THURMOND — Whoop Whoop De Do, a retired racehorse residing here, could conceivably surpass his entire career winnings many times over in one weekend.
His trainer and co-owner, Jessica Bortner-Harris, is taking him to the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover 2017 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
Whoop Whoop De Do, or Dominic as he is called, (Dom for short), in honor of the character Dominic Toretto from “The Fast and The Furious” movies, is a four-year-old, 17.0 hand chestnut gelding who ran his last race on March 25, 2016, ending a less-than-stellar career with only five starts and $572 in winnings.
Today he gains a second chance at glory by competing in the $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover 2017 for, among other things, the title of “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred.”
The competition extends across 10 equestrian disciplines from barrel racing to polo with Bortner-Harris and Dom competing in eventing today and show jumping on Friday. The top five horses in each discipline will compete in a finale on Saturday. The finale audience (both live and livestream) will then vote via text for the horse that most inspires them. The winner will be named “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred.”
Though Dom’s racing career was not one for the record books, shortly after retiring he showed potential in another area.
When discussing Dom with Jessica Redman, who had acquired him when his racing career ended, Bortner-Harris said that Redman told her that Dom had jumped over a four-foot gate in order to join some of his horse buddies.
“Jessica told me, ‘so we know he can jump,’” said Bortner-Harris. That was all Bortner-Harris needed to hear. She bought Dom sight unseen despite his having a hoof abscess. “Her eye is so good,” Bortner-Harris said of Redman’s ability to spot quality horses.
Bortner-Harris said that Redman’s horses usually sell as quickly as she posts them but Dom’s abscess bought her enough time to consult Susan Massaro about buying Dom. The two women now co-own Dom with Bortner-Harris serving as his trainer.
“He’s the real deal,” Bortner-Harris says of Dom. “When I got him last summer, he looked like a giraffe, with that long neck. He looked like a giant baby.”But she says she knew he had something. “God blessed me with a gut feeling. I just know. And he reminds me of Bug.”
Bug, aka, Win the War, is the horse that took Bortner-Harris from the Novice level all the way to the Advanced and Three Star levels of eventing. They qualified for Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event — known to equestrians simply as Rolex — which is the only Four Star eventing competition in the United States. Four Star is the level of competition at the Olympics and World Equestrian Games.
But Bortner-Harris injured herself before the competition and she and Bug were forced to drop out. She then made the difficult decision to retire Bug. “He’s 16 and he’s my baby,” she said. He had some body issues and the high-level competition was taking its toll on him. “If he broke his leg, he would just keep going.” So she leased him to a student who is competing him at lower levels. “He can do that in his sleep,” she said. “He’s bored, but he’s safe. And I don’t have to worry about him having to spend the rest of his life in a pasture.”
She added, “It’s more about the horse. You have to put the horse before the dream.”
In January of this year when Bortner-Harris retired Bug, Dom had just been hanging out on her farm since last spring, letting down from the track and gaining some weight. She mentioned to Massaro that Dom qualified for the Thoroughbred Makeover. To qualify, a horse must have raced after July 1, 2015, and must not have started significant training before Dec. 1, 2016, and Dom met those requirements. So they entered him.
Bortner-Harris says her competitive nature makes her want to win this weekend but that’s not the point of the Retired Racehorse Project. It’s about showing the world what Thoroughbreds can do. She says when she started eventing, everybody rode Thoroughbreds. Then the trend was to switch to warmbloods and the Irish horses.
“The RRP shows that Thoroughbreds are just as good as the gazillion dollar imports. I owe it to the breed to show the world what they can do.
“Thoroughbred’s hearts are so big. Dom is four but he does it like a big boy. In a few years, I can’t wait to see what he will be able to do. He’s a very good mover and is relaxing under tack. He’s very trainable. He has never refused to do anything I’ve asked him to do.
“Retiring Bug was a real eye-opener. I realized I have to start all over again. He took me further than I ever thought I’d go. All the rest will be icing on the cake.”
This weekend, she and Dom will begin to put some icing on that cake. And they will do it at the Kentucky Horse Park, the same facility that hosts Rolex, where her injury prevented her from taking Bug all the way to the top.
Reach Jessica Bortner-Harris at JBHeventing@gmail.com or RockyStartStables.com