Eventing

Rolex Racehorse: Blackfoot Mystery’s Path to Prominence

How a racetrack reject became a Rolex rookie

(Courtesy of USEA)

It was the summer of 2015 and Boyd Martin needed a new horse. With the Rio Olympics on the horizon and the retirement of four-star veterans Otis Barbotiere and Trading Aces, Martin went looking to fill the void in his high powered stable.

He did not have to look very far.

Just a few miles down the road was a towering chestnut off-the-track-thoroughbred gelding they called “Big Red.”

Boyd and Blackfoot Mystery. (Courtesy of Boyd Martin)
Boyd and Blackfoot Mystery. (Courtesy of Boyd Martin)

 

The story of Red, formally known as Blackfoot Mystery, began like many an OTTB. Bred in Kentucky by John O’Meara (Out of Place–True Mystery by Proud Truth), the colt failed to woo buyers at the 2005 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He eventually found his way to California and the barn of trainer Jesus Mendoza.

By his third birthday Red was already well over 16 hands. For most sports, towering over your rivals is an advantage, but it’s often the opposite for young racehorses. His first race came in June of 2007, a 6 furlong sprint at bygone Hollywood Park. Sure enough, he failed to find his stride, finishing last in a field of 8.

(pedigreequery.com)
(pedigreequery.com)

 

Two more races at Hollywood Park that summer and two similar results. Three races into his career and all he had to show for it was a popped splint and abscessed hoof.

In stepped Leigh Grey, President of the Thoroughbred Rehab Center in Los Angeles County. Grey took the gelding off the track and, knowing he would soon need a job, immediately shipped him up to her friend Lisa Peecook, a Sonoma County based eventing rider and trainer.

One look at her new project and Peecook knew she’d have her work cut out for her, but the potential was evident.

“As soon as he came in, I said ‘This one’s mine!” Peecook said. “He was a fantastic and hilarious horse, living with his two goats in front of our house.”

After some time off and a countless number of rice bran milkshakes, Peecook was ready to tack up her new ride and see what he could do.

“He’s a character around the barn. No matter what you did he’d find a way to get you,” Peecook joked. “But he has a good brain, and he’s just a super athlete. Some horses you can immediately get on, walk, trot, canter right away. He is so well put together. Legs everywhere, a typical chestnut, just an absolute goof ball.”

Goofballin'. (Courtesy of Lisa Peecook)
Goofballin’. (Courtesy of Lisa Peecook)

 

Red’s re-training was a team effort. Peecook frequently brought the gelding to Chocolate Horse Farm in Petaluma to work with fellow trainer Andrea Pfeiffer.

“He was pretty impressive,” recalled eventer Kelly Prather, who worked for Pfeiffer at the time. “He was five when I began riding him and already 17 hands and still pretty green, but he was an exceptional mover for a thoroughbred of his size.”

“He was like a kite on the end of his lunge line,” Prather continued. “He was a handful in the warmups, just because he was so eager to gallop. He never did it in a naughty way, but he’s just extremely athletic and always ready to go. But once he did a few prelims he quickly learned and became a good boy.”

Beach trip. (Courtesy of Lisa Peecook)
Beach trip. (Courtesy of Lisa Peecook)

 

Then, just as Red’s second career was beginning to form, tragedy hit Lisa Peecook swiftly and decidedly. While competing at Galway Downs in the CCI* in 2009 with her other OTTB Chummin, Peecook felt something “off” with her gelding as they approached fence 16. She immediately pulled him up, thinking perhaps he’d pulled a shoe. A few seconds later Chummin crumbled to the turf. Despite immediate veterinary intervention, Chummin died right there where he fell, a victim of pulmonary embolism.

Devastated, Peecook hauled her empty trailer home, unsure if she could ever compete again. Luckily, she had Red. Her rescue, to the rescue.

“He really helped me through that loss and really started to step up to the plate after that,” Peecook explained.

(Courtesy of Lisa Peecook)
(Courtesy of Lisa Peecook)

 

Blackfoot Mystery was slowly but surely maturing into his frame and he quickly ascended up the levels. That’s when Peecook knew she’d need to find him a new rider to carry him up to Advanced. Luckily, she knew exactly who to call.

“When he moved up to Intermediate I got the phone call and brought him East,” said Prather, who had since made the cross-country move to Pennsylvania after a stint in the UK working under William Fox-Pitt.

Prather was quickly establishing herself as one of the sport’s top young guns, especially when it came to producing youngsters. She had also developed D.A. Duras, an 8-year-old Dutch gelding currently competing in Advanced with Lauren Kieffer.

Prather with Red in 2013. (Courtesy of Kelly Prather)
Prather with Red in 2013. (Courtesy of Kelly Prather)

 

Having already developed a good rapport with Red, the gelding didn’t miss a beat. The pair notched a third place finish at the 2015 Jersey Fresh CCI3* and continued to turn heads at every show and clinic they attended. One such head was that of her Chester County neighbor, Boyd Martin.

“Boyd asked me about him last summer, and wanted to sit on him,” Prather said. “Then he asked if he was for sale, and I mean, they’re all for sale for the right price. So I named a price I didn’t think I would get, but I guess he really wanted him.”

Martin quickly assembled a Blackfoot Mystery syndicate and last July, the gelding made the short trip over to his new home.

The pair have hit the ground at a gallop thus far in 2016. In February, Martin and the 12-year-old gelding won the $75,000 Wellington Eventing Showcase. They backed up that big win earlier this month with a win in the Advanced A Division at The Fork in preparation for Red’s four-star debut this weekend at Rolex Kentucky.

“This horse has a wonderful jump. He just has that big, classic American Thoroughbred look about him. It’s just a matter of getting him in the right path.”

Boyd Martin, Blackfoot Mystery and breeder John O'Meara reunited at Rolex Kentucky. (Courtesy of Boyd Martin)
Reunited and it feels so good. Boyd Martin, Blackfoot Mystery and breeder John O’Meara at Rolex Kentucky. (Courtesy of Boyd Martin)

 

“I was screaming up and down watching him in Wellington,” Peecook admitted. “I’m just so happy to see him out there showing what he can do. He really is a special horse. I think back to when we were just getting started…[Irish Eventing legend] Eric Smiley came out for a clinic and he told me, ‘You know, this is a horse that could be a Burghley/Badminton horse, but you have to wait until he’s 11 or 12 to mature.’ Sure enough…”

“When I bought the horse in July, the ding in him was the show jumping,” Martin explained after the win in Wellington. “I have been working very closely with an English show jumping trainer, Richard Picken, and he has gone well beyond the call of duty.”

“This horse has a wonderful jump. He just has that big, classic American Thoroughbred look about him. It’s just a matter of getting him in the right path.”

No matter how he handles his first four-star fling, it’s safe to say Blackfoot Mystery is very much on the right path; a path that pitstops at Rolex and meanders all the way down to Rio. One can’t help but think about how differently this path could have diverged, if not for the amazing women who carefully brought him along. Thanks to them, this “racetrack reject” is back in the land where he was bred, ready to perform on eventing’s biggest stage. A failed racehorse no more.

(Courtesy of Lisa Peecook)
(Courtesy of Lisa Peecook)

 

RK3DE competitor list and ride times