Sunday, December 8, 2013

Claimers Matter, Too

Please join me in a mission titled "Claimers Matter, Too" to ensure the safety of beloved claimers that may have fallen through the cracks. This mission’s tactics are similar to those I used while keeping up with my Miss Fifty while she was racing. This movement was inspired by the steps I recently took for one of my favorite racehorses, Autumn Eyes.

For many kids, the one magical place they always dream of visiting is Disneyworld or Disneyland. Mine was Churchill Downs. This dream came true during spring break when I was in the fifth grade in 2007. Upon this visit, I roamed nearly every inch of the Kentucky Derby museum and toured various locations of the legendary track, including the grandstand, announcer’s booth, jockeys’ lounge, infield, and backside.

Since that visit, I have always envisioned the land of the Twin Spires as a magical place. While attending both the 2010 and 2011 Breeders’ Cups at Churchill Downs, the Louisville, Kentucky track only carved itself a bigger place in my heart. But between 2007 and 2010, I relied only on memories, photos, and videos to imagine my magical wonderland.

And, so of course, I watched an abundance of Churchill races on television. Fueling my passion for discovering a star before it achieved prominence were the many two-year-old races held at the historic track during its fall meet. I would watch a plethora of maiden races for juveniles, recording the names of any two-year-olds that caught my eye.

On November 1, 2009, a beautiful chestnut filly named Autumn Eyes dashed to victory beneath the Twin Spires to break her maiden. I was immediately drawn to the daughter of Stormy Atlantic. Maybe it was her striking appearance. Maybe it was the ease with which she broke her maiden by 4 ¼ lengths. Whatever it is was, I fell head over heels for Autumn Eyes.

Autumn Eyes was immediately placed in my virtual stable, where she has remained for several years. It is now near the end of 2013 and as of November 14, 2013, Autumn Eyes is still running. Now nearly seven years old, the mare has raced thirty times. She has only won four times and never ventured into stakes company, but she has managed to earn more than $128,403 and has defeated a handful of stakes horses along the way.

Autumn Eyes has never been incredibly consistent, but she has frequently run a good race throughout her career. Lately, however, she has only thrown in clunkers. She used to run at tracks like Churchill, Keeneland, and Gulfstream; now she’s running at Hawthorne (no disrespect intended). She took over a year off after running very poorly as the favorite in a $5,000 claiming race at Turfway in September 2012, returning in late October for a $16,000 tag at Hawthorne. She finished last in that race and was a very distant last in her most recent start on November 14 – 21 lengths behind the nearest horse, to be exact. She has not posted a work since that race.

This instilled me with great worry for a mare that has been one of my absolute favorite horses to follow, so I mailed a letter to her trainer, Dennis Higgins, during Thanksgiving week. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

For four years, I have followed a mare that is currently under your care: Autumn Eyes. She caught my eye with her impressive maiden victory at Churchill Downs on November 1, 2009 and since then, I have followed career. Despite never becoming a stakes runner, she has been one of my absolute favorite horses to follow.

Should you need to find a home for her when her racing career is over, Remember Me Rescue would gladly like to have her in their program so that she may be adopted into a loving, forever home. If you donate her to Remember Me Rescue, you can receive a tax credit of up to $5,000. If you are interested in doing so, please contact Donna Keen at (817) 689-1214 or at . You may find more information on Remember Me Rescue at .

*I also included ways for Autumn Eyes’ trainer to contact me.

While writing this letter, I was inspired to contact the trainers of four other claimers I have personally known and/or followed whose current locations and state of being seemed questionable. Unfortunately, I have so far only had a response from the trainer of one of these horses, but it was a heartwarming response: Nathan Hatcher, the trainer of a mare I have also followed for several years, Cherry Pink, contacted me to inform me that she had retired sound after 58 starts and now lives out her days at a farm in Texas. She even has her own Facebook page, which you can “like” here.

