Flower Alley, above, has seen his popularity as a sire sky rocket as his most famous son heads towards a possible historic Triple Crown next weekend; already “one of the best racehorces” of his year when he retired he’d been attracting a nice book of mares, but now with his offspring I’ll Have Another winning this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and a couple of other high profile runners doing well, his schedule has become jam-packed, and his book for next year is filling up quickly. Lucky then that a) he’s an out and out workaholic, and b) he happens to be retired at Three Chimneys Farm where everything is conducive to the happy horse.
The stallions at Three Chimneys typically spend about 15-17 hours a day outside in their lush paddocks, just being horses, but unlike most other top class TB breeding farms, they are also ridden daily by Brian Van Steenberg, an exceptional eventer turned track rider who found his spot here about a dozen years ago and never left. Compact and strong, but with soft hands, a sympathetic mind and gentle heart you couldn’t find anyone better suited to ride these unbelievably valuable, fit, strong, independent individuals! Brian very kindly talked to us in between sitting on War Chant and Flower Alley; he had a short break because Flower Alley was squeezing in a quick breeding before his ride, such is his popularity these days!
Brian on War Chant (as someone who grew up never even schooling without carrying a whip “just in case” I was very impressed that Brian doesn’t feel the need to have one on any of his rides), and LOOK at his face! He hummed and chatted to the stallions constantly and had a real connection and rapport with each one. Brian admitted that Big Brown was the most athletic horse he’s ever ridden, “I have never, ever been carried through space as effortlessly as on this horse, he makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. He’s like a Ferarri, you just push the button, he’s incredible.” Jen Roytz, marketing and communications director told me some stallions already have a reputation in the show world, “We try to keep up with a lot of our stallions’ offspring after the track in their second careers and we have a gallery on our facebook page dedicated to them. War Chant is a really pretty mover, and he’s got suspension which can sometimes be harder to come by in Thoroughbreds fresh off the track so we get people calling all the time asking if we have any sons or daughters of War Chant that are ready for second careers, or if we could help them find one. The same thing with Point Given, he’s very popular too for eventing or the hunter/jumper circuit.” It’s no secret that Eventing Nation is a big fan of the OTTB as event horse, and I am definitely a fully paid up member of that club. At this year’s Rolex CCI**** 21 of the horses competing were ex-racehorses including the winner Parklane Hawk who ran in New Zealand, and indeed at the 2010 Alltech FEI WEG held at the Kentucky Horse Park Caroline Powell’s mount Mac MacDonald had direct ties to Three Chimneys Farm
With some 400 horses on Three Chimneys obviously not everyone can be at the Belmont, but there will be a big party at the farm to watch the race and celebrate no matter the outcome. A win, no doubt, would be fantastic, not just for all of I’ll Have Another’s extended connections, but for the sport in general.
Three Chimneys must be applauded for their thoroughbred after-care programme; they are very open about trying to place any horse connected to the farm in a second career or long term home once it has been retired from racing. Jen Roytz, who is charged with co-ordinating the efforts, explained what it entails:
“We try to keep our eyes out for any horse that has passed through our gates as they’re coming to the end of their racing career. When they’re by our stallions it’s actually easier then you’d expect because we get auto-generated reports of where every offspring of each stallion is running on any given day. We’ll just start keeping our eyes on the ones at the lower levels, maybe making a call or two to trainers, and in a lot of cases if they’re thinking about retiring the horse and don’t have options in mind, it’s as simple as providing them with a list of reputable after-care associations, or people who are looking for horses that fit that description – it’s often that easy. Also we have a really good network of equine advocates around the country so when horses end up in an at-risk situation, like for example New Holland or Sugar Creek or one of these livestock auctions in a kill pen, we’ll get a call to let us know and then we work very quickly and quietly behind the scenes to make sure we get that horse out of that situation and into a better one; every horse’s situation is a little bit different so we just help to facilitate it in the best way possible. Social media, like facebook and twitter, has also helped us tremendously”
Unfortunately, Three Chimneys has been susceptible to people trying to take advantage of their generosity, which is perhaps why some other farms are less open about their own advocacy, “If it’s a horse that was bred by Three Chimneys or owned by Three Chimneys at one time, maybe that means we pay the bail to get that horse out and into a safe long-term home. If it’s a horse that’s by one of our stallions but we didn’t breed or own it, then we contact the breeder or the horse’s previous connections and help them facilitate getting that horse out and basically do all the legwork for them. The bottom line is we’re quick to react and in these situations, many times it’s ‘save the horse and figure out the logistics later. We’re really lucky that the clients we have here at Three Chimneys share the same mindset that we do which is really lucky for us – they feel the same way. If a horse that they’ve ever been connected to ends up in a bad situation they won’t stop at anything to help, but sometimes all they need is a little bit of guidance, someone to walk them through the process.”
Jen modestly explains that many people are very intimidated by the prospect of re-homing racehorses and assume that it will become a long term expense and liability but often that’s not the case; in a lot of instances, she says, it’s just a matter of making phone calls and connecting the dots.
I couldn’t have been more impressed with every single aspect of the farm – from the immaculate barns and presentation, to the personal touches – there’s a picture drawn by Hope, the little girl who’s become I’ll Have Another’s good luck mascot via the Make a Wish Foundation, pinned outside Flower Alley’s stable; she’ll be going to the Belmont and hopefully be celebrating for a third time next weekend. An enormous thank you to Jen for extending the invitation and showing me round, to Brian for chatting, and to Three Chimneys for their unparalleled excellence, but especially for showing the world the caring face of horse-racing. Go I’ll Have Another, all the way to the Triple Crown, and Go OTTBs Eventing!