Chocolate Ride’s Retirement Was A Team Effort From Connections Who Never Forgot Him

February 2015 seems like an impossibly long time ago. In the year of COVID-19, which feels to most of us like it has lasted at least a decade somehow, it’s hard to recall the sunny days of racing five years ago. It’s also hard to grasp, in a Breeders’ Cup year dominated by trainer Brad Cox and featuring regular rider Florent Geroux, that just five years ago neither of them were the household names they are now. But Cox, Geroux, and a group of others remember very clearly a determined bay gelding who helped put them all on the map that year, and they recently came together to pay him back.

In late 2014, Chocolate Ride was a horse with some promise but struggling to find his level. He had broken his maiden over the summer as a 3-year-old for trainer Mark Casse and owner John Oxley, and after not quite making the grade in several Kentucky allowance contests, Casse dropped him into a claiming race at Churchill Downs, where Cox snapped him up for $40,000.

Cox had won his first graded stakes, the Grade 3 Cornhusker with Carve, in 2014 and still did most of his work on the claiming circuit in Kentucky. Geroux’s star had just begun to rise, as he got his first G1 victory with Work All Week in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Chocolate Ride began turning his resume around once he entered Cox’s bar, rising through the allowance ranks at Fair Grounds and taking the G3 Fair Grounds Handicap, then the G2 Mervin Muniz, and even making a bid in the G1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (which was less successful – he finished eighth). He followed that up with a 2016 season of wins in the G3 Col. E.R. Bradley and a reprise of the Fair Grounds Handicap.

The gelding by Candy Ride wasn’t the most successful runner for either man that year, but he was a memorable one.

“He was kind of a favorite of Flo’s and ours because he’s such a hard-trying horse,” said racing analyst Caton Bredar, whose husband Doug is Geroux’s agent. “He was kind of an overachiever in that I don’t know if you ever expected him to get as good as he did, but he won graded stakes races and was so consistent for so long.”

The same was true for owner John Wentworth and his partners in GenStar Thoroughbreds.

As horses often do, Chocolate Ride maintained his game spirit at the graded stakes level for several seasons, but gradually began to lose some of his prowess, descending to the allowance optional claiming level and moving to the Mid-Atlantic circuit with Brittany Russell. After a long layoff between fall 2019 and summer of this year, he resurfaced in the entries and just so happened to catch Bredar’s eye.

“Since the pandemic we at TVG have been working different shifts,” said Bredar. “All of a sudden, in I guess it would be October, I was working a weird shift that I never work and I saw he was entered in a $12,500 claimer in Penn National. He had been claimed from the people who’d had him before, and I didn’t know that. I didn’t know anything about it.

“When I saw he was in for $12,500 I said in passing to Doug, ‘Oh I hate this. Wouldn’t it be great if we could claim him?’ But we’re not in the business of owning horses … it’s a bit of a conflict of interest.”

Doug Bredar and Chocolate Ride reunite at Old Friends. Photo courtesy Caton Bredar

Doug thought it over and decided this horse had to be the exception to the rule. He called Cox, who reached out to the horse’s former owners. Doug spoke with Geroux, and everyone agreed to pool funds and get their hard-trying friend back.

By all accounts, the gelding wasn’t in danger – Bredar reached out to trainer Anthony Stabile, who claimed the horse in July for Scaronias Stable, and it seemed he was sound and happy being a racehorse. The owners had transferred the horse to Bruce Kravets and were receptive to the Bredars’ interest, but said they wanted to run him once more.

“He wasn’t in bad form, he’d been running in good form,” she said. “They really wanted to get him back on the grass, which is why they wanted to run him one more time.”

Fair enough, the Bredars thought. They decided to claim the gelding, which seemed a fair way to get the owners their race and their tag price while securing the horse’s future. With everyone on board an agreeing to split expenses evenly, the challenge became logistics. Bredar’s first thought was to call Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky., which sponsored a stakes race Chocolate Ride had contested back in 2017. Thanks to the recent opening of its satellite facility at a nearby senior living center, Old Friends founder Michael Blowen had a rare spot open at the main property. Brook Ledge agreed to haul the horse from Pennsylvania, where he was now based, to Kentucky for a discounted fee. Then the challenge became paying for the horse.

“It’s all good in theory and it all makes sense, but it’s just not as easy in practice to make it happen,” said Bredar, who thought at first she just needed to find someone with a Pennsylvania license and wire the money to the racing office. “Turns out even in the era of COVID, most racing jurisdictions don’t allow you to wire money to the horsemen’s bookkeeper. Basically, the morning of the race Doug was saying, ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’ve called everyone I can think of.’”

Not only could Bredar not wire money to the racing office at Penn National, she learned the horse would have to be claimed by a trainer and an owner who had previously started horses at the track, rather than just anyone with a license in Pennsylvania. A call to the Pennsylvania HBPA produced a few leads of trainers who may be willing to help, but then the quest was to find an owner. Trainer Bernie Houghton agreed to drop the claim and eventually word got around that the group was looking for an owner. Don Brown Jr. agreed to be the owner on the claim slip and in the last hours before Chocolate Ride’s entry in a claiming race on Oct. 9, everything came together. Bredar wired the money to Brown, and watched the post parade with bated breath.

“We just crossed our fingers that the horse would run well, but also that no one else would put a claim in for him,” she said. “You were as nervous as you would be if it were a big race or if Flo was riding.

Chocolate Ride didn’t go out a winner, but he did finish second – a respectable close to a career that had brought so much to the people around him, but also a sign that even with maximum effort, a win was beyond him now.

“Once he got back to the barn and we heard that he’d cooled out ok, Doug said, ‘I think this is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.’ When we went to Old Friends and I watched him, and we were texting Brad pictures, everybody was so excited that this happened. It meant so much to everybody. It took me a little bit surprised how much it touched us that this happened.”

Blowen tells Bredar Chocolate Ride is settling in at Old Friends faster than any horse before him. Bredar said if the gelding decides the retired life isn’t for him, she will seek out a more active second career for him. For now, the group is happy to know he’s living the good life.

“He looks beautiful,” she said. “Everybody along the way has really taken very good care of him. I know he could have been useful on the track, and that’s also kind of a hard sell to some people, and I understand why. But for a horse that had been so good to us, it just seemed like this is what he deserved, to go home.”

The post Chocolate Ride’s Retirement Was A Team Effort From Connections Who Never Forgot Him appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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