free spirit

Tuesday November 4, 2014

This day started out different from most Tuesdays as not only was it the first day of the Keeneland sale, but also Election Day.  David started at sunrise at the sales barn passing out donuts to the workers and informational flyers to the potential bidders detailing the benefits of purchasing one of the two horses offered for sale.

After taking care of some other business, Dr. Sinatra, his wife Jan and myself met in the lobby around noon.  We drove to the sales grounds.  After a brief walk of the grounds, the team met outside of the sales pavilion and would be travelling to the farm of Matt Hogan.  He is a young trainer who has a nice, large farm about 8 miles from Keeneland.  The drive to the farm was everything one could want in a pretty postcard.  Winding roads through the manicured rolling pastures with eye catching leaves of every fall color dangling from the trees.

The purpose of our visit to Blackwood Stables that day was to see a 2 year old filly out Sage Cat, sired by Blame named Flame.  We had seen the horse about 90 days prior,   when we were enjoyed the treat of watching her gallop up the green grass of the pasture.  The usual training track was not available that summer day due to an early morning rain. But, we thoroughly enjoyed piling ourselves into golf carts to follow her up the grassy inclines as she enjoyed her romp. And, Flame definitely relished in taking the lead as she ran with her stablemates! 

Today’s follow up would allow us to see the effects of the nutriceutical products that Steve had put on her since our last visit. She exhibited  a little bit of a belly in July.  We were accompanied that day by a German horsewoman and equine acupuncturist named Carola Ortleib.  A bit the “horse whisperer”, Carola spent time with Flame and suggested the filly was self-conscious about her tummy compared to the slimmer horses in the barn.

Really. Flame could feel shame?  

  Horses love contact.  July 2014:  Flame at Blackwood Stables with Jan Sinatra, Steve Sinatra, and her trainer Matt Hogan
Horses love contact.  July 2014: Flame at Blackwood Stables with Jan Sinatra, Steve Sinatra, and her trainer Matt Hogan

Well, Flame definitely enjoyed having physical contact and praise from all of us of that day.

So, Steve took that observation “in stride” enough to ask that Blackwood manager and trainer Matt Hogan  start Flame on twice-daily doses of CoEnzyme Q10, L-carnitine, and natural anti-inflammatories  to increase her energy and promote a “tummy tuck”. In addition, Steve yanked the molasses out of her diet to limit her sugar intake.  The intention was to help attenuate any inflammation she might have, while helping her to lose a little weight at the same time. 

When we pulled into the farm’s gate we noticed  that the new racetrack they’d told us about in July  had already been completed!  It sits in a slight valley from the main road and is ¾ of a mile in circumference.   Matt Hogan had worked in great detail with well known track consultant Randy Bloc, and now has one of the best