No more losses by triple-digit lengths. No more van rides from New Mexico to Canada. The days of being a horse racing sideshow are over.
Ricks Natural Star, a thoroughbred with more notoriety than victories, is headed for retirement and a life of leisure in Kentucky’s bluegrass country.
Thanks to a retired Arizona horseman, the 8-year-old gelding who finished 180 lengths behind the winner in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Turf race last October in Toronto, will now be chasing nothing more than his shadow.
Larry Weber of Scottsdale acquired the horse in a claiming race Jan. 12 at Arizona’s Turf Paradise. The $7,500 that Weber paid is about $1,500 more than Ricks Natural Star earned during a racing career that included just two victories in 25 races.
Ricks Natural Star will spend the rest of his life at Sunnyside Farm in central Kentucky.
“It’s rolling pastures with a black plank fence,” said Jeff Thornbury, who along with Dr. Robert W. Copelan--a well known veterinarian--owns the farm located 75 miles east of Churchill Downs.
Ricks Natural Star was expected to arrive at the farm by the end of this week. Thornbury said once there, the horse will have his shoes removed and will be checked over before being turned out.
“Absolutely,” Thornbury said when asked if Ricks Natural Star’s life will now be one of leisure. “He’s going to have a very nice life.
“I have three sons and I suspect we might make him a riding horse,” Thornbury said. “He’s going to have the best of care and a real nice retirement.”
Weber, who tried to avoid publicity on his purchase of the horse, did it with the intent of taking Ricks Natural Star out of competition.
“It’s best for the horse and best for the game of racing that as an 8-year-old gelding and given his performance, it was best that he be retired,” Weber told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The horse’s former owner, Artesia, N.M., veterinarian William “Doc” Livingston, had been criticized extensively in racing circles for running the horse in the Breeders’ Cup. Livingston paid $40,000 to enter Ricks Natural Star in the race against some of the best thoroughbreds in the world and transported the horse to Canada from New Mexico by van.
Ricks Natural Star was in contention only briefly in the 1 1/4-mile race and eventually loped home 30 seconds behind the winner, Pilsudski.
After Toronto, the horse ran in two more races. He finished sixth in an 870-yard race in November at Los Alamitos in California and eighth in his final race over 6 1/2 furlongs at Turf Paradise.
In a statement issued after claiming the horse, Weber said the notoriety surrounding the horse was hurting the animal and the sport of racing.
“It is time for this saga to come to an end,” said Weber.
Livingston, who acquired Ricks Natural Star several months before the Breeders’ Cup, said he regretted losing him and reiterated his contention that Ricks Natural Star had more ability than he had shown.
“I felt like he never had an opportunity to run properly, so he never reached his potential,” said Livingston.
Within days of the Breeders’ Cup race, Livingston filed a complaint with the Ontario Racing Commission, alleging his horse had not been given a fair chance to win. The commission dismissed the complaint.