By Bill Finley
Tired of the constant drumbeat of bad news, negativity and scandal? So am I. All the problems the sport is dealing with are not going to go away and they need to be dealt with and reported on. But I thought I'd give you and I a break in this week's edition of “The Week in Review.” So here are some stories we can all feel good about.
Schosberg Claims, Retires Twisted Tom
In his role as the president of Take The Lead, a retirement program for Thoroughbreds based at the NYRA tracks, Rick Schosberg's message has always been that it's better to retire a horse too early than too late. In other words, don't take any unnecessary chances.
So when Schosberg saw that a one-time New York-bred champion, the 8-year-old Twisted Tom (Creative Cause), was entered in a $10,000 claiming race Saturday at Aqueduct, he decided to act. Schosberg, who had never trained the horse, reached in and claimed Twisted Tom for the $10,000, immediately retired him and sent him off to start the retraining process at ReRun in East Greenbush, New York.
“I like to practice what I preach,” Schosberg said.
Twisted Tom won nine of 42 career starts and earned $939,135. He finished second Saturday, losing by just a half-length.
Twisted Tom's story was a typical one. He debuted in 2016 for trainer George Weaver and broke his maiden in his second start but, in time and after age set in, found himself racing on the bottom.
After his maiden win he moved over to the Chad Brown barn and went on to win five stakes in 2017. The list includes wins in open company in the Private Terms S. and the Federico Tesio S. His 2017 campaign, which included a sixth-place finish in the GI Belmont S., ended with his being named champion 3-year-old male New York-bred.
After a pair of losses in 2018 and after he was moved to the Bill Mott barn on June 19, 2019, he made his first ever start in a claiming race. He was taken that day by trainer David Cannizzo and, in the short-term, proved to be competitive in New York-bred allowance/optional claiming races while bouncing around from the barns of A.C. Avila, Mike Maker, Bruce Levine and Mertkan Kantarmaci.
But in November, after finishing off the board in four straight races, he was dropped in for $10,000. He managed to finish a distant second that day, but followed that up with a 16 1/4-length defeat in a starter allowance at Parx. Kantarmaci then dropped him back in for $10,000 for Saturday's race.
“He's 8 years old and it looked like it was time for him to retire,” Schosberg said. “He had been a voided claim a couple starts back. There were a lot of people who agreed that this was the right thing to do. People came by the barn this morning to say goodbye. He's a real popular horse. I got a lot of messages from prior trainers and connections thanking me for doing this.”
There was a time when there would have been little chance that a horse like Twisted Tom would have been retired when he was. Not that long ago, if a horse couldn't make it on the bottom in New York, they would be sent to a Penn National or a Mountaineer Park. With each race, the risk of injury would grow greater. If a horse couldn't compete on the bottom at the lower tier tracks a trip to the slaughterhouse could be next.
With initiatives like Take The Lead leading the way, the industry ushered in meaningful change. Created by the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the program sees to it that all horses racing in New York can enjoy a safe and happy retirement, with many of them going to second careers.
“It's not just me,” Schosberg said. “I have a great team of people helping out. The owners and the trainers, NYRA, everybody in the racing office, the Gaming Commission, veterinarians, van companies, everybody volunteers their time and their efforts to make sure this initiative is at the forefront of the aftercare industry.”
At ReRun, Twisted Tom will be prepared for his second career.
“There are so many things for these retired race horses to do,” Schosberg said. “In his case, 60 to 70% of his life is still ahead of him. There are so many activities now for these retired horses. They don't need to spend the rest of their years standing out in a field somewhere. These are horses that are used to having a job.”
Schosberg said that Twisted Tom was in good order after Saturday's race. He is sound, healthy and is guaranteed a great retirement. It's the perfect ending to his story.
Brook Smith Not Done Trying to Help Churchill's Backside Learning Center
Brook Smith's heart was in the right place when he wagered $10,000 on Tiz the Bomb (Hit It a Bomb) in the second round of the Derby Future Wager. If Tiz the Bomb went on to win the GI Kentucky Derby, Smith would have donated the proceeds from his winnings, $114,000, to the backside center.
The Backside Learning Center serves as a resource center for the equine backstretch community, providing educational programs and services and promoting community amongst the backstretch workers and their families.
After Saturday's GIII Holy Bull S. at Gulfstream, it doesn't look like Smith made what will be a winning wager. Tiz the Bomb was trying the dirt after three straight tries on the turf and didn't fare well, finishing seventh. Though trainer Ken McPeek said afterward that he hasn't given up on getting the colt to the Derby, it looks like Tiz the Bomb's future will be on the grass.
But Smith isn't done. Still hoping to find a way to raise awareness and funds for the Backside Learning Center, he said Sunday that he is looking to buy into a Derby contender. If he can make that happen, he will donate a share of the horse's earnings to the “Purses for a Purpose” program. Started by Smith, Purses for a Purpose involves owners pledging to donate a portion of their earnings to the backside center.
“Why won't or why don't more owners allocate a small percentage of their earnings to similar programs?” Smith said.
Eighteen Months Later, Montanez Is Back
Jockey Rosario Montanez finished sixth in the fifth race Jan, 30 at Laurel, but there was plenty of reason to celebrate. It was his first mount since a July 17, 2020 spill, also at Laurel, that left his career in doubt.
One day after the spill, Montanez, 31, underwent surgery at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. He had multiple back fractures and was diagnosed with a brain injury. He was told that these were injuries that could prevent him from making a comeback.
“After so many obstacles, I'm very blessed that I was able to overcome all of them,” Montanez said after his return mount. “I'm very thankful to all the doctors and nurses and all the staff that helped me make it back.”
This was the second time that Montanez had had a serious injury. He missed 20 months after suffering a concussion, a fractured rib and pelvis and head lacerations that required a plate to be surgically inserted in his face after a July 2014 spill at Saratoga.
His determination and perseverance is admirable. A capable rider, it shouldn't be long until he returns to the winner's circle.
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