“I’ve waited my entire life for this,” said Amanda Cole-Fitzpatrick as we talked about her other half and her four-legged love Euclid Avenue.
Pulling out her phone she shows me some of the precious and funny moments she has captured with Euclid since the two joined forces a year and a half ago. Getting to know all his quirks she laughs at one of her videos showing the gelding eating some interesting treats. “He’s a champion freezie eater,” admitted Cole-Fitzpatrick in lieu of Euclid’s new penchant for freezies.
Beaming with pride at her boy, her digital memories are just a small part of their love story that began at one of the barns on Woodbine’s backstretch. A veterinary technician for Toronto Equine Hospital, Cole-Fitzpatrick has been working at the racetrack for the last thirteen years. Not surprisingly, she has seen her fair share of horses while working among the 38 barns for more than a decade. Although she has formed bonds with her equine patients, she didn’t fall head over heels for a racehorse until Euclid came along in 2010.
“I think it was when he was two, he showed up and he lived in a corner stall of the barn. So anytime I would walk into the barn he would just be there. I would bring him apples, carrots and peppermints and really enjoyed his quirky personality,” said Cole-Fitzpatrick. His cheeky personality stood out to her right away. “He loved the attention but then you try and walk away and he would try to bite at you.”
Euclid began his racing campaign on October 8 2010 at Woodbine racetrack. The Old Forester gelding broke his maiden and won first time out. He continued to race at Woodbine until late June 2012. He went onto run at Fort Erie racetrack a handful of times without success and returned to Woodbine in November 2012. From there, Euclid was shipped to Mountaineer where he raced three times between November 2012 and July 2013. In September 2013, he finished up his racing career at ThistleDown racetrack in Ohio.
Although his racing career started out in the winner’s circle at Woodbine where Cole-Fitzpatrick could keep tabs on him, the gelding did not maintain his stellar performance over the next couple seasons. “He didn’t really show anything as a three-year-old and… (ended up) going to Fort Erie and getting claimed so I lost touch with him from getting claimed in Fort Erie.”
Wanting to make sure Euclid would end up in a good home after his racing career ended Cole-Fitzpatrick contacted LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society in 2012 to help her track him down. “He disappeared off of Equibase for seven months or so and I thought they had given him away as a pleasure horse or something had happened to him.”
Despite the horse’s hiatus from racing between 2012 and 2013, Euclid finally made a re-appearance in Cole-Fitzpatrick’s life. “He showed up on my virtual stable one day and I was like ‘omg he’s alive.’” Feeling relieved that she had found him, the vet tech was also pleased to find that a change of ownership had taken place when he began racing at ThistleDown. “That change of ownership was probably the best thing that could have happened to me and to him because the trainer that had him was a good friend of an old co-worker.”
After a couple of non-competitive starts at ThistleDown, Cole-Fitzpatrick finally got the call she had been waiting for since meeting Euclid. “I was working here at Woodbine on a Saturday and my friend Les said ‘he’s yours Amanda come and get him’ and I was ecstatic.”
Cole-Fitzpatrick felt like a winner the day she brought home Euclid and she notes that the timing was somewhat uncanny. “It was four years to the day that he won his first race that I walked him off the trailer (as) mine.”
Bringing him back to Ontario and to his new home at Valkyrie stables in Alliston, Cole-Fitzpatrick admits to being overwhelmed at first because she hadn’t seen the horse in awhile. “I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Losing touch for three years I didn’t know if he had any injuries. They told me he had ankles and a bowed tendon.”
With that in mind her first step was to give the gelding six months off and work on his feet issues. “He had some serious foot corrections. He really had the typical thoroughbred syndrome, low heels, long toes - he was quite lame because of that.”
Once the corrective trimming was done and Euclid was sound to ride again it was time for Fitzpatrick to hop back in the saddle. Although the vet tech had ridden and been in a pony club when she was young girl, she had been out of the saddle since she went to vet school.
Luckily she didn’t have to search too far for help. The owner of Valkyrie stables breaks and trains horses and gave Cole-Fitzpatrick a helping hand when it came time to re-start Euclid. “It’s really great to have somebody to give you the guidance you need to retrain an off the track thoroughbred, because they are tough.”
