The Second Race is on

Face time with Zenyatta

Once on the fast track, Sharla Sanders was running the broker desk at a major subprime mortgage lender and overseeing 45 employees before the economic sea change forced her to look for a second career.

Two years after her employer closed its doors, Sanders found a career helping ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds get new jobs after their racing days ended.

“I always had a dream that I was going to do something for racehorses, and then I lost my job. I consulted for another mortgage company for a year, but when that job ended as well I thought, ‘It’s now or never,’ ” Sanders says. “I decided to jump in. If I waited for all the lights to turn green, it never would have happened.”

Zenyatta paints for charity

In 2009, Sanders founded The Second Race, an Arcadia, Calif.-based corporation geared toward networking on behalf of ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.

“We’re different. We’re not a rescue, and we work by facilitating re-homing or re-training by networking through our vast resources of layup farms, breeders, horse owners, trainers and even jockeys,” Sanders says. “This is a networking and marketing business. I have a 10-year business plan; it’s not just something I’ve done on emotion.”

Not that  compassion hasn’t had it’s place in Sander’s new career path.

When in 2002, the longtime horseracing fan learned Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had been killed in a Japanese slaughterhouse, Sanders felt impelled to do something. “At that point, I wanted to help a horse—somehow.”

A To The Z under saddle

She started by sponsoring the retirement of an ex-racer through California Equine Retirement Foundation, and making monthly donations for his care. Later, she volunteered with an unusual and successful project to create and sell impressionistic “paintings” created by famous racehorses.

Using peppermint inducements, Sanders has coaxed some of the greats, including Zenyatta and Lava Man, to dip their muzzles in nontoxic, water-based paints and have at canvas a’la Picasso or Degas. Impressions in colors that match the racing silks associated with each horse have fetched as much as $1,500 for racehorse retirement.

When she started all this, not everyone understood.

Retired racehorse A To The Z

“A very dear girlfriend let me know she thought it was very frivolous in light of all the starving children, or people with cancer,” Sanders says. “And I answer that by saying you have to choose your own niche, and follow your heart toward what your passion is.

For Sanders, although the world’s problems concern her too, there is something about helping horses that ignites that spark.

Recently, Sanders was rewarded for her networking and marketing efforts on behalf of California stakes winner A To The Z. The Thoroughbred won over $700,000 in 21 starts before his career ended. His owner, Paula Capestro, was determined to find him a new career that would challenge him.

“Paula didn’t want to give that horse up because he was kind of a barn pet to her. When she called me she insisted he be retrained for a performance career” because he was too talented to retire without a job.

Partnering with Hess Equine and Silks to Show Ring, The Second Race helped connect  A To The Z with a next career, possibly in the show ring. After just three months of schooling trainers are calling the horse a “jumping savant.”

Sharla Sanders in her new office

“He watched other lesson horses and he just kind of followed what they were doing,” she says, noting that A To The Z exemplifies  the willingness and talent of many off-track Thoroughbreds.

As for Sander’s second career, the experience of going from hectic office to grassy pasture has brought its own happy end.

“When I worked for the mortgage company, racing was my stress reliever. Now I’m living the dream, and it’s taken off like a firestorm.”

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Piermarini rides, lives to win

Photo by Chip Bott, Suffolk Downs

Just four weeks after giving birth by cesarean section, top Suffolk Downs jockey Tammi Piermarini rode to victory on Opening Day this year—three times.

On that sunny afternoon, with her long hair streaming behind her, Piermarini won the first race of the May 15th opener, and set the pace for a great season. With 53 victories so far, she is in contention to become the most winning jockey at Suffolk Downs this year.

And still, she’s humble about it.

“I can win three, four or five races in a day, but in this business, you can be on top one day, and on the bottom the next,” she says. “When you’re winning, everybody wants you. But you can’t let it go to your head. You can’t be macho about it.”

At 43, the racing veteran has over 1,800 documented wins to her credit, but has withstood some daunting challenges along the way, including a major illness in 1994 and a serious accident in 2008.

