By Francis LaBelle
In early March, retired Thoroughbred, Francis Freud started his second career. He was tapped by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation to begin training with the goal to be their very first entry at Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, Oct. 7-10, 2020 at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY.
Christina and Elizabeth Sawelsky who are long-time volunteers and friends of the TRF are fostering Francis and have created The Mass Pro Makeover Team. This mother, daughter pair are compassionate and experienced horsewomen who have previously adopted several TRF horses and OTTB’s from other rescues. They will both be retraining an off-track Thoroughbred for the competition and sharing their stories along the way. Follow their Facebook Page here:
Acquired from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Francis is taking some time to settle into his new life at the Sharon, MA farm. Soon, he will be going to back work.
“I am very excited about this horse because I have wanted to bring a TRF horse for a long time,” says MPMT founder Christina Sawelsky. I talked with Pat (Stickney, TRF Executive Director) and Chelsea (O’Reilly, TRF Program Development Manager) and we agreed that he was the right horse for us.
“At first, Francis was terrified of the goats around here and he didn’t know what to make of our miniature horse, `Midnight,’ who is 40 years old. But now, he is used to the goats and he and Midnight have become good friends.”
Francis Freud, a New York-bred son of Freud, was tough enough to make 55 starts as a racehorse and had enough class to earn more than $160,000. That class came from his dam, Frankly Fran, whose sire, D’Accord, was a son of the great Secretariat.
Christina has already been accepted as a trainer for the Thoroughbred Makeover. Approved trainers may acquire eligible Thoroughbreds through whatever source they choose or can ride under contract for an owner. Eligible horses must have raced or had a published work on or after July 1, 2018 and must not have started retraining for a second career prior to December 1, 2019 other than a maximum of 15 allowable rides. Currently, there 616 entries.
Last year, Christina and her team brought OTTB Straight Thunder to the Makeover. It was an achievement in itself that he was able to compete. It was extraordinary that he finished mid-pack in Competitive Trail. Straight Thunder had 150 starts with lifetime earnings of $264,934 in a career spent mostly at Finger Lakes Racetrack. “I sit on the advisory board for Thoroughbreds at Gerda’s Equine Rescue in Vermont, and they reached out to me to help get him off the track. By March 2019, I decided to adopt him. He is a very tough horse and had come off the track with a chip on his shoulder. There was no way he would have been adopted out because he was dangerous. He would bite and kick and he was hard to catch. Once you put him in his stall, he protects his space and he won’t let you near him. Fortunately, he is small, about 15.2 hands, and with patience we were able to work with him.” says Sawelsky. “He eventually learned to trust us, and under saddle, he never put a foot wrong. He really was impressive at the Makeover.”
Thunder set the bar high for Francis.
“Francis Freud was a great project horse,” said Glens Falls, NY native Kerry Metivier, Francis’ former trainer. “I trained horses for Dan Henning, who coached for NFL teams, and about five years ago, we were on a mission to find the needle in the haystack, the horse that would win races for us. That’s when we found Francis. Francis Freud became the barn breadwinner, but he was also high maintenance.”
“He was all colt, and he had two speeds: Off and Full,” Metivier said. “He did everything as fast as he could, even just going out in the morning. We brought him to Saratoga, and they stabled us right behind the Morning Line (coffee shack). So, he was always looking at horses coming on and off the track and he would get worked up. Dan, who is about 6-foot-five, went to give him carrots one day, and Francis grabbed him by the chest and dropped him like he was nothing. You wouldn’t believe the bruise he gave Dan.”
“That horse never quits,” Metivier said. “Last July, I took him to Monmouth and he ran a great race on the turf. Later, it turned out that he had something brewing in his ankle, so we gave him time off. He loved being on the farm, and that’s when we decided to let him be. He had made money for us and he was happy.”
Francis, whose career racing record was 3-6-9, quickly found another fan.
I love `Warhorses,’ horses that made more than 50 starts on the racetrack,” Christina said. “A lot of people think these horses are all broke down, and there are certainly horses that have been over-raced. But there are horses that have made that many starts and race competitively. They have to be tough to do that. That’s why I think Francis will be a good candidate for the Makeover.”
Now in its sixth year, the Thoroughbred Makeover features competition in 10 disciplines for recently retired Thoroughbreds in their first year of retraining for a second career after racing. The disciplines are barrel racing, competitive trail, dressage, eventing, field hunters, freestyle, polo, show hunter, show jumper and ranch work.
“Francis is tough, very smart and he is doing very well,” Christina said. “He is a superstar. We will work with him to see what fits him best.”