It was back to the drawing board following the debacle that was Tiz Taken Back’s first almost-start for Last Move Racing. The bay-black filly was no worse for wear the next day, despite entangling herself in a fence exiting Belterra’s racetrack. We resumed her training regimen post-haste, while we began to dissect the events leading up to Tiz’s pile driving of her jockey and subsequent hasty retreat from the post parade.
Jerry and I have both studied Tiz’s previous races diligently via the internet. It was obvious to us that she doesn’t hate racing. She has some ability as a runner; a bit of “try” as it were, and once a race has commenced, she is committed to doing her job. She is sound, so she isn’t trying to avoid something that causes her pain.
We were rather surprised to learn that Ms. Tiz had not been placed on any official ‘list’ (Starter’s, Steward’s or Vet’s) following the race, and therefore there was no need to jump through hoops before entering her back. That didn’t stop Jerry from proceeding as if she was indeed on a list. Morning visits to the starting gate didn’t bother the filly in the least—she walked in and out without hesitation, and in again and stood patiently before being backed out. Hmmm.
While Jerry was using logic to deal with the situation, I was looking for answers straight from the horse’s mouth, beseeching Tiz to “Please…just give me a clue, so we know how to help you!” I have always felt that there is something that triggers this horse’s bouts of misbehavior because her normal, everyday demeanor anywhere but on the racetrack is so sweet, calm and laid back that her breed-mates might consider her a discredit to Thoroughbred genetics.
Well, whatever has happened in her past, Tiz wasn’t wanting to talk about it. It is almost as if she squelches any thoughts of a past ‘incident’ as soon as it enters her head. Every so often when in her presence, I will get a fleeting image of some sort of kerfuffle involving Tiz, a rider and whips. The thought is so fleeting that I cannot even get the context of where it all went down…On the track? On the way to the track? Before a race? The only thing clear in the little movie in my head is that somebody scared the crap outta Tiz, and it involved her being thumped on.
We have an absolutely phenomenal exercise rider in Jose. His patience with Tiz and dedication to figuring her out has been a blessing. Because she trains ‘like a bear’ every morning, Jose brought in a new bit to try on her. It seems to be doing the trick, as she is relaxing more and more each and every day instead of screaming around the track intent on breaking Jose’s hold and running off.
Physically, she is sound but immediately after we purchased her, we noticed all the signs of a horse with ulcers. She was the perfect candidate for them—stressed out—so we talked to a vet and started her on ulcer medication. In addition, I make Tiz goat milk yogurt to top-dress her feed. Yogurt helped another of our horses—The Unbelievable—immensely as he, too had a rather peculiar digestive tract and constant splatty poo while in training. Ahem. TMI…sorry.
So a few days after the race-that-wasn’t, jockey Cory Orm and his agent wandered in to the barn where we are stabled, there to work a horse for another trainer. Jerry began talking to them, and somehow the conversation worked its way around to Tiz Taken Back. Turns out, this jockey was directly behind Tiz when she unceremoniously dislodged DeShawn Parker and hightailed it off the track.
“I saw the whole thing,” Cory told my husband. “There was no way he was staying on. He had his irons way too short to be able to.” Jerry told him that that is exactly what the pony girl had said, and Cory continued, “If you need a jock for her next start, I’ll ride her.”
“Seriously?” Jerry countered.
“Sure.” Cory shrugged. “Now that I know what she’s likely to do, all I have to do is be ready for it.” Hmmm. Logic in action.
Jerry asked Cory if he would come down the following week to work Tiz (a timed workout against the clock) and he agreed, seeing the sense in getting to know her before race day.
Work day came, Cory arrived, Tiz was tacked and I talked a blue streak. I told Cory that I thought the filly had an issue with the stick (whip, crop). I also told him that I understood how necessary this standard piece of racing equipment could be for safety’s sake in a race, and that I knew it was highly unlikely that a request placed before the stewards to be exempted from carrying one would be granted.
Cory was legged up onto Tiz and we all started, en masse, toward the track. No sooner did Tiz step foot on the sandy surface than she decided to put her latest victim to the test. Cory asked her to go one direction, Tiz said “No.” She pirouetted, she froze, she ran backward. Cory was patient, Jerry concerned and I was sweating bullets, picturing an ultimate meltdown resulting in a jockey squashed, as my mom would say, “flatter than a flitter.” (Whatever the heck that means.)
Her antics finally stopped and the two proceeded as one for a warm-up lap before her work.
