The OTTBs participating in the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100-Day Challenge made their debut this weekend at the Maryland Horse World Expo. While heavy favorite Gunport was unable to attend due to a swollen hock from a pasture kick, Declan’s Moon, Suave Jazz and Alluring Punch all strutted into the expo arena on Friday afternoon for their official introduction to the public. The horses were in the quieter of the two expo arenas for their first session, which was a free lunging and jumping session meant to help them get comfortable with the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the session had barely started when Steuart noticed Declan was lame. The Eclipse winner had slipped on the pavement after unloading from the trailer upon arriving at the expo and seemed to be favoring his left hind leg. So Declan didn’t get to play in the first session. With horses, anything that can go wrong will, right?
Out came Suave Jazz, whom Sarah Andrew of Thoroughbred Daily News dubbed “The Professor.” He takes everything in stride and seems to learn very quickly. He was totally unfazed by the expo atmosphere and, while he was looking at the crowd quite a bit, he was looking more out of curiosity than spookiness. He showed off a very floaty trot with lots of suspension during his free lunging, and popped over the jumps like he’d done it every day for years. This horse is just cool, calm and collected. I chatted a bit with Sarah about him before the session began. She said her favorite of the four Thoroughbreds keeps changing, and she’s currently rooting for Suave Jazz. I am an avid Gunport fan, but after seeing Suave Jazz in person this weekend, I have to admit that I’m leaning more toward Team Suave Jazz.
Alluring Punch came out next, ready to show off for the crowd. This horse just turned 4, so he is understandably more immature than his older counterpart, but his playful side is endearing. Alluring Punch was having a blast circling the arena and showing the crowd just how talented he is. When he jumped his warm-up crossrail, he cranked his knees up to his eyeballs, eliciting some “oo’s” and ah’s” from the crowd. Alluring Punch really wasn’t even trying when Steuart maxed out the jumps around 3’6″. This horse has serious potential to be a jumper, and it’s clear he loves his job; he kept trying to circle back through the jump chute after his session was over. That wrapped up Friday’s session, with Steuart mentioning that he hoped Declan’s Moon would be sound for Saturday’s under-saddle session.
Declan was indeed sound for Saturday. While Suave Jazz and Alluring Punch are lovely horses, Declan is just in a whole other class. He has that big, classic Thoroughbred build that just screams power and talent. Saturday’s under-saddle session was in the main expo arena, which is tiny with grandstands parked right up against it on all four sides. I’m pretty sure Declan thought all of the people in the packed grandstands were there to see him. When Steuart asked how many people remembered Declan from his racing heyday, Declan pranced and showed off a bit during the applause. Steuart equated riding Declan to being on a trampoline, as he softly bounces on the ground with each step. More than any of the others, Declan shows that floating, warmblood trot with suspension to burn. This horse could do straight dressage.
Suave Jazz showed his calm demeanor by trotting and cantering around in a soft frame, totally oblivious to the fact that hundreds of people were piled around him. I can’t say enough about how well he handled the atmosphere. While Alluring Punch had a few “moose” moments where he peaked at the crowd and Declan looked like a rubberband ready to snap, Suave Jazz was totally unfazed. This horse is a rockstar, and it’s no wonder Steuart said he’s planning to take him foxhunting again this week. All the horses hopped over a crossrail, vertical and small oxer to end their session. Declan in particular impressed me with how well he uses his entire body to jump. I’m giving two thumbs up to all three horses for how well they handled a very electric atmosphere.
Fans of the 100-Day Challenge will be able to vote for the horses to win in different superlative categories at the end of the challenge. After seeing three of the four horses in person this weekend, I’d award the following superlatives — Most Talented: Declan’s Moon; Best Brain: Suave Jazz; and Most Potential: Alluring Punch. And while I haven’t yet seen Gunport in person, I’ll tentatively tap her as the Comeback Kid, for conquering her nerves and improving so much in such a short period of time. All four Thoroughbreds will be back at the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo in Harrisburg Feb. 21-23. After the conclusion of the challenge, some of the horses will be sold to continue their new careers. Colleen Rutledge already has her eye set on one of them as a future event prospect. Which horse do you think she wants to buy?