Bonne Chance Sends Horse To Young Event Horse Championships, Finishes As Top Thoroughbred

Although the Breeders’ Cup is still to come, Bonne Chance Farm has already had a successful debut at a different kind of championships. While the operation hopes to send three horses to Del Mar in a few weeks’ time, it also sent a former runner to the U.S. Eventing Association’s Young Event Horse East Coast Championship in the 4-year-old division.

Bonne Chance had high hopes for Judge Johnny, the son of Empire Maker and Silver Deputy mare Lucas Street. JJ, as he is known more fondly, is a half-brother to Wavell Avenue, winner of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and earner of $1.1 million in multiple graded stakes. JJ’s race record was much less glitzy, with five races and no better than a sixth-place finish.

Aftercare has always been a priority for the small operation, so when JJ expressed disinterest in his job, the farm sent him to local OTTB specialist Carleigh Fedorka of Sewickley Stables. Originally, the then-3-year-old was supposed to be a quick retraining and resale project. When Fedorka first swung a leg over the big bay, she knew she had something special.

“He’s almost a little unassuming when he’s just standing there. But when you put him together, he just blossoms into almost a completely separate animal,” said Leah Alessandroni, bloodstock and office manager for Bonne Chance.

It took JJ some time to grasp what Fedorka was asking of him over fences, but once he figured it out, he approached even three-foot obstacles with calm, relaxed energy more characteristic of much older eventers.

In addition to being an accomplished researcher in equine reproduction at the Gluck Equine Research Center, Fedorka’s equestrian resume is also impressive, ranging from ranch work to preliminary-level eventing. She maintains Sewickley as a boarding/lay-up/sales center which specializes in developing young ex-racehorses. When she told the Bonne Chance team their ex-racehorse had incredible potential in a different sport, they listened.

“The original plan was to try to just get a good education for him,” said Alessandroni. “I think she got him in August of last year, and our goal had been to get him sold at the end of the year. But when it was obvious he was so nice, Alberto [Figueiredo, Bonne Chance CEO] didn’t hesitate to say, ‘Let’s see what we have as a 4-year-old, because maybe he’ll be even better. To his credit, any time we wanted to do anything or take him anywhere, he said yes at every turn. He had faith in the horse.

“It’s one of those fairy tale stories where you have all these goals, and very, very rarely do they all pan out.”

Figueiredo asked Fedorka for a plan of what she thought she could do with the horse in a short timeframe, and what she thought a realistic goal might be. Fedorka sketched out an ambitious schedule on a piece of paper, with the USEA Young Event Horse Championship as the ultimate goal.

The YEHs, as they’re known colloquially, exist to help the national governing body for eventing begin identifying young prospects who could someday become Olympic team horses for the United States. There are separate classes for 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds. Horses must earn a qualifying score in order to enter the YEH Championship, with the top-place 5-year-old finisher receiving a grant to travel to Europe, with a promised spot to represent the U.S. at an age-restricted international competition for 7-year-old event prospects in France. Fedorka said most of the top-place finishers are imported European Warmbloods campaigned by riders who routinely compete at the Olympics and other top international events.

Scoring at YEHs and at its qualifying events is different from a traditional three-day event. At a typical three-day event or horse trial, a horse and rider begin with a dressage test and their score represents the number of faults or deficiencies in that test. From there, they may accumulate additional faults for knocked rails, refused jumps, or time penalties in a course of stadium jumps and a course of cross country obstacles. The lowest overall score is the winner.

In the YEH system, horses are instead scored based on the potential they show in each of the traditional three phases as well as conformation.

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Fedorka was thrilled to get JJ’s required qualifying score on their very first attempt this spring and spent the summer and fall bringing him through the novice and training levels. The pair finished 19th in the Novice Horse division at the American Eventing Championship. Coming into YEH last week, Fedorka said her goals were modest.

“I had very low expectations, because pretty consistently the top ten are big imports ridden by big name people,” said Fedorka. “I said all along I wanted him to be the highest-scoring 4-year-old, because I thought he was the most quality 4-year-old in the country and I wanted him to prove that.

“I wanted to beat my qualifying score, which was a 79. I really wanted to score an 80, and I scored an 85, which was insane. I just wanted the score; I didn’t know how it would stack up against other people.”

JJ accomplished the goal, placing sixth overall out of 32 and claiming the prize of top-placed Thoroughbred and rating the second-highest score for conformation. Looking back at her performance, Fedorka said she can see areas where she left a few key points on the table thanks to a silly stumble in the dressage ring and a knocked rail in the stadium jumping. She believes that next year, JJ could enter the YEH for 5-year-olds with a serious shot at the championship’s top prize.

Judge Johnny shows off in his dressage test at the YEH Championships

“He was over-prepared for the level [of the 4-year-old jumps] and it’s not because we rushed him up the levels, it’s because he has the brain of a unicorn, just wanting more and more,” she said. “I’d never say it about any other horse I’ve sat on, but 100%, Judge Johnny is the horse who could be the 7-year-old running at the three-star level, without a question in my mind. I think he’s the best example of the breed to the masses who aren’t quite sure about the Thoroughbred.”

Fedorka and Alessandroni took note of the fact that there are different types of incentive programs and special awards beyond the championship for horses who participate from different breeding programs. Although the Thoroughbred Incentive Program does give an award for best-placing OTTB at YEH, there isn’t a grant or other incentive to tempt upper-level riders to hunt for ex-racehorses for the purpose of that program.

“We have the financial backing for the Thoroughbred Makeover and that is amazing,” said Fedorka. “But we have to realize that eventing is our bread and butter for these Thoroughbreds, and we need to find a way to get support for these little phenoms like JJ. I’m lucky that I have breeders who have the ability and desire to support him. Without them, I’m doing this as a side hustle on the side of being a scientist. This is not a full-time professional endeavor that funds itself.”

Fedorka also said that since other breeders have seen her work with JJ, she has had two send her horses to sell for them, while promising to fund their retraining to ensure they have the best possible start in their new careers. Without JJ’s success, she’s not sure those connections would have realized that placing a horse with a ‘re-trainer’ was an option.

“I think the thing I’m most proud of is that we could showcase a path in aftercare that is very, very rarely taken,” said Alessandroni. “I think that’s probably because owners and people involved in the management of these horses don’t even know it was a path to take.

“So many of our aftercare organizations are doing great, great work, but they have their hands full with horses who need rehab or who don’t have connections with the financial ability to support the horse. If we can alleviate some of the burden from those programs by doing some of the work ourselves and putting our money where our mouth is, I think everybody should be doing that.”

Alessandroni encourages other racing owners or breeding farms to connect with reputable sport horse trainers who can help them evaluate retiring horses and help them network a horse to an appropriate barn where they can get some basic retraining in the sport they’re best suited to.

“So much of it is getting them into good hands and making sure that instead of that horse dropping down into a $2,000 claimer, you’re giving them the best chance to get a good education and a second career, or really just a life,” she said. “If they don’t have an affinity at the racetrack but you keep them sound and happy, they can truly do anything. You saw it at [the Thoroughbred Makeover], horses doing any discipline in the book.”

The post Bonne Chance Sends Horse To Young Event Horse Championships, Finishes As Top Thoroughbred appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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