Friday, January 28, 2011

Fight On Gino-- The Naming of a Race Horse for Gino Fighting Cancer--

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing the good side of racing when I learned that an unnamed race horse in the Doug O'Neill barn had been named for a new friend, fighting cancer.

In recent months many of us had learned of the story of Gino Buccola and have attended fundraisers to help with his medical expenses. Including the owners of a three year old chestnut, Mark Verge of and his breeder/owner Jack Sisterson. "Team Gino" had a new member, Fight On Gino.

Gino was born with the race track in his blood. "My Dad and Grandpa used to own horses with Walter Greenman years ago, Bright Orphan was one of their bigger horses they owned. My Dad was a general contractor so he was done with work everyday with time to go to the races at age 23. My Mom worked out in front of Santa Anita selling the digests, so everyday my Dad would ask her out on a date, and everyday she would nicely decline. One day my dad had a huge tip on a horse that he had been waiting to run, so he bet a $ 20 ticket to win on the horse and walked down and gave it to my Mom telling her "when this horse wins, I'm gonna make a lot of money today, and your gonna go out on a date with me later." Sure enough, it won, and my Mom went out later with my Dad, the rest being history".

Gino remembers trips to Santa Anita as early as 9 years of age including sneaking out as a senior in high school to make trips to the track and bet and be back to class by the afternoon. "It made sense to me (the racing form and sheets) My thing is that its like taking a test, the more I examine and study the form and figures, the better I do, something will pop out at me that I didn't see before, that's where I find the 10-1 or 20-1 horse".

If your in Southern California USC is a staple and the name jumped out at me as a life long USC fan. The name Fight On Gino, has a double meaning as it turns out the USC cry "Fight On" means alot to Gino too. "When my Grandpa was in high school he was a very good football player for Lincoln High in Los Angeles and he was being recruited by USC. USC was one of the only schools that recruited him, but he ended up going to war, and when he came back from Korea he never ended up making it back to USC but he was always a big fan of them for giving him a chance. He loved USC forever, and it was passed down to my Dad and his brothers and then to me, we have been HUGE Trojan fans for 60+ years, and for me my entire life from day one".

Gino went to work at TVG and I remember him during the 2010 Del Mar meet, he had an energy that was infectious, and he mixed well with the other on air personalities. Gino started at TVG by being invited by a friend to come to the studio in Santa Monica and hang out, make some bets and have fun. "After talking to a few other producers, they offered me a job right away as a producer's assistant, working behind the scenes doing race replays and getting background information for our (the producers) shows". "The month of March was one of my biggest and best months as far as betting goes, and soon after hearing how well I was doing, TVG would have me do little spots from the studio where I would talk about the horses I liked. The show Gate Crashers is where I really started to make myself as a main-stay so I would come on once a week and mention a horse I liked for each race".

I remember watching Friday Night Fights, it was a lot of fun and there was always Gino pitted against a veteran handicapper at the track. A weekly battle with the young upstart and a seasoned guy. The stipulation was that if Gino lost more weeks than he won, he would shave off his hair on air. The segment extended to Del Mar. "The best memory I had was the last week of my show when my hair was on the line. I received $ 400 to bet on the last race of the day. My horse won and I went crazy happy on TV (keeping my hair), that was one of the best days of my entire life, when the pressure was on I nailed it. The horse was Dearly Concerned and I will never forget that day".

All was perfect in Gino's world when in the fall of 2010 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and began undergoing chemo treatment and battling cancer. Gino's prognosis is good. He has many people behind him, and with the joyous way he tackles each day, he is truly an inspiration for many.

That same inspiration led to the naming of the chestnut for Gino. Jack Sisterson said "We named the horse after Gino because we wanted to show support for Gino and thank him for everything he has done considering what he has been through and going through at the moment. He is a role model in life and should be proud of himself. So far, Gino the horse shows great fighting spirits and if the horse has even the half the characteristics, determination, energy, and will that Gino has, he will be a winner!"

A Facebook page has been created for "Fight On Gino", follow his progress as he trains for his first race and carries the hopes of many.

The Second Race wishes both Gino and Fight On Gino well....see you both in the Winners Circle!

To view horses no longer headed to the winners circle, that are looking for a new home or career, go to our website or visit our Facebook page.

Photos by Cecilia Felix

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Full Circle Day

Monday started out as any other day with planned activities and horse work to be accomplished. What I didn't know at the time was that the day would be a "full circle day" for me and would be profoundly moving as well.

