Both Sides of the Wire

Phillip Dutton’s current string of Thoroughbreds includes 6-year-old Lincoln’s Address at preliminary level. Courtesy Randolph PR

After spending their early years on the racetrack, many Thoroughbreds go on to new owners and second careers worlds apart from their previous lives. Rarely are those new owners equestrians who have also owned or bred their share of racehorses. An even smaller group goes on to become sport horses under the tutelage of the horsemen and women who knew them during their racing days. We connected with horsemen Orrin Ingram, Phillip Dutton and Ali Nilforushan, each of whom have owned both racehorses and Thoroughbred sport horses, to learn how they became involved in each industry, how the sports differ and what they love about the breed.

Orrin Ingram: Spectator and Participant

On the polo field as well as on a hunt, strength and endurance can make or break your day. That’s why Orrin Ingram’s string of polo ponies and hunt horses is 100% Thoroughbred. In addition to playing polo at the elite level, Ingram is currently the joint master of Tennessee’s Hillsboro Hounds, where he rides whip, a role that requires him to go hard and fast. “Thoroughbreds never give up, and you can count on them to get you there,” he says. “On a fast, long, hard run, the Thoroughbreds are still there when the Warmbloods are generally having to call it quits.”

Over the past 35 years Ingram has owned about a dozen racehorses and more than a hundred Thoroughbred sport horses he’s used for both polo and fox hunting. He is the joint owner of racehorse broodmares in Lexington, Kentucky, and although he used to keep some of the Thoroughbreds he bred for sport, that changed about 20 years ago.

“I used to home-grow most of my polo ponies,” he says. “Then I realized that it took way too long, and you didn’t know what you were going to get, so we started buying horses off the track and repurposing them for polo.”

Ingram still owns racehorses and, currently, all his polo ponies come from the racetrack. “I don’t breed anything anymore — with the exception of one,” he says. “I had a racehorse broodmare that I really liked, and she died from complications in foaling but had a really nice filly we call ‘Blame’ (Liam’s Map – Blame it on Me, Blame).”

Ingram says the biggest difference between owning Thoroughbred racehorses and sport horses is “on the racehorse side, you’re a spectator,” he says. “On the sport horse side, you’re a participant. So Blame went straight into the polo program. I wanted to ride her myself rather than watch someone else ride her.”

Orrin Ingram, seen here judging the Field Hunters at the 2021 Makeover, has owned about a dozen racehorses and more than a hundred Thoroughbred sport horses he’s used for both polo and fox hunting. Canterclix

Phillip Dutton: Following Horses Through Their Careers

From using horsepower to work on the family farm and participating in the local Pony Club to watching his grandfather’s horses race, Olympic-level eventer Phillip Dutton’s life has always revolved around horses in one way or another. The horse racing industry in his home country of Australia is world-leading, with its population of Thoroughbreds second only to that of the United States. When he moved to the U.S. in 1990, the first horse he brought over from Australia was the Thoroughbred True Blue Girdwood (Loosen Up — Paramel, Snark [FR]), who would go on to be his partner at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. As True Blue Girdwood was his only event horse at the time, Dutton got a job starting horses for champion racehorse trainer Michael Dickinson.

Since then he’s trained and competed countless Thoroughbred sport horses and has owned shares in a few racehorses. One of the most well-known of those is Grade-1-winning Ring Weekend (Tapit — Free the Magic, Cryptoclearance), who was originally set to pursue a second career with Dutton before an injury forced his retirement. Dutton’s attraction to owning a racehorse was in part due to his interest in following a horse through multiple careers, but another major factor was the impressive nature of Thoroughbreds in action.

“There’s nothing more exciting than watching racehorses at top speed,” he says. “The way they can move is really amazing.”

Currently, Dutton competes at the five-star level on Sea of Clouds (Malibu Moon — Winner’s Ticket, Jolie’s Halo), along with a string of other Thoroughbred prospects, including the 6-year-old Lincoln’s Address (Union Rags — Sincerely, Meadowlake) at preliminary level. Dutton believes ex-racehorses make particularly special eventers. “They have the desire to go all the time, and having a forward-thinking horse is so important,” he says. “Having that horse underneath you is something you’re always looking for, especially on cross-country day.”

Having worn the racehorse owner’s hat, both before and after racing, Dutton has some perspective on giving these horses a boost in their second careers. “If you have a racehorse, it’s not something you can just turn over once they’re done,” he says. “A lot of the great people in racing are willing to put a little bit of extra training in to help get them to understand a different life. It’s what we’ve been trying to do with the ones we’ve got from Graham and Anita Motion. We just have to put some basic time into them so they understand the different lifestyle, and then (we) evaluate where they’re going to have their best life.”

Ali Nilforushan: Helping Riders and Ex-Racers Alike

Professional trainer, rider, Olympic show jumper and event organizer Ali Nilforushan has always had an interest in racing. When the opportunity presented itself, he purchased part ownership of his first racehorse. When an injury forced the filly’s retirement from racing, she became a broodmare.

“Her first foal was a tiny, little ugly thing that had pneumonia as a baby, and my wife had to nurse her back to health,” Nilforushan says. “We named her Unusual Hottie (Unusual Heat — Branca Como Neve [BRZ], Ski Champ) because she was everything but a hottie, but she ended up being a really special horse. At the time we really needed money, and she ended up winning nearly a half-million dollars on the track. You would think that she knew that we needed her, and she just ran as hard as she could every time the gate opened. We retired her perfectly sound, and ever since then we’ve been really lucky with our racehorses.”

When he isn’t working behind the scenes in the racing industry, he’s helping former runners succeed in second careers. “When we retire our racehorses,” he explains, “we retrain them, find the best homes for them and give them a soft landing.”

With his wife, Francie, he has committed to not only helping these horses find new careers but also helping equestrians without the financial means to secure a Warmblood from Europe have a shot at finding their next superstar. In addition, as the owner of Nilforushan Equisport Events, he’s made the commitment to giving every ex-racehorse five free entries at his shows — even if one of those entries is in the grand prix.

“It’s really important to me that we help horses that were on the track, so they have to have raced,” he explains. “We’ve given away close to $200,000 in free entries to these horses, and we plan on expanding and doing even more as we grow.”

Nilforushan says the difference between owning racehorses and Thoroughbred sport horses is with racing, “there’s no other sport where you can get so much adrenaline within such a small amount of time. The adrenaline part of it is really important to me. I love it so much.”

And when it comes to retraining racehorses for sport, he admires their spirit: “What a Thoroughbred can learn and do in a small amount of time, a Warmblood cannot. They’re so smart, and they can learn the sport very quickly. I think those are the two reasons why I love Thoroughbreds so much. They bring so much joy into my life.”

Take-Home Message

From nursing them to health and watching them run to seeing them shine as they come down centerline or jump a clear round, being part of a Thoroughbred’s long career is something that brings joy to many. Whether you own racehorses or Thoroughbred sport horses, says Ingram, “it all revolves around the horses, and that’s what makes it fun, whether you own and watch them or ride them.”

This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine, the only publication dedicated to the Thoroughbred ex-racehorse in second careers. Want four information-packed issues a year delivered to your door or your favorite digital device? Subscribe now!

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