Of course leave it to me to find “Best Pony” at the track as a really chill gray loitering in his/her doorway. Thank Celestia… not for sale ;)
Yes I’m a bit delayed with getting this posted… thank you, life & internet issues! Better late than never, right?
Despite living in Massachusetts most of my life, it was not until last Sunday that I managed a trip to East Boston’s Suffolk Downs, one of the last stops for eastern racing before the land spits out into the sea. The track and grandstand is a stately shadow of the giant it once was, hosting the Mass ‘Cap for iconic champions like Cigar and Skip Away, and for now it serves a thrice-weekly program until the end of October. With cold rain persisting throughout the morning hours, my mother Lori and I trekked out east to Boston for the annual Suffolk Showcase off-track Thoroughbred adoption event, hosted by CANTER New England.
While getting there was not a chore, poor (possibly outdated?) directions did not help in getting us there in a more timely fashion. The towering green billboard for the track entrance was hard to miss leaving the Williams tunnel, but from there it was hard to figure out where to go next. It reminded me of my days visiting Calder, with the giant parking lots that were largely void of vehicles, only this time I wasn’t walking and Sunday is a dark day for Suffolk. Soon enough, we found the showcase activity, which had been relocated inside a long walking shed. People clustered around the rail to get a good look at each potential adoptee being led through, eyeballing their gaits and asking questions to the announcer with the microphone introducing them. While some in attendance could use a few lessons in etiquette (equestrian teenagers can be so stuffy!), the CANTER coordinator was friendly and eager to answer any questions. Around 80 horses were shown for the day with about 100 total being available for adoption.
A glance down the shedrow…
During an intermission, we left the shed and took off around the backside being careful to dodge the chilly rain and any moody and hot-walking horses. It was certainly different from my days walking around the show barns at the Big E in West Springfield; here you had little room to beware of cagey horses and no grating on the doors in the event one wanted to take a snap at you. Thankfully I have no injury to report, but instead, just a lot of nice horses.
Obviously, most of the backside workers were aware of the people walking around with hopes to buy an off-track Thoroughbred. “Trainer es no here” and “That one is for sale” were the robotic quotes of the morning strolling through the barn areas, and no surprise, a lot of people were looking at the ones that were the most eye-catching. It made me hope that a lot of these horses got a little practice at looking flashy on a lead line, because that was their only shot to land the equivalent of a follow-up interview with adopters.
Cuvesta (sp?) was a popular filly at the event as was her stablemate Fiesta Texas, a blaze-faced bay gelding who also got a lot of attention and closer inspection. The horse on the left just wanted all the attention the filly was getting!
Apart from seeing the aging backside, the highlight of the trip was seeing a piece of a lifestyle unknown to many. Some bite, some don’t always run to expectations, some eat mints, some eat glazed donuts. We had the unique and enlightening opportunity to talk to some of the trainers as well and learned that a lot of the horses had their own unique stories beyond their past performance sheets. Then you have one’s nerdisms; I’m forever the pedigree/historical weirdo… wha? This random filly I’m petting is by a Danzig son who was 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile?! And oh my god, Michael Gorham just walked by (he trained G1 winner Mandy’s Gold). Suffolk Downs may not be Saratoga, but its equine population is nonetheless fascinating. While it’s a tough business to eke out a living, it’s more importantly a business of the heart for many, and the reason why many of the horses were in the CANTER program— to find new, loving homes. “They’re like our pets,” said several in passing, being so confident of their charges’ temper that they wouldn’t object to camping out in the stall with them.
From what I hear, some 20+ horses from the program found new owners within a couple days after the conclusion of the Showcase. While I wished for well weather for the sake of being able to see through my glasses as well as my viewfinder, it was still a pleasant way to spend one’s morning however short it all lasted. I’d love to see the event expanded in the future to include some demonstrations, especially because I saw so many younger riders looking around and because I always hear a lot of skepticism about transitioning ex-racehorses.
They’re not all hot heads, wouldn’t you know!
To learn more about adoption and fostering opportunities with one of the CANTER networks, click here.
To make a donation to CANTER New England, click here (all are tax deductible and nobody on CANTER’s staff gets paid for their efforts!).