Racehorse retirement: Sometimes it means a job on the backstretch

The Beyond The Wire aftercare program has become a vital component of the Maryland Thoroughbred racing industry, having retired and facilitated placement of more than 225 racehorses since its launch in June 2017.

There is, however, much more to the local aftercare effort—Maryland horsemen and breeders for many years have kept and transitioned their retirees for jobs at the racetrack or farm. One example is the Laurel Park stable of Team Gaudet, where a 13-year-old who raced for trainer Lacey Gaudet is teaching a retired 7-year-old how to pony his stablemates.

Mesotherm, a $400,000 yearling sale purchase by Matt Schera, was sent to the Gaudet barn early in his 5-year-old year and had not yet raced. He finished third in his debut in April 2018 at Laurel and then broke his maiden in special weight company at Monmouth Park.

"Nothing major kept him away from the races, but with that purchase price Matt was very careful," Gaudet. "You see how big he is, and it took him that long (to get going)."

Mesotherm showed signs of stakes quality with back-to-back allowance victories later that year at Laurel and ended his season with a seventh-place finish in the Fabulous Strike Stakes at Penn National Race Course. He returned in late January 2019 and was an impressive winner of a six-furlong allowance test at Laurel in a quick 1:08.87.

"He came out of that race with an ankle chip," Gaudet said. "Matt went ahead with the surgery knowing he had a chance to come back but said, 'He's going to be your pony.' He had always loved to go out and train, but I could tell he wasn't into it (after the surgery). He never did breeze again."

Mesotherm, a Trappe Shot gelding who won five of eight starts, was supposed to get some time at the Gaudet family farm in Upper Marlboro, Md. That didn't pan out as it became clear Mesotherm missed the racetrack.

"I took him to the farm and began unloading the trailer," Gaudet said. "He would not go into the paddock. I just couldn't get him to do it. So I loaded him again and took him back to the racetrack. He loves the hustle and bustle of being here. He has days where there isn't a lot for him to do--just go out to the track, stand around and socialize.

"It's important to have owners who understand, and having an owner like Matt makes our job so easy because we don't have to worry about contacting him about issues. I can call him at 9 in the morning or at night and discuss things with him. He's very straightforward and great to deal with.

"It makes my job easier to have clients like that. He does a great job rehoming his horses."

Gaudet said having trained horses that end up staying at the track as ponies makes the transition easier because she knows their personalities—and often a bond is formed. Such is the case with Blimey, the 13-year-old who started 66 times and won 10 races.

Team Gaudet claimed him from his 34th start in March 2014 and only had the Limehouse gelding for five starts before he was claimed. Blimey went on to race in South Florida and dropped down the claiming ladder before ending up in for a $5,000 tag at Turfway Park in Kentucky in February 2015.

BlimeyGaudet arranged to purchase Blimey with the intent to retire him. The operation was still based at the Bowie Training Center at the time.

"He still had some life left so we put him in training again," she said. "He raced for another year and a half, but he slowed down and we retired him. Turbin, another of our horses, needed a pony, so Blimey became Turbin's special pony. When we take him to the farm he loses weight and just isn't happy. He likes his job."

Gaudet and her mother, Linda, have also placed retired racehorses in the Beyond The Wire program. Turbin, a barn favorite who was retired at age 9 last year after back-to-back wins in March at Laurel, was sent to Aiken Horse Rescue in South Carolina.

"We know the people at Aiken," Gaudet said. "Turbin was a hard horse to place. He needed down time and a special person to work with him. Programs like Beyond The Wire are the reason horses are placed well and can connect to people. Some horses can be hard to place."

An important part of the aftercare equation is knowing when to retire a racehorse to ensure it can rehomed and move on to a second career, said Jessica Hammond, who administrates the Beyond The Wire program.

"We are very lucky in Maryland," Hammond said. "Many of our horsemen are involved in other equestrian sports outside of racing. That fact gives retiring racehorses another avenue to a second career. We have people that show horses, fox hunt or have friends who play polo. And yes, some even end up staying with the same racing outfits and being used as pony horses."

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