Page 1




Thoroughbred Today

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” — Haile Selassie I’ve spent the last six months questioning my involvement in horse racing, wondering why I work so hard to help a sport that seems adamant about destroying itself. How is it possible that those in charge have allowed for the welfare of the horse to fall through the cracks so severely that the sport’s entire future now dangles on a thread? We have a moral and ethical obligation to the horse; it’s inexcusable for those in positions of power to remain silent, neutral or indifferent. Get rid of the drugs. Get rid of the cheaters. Throw personal interests out the window and understand that horse racing will continue to struggle until the safety and well-being of the horse is genuinely put first. This sport is nothing without the horse. Remember that. This year has been interesting. I’ve spent most of it recalibrating, trying to gain new perspective. Over the last five years, I’ve met some amazing people in this sport and it has been a pleasure sharing their stories with you through Thoroughbred Today, a magazine I founded four years ago. This issue was extremely challenging for me due to personal circumstances and the pressure I put on myself to do Winx justice. A big thank you to Brad Davidson, Peter Tighe, Hugh Bowman, Bronwen Healy, Sharon Chapman and Lisa Grimm for giving me the tools to not only get the job done, but get it done right. Thank you to all who contributed, to connections who took the time to share their stories, to subscribers for remaining patient in the lead up to this release, and to you, the reader, for taking the time to read this letter in its entirety. Enjoy this very special Winx edition.


Everything Equestrian, LLC. visit us online FOR ADVERTISING RATES & INFO Editor-In-Chief

Claudia L. Ruiz Managing Editor

Lauren Lima Front Cover

Bronwen Healy Back Cover

Editor-In-Chief Thoroughbred Today

Contents 04 The Will to Succeed

13 Highlights

Trainer Mark Casse talks family, career and more in a candid Q&A

7 documentaries you need to watch as a horse lover

09 The List

Features on JPN’s Master Fencer (13) & AUS legend Winx (14)

15 Sam Bussanich

Making a name for herself in the competitive world of racing

10 Behind the Lens

26 City of Light

How photog Sharon Chapman got the “money” shot of Winx

Trainer Michael McCarthy looks back on the Pegasus World Cup

12 Vet MD:

28 OTTB Spotlight

Racing’s catastrophic failure

Sharon Lee Chapman Contributing Writers

Ciara Bowen Sharon Lee Chapman Eliya Finkelstein Kathryn Papp Photographers

Sharon Lee Chapman Alex Evers Cody Greco Charissa Greubel Lisa Grimm Bronwen Healy Jamie Newell Scott Serio Darren Tindale


Kindred Spirits: a must read!

On The covEr: Winx exclusive

Jockey Hugh Bowman tells the story, p.16-25 Thoroughbred Today



Thoroughbred Today


The ‘WILL’ to Succeed From helping out on the farm at the age of five to victory in the Preakness four decades later, Trainer Mark Casse talks about the journey to winning his first American Classic. story and interview by CLAUDIA L. RUIZ featured photo by CODY GRECO

Thoroughbred Today



ark Casse caught the bug for racing when he was just a little boy. While his friends were watching cartoons and reading comic books, Casse was reading the racing form and studying pedigrees. His father, Norman E. Casse, was heavily involved in the sport. And, as the saying goes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Norman raised Mark to be a top-class horseman and instilled in him a work ethic that would allow him to successfully pursue a career in the competitive world of thoroughbred racing. For the last four decades, Casse has worked diligently to make a name for himself. It hasn’t been easy, but his efforts have certainly paid off. Today, he’s a multiple graded stakes-winning trainer, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee, he’s won the Sovereign Award for Outstanding Trainer more times than he can count on both hands, has started collecting Breeders’ Cup trophies, and on May 18, 2019, added the title of American Classic-winning trainer to his resume when War of Will galloped to victory in the 144th running of the Preakness Stakes. Following the eventful first two legs of the 2019 Triple Crown, I caught up with Casse to talk childhood, career, War of Will, and family.

CLAUDIA RUIZ: Let’s start with a little bit of background on you; where were you born and raised? MARK CASSE: Well, I tell everybody I was foaled, not born, in Indianapolis, Indiana, and I grew up in Ocala, Florida; my family moved there when I was five. CR: And how were you introduced to horses and horse racing? MC: My father was involved in racing since before I was born. He was a trainer, breeder, farm manager and owner of Cardinal Hill Farm, and eventually co-founded the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company, or OBS, as it’s referred to today. So, horses and horse racing have always been the focus of my life. CR: So you grew up on a farm; how old were you when you started helping out around the farm and what did you do? MC: I was five; I did a lot of hot walking and mucking. My first job off the farm, I was the person that cleaned up the poop in the sales ring at OBS. Then when I was 12, my dad had a horse van company and I was one of the van attendants. I would leave Ocala on a Friday afternoon, arrive in Lexington Saturday morning, get on another van Saturday afternoon and arrive back in Ocala Sunday morning. I would get a whopping $200 for that, which is like $2,000 today. CR: How old were you when you first learned to ride, and did you have your own horse or pony? MC: I was four. And, yes, I had a pony. CR: What was his or her name? MC: I knew you were going to ask me that. Her name was Brownie, she was a Shetland pony that could fly and she nearly killed me on more than one occasion. CR: Ponies are the best! They’re evil, but they teach so much. MC: She was evil, evil. I would have friends over and we would race our ponies up the lanes between fences. Brownie and I would be in front and then suddenly she would make a U-turn and I

CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE would go flying and my friends would run me over. I have done hundreds and hundreds of interviews; you are the first to ask me these questions. I love it. CR: I think your background with horses is so important to your overall story. Do you have any memories from working on the farm that stick out, anything that left a mark on you? MC: My dad always believed in making me work, he said that it would make me a better person. I heard a million times, ‘If you’re going to do something, do it right.’ When I told him I wanted to be a trainer, he said two things to me, 1: You can work your ass off and the guy next to you can do nothing, but if his horse is better, he will beat you; and 2: You’ll never be rich. CR: When did you know you wanted to become a trainer? MC: I always knew. Well, no, I shouldn’t say that because at one point I wanted to be a jockey. I galloped horses for a long time, but never rode any races. I just couldn’t do the weight. In 1973, when I was 12, I went with my dad to the Kentucky Derby and watched Secretariat win. It was the greatest thing I had ever seen. That experience made me want to become who I am today. CR: That’s amazing! Did you two make it to any of Secretariat’s other races? MC: I was at Saratoga when Onion beat Secretariat in the Whitney, I bet $2 on Onion to win. Why, I’m not sure, but the interesting thing about it was that Onion was trained by a man named Allen Jerkens, one of the greatest trainers of all time, and maybe 10 or 12 years later, I got to spend a lot of time with Allen every day. His barn was near my barn and we became friends. A lot of the things I say and do today are things Allen taught me. CR: When did you first start training and racing horses? MC: I was 17 when I had my first runners. Back then the only place in North America you could get your trainer’s license before the age of 18 was Massachusetts, at these small fairs that my dad used to run at. I flew up to the Barrington Fair, got my license, and ran a mare named Solid Rocket that same day. CR: What about school? MC: I had one year left of high school then, so after my time in Massachusetts, I went back home to finish. I turned 18 a few months later, got my trainer’s license in Kentucky, and in March worked out a deal with my school so that I could leave for the last month and a half and start training. A month later, on April 14, 1979, I won my first race at Keeneland with a Kentucky-bred named Joe’s Coming. I was supposed to go to college at the end of that summer, but I never did. I’ve been training horses ever since. CR: What has the journey been like for you as a trainer? MC: I’ve experienced many things along the way. I used to race at these small tracks in the middle of nowhere and there were many nights I went to bed in places, thinking, ‘Dear God, just let me wake up alive in the morning.’ I went to New York for a while, trained privately for Calumet in the 80s, and then went back to Kentucky and ended up being leading trainer multiple times at Churchill Downs. That was about the same time I was starting a family and I was kind of frustrated with the Kentucky circuits because none of them worked together and you ended up having to move around a lot. I took some horses up to Toronto on the premise that I would race there for eight months and then return to Ocala for the winter when the meet ended. I did really well in Toronto and ended up moving there. In the early 90’s, I quit training and became the general manager for a place called Mockingbird Farm. Did that for about 5-6 years, started training again, moved back to Kentucky and here I am. I’ve kind of done it all. Continued on page 7


Thoroughbred Today

I was asked after winning the preakness if I thought it was my biggest victory as a trainer. after much thought, I have to say, it’s definitely #1. - mark casse, trainer

Pictured: War of Will at Pimlico Race Course prior to winning the 144th edition of the Preakness Stakes.

CR: You just won your first American classic with War of Will in

the Preakness. This horse signifies a great accomplishment in your career; can you tell me a little bit about him? MC: War of Will arrived at my barn in the spring of 2018. My brother Justin was in France at the Arqana Breeze Up Sale for two year olds in May and bought him for Gary Barber for $298,550. He’s actually a Kentucky-bred but was sold as a yearling, shipped to Europe, and then we bought him over there and brought him back to the United States. CR: At what point was it decided that he would run in the Kentucky Derby? MC: We originally thought he was going to be a turf horse and ran him on the grass several times. Three weeks after his troubled trip in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup, we entered him in a race on the dirt at Churchill Downs and he won by five lengths. He was so impressive that Gary Barber and I felt he deserved a shot at the Derby. CR: You went into the 2019 Kentucky Derby with a genuine shot at winning, but you weren’t disappointed with what transpired. Can you explain your thought process on the whole situation? MC: I’ve wanted to win the Kentucky Derby since I was 10 years old, but I’ve been a trainer for so long that I understand that certain situations will always be out of my control. Honestly, I was just thankful that War of Will and everybody else was okay. A few days after the race, I saw a photo of the moment the incident happened and right behind the affected horses was Jose Ortiz. Two weeks prior, his wife and two young kids had spent some time with me and my wife at our training center. Realizing how close they came to losing him really put things into perspective, and it’s not the first time something like that has happened to me. I lost a big race about 7-8 years ago and I remember I was so bummed about it. I got a call from my son Norman who was driving with my other son, Joel, when a car came across the median. It missed

them by a foot. I was so happy that my sons were okay and it hit me in that moment that even though I hadn’t won that race, in the grand scheme of things, I had actually won the day. That’s the way I see these situations. Sometimes you’re luckier with what doesn’t happen than what could have been. CR: That’s an amazing way of looking at it (readers, take notes). Tell me about Preakness day; what was it like and how did it feel to win? MC: I got to the barn at around 5:15am and quickly realized I was alone. There was a bit of a mix up and everyone thought I had said they could come in later, which wasn’t what I meant, but it was actually kind of nice because it took me back to the days where I used to do everything myself. I pulled bandages, took temperatures, groomed, spent time with War of Will, walked him, gave him a bath, and then went back to the hotel. I got back to Pimlico around 3pm and a few hours later we won the Preakness. When I was young, we didn’t have the Breeders’ Cup or the Pegasus; we had the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont. Those were the most important races, and to me they still are. To think I won one of them… there’s a lot of emotion there. CR: I’m a little curious because you’ve mentioned your dad several times throughout our conversation, but not your mom. Where and how does she fit into your story? MC: Her name is Joan and she’s a wonderful woman. She made the biggest sacrifice a mom can make. When I was 13, she and my dad were going through a divorce and there was a big custody battle; she wanted to take me and my brother John to Indiana where her family lived. One day, I said to her, ‘Mom do you truly love me?’ and she said, ‘With all my heart.’ And I said, ‘Then you’ll let me stay with dad and the horses.’ She stopped the battle that day and let me stay with my dad. So, it’s because of her that I’m here today doing what I love. Photo: Jamie Newell

Thoroughbred Today


The List



Lazy day on the couch? Need movie recommendations? How about a documentary? You won’t find any horse racing docs on this list (there’s a separate list for that), but you won’t be disappointed with our selections. Learn about other disciplines and push yourself beyond your comfort zone to gain awareness regarding important equine matters. by LAUREN LIMA

Harry & Snowman

500 Miles


9x US film festival award winner, “Harry & Snowman” tells the story of riding instructor Harry DeLeyer and the grey plough horse saved from slaughter, turned show-jumping legend, known as Snowman. Grab a box of tissues and get ready to experience all the feels. Told by 85-yearold DeLeyer himself, this documentary showcases incredible archived footage and does a wonderful job of conveying the emotional bond between horse and rider from the moment he first saw the grey to the moment he put him to rest… and that last part is truly heart-wrenching. If you are someone who has recently lost a loved one, fast-forward through Snowman’s final minutes. But don’t let that keep you from watching the rest of the film! It’s a must watch with a beautiful story that will make you appreciate what you have a little more. Life is short. Hug your horse.

