Horowitz On OTTBs, Presented By Excel Equine: 'Victory' At The Thoroughbred Makeover Looks A Little Different For Everyone - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Horowitz On OTTBs, Presented By Excel Equine: ‘Victory’ At The Thoroughbred Makeover Looks A Little Different For Everyone

Jonathan Horowitz interviews jockeys Chya Johnstone (right) and Kelsi Purcell (left) when they were competitors at the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover.

The performances that make me smile the biggest and appreciate the retired racehorses and the trainers that care so much for them at the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover the most are not necessarily the ones that win ribbons or even make the Finale.

Don't get me wrong: as the announcer of the Thoroughbred Makeover since the annual marquee event for OTTBs was first held at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2015, I've been blown away by the talent that Thoroughbred sporthorses can show in new sports with less than a year of retraining after a racing career.

Like when Rosie Napravnik went into a gallop after a flawless jumping round in the eventing finale aboard Sanimo at the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover to win the discipline. It was reminiscent of the jockey-turned-eventer galloping out after a flawless ride aboard Untapable in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Distaff, after which Napravnik announced her retirement from racing, only to embark on a new equine career, much like the OTTBs that she now rides.

Sanimo and Napravnik moved up to the Prelim level of eventing in 2021 with two top-three finishes that qualified them for the American Eventing Championships and a return to the Kentucky Horse Park.

Or when Carleigh Fedorka had a breathtaking dressage test to win the discipline at the 2015 Thoroughbred Makeover aboard Called to Serve, a horse ESPN's Gary West once described as “a bull in perpetual search of a china shop” because of his naughtiness during race training.

There have been countless other performances that bring out the immense talent of OTTBs, and I'm looking forward to more when I announce the 2021 Mega Makeover from Oct. 12 to 17.

However, at least as valuable to the goal the RRP has that the Thoroughbred Makeover is “intended to inspire good trainers to become involved in transitioning these horses to second careers” is seeing the rounds in each discipline where trainers create a positive experience for their horses based on where their training is, rather than pushing things to the max.

I smile when I see the barrel racer that trots the barrel pattern rather than sprinting all out. The rider pats the horse on the neck afterward. They both leave the TCA Covered Arena proud of their accomplishment.

I smile when I see the freestyle competitor recognize that their horse is overwhelmed by the atmosphere, adjust their routine, and the horse picks up confidence as a result.

I smile every time riders show gratitude for themselves and their horses that just making it to the Kentucky Horse Park is an accomplishment, regardless of where the horses are at in their retraining, because the Thoroughbred Makeover is only part of a long journey that the horse will hopefully embark on in a new life after racing.

Jonathan and Ashley Horowitz announce the finale of the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover.

There is no doubt that the Thoroughbred Makeover is an elite competition, with $100,000 in prize money and top-level riders competing across ten disciplines on horses that will go on to be leaders in their new sport. In addition, what makes the Thoroughbred Makeover so special and important is that it is also addresses a cause that all professional sports now have to reckon with — the welfare of their elite athletes after they retire. Thanks to the RRP and the Thoroughbred Makeover, horse racing is moving in the right direction with this.

“Since 2015, the Thoroughbred Makeover has steadily grown into not only the largest Thoroughbred retraining competition in the world, but also the largest gathering of people with a professional interest in Thoroughbred aftercare,” RRP executive director Jen Roytz said. “Since then, we've seen more than 3,000 horses go through the process of transitioning from racing to their sport horse careers by preparing for this unique competition, and now we're seeing our Makeover graduates from years past starting to perform at the upper levels in their new equestrian disciplines.”

After coming together for a memorable week at the Kentucky Horse Park, the Makeover trainers, who have represented 46 states and four Canadian provinces, as well as England, can return to their hometowns and inspire others with what OTTBs can achieve.

“That's what works so well with the Makeover,” RRP program manager Kristen Kovatch Bentley said. “It manages to cater to not only the trainers who use the structure of that first year to prepare horses for careers in the upper levels, or take advantage of the visibility to market a horse for sale at the event, but for the one-time 'bucket list' trainers who are entering this competition with their forever horse. It's rare for one event to be able to bring together so many different facets of the industry in one week, but because everyone has had that same incredible experience of partnering with these amazing horses to undertake this transformative 10-month journey together, the competition becomes a celebration.”

The Thoroughbred Makeover inspired me to learn to ride, and my work with OTTBs has changed my life. My wife, Ashley Horowitz, and I currently run the Super G Sporthorses farm in Parker, Colo., where ten of the 16 horses on the farm are Thoroughbreds. Those ten were bred in seven different states.

“For those who don't have a background in or natural connection to equestrian sports outside of horse racing,” Roytz said, “this allows them to gain a deeper appreciation of not only what these horses can go onto accomplish after racing, but how much time, skill, effort, money and more goes into their care and training as they make this life-altering transition from racehorse to sport horse.”

I'm one of those people and appreciate that I now have gone from “talking the talk” as a broadcaster to “walking the walk” as an eventer on OTTBs thanks to what has inspired me at the Thoroughbred Makeover.

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