By Stefanie Grimm
Partnerships in racing are nothing new. The days are upon us where programs are filled with syndicates and lists of names that can rival even the race entries themselves. It's a way to spread risk, cost and reward across multiple parties while increasing the comradery of racing. And while those partnerships are oftentimes consolidated in the form of a sale at the end of a horse's career, the 2023 Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover event has given opportunity for new kinds of teams to form, even across industries.
Enter Gina Robb, trainer and co-owner of Maryland's No Guts No Glory Farm. The daughter of a jockey, Gina has spent her life around racing including marrying fellow trainer Jerry Robb. Together, the pair is responsible for $800,000-earner Anna's Bandit (Great Notion) who reported her first foal, a Tapit colt, this spring. Early this year, Gina had a quartet of horses ready to come off the track to pursue second careers along with a broodmare who'd been down on her reproductive luck and in need of perhaps a third career. Gina also had a teenage daughter conveniently taking lessons at Talbot Run Equestrian Center and, with the help of Talbot Run's head trainer Robin Petrasek, a new alliance was formed.
“I went to Robin [one day] and said 'hey, I've got a few off-track thoroughbreds and I'd really love to do something',” said Robb. “So we got together and I supplied the horses and Robin and I decided 'okay, let's try this.'
Next week, a team of five horses and riders from Talbot Run will travel to Kentucky to take on hundreds of other ex-racehorses across ten disciplines over a three-day event. Petrasek's program is a bit unique in that it has allowed each rider, the other four being amateurs, to train their own horses.
“We decided to kind of gear towards helping juniors learn how to retrain the horses,” said Petrasek. “So it's kind of a teaching and building program so that we can build up their interest in the industry and shine awareness on what it takes and where these horses came from.”
The Talbot Run team, consisting of Petrasek, CC Forgione, Gretchen Wolfe, Chloe Pleune and Angelina Rosenthal, will display four Maryland-bred horses and one Kentucky-bred broodmare. Petrasek and her mount Seany P (Nicanor) will compete in Dressage and Freestyle while Forgione will take the full-brother to Anna's Bandit, Little Bold Bandit (Great Notion), in Competitive Trail. The other three riders will compete in the youth divisions: Wolfe aboard Vampish (Bodemeister) in the Broodmare division along with Eventing and Show Jumping, Pleune with Scintillio (Uncle Lino) also in Eventing and Show Jumping and Rosenthal, Gina Robb's daughter, with Belfour (Super Saver) in Eventing and Show Jumping as well.
“Gina provided us with five horses that have a high potential for sport,” added Petrasek. “It's not only been good in that aspect, but also that the horses have been very safe, especially for the kids to handle.”
“It's great we take these awesome horses into a second career,” continued Robb. “My husband retires them early before they're not able to do any of these things. And that's important because the other [entries], they have to sit on for a long time before they finally feel well enough.”
In speaking to the importance of the Makeover's new Broodmare division, Robb was nothing but complimentary.
“There are a lot of farms out there with mares like her [Vampish] and I think this division is going to be a God send. They're older, they've already raced and raised their babies and now we're setting them up for potentially a third career. It's exciting because people need to know that [these mares] can have another job. I'm very excited about it.”
And while the team has their work cut out for them in what will be large and competitive divisions in Kentucky, both women maintain that a safe, happy experience for all is the priority.
“Our main goal at the end of all this is to have safe horses for our lesson program,” said Petrasek. “The Makeover is an opportunity to showcase what they want to do but, no matter what the outcome is, they've all come so far with these horses. They hadn't done anything except race and now look at what they can do.”
Robb hopes a continuing alliance between track and barn will lead to an avenue of new youth into racing.
“I want these young kids to get into the business,” she admitted with a laugh. “We need to find some new-timers and let them see what it's like to do these things. I'm hoping it sparks them.”
Talbot Run had the pleasure of a behind-the-scenes tour of Laurel Park earlier this Spring and, from all accounts, Robb may have gotten her wish.
“Some of the girls have already signed up to come get a license to gallop horses when they're old enough,” she said. “I tell the moms that that's the best place to start. Riding in a ring is very different to riding on the track but these girls are very, very capable so they'll make the transition easier. I'd like to say I might have been able to bring an upcoming jockey on!”
The Thoroughbred Makeover, which runs from Oct. 11 to Oct. 14 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, does allow trainers to also market their horses. But Talbot Run's entries will return home to Maryland where they'll join the lesson program and maybe just inspire next year's team and a new generation of racing fans.