Quick Tune has been wearing some very lucky horseshoes even before his racing career got underway.
When he started training as two-year-old, his owner at the time, Debra Rombis, was quick to note that Quick Tune had trouble switching leads (switching which front foot to lead with) when he was on the track.
He was taken to the University of Guelph where Rombis was told that the horse had severe arthritis in his neck and would have to be euthanized. “She didn’t accept that,” says Jennifer Kohlsmith, Quick Tune’s present owner. According to Kohlsmith Rombis decided to take him to specialists at the University of Florida where he was evaluated a second time. “They said just leave him… he will grow out of it.”
And he did. Quick Tune began his racing campaign at Woodbine in July 2001, made a couple of starts at Thistledown in Ohio before finishing his career at Fort Erie Race Track in 2005. All in all, he had 45 starts. “When I bought him as a six-year-old he made $90,000 and had won seven races,” says Kohlsmith, who works at Fort Erie as a registered veterinary technician.
Kohlsmith crossed paths with Quick Tune, who she nows calls Tucker because of her work treating horses on the track. “I met him when I worked for the trainer and fell in love with him,” admits Kohlsmith. “You get to know a lot of horses there and they get to know you. Some see you coming or hear your voice and know that you are there to give them shots and can be difficult to catch or tough to work with. But others are the total opposite…like Tucker was.”
Kohlsmith was quick to note his kind personality when she came to the stalls to treat him. “He knew why I would be coming to his stall yet he was always still snuggly and kind. I never needed anyone to hold him while I gave him shots because he just stood and let me do whatever I was there to do.”
Rombis told Kohlsmith she would never sell him and planned to keep him forever.
“I was told I could never have him, so I kind of fell in love with another horse. And the other horse came for sale and they wanted a lot of money for him so I said no.”
But in 2005, Kohlsmith got a second chance when her phone rang with Rombis on the other line. “I was at home visiting my parents one day and I got a phone call saying that if I wanted Tucker to come pick him up otherwise he was on a one-way trip to the states to run …so he probably wouldn’t come back.”
Knowing that Tucker was hers to take, Kohlsmith picked him up three days after his last race in June 2005. Since she was pretty new to riding Kohlsmith decided to let her coach Leslie McCormick test him out before she hopped on. “Leslie rode him first because I wanted to see what I had…I didn’t want to die,” she bluntly admits.
Kohlsmith says she did get on Tucker not too long after that but found he was pretty wild. So she decided to give him six months off. “He just needed a little downtime.” Despite being out of the saddle, Kohlsmith spent time bonding with Tucker and would take him to the side of the riding arena where they would watch the other horses working.
In January 2006, she got back on him and the two have been in tune ever since. She has competed with Tucker in local schooling shows. Moving into his second career as a jumping horse, Tucker jumps under his show name Chasing Cars. “He can do basically anything,” says Kohlsmith who has been jumping 2’6” Tucker in the hunter division along with the help of Leslie McCormick. Tucker has also competed with McCormick in some trillium shows at the 2’6” level. “He’s good, he’s got a spaceship as Leslie calls him…he’s got more buttons than he knows what to do with.” Because of back surgery Kohlsmith had a couple of years ago she can only jump Tucker at the 2’6” level.
Listening to her gush about her “big teddy bear,” I can tell Kohlsmith has no regrets about investing in Tucker. “He is the best, he is the ultimate amateur horse…always leaves the ground, makes it work, he auto changes, he can counter canter, he can do anything I need him to.”
Owning Tucker for eight years now and working at the track for several of those years, Kohlsmith knows racehorses are worth a second chance. “They are fantastic animals.”
As we wrap up the interview, Kohlsmith’s parents are in the background giving Tucker some attention. They made a special trip not only to see their daughter but their “grandson” Tucker, as Kohlsmith jokes. We walk over and he gentle nuzzles my camera and my jacket hoping to find some treats. “He’s more like owning an oversized dog than a horse,” says Kohlsmith as I give him a mint and he then proceeds to lick my hand for more.
Despite my sticky hands and camera, I left the stables with a warm heart that morning knowing that Kohlsmith has wholeheartedly given Tucker a second chance in life and most importantly, a chance to be part of her family.
Born into a harness racing family Elissa Blowe has spent all of her life surrounded by horses. “My dad drove Standardbreds and my mom trained them at home,” says Blowe who knows both the standarbred and thoroughbred horse racing industry from front to back.
Growing up with Standardbred (harness racing horses) Blowe helped with chores such as mucking stalls, cleaning horses and going to the track when her parents had horses racing. She even learned to drive the sulky (the buggy attached the horse in harness racing) when her legs were long enough to reach the stirrups.
At age 10 she began cleaning and bathing other people’s horses to make enough money to buy her own riding horse. Raising for $400 towards her goal caught the attention of the Brethours, another family involved in the Standardbred industry. Not long after Lorne Brethour delivered a horse to her doorstep.
“It was just like a tv show…I was at home and there was a present coming for me and I didn’t know what it was and the trailered pulled in and I got the cutest little quarter horse,” recalls Blowe.
Unfortunately, the horse was only two and not broke (i.e. trained to ride) and given Blowe’s limited riding experience it was decided that the horse be given to another home.
Her first real riding horse was Robert, a quarter horse from Fort Erie Race Track. Robert had been the lead pony (the horse that leads the winner of the race) at both Woodbine and Fort Erie for 15 years. When Robert turned 18 his owners decided it was time to find him a forever home. Blowe’s family learning the horse needed a home made the long drive from Port Perry to Fort Erie and picked up Robert. He became the family horse and lived out the rest of the life with Blowe until 2004 when he passed away at the old age of 36.
