The TAKE2 Hunter Champion at the St. Christopher’s Horse Show in Pennsylvania earlier this month was, fittingly, the Pennsylvania-bred “Felton.” Owned by Jean Bickley, bred by Bickley’s Olney Stable and trained by Bickley’s good friend Bernie Houghton, the dark bay gelding made all four career starts at Philadelphia Park, now known as Parx Racing. He was not a success on the track, earning just $705 in purses, but will more than double that tally if he can land year-end honors as the TAKE2 High-Point Hunter.
The TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program’s 2013 schedule includes 50 A- and AA-rated horse shows in 17 states, with hunter and jumper classes open to raced and unraced Thoroughbreds eligible to be registered with The Jockey Club. The TAKE2 Hunter and TAKE2 Jumper accumulating the most points this year will each receive an award of $1,500 and a TAKE2 cooler.
With more than half of the shows still to go, Bay Breeze, owned by Reese Bobo and ridden by Winn Alden, leads the TAKE2 Hunter standings with 373 points. The leading Jumper with 55 points is Sterling, owned by Megan Northrop and ridden by Debbie Stephens (click here for the complete standings through May 15). Felton sits in seventh on the TAKE2 Hunter board with 232 points, but his owner has set her sights on the top spot.
“My trainer, T. Whitehead, told me I should have a goal,” Bickley explained. “When I heard about the TAKE2 Year-End Championship, I thought, ‘This is something I can do.’ The classes are being held at shows I already planned to attend, so it’s an attainable goal and, having spent years working on the racetrack in New York, this program is especially meaningful to me.”
TAKE2, in its second year, was created by the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, New York Racing Association and New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. to promote second careers for retired Thoroughbred racehorses.
“Thoroughbreds have a hard time competing against the Warm Bloods, that’s been a problem in the show horse world for years,” Bickley said. “They are like apples and oranges, very different, but programs like TAKE2 offer Thoroughbreds a place to be competitive and a chance to shine on their own.”
The TAKE2 hunter and jumper classes are sponsored by horsemen’s groups around the country, with the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and their Turning For Home Racehorse Retirement Program stepping up to fund the prize money at St. Christopher’s. Turning For Home, established in 2008, has found new homes for more than 700 Thoroughbreds.
“Turning For Home is proud to have sponsored the St. Christopher show and the NYTHA’s TAKE2 program,” said PTHA Executive Director Mike Ballezzi. “The resurgence of the popularity of Thoroughbreds in disciplines other than racing is so important to retirement programs like the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association’s TFH and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association’s TAKE THE LEAD. It tells people what we at the racetracks already know–Thoroughbreds have the heart and athleticism to do it all!”
Bickley applauds the efforts of organizations like Turning For Home and TAKE THE LEAD.
“I think anybody who is willing to take the time and make the effort to find new homes and new purposes for retired racehorses is to be commended,” she said. “Thanks to Turning For Home, TAKE THE LEAD and the other aftercare programs, and to TAKE2, the number of second career opportunities for Thoroughbreds is on the upswing, and that’s how it should be.”
Bickley has long had an appreciation for the Thoroughbred. A native of Connecticut, she was the captain of the Equestrian Team while studying at Skidmore College in upstate New York, and was offered the chance to exercise racehorses after she graduated. Bickley spent eight years as a full-time exercise rider before taking a job with Peter Brant, initially managing his racing and breeding interests, and currently working as his personal assistant.
“I’ve worked for him for 26 years, and, being a horseman, Peter fully supports my equestrian pursuits,” she said.
She found herself in the breeding business after being given an unraced Thoroughbred, an 18.3-hand giant by Slew o’Gold, by Joe Allen in 1995, then seeing the horse’s sister, Tanta Bertie, in a sales catalogue.
“I thought it would be fun, and it was something I could do with my Dad when he retired,” Bickley said of her bloodstock venture.
Felton (her dad’s middle name) was the second foal out of Tanta Bertie. He was sold as a show horse prospect after his failed racing career, but Bickley bought him back three years ago. While professionals T. Whitehead, Shawn Casady or Susan Sisco are most often in the saddle, she sometimes guides her budding star around the hunt course at the shows. Why does she still gravitate toward Thoroughbreds?
“Thoroughbreds are multi-purpose and useful and fun,” she remarked. “They are alive and, for the most part, brave, and they are quirky—it’s fun to figure them out. The great ones really are great, and I like the challenge.”
As much as she has enjoyed owning and riding Thoroughbred hunters over the years, Bickley admitted to a level of frustration in the past. “You spend tons of money to go to a show, but because the Warm Bloods are favored, you go home with nothing, not even a ribbon, unless the judge is a good old-time or progressive horseman,” she said. “TAKE2 has changed that. The prize money is insane—you can earn more sometimes than the horses in the fancy classes. [Sue Sisco] called me after the St. Christopher’s show and said, ‘When was the last time a show ended up owing YOU money?’ I think it’s great.”
Felton will head next to the Skidmore College Saratoga Classic Horse Show June 11-16 and June 19-23, and then travel to the Vermont Summer Festival in July. For the complete TAKE2 schedule, go to http://www.take2tbreds.com/take2/take2-schedule/.