Off Track Thoroughbreds (OTTB)

Operation Gold Rush – Part One: An OTTB Tale

Bau Bai Gold, a filly I would come to nickname Goldie, arrived at my farm for layup with a sore knee in January of her three-year-old year after her third start… none of which are worth mentioning. To me, she was just another horse on layup. She didn’t require any special therapies. I fed her, checked her over daily, and groomed her weekly. She was there to be a horse and rest, and that is what she did.

Sometime in late summer, her owner called and asked that I start legging her up to return to the track. That’s when I realized she was something special. Unlike most horses who come off a long vacation, she was ready to get back to work. She LOVED to train. The more the better; she never tired. Goldie was very opinionated. If she felt she hadn’t trained enough she would jig all the way back to the barn. If, in her opinion, I had trained her hard enough, fast enough, and long enough, she would walk home like a lady. She taught me that you have to let them tell you how they need to be trained.

I taught her to jump. Rather, I took her over her first jump. I’m pretty sure she was born knowing how to jump. She had a natural propensity to hurdle the jumps, and the hamster in my head started spinning on his wheel.

I tried to convince the owners to leave her with me and let me run her in Pennsylvania for the winter since she was PA bred and the racing would be much easier than the track she was intended to go to. I could teach her how to jump hurdles and try steeplechasing in the future since she wasn’t showing much talent on the dirt track. However, my efforts fell short, and she headed back to the race track.

She went to the trainer for whom my brother-in-law, Joe, was assistant trainer, and my sister Rosie rode her in her first race back. She finished a disappointing fourth, 20 lengths behind the winner. Her owner called me and asked if I wanted her. I didn’t need to carry another horse, but I asked them to give me a couple days and I would see if I could find an owner for her.

It didn’t take me long to convince one of my most loyal and supportive owners, Jenny, to take a chance on her. Despite my sister’s advice (which I highly respect) “not to touch her with a ten-foot pole,” I quickly picked up the phone to call Joe and let him know I had shipping arranged for her to come back to Maryland early the next morning. My first two attempts resulted in his voicemail. On my third attempt, Joe finally answered, and I told him the van would be there in the morning to pick her up. As irony would have it, he didn’t answer my first two calls because he was busy loading Bau Bai Gold, Goldie, MY HORSE, onto a van headed to another trainer in Kentucky.

I was too late…

I called Jenny and told her the bad news. As always, she took the news in stride. I was heartbroken but not defeated. Somehow I knew she was special and we had a future together. What’s meant to be, will be. It’s all about timing.

I added her to my Virtual Stable on Equibase so I would be notified when she had published breezes or was entered in a race. A few weeks later she was entered at Beulah Park. She would finish fifth, beaten 17 lengths, going 5 1/2 furlongs on the dirt. In her next start, she was stretched out to one mile on the dirt, only to finish last beaten 36 3/4 lengths. I knew she couldn’t out run me on the dirt, she was a turf only horse, but still, I could tell she wasn’t even trying. My bleeding heart felt for her, and I didn’t even want to think about how she felt.

When entries came out for her following start, it was under a new trainer. I couldn’t help myself, and I called Beulah Park and asked for the number of the trainer. I called immediately. Using my sweetest little girl voice and riding a thin line between truth and fabrication, I explained that Bau Bai Gold used to be at the farm where I rode and she was my favorite horse and since she wasn’t racing well, I would love to give her a great home. He explained that he hadn’t had a chance to race her yet and wanted to give it a go. He had dropped her to a $3500 maiden claiming race and this time she was beaten 40 1/2 lengths going six furlongs on the dirt.

The next day I called again. Given her dismal effort, I was hoping that taking her off his hands would be payment enough, but he claimed he had someone else interested in her. I highly doubted that but I knew this game. I made him a cash offer and said I could pick her up Sunday morning. He agreed.

I called Jenny and asked if she was still on board. I made sure to fully explain that there was nothing in her past performances to back up my gut feeling about this horse and her performances on the track were only getting worse. All I knew was that somewhere deep in my soul I knew she was going to win us races. She replied that she was off on vacation the next day, but to do whatever I thought was right and she was in. I was so fortunate to have her support and belief in me.

It was Wednesday, February 26th. If it wasn’t or the fact I had to wait until the following day to pick up my new truck, I would have left to get her that very moment. My plan was to drive out to Ohio on Saturday, spend the night, pick her up first thing in the morning on Sunday and drive home.

Thursday night, after picking up my new truck, I was watching the news as they talked about a big snow storm coming across the Midwest, likely to hit Ohio on Sunday. If the storm stayed on the meteorologist’s schedule, my plan would work out perfectly. By Friday morning the storm was predicted to hit Columbus on Saturday afternoon. I made a quick decision, I had to go right away. I called the trainer and told him I would be there Saturday, first thing in the morning.

Next was a call to a very chatty woman I knew. If I was going to drive into the night, I needed a co-pilot to keep me awake. No way could I fall asleep with her next to me. She was in and we left the Baltimore area at noon.

Operation Gold Rush was underway…

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Article written by Jazz Napravnik

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