I have yet to hear back from the trainers of not only Autumn Eyes, but also Fast Eydie, Fleeter, and Hy Danger. Each of these horses – other than Autumn Eyes, who has raced recently but very poorly – have not raced in quite some time and I sincerely worry about their current status.

Please join me in getting updates on these horses from their trainers and hopefully safely retiring them. Please send them respectful letters like I have done, including the excerpt about the opportunity to donate the horse to Remember Me Rescue, or any other recognized rescue you know of that would be willing and able to take in one of these horses. I will send letters to these trainers again. If you hear back from the trainers, PLEASE let me know – whether you comment on this blog, on my Facebook, or message me on Facebook to inform me.

Also, feel free to take the same approach for any horse you may have similar concerns about.

Most trainers can be contacted through tracks, so please send the letters to the trainers "in care of" the tracks they are at. The tracks' addresses can be found on their websites, which are linked below for the trainers of the aforementioned horses. Please do not be disrespectful to the trainers; just inform them that we are worried about these horses and would simply like to ensure their safety.

Dennis Higgins (trainer of Autumn Eyes) - Hawthorne Race Course

William Spawr (claimed Fast Eydie out of her last race) - Golden Gate Fields

Pam Shavelson (trainer of Fleeter) - Parx Racing

Eric Kruljac (trainer of Hy Danger) - Golden Gate Fields

Thank you!
Cherry Pink
Photo by Mary Cage
Photo by Terri Cage
Hy Danger
Photos by Terri Cage


  1. Mary, I applaud your efforts, and I believe you may be aware of the efforts of many of us in Zenny's Tribe and others from Zenyatta's blog to help re-home two of Zenyatta's old workmates. Many of us contributed whatever we could afford, and there were a few that took leadership roles and handled the details and background work. Happily, both horses now have wonderful, forever homes, both will be able to be re-trained in other disciplines. This is actually the hard way to do it, but, of course, as T'bred fans we don't look for the easy way! The easiest way to help an off the track TB for those of us outside the sport and with limited resources is through organizations such as RM and we also support TROTT, who serves primarily the West Coast area. I see that RM is in the Fort Worth/Dallas area. I know horses can come from anywhere, but it is easier to concentrate on horses close to where they will wind up. Zenny's Tribe has formed an alliance with TROTT and we even have a blog that we use to help promote asking for donations. TROTT earmarks our donations as being from a "Zenny's Tribe member", and our goal is to fully underwrite the retirement of an OTTB. Once our donations reach critical mass, TROTT will provide us with some names of in-need Tbs, our group can hopefully select one to follow all the way through their program from initial lay-up through graduation and adoption. I'm very impressed with Remember Me, and appreciate learning more about the program and its location in the Texas area. Our approach might work for others who want to do a little more than write a check, which is why I mention it. This time of year is a good time to suggest some giving options as many make end of year donation decisions. Thanks for your wonderful article and calling attention to a very worthy cause. Also, I love the Monzante Fund and plan to mention it in Zenny's Tribe, as well. Have a wonderful Christmas!

    1. Thank you for your kind words and for being so involved in helping these horses. I have been involved with Remember Me Rescue for several years now and love helping racehorses and ex-racehorses in any way possible. My involvement with Miss Fifty inspired all of this and considering how sending personal letters to the many connections she went through worked out so well, I chose to do the same for the horses mentioned in this article. Although I know that this approach unfortunately will not work in every situation, I thought it would be nice for the trainers to see that there are fans out there that also care about the horses that aren't graded stakes winners. Hopefully, I will hear back from at least a few more, if not all. I hope that, no matter what approach we all take, we can ensure the safety of these horses. I fully support every rescue organization out there. By the way, Remember Me Rescue is on the path to forming a California division, in part due to its association with CARMA. I greatly admire TROTT and am grateful for all the great work it does. Let's hope we can all get these horses off the track safely and into loving, forever homes! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas as well!

  2. Thank you for tracking these horses. Claimers do matter-sometimes the slowest racers make the nicest riding horses! I love my OTTB!