Statistics show that 20% of veterans suffering from PTSD develop drug and alcohol addictions, and 22 commit suicide every day. 500 Miles is a moving short film about Heroes and Horses, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that trains wild mustangs—captured by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) —and re-purposes them into an innovative program that helps veterans suffering from the psychological and physical wounds of combat. Watch as mustangs and veterans make the 500-mile journey through New Mexico and Arizona. You won’t regret it.

2011 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner for best U.S. Documentary, “Buck” tells the story of American horse trainer and real-life horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, the man who inspired the character of “Tom Booker” in the Nicholas Evans novel, “The Horse Whisperer,” and later served as the primary equine consultant for the 1995 movie of the same name, working alongside actor and director Robert Redford. Follow Brannaman as he works with horsemen and women of all ages and disciplines and speaks of the childhood abuse he endured at the hands of his father. The link he makes between his past and his unique ability to help horses is what makes this documentary so amazing. A lesson in empathy, self-awareness, trust and respect, “Buck” is a must watch not just for horse lovers, but for anyone looking to become a better human being.

Runtime: 84 minutes

Heavy Horsepower Runtime: 45 minutes

A British documentary all about the working horse. Presenter Martin Clunes starts the film off by introducing his two Clydesdales, Ronnie and Bruce, who are currently in training to become working horses on his farm, and then takes viewers to various farms where horses tend to the land, vineyards, the ocean and more. Years ago, humans depended on the horse to do the “heavy lifting,” but modern machinery and technology has fazed them out. Today, many believe the usefulness of the horse is a thing of the past. This film presents a solid argument for why, now more than ever, the working horse is the future.

Runtime: 37 minutes

True Appaloosa Runtime: 84 minutes

A 2015 EQUUS Film Festival official selection, True Appaloosa follows Scott Engstrom, a fiery 69-year-old horsewoman and Appaloosa breeder, on a quest to prove the true origins of the breed and save them from disappearing. This well-made documentary’s compelling imagery rivals that of NatGeo and its passionate protagonist will inspire you to get out and do more.

Wild Horse, Wild Ride Runtime: 106 minutes

Made to help promote the adoption of wild mustangs, Wild Horse Wild Ride follows 100 mustangs and 100 horse trainers as they partake in the Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge. The goal: to tame the wild mustang in just 100 days. Get a glimpse into the world of different trainers as they explain a little bit about their lives, methods of training, and love for horses.

Runtime: 90 minutes

From the Kill Pen Runtime: 76 minutes

You’re probably wondering why this sort of film has a place on a list for horse lovers. The short answer: because it’s important. Every day, American horses are shipped across the borders to foreign slaughterhouses. The only way to bring about change is to build awareness. From The Kill Pen is an eye-opening documentary that casts hard light on the institutionalized slaughter pipeline that takes the lives of thousands of American horses each year. It’s the ‘Blackfish’ for America’s horses. It’s unbiased, fact-driven without unwarranted violence, and it intelligently exposes the truth: overbreeding and a tainted meat industry.

Thoroughbred Today


Behind the Lens

capturing winx The story behind the photo written and photographed by Sharon Lee Chapman


had no idea whether Winx would be at the beach the morning after her 3rd Cox Plate, but it was worth the risk to get up at 3:30am and make the trek to Altona Beach, an hour and 40 minute drive from home. One of the first of several photographers to arrive, I waited patiently in the car park for nearly 2 hours. I thought about the type of photo I wanted to capture. One year prior, I had attempted to take a photo of Winx at the beach that didn’t quite work out as well as I had hoped, due to the tides, water conditions and me not being in the right spot.


Thoroughbred Today

I had envisioned Winx in the water with the Melbourne city skyline behind her. For me, that was the money shot, and on this day, I was determined to get it. However, to get this shot meant trekking out into the water way past the horses and past several sand banks. I’m 5-foot nothing and each sandbank has a drop off, each one getting slightly deeper as you step off. This particular morning, Winx was about four sandbanks off the shoreline, which meant a mighty drop off into chest deep, very cold water. I could hardly breathe with the chill of the water as she waded past me, emitting a cool confidence she always has at the beach. Never fazed by


photographers in the water, she just takes it all in stride. Perhaps she thinks we are “creatures of the sea” as she is so accustomed to seeing us out there. I framed the shot and waited patiently for her to walk back into it. When she did, I didn’t breathe for fear of moving the camera. I knew the moment I triggered the shutter I had captured something magical, something no other photographer had captured, being that I was the only one on that side of her. As I came out of the water dripping wet, wearing jeans and a jumper (not exactly beach wear for such a shot), I was euphoric. I soon realised that my car keys

were in my pocket. Car keys don’t like salt water, apparently, and without a spare key on me, my car was immobilised. This resulted in a 92km tow home to get my spare key. Still, I sat in the tow truck with a smile on my face the whole way home. There are many photos I’ve taken over the years that have special meaning. This one is my favourite. Captured with my trusty Nikon D4s and a 200-400mm lens attached to a monopod, I now look back at this photo and remember the incredible moment I photographed a legendary racehorse known as Winx.

