA is demanding that the people who bring these horses into the world also provide a decent retirement for them.

We have met with and asked the Jockey Club — which registers all thoroughbred racehorses — to require owners and breeders to pay a fee for each foal, stallion and broodmare registration and set the money aside in a retirement fund. In a letter to the Jockey Club on PETA’s behalf, Secretariat star James Cromwell wrote, “These magnificent animals should not end up on a meat hook after a terrifying journey to a terrifying death.”

Thanks to the support of generous PETA members who make investigations like this one possible and to everyone who helped along the way with care and transport, Coming Home has finally come home for good. She is now safe, her bony frame is filling out, and she is gaining back her muscle tone, as she walks and runs with other horses, with her head once again held high.

From the May 23-29, 2012, issue

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