‘A Breeder’s Responsibility’: Racing Owner/Breeders Take Horse From Foaling Stall To Thoroughbred Makeover

For many riders at last week’s Thoroughbred Makeover, the competition represented the culmination of a goal that had been nearly a year in the making. Riders can begin training their recently-retired racehorses for the October competition no earlier than December of the preceding year, since the objective of the event is to showcase the rapid progress an off-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) can make in a new job.

For one ownership group however, the goal of going to the 2021 edition of the Thoroughbred Makeover was born four years and eight months ago, before the horse in question had even stood and nursed.

Ryan Watson, Adolfo Martinez, and Heath Gunnison collectively form RAH Bloodstock and knew that the little bay colt out of Thunder Gulch mare Talking Audrey would be special to them. The trio had purchased the mare out of the 2017 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages sale for $1,200. She was in foal to a stallion none of them had ever heard of — Doctor Chit, a Grade 2 placed son of War Front who stands in Oklahoma.

They were drawn to the mare because Watson and Martinez (who is now the manager of Heaven Trees Farm) had worked with her female family at Darby Dan. Watson is stallion manager at Darby Dan, and Gunnison is the head hunt seat coach at Midway University. The three wanted to go in on a mare together, but they knew they wouldn’t want to sell the very first horse that had RAH Bloodstock listed as his breeder.

“We thought, if we don’t know anything about [Doctor Chit], we won’t be selling the foal,” said Martinez. “We’ve gone to a couple of stallions with her since and had some nice foals, but the first one is pretty special. Your first child is always the one.”

The group struggled to get a registered name for their first horse; most combinations of the two parents’ names ended up being rejected by The Jockey Club as too vulgar. (Talking Chit was a favorite but didn’t make the cut.) Finally, they settled on naming him This Is Me after a song made famous in The Greatest Showman, which had come out around the time they were submitting name requests. Around the barn, the bay with a thin white blaze remained “Chit” or “Lil Chit.”

Chit became what’s known around the track as a “morning glory” who showed lots of talent in his workouts but failed to deliver in the afternoons. Martinez said he was “a very polite runner — he let everybody go first.”

The colt’s very first start, in a maiden special weight at Indiana Grand in October 2019, made them briefly hopeful that he had serious potential.

“He showed a little bit of talent by closing on the frontrunners,” recalled Watson. “After the race we’re walking back, waiting for the runners to be unsaddled and I see the outriders go tearing around the backside of the track, going in opposite directions. You look, and there’s a horse they can’t pull up coming around the far turn. It was him.”

It was really on the strength of that gallop out that RAH Bloodstock and trainer Ronald Kahles continued on for another four starts, trying to unleash that drive without success. Watson remembers fighting a snowstorm to get to Turfway Park in February 2020 for what would be Chit’s last start, a distant ninth in maiden claiming company. He asked jockey John McKee if he thought the horse under him had any talent at all, and McKee admitted he didn’t think so. Watson, grateful for the honesty, happily took Chit home to begin the wait until they could begin re-training in December.

Chit with dam Talking Audrey

All three men grew up riding – Gunnison and Watson doing ranch work and team penning, and Martinez mostly casual trail and pleasure riding – so they had a good idea of what they were looking at as they considered a new career for Chit. Gunnison has made a name for himself in the hunter world, and they all agreed Chit’s natural, smooth gait would set him up for success there. Gunnison did much of the riding, with Watson and Martinez standing by to watch, set fences, and lend support.

It wasn’t until this summer that they wondered whether Chit might have some aptitude for ranch work. Watson was always happy to support the Thoroughbred Incentive Program Western pleasure classes at Scheffleridge Farm’s hunter/jumper shows, so they threw Western tack on Chit and saw him maintain his long and low frame as though nothing much had changed.

It’s an improbable combination for any horse – excelling in both show hunters and ranch work. Hunters are often thought of as somewhat narrow in their worldview, working mostly in arena settings, while ranch horses must be a little more rough and tumble and very brave with cattle. A level head and a smooth movement will be rewarded in both disciplines, however.

“He’s really taken everything we’ve thrown at him,” said Martinez. “He’s very level-headed and calm.”

Martinez said they brought Chit into an arena full of cattle along with several other ranch horses to make him feel safe in a group, gradually removing the other horses until he was working the cows alone.

“It’s very much sink or swim,” said Watson. “He has to learn about them just like any other discipline – learn to track them, learn to follow them. He actually got good enough this summer where he was able to anticipate how they were going to move.”

A busy show schedule throughout late summer had the team out nearly every weekend at one kind of competition or the other. The hard work paid off, with Chit heading to the finals as the leader in both disciplines. Horses will be horses however, and a sudden stop at the very first fence in the hunter finale took him down to fifth in the overall standings. Gunnison brought him back to finish second in the ranch work division, and Watson said the trio could not be more thrilled with their experience.

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“We were just happy to get to the finals in one category, and two categories was just a bonus,” said Watson. “This horse has done so much for us. He is currently leading the Beginner Horse [division] in the Kentucky Hunter Jumper Association by 90 points or something like that. He’s just been a phenomenal horse this year. We’ll live to fight another day.”

The group expects Chit to move on to the three-foot hunters (an increase from the two and a half foot heights he saw at the Makeover) and the Take2 hunter series next season.

Not all owner/breeders can necessarily invest four years in a horse with the hopes of competing in the Makeover, rather than hoping to pick up a check. Still, Watson is hopeful that others in the racing industry can take away something from the RAH journey with Chit.

“A horse is a breeder’s responsibility throughout their entire life,” said Watson. “It did not ask to come into this world. You are the one who brought it here. So it’s definitely a breeder’s responsibility to ensure that it’s going to not end up where it doesn’t deserve to be.

“It’s so rewarding. Obviously they’re bred for racing, but to see him compete in the preliminary rounds earlier last week, it was just such a proud moment to have everybody coming up to us and talking about what a nice horse he was. It’s a very rewarding experience to know that something you have been responsible for creating is kind of the talk of the town and goes on and does something so significant in a second career. It’s a really good feeling.”

The post ‘A Breeder’s Responsibility’: Racing Owner/Breeders Take Horse From Foaling Stall To Thoroughbred Makeover appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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