It’s every owner’s ideal scenario. Your racehorse’s career is over, you find him a nice home and he lives a long and useful life somewhere enjoying his second career. That dream turned into a nightmare for owner/breeder Jeff Larson this week when one of his homebreds, the popular Minnesota champion Tubby Time (Devil His Due-Gentle Princess-Tejano) turned up in a kill pen in Pennsylvania.
“We [Larson and trainer Mac Robertson] thought we had a nice home for him,” Larson said. “He was going to be a hunter/jumper and have a nice retirement.”
With thoroughbreds retiring comparatively young – racehorses are usually retired by age 10, many long before that, but can live well into their twenties – many ex-racers find nice second careers as hunter/jumpers, eventers and dressage or trail horses. Especially in demand are nice, solid geldings like Tubby Time.
“I’m livid…I’m…I’m not sure how I feel,” said an obviously distressed Larson when contacted. “I’m just sick over this.”
After being reached via email while traveling, Larson had to Google his old charge in order to find out what was going with him. What he found was horrifying.
Somewhere between Tubby Time’s retirement after this last race at Delaware Park on October 2, 2014 and early May 2015, something went horribly wrong.
“We have a relationship with a buyer that, when he finds horses that could have a second career he contacts us,” said Gail Hirt, Founder and Executive Director of Beyond the Roses, an organization she founded to assist in the rehoming of ex-racehorses. “We do what we can to rescue them and get them on their way to a well-earned happy retirement.”
“We got a call that there were five horses that we could save from a kill pen in Pennsylvania so we sent folks over to take a look,” Hirt continued. “It turns out that there were six of them and, when we ran their lip tattoos [thoroughbreds are identified by a unique tattoo inside their lips], we found out who Tubby Time was and, after some more research, found out how accomplished he was on the racetrack.”
Tubby Time, a 9-year old Minnesota bred gelding was accomplished indeed.
His career lifetime race record was 35 starts with 12 wins, 4 seconds and 4 thirds with earnings of $263,515. He won the Blair’s Cove Stakes twice and the 2011 Minnesota Turf Championship Stakes, the same year he was named Canterbury’s Horse of the Meet. He won races in Minnesota, Maryland and Delaware over his career.
Canterbury Park, when notified of the situation, immediately sprang into action with Vice-President of Racing Operations Eric Halstrom working the phones to get a bead on the situation. The track takes the issue of horses sent to slaughter very seriously and recently adopted strong anti-slaughter language requiring owners and trainers to do proper due-diligence when retiring horses from racing. Halstrom was able to get in touch with Hirt and pledged financial support for the gelding’s rescue and rehabilitation.
No one knows what happened in Tubby’s case yet, though investigations are ongoing. Given the time between retirement and his emergence in the kill pen it is unlikely that he was sent directly to slaughter. Perhaps the horse couldn’t adapt to his new career? Maybe the cost of maintaining a horse was too much for the new owners and they just dumped him? Though Tubby has been saved, there are still thousands of horses in need of assistance.
“Educating the public and the horsemen about the options available is important,” said Hirt. “Having the public, the racetracks, the owners, trainers and breeders all support their local retirement organizations would help a lot. We all need donations, that’s how we exist.”
Tubby Time has a long road ahead of him. He has lost a lot of weight and has been roughed up pretty good by the herd at the lot. He, and the five others rescued with him, will be quarantined for six to eight weeks and will be wormed, vaccinated, have his feet done, his teeth floated, and his rain rot on his coat taken care of before heading to a foster farm under the Beyond the Roses umbrella.
“We will make sure that he gets a soft landing,” Hirt said. “No horse is ever 100% safe, but we do our best to keep tabs on them. Adopters are vetted and sign contracts, but five years down the line, how do we know? It can happen so quickly.”
Jeff Larson also contacted Hirt. “I will, of course, help support him financially. I really thought we had found him a good home,” he sighed.
Supported by his former owner, the racetrack where he became a champion and a dedicated advocate and her team, Tubby Time will have a second chance at a first class retirement.