Although her parents got out of the Standardbred racing scene in 1989 she found herself working various jobs at several tracks in Ontario including Woodbine, Mohawk and Fort Erie. Blowe also started Phase 2 Thoroughbreds; a business in which she took horses from the track at Fort Erie and sold them to homes where they would have a chance at show careers. According to Blowe she helped sell 450 racehorses into show careers. “That’s what I’m most proud of today,” says Blowe.
--Fast forward to today --
Blowe is presently the media and communications manager at Fort Erie Race Track.
I asked Blowe how she and Golani crossed paths. She admits that she heard about him before she actually met him. “I just knew him as a frustrating racehorse…that was totally sound and just didn’t bother trying.”
Golani began his racing career at Woodbine racetrack in Toronto in 2006. He would spend the next year running at that track before being shipped in 2008 to the Assiniboia Race Track in Winnipeg. In the fall of 2008 Golanie returned to Woodbine and raced there until May 2009. In the summer of the same year he finished out his racing career at Fort Erie.
Blowe recalls Golani finishing third on his first time out at Erie. This was around the same time the industry was coming out with new whips. "The new long popper whips were coming out. They were something that people were trying. They tried the new whip on him and put Melanie Pinto on him.” According to Blowe the whip did the trick. "I gave her (Pinto) the long popper and he won by 10 (lengths)."
In September 2009, Golani qualified and ran in the Puss n Boots stakes. Despite having some grass pedigree he couldn’t get the job done. "He made a little move and they were just too tough for him,” says Blowe.
In October 2009 at the end of the Fort Erie racing season there was talk of shipping Golani to another racetrack. “He was scheduled to go to Mountaineer, he wasn’t a horse that the owner was interested in keeping. But Maree Richards who was a jockey and she was the assistant trainer at the time used to get on this horse everyday…he was her pet. And even though he was a bit of a dufus like he wasn’t exactly the world's friendliest…he liked Marie. And so Maree said you can't send this horse to Mountaineer,” recalls Blowe.
With her experience selling racehorses over the years Blowe made it her mission to find him a home.
"I bought him and I first offered him to Maree as a gift but they couldn’t have him ...they already had a pony for their kid."
Blowe decided to send Golani to a lady in Kitchener who operated a hunter facility. While there Golani started training over jumps. After some basic training under the saddle she put him up for sale again. She had tons of people look at him but he was either to small to be a hunter or not bold enough to be an event horse.
She then got a call that Golani was acting up and decided to give the horse to Cory Clark and former jockey Chad Beckon. Blowe asked asked Clark to break him in Western riding so he could be a stable pony at Fort Erie Race Track. Golani was a quick learner. "Neck reining… he picked up in a day,” says Blowe proudly.
In spring 2010 Golani returned to Fort Erie not to race but as a stable pony. "The entire time I was fighting with idea of having a stable pony because they are a luxury item. They cost money, they take up a stall that could have a paying horse in it." Yet Blowe hired a girl to teach him how to be a pony around the track horses and could see the value in the retired racehorse. "He was coming in handy,” according to Blowe who still remained somewhat detached from the thoroughbred gelding.
"I didn’t know the horse, I just knew the horse as a racehorse. When you grow up in horse racing you don't get attached,” points out Blowe.
But that all started to change when the season ended and she spent the winter riding him alongside her friend Beckon. "Just walking around…nothing exciting." Although they were just walking around and not doing much there seemed to be a hint of excitement in her voice from getting a chance to be back in the saddle.
In the spring of 2011 Blowe admits that she was still on the fence about Golani. “We weren't really friends... he bit me and tried to kick me all the time. And some days I was like what did I do? Like why did I do this?"
And just when you thought horses couldn’t converse Golani gave Blowe a sign, a small gesture that made her jump to one permanent side of the fence. “He started to recognize me more when I came to the barn...he was talking to me all the time."
So at the end of the 2011 racing season she started working with him and taking lessons to improve her own riding skills. Her friend Clark also encouraged her to ride him more and take him to a show barn. “I really started to want to learn more,” says Blowe who soon invested in a saddle and a few other things for her sidekick.
In 2012 Golani returned to his job as stable pony at Fort Erie and Blowe felt differently going into this season with him. “When he came back to the racetrack that spring it was a little harder to give him up,” says Blowe. She also admits that she became more concerned about him than the actual racehorses at the track. After work she would make special trips to his stall. “I’m hanging out with him, I’m bringing a magazine and sitting in front of his stall for awhile…I was kinda starting to love him.”
After that racing season ended Blowe spent more time in the saddle and they began jumping together. She and Clark took him to his first show which he won and she knew from there on she wouldn’t be sending him back to the track just to pony the racehorses.
Working closely together for the last couple of years Blowe is happy to have him by her side. “At first I found it very therapeutic for me. I have a very high stressed job at the time because we were fighting to save the racetrack …always fighting for survival down here.”
Anxiety riddled and having panic attacks over the uncertainty of the racetrack staying open at that time she found that having Golani took her mind off things. “The horse was keeping me sane,” says Blowe.
Given the ups and downs of the industry in 2012 and 2013 Blowe sold her house and bought a smaller house so she could afford Golani if she lost her job at the track. “The only thing that I was concerned about in the whole world was him and the dog.”
Not surprisingly their bond has grown stronger and Blowe works with him as much as she can in her downtime. Not only is she hooked on jumping but she can see that Golani is gung-ho about his new career. So much so that Blowe moved Golani to a show barn Niagara-on-the-Lake in September 2014.
Most recently they competed at the Thoroughly Thoroughbred Show on October 26th, 2014 in Milton, Ontario. Golani won champion reserve.