Up until February of last year, I was working as Robert (Butch) Reid’s assistant trainer at Parx Racing. I had interned for Butch while I was in college, and came back to work as his assistant trainer after I graduated and had come home from working for Gai Waterhouse in Australia. In the time I worked for Butch, I worked with some very talented racehorses. I galloped horses every morning, managed a barn of 30 runners, and I loved every minute of it. For every ounce of hard work I put in, I was rewarded by being able to learn from one of Pennsylvania’s most reputable trainers.
Among the things that make Butch such a great trainer, is his ability to spot talent in horses. It is why he has such success with youngsters he chooses from yearling and two year old sales, and how he was able to claim a horse for $7,500 and in a year turn him into horse of the year at Parx Racing. That horse was Hello Lover, and I also helped rehome him when he retired, but that is another story for another time :) It was Butch’s ability to spot talent that led us to claim Mr. Discreet in January of 2015.
The first thing that Butch does when he looks for horses to claim, is look at them on paper. Because what a horse looks like matters, and how he moves matters, but what is on paper doesn’t lie. What made Mr. Discreet worth looking at on paper were a few factors. First off, he was what we like to call “fresh stock.” He was not just another Parx horse who had been passed around a handful of times, he was shipping in from the NY racing circuit. Next, he was coming from Todd Pletcher’s three year old string and had run in two Saratoga Maiden Special Weights. So somewhere along the line, someone with a good eye thought there was something to this horse. Furthermore, the two starts he had in Saratoga, and at Belmont for that matter, he showed a lot of try, but had rough trips. He got bumped, had to be checked, and nearly clipped heels. Not to mention, that he was running in tough company. So, on paper we had every reason to take a look at him in the paddock and see if he was worth dropping a slip on, or if he was what we call in the online dating world a “catfish.”
We had one of our horses in the same race that day. So, while we waited for our horse to arrive in the paddock, we waited to see what this NY runner was all about in person. Boy were we impressed when we saw him. He had pep to his step, was sound, and he was put together beautifully. So, as Butch went into the paddock to saddle our entry, he handed me the claim slip to drop into the box before 10 minutes to post. Well, we were not the only ones who saw something in Mr. Discreet that day. Because after he came second to our entry JW Coop, I had to wait anxiously to see if we won a multi-way “shake.” We had not won shake on a horse in some time, and notoriously had bad luck in winning them, but luck was on our side that day. We won the shake, and Mr. Discreet came to the Reid barn.
It did not take long for this character of a horse to steal his way into our hearts as a barn favorite. We would drool watching him glide over the track in the morning. He would always have his head over the stall door looking for attention in the barn, and his personality was always a laugh. It did not take long for him to prove himself in the Reid barn either. In his fist start with us, he won a Maiden Special Weight with ease by 2 3/4 lengths. I left for Texas not too long after that, and then returned later on that spring to start my training business, but I continued to follow Mr. Discreet’s progress via Equibase and Horse Races Now. When he had to get vanned off in his last start in September, I immediately texted our old vet at the track to see what had happened. A bowed tendon. It took his connections some time to decide what they wanted to do from there. Do they retire him to stud, or geld him and retire him to have a second career? They had some time to make that decision, as the EHV-1 outbreak and quarantine at Parx kept Mr. Discreet from going anywhere. So he had the first three months of his recovery at Parx. As fate would have it, I got the lease on my farm December 1, the same week the quarantine was lifted, and when Butch asked me if I wanted Mr. Discreet I did not even hesitate to say yes. He put him into Turning For Home, and was at my farm by the end of the week.
Disco was gelded two days before coming to us, and continued stall rest when he arrived. He wasn’t the happiest camper about being cooped up, but in time he figured out his new routine. Once cleared to go out I gradually increased the size of his pen until he could go out and stay out with my other geldings. Then it was just a waiting game. The biggest thing with tendon injuries is time. Looking at a horse like that in the pasture going around sound, but not being able to ride him was tough. I put proverbial blinkers on daily to not be temped. Just said “let him be a horse, he needs more time.” When I was accepted into the Thoroughbred Makeover, it was only about two more weeks until I would know if I could start to ride him. So I started to do some lite groundwork with him, just to see what I may have if he was cleared and I decided to take him to KY. I started to let him stand tied in the arena while I worked other horses, I would pony him at a walk and jog from my horse. One day I even did some liberty work with him from on top of my horse in our indoor arena, and just as he would make me drool watching him gallop at Parx, his immediate willingness made me do the same thing at the farm. We did two weeks of lite ground work, and then last Thursday the vet came and cleared him to slowly go back to work. So that is where we are at today.
You could almost say that Disco a I had a very similar experience this past year…. In one year he was claimed from Pletcher, came back around to win with the Reid barn, and then got hurt and ended up back with me to start a new career…. In the same year, I left Reid, went to Texas for a position that did not quite work out. I left rather dejected and not sure where to go from there. I came back and started my own business, and won the Equine Comeback Challenge in October. So if last year we mirrored each other from afar, this year we will work side by side to prove ourselves against some worthy adversaries. In the racing world, we would call it stepping up in class. A bit like going from a $7,500 claimer to a stake race. But there is no other horse I would rather have by my side for this journey to the Thoroughbred Makeover.
Stay tuned for more updates and stories on our Road to KY. Check out Disco’s first ride off the track in the video below.