Working with Euclid in the saddle and on the ground, their bond has undoubtedly become stronger over the last year. She also knows that Euclid is more than content in his new life. “He’s a spoiled rotten brat,” laughed Cole-Fitzpatrick who goes to see her boy nearly every day even if it’s just to give him treats or a kiss. Going into this, Cole-Fitzpatrick admits that she had no real intention of him becoming her riding horse. “My sole attention was just to rescue him, to be a pasture ornament for the rest of his life.”
However, both horse and rider have gotten a second chance and Cole-Fitzpatrick is happy that she never stopped keeping tabs on him. “Don’t give up because if it was meant to be it will happen.”
“I brought him a muffin every single day and I would set it up on his hay,” said Kaila Colavecchia as we chatted about her partnership with a particular racehorse named Pit Alley.
While most racehorses get spoiled with a regular dose of carrots, apples, and maybe mints, Colavecchia made sure her boy, Pit Alley (or simply Pit), would have his muffin waiting for him when he returned from training in the morning. “Blueberry was his favourite so I normally brought him blueberry, but sometimes I’d switch it up and give him carrot.”
Back in 2011, Colavecchia met Pit while working as a groom for trainer Lorna M. Perkins at Woodbine racetrack. “He was actually one of the first horses I ever groomed here,” said Colavecchia. Although she groomed other horses in the barn there was just something about the chestnut gelding that caught her eye. “Just from the first second I saw him - he was so gorgeous and he was just so kind. He really didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
Colavecchia bonded with Pit over the next three years before she made the move to Michael Paul De Paulo’s barn in 2014. Coincidently her chestnut gelding soon followed suit and finished out his racing career with Colavecchia by his side.
Intrigued by the strong bond formed between the two, I met with Colavecchia in the De Paulo barn on Woodbine’s backstretch to chat about Pit. Finding a quiet spot next to the stalls of Still Krz and Eighty Nine Red, (two current racehorses) she tells me why Pit became a veteran in the sport and some of the reasons he stole her heart while she worked at the barn.
“A lot of horses they get out there (to the track) and they think ‘okay I have to train, I have to train,’ and if he was uncomfortable in any way he would always protect himself and that’s how he’s stayed so sound through his entire racing career.” While she watched him train and race even going into his last season of racing at the age of eight-years-old, Colavecchia loved his confident attitude and work ethic that he maintained on the track. “He just knew his job. He would go out and train himself and then he would come back (to the barns) and he knew that he was top dog.”
The chestnut gelding is by far the most seasoned racehorse I’ve written about so far. Pit raced six years and ran in 70 races between 2008 and 2014. He began his racing career as a two-year-old at Delaware Park, then went on to race at Philadelphia park and Gulfstream park. In July 2009, Pit began racing north of the border at Woodbine. Aside from three starts at Fort Erie later in his racing career, Pit remained at Woodbine from 2009 until his last race in November 2014.
Pit’s racing campaign landed him in the winner’s circle six times. He also placed in the money close to two dozen times with 9 second place finishes and 14 third place finishes.
Even though he didn’t win back-to-back races or any major stakes races Pit continued to be Colavecchia’s number one horse in the barn. “He knew that he was my favourite and he always knew that no matter what he did he was always going to be extremely spoiled.” She also believes that her continued support for Pit (similar to my campaign for Eighty Nine Red) encouraged the horse to give it his all right up until his last nine starts in 2014. “I think that made him run a little bit harder because he knew he had a lot of support behind him,” said Colavecchia.
Knowing some of the kind souls that work in the De Paulo I’m not surprised to hear Pit had cheerleaders rooting for him. Watching from the rail, Colavecchia told me about some of the memorable moments of Pit’s racing career including his last race. “He was coming down the backstretch by the five eights pole (and) the line (reins) snapped and Justin (Stein) just kept riding him and pulled him up on his own and was like ‘oh yea he was fine’ and he finished third.”
After his last start in November Colavecchia took him to a farm in Caledonia to enjoy his first few months in retirement. Unfortunately, she knew that she wouldn’t be able to keep him long term. But luckily not long after Pit retired an equestrian and eventer by the name of Tori Myers had shown interest in the chestnut gelding and contacted Colavecchia to inquire about him. “I have a thing for chestnuts and was told he was very sweet to deal with, that pretty sealed the interest for me.” After chatting Colavecchia about Pit and his racing career, Myers had more than just the looks. “I heard many good things about (Pit) from Kaila. He also reminded me of my first event horse. Raced for seven years, and stayed sound. That is the sign of a very tough horse.”
