Last Saturday, the eyes of the racing world were turned towards Baltimore, where Bob Baffert’s Lookin at Lucky reversed his racing fortunes with a Preakness win.
About 600 miles to the west, another Lucky was hanging out in a paddock, eating peppermints, and reveling in retirement.
Lucky to Cope is an 8-year-old bay gelding; by Lucky Lionel out of Copenqueen, he’s got champions on both sides of his pedigree, in Blushing Groom and Susan’s Girl.
His own racing career was a little less impressive than those of his esteemed progenitors; racing 64 times with four wins, the Florida-bred stayed mostly close to him, racing on the Calder/Gulfstream/Tampa circuit.
In February of 2007, I was at simulcasting at the Meadowlands, awaiting my brother’s surprise party there that night; in some mid-card turf race from Gulfstream, my eye kept going to a 35 – 1 shot; I couldn’t figure out why I liked him, but I did, and I stopped trying to talk myself off him when my friend Pete, a far better handicapper than I, said, “I kinda like the 2 here.” Shocked, I said, “Me, too,” and off we go to the machine to bet…and back we went to collect when the 2 hit the wire first, handing us a $72 winner. That horse was Lucky to Cope.
I put him in my watch list, and observed from afar as he raced in mostly claiming and low-level allowance races; I didn’t usually bet him when I saw him entered, which I regretted when, in July of 2008, Lucky to Cope uncorked another winner, this one at Delaware Park, paying $60. He could have been had for $5,000.
Lucky to Cope raced for another year and a half, finishing his career last November in a claiming race at Finger Lakes in which he finished behind every starter except for the one that threw its rider. The entry notifications stopped coming, and Lucky to Cope slipped out of my racing sight.
Until last week, when this comment appeared on a July 2008 entry on my website:
Lucky got listed on the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Trainer Sales page and last December he moved to Michigan…I bought him with an eye to making him a foxhunter, but so far his disposition…suggests he harbors a secret ambition to be a Western pleasure pony. He’s currently sharing a pasture …and acting like a martyr if I suggest we MIGHT try thinking about a canter today. (“I’m RETIRED. Retired means sitting on the beach drinking mai tais, not WORKING.”).
Jennifer Quail, Lucky’s new owner, had typed his name into a search engine and landed at my post last summer about the horse. An educator at the Museum at Southwestern Michigan College, she’s been riding since she was six years old, and after going to grad school and living in New England for a time, she returned to Michigan, where, she said, she could finally afford to have a horse again.
A member of the forum at the Chronicle of the Horse, Jennifer knew that Finger Lakes needed to move a number of horses when the meet ended there last fall. Lucky to Cope was listed on the adoption page of the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program and garnered strong recommendations from volunteers who knew him, and from his trainer, Jared Schoeneman. Sight unseen, she bought him for $600 and shipped him west.
“He arrived at 5:00 on a dark, December evening, the only horse on the trailer,” Quail remembered. “He walked off, looked at the two dogs barking at him, and said, ‘OK,’ walking into the barn. He was incredibly mannerly.”
Two weeks after that, she recalls, she was grooming Lucky when a kitten jumped on his back. “He was totally mellow,” she remarked. “He’s an incredible horse with a great brain.”
Jennifer bought Lucky, as she calls him, to train him to be a fox hunter. He’s not all that keen, she says, to lean on the bit, and she’s learning with him, figuring out what he likes to do. For now, she’s riding him in English tack and has him stepping over poles. He’s not ready to jump, and he’s not aggressive at all. “You could put a little kid on him,” she says. Or, apparently, a kitten.
Lucky to Cope’s got his own blog now; Jennifer updates it regularly with tales of his training and his adjustment to retired life. He’d be happy, she says, to stand in the paddock and eat peppermints all day.
After 64 starts, Lucky is sound and ready for a second career. He earned $94,974 in his racing career; none of that money has directly contributed to his retirement.
According to the FLTAP website, Finger Lakes Gaming and Racing is the first Thoroughbred racetrack in the United States to open an in-house adoption program, dedicated to the retraining and adoption of its retired racehorses, the first Thoroughbred adoption facility in the country that’s a collaborative effort between racetrack management and horsemen. Quail says that last year, FLTAP adopted 92 horses through its trainer listings. She can’t speak highly enough of the Finger Lakes adoption program and of Schoeneman, who listed Lucky to Cope for adoption.
So because of his trainer’s compassion and foresight, and because of the good work of FLTAP, Lucky to Cope is living the good life in western Michigan. Another Lucky won the big race last weekend…but this Lucky’s got his own brand of good fortune, and it has nothing to do with the winner’s circle.
[This correction from Jennifer Quail: “Lucky’s a trainer listing horse, meaning he isn’t really an adoption–the FLTAP trainer listings are ads, but FLTAP never actually takes those horses into their possession. They can’t take every horse themselves, so they take photos and write ads for the other horses the trainers need to move on.” I apologize for the confusion.–TAG]