Lexington, KY --- Champions of tomorrow are coming to the fore at the Red Mile Grand Circuit meet, which concludes this Sunday (Oct. 6). But just ten miles away from the track live some champions of yesterday who work full time to make friends for Standardbreds.
The Kentucky Horse Park (www.kyhorsepark.com) hosts nearly a million visitors a year and many of them come to see the horses who live and work in the Park’s Hall of Champions, greeting tourists and educating them about horse racing.
Wes Lanter, director of equine operations at the Horse Park, says the Standardbreds in residence (in order of seniority), Staying Together, Western Dreamer, Mr Muscleman and Won The West, have a life much more relaxed than when they were racing and winning.
“It’s pretty simple,” says Lanter. “They come in at night and in the mornings they go in their paddocks. Right now we have more horses than paddocks, so they have to share a little bit. Dreamer and Stanley (Staying Together’s nickname) are both very good sports. Dreamer shares a paddock with Da Hoss, a very talented Thoroughbred, and Stanley shares a paddock with Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide. When he comes in, Stanley goes out.
“Mr Muscleman and Be A Bono (a Quarter horse) are in the same paddock, they’ve become very attached. When one leaves, there’s usually a little nickering going on, like, ‘Hey, where are you going?’ Won The West has his own paddock. He shares a single fence line with Mr Muscleman and Be A Bono, so those three have buddied up. They meet and talk over the fence, they’re good neighbors.”
At least one Standardbred is included in every public show at the Hall of Champions (daily at 10:15 a.m., 1:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.). Only Staying Together, Horse of the Year in both the United States and Canada in 1993, is exempt from the show schedule, as he is now blind, but otherwise healthy, says Lanter.
“It’s been a seven year process, it (uveitis, an inflammatory condition that can lead to blindness) started showing itself when he was 17,” he said. “Up until last year, everything seemed manageable, but then the left eye started becoming painful. Dr. (Claire) Latimer (of Rood and Riddle Clinic) was treating him and it got to the point where the best thing we could do to make Stanley comfortable was to have that removed.
“He’s been more comfortable ever since. We are happy with how he is now.”
Lanter says “Stanley” functions well in his world with some adjustments.
“Going through a gate that is wide, like a paddock, you can walk him right through it,” he says. “Going into a stall where the opening is narrower, he appreciates it if you back him in; he seems to be a lot more comfortable with that. There are days when I’m daydreaming and start walking him in a stall. He’ll get halfway in and then he throws it in reverse, so I think he still sees some light or shadows or forms -- he can spook.
“I’m looking at him right now, out in his paddock, just grazing. When we turn him out, we take him to the middle of the paddock to give him room and he will, many days, jog off for three or four or five strides. He knows his limitations.
“We just moved him into this paddock. He was aware, because when he went to his old paddock he turned left out of the barn and now he turns the other way. In the new paddock, for the first couple days, he was taking stock of where he was.
“He walked in circles and we wondered what he was doing, but we figured out he was checking his boundaries. He’s aware of his limitations and lives within them and he’s very trusting of people he knows. He’s a real trooper; I have so much admiration for him and how he handles his situation.”
While “Stanley” no longer does shows, he is accepting visitors, Lanter says.
“We mention him during the shows because they are turned out while we’re doing the shows and they’re next to the pavilion. We mention that to your left is Western Dreamer, a Triple Crown winner and give a rundown on him. We tell them on the right is Staying Together and give a synopsis and mention his situation of being blind and we have signage that gives a rundown of their race record.”
Lanter says all four have adapted well to new careers as goodwill ambassadors.
“I think they like their jobs,” he says. “Mr Muscleman is a pleasure to be around; we call him the Gentle Giant. He’s about 17 hands tall and you couldn’t ask for a more pleasant horse to be around and certainly a great competitor and a great racehorse. It’s an honor to be around greatness.
“Won The West, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet the Koehlers and some of the other folks who owned him. I love that horse. When it became apparent he was going to come here to the Park, I did my research and learned about him. He was such a competitor, with his off-the-pace style and closing the way he was capable of.”
While Lanter has spent much of his career as stallion manager for such high profile Thoroughbreds as Seattle Slew, Storm Cat and Affirmed, he has now visited the Little Brown Jug twice as a representative of the Horse Park and become a fan.
“Whether I was bringing a horse there or not, I will always try to go to the Little Brown Jug,” said Lanter. “It’s just such a great experience and slice of America and the race is just amazing. It’s a great day and I would encourage everyone to take a trip to the Little Brown Jug. This year was different because I brought two horses up, Won The West and Western Dreamer.
“Mr. Koehler wanted to honor Won The West with a race and have him lead the post parade. It was Mr. Kohler’s idea to have Western Dreamer join us since he was a past winner of the Jug and went on to win the Triple Crown (in 1997). We agreed it would be nice for him to get some appreciation in Delaware.
“They had stalls beside each other and signs that showed their accomplishments and video of the boys that showed their careers. The fans appreciated it and loved seeing the stars. It was a pleasant experience to see how happy the fans were to see those past stars.”
Western Dreamer, accustomed to the placid environment at the Horse Park, did notice he was not in Kentucky anymore.
“It had been a while since he’d been off the park, so he was a bit apprehensive,” says Lanter. “But I stayed close by and took him out for walks, grazed him, anything I could do to make him happy. He was fine, but he didn’t want me to go far away.”
Lanter used a diversion of some tasty Ohio hay for Western Dreamer so he could sample the fair’s culinary delights.
“I was able to locate some beautiful hay and that allowed me to go get one of those great fish sandwiches and a soda,” he said.
Back at his regular job and ready for visitors, Lanter says the Triple Crown winner excels at his job.
“Western Dreamer really enjoys the up close adoration. He loves it when kids come up to him when we’re walking him back to the Big Barn. Kids stop and ask about him; he puts his head down so they can pat him on the head. He’s a real star.”