The warm-up was completed, but Tiz wasn’t done pushing the boundaries of bad behavior. As Cory asked her to gallop off, Tiz again froze and planted herself statue-like in the center of the racetrack. My heart was in my throat as I made a mental note of other horses working against the clock, running full-out and bearing down on Tiz and Cory. Cory appeared un-rattled, but Jerry asked the outrider (who had himself been nervously watching the whole scenario unfold and was awaiting the word to get involved) to intervene and try to get Tiz moving again. He jogged in our horse’s direction, but Cory waved him off. At the last second, Tiz began to move forward of her own volition and Cory eased her into a gallop.
Jerry and I both audibly released our collective breath, and Jerry shook his head. “This work is gonna be a disaster. She’s moving way too slow to get a good run at the pole.”
“Ya know what?” I shot back. “If horse and rider get all the way around the track as one, I’m gonna consider it a good day!”
As the dynamic duo approached the ½ mile pole, Jerry tapped the stopwatch on his phone. Due to the lack of grounds maintenance, a head-high crop of weeds in the infield made it impossible to catch the time of the filly at the next pole, causing my husband even greater consternation. But a second click at the ¼ pole was followed by a “hmmm” from Jerry. A final click at the wire and I looked over to see Jerry with a furroughed brow staring intently at his phone.
“This can’t be right” he mumbled, walking over to the clocker’s stand. “What did you catch her in?” he asked of the official clocker.
“50.1” was the clocker answered. “Best work of the day. And pretty amazing considering this track is really dead.”
“Yeah, that’s what I had, too.” Jerry said, walking back toward me.
“Oh, and she galloped out in 103,” the clocker added as Jerry walked away. For the first time that morning, I saw Jerry smile.
Cory came galloping back to the track’s on/off ramp and we headed back to the barn.
“How was that?” the jock inquired, and Jerry replied that it was good. Very good indeed.
Jerry graciously tended to the horse so that I could glean every bit of info possible from Cory. Most jockeys, when they are working horses in the morning, come and go as quickly as possible because they have to handle all their morning commitments and get themselves into the jock’s room at whatever racetrack that they are riding that day by the appointed time, lest they get fined. But Cory seemed in no hurry, and was willing to talk to me at length in the interest of getting to know Tiz a little better.
We devised a strategy for race day for dealing with his whip, the pony person, the post parade and his tack, which included a lengthening of his stirrup leathers to better deal with any misbehaviors Miss Tiz might attempt. The age-old racetrack saying that ‘Those who ride long…ride long.’ would likely be put to the test.
I asserted that once we put all the puzzle pieces of Tizzy together, we would then see what she was capable of, contending that we have not seen the best of her…yet.
Mr. Orm agreed, and told me a bit about his formative years spent learning from his father, a man who he told me “did it all.” A trainer of a small stable of horses that he relied on to feed the family, his dad served as hotwalker, groom and even farrier. Cory relayed that because his dad often did well with horses cast off by others; when he was learning to ride he experienced many horses with a wide variety of mental issues. Ahhh…the morning’s happenings were beginning to make sense!
As he was leaving, the young jockey left me with this thought that made my heart happy: “If we can just figure her out, this filly can fly!”
A NEW (RACE) DAY DAWNS
Tiz Taken Back was entered back at Belterra Park, aka “the scene of the crime.” A couple of days before the race, Megan Tabor, a new friend of mine came to meet Tiz and perform on her an essential oils treatment. Megan would be using oils specifically blended to overcome past trauma and put her in a peaceful, calm mood. Megan donned her apron and organized her oils while Tiz eyed everything with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. After spending a few minutes stroking the horse and gaining her trust, Megan traversed the horse in a specific pattern, anointing each hoof at the coronet band, over the shoulders and down her neck and back. I watched as the filly grew calmer and progressively less concerned with the goings-on. As the pleasantly unusual (in a barn, anyway) aroma of the oils filled the stall, Tiz’s head drooped, her eyelids got heavy and she began to yawn.
I have employed essential oils myself to effect sleep when I am stressed, and was thrilled to find an animal person well-versed in the use of them for animals. From the looks of Tiz, the treatment session was a success!
Race day was sunny and hot, and the trip up to Belterra blessedly uneventful. Tiz shipped well; trailering is obviously not one of her ‘issues.’ She settled in to her stall in the receiving barn, and following explicit instructions given me by Megan, I applied some more of the calming oils. Tiz, for now anyway, appeared unflustered and retreated to the back of the stall and dropped her head for a snooze.
When the speaker at the end of the barn eventually crackled on to call us over to the paddock for Tiz’s race, she was ready to go—bandaged, bridled and freshly anointed with yet more oil. After saddling, jocks were summoned from the semi-mysterious world of the Jock’s Room and Cory appeared, ready to get his marching orders.