I arrived at Santa Anita and went to see a trainer regarding a filly that had been injured the day prior during morning works. I had been told about her injury the night before and was following up on her prognosis and if our services were going to be needed. At that time, it was still up in the air, the owner didn't want the horse anymore of course, and the trainer wasn't sure how badly she was hurt. I told them to keep me posted. While at the track enjoying the morning works, I was called by another trainer to take in a filly that too had been injured during the morning. She had a fracture that was beyond the scope of what The Second Race was able to adequately care for, there was a possibility that surgery would be required. It haunted me for the rest of the morning that I said "no" to a horse. I felt bad that we couldn't provide the necessary care for her. Logically, we won't be able to say "yes" to all, but emotionally for some reason it was difficult. Perhaps because the other pretty grey filly didn't look like she was going to be able to be helped as well.

After leaving the track, I proceeded to the January mixed sale at Barrett's. The sale features yearlings, racing prospects, race horses and broodmares. Its a mixed bag of horses, that some cynically say are the ones that are basically a "fire sale" of horses.

I went to the Bloodstock agents that were expecting me, having been contacted that there may be a couple horses that would need homes, should they not sell. After leaving some brochures for a few other farms and agents represented in the sale I proceeded to the pavilion to watch the sale. The year prior it was distressing to The Second Race that there didn't' seem to be much of a market for the broodmares; visibly pregnant and under some stress. Many did not have bids, and we had vowed this year to be prepared to provide homes for them should the same happen this year. We were prepared with vans and caring folks to have room for up to ten horses.

This sale felt a bit different, and it seemed there were enough buyers. The horses weren't selling for much, but at least they were garnering bids. When to my surprise a beautiful horse appeared before me, I soon learned it was E Z Warrior that was being sold as part of the Zayat holdings. E Z Warrior had been a $ 1.2 million dollar purchase as a two year old at Barrett's. He had 15 starts and earned $238,448 winning the Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes at two, and won the San Miguel States at three. He entered stud in 2010. Now here he was 5 years after bringing a large sale price, being offered for sale. It just struck me as ironic. He sold for $ 5,700 my friend and I stepped outside the pavilion to snap a few photos of him that the handler graciously allowed us. E Z Warrior was clearly not comfortable being in the environment.

In the meantime the trainer with the grey filly, came up to me to tell me he wouldn't be sleeping tonight, as he had made the decision that she needed to be put down. He walked away, a weight on his shoulder.

Soon a very handsome gelding went through the sale and did not have a bid. He looked to be perfect for the show ring and I went to the bloodstock agent and introduced myself and our services. I said that if he didn't have a home to go to, or if there weren't other plans for him, I would be happy to take him. I was assured that he would have a home by one of the grooms that works for the agent. But she had a lovely grey open mare that if she did not have any bids, she would call me and give me the mare. I asked a friend to track her, and received a call two or three hours later that she had sold for $ 1,000-- she had a home.

It was time to leave and go to Hollywood Park, I was taking a friend to LAX with a short visit beforehand to see Lava Man. I hadn't visited with him since Santa Anita had re-opened and was hoping he would remember me. I was happily greeted with his tongue shooting out of his mouth as he does when he sees me with a small nicker and lots of head shaking to hurry up and see him. It was the salve that I needed for a hurting heart. The filly that I had said "no" to, was still on my mind. I decided to take a look at her.

She was in fact a beautiful filly, and that only made it worse. Now I felt obligated to help her emotionally, was it a good idea that I had done this, I didn't know. She was delightful but I could see a visible difference on her back end and knew that we really couldn't help her.

While walking back to see Lava Man, I saw a plain bay horse with the sweetest doe like eyes, the kind that draw you in and make you melt. He had the perfect name in Spanish which translated to Cookie Monster. I went to him and he immediately won me over. I cupped my hands and he laid his muzzle within the palm of my hands. He just kept it there and let me kiss his whiskery dough like muzzle over and over again. How did he know that this was exactly what I needed. It was then that I realized it was a full circle moment.

The Second Race hadn't been able to help any horses that day, as much as we had tried, but the horses that evening, helped us to be okay with it too.

To see the horses that are waiting for a new home, visit our website at or our Facebook page.

Photo of Lava Man by Doug O'Neill Racing
Photo of E Z Warrior and Galetta Monstruo by Julie Ziek

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Zenyatta-- Took Us to the Mountain Top

If you don't love horse racing, and you don't love Thoroughbred race horses, you probably won't understand what took place last night at the Eclipse Awards in Florida. The Eclipse Awards is the pinnacle, the Academy Awards or Grammy's for horse racing and breeders of these most magnificent athletes.

Zenyatta, after two previous nominations won Horse of the Year last night. A literal scream escaped my body when the words "Zenyatta" were announced. I saw Ann Moss look as if she thought she heard the words, but wasn't entirely sure, as if she was in a dream. Well the truth was she has been in a dream, we all have, the dream of seeing a once in a life time horse. At least my lifetime.