Photo by Chip Bott, Suffolk Downs

So after taking off the winter for her recent pregnancy, she was eager to get back to work.

Never one to let inconvenience get in the way of doing what she does best, Piermarini taped her incision and wore supportive underwear, then went on a low carbohydrate diet to make weight.

Two weeks after delivering daughter Sophia-Lawren Roseanne to the world, she was back at the track, breezing horses. By adjusting her riding style to allow them to drop their heads and lessen the risk of pulling against her, and ultimately her incision, she rode six horses her first day back.

Chuckling, she notes, “Women are told not to even drive a car for six weeks” after childbirth, she says. But, she knew her capabilities, and she wasn’t afraid.

“If you have fear when you’re riding you’re not going to be any good,” she says. “If you get to that point you might as well retire … you don’t want to be out there making bad decisions.”

Now well into the racing season, Piermarini took time out to discuss her career, motherhood, and the fortitude that has allowed her to bounce back after injuries and setbacks.

Asked about whether she saw herself as a “brave” person, Piermarini clearly doesn’t think in these terms.

“When you’re a professional athlete, and this is your job, you just get back to work,” she says.

But her “work” is also a lifetime passion.

Growing up with an equestrian mother, Piermarini started off riding saddleseat and going to horse shows like many little girls. In order to get her own horse, she took a job babysitting, as luck would have it, for a family that owned Thoroughbreds.

Soon she started riding young horses for that family and pointing toward the dream of becoming a jockey. At age 18, the Salisbury, Mass. native took out an apprentice license, and started at Suffolk Downs, a track considered to be progressive for its acceptance of female jockeys. “Boston really likes girl jockeys, and they accept it,” says Piermarini, noting that when she started in the mid-1980s, the track was bustling with top female riders like Jill Jellison, who continues her career at Suffolk, and Linda Anderson, Abby Fuller, and others.

Heading back from exercise

Of the hurdles she has faced in her career, being a female jockey has not presented problems. “I never looked at myself as a ‘girl jockey,’ I looked at myself as being like everybody else.”

She has won at Aqueduct, Belmont and Gulfstream, and in 2007 was named leading rider at Suffolk Downs.

Along the way, Piermarini has faced some tough times.

In 1994, while riding a race, she started experiencing severe headaches. By the time she was into her fourth race of the day, the pain was so severe that after winning, she was carried out of the winner’s circle and taken to the hospital. Following a diagnosis of spinal meningitis, Piermarini spent the next four years battling the disease in some form.

After rebounding, marrying, and having two children, Izabella and John, she took a serious spill in 2008 and was knocked unconscious for seven hours and was unable to walk for three days.

Feeling good these days, Piermarini has a lot to keep her busy. “I have three jobs,” she says. In the morning she exercises horses, in the afternoon she races, and when she gets home, she’s a mother. “And I’m fighting for a title”— leading rider. “It’s not easy.”

Photo courtesy John Barnes

And yet, she still derives great joy from being around horses, and watching her oldest daughter, now 9, develop as a rider. “When my daughter had a pony, I loved to pull his mane and give him a bath. It’s just so relaxing. Sometimes I like being around animals more than people.”

And should one of her children decide to become a jockey, she would support it, yes. But, she adds, “I would prefer they got a college education first, as something to fall back on.”

But for Piermarini, there’s no falling back.  On the track as in life itself, her focus is always set on what’s ahead.  That’s why you’ll find her in the winner’s circle in both.

“When I go up to the gate, I ride to win.”

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Gaetano’s Way recovers, retires

Race name: Gaetano’s Way

Dylan arrives in New Hampshire to begin recovery

Barn name: Dylan
Sire: Private Interview
Dam: Nae’s Way
Dam’s sire: Strawberry Road
Lifetime earnings: $171,000

“Learning in the deep end of the pool,” is how Jessica Creighton-Swift describes the time she spent working sunup to sundown caring for 40 competitive horses, while still finding time to show her own Thoroughbred, as a student employee of nationally known eventers  Bruce and Buck Davidson.

