The U.S. eventing community mourns the loss of El Primero, who died yesterday in his pasture at age 20 with his longtime friend Here’s Awesome and dedicated owner Sara Mittleider by his side. A 1995 Thoroughbred gelding bred and foaled by Jesus Trejo in Nampa, Idaho, El Primero, by Dr. Dan Eyes out of Classic Allure, raced six times at Les Bois Park at the back of the pack before retiring.
Passed over by prospective buyers due to his small size at just 15.1 hands with his shoes on, Sara, then 13 years old, decided to take him on as a project for $300. “Tony” would go on to launch her career and change her life. In just the sixth Advanced start of their career, Tony finished in the top 20 at Rolex Kentucky CCI4* in 2005, the event’s final year as a long format. Sara, just 19 at the time, won the Reeves Trophy as the highest placed young rider.
Sara and Tony went on to compete Rolex three more times in the top 20 in 2006, 2007 and 2010, with Sara again winning the Reeves Trophy as the highest placed young rider in 2006 and 2007 and Tony earning the honors of Best Conditioned Horse in 2006. They traveled to England to train with the 2006 U.S. World Equestrian Games squad and competed at Burghley the following year.
Tony’s career can be summed up in “firsts,” which is appropriate considering his name means “the first” in Spanish. He was the first Idaho-bred horse to compete at the CCI4* level, the first Idaho-bred horse to be named to a USEF High Performance training list, the first Idaho-bred horse to be short listed for a Team USA squad and the first Idaho-bred horse to be considered for an Olympic team.
After his retirement from the upper levels, he enjoyed competing at Preliminary level with Sara’s husband, Attila Rajnai, through the 2013 season. He remained in light work until the time of his death. The Mittleider family said they were not prepared to lose him so soon, and our thoughts and condolences are with them.
If there is comfort in this sad time, it lies in the fact that El Primero’s life served as one more shining example of what off-track Thoroughbreds can do in second careers if given the chance. May his memory serve as a reminder that even a $300 track castoff can achieve greatness when paired with the right person.
Rest in peace, El Primero.