I missed Secretariat, I missed Ruffian, I missed Seattle Slew, I missed Man O'War and I missed Seabiscuit, whom I know in their time was the "horse of the year". But a horse of a life time, only perhaps Secretariat was the last that collectively took a nation on a ride. But I missed it, and so I only have Zenyatta to say--- you are the horse of my lifetime.

Everyone has their reasons why they fell in love with this particular horse, everyone has their own experience and some of us were fortunate enough to have had access to her majesty. She was magical off and on the track. Before her retirement (the first time), I had the great pleasure of meeting Zenyatta. I remember just looking at her and soaking in every single minute of it. I didn't touch her, didn't even ask if I could, if I did perhaps I thought it won't be real. But she was, and on subsequent visits to her, often I would just sit back and soak her in again. I would enjoy the reaction of others, and relive my own first time experience. I had the opportunity to take my friends to see her, and it was always a joy, as if giving something that didn't belong to me, but was more precious than a Tiffany blue box.

When Zenyatta narrowly missed the Breeders Cup Classic in 2010, she returned to Hollywood Park, her kingdom, her special place where her adoring fans lined up every single day and were allowed access to her. She accepted each and every gift, every tear that filled an eye, and every awe struck race fan with a grace that was human like. Always knowing she had taken us to the mountain top, to the pinnacle and last night, she received the award she deserved.

Race horse retirement received its due as well. The Second Race wants to thank Jerry Moss of mentioning Tranquility Farms, race horse retirement in general and how the public and industry have the responsibility to embrace and support the work that many of us do across the United States.

Mary Lou Whitney, eloquently stated that there was a responsibility to the horses, that no horse should ever go to slaughter again. Both gave the necessary attention to the plight of race horses and our hope is that in the afterglow of Zenyatta's win, that the public will donate to their favorite race horse charity in the name of Zenyatta.

For those that were not able to see the Eclipse Awards here are the words so perfectly written. Thank you Team Zenyatta, thank you the voters for getting it right. Your choice was tonic for this soul.

To see the horses that The Second Race has for adoption or are available for sponsorship visit

Photos by Cecilia Felix, Julie Ziek and Zoe Metz

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Featured Horse--- Topper Shopper to The Second Race

Not often in the course of the work that we do at The Second Race, do we have the pleasure of having a horse retired to us that we have spent much time with over the course of their racing career, however such is the case with our latest arrival, Topper Shopper.

Topper Shopper (Old Topper) was foaled at Tommy Town Thoroughbreds, a beautiful breeding facility in the Santa Ynez Valley, CA. Tommy Town is a respite from the world, and I have had the pleasure of being guests of Tom & Debi Stull on a few occasions. On one such visit, there was a character of a chestnut, that I grew fond of right from the beginning. Topper Shopper looked so much like his sire. I still remember the first time I saw him, he was back from the track on a vacation and this large white muzzle was peering out from under the stall webbing. I found him often in this position over the weekend, and I am certain he spent many an hour trying to figure out how to crawl out from under his stall. He was interactive and enjoyed our frequent visits to him during that stay.

Topper Shopper won early in his career at the age of two; and was a promising race horse from the start. Before starting The Second Race, I volunteered for CERF (California Equine Retirement Foundation) and especially enjoyed painting with horses (yes, the horses actually painted their own masterpieces) to benefit the ranch. Topper Shopper was also a favorite of the owners at Tommy Town Thoroughbreds and a commissioned painting was done by Topper Shopper on another visit to the ranch.

Along the way Topper Shopper was claimed and it wasn't until recently that I saw him again in Doug O'Neill's barn after an absence. Topper Shopper was sidelined in 2009 for a surgery to his leg and after healing up, was brought back into training.

His current owners were very fond of him, and hoped that he could return to his winning self, but decided that if he wasn't able to compete at the level he had left at, then it was best to not continue having him go down the claiming ranks and retired him. It was a difficult decision for them after investing in his return, but a good one to make as well.

Topper Shopper earned over $ 345,000 during his racing career, and has the distinction of being the second highest money earner for Old Topper to date, behind Top This and That (who ironically resides in retirement at CERF). When Topper Shopper arrived last Friday to our foster facility, he bounced right out off the van and showed off for anyone that wanted to look. He was just as flashy and charming as he was when I first laid eyes on him. A smile came across my face, and it is going to be a pleasure helping him find a new home.

A very young six year old gelding, Topper Shopper would do well with an experienced handler, he is playful and bright. We believe Topper Shopper will make an excellent horse for a new career and he would relish and enjoy learning.

