The Breeders' Cup® Experience Through the Eyes of an Owner

By Loren Hebel-Osborne November 21, 2014

The calendar and the artic air tell me that our phenomenal year of racing is nearing its end, but some leaves remain on the trees and the sweetness of Breeders’ Cup 2014 also continues to linger. The experience of owning a contender in the Breeders’ Cup Classic was an exclamation point, not only for a whirlwind year, but also for a lifetime of participating in the thoroughbred industry. 

My Breeders' Cup® Experience

Our story to the race un-folded much like a fairy-tale and was magical in every way except for the ending.  While Majestic Harbor had never finished worse than fourth on the Santa Anita race track and he had run some of the fastest races of his life, “Rocky” just didn’t have his A-game on at the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday – finishing a disappointing 13 of 14.  

The Saturday morning rain in California, a rarity, gave us early warning that the track would likely be very fast and speed favoring – making our bid to win even more daunting.  We knew we were going to have to stay close to the pace and hope the early leaders would wear themselves out in a speed dual, hopefully causing them to “back-up to us” in the stretch similar to the Santa Anita Gold Cup. 

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A battle did indeed ensue with the speed horses, but it was all at the controversial break with Bayern, eliminating his competition gladiator-style, and then moving to the lead uncontested with some comfortable fractions.  When jockey Tyler Baze asked Majestic Harbor to run, he dug in and tried to make his move. 

His determined effort to close on the leaders was in vain as the speedy inside rail allowed all those horses to just keep sailing along.  Majestic Harbor, feeling defeated early, decided to just throw in the towel and coast home - despite his Tyler’s encouragement and our distance, but waning, cheers. 

If our horse could have understood the financial difference to us for even a fifth place finish ($150,000), I think he would have kept trying.  We wanted to explain to him to “run it out past first base” just in case someone drops the ball!  But, they are horses, not humans and not machines that can be more easily predicted – both the mystery and misery of the racing. 

I still would not have traded the experience and I’m still immensely proud of my horse for being one of 14 starters in the field in one of the richest and most prestigious races in the world!

Moments before the race were electric and at one point in the paddock, just before the jockeys were legged-up, I was completely overwhelmed with emotion and adrenaline.  I fought back tears and took several deep breaths – to fully see, hear and smell everything around me so I wouldn’t forget. 

We hugged our friends and families and honored the moment with a prayer of gratitude. Our horse has given us the gift of an experience we had only dreamed of.  Even in the hours, days and weeks after the race, I am still feeling proud and blessed – rolling snapshots of the day are emblazoned in my memory forever. 

Add to that, I am in the best company of losers ever!  There were sheiks, millionaires and celebrities whose champions also ran less than par those two days and we were among them.  I’m not sure who said it but I’ve often used the quote “horses humble even Kings” – no statement can ever be more true.

Majestic Harbor appeared to have exited the race in good shape, but we did conduct a nuclear bone scan just to be certain.  While a few minor spots were detected, none could explain his poor performance.  We waited several days and then conferred with our partners and trainer Sean McCarthy for a plan. 

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Our horse competed hard for a year in graded stakes company. Majestic Harbor will get a freshening away from the track and will hopefully emerge rested and ready for a 2015 campaign.  “Camp” for Rocky will allow him to put his head down for some grass, roll around in a nice sand lot and just feel the sunshine on his back untethered from the end of a leather shank.  Like people, Rocky may love his job as a race horse, but everyone can use a vacation and change of scenery. 

Plans for a 2015 Campaign

Going forward, we will likely add the option of turf racing to our portfolio as the older horse division appears to be full of talent with graduating 3-year-olds.  Rocky’s affinity to run over long distances, gives us more races to choose from and we hope he will take to the grass surface with gusto.

The game of racing is just that – a game.  We will strategize and pick spots where we think we can give Rocky the best chance to use his running style and talent to win – and will be back to battle again on the track.

While I didn’t have the same benefit of a freshening like my horse did, I did change gears and began to focus on Kentucky Derby 2015.  There’s no better way to restore hope and re-frame the dream than to turn your attention to the young horses just beginning their careers.  And the homecoming at Keeneland for
Breeders’ Cup 2015 planning begins in earnest too!

While time indeed “marches on” and winter approaches, I may just linger here like the leaves; in the memories of fall a bit longer.

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