The two horse ladies had crossed paths in 2012 when Colavecchia was looking to re-home another racehorse. The racehorse, Oil Be Clever was retired with a crack in his hoof which the farrier had told Colavecchia would never heal properly.
Myers saw Oil Be Clever and decided to take him home and work with him. “It was a chance encounter type of thing and we’ve always kept in touch because of him,” said Colavecchia. Keeping tabs on Oil be Clever (now known as Parker), Colavecchia is impressed with the work Myers has done with him. “I can’t even explain how good he looks. He looks like a million bucks. The foot is completely healed.”
Although Colavecchia would have loved to keep Pit she felt confident that Myers would give her boy the best chance possible. “It hurt a lot, but it gives me peace of mind that he has such a wonderful home.”
In March 2015, Myers took Pit home to her own stables (Catori Lane) in Napanee, Ontario. With a new home and a new mom, Pit now goes by the name Indy. After a few weeks on her farm, Myers turned him out with the rest of the herd and was pleasantly surprised to find that he fit right in. “He is the quietest and best mannered horse I have worked with so far. My others have been quite hot or tense but Indy is a very laid-back kind of guy.”
Indy is the sixth off the track thoroughbred (OTTB) Myers has worked with but she has also ridden many others for friends and as an employee working at various stables. Knowing the ins and outs of the breed, she is extremely happy to see Indy enjoying his new lease on life. “He enjoys coming in at night or hot days to his stall and being pampered. He is very easy to manage and a joy to have in the barn.”
Even though Myers’ own passion is eventing she isn’t dead set that Indy will become an eventer. “We will let Indy decide what he enjoys. Hopefully it is eventing, but if he doesn't enjoy jumping then he may have a career in dressage.”
In the meantime Myers has been getting to know the chestnut and learn all his little quirks. “He loves to rub his face on my back when I groom and tack up my other horses. His head can hang out his stall into the crossties. He rests his chin on my shoulder and scratches all over me. It is very very cute.”
The only challenge she has had with Indy so far is his feet. “He had a big abscess blow out the first week I got him and we are still fighting that. He also had some pretty bad thrush but now that that is gone, the rest of his feet are doing better.”
Once his feet are in better shape Myers plans to start basic dressage training with him. “I prefer to take things slow and ensure he is solid with his flat work before we begin jumping. If things go well I will aim for a low level event by the fall.”
While Myers continues to form her bond with Indy, both her and Colavecchia are happy the hardworking racehorse has got a second start in life. And they are also happy that the chestnut gelding finally gets to enjoy the summer vacation he’s been waiting to cash in on for the last six years.
This week’s spotlight goes to a goofy grey gelding by the name of Gamble on Love and his wonderful owner, Joan MacMillan.
Gamble on Love (or simply Mr.G) began his racing career in 2006 at Woodbine Racetrack. At the age of two, he ran four races between July and October, placing in the money three times. In 2007, again at Woodbine, he ran a handful of times without success, but was able to secure his first win later that year at Fort Erie Race Track. Although he raced the following season at Fort Erie, Mr.G was officially retired from racing in September 2008.
MacMillan didn’t meet Mr.G until 2010 when she found herself looking to get back into riding after a thirty year hiatus from the sport. A passion for horses from an early age, MacMillan began riding at the age of six at the Eglinton Equestrian centre in Toronto. Living every horsies girl dream, she got her own pony, a morgan thoroughbred mare when she turned twelve years old. Following her passion for eventing, she went on to study and learn from Dezso Hary, a legendary eventing coach.
She continued to ride until her early 20's and despite giving up her love for nearly three decades she never strayed too far away. “I would watch every horse race possible, go to every show I could when I knew they were in the area,” said MacMillan.
With her daughter heading off to university, MacMillan decided it was time to jump back into the saddle. She also decided it was time to find her own horse and began browsing online horse classifieds searching for the one. “I started seeing horses and he (Mr.G) started coming up and coming up, and I’ve always loved greys, so I finally decided I would go see him.”
MacMillan and Mr.G met at Heaven Can Wait (HCW), an equine rescue in Cameron, Ontario. Although he retired sound and healthy from racing, sometime in 2009 he sustained an injury while training to be a jumper. A bit of a grey area when it comes to life predating MacMillan (and predating his time at HCW), she did inquire to fill in a few blanks about his previous injury.