Thoroughbred Today



Vet MD

FRACTURED Horse racing’s catastrophic failure to put the safety of the horse first. written by KATHRYN PAPP, DVM


o this day, the racing industry hangs on ferociously to the ever lurking, just plain unlucky “bad step” explanation for why a horse may incur a catastrophic breakdown. Even though this bad step theory has long been thoroughly disproven, horsemen, trainers and owners still constantly perpetuate this “excuse” in public interviews and private discussions. The problem is it is simply a fallacy, and one that needs to be immediately eradicated from the traditionally science-skeptic backside chatter, as well as from the media’s acceptance of it as an honest answer when coming from the mouths of trainers whose horses do suffer catastrophic injuries. In 2018, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database (EID), the North American average rate of catastrophic (aka resulting in death or humane euthanasia) injuries or “breakdowns” in racing Thoroughbreds was 1.68 per 1,000 starts. This equates, when also attempting to account for equine racing and training deaths that go unreported, to approximately 1,000-2,000 TB fatalities per year. Even more staggering is that, per each reported fatality, it is estimated that 17-29 non-fatal injuries simultaneously occur amongst the industry’s equine population. That is a large number of injured and deceased racehorses to account for. Of all the types of catastrophic racing injuries that occur, the majority of these are bone fractures. The incidence of bone fractures in TBs involved in flat racing is about 1-2%. There is a very distinct and well-described physiology of equine bone damage and repair. When the ability of equine bone to repair or remodel itself is overwhelmed by the damage incurred, a fracture will undoubtedly occur. Unlike in our house-dwelling dogs and cats, a broken bone in a full-sized (approximately 1,200 pound) horse is often a death sentence. The most common limb a racehorse is likely to suffer a fracture in is the left fore, closely followed by the right forelimb. This is because at least 65% of the horse’s weight is naturally distributed to and loaded on their front end. The most commonly fractured bone in the forelimb is the metacarpus (canon or shin bone), which is located between the carpus (knee) and the fetlock (ankle). The most commonly fractured bone resulting in a fatality is the proximal sesamoid bone, which most often results in irreparable fetlock (ankle) breakdown (a la Eight Belles). We in the racing industry now know, based on detailed necropsy reports and statistical analysis, that 85-90% of fatal musculoskeletal injuries have definitive evidence of significant pre-existing damage at the site where the eventual fatal injury occurs. The most important takeaway from this information, when dissected down to the simplest fact, is that over 85% of racing equine deaths are poten12

Thoroughbred Today

tially preventable. Now, that is a lot of lives that could be spared. The veterinary community currently has readily accessible diagnostic equipment and capabilities we can offer horsemen in order to help identify and evaluate any sub-clinical damage at these common sites of bone fatigue and fracture. If veterinary professionals are able to detect these major risk factors for catastrophic breakdowns before they occur, we then also have the ability, and responsibility, to warn the horses’ connections of the real and present danger of continuing to race or train that horse, at least at that time or while continuing to use a particular training regimen. We, private racetrack veterinarians, will then have documented records and imaging with which we can appeal to regulatory veterinarians to keep closer watch on or to “flag” those particular horses so that their PPs and pre-race exam findings may be scrutinized a bit closer than perhaps other horses without similar risk factors. The major question is, will trainers and owners be willing to allow their horses’ soundness to be scrutinized by private and regulatory veterinarians, and will they invest in the exams and imaging necessary to give them a realistic risk assessment that they just may not want to know about. After all, not every horse with this type of pre-existing bone damage will go on to suffer a catastrophic fracture, they will argue. And often in the face of disaster, as is the case of breakdowns in racing, it is easier for many to claim ignorance versus responsibility. We, the racing industry, have the ability to improve the safety and welfare of our beloved equine athletes. Identifying “at-risk” individuals and ensuring that those particular horses do not set foot on a racetrack until all veterinary evidence points to it being as safe as possible needs to be our primary focus going forward, if we are to survive the public’s ongoing scrutiny. Doing this will in turn also decrease exercise rider and jockey injuries by a significant percentage and hopefully make the sport strong enough to ensure its future. The last thing anyone wants to see while hanging with friends and enjoying an amazing day of top-class TB racing, is another blue tarp being put up as the equine ambulance scrambles to the site of the latest preventable tragedy. It is in our power – veterinarians, horsemen, trainers and owners – to prevent catastrophe from striking. But we must take responsibility and act now. Dr. Kathryn Papp attended Guelph University’s Ontario Veterinary College and graduated in 2008 as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. She owns Hillcrest Meadow Equine in Harrisburg, PA, and is the co-founder of PA Racehorse Rehoming, Rehabilitation, and Rescue (PARR), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Visit to learn more.

Master Fencer just a way (jpn) x sexy zamurai, by deputy minister

I got the ride on Master Fencer through a friend of mine named Naoya Yoshida, who I met through Patrick Biancone several years ago when I first came to the U.S. The first time I rode him was in the morning at Churchill Downs the week of the Kentucky Derby. He’s a very laid back horse, easy to ride and nice to be around. He is not the type that shows too much in the mornings, almost like he’s on the lazy side, so I was a little surprised with the way he ran in the Kentucky Derby. It was raining and the track was sloppy, but nothing bothered him that day, not even the crowd. Before the race, nobody really paid attention to him. He was about 50-1. But he ran a very good race. When I asked him to run, he responded very well. He ran through holes in traffic nicely for me and gave a good kick to the end to finish just a couple lengths behind the winner. He’s a really cool horse and surprised a lot of people. I’m happy for the connections; I hope they enjoyed the experience and will be back with another horse in the near future. – Julien leparoux, jockey photo: ALEX EVERS

Thoroughbred Today


A Morning of Reminiscing Winx and regular exercise rider Ben Cadden enjoyed a little rest and relaxation at Altona Beach in Victoria, Australia, the morning after the wonder mare galloped to win her third Cox Plate (G1). Perhaps reminiscing the win together... On October 28, 2017, before a packed grandstand at Moonee Valley, Winx became the first horse in 35 years to win the Cox Plate three times, equaling Kingston Town’s record. Australia shook that day as racing fans cheered her home, witnessing history. “The Valley’s rocking and the world is knocking!” Exclaimed the track announcer as Winx, with regular jockey Hugh Bowman, overtook the leaders at the top of the stretch. From the back of the pack, Humidor weaved out of traffic and tried his best to catch her. But he was simply no match for the Queen of the Turf. Read the exclusive feature detailing the wonder mare’s journey as told by Hugh Bowman on page 17. photo: BRONWEN HEALY


