Horowitz On OTTBs Presented by Excel Equine: A Partnership Worthy Of A (Godolphin) Blue Ribbon - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Horowitz On OTTBs Presented by Excel Equine: A Partnership Worthy Of A (Godolphin) Blue Ribbon

Isabel Wells and Hieronymous

There are many decisions to be made in the life of a racehorse, with no guarantee that they will work out. When 15-year-old Isabel Wells calmly walked 5-year-old chestnut gelding Hieronymus over to the final obstacle of the competitive trail course during the finale of the 2022 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover and raised a flag connected to a pulley as the final test of their partnership, it was the culmination of many decisions that all came together to create a perfect moment for horse and rider.

Fittingly, the flag was blue, the same color as the silks Hieronymus wore representing Godolphin, his breeder and owner, during a nine-race career from August 2019 to June 2021. Godolphin Lifetime Care was the sponsor of the competitive trail discipline at the Thoroughbred Makeover, reflecting the commitment and investment the racing operation founded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai has made in Thoroughbred aftercare. Godolphin has been a leading supporter of the Retired Racehorse Project since a visit by Godolphin representatives from around the world to the first Thoroughbred Makeover held at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2015.

The victory by a Godolphin horse in the Godolphin-sponsored discipline also put the spotlight on the incredible journey of a young rider that is poised to make a big difference in Thoroughbred aftercare. Wells was diagnosed with stage 4 leukemia when she was 3 years old. At age 6, she went into remission. She started riding horses when she was 10.

“I tried sports and all these different things and I had a year where I really didn't do anything,” Wells said. “My aunt was like, 'Well, I ride at this stable in Fair Grove, [Missouri]. You should come take lessons.' I took a lesson with Tim Brock, and it grew from there. I fell in love with everything about it.”

Wells' composure while riding and while speaking about her horse to the crowd at the Kentucky Horse Park and on the livestream of the biggest Thoroughbred-only horse show in the world were well beyond what one would expect from a 15-year-old.

“Oh my god, I cried,” said Emma Lovatt, who oversees the U.S. operations of Godolphin Lifetime Care. “I cried. That's how much it means to us to have our horses going on and being successful. He's not going to be a champion show jumper, but he's proved that he's the bomb-proof horse. He's quiet, kind, and had a 15-year-old riding him. And, he's a Thoroughbred. Some of them have these stigmas that they're hard to handle, and he just went out and said, 'No, I'm not, I'm easy, and I love doing what I'm doing.' It's important, and it's very heartwarming to see these horses that we've bred and foaled.”

Lovatt and Wells connected in the warmup ring on the morning of the Thoroughbred Makeover Finale on Oct. 15. Lovatt presented Wells with an idea—that Godolphin would sponsor Wells for the 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover, while Wells would be an ambassador for Godolphin.

“She's kind of funny because she does not understand how good she is,” Brock, Wells' trainer at BC Stables and Training Center in Fair Grove, Mo., said. “There were times through this that she's like, 'I can't do this. I can't go in with these other people.' And, I kept telling her, 'You're as good as everybody else.' Obviously, that showed because she did all of that work.”

When it comes to racehorses, the Godolphin team understands what it takes to do all the work—from breeding to racing all around the world. Since 1992, 6,512 horses in 39,536 races with 7,737 wins, 1,886 of those in stakes and 382 in Grade or Group 1 (stats as of Oct. 24, 2022). Godolphin's devotion to horses representing the Godolphin blue on the track is matched by their commitment to finding their racehorses a new career after they finish racing. At the 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover, there were more horses among the final entries that Godolphin previously ran than any other racing operation with nine competitors, eight of them being homebreds.

“They were very appreciative and very excited about their horses being there,” Brock said about Godolphin. “That tells us that their mentality for their horses' futures is in the right place, and that's the people we want to deal with.”

Hieronymus, with Florent Geroux up, won his racing debut at a mile on turf at Ellis Park in 2019.

Hieronymus was one of those homebreds. Trained by Brad Cox, the chestnut colt won his debut as a 2-year-old in a one-mile maiden special weight at Ellis Park in Kentucky on August 11, 2019. Hieronymus would go on to win four more starts, including the final race of his career in the Mystic Lake Mile on turf at Canterbury Park in Minnesota on June 23, 2021.

“Here comes Hieronymus!” Canterbury track announcer Paul Allen growled in his call of the race that he described as a “spine-tingler.”

