Dormant for most of the year, the Fasig-Tipton sales grounds spring to life this week, in preparation for the yearling sales on August 6, 7, 11 and 12. Thoroughbred auctions have been held by Fasig-Tipton at Saratoga since 1917, and next week, sellers and buyers will gather, as they have for nearly a century, in the hope that the young horses on offer will go on to lucrative careers on the track.
John Hettinger, who bred and owned horses from his Akindale Farm in Pawling, New York, is well-known as the man who by some accounts virtually saved Fasig-Tipton in 1991.
He is perhaps less well-known for his contributions to horses not at the beginning of their careers, as yearlings, but at the end, as retirees.
He won an Eclipse Award of Merit in 2000 and founded Blue Horse Charities in 2001, one of the first organizations to focus on Thoroughbreds when their racing careers end. In 2006, two years before his death, the breeding and racing operation at Akindale expanded to include a rescue, retraining, and adoption facility.
Since then, it’s taken in hundreds of horses, mostly Thoroughbreds; any horse bred at Akindale has a home there for life, and the farm frequently provides a haven for horses without other options, those that are well-known and those that few have heard of.
The most recent high-profile arrival at Akindale is Callmetony, an 11-year-old son of Runaway Groom who began his racing career at Golden Gate in February 2004.
- raced 85 times.
- compiled a record of 21-22-17.
- Earned $666,446.
- raced at Golden Gate, Bay Meadows, Emerald Downs, Hastings, Hollywood Park, Monmouth, Belmont, Aqueduct, Saratoga and Philadelphia Park (and Parx, too).
- was claimed eight times.
Callmetony (known as “Call Me To New York” by some devoted fans in the Empire State) had been claimed by and from Roddy Valente three times in his career, most recently last November, when Valente lost him in a race at Aqueduct. He’d won in his last start for Valente and trainer Bruce Levine and gone winless for his new connections, though he had at times been competitive in his eight races after the claim.
On June 5, the dark bay/brown gelding was entered in a $5,000 claiming race at Parx, and when Valente was apprised on race day of the horse’s scheduled start, he made a phone call to his trainer at the Bensalem, Pennsylvania track. Valente, who comes from upstate New York and who campaigned the undefeated, Grade 1 Carter-winning Bustin Stones, claimed Callmetony for the fourth and last time that afternoon.
And when he did, Akindale was waiting.
Erin Pfister runs Akindale’s rescue division, and she had kept an eye out for Tony beginning last winter, making several unsuccessful attempts to have him retired to the farm. Two days after his last race, he arrived in Pawling.
“He is here and the coolest horse ever!” she texted when he stepped off the van. “He is such a classy horse.”
Tony joined fellow cool and classy horses Evening Attire and Hotstufanthensome, among many others, as an Akindale retiree. In fact, he quickly became the paddock buddy of Hotstuf, who until that point had been notoriously cantankerous with the other horses placed with him but who decided that Callmetony was all right enough to be his friend.
“I’ve had a lot of horses in my life,” said Valente, “and this one is so cool I can’t explain it.”
Bruce Levine, who trained Tony for 45 of his 84 starts, agreed. “He was pretty mellow for a war horse,” he said. “He’s got that disposition, that nothing bothers him. Nothing. He never gets hot, never gets excited.”
Valente was tempted to run Tony one more time, convinced that back in Levine’s barn, the horse would be able to go out with a victory.
“There was a bond between this horse and Bruce,” Valente asserted.
Ultimately, though, Valente decided not to take one more shot. “There’s so much satisfaction in getting him back,” he said. “I’m so glad to know that he’s OK.”
In a 2008 Blood-Horse obituary, John Hettinger is quoted as saying, in response to a question about his commitment to Thoroughbred aftercare, “’All of my best friends have four legs.’”
He might not be around to see it, but he got a new best, and grateful, friend when Callmetony arrived at his farm in June. At Fasig-Tipton, the company that he helped save; at Blue Horse Charities, the organization that he founded; and at his family farm, where the horses that he helped can lead comfortable, happy lives, Hettinger left behind a legacy of compassion and generosity, of being a best friend, to the horses that he knew and to those who benefitted from his vision.