“I don’t know if that was a farm gate or a jumping gate but he was taken to Guelph (equine hospital) and stapled, never lame at any point but (they) were told six months field rest or three months stall rest. And wherever he was they didn’t want to do that evidently so that’s why they gave him to the rescue,” said MacMillan.
Although Mr.G had already been given a second start and come up short, MacMillan was still drawn to the horse. “By the second visit he came to the gate to me and he hung around, he wanted to spend time with me, and I just loved his personality, he was like a little goof.” She visited him several times a week for over two months before she decided he was the one.
In June 2011, Mr.G became a MacMillan.
While her daughter was studying at university, MacMillan’s other kid, Mr.G began studying the basics and learning how to re-train his brain to be a riding horse. MacMillan knew she had her work cut out for her, given that Mr.G had been on vacation at HCW, and she herself had been out of the riding game for awhile. “He was going to have to start from scratch again because he’d been off for so long and I was starting over after 30 plus years of not really riding.”
Although the two began to bond over the next year, MacMillan soon realized she needed a coach to help her connect with her four-legged fur baby. “When I realized he and I didn’t know the same things, plus the rearing, I was getting very frustrated because I just didn’t know what to do anymore, and that’s when I decided it was definitely time to find somebody,” admitted MacMillan.
In 2012, MacMillan crossed paths with riding coach and horse trainer, Paisley Statten. She had seen Statten at the barn and liked the way she went about training horses. “She is the type that will start from scratch, make sure they have all their basics, their balance, the proper muscles, etc and it’s a long process. And that appealed to me, because it was going to be a long process for me too, because being older those muscles don’t function the same way anymore, some of them don’t even exist anymore,” laughed MacMillan.
For the last three years MacMillan and Statten have been working together to get Mr.G back in shape, more round and more confident in himself. Statten has noticed a huge change since she first met him. “He’s come along way. He was very rigid and and very un-relaxed and now he’s working through his hind end and he’s a lot stronger and more consistent in his work,” said Statten.
Not too long ago I watched from a distance as the three worked together. Quiet and calm in the saddle, Macmillan guided Mr.G into a trot and circled around Statten at one end of the arena. With his ears pricked forward and working in frame (engaging his hind end and relaxing his head down towards the ground) Statten coached from the centre helping the two work on and maintain that connection.
When I eventually met and chatted with Statten she pointed out the neat bond she has seen form between Mr.G and MacMilllan. “He loves Joan, he loves working and he’s very clear when he likes his job and when he is finding something that’s difficult - he’s clear about telling us.”
Always watching out for her boy, MacMillan knows that the transition from track life to his life now has been difficult. At the low end of the totem pole, Mr.G was bitten and picked on when he was first introduced to his paddock mates, who were also former racehorses. “Him being grey, socially in the horse world isn’t necessarily a great thing because he spent a lot of his first few years getting beat up a lot and that threw him out of commission because he got kicked in the gaskin one time. So he could barely walk for almost a month.”
After a winter of being turned out on his own, Mr.G gained more confidence and finally stood up for himself when he was reintroduced to his paddock mates the following spring. “I swear he watched and learned and he was a different horse the next time he was put back in a group. Because, he basically told them the second he was in there –NO,” said MacMillan.
Now, eleven years young the flea-bitten grey stands quietly as MacMillan brushes him down in the barn. I’ve seen the two interact on several occasions and it’s always the same. MacMillan walks around either side of him, brushing off dirt, picking his hooves clean before a ride or lesson while Mr.G takes it all in stride.
Although he exercises impeccable ground manners for his horse mom, the kind-eyed grey still turns his head to greet a friendly face or softly nudge his nose toward you looking for some treats. “He’d rather socialize and just stand around in a crowd with people, and just listen and chat and play with your zippers. He’s just a really sociable guy, that’s what he loves to do,” laughed MacMillan.
She has been working hard to get him back into shape for this summer -- lunging him, having weekly lessons with Statten, and even buying a custom saddle to fit his thoroughbred frame (to ensure he is comfortable when she rides him). MacMillan would like to do a few schooling shows with him but is not sure when or where yet.
A gamble worth taking, MacMillan is happy Mr.G is part of her life and only hopes there are many great years ahead of them. “Our goal was just to age and mature together. My goal is for when in ten years from now when he’s older and calmer and he is used to things and I’m older, that will just have a really nice quiet relationship, where we can just to do whatever we want to do and ride off into the sunset.”