Thoroughbred Today

Samantha Bussanich




ou miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Just shoot your shot,” Sam Bussanich repeated to herself, hands quivering and heart aflutter as her thumb hovered above the call button. It was the spring of 2017 and Sam was about to make a phone call that would, ultimately, lead her to the edge of Pimlico’s track, knees giving way, hand over her mouth as silent cries of joy and disbelief left her body. Her thumb met the screen of her phone and an echo filled her ear as the line rang. “Can I hot-walk for you?” She sputtered out after a moment of small talk. “Sure!” replied David Carroll, Mark Casse’s assistant trainer and the voice on the other end of the line. A huge Tepin fan, there was really only one trainer in the industry she ever wanted to work for; she had been dreaming of this opportunity for a long time. Sam first fell in love with horse racing at seven years old, on the rail at Calder Race Course, in her Grandfather’s shadow. “It started with racehorses,” she recalls. “[I didn’t start as] a little girl riding—although I eventually got to that point.” Panty Raid—winner of the 2007 American Oaks Invitational and Spinster Stakes, both Grade One races—was her first true horse love and retired around the time Zenyatta blossomed, causing Sam to develop an infatuation for the mare and deepening her love for the sport. By the seventh grade, she was certain: she was going to attend the University of Kentucky and work in horse racing. On that path since, she’s set to graduate this year with degrees in Marketing and Equine Science and Management. This past April, she balanced seven classes while interning for Godolphin Racing and working for Mark Casse. And that didn’t include her responsibilities to Nexus Racing Club, an initiative she co-founded in 2016 to engage young people in the sport of horse racing. The club holds ownership in multiple racehorses. The key for members is that no money changes hands in the process: the club doesn’t purchase a share in the horses and doesn’t make money when a horse wins, it’s all purely for education. Their expanding roster is proof there is a place for youth in the sport. It was July of 2018 when the Emerson, NJ, native first met War of Will, who was just a maiden hopeful back then. “I went up to his stall and my jaw just dropped,” she recalls. “I had been waiting for a dark bay with a big blaze and four white socks to come into the barn, so I was like, ‘oh my goodness, I’m in love with this horse.’” Sam hoped the son of War Front’s first work at Saratoga would bring good news. “Please don’t tell me he’s just a pretty face...” she asked his exercise rider. “No,” she was informed on the walk back to the barn, “this horse has some serious talent.” Since then she says the once unsure colt has grown into himself both physically and mentally. During routine walks around the shed row, Will—as he is known around the barn—likes to stop


at every corner to look out and soak in his surroundings; and, during bath time, has a keen eye for spotting the camera, striking a pose at just the right moment. On race days, though, it’s a different story. “He gets pretty serious,” she says. “You’ll see his personality completely change.” Still, it’s not uncommon to find Sam wrapped around his neck, or feeding him peppermint after peppermint. In the aftermath of the 145th Kentucky Derby, while media and critics swarmed following the disqualification of Maximum Security—who made physical contact with War of Will and jockey Tyler Gaffalione, an event which the pair, though they avoided near catastrophe, later shouldered much of the blame for—Casse and his team walked around with smiles perpetually plastered on their faces. “We were just thankful he was okay. That’s the most important thing to us,” Sam explains. Leading up to the Preakness, in a worried state, Sam found herself asking Casse all kinds of questions. It was then that the veteran trainer offered some words of wisdom: “Never give up on yourself and on your horses, have patience and it will all pay off.” Two weeks later, Sam and team Casse found themselves in Baltimore, MD, in the winner’s circle at Pimlico Race Course with War of Will draped in black-eyed susans, vindicated after an impressive victory in the Gr.1 Preakness Stakes. Next up, Sam hopes to be accepted into the Godolphin Flying Start program—a prestigious two year program that accepts 12 candidates and takes them around the world while providing a hands-on learning experience for those interested in finding a career in racing. Sam plans to apply following graduation from UK. Then, when the time is right and as she puts the final touches on her application, she will once again be reminding herself of one thing: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Just shoot your shot.” Photo Courtesy: Sam Bussanich

Thoroughbred Today



Thoroughbred Today

TT Exclusive

queen of the

turf She is an Australian legend with 33 consecutive wins, including 4 Cox Plate victories and 25 Group 1s. In first-person, and in intimate detail, jockey Hugh Bowman chronicles the journey aboard the incredible mare known as Winx. written by CLAUDIA L. RUIZ as told by HUGH BOWMAN featured photo by LISA GRIMM

Thoroughbred Today


Queen of the Turf


Thoroughbred Today

QUEEN IN THE MAKING Pictured: Winx, ridden by Hugh Bowman, wins the 2018 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) at Royal Randwick (Sydney, Australia). The race marked her 25th consecutive win (including 18 Group Ones), and her 2nd consecutive win in the Queen Elizabeth. On April 13, 2019, she won it once more in the final start of her career | photo: Darren Tindale

Thoroughbred Today


Queen of the Turf


the spring time in Sydney, Australia, there is a three-year-old filly series known as the Princess Series. It consists of four races: the Silver Shadow Stakes, Furious Stakes, Tea Rose Stakes and Flight Stakes. It was September 2014, a time where the relationship between Chris Waller and myself was developing. His stable was getting stronger and I was emerging as his go-to man. At that time, there was a filly in the stable by the name of Winx who had run a couple of races with jockey Jason Collett. The stable thought she was pretty good. I was impressed with her first win, but I didn’t know a great deal about her when I was asked to ride her in the Furious Stakes. A standard Group Two race run at 1,200m (6-furlongs), I went in without any expectation that I was riding a special horse. We won the race, but to be honest, I came out of it with the impression that she was a wet-tracker and a horse with a really dynamic sprint. She was electric. I thought she needed to be held up for a sharp run. It turns out that was not the case at all. She was quite deceiving early on. But before I took the ride on Winx, I had actually been riding a filly named First Seal for trainer John Thompson. When I won the Furious with Winx, because both fillies were running in the Princess Series, I had to choose which one I would ride moving forward. I decided to stick with Winx and rode her in the Flight Stakes one month later. Because I was convinced she was a mile-type sprinter back then, I thought her best chance would be to sprint late. The pace was very slow. We settled into perfect position behind First Seal, the favourite. When First Seal sprinted, Winx got left flat-footed. It wasn’t until two years later when I watched the replay that I realized, maybe if I had ridden her differently she would have won. It’s safe to say I misjudged her. But back then, I was just getting to know her and I hadn’t learnt her strengths. That is something that came with time. In October of 2015, after our victory in the Epsom, the case