After the win, Hieronymus would record four more timed half-mile workouts over the next two months but would not race again.

“He ended up on a vet's list because of a large ankle, and he kept getting put on it even though he x-rayed clean,” Lovatt said. “So, rather than go through any more rigmarole with that, we brought him home.”

Knowing when to stop racing is just as important a decision as choosing what race to enter.

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“Their career in racing is incredibly short,” said Lovatt, who has worked with Godolphin for nearly 20 years in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. “They've got 15 to 20 years after racing that they can still do and give and love and have joy from. You've got to remember that and focus on that and say, 'OK, we want them to be the best racehorse, but we also want them to be the best they can be after that.'”

Godolphin has created a pipeline for their retired racehorses. Mares go into the breeding operation, while geldings go into Godolphin Lifetime Care, which has branches in America, Australia, Europe, and Japan.

“Lifetime care has always been a part of our business,” Lovatt said. “We didn't put a name on it until about 2015. You breed this number of horses, you've got to be able to take care of them.”

Following an extensive initial evaluation of their health and suitability for a new career, these geldings are connected with training programs that can be either aftercare organizations or individual sporthorse trainers. Hieronymus, along with Change of Fortune, an unraced 3-year-old bay gelding bred by Godolphin, went to CANTER Kentucky.

“They were wonderful to deal with and gave me all the records,” CANTER Kentucky's trainer, Ashley Watts, said of Godolphin. “Very, very easy, very professional.”

From there, Hieronymus and Change of Fortune were rehomed to BC Stables. Brock, fellow BC Stables trainer Nathan Bradley, and student Isabel Wells were looking to compete in the Thoroughbred Makeover.

“We did a lot of the Mustang Makeovers, and what kind of turns me off about those is that you have 100 days, and when that's finished, those horses are auctioned off at the show,” Brock said. “With the Thoroughbred Makeover, you've got more time, and those horses are also further along when we get them.”

Bradley would partner with Change of Fortune, Wells with Hieronymus.

“[Brock] told me he needed a horse for a kid,” Watts said about Wells, a student at Fair Grove High School. “I was picturing a little kid, not Isabel, who is mature beyond her years. She's like 15 going on 30.”

The horse Wells calls “Gilbert” was her first Thoroughbred. The BC Stables team immediately noticed that the Godolphin horses came with a racetrack education that prepared them to excel in life after the track, even if they weren't initially as familiar with who Godolphin was. Watts, CANTER Kentucky's trainer, laughed when sharing a story about when Bradley, a BC Stables trainer, inquired about the reputation of horses coming from “Go Dolphin,” saying the name of the stable as if he were cheering at SeaWorld.

“Both of those horses came here ready for something else, so obviously they had enough foundation and good handling that when we changed what they were doing, it didn't throw them for a loop,” Brock said. “When you look at a horse that you can change gears with and they immediately take that, that's feel, so that horse has been handled to understand how to deal with pressure or questions. They start looking for an answer rather than a way out.”

Wells and Hieronymus won competitive trail with a calm, steady routine in the finale after being fifth in the preliminaries. They were also eighth in ranch work.

“A lady at my barn said, 'You must still be on cloud nine,' and I was like, 'Oh, I'm not coming down,'” Wells said.

With top-ten finishes in ranch work by Bradley with Change of Fortune and by Brock with both Almanaar and Silver Dollar City, the BC Stables team made their mark.

“I told these guys because it was Nate's and Isabel's first time [at the Makeover],” Brock said, “that when we get there, people are going to look at you. At about day two, they're going to want to be you.' Our horses are quiet and they're good and they do what they're supposed to do. People start looking at you differently and see that these horses can do things out of their normal realm. That's fun for us.”

BC Stables plans to return for the Thoroughbred Makeover in 2023, with Brock saying that they plan to have five riders competing, including Wells with a Godolphin horse.

“She has now given me what her ideal horse is,” Lovatt said. “I will keep an eye out through our rehoming for a good horse for her, and we'll go from there.”

Said Wells: “I'm just super excited. That's really the only words I have for it because after going this year being so impressed with Godolphin and the Retired Racehorse Project, I'm just extremely excited to be part of this.”

Jonathan Horowitz is a long-time fan of racing who went from announcer to eventer with the help of off-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs). His monthly column details his journey as a rider and his thoughts on aftercare's place in horse racing.

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