Picking Prospects: Fall 2023

Social media, as well as the new and improved RRP Horse Listings, have enabled potential OTTB owners to review a large number of retiring Thoroughbred racehorse listings at any time. Newcomers to the breed might find it challenging to consider a prospect right off the track and decide if it’s a match for their desired purpose.

In this column veteran Thoroughbred Makeover trainers share their strategies for assessing and selecting prospects based only on conformation photos. We feature trainers from two disciplines in each article — this time we’re giving the floor to two of our outstanding junior trainers from 2022.

Our Trainers

■ Jenna Denver

2022 Thoroughbred Makeover Champion and Eventing Champion with She’s a Bold One

Denver essentially grew up in the saddle under the guidance of her mother, a professional trainer based in Imlay City, Michigan. She was exposed to Thoroughbreds early on, working with nonprofit organizations, rescues and consignment horses. With so much experience riding OTTBs, the breed is now Denver’s first choice for sport.

■ Isabel Wells

2022 Competitive Trail Champion with Hieronymus

Wells’ love of horses stems from early childhood, during which she consumed as much horse-related media as she could get her hands on. Eventually, her parents surrendered and took her for riding lessons. Wells fell in love with horsemanship and the relationships the discipline builds between horse and human. She connected with veteran Makeover trainer Tim Brock, in Fair Grove, Missouri, who introduced her to retraining Thoroughbreds, stoking an interest that culminated in her first Makeover experience in 2022.

Choosing a Horse

Working under professional trainers, our junior trainers source their Thoroughbreds through tried-and-true methods that have worked well for them in the past. For Missouri-based Isabel Wells, that’s through her barn’s continued networking with CANTER Kentucky. “They’ve provided us some great prospects that have proved to love their jobs,” she says. “We have had many horses from them, and we are always more than impressed.” That said, Wells worked directly with Godolphin, the breeder of her winning Competitive Trail horse in 2022, to source her 2023 Makeover prospect.

Jenna Denver’s barn, in Michigan, sources Thoroughbreds through a variety of channels, and she has enjoyed riding prospects acquired through nonprofit organizations as well as direct from racing connections and horses in the barn on consignment. This varied experience has given Denver a wide appreciation for all types of horses: “I’m always open to working with OTTBs of all kinds of personalities,” she says. She does, however, prefer to source horses with a low number of starts.

Physically, Denver prefers to see horses with sturdy bone as well as solid feet. She likes an uphill build and a longer neck for the sport of eventing. For Western disciplines Wells prefers a horse that is level and will even look for horses that are slightly downhill.

“We see the back end of that type of horse more able to engage,” she explains. More important than physical build, says Wells, is a willingness to try and a quiet mind.

Meet the Prospects

Our model horses come from Friends of Ferdinand, based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Launched by racing fans who sought to protect racehorses from entering the slaughter pipeline, Friends of Ferdinand’s goal is to assist Thoroughbreds as they transition to second careers so they might live long, full lives after racing. In 2021 Friends of Ferdinand launched a new facet of its retraining program, the Broodmare Bunch, which focuses on assisting broodmares that have been retired from racing, spent time in the breeding industry and are now ready to transition into third careers.

Friends of Ferdinand works with retraining facilities across Indiana and Ohio. Racing connections donate horses to the program that come directly to the retraining facilities from the racetrack. Horses are vetted, evaluated and placed with one of the organization’s English or Western trainers for basic restarting before being listed for adoption. The program also assists owners who are looking to place Thoroughbreds already in their second careers. Approved adopters are required to take a test ride and then receive a 30-day trial period to ensure a good match.

While these three horses might no longer be available for adoption by the time the magazine hits your mailbox, Friends of Ferdinand has plenty of prospects looking for their next partners.

Horse 1: Sheba’s Secret (Kingmambo – Sheba Gold [IRE], by Sadler’s Wells) – former broodmare

Horse 2: Take Charge Gina (Take Charge Indy – Our Secret, by Forestry) – former broodmare

Horse 3: Tots N Sauce (Lentenor – Kitty Purry, by Even the Score)

Denver’s Picks

Horse 1: This horse is short-coupled with a strong topline and a nice big shoulder, which is great to see in an event horse. I like the higher neck set with a nice, clean throatlatch — this mare should be a good uphill ride!

Horse 2: I love this horse’s well-developed hind end and how her neck comes out of her shoulder. Her big soft eye has an intelligent expression, and she looks like she’d catch attention as a resale horse.

Horse 3: This horse has great bone and very nice-looking feet with a good amount of heel. I like his strong, well-developed neck. He looks like he would be a great dressage horse.

Wells’ Picks

Horse 2: This horse appears to have a natural headset on the lower side. I’m particularly drawn to the soft, kind eye. She is built slightly more downhill and has a strong hip — those points fit my chosen Western disciplines of trail and ranch work really well.

Horse 3: This horse has a real ranch-type look — he’s not as muscled as the other two right now, but he is built pretty compact with great bone! Overall, he looks quite balanced, like he could go in any direction. That balanced look suggests lateral work should come fairly easily to him, which is a plus.

Horse 1: This is a nice-looking horse that just isn’t quite my type — she appears to be built a little more uphill, with a neck that is tied in higher. I think she’d be well-suited for jumping but maybe not the lower way of going I’d like to see in the Western world.