When Suffolk Downs trainer John Botty found out that Our Revival could wind up as dinner on somebody’s plate, he felt as if he had been punched in the stomach.
“Oh my God,” he says of the possibility of his former racehorse being sent to a Mexican slaughterhouse. “It would be like losing a family member.”
Although Americans never would consider horse meat as a delicacy, it is widely consumed in some European nations and parts of Asia. Since US domestic horse slaughter ceased in 2007, US exports for slaughter in Mexico have skyrocketed, increasing 660 percent, according to a June 2011 Government Accountability Office report. In 2010, 138,000 horses were transported to either Canada or Mexico for domestic and international consumption.
Botty’s memory of the 12-year-old chestnut mare is sweet. Standing inside Barn 15 at Suffolk Downs he smiles as he reminisces.
She loved peppermint candy, coming from behind in a race, and even kicking off her shoes to win, says Botty.
“She was like a street fighter. She mostly won off the pace. She didn’t mind dirt in her face, she relished it,” says Botty, who claimed her as a 3-year-old in 2003. “She was like Dustin Pedroia, never afraid to get dirty. Like Milan Lucic, not afraid to dig in the corners.”
But last month, Our Revival was one of 10 broodmares sold at an auction frequented by “killer buyers’’ — the industry term for meat buyers — in Round Mountain, Texas. She was rescued, along with an offspring of former Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, at the last minute, thanks to a tip from a spotter and quick action by a network of horse lovers over a thousand miles apart.
But she needed a home.
Botty immediately called an old friend, Michael Blowen, founder of Old Friends, a retirement home for thoroughbred horses in Kentucky.
“I said if you got a place for her I’ll get her out of there, whatever it takes to save her because she’s a beautiful animal. She shouldn’t end up like that,” says Botty.
Blowen, who knew the trainer from his days at Suffolk Downs before founding Old Friends in 2002, also knew the horse.
“In 2005 John Botty shipped the horse down here to Keeneland, Ky. He gave me a $50 win ticket and said if it wins, cash it and give the money to Old Friends,” says Blowen.
Our Revival won and paid handsomely. Blowen and Botty got their picture taken with her in the winner’s circle.
“That’s the same horse,” says Blowen. “What are the odds on that?”
Our Revival had a modest racing career. Out of 34 starts she finished first 11 times and won $150,000 in purses. She won four in a row at Suffolk in 2004.
She retired in February 2007 and was sold at the Keeneland Thoroughbred Racing and Sales for $20,000 to Keith Asmussen, of the famous horse-racing family. She most recently had a foal in 2012.
An Asmussen Horse Center trailer brought the 10 mares to Round Mountain Auction on July 7.
“Whoever spotted them was the real hero,” says Botty.
A horse owner, whose anonymity is fiercely protected, saw the Asmussen trailer unloading the 10 broodmares at the auction, including Our Revival. The oldest mare was 20 years old. Also present was Luxury of Time, the 17-year-old daughter of Seattle Slew.
With the auction about to start, time was of the essence. The spotter immediately called Deborah Jones in Huntington Beach, Calif. Jones has dedicated the last five years to identifying and saving thoroughbreds across the United States.
When the phone rang at 9:30 in the morning Jones was walking out the door to buy some paint.
Had she left for Home Depot five minutes earlier, Our Revival and friends possibly could have been horse tartare on the menu in Belgium.
Jones knew she had to act fast.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my God, there isn’t going to be much time.’ They were going to be run through loose at the end of the sale, very fast, without riders,” says Jones.
Riderless horses usually are destined for slaughter, not to become riding horses.
Jones quickly called Texas businessman John R. Murrell, a former board member of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and a man with a Texas-sized heart.
“I need your help,” she said. He said, “Well, I’ll give you my credit card.”
Armed with Murrell’s MasterCard, she called the auction as his bidding agent.
“It was pretty horrendous doing that because I couldn’t see the horses,” says Jones. “I didn’t know who I was bidding against.”
She was surprised how helpful the auctioneer was.
“I said, ‘Do the kill buyers attend the auction?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘I’m only interested in bidding against kill buyers.’ I had to rely on the auctioneer to tell me, ‘This is a kill buyer.’ Continued...