And she couldn’t have known back in 2001 and later in 2004, that all the leg care she perfected—wrappings and poulticing, would knit together perfectly, later on, to help save a gelding’s life.

Still showing evidence of large bow

But it did. It all came full circle in May 2007, when she agreed to foster and rehabilitate Gaetano’s Way, a gelding ex-racehorse who earned $171,000 in a career that abruptly ended with a badly bowed, left, front tendon.

Having raced most of his career at Monmouth Park, NJ before arriving at Suffolk Downs, the horse found his way into the care of CANTER New England after his injury, and then to Creighton’s caring hands.

The swelling was so pronounced it took her three days of constant cold-hosing, doses of an anti-inflammatory, poulticing and wrapping to quell it enough so a veterinarian could get an ultrasound image. Finally she learned that his deep and superficial flexor tendons had been quite badly damaged, but the good news was that his suspensory tendon was still in tact.

Pictured with Creighton's first OTTB eventer, Imagineer

“What saved his life was the condition of his suspensory tendon. If that had been damaged, he wouldn’t have had any support on his leg,” she says, adding, “We decided to give him a chance.”

The horse she renamed Dylan started his recovery at her 10-acre farm in Belmont, NH, and he came with Creighton and her husband Joel when they recently moved to their Dare to Dream Farm, a 288 acre spread near Bangor, Maine.

Dylan and Creighton struggled to regain four sound legs. For the horse farmer with a herd to pay attention to, Dylan’s care required special attention for about a year.

Creighton jumps her OTTB Imagineer

While on stall rest and very limited turnout, his tendons reorganized themselves. But other problems soon emerged. At one point, he opened up a gash on his leg where the skin had been stretched so tight over the wound, and at another point, he locked a stifle while weaving in his confined stall.

“We think he started weaving because he couldn’t understand why he was being confined,” she says. “So to keep from doing this, and reinjuring himself, we put him in a very small turnout, outside, with a quiet buddy to keep him company.”

In six months the gash on his leg healed, and after about a year, the tendons corrected themselves. Throughout the long recovery, Dylan remained a perfect gentleman. “He never pinned his ears or tried to bite, even when I manipulated his leg, and I knew he must be in excruciating pain,” she says.

After his rehabilitation, Creighton was so bonded to Dylan that she adopted him from CANTER and has made good on a promise to let him retire from work.

“Dylan earned his keep on the track. He was actually one of the highest-earning horses on the track, and it means a lot to me to give him the retirement he deserves,” she says. “His leg looks really good now. He spent his time in work. He’s happy now as a pasture ornament.”

Creighton and Imagineer

And Creighton, now growing her own horse farm—which includes a number of off-track Thoroughbreds, is happy to apply all that she learned so that a few special retirees can rest.

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Accountant finds solace breeding horses

Race name: All Net Joe                         Race name: Spiro’s Gold
Barn name: Josie                                   Barn name: Goldie
Sire: Cure The Blues                              Sire: Banker’s Gold
Dam: Freeway Tricksters                     Dam: Stormin Spiro

All Net Joe (Josie) readied as broodmare

When Connecticut accountant Lynn Wentworth isn’t trying to get the numbers to add up, she’s working on her other favorite equation—combining a Thoroughbred mare with an Appaloosa stallion to produce one adorable sum: a foal.

The small breeder of Appaloosa performance horses works by day at a career she prepared for by attending Nichol’s College in Massachusetts, but after hours, she taps into her “horse crazy” girlhood to pursue a passion so deep she feels it helped her survive cancer at one point.

“This is my other life, the work I do outside of the office,” she says, explaining that the joys of coming home to a barn with baby horses is a panacea to everyday worries. And five years ago, was a major positive force as she withstood breast-cancer treatments.

“I had so many surgeries and when I could, I’d be out in the barn talking to the horses, or talking to the babies,” Wentworth says. “They took my mind off everything I was going through. They kept me sane.”

Goldie, pictured at Suffolk Downs, retires to make babies

Now cancer clear, she still thrives on matching up mares to her Appaloosa stallion All Zip and Sparkle to produce foals with the best genetic mix—an Appaloosa’s coloring and personality and a Thoroughbred’s athleticism and hunter conformation.

