From Millionaire Racehorse to Aspiring Sport Horse: Mister Marti Gras

A few weeks ago I received a text message from the owner of Chesapeake Farm, Drew Nardiello. Those of you who have followed my stories have heard this name quite a few times as he has been a pivotal person in my life and involvement in this industry.

Drew gave me my first job in the thoroughbred industry. When so many other farms turned me away due to my lack of experience, connections and small stature, Drew gave me a chance. I don’t know what he saw in me that others did not, but I know what I saw in myself. I was passionate, driven, obsessed, depressed, and slightly scared. I had faced so much hardship in the previous year of my life, and felt so much rejection as I tried to scramble myself back onto my own two feet.

I showed up at Chesapeake dejected and angry. I didn’t understand why I hadn’t been welcomed into this industry with open arms, and why people weren’t begging me to work with their horses. I couldn’t tell a shifney from a lip chain, a Storm Cat from an A.P. Indy, or what dictated being by or out of, but I loved horses and was a hard worker. And somehow, some way, Drew saw that and gave me a chance.

Drew gave me a chance probably because we baked him cakes…

For years now, even after leaving my position at his farm, we have stayed connected. First it was through my relationship with Frank the Tank, and then through the fight we aligned on in retrieving Marilyn’s Guy. Most recently, he supported my efforts in the rescue of Z Camelot from the hellhole of the Borell Farm. I have learned in the past eight years that nothing is more paramount to Drew than the wellbeing of the horses he is involved with.

So when I received a text and saw it was from him, I immediately knew something was up. He briefly asked how Kennedy (Marilyn’s Guy) was doing, and raved about the pictures posted on Facebook, and then asked me if I was looking for another war horse similar to Kennedy. His largest client, Robert Lothenbach, was retiring one of his most successful runners, Mister Marti Gras.

A son of Belong to Me, Mister Marti Gras was quite famous around the track. He ran 58 times, won almost $1.2 million dollars, most notably the winner of races like the Grade III Ack Ack Handicap and the Grade III Washington Park Handicap. But perhaps more notable than his wins are his 15 graded stakes placings, including the Grade II Hawthorne Cup Handicap (twice), and Grade II American Derby, amongst others.

Mister Marti Gras (blue shadowroll) winning the 2011 Ack Ack at Churchill Downs. ©flickr/shazstock

Mister Marti Gras ran well, he ran long, and he ran with heart. At the age of 8, he was still placing at the graded stakes level. At the age of 9, he was still winning allowance races. But in his last few starts the amazingly sound and sturdy horse told his trainer Chris Block that his heart was no longer in it.

So Chris did what any good trainer would and listened to his horse. He put his emotional and financial attachment aside and kept his ears open. He called Drew, the racing manager for Lothenbach Stables, and said it was time.

And that’s where I got involved. After Drew messaged me I began to pound the pavement. I knew nothing about this horse besides the fact that he was sound, he was big, and he was older. And I knew he was an athlete.

Ready for his new job.
Ready for his new job.

After owning a pair of graded stakes winners myself, both Marilyn’s Guy and Called to Serve, I knew this could translate one of two ways: Graded stakes winners were either powerful and opinionated enough that that could dominate the field, or they were sound of both body and mind enough to be exceptionally trainable, allowing their grooms, jockeys and trainers to guide them towards the win. But I didn’t know which category Mister Marti Gras fell into, so my field of options for a potential owner were limited to those I knew could handle either.

We needed a soft but strong rider. A skilled trainer, and someone we knew would transition a horse with both patience and knowledge.

Sure enough, I found one.

I ran into Mandy Alexander at our Area 8 Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park. We were both volunteering and struck up a conversation. She asked after my three OTTBs and told me of her current lack of a horse. She had retired one upper level horse and recently sold her other upper level mare, and was, for the first time in her life, without a horse. She thought she was ready for a break, as the sport of eventing had changed so drastically from the sport that she loved, but deep down I heard in her voice that she wasn’t really ready for that break.

She explained how the retiree was coming home and needed a babysitter. And maybe, just maybe, if she found the perfect one, she could be persuaded to ride and compete again. I laughed at her, because all of her friends knew her horselessness would never stick. So I told her about Mister Marti Gras. I showed her his race photos and record. I sent her Drew’s number, explaining the situation.

Two weeks later, Mister Marti Gras was hers.

Mandy went out to Chesapeake to assess the situation, praying and hoping she wouldn’t fall in love with this creature, only to be dismayed at how quickly she fell. At almost 17hh, the rich chestnut gelding stood before her with clean legs, a kind eye, and a strong topline. And that was that. The horse had a new home.

Mandy meets Mister.
Mandy meets Mister.

I can’t wait to watch this journey unfold. I know he is in capable hands and with the best person for him. Mister Marti Gras, or “Krewe” as he is now known, will be let down for a few months and then begin his transition from millionaire racehorse to aspiring sport horse. Raised by the best, trained by the best, transitioned by the best, he may be just starting fresh at the age of 9, but in the most capable of hands, the sky is truly the limit.


About the Author

Carleigh Fedorka is a Ph.D. student at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center. A Pennsylvania native, she moved to Kentucky after graduating from St. Lawrence University and has worked closely in all aspects of the thoroughbred industry. She spends her free time eventing as well as training, selling and rehoming OTTBs. Read more about her horse life at her blog, A Yankee in Paris.

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