“Stay on. For the love of Pete, just STAY ON!,” I blurted. Followed quickly by the most important part. “Be safe. Whatever the case, the most important thing is for you and the filly to be safe.” Cory smiled and nodded. “Yes ma’am.”
Jerry tossed the rider up, and he came down light as a feather on Tiz’s back. That’s when I saw it...Cory’s whip, concealed on his back, tucked firmly in the waistband of his jockey pants and absolutely undetectable to Tiz.
The nerves hit me with a vengeance and I made a beeline to the women’s restroom where I splashed my face with cold water. And I paced. Back and forth, back and forth, occasionally peeking out the door into the grandstand where a TV screen was visible. Nope…no late scratches…YET. Jerry and a couple friends who had come to experience this race were out on the tarmac or up in the grandstand, but not me. I had not noticed her before, but now I stopped mid-pace as it came to my attention that the restroom attendant was eyeing me somewhat suspiciously. I mumbled something about the heat and was saved by the dulcet tones of Ed Meyer, track announcer, letting me (and everyone else) know that the horses were “At the post!”
“They’re off!” And I breathed a sigh of relief. No kidding…if the day had stopped right at that moment, I would feel like a victory had been achieved, with Tiz and Cory getting through the post parade and in and out of the starting gate as one!
I made my way to the closest TV, directly in front of the concession stand/bar. Tiz broke well, popping out and vying for the early lead. As they headed down the backstretch, Cory tucked her in nicely behind other horses intent on having the lead. He let her settle. Excellent, I thought. As they headed into the turn, Tiz dropped back a bit, and my anxiety rose in an instant.
WHAT’S WRONG??? I wondered. Is something physically wrong? Is she getting tired? Neither of those seemed likely. Maybe she was taking a breather?
I didn’t have long to ponder it. The horses came out of the turn into the stretch, and from the camera angle I was watching it seemed Tiz was boxed in a bit down on the rail with nowhere to go. And the horse and rider in front of her seemed intent on keeping her hemmed in.
And then…and then…it was as if Tiz looked at them and thought, “Not today, guys. Move over!” She made a hole where there previously had been none, and pushed her way through right up the rail.
I was like a mad thing, running back and forth in front of the bar, screaming encouragement (as if the horse could hear me!) and stopping to pound the bar top for emphasis. Tiz was eye to eye with the frontrunner, matching strides. I pounded harder and those who looked to be regular barflies gave me a wide berth. As Tiz lunged forward, that filly dropped back. What Tiz apparently didn’t see (likely due to the fact that she was wearing blinkers) was that there was a second horse on the outside of the one that she had just put away.
Just strides from the wire with me red-faced and screaming, Tiz and The Bird Is Love went at it with Tiz once again asserting that “This race is mine!” as she put The Bird away to claim victory. As I ran for the track to meet up with Jerry, I saw the restroom attendant with her head popped out the bathroom door, eyes wide. I smiled and nodded, hoping she didn’t actually think I was crazy because if we go back to Belterra, she no doubt has not seen the last of me.
To put it mildly, a jubilant bunch met Tiz and Cory in the Winner’s Circle, and I may have tackled and bear-hugged the kid before his feet even hit the ground as he dismounted, so relieved was I.
Tiz seemed unfazed, like it was all in a days’ work. She cooled out quickly and hopped on the trailer, ready to go home to the farm for a little R&R. I was following behind the trailer and made a quick stop to procure a six-pack of Guinness Stout, the traditional treat for all winners in our stable over the years.
Tiz was bedded down in her stall and The Unbelievable brought in to help celebrate. Tiz semi-turned up her nose at the beer, but The Unbelievable took the bottle in his teeth and with a little help from me, drank it down. (If only he had an opposable thumb, he wouldn’t need me at all! Lol)
It took a little convincing, but when I poured the strong dark draught over her feed, Tiz dug in. UB looked disappointed, having apparently thought that he would get Tiz’s beer too, and since I can rarely say ‘No’ to that horse, I popped the top on his second round.
It wasn’t until later that night when we watched the video replay of the race that we saw it…in the heat of the race we didn’t even notice! It was an amazing hand-ride that Cory Orm gave our filly! Keeping in mind our conversation in the barn the week prior, the jockey never bothered to retrieve the whip from the back of his pants. And why would he? The filly he was riding gave her all…everything she had…up the rail and dueling through the stretch…just because she wanted to! And that makes my heart very, VERY happy!