Forgiving Hopes To Bring Steeplechase Royalty To Thoroughbred Makeover - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Forgiving Hopes To Bring Steeplechase Royalty To Thoroughbred Makeover

Forgiving (center, solid chestnut) has already had a taste of the hunt and is progressing well in her training for a third career.

It doesn't seem like a big thing, a retired steeplechase horse retraining to be a foxhunter. In fact, it seems perfectly appropriate. But, when a towering chestnut mare steps onto the grounds of the 2023 Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover, she'll be carrying a lot more than just her rider over the course. She'll be carrying a pedigree and a connection to some of the sport's most exceptional people.

Forgiving is a 9-year-old mare by Redeemed and out of the Mojave Moon mare, Confined. The Pennsylvania-bred mare earned more than $90,000 racing on the flat and over jumps, retiring after winning her final race in 2021 at Colonial Downs.

She won that race just like she ran every single fence race: manage the jumps, then surge to the lead on the flat.

“She had a lot of kick at the end,” said Sherry Fenwick, Forgiving's owner.

Her running style shouldn't be too much of a surprise. After all, her breeder/trainer liked to start his steeplechase horses racing on the flat for a few years before they pursued their speed over hurdles. That was just how Jonathan Sheppard liked to work with his young horses.

There's the connection. For the fifth time, Sheppard, a Hall of Fame trainer, will have a horse he bred compete at the Thoroughbred Makeover. Sheppard's career spans over five decades of training, winning more than $88.5 million from England to the United States, racing on the flat and steeplechase. He is the National Steeplechase Association's all-time learning trainer by wins and purse earnings, and the winner of 15 Eclipse Awards.

The Hall of Fame trainer retired from racing in 2021, after training such notable horses as Grade 1 winner and perennial sire Storm Cat and 2008 Female Turf Champion Forever Together.

Coincidentally, Forgiving retired in 2021 as well.

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Fenwick brought Forgiving home to recover and relax before she decided on the next step for her beloved mare. There is a deep connection between Fenwick and the mare. Fenwick's the type of owner that loves all of her horses and is “crazy” about each one, but her appreciation for the mare's lineage and connections are what draws her closer to Forgiving.

“I've been involved in steeplechasing off and on for 30 years and I used to work for Jonathan,” she said. “I have owned a lot of horses of Jonathan's, ridden horses for him and just learned so much from him.”

Sheppard believed in quality, not quantity when it came to his breeding practices. He started breeding his own horses partway through his training career. The Sheppard/Fenwick connection bred multiple money earners following that simple rule. Sheppard took a liking to breeding mares to Northern Baby, who carried on the Northern Dancer line successfully over fences.

“Northern Baby was successful as a sire of steeplechase horses, as many Northern Dancer line horses are. They all had good stamina for sure,” Sheppard said.

Redeemed, Forgiving's sire, was one sire that he preferred towards the end of his breeding career.

“I loved his stamina and he was reasonably priced as a stallion,” said Sheppard.

While Redeemed was an earner of over $800,000, he never was very fashionable to breed to, which was helpful for the budget breeder like Sheppard.

“I wasn't interested in breeding commercially, I was breeding for myself,” he said.

After all the years of breeding and training, Sheppard still recalls characteristics and stats of just about every horse he was connected with.

“She was a lovely looking mare that was of good size and covered quite a bit of ground with her stride,” he remembered.

Foxhunting should be right up Forgiving's alley.

Fenwick sent Forgiving to her longtime friend Sara Katz Foley.

“Forgiving already showed that she was a beautiful mover and her disposition was kind and willing and she is a beauty,” said Fenwick. “Once away from racing her entire demeanor changed. She is very solid and straightforward. I knew Sara would do the best with her to transition to another discipline.”

Foley has worked with Fenwick for over 10 years, restarting her retired racehorses, helping them to find their niche and then move on to new homes for their second careers. She won the Field Hunters at the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover aboard Grade 1 winner Diplomat.

Foley lives in foxhunting country and she got her first taste of the speed and power Forgiving has within the first weeks of the mare's arrival at her farm.

“I knew she was a nice mare, so I suggested to Sherry that we try her in the Thoroughbred Makeover,” said Foley. “One reason was because (Forgiving) was a homebred of Jonathan Shepherd, so she was successful over jumps and she's just a stunning mare. She's a pretty exquisite mare with a big body, comfortable and sweet. There's no naughtiness in her. She took to hunting very well. We're trying to show how amazing some of these ex-chasers are, and when they're retired, they can go on to being really good hunters.”

A common misconception about steeplechase horses is that they should be a natural at Field Hunting. While there are some traits that support that notion, such as being used to running in big groups, having stamina and are typically built sound and strong, there are also traits that make retraining a little more difficult.

“Most steeplechasers need to have a lot of flatwork done with a lot of slow jog sets,” explained Foley. “My job right now is to help redevelop her racing muscles into riding muscles.”

She also explains the difference in starting retired flat racers over jumps versus retired steeplechasers. Flat racers start off slow going over poles because they may not be comfortable with obstacles such as that, so they're more receptive to waiting for the rider to guide. On the contrary, steeplechasers can push to rush through ground poles and lower jumps because they're used to landing and moving forward.

“Galloping down to a hurdle that you brush through and galloping down to a 3'6” coop are two different things,” said Foley. “So, what I'm teaching her is basically how to rock back and develop her back muscles. I'm teaching her to be more round over her fences, versus just straight through them.”

All of this has been easy for Forgiving, whose transitions from flat racer to steeplechaser and now field hunter have shown what quality breeding and a start from the right trainer can do for a horse.

“It's nice to see how quickly and how happily she has made these transitions” said Fenwick, who is counting down to the start of the show in October. “After the Makeover, we'll just wait and see how things go. I'm not rushing her and I'm enjoying seeing what Sara is doing with her now.”

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