If you would be interested in learning more about Topper Shopper or any of the other horses owned by The Second Race, contact us directly at or visit our website at

Monday, January 10, 2011

For The Love of a Race Horse

Most of us around race horses each day, know and understand "Don't fall in love with a race horse; especially a claimer". Race trackers are a wonderful mix of colorful and devoted people. They love their work, love the horses and most go about their jobs understanding that horses come and go.

As a fan of racing and with the pleasure of being able to spend hours in many barns, I can attest that up and down shed rows there remains many a horse waiting for a heart to become attached to it.

So was the story of Thomas Baines. Thomas didn't start out as a claimer, there were high aspirations for him and even a hint at Derby contention. He ran and placed in several races, but on Saturday found himself in for a tag. Attached to that tag, the love and devotion of my friend.

I think as a fan, you remember your first horse, the one race horse that started it all for you. And more than likely, it was a famous horse, a big horse! And most of the time you don't have the opportunity to ever, touch, see or smell that horse in "real life". Ah but when you do, it changes things.

Thomas has tons of personality, and draws you in. So he was a likely candidate for a first crush by a new fan, and first heartbreak at seeing the red tag hanging off his halter at the end of a race. That piece of jewelry is one a person never wants to see handed to a horse they love.

My first time was a horse like Thomas Baines, a horse named Will. Why he was the first to capture my heart, I won't know. Could it be because he is grey, could it be because he was delightful and stole your heart with the first glance? Could it be that he would push the opening of the pen gate towards you, as if to say come on in, and sit with me for awhile. Could it be that he would literally be willing to spend the day following you around from place to place? Could it be that the same puppy dog in the barn, was a thrill to watch on the track? Who knows, you love who you love.

Going in and out of barns you never know which horse will pop its head over and look at you with both amazement and attention, that first mutual glance...and your smitten all over again.

And you never know when that same horse will break your heart, but really would you have it any other way?

Photo of Thomas Baines by John Chun. Photo of Will from Del Mar after being claimed in 2007 from the Winners Circle.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Cost of a "Free" Horse

At the inception of The Second Race, we wanted to be as easy a resource as possible for both the adopter and the trainer/owner asking for assistance. This included offering "free" horses to our network of potential adopters. While the idea of a free horse, is tempting, a horse is never free.

Nor is the responsibility of the adopter to ensure that the horse finds a happy and healthy home and life. The Second Race has discovered on occasion in the past 18 months, that those that received a "free" horse from us, didn't perhaps have the "buy in" needed to ensure that their new horse was a forever horse in their care. Let us explain.

When, Sharla Sanders the founder of The Second Race worked in middle management at a number one mortgage company in America, she was responsible for the broker division and managed 46 employees. The division went from having three separate managers, to just one (Sharla) in a years time. There were lots of disgruntled employees, change is hard for everyone and managing expectations was important to the success of the company. Sharla and her manager a VP determined that there had to be "buy in" from the employees in order to reach our goals. A bonus plan was re-designed whereby all members of the team had to collectively reach benchmarks, goals and exceed expectations together, for anyone to receive a bonus. At first, this was not well received, but in a very short time everyone learned they had to work together to get their increase in salary, in other words, they bought into the mission of the company and expectations. Without doing this, those that did well would expect their bonuses and those that did not, continued to do sub par performance. Its all about the buy in, you have to feel that you are invested in order to make something matter to you, its just human nature. Anything given and not earned is never appreciated in the same manner.

Taking that same thought process into consideration, The Second Race has decided that beginning this month, there will be an adoption fee for our horses. $ 500 will be required and the adopter will be responsible for the Coggins/Health Cert and transport should a horse go across state lines. The Second Race paid for the shipping of horses, and Coggins and found not only was this costly, but it was easy for someone to consider "giving back" a horse or attempting to transfer a horse to another party, because as mentioned above in our opinion, a stake in that horse was not present.

Our mission is to continue to provide an easy transition from the race track, lay up farm or breeding operation for the horsemen, but we also believe that an adopter should be more vested in the adoption of one of our horses, and so therefore the change in procedure. Please note, if a horse is not owned by The Second Race, the horse will still be offered for free, unless the current owner agrees that some type of fee should be attached to the horses adoption. These will be on a case by case basis.

One way to find out about the cost of horse ownership is to do research prior to adoption. Here is a recent book written by a life long horsewomen that clearly and easily shares her years of experience. A horse is a lifetime (a horse's life span can be as much as 25 years) commitment, and should be treated as such.

To read more about 'What A Free Horse Really Costs' or to order the book go to Diane Mollers' website A portion of her book sales, will benefit a rescue organization, Habitat for Horses.

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