was made for me to become Winx’s regular rider. However, I had been on and off of her for about 10 races and during that time I had also been riding another horse for Chris named Preferment, who was racing and beating better horses. Like Winx, Preferment would also be running in the Cox Plate, which is considered one of the four major races in Australia. Back then I had ridden maybe 50 Group One winners, but I had never ridden a major one, so to speak. One week before the race, I chose—well, Chris and I chose together, but ultimately the decision was mine—to ride Winx; and it was in winning that race that I came to the realization that she was truly special. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine having the level of success that has come my way in the Winx era. I’m very lucky and I haven’t lost sight of the fact that she came along at a time in my life where I was mature enough to understand the significance of what was happening, appreciate it, but not let it consume me. And it’s not something I’ve talked about publicly, but managing the emotions of the Winx whirlwind wasn’t easy. The public euphoria; the sheer expectation; the overwhelming responsibility… most people will never experience something of this magnitude in their life. To cope with the pressure, I had to learn to manage my sleep better. I had to learn to control my thoughts, to stay focused on the goal in front of me and not dwell too deeply on what had happened in the past or what people were saying. Leading up to her races, I knew I had to be physically and mentally at my best. And I had to learn to set time aside for myself and my family. There’s no doubt about it that riding Winx was a privilege. Professionally and personally, she taught me many valuable lessons. Winx is a businesswoman. She’s intelligent, professional, strong but feminine, and she doesn’t like being fussed over. Oneon-one, for as popular and talented as she is, she’s very unassuming. She’s also deceivingly big and weighs in the vicinity of 530 kilos, which is a pretty big sized horse, but you would never think that by looking at her. She’s got a long neck and long body and because she’s so proportionate, she carries weight well. Our relationship throughout her racing career was very simple, very professional. Whenever she saw me, she knew it was time to work. I did my job and she did hers. There was always this huge feeling of pride as we walked out onto the track for a race, all eyes on us. Then as soon as we set foot on the track, everything around us disappeared and it was just me and her out there. She would pick up the canter, beautifully balanced with a big consistent stride, and we would head off towards the barriers. Those moments out there with her were very soothing and I was always impressed with how calm and focused she remained despite all of the noise and distractions around us. In her races, she was very consistent. Some days she was heavy on the bit, others not at all, but generally the fitter she got, the more relaxed she ran. I think she was more comfortable going through her gears and accelerating on a counter-clockwise track. However, because she was based in Sydney, most of her racing was done on a clockwise track. So, to get her to accelerate comfortably, I would bring her to the outside, balance her up and make sure she changed leads before asking her to make her move. I wish Photo: Bronwen Healy


Thoroughbred Today

Pictured: Winx and Hugh Bowman pass by fans as they head to the track for the 2018 Turnbull Stakes (G1) at Flemington Racecourse (Melbourne, NSW, Australia).

Thoroughbred Today


Photo: Bronwen Healy


Street Cry (IRE) - Vegas Showgirl, by Al Akbar Foaled September 14, 2011, Winx is an Australian champion racehorse bred by Fairway Thoroughbreds, trained by Chris Waller, ridden by Hugh Bowman, and owned by Magic Bloodstock Racing, R G Treweeke & D N Kepitis. Between May 2015 to her retirement in April 2019, she won 33 consecutive races, including 25 Group 1s and 4 Cox Plates (both are records), at distances of 1,100 - 2,200m. With over 26M AUS$ in earnings, her record reads 43: 37-3-0. Photo: Sharon Lee Chapman


Thoroughbred Today

CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE I could say that her acceleration felt as good as it looked, but because her stride is so economical—it’s big and effortless—it’s not something I could really feel unless we were passing horses. Looking back on her races, there are a few that stand out. The first Cox Plate, that’s probably the best field she beat and she did it in track record time. It was also mine and Chris Waller’s first major, which made it even more special. The Doncaster, which was a race I dreamt of winning as a kid, meant so much to me. And then the second Cox Plate when she beat Hartnell. Truthfully, it’s hard to distinguish which was her best performance. If I had to pick one, I think the second Cox Plate would be it. The confidence I had going into that race was something that I had never experienced before. I had ridden a few ordinary races on the day, and the conditions were difficult. But I remember thinking, she’s going to do something today that will be remembered forever… and that’s exactly what she did. Her performance that day was incredible. I think the third Cox Plate was the most difficult for me because there was no standout horse to beat. For me, it’s easy to ride if there’s a clear second pick because I just ride to beat that horse. In hindsight, it’s easy to say that horse was Humidor, but we’d beaten him comfortably in the Turnbull, and then he didn’t run well in the Caufield Cup, so I just couldn’t see him running a career best against us. I probably rode the most aggressive race on Winx that day. Gailo Chop, a stablemate to Humidor, was also in the race and I had a healthy respect for him; he ran second to Winx in the


Queen of the Turf

Queen Elizabeth and his fall had been very consistent. Although I didn’t think he could beat her, I knew he would go out and lead, and I thought, if I don’t put the pressure on him, he could be hard to pass. Even though none of those horses were at her level, if good horses get their own way, it becomes a mathematical impossibility to run them down. Winx had defied that logic in the past, but I didn’t want to get too comfortable in thinking she would do it again. Humidor was ridden superbly, and although I was surprised by his challenge, we were never threatened. By the fourth Cox Plate, the weight riding on my shoulders was the heaviest it had ever been. I got on her very anxious and as we headed out to the track, the tension in the air was so dense you could cut the mood with a knife. I mean the whole world was watching as we took on Benbatl, who I had never ridden against. We headed out to the barriers and I was probably most nervous as we loaded in because she had a tendency to get a bit fractious in there. Going into the race, I knew Benbatl was our only clear opponent. I knew that if I was close enough to him from the 800m mark, Winx could do it. It was what I couldn’t pan out in the early stages that concerned me. I knew I had to have an open mind. I knew I had to have her comfortable and that if she was comfortable in the rhythm she was going to run the last half-mile up to five lengths better than any other horse, regardless. Winx was well behaved in the barriers that day and broke first. (Fact: in all four Cox Plates, Winx has been the first out of