Wentworth recently found two ex-racehorse Thoroughbred mares on CANTER New England’s website, and in them she thought she saw the conformation and personality traits that would be a perfect match for her stallion. So after a personal meet and greet with All Net Joe (Josie) and Spiro’s Gold (Goldie), she knew they both had the qualities worth passing on.

In April they moved into her Connecticut barn.

Wentworth's stallion All Zip and Sparkle

“When I went looking, I wanted to find mares with short backs because my stallion has a longer back. In breeding, I like the Thoroughbreds because they add athleticism, along with the hunter traits.”

She’s planning to breed both mares this year and will do her best to ensure a new, healthy life emerges. Of approximately 10 foals she and her equestrian husband Bill have bred, she has been fortunate with good health. But maybe the arrival timing could be a little better.

Most babies arrive in the middle of the night—“I swear the mares just wait” until everybody’s in bed before going into labor, she says, laughing.

But by installing a baby monitor and listening for the rustle of the mare, and the little sounds announcing it’s time, Wentworth has been present at most of the births. A few, she admits, happened so fast in the wee hours that she missed the whole thing. “I’d go out to the stall in the morning and foal would be there!”

Ordinarily, she checks a mare’s progress to ensure all is going normally, however. “We’ve been really lucky that we haven’t had any major problems,” she says.

Wentworth's most recent foal—Luken For Miracles

It’s the least she can do for the animals who have brought her so much joy, and who provided her a source of calm when she needed it most.

“When I had breast cancer, I had umpteen surgeries, radiation and the whole nine yards. The barn and the horses were such a positive outlet,” she says. “When you’re playing with the horses or with the babies, you don’t think as much about your other problems.”

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Witty Bill breathes life into bereft barn

Race Name: Witty Bill
Sire: Conveyor
Dam: Smartenette
Foal date: March 4, 1998

Bill makes the scene in blue

What Sue Hutchinson remembers of those last moments spent with her 29-year-old Thoroughbred Presidential Way, has the sharp focus and detail that comes from reliving the day, again and again.

“It was a Wednesday last July, and he was in the barn like he always was, waiting to be fed. He usually went in around 5 a.m. to wait for someone to feed him. If somebody didn’t come by 6, he’d start hollering,” she says. “When I walked in on this morning, he was in the founder’s stance.”

A foundering horse, or one who has developed laminitis, a leading cause of premature death in horses, characteristically stands in an exaggerated fashion to alleviate pressure on the affected hoof.

Witty Bill meets Franc in her fly mask

When Hutchinson saw how P Way, as she calls him, was standing, she knew immediately. It had been about a month since he started additional grain in his diet in attempts to put weight on him. But weight was difficult to keep on him since he developed Cushing’s Syndrome the year before. “He just got old really quickly,” she recalls.

Time seemed to go in slow motion after she found P Way that morning. The wait for the veterinarian to arrive seemed interminable, and with each passing moment, P Way’s pain got worse.

“When the vet arrived he had me walk him over to the fence” a short distance from the barn, and with skill and kindness the animal’s suffering was put to an end.

“That day was just so terrible. He was so special to me,” Hutchinson says.

Me and my shadow

Over the next year, the Vermont nurse got on with life, working for a nearby health clinic and keeping busy with everyday routines. Not to mention, she still had her other horse, a Standardbred mare named Franc, to ride.

But her daughter Randee noticed Hutchinson was still so sad after losing the horse she’d owned for 10 years. So her only daughter, and fellow rider, took matters into her own hands.

She started looking for another Thoroughbred for her mom, and discovered ex-racehorse Witty Bill listed on CANTER New England’s Facebook page.

The 11-year-old ex-racehorse had spent the last five years in a nearby Macrae’s Farm in Concord, N.H., where he received “wonderful care.” It was just too convenient not to at least go have a look at him.

“I knew when I met Bill that he was right for us,” she says.

