Knockemdown Crowned 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover Champion

October 14, 2023

L-R: Erin Halliwell, executive director of Thoroughbred Charities of America; Kirsten Green, executive director of the Retired Racehorse Project; Alison O’Dwyer and Knockemdown. Photo by Sarah Schaaf

The Finale Championship of the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, welcomed the five top-placed horses after two days of preliminary competition to compete for additional honors and $100,000 in prize money before an enthusiastic crowd and a worldwide audience watching via livestream. A panel of judges watched the entire day of competition and ranked the ten discipline winners to determine the overall Thoroughbred Makeover Champion, sponsored by Churchill Downs. When the points were tallied, the honor went to Knockemdown, trained by professional Alison O’Dwyer of Lake Worth, Florida.

Knockemdown is a 2019 gelding by American Pharoah out of Ancient Goddess (FR), by Iffraaj (GB), bred in Kentucky by Fifth Avenue Bloodstock. He is unraced, but posted his most recent timed work in racing training on December 27, 2021 at Turfway Park.

Knockemdown’s route to the Thoroughbred Makeover Champion title and the Carolyn Karlson Trophy took him through Dressage, scoring above 81 other entries to top the preliminary standings. Coming into the Finale on a clean slate, O’Dwyer had the opportunity to showcase more advanced maneuvers of the discipline that is often used as a foundation of training for all equestrian sports, and her decision to showcase the young Knockemdown’s introductory lateral movements and counter-canter put them to the top of the standings for the Finale round as well.

Alison O’Dwyer and Knockemdown during the Finale. Photo by Sarah Schaaf

“I want to thank Kristen Goncharoff at e5 Racing Thoroughbreds for making the phone call, and Bob [Edwards], the leader of e5, who was looking to rehome this horse,” says O’Dwyer. “Wesley Ward had him in training at Turfway and when he didn’t think much of him, they decided to cut his career short as a two-year-old. I’m thankful for the friendships that I’ve made that trusted me with this horse – Kristen loved this horse as a foal and there was something about his personality and his eye that really spoke to her.”

O’Dwyer admits that she wasn’t quite as smitten with Knockemdown on initial appearance, as she typically takes bigger, flashier horses in for resale, and Knockemdown is a 15.2 bay with no markings – but once she took her first ride on the young horse, her opinion changed. “It felt like putting a shoe that’s the perfect size,” she describes. “It was a Cinderella moment from the first ride. He’s the right size for me, he’s the right brain – he’s the right everything. It is extra special that he is appreciated here as much as I appreciate him myself.”

L-R: Gina Gans and Arklow; Kirsten Green, executive director of the Retired Racehorse Project; Erin Halliwell, executive director of Thoroughbred Charities of America. Photo by Sarah Schaaf

The People’s Choice Award, sponsored by Achieve Equine, was determined by text-in popular vote open to both in-person and live stream attendees. This award was given to Arklow, trained by Gina Gans, the winner of Field Hunter. Arklow (Arch – Unbridled Empire, by Empire Maker) is a 2014 gelding bred in Kentucky by John R. Penn and Frank Penn; he sold as a yearling for $160,000 at Keeneland September consigned by Penn Sales. He raced for Donegal Racing and Joseph Bulger in a remarkable career that spanned seven seasons, racking up multiple graded stakes wins, three attempts at the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and over $3 million in earnings. He won the Field Hunter discipline in both preliminary and Finale rounds.

Thoroughbred Makeover Finale Discipline Winners (in order of go):

Eventing, sponsored by Phoenix Performance Products: Smokeonthehorizon and Jhett Jenkins (professional)
Show Jumper, sponsored by Excel Equine: Limonata and Claudia Dollinger (professional)
Show Hunter, sponsored by Beyond the Wire: Mission Canyon and Chris Bennings
Field Hunter, sponsored by Masters of Foxhounds Association: Arklow and Gina Gans (amateur)
Dressage, sponsored by PTHA’s Turning For Home: Knockemdown and Alison O’Dwyer (professional)
Polo, sponsored by United States Polo Association: Phlox and Buck Schott (professional)
Freestyle, sponsored by New Start: Burl and Hamby’s Rockin H Ranch (team)
Barrel Racing, sponsored by SmartPak: Balboas Smile and Kaitlyn Aitken (professional)
Competitive Trail, sponsored by Godolphin: Adios Dee Dee and Haley Castleberry (amateur)
Ranch Work, sponsored by Triple Crown Feeds: Into Magarayquaza and Amber Jacobson (professional)

Find full results at TheRRP.org/makeover-results.

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