Mr. Tease may be a mint man, but Alison Hay’s quarter horse Smoke Their Cash is all about the bananas, specifically ones that are nice and soft. “He likes bruised bananas,” laughed Hay as we chatted about her four-legged chestnut man.
I met Hay at a local tack shop and a usual hangout spot for horse lovers in the Stouffville area. She mentioned to me that her thirteen-year-old daughter Olivia was riding Cash, who also happened to be a former racehorse. Naturally, I was intrigued.
While I know many thoroughbred owners, and continue to meet more people in the Standardbred industry, quarter horses hadn’t been on my second chance radar until recently. Given that I’m stuck in the thoroughbred bubble so to speak, I don’t venture to racetracks that are quarter horse centered.
But, giving readers and horse lovers insight into the racing industry is what I’m all about, and Cash’s happily-ever-after story involves three lovely ladies that crossed paths with him, both during his racing career and then once he retired.
Smoke Their Cash, or “Cash” as he is commonly known, began his racing career in 2010. He raced at several different racetracks in Ontario, including Fort Erie and Ajax Downs, and also ventured south of the border to race at Will Rogers Downs and Remington Park in Oklahoma. Cash ran his last race at Fort Erie in October 2012.
Cash was lightly raced with only nineteen career starts over those two years. Despite his short lived racing career he still brought home four wins, four second starts and a third place finish. At the track he caught the attention of female jockey Erika Smilovsky, who rode him to victory twice in 2011.
“I fell in love with Cash the first time I rode him,” said Smilovsky. Although she’s not usually a chestnut fan, Smilovsky soon came to adore this particular chestnut quarter horse among her other mounts at the track.
“He was just so full of class, a complete professional. And he gave his heart when he ran. He would cuddle with you in the paddock while waiting to hear the 'riders up' call,” recalled Smilovsky.
On several occasions, she expressed her adoration for Cash to his owner, Roger Girard. After Cash’s last race in 2011, Girard approached Smilovsky about selling him to Quat R Mile Farms, a facility owned by Smilovsky’s parents. Their farm is located in Port Perry, Ontario.
“Roger said that he would give Cash to us for nothing as long as we had the small chip in his knee removed before we raced him again. I agreed to Roger's terms immediately,” said Smilovsky, who put Cash on a trailer later that day to Quat R Mile farms.
Cash underwent the surgery and was put on stall rest for a few weeks to recover before training back up for the following racing reason. After seven starts in 2012, the Smilovsky family decided it would be in their best interest to retire him at the end of the season.
“We decided to retire Cash after his 2012 season when the purse structure at Ajax Downs dropped so drastically after the casino money was pulled from the horsemen by the government. Cash being an Oklahoma bred would mean he would be running for very little,” said Smilovsky.
Given the funding turmoil brewing across the racing industry Cash would have to remain super competitive or risk literally smoking through his owner’s cash just to stay in the game.
“Looking at what the 2013 season purse structure, Cash would have to win at least 2 races a month to cover the costs to get him there. My parents were not interested in running him so often. And we wanted to make sure that Cash would be 'sound' for a career after racing. He deserved to have a bright future after putting his heart into racing for us,” said Smilovsky.
That’s when a second lovely lady entered his life. Alison Hay, who is also good friends with Smilovsky went to see Cash in the spring of 2013. Right off the bat, Hay noted the horse’s unique personality.
“He was out with a fairly big herd of horses in one paddock. But he was off on his own, he’d look over and was paying attention, but he was more kind of on his own and not running like the other ones. So I really liked that about him, that he was a loner in a way but loved the attention. As soon as you went up to him he was like a big puppy dog,” said Hay.
Wasting very little time in debating over buying him, Hay brought Cash home several weeks later. “I saw him the one time and pretty much contacted Erika to say ‘okay I’m taking him’ and Erika dropped him off,” recalled Hay.
Hooked on horses from an early age, Hay has many years of experience working with them and understands the ins and outs of the horse world and the racing industry. Not surprisingly, Hay tells me stories about horses: both a six-month-old Percheron and a thoroughbred that have been in her life and have a piece of her heart. Speaking from experience, when your life revolves around horses you tend to come across certain horses that you just can’t say no to.
Cash was one of those horses. And although bringing home another horse wasn’t a new thing for Hay it was the first time she was taking on a quarter horse/racehorse. With Cash fresh out of the racing game, Hay didn’t know what to expect when she took him out for a trail ride the first time.
“There was coyotes the first time we went for a walk…the first thing I thought of is ‘Oh my god, here we go, he’s going to freak’ but he kind of just looked over and just kept going. So right then I was like ‘this is a good horse’,” said Hay.
Hay says it didn’t take long for Cash to get out of the race mode. “I would say six months to get out of that mind frame.” Smilovsky had trained Cash on the basics, but Hay made sure to take her time with Cash as he learnt the ropes of being a riding horse. “Literally we would go for walks and that was it. There was no trotting or cantering because usually when you went to trot or canter you could feel him build up like ‘okay I’m ready to go.”
In the meantime, Hay’s daughter Olivia was also forming her own bond with Cash. When the two ran around together in the arena, being silly and goofing around, Olivia would get Cash to learn little tricks such as climbing onto boxes. But it wasn’t long before she was also itching to get on Cash. “One day she just looked at me and said ‘Can I get on him?’ and he was kind of nudging her. So I stuck the lead rope on, put her helmet on and just threw her up bareback and led her around - and he was fine,” said Hay.
And soon enough a partnership evolved between the two. Curious and wanting to meet both in person, I drove out to a farm in Port Perry where Hay boards Cash.
A solid and fuzzy chestnut face met my gaze as I walked in the barn. Stepping closer to his stall I noticed Olivia standing by his side, brushing out his winter coat, and looking at home with her fur baby.
Hay admits she was super worried at first about letting Olivia ride an ex-racehorse because both were fairly green or somewhat inexperienced when they started working together. But once Hay had given Cash close to a year of training her reservations about the two riding together soon evaporated.
“I’ve seen when (Olivia) rides him now, if they are cantering and she’ll maybe get a little off balanced, he’ll stop. So he really watches for her. You can see him, his ears shifting when she does certain things and he will correct her. So that’s what’s amazing about it -- the work between the two of them,” said Hay.
Bartley brings Cash out of his stall and places him in the crossties. The horse prances around, paws the ground while she continues to groom him. She is shy but her quirky quarter horse speaks for her with his kind eyes and happy go lucky personality.
“He’s really lovable with you, he likes to cuddle with you, he listens to you really well, and he tries his best when you do things with him,” gushed Olivia as she fetched Cash some of his favourite banana treats.
The friendly chestnut is content but still eager to get outside of the barn and into the sunshine. (Side Note: I wish my horse looked that eager to get moving! And readers don’t you dare tell Mr. Tease). With her helmet on, Hay gives Olivia a leg up onto Cash’s back. Walking around at an easy pace, I’m amazed at how gentle and quiet he is with her.
“My main thing; when I really fell in love with him is the way he is with my daughter. Because she can do anything and he protects her,” said Hay as we watched the two stroll around in the snow.
This coming spring Hay is hoping Olivia will do some local hunter shows with Cash.
“I want to take my time with him and see if he enjoys it. If he doesn’t enjoy the shows I don’t want to put him into anything either. We can always find another horse for her and I’ll keep him. He’s not going anywhere, he’s a family horse.”