She took Bill home on May 22 and is teaching him to take relaxing trail rides on snow paths through her hilly neighborhood. Bill is figuring out how to walk, trot and relax on the shadowy trails, and Hutchinson is learning her horse’s little idiosyncrasies. “He doesn’t like mud, unless he’s rolling in it. And he doesn’t like a fly mask. Put one on, he’ll take it off,” she says, noting that it’s still a mystery how he gets the mask off in tact.

Having grown up with a Thoroughbred bought for her as a little girl, Hutchinson waited a long time to rekindle that love.

You can lead Bill to water

And while she’s quick to point out that she loves her mare, there is just something about a Thoroughbred. “They’re demeanor is like a big, playful dog. “ Presidential Way rekindled the childhood joy she felt riding Thoroughbreds, while he quietly taught just about every kid in her neighborhood how to ride.

Now Hutchinson’s barn is again filled with the antics and new life of another off-track Thoroughbred, but P Way left some pretty big shoes to fill.

Recalling that last walk together, Hutchinson describes the Herculean effort the horse made to follow his owner to where the vet stood waiting.

Presidential Way at age 25

“He had to walk about 400 feet up a grassy knoll, so that he would be on the side of the barn and not in the front,” she says. “He gave me all the effort he could to walk up that knoll, no question. He gave 100 percent, like always.”

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After head trauma, rider regains confidence on OTTBs

JJ looking very fine

Tattoo: 532283
Race name: JJ Silverheels
Sire: Career Best
Dam: Gusso JJ
Height: 16.2
Color: Gray

Trampled by a Thoroughbred trying to flee his stall, Jasmine Klunder was knocked unconscious when her head hit the barn’s brick floor.

The last thing she remembered before everything went black was the first thing she thought of when she woke up in a hospital bed an hour later: where’s the horse. Jasmine was 14 years old.

“My last memory was of him running toward the road, and I was worried about him. I just wanted to know he was okay,” says Jasmine, 19, of Michigan.

He was. And eventually, she was too.

In the five years since her accident, Jasmine has recovered from head trauma and undergone dental work to erase the signs of three broken teeth and damage to her jaw.

Sky, pictured here, helped Jasmine re-build her confidence

And at the same time she has worked to restore her confidence as a rider. For this she relied on her new trainer Grace DiBenedetto of Michigan, and two off-track Thoroughbreds.

While she struggled against visual disruptions, fainting spells, and other symptoms of post-concussive syndrome for the next year-and-a-half, Jasmine rebuilt her confidence working with off-track Thoroughbred, Sky.

“He was the horse I got on right after the accident,” she says. “He helped me figure out my style of riding, he really carried me along.”

JJ and Jasmine clear their first oxer

For two years she took lessons and went to shows on this gentle horse, never letting fear, hers or her family’s, dissuade her from her passion.

“There was a point right after my accident when my grandfather called, and he said, ‘You’re not going to do this anymore are you?’ And I paused to think about it. That’s when I told him I would never give it up.”

Her mother Kerri understood. Although she was very concerned when Jasmine resumed riding, she grew so confident in her daughter and in the disposition of off-track Thoroughbreds that three years ago, she bought her daughter her first horse.

In 2007, the pair joined DiBenedetto at the former Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon, Mich. to look at horses. JJ Silverheels, just two-years-old at the time, won them over with his mild-mannered personality and steely gray beauty.

JJ and Jasmine clear a jump

“I went in his stall and touched him all over. Then I felt him nose my shoulder, then he put his head over my shoulder, and he fell asleep,” Jasmine says, describing how she decided on JJ.

Learning to ride her young horse hasn’t always been easy. There are times Jasmine swears the horse mirrors her own personality, flaws and all. “There’ll be times when I’m pushing him to do something and we have this moment when everything goes wrong. I’ll get mad. He’ll get mad,” she says. “I’ve learned that it helps a lot to stop and take a few minutes to calm down and then start all over from the beginning.”

The concept of starting over has served Jasmine well.

A gentle beauty

“After my accident there were so many things I had to learn, things I didn’t know how to do, like taking care of my horse, and riding better,” she says. “After I left that barn, my instructor really had to break me down and re-teach me everything. But now, I’ve got all of my confidence back, and I can get on a horse and ride whenever I want to.”

