“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.