I consider myself a strong advocate for the thoroughbred industry, and have stood behind the industry more times than I can count in the past few years as it is attacked from every side – the economy, journalism, extremist groups like PETA, and yet there is one horse in my virtual stable that constantly makes me question everything I defend: Marilyn’s Guy.
Just a quick recap for those of you who do not know me. I am an event riding pony clubber by upbringing, and took the plunge into the thoroughbred industry in 2009 when I was employed at Chesapeake Farm. I then moved on to manage other farms and am now currently getting my doctorate in veterinary sciences – so horses are still, and will always be forefront in my life. Many people now know me as someone to contact when they have a horse who is ready to retire from the racetrack, either for myself or for my connections, so few realize that only a few years ago I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Storm Cat and an AP Indy. But this all changed when I began working on a breeding farm, and more specifically, with the lay ups that were coming off of the track for miscellaneous injuries or time off and I met Marilyn’s Guy, or Larry. Larry was a leggy 3 year old in 2009, and had just won his maiden at Hawthorne by a whopping 13 lengths the week that I began my job. He was all we talked about during vet work- he had been bred by the farm, and was quickly becoming our next “big hope” for his dam, Marilyn Merlot – a gorgeous grey by Unbridled’s Song who need a bit of a push for her page. But, as is horse racing, it was detected that he had an issue with his throat, and he was brought back to the farm for some treatment and R&R. When I met Larry he was a gentle giant; at 3 years old, he was 17.2hh and dwarfed me, but his demeanor during his treatments had us bond immediately. Through medications, hand walking, and grazing, he quickly became my favorite on the farm. The horse that I would go visit and groom even after hours. I craved nothing more than to swing a leg over his back and take him for a hack.
But as it is with these athletes, he was sent back to training at the end of the summer with a hug and a kiss, and after a bumpy start, found his stride and began winning allowance races in good company. It was during this stretch that I rarely got to see him, only occasionally when he would have a layover at the farm between shipping up north or down south.
I would get to hand walk him, redo his bandages, and wish him good luck as I loaded him on his next van and onto his next track. He was 4 years old, still a gentle giant, and just sparkled with enthusiasm for the life that we have spent hundreds of years breeding into these horses. My last hug was spent loading him up to Arlington, and it is to this day one of my favorite pictures. He just exudes class and athleticism, a horse that is noticeable well taken care of – an emblem of what we fight for daily when we tell the outside world that our animals are LOVED and treated with respect.
Larry was bought from his breeder, but I continued to follow him, set on the idea that this was my future “Rolex” pony, an exaggerated version of me saying that I loved this horse and hoped to one day retrain him for a life of XC schools and trail rides, maybe even with an event or two if he was able to stay sound – which I worried about on a daily basis as his now 17.3hh frame deceived gravity.
Fast forward a few years and many updates and I had hope that maybe, just maybe, he was soon to be done – but then suddenly Larry started moving UP the ranks and into stakes class. I was appalled – he was 6, and wasn’t even consistently placing in the lower classed races, but began to put in bullet works. I went and put 10 dollars on him in the Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct on a whim and in support for my now “old man” and watched without breathing as Larry put his heart and soul across the wire to win and officially become a graded stakes winner! I had tears in my eyes as I screamed at the TV for the horse that had gotten me hooked into this life.
Larry would not win a race after the Excelsior. He continued to run at good tracks and with upstanding trainers for a few more months and I waited impatiently to see him possibly ship to Churchill or Keeneland so that I could go see him in person and make an offer to his trainer, but he was claimed, and then claimed again until finally ending up in cheap claimers at Parx. He is now 8 years old, and has earnings of $430,000 dollars, but only $1,500 of that is from this year. He will start on Saturday with a tag of $12,000 at Parx for his 36th race.
THESE are the horses that cause disgusted looks from the outside world. They see them as pathetic and “discarded” without realizing that people still love them. I have contacted numerous people in the pursuit of Larry, letting them know that he would have a forever home if and when he was retired – whether it be with me or someone that I can trust. But every time that he is claimed, or drops a rank at the track, I begin to feel my own passion for this sport waiver. It should not be this way, I should not have to falter from my platform screaming to the masses of the goodness in this industry. I’m sure that we’ve all had a “Larry” in our early careers – that first horse that we would scream unabashedly for as they came around the final turn, that horse that you bet on even when they were at 35-1, or just that horse that made you take a step back and honestly think about just how beautiful these creatures are they we spend our lives around.
I hope to one day have some closure for this story and that it does not end with tragedy or grief. If he is ready for retirement, I hope that the owners are responsible – as if any horse is a deserving “War Horse” it is Larry. But if he is still sound and happy in his career – let him run. I will keep cheering for you Larry, I promise.
UPDATE: Larry’s breeder Drew as well as myself have reached out to every hand that takes a part in Larry and have tried to secure him aftercare, getting more aggressive as the months, and now years, tick on. He has a permanent home lined up for him on Chesapeake Farm, amazingly offered by his breeder. He has shipping lined up (either through Brook Ledge, or my own personal truck and trailer if needed). And he has plenty of carrots and Fruit Loops awaiting him here in Lexington, along with the best farrier and veterinary care in the world. What we don’t have are owners who are receptive to the idea of retiring him, even though he is an 8yo GSW running for a $5k tag, and we are therefore acknowledging the idea that we might need to claim/purchase him to get him home. Please leave rude comments about the fact that we have not bought him yet off of this site, it is in the works–but scraping together $5,000 on a graduate school budget (approximately 1/3 of my annual income) is a hard decision to make. Thank you.