jockey hugh bowman answers fan questions

Bonnie Cox (Berry, NSW, AUS): Does Winx have a stable name instead of just her race name? Hugh Bowman: Not that I know of. Chris Waller’s horses don’t have stable names. Nina Ledkovsky (Salt Point, NY, USA): Do you “ask her”, and if so, how? Or does she “just know” when it’s time to “take off ” and run ahead of the others? HB: She knows, but she waits for my command, and it depends on the pace. If the pace is fast then sometimes she knows, sometimes I have to remind her. She likes to go through her

the gate). I had expected Benbatl to lead, but he was off a bit slow and it was apparent early on that he wasn’t going to. I don’t typically like to see horses sitting three-wide without cover, but I was more than prepared to sit out there with Winx. I took my time. We stayed composed. It’s no good doing anything rushed. By the 600m mark, we were settled into a supreme condition. There wasn’t much pressure in that first quarter-mile, so I just sat near Benbatl, and when the pace developed over the next quarter-mile, I maneuvered in behind him. The pace was consistent; not too slow, which suited us well. At the 1,400m mark, I was able to relax and enjoy it with everyone else. From that point, it was just a matter of figuring out when to put the pressure on our opponent. The crowd erupted that day as she galloped past him. It was very, very special. Obviously, everyone would have loved to see her run races on the international stage and I couldn’t imagine a better view than seeing her on the Ascot straight, but at what price do you do that? By resisting that temptation, Chris Waller’s strategic management of her programming allowed her to continue on at the highest level for as long as she did. There are lots of horses… well, not lots, but every few years somewhere around the world there’s a horse who can run far and above any other horse. Winx was able to do that consistently for four years. She may not have raced Enable or Frankel or Arrogate, but at the end of the day what she achieved is something few have ever done. And that’s what makes her great.

gears. She doesn’t like to just go straight to top gear and that’s something that’s been really important in her best races, letting her build up from third, fourth, fifth and sixth. I’m not sure how many gears she’s got because I don’t think she’s ever been fully tested. Kathy Giovanni Enni (La Grange, CA, USA): When you approach her before each race and she sees you, does she know it’s game time and get ready to go? And is there anything special you might say to her? HB: She definitely knew it was game time! I didn’t talk to her much, but I would always put my hands on her, let her get a sniff of me, then rub her nose and hop on. Stuart Woodhead (Corowa, NSW, AUS): Hugh, what’s it like when you hit the go button? HB: Amazing! The way she passed good horses was incredible. The crowds that came to watch were so big. When I pressed the “go” button, I could hear the roar and feel the adrenaline.

Thoroughbred Today


Queen of the Turf

Winx and strapper Umut Odemislioglu spend a moment in the saddling area before the running of the 2017 Warwick Stakes (G2) | Bronwen Healy, The Image is Everything

A smile is seen on Hugh Bowman’s face as Winx finds another gear to kick past Benbatl and go on to win her fourth Cox Plate | Bronwen Healy, The Image is Everything 24

Thoroughbred Today

Hugh Bowman salutes the crowd of cheering fans as he and Winx make their way to the scales after their third Cox Plate victory at The Valley Racecourse | Darren Tindale, The Image is Everything

Winx looks on affectionately at owner Peter Tighe during a photo session at Altona Beach with her Cox Plate trophies the morning after her record setting fourth Cox Plate victory. From L to R: Patty and Peter Tighe, Winx, Umut Odemislioglu, Debbie and Paul Kepitis | Bronwen Healy, The Image is Everything Thoroughbred Today



City of Light In his own words, trainer Michael McCarthy reflects on the Pegasus World Cup winner’s career and the lasting impression he made on those closest to him. written by CLAUDIA L. RUIZ as told by MICHAEL MCCARTHY


other Nature certainly had plans of her own the day of the 2019 Pegasus World Cup. Quite a bit of rain had come down the day before and more was expected the day of. The track was closed the morning of the race, so City of Light was ridden under tack in the barn. I fed him at around 9 o’clock and then passed the time with him in the barn until the race. Going off his win in the Oaklawn Handicap, I knew he liked a wet, fast track, but I wasn’t sure how he would handle the track conditions presented at post-time. It was almost a bit surreal the way that he did it. Watching him from up in the corner of Gulfstream’s grandstand, he warmed up well, was on his toes, and loaded into the gate nicely. When they sprung the latch, Pattern Recognition used quite a bit of speed to get right on City of Light’s flank and together they went into the first turn. My jockey, Javier Castellano, was able to ease outside of Pattern Recognition and both horses seemed to get into a comfortable rhythm as they turned onto the backstretch. Fast horses make their own trip, and that’s exactly what City of Light did. Approaching the half-mile pole, he put a comfortable length on the field. Javier gave him a bit of a breather until the 3/8ths pole then asked him to pick up the pace. Accelerate was starting to pick off horses. He got within a length of us at the quarter-pole and, well, City of Light blew everyone away. Watching him in that moment, seeing him doing it as easily as he was, it was unbelievably gratifying. There were so many emotions, and I think they all sort of hit me at once in the winner’s circle. It was a moment of affirmation and I was incredibly happy, but also a little sad knowing our journey had come to an end. Minutes before, I had saddled him for the very last time. It was bittersweet. The first time I laid eyes on City of Light was in late 2015, at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. I thought he was the raw package. He had the size, the length of neck, nice hip – all the physical qualities and very reminiscent of his sire, Quality Road. After the sale he went to the farm and, because he needed time to grow into his frame, was given an extra year to prepare for the races. So, he started a little later than usual, in the middle of his threeyear-old year. He ran his first race in July of 2017 and finished


