“What a freak!” gushed Terry Spargo following the “Wizard’s” most recent mesmerizing Carnival performance.
But this Carnival is not a circus; it’s the annual Dubai World Cup Carnival. Spargo is not a barker; he’s the longtime voice of the Dubai Racing Club. And the “Wizard” is not a sideshow freak; rather, he’s a Thoroughbred racehorse who’s been brewing magical performances on center stage since his arrival in Dubai in 2010.
Reynaldothewizard is something of a freak, however. His particular trick is to make years disappear. At 11 years of age, the star of Zabeel Racing Stables is still racing, and winning, at an age when most horses are in retirement sucking on gift mints and gumming carrots. Instead, this son of Speightstown is still sprinting home a winner, most recently for the third consecutive year in the listed Dubawi Stakes back in January.
On Saturday the Wizard will enter gate 12 against a field of 13 competitors at Meydan Racecourse in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, and attempt to become the oldest Thoroughbred on record to win a Grade or Group 1 race. The incomparable American legend John Henry won an amazing four Grade 1 races at age 9, the oldest horse to win any Grade 1 race in the modern recorded era.
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To put Reynaldo’s attempt in perspective, imagine a 40-year old sprinter coming out of retirement to compete in the Olympics against the likes of Usain Bolt in the 100-meter sprint.
“Reynaldo is definitely the Zabeel Stables star and I would agree with Terry that he is both a freak and a fan favorite,” said trainer Satish Seemar. “I have never seen them so excited as after his last win.”
Seemar is often asked what special training methods are needed to keep horses on the racetrack well past the average age of retirement. In part, Seemar attributes his bay gelding’s sustained high-level of achievement to his personality.
“We can’t compare him with any other horse,” Seemar explained, seemingly a bit mystified himself. “He’s been here such a long time and is such an easy horse to deal with. He is very low maintenance and has never required much veterinary attention.”
His daily routine has changed little from the time he first arrived in Dubai, according to Seemar.
“His groom, Ranu Singh, cleans his stable every morning and then his Brazilian [exercise] rider Paul Chandelier tacks him up. I watch him train at the track every morning. His training schedule depends on his racing schedule.”
Older racehorses are actually not all so unusual. In 2010 the Daily Racing Form reported that 169 11-year-olds and 54 12-years-olds raced made at least one start that season. In some instances, horses even older have entered the winner’s circle, though almost exclusively in low-level claiming races. What is unusual is that Reynaldothewizard is still competing at the highest level of competition in Thoroughbred racing.
Wizard does get some special attention to deal with the potential infirmities of old age, like soft tissue and tendon injuries.
“We take care of any aches and pains with our swimming pool and an equine spa,” explains Seemar. “We also have a horse physiotherapist [on staff].”
Regular jockey Richard Mullen, this year’s champion rider in the UAE with 52 wins, gives a lot of credit to Seemar and his team.
“It’s a testament to Satish that he runs the ways he runs,” Mullen said. “He’s 11, but there’s no sign of him slowing up.”
Wizard is a relatively lightly raced horse, with only 27 starts in an eight-year running career (11 wins, 2 places, 3 shows), and that certainly helps. By targeting him for just three or four races each year, Seemar has plenty of time to keep his charge fit and rested.
Saturday’s big race will be Wizard’s third and last of this season. His unyielding success and desire to compete have helped convince his connections to keep him on the racecourse. And as a sprinter, he runs short distances at relatively high speed—6 furlongs or 3/4 of a mile in a little over one minute.
“From a horseman’s point of view, Reynaldo’s conformation is not that of a typical sprinter,” explained Seemar. “They are normally stocky, rounded and full of muscle. Physically, he is more lean and built like a mile and a quarter horse.”
So while Wizard is built to run longer races, competing in shorter contests has likely reduced the normal wear which most Thoroughbreds of his body type are subjected. In the end however, it’s still about luck and a sensible training regimen. Renowned equine veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage agrees that the trainer’s role is crucial to a racehorse’s longevity.
“Horses aren’t born with the skeleton that’s needed to race,” Bramlage explained. “That has to be trained in. Once it’s fully mature, then you have wear and tear that the horse has to keep up with.”
“Younger horses are a challenge as you have to get to know them,” said Seemar. “They are like kids, they change every day. With older horses you already know their likes and dislikes, the same as humans.”
Case in point: On Super Saturday morning March 4, the trainer noticed Wizard had spiked a small increase in normal temperature and promptly scratched him from his scheduled race that day. “We didn’t want to risk his health,” Seemar said.
Horses that are both genetically gifted and carefully managed stand a much higher chance to remain on the track for many years. A 13-year-old Maryland-bred named Time To Bid made his 179th start in 1998 at Charles Town in West Virginia. He won his 50th race that day. Even more amazing was Behavin Jerry collecting 38 wins in an astonishing 307 starts and winning a claiming race at age 18. Neither horse was gelded, but neither had bloodlines to suggest they would be successful stallions, so they remained on the racetrack.
“He is a year-to-year, race-to-race horse now. The first priority is his health and well-being, and then racing.”
Still, Reynaldothewizard now stands virtually alone in terms of competing at the highest levels at an advanced age. One wonders how long he can continue to perform his magic.
“He is a year-to-year, race-to-race horse now,” conceded Seemar. “The first priority is his health and well-being, and then racing.”
“I love him because he runs with his heart on his sleeve,” said Mullen, who will mount The Wizard for what might be the last time this Saturday. “The highlight of my championship year was winning a third straight Dubawi Stakes with Reynaldo. It’s my wedding anniversary this week, but hopefully my anniversary present comes Saturday. I’d trade my championship for that.”
“Reynaldo has been my horse of a lifetime,” Seemar added wistfully.
Can the Wizard pull a crowd-pleasing golden card from his bag of magic tricks in Saturday’s Golden Shaheen? Only time will tell.