And even though she still carries the the memory of her first horse running away, Jasmine is not a rider who will ever consider running away herself.

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Alex Brown fan retires Top Bunk horse

Tattoo: E09886
Race Name: Pay Attention
Barn name: Payten
Sire: Take Me Out
Dam: That’s Ravishing
Foal date: March 14, 2001
Height: 16.2
Color: Bright bay

What a long career he had

It all started when Barbaro broke down at the 2006 Preakness Stakes. That’s when Pennsylvania pharmacist and pleasure rider Amanda Smith started to think more about racehorses, their lives, and the ineffably sad ending that can come when their racing days are over.

Her curiosity led her to websites by exercise rider and anti-slaughter advocate Alex Brown, and soon she started following careers of horses who had slipped down in status, onetime top earners now racing for relative peanuts in claiming stakes.

In the Winner's Circle

Through Alex Brown’s Top Bunk List, which follows careers of racehorses who have earned over $500,000 before they drop down to run in low-stakes races, Smith started paying attention to the “magnificent war horses” she says were “owed a little dignity.”

“This is when I decided to do something for one of these horses,” Smith says. “I figured that if a horse needed to be humanely euthanized, or adopted as a pasture pet, or could be turned into anything from a pleasure horse to a jumper, I would do that for them.”

It wasn’t long before she learned about Pay Attention, a seasoned campaigner who earned over $500,000. When she learned he was to race at Penn National, the local track, she arranged to be there to see him.

On March 12 last year, Smith talked two colleagues into trading their white lab coats for something warmer, and go with her to check out the horse she’d been following.

Pay Attention before his 72nd start, his last race

“I told them my goal was to retire a racehorse. So on this cold March night we went to see the great Pay Attention run his first race in about 11 months.”

He raced two more times after that. Then finally, on April 25, after coming in 10th in a 12-horse field, the decision was made to retire him, and Smith took him home July 1.This began months of learning to care for the aches and pains and specialized needs of a seasoned campaigner.

Initial veterinarian checks were promising.

His feet needed to grow out from the racing angles, and the decision was made to let him go barefoot for a while. Some mild back soreness was attributed to lost muscle fitness. And he needed dental work to address long incisors, lower molars and an overbite. But all in all, it was a good report.

Then, in the fall, things took a turn for the worse.

Weathering a tough winter together

“Near the end of the summer we were noticing a general ‘failure to thrive’ about him,” she says, noting that he became grumpier, and developed ringworm and rain rot.

When it appeared he was experiencing abdominal discomfort, the veterinarian scoped him for ulcers. Although none were found, the vet couldn’t rule out lower GI ulcers, and he was put on an expensive medical regiment. Treatment included 28 doses of Gastro Gard, costing well over $1,000.

Although his good-natured personality returned, he remained underweight, and still suffered from patchy hair loss.

“By October/November he experienced the “crash” that can happen with ex-racehorses,” Smith says. “There are so many changes, in diet and in supplements and drugs, that the horse’s body reacts similarly to a human who changes their own medication regiment.

Finally! Amanda and Pay Attention enjoy a ride

“It’s a huge change. Hormone levels and brain chemicals undergo tremendous fluctuations and it takes a long time for the system to adjust.”

But Smith stuck with her boy, who she calls Payten, and the payoff came this spring. He grew a bright, shiny coat, and previous sensitivities around the abdominal area vanished. “It was a complete turnaround,” she says.

Last month in a field—riding bareback—she and Payten enjoyed their first ride together. Actually, it was just a casual walk around, but now the self-described novice-to-intermediate rider plans to work him toward a nice little trail ride.

Thanks for taking me home

“Barbaro was the first horse I ever saw break down on the racetrack, and I never really knew that could happen,” Smith says. “The more I learned about the unfortunate endings some of them face, the more hell-bent I was on giving one of them the opportunity to avoid that demise.”

And so far, she’s helped one very dedicated racehorse move on to a happy and dignified retirement.

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