PC: Connie Bush

(Editor’s Note: On Saturday, August 22, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation will be featured at Old Friends at Cabin Creek ‘s Open House and Adoption Event from 9 am – 1 pm. These two Saratoga Springs, NY-based non-profits continue to care for former racehorses, with the help of their donors and the dedication of volunteers like Ron and Daryl Thompson.)

By Francis LaBelle
GREENFIELD CENTER, NY – He had only been minutes off the van but Like Now liked what he saw. He posed to let the cellphone paparazzi capture his majesty and then he calmly entered his double stall and flopped down in the shavings for a quick roll. Then, he grabbed a mouthful of hay, headed to the window in the back of his stall – and froze. “He’s not even chewing,” someone chuckled, as Like Now stood entranced, hay dangling from his mouth. “He’s just standing there, staring at Will.”

Like Now had a clear view of 27-year-old Will’s Way, the hero of the 1996 Travers and 1997 Whitney at Saratoga Racecourse. He is perhaps the most accomplished of the 16 retired Thoroughbred racehorses and one quarter horse who live at Old Friends at Cabin Creek. It appeared that Like Now
was going to like his new home. This former racer had been enjoying his retirement downstate, and that will continue at Old Friends because of the generosity of Ron and Daryl Thompson. They both volunteer for Old Friends at Cabin Creek and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and they have privately supported Like Now for the past 11 years and they will continue to do so while he lives at Cabin Creek.

Daryl had always loved Thoroughbred horse racing and she eventually was licensed to train them in New York, Florida and New Hampshire, where she worked as an assistant to her then-husband, Artie Magnuson, at Rockingham Park in the 1980s. After a divorce, her varied career path eventually landed Daryl as vice-president of travel and conference services for Random House publishing in New York City. There she met and married Ron Thompson, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), in 1996. It did not take her long to turn him into a horse racing fan and a more than capable stable hand. Together they would frequent New York’s racetracks, particularly Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga Racecourse. Daryl says she has been coming with her parents and grandparents for the Saratoga racing season “since the womb.”

Daryl and Ron first laid eyes on Like Now when he was a 2-year-old in 2005. “My ex-husband (Magnuson) was Kiaran McLaughlin’s assistant trainer,” Daryl said. “We would visit the barn and Kiaran was always gracious. We met Like Now and just fell in love with him.” He is also a kind horse, but that never took away his competitive edge. As a 3-year-old, he put in his best race, according to Ron, when he ran second to Showing Up in Keeneland’s Lexington Stakes. Three heads – Bear Character was third – separated the win from the show, and Like Now, according to the race chart, had an obstacle-filled trip that began when he “bobbled at the start when
the ground appeared to break away from under his rear feet. . .”

Like Now had previously scored a Grade 3 victory in New York by winning the Gotham at Aqueduct. While he would skip the Kentucky Derby, he had earned a trip to Pimlico Race Course in Maryland for the Preakness in 2006. That race became noteworthy not only because of the powerful
performance of the winner, Bernardini, but because of the injury to favored Barbaro, that eventually ended his life months later. (As a side note, third in that race was Hemingway’s Key, who is now part of the TRF Second Chances Herd at the Lowell Correctional Institution for near Ocala, Fla.)Like Now
finished seventh in that nine-horse field and sustained a knee injury that would require surgery.

Although he managed to come back and even win at Saratoga, Like Now was clearly not the same horse. By 2009, he had a different trainer and dropped into the claiming ranks. The Thompsons had been alerted. “Artie (Magnuson) told us that Like Now was at Aqueduct, and the time was right to get him off the track,” Daryl said. “Otherwise, he was just going to keep on racing and something bad was bound to happen.”

The Thompsons knew what that meant. They knew that while many good horses wind up on lush breeding farms, the majority of Thoroughbreds aren’t so fortunate. It is particularly hard on geldings, who, unable to breed, are either run well beyond their ability, or simply sent to kill pens. It is
often debated as to which fate is worse.

From their time at the track, the Thompson’s had befriended jockey Fernando Jara, who had ridden Like Now in his Gotham victory. Ron told Daryl that they had to go to McLaughlin’s barn at Belmont Park to say good-bye because Jara was re-locating to Dubai. “I was doing a book exposition at
the Javits Center in Manhattan, but knew I had to go and say good-bye to Fernando,” Daryl said. “We went to Kiaran’s barn, and I saw this head sticking out from one of the stalls. I said, “That looks like `Like’ and when I went over to him, I started to cry. They had surprised me. Next to his stall, Artie had written: “Like Now. Daryl Thompson, Owner.”

The Thompsons were fully aware of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, the nation’s oldest and largest Thoroughbred rescue, re-homing and sanctuary organization. While the TRF was an option, the Thompson had the means and the desire to care for him privately. He earned more than $400,000 as a racehorse and the Thompsons felt he had earned a special retirement. The Thompsons found an ideal spot for Like Now, a six-acre farm in Germantown, NY owned by Cindy Rustici, who had provided home for other retired Thoroughbreds as well as her own champion horses for years. For the next 11 years, Like Now enjoyed the country life, sponsored by the Thompsons.

“We retired to Saratoga a couple years ago,” Daryl said. “In June, we found out that the farm he was retired at was being sold and that Like Now would need a new home. We have been volunteering at Old Friends as well as the TRF and JoAnn told us to bring him here. It worked out perfectly, because
now he is right here and closer to us.”

Nicole Rustici had driven Like Now from her mother’s farm through a ride that featured rain and a few backroad detours to by-pass some closed bridges. Nicole first met Like Now when she was 15. Now, 26, she had grown up with him and was about to head back home without him. “It’s like
seeing your kid go off to college,” she said as she looked over the groomed paddocks surrounded by pine forest. “It’s tough, but now that I see this place, I know how lucky he is.” From inside his new stall, Like Now let out a long, strong whinny that filled the barn. Perhaps, after all, he knows it, too.

PC: Connie Bush