Thoroughbred Today

second. Two months later, in his second start, he broke his maiden. From there, with each race he got better and better. By the time 2018 came around, he was a Grade One winner. That’s about the time we decided to target the Breeders’ Cup and worked backwards to come up with a schedule that best suited him. As a kid, I grew up in Arcadia, CA. I had some friends whose fathers were trainers. I guess you could say I was a product of my environment. I used to come to the races with them after school, on the weekends, and one thing led to another. I got a job walking hots and it sort of went from there. The idea of becoming a trainer was something I started to take seriously in the late 90’s, after I worked a variety of jobs for a few different outfits. In 2002, I went to work for Todd Pletcher, fulfilling the role of Assistant Trainer. Todd leads by example. Working under him for 11 ½ years, I learned the importance of that. At the start of 2014, I went out on my own. It was a long year. I didn’t have a lot of horses. There weren’t a lot of opportunities. But I kept to what I knew, showed up every day, tried my best, and slowly but surely everything came together. From the day he arrived at the track to the day he left, City of Light was always a very straight forward horse. He was easy to be around, enjoyed training, and had a great disposition. I think that’s why my daughter, Stella, took to him so well. For as big and powerful as he is, he picked up on her size and was very gentle, and she picked up that he was very kind, and they developed a special kinship. Emotionally, she invested a lot into him. She idolized him and enjoyed spending time with him. For her to come to grips with him not coming back to Santa Anita was tough, but she’ll get the chance to see him at Lane’s End and all will be good. You know, he may not have been a household name for everybody, but he was for me and my family. City of Light, a horse like him doesn’t come into your life all that often. I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity, to have had him underneath my shed row, and to have been able to give back to him everything he gave to us. For me, there was no better way to celebrate his career than by watching him cap it off on such a high note. photo by SCOTT SERIO

the most valuable lesson I’ve learned with him is patience, taking the time to listen to what he was telling me through his body language.

- michael mccarthy trainer

Thoroughbred Today



Thoroughbred Today


OTTB Spotlight

kindred spirits Years ago, Cori Abbott never thought she would come to rely on a horse so much, but when her health spiraled out of control, the answer to all her problems came in the form of an off-track-thoroughbred just waiting to find his soulmate. story by CIARA BOWEN photography by CHARISSA GREUBEL


he partnership between horses and humans is one that has existed for years, evolving through the decades as machinery was invented and utilized. But it has always been believed that their influence goes beyond their physical appeal...

23-year-old Cori Abbott can say with absolute certainty that it does. In August 2016, Abbott completely lost her ability to walk. The once competitive dancer, cheerleader, and overall athlete was a biology major at Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC, and had dreams of becoming a surgeon before her condition left her with no choice but to drop out. She had presented a variety of symptoms for several years, but the cause was, for a while, unknown. She was officially diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth Disease (CMT) type 4C—a degenerative nerve disease that most often presents itself in adolescence—in May of 2017. There are five main types of the condition and several sub-types, all of

which various therapies are prescribed to help treat symptoms. After she plateaued with her traditional physical therapy, with the help of her family and guidance of doctors, Abbott turned to Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT). “My physical therapist asked me if I liked horses and if I had I ever ridden one. The answer was an enthusiastic ‘yes’ and ‘yes,’” she said. “I never thought I would be able to ride a horse again or even have a chance.” A native of Central Florida, Cori grew up around horses and spent a fair amount of time in the saddle; her mom, Jama Abbott, had an OTTB during her teen years as well. After being cleared by doctors, mother and daughter began their search for a horse. On Craigslist, they found a handsome chestnut OTTB in Fort Meade, a small town 10 minutes north from their home in Bowling Green, Florida. Unable to resist, they made a call and set up a date to meet him. “The first thing I noticed about this horse was his height; he was a tall boy,” Cori said. But the 16.3h tall ex-racehorse stood quietly as three people maneuvered her onto his back. Once atop, she didn’t need any help starting her bond with him. “It was like he wanted me to be up there,” she said. Lone Soldier, a chestnut gelding foaled in Louisiana in 2007, ran in four races but was unplaced in all of them before his career came to an end. Not much is known about what he endured

Thoroughbred Today


OTTB Spotlight after the racetrack, just that somewhere down the line he suffered a plications her disease would have on her future, Cori succumbed skull-breaking injury that left him partially blind in one eye. to depression as CMT wreaked havoc on her body. One night, as “The girl that first got him took really good care of him, but he she lay in bed with her mother, she opened up about her emotional didn’t click with her so she sold him to another girl named Julia. struggles. “She was emotionally upset,” Jama recalled. “I was tryHe didn’t click with her either and Julia wanted him to really bond ing to tell her that she still had a lot going for her, and she said to with someone. When she saw us together, she knew we were meant me, ‘I did have a lot going for me, but it feels like everything was for each other,” Cori said. Deep down, Cori felt the same, but she taken away.’” continued her search to see if there was a ‘more Today, her bond with Cheeto has brought perfect horse.’ There wasn’t. hope and joy back into her life. “With Cheeto Now affectionately known as Cheeto, the around, she feels she has a purpose to get out of It’s an absolute OTTB joined the Abbott family in January 2018. bed again.” Her mother added. “She started in human certainty that At that time, Cori couldn’t stand or walk, but a wheelchair unable to do much and now she’s no one can know Cheeto didn’t mind; he walked alongside her in riding him and practically does everything on their own beauty or her wheelchair, quietly, never bothered by what her own.” perceive a sense she was doing. In the spring, she progressed to Before Cheeto came into her life, Cori hadn’t of their own worth standing and would hold onto the gelding’s neck put much thought into the ability horses have to for balance and support. “He would take a step, help people. She has two cats and a Labradoountil it has been turn to me and nudge me a little, and when I dle, and they help her in a variety of ways, but reflected back to couldn’t walk anymore, he would just stop and Cheeto has had the greatest impact on her life. them in the mirror of wait for me.” Cori recalled. By summer, she was “I think horses can help people with the simplest another loving, standing some on her own and could venture to of anxiety or health issues,” she said. “When caring being. Cheeto’s pasture, where he would greet her, and I’m around horses, in general, I always feel in - john j. powell, author she would do some of his grooming. my happiest place and push myself my hardest “When most people think of thoroughbreds, to get better.” they picture them as high strung horses,” Cori Taking back control of her life, Cori Abbott explained. “I felt the same way until I met Cheeto, but he’s not like is no longer allowing CMT to dictate her happiness, and has once that at all. He is truly a gently giant and he loves helping me.” again started to dream. With Cheeto by her side and new aspira“It’s been really interesting watching the relationship between tions in sight, she hopes to inspire people along the way to never Cori and Cheeto develop,” Jama said. “He’s become her best friend. give up. And somehow, on a deeper level, he just gets her. There’s a really special bond there.” To find out how you can adopt an off-track-thoroughbred in the U.S. visit After being diagnosed a couple of years ago, unsure of the im-


Thoroughbred Today


Thoroughbred Today

Profile for EverythingEq

Thoroughbred Today Summer 2019