In today’s second race at Saratoga, the youngest horse is four years old; the oldest is seven. Among them, they’ve made 124 starts. The race is called the Spooky Mulder, and I suspect that its namesake would approve.
During his racing career, Spooky ran in 85 races, winning 34 of them. He finished second 17 times and third four times; he earned $950,548, an average of $11,183 a start. You could say that Spooky did it the hard way.
Except that he never seemed to act like it was hard. “Hard-knocking,” “gutsy,” “reliable”—those are the adjectives that regularly were applied to him, and his suspiciously low number of third-place finishes might suggest that Spooky knew when he had a chance and when he didn’t, and that when he didn’t, he didn’t push too hard.
Nearly two years ago, I visited Spooky in his retirement home; not long off the track, he was living on a Maryland farm in a paddock with two minis for company. Spooky had it pretty good.
Two years later, he still adored by his adopter. Sally Rohrbach has been riding horses her whole life, and she’s assembled around her, on her beautiful farm, a collection of cats and horses who, lucky for them, have found a home with her when they might not have had anywhere else to go. This one had shown up just a few weeks before, and he may or may not have acquired the name “Scully.”
When I returned last month, Spooky was living a couple of miles away, getting a little training for the first time since he left the track in July of 2009. “He’s been in my pasture for three years and he moves beautifully,” said Rohrbach. “I figured, why not get on and enjoy him? We have some wonderful local trails, and I’m inclined to think he would enjoy it.”
Rohrbach has modest goals for the 14-year-old gelding—slow, quiet trail rides through the woods, perhaps with a friend on another retiree who lives on her farm, Hunt the Fox.
She took it slow with Spooky, bringing him to Joe Crandell’s farm, riding him a little bit every day, not asking too much of him. He demonstrated, according to her, the same intelligence and alacrity that he had on the race track.
“All he wants to do is please,” she said. “He’s smart, and he’s just trying to figure out what I’m asking him. He’s an absolute delight to ride.”
Crandell, whose training philosophy derives from Buck Brannaman and Roy Hunt, said that when training or re-training a horse, he goes by the maxim to be as gentle as you can and as firm as necessary.
“Spooky wasn’t a normal track horse,” he said. “He was pretty level-headed, and on an intelligence scale of 10, I’d put him at a 9. He’s not a reactive horse; he’s a thinking horse.
“If I could have horses like him all year long, it would be a pleasure.”
Spooky has been back home for a few weeks now, but the “outrageously hot weather,” according to Rohrbach, has kept the riding to a minimum. She expects to ride him more regularly in the fall, when it’s cooler.
In her late 60’s, Rohrbach has no qualms about taking an ex-racehorse with a pretty strong personality off into the woods. “He’s a lamb,” she said, a characterization with which all the horses he beat might disagree.
For now, he’s back with his minis and “a happy boy,” according to Rohrbach. He is utterly spoiled, but not so greedy for either treats or attention that he’ll automatically come to the fence when visitors appear. If he wants to come, he’ll come. If he doesn’t…you can practically see him shrug at the humans who come in supplication.
“He’s kind and he’s honest,” Rohrbach said. “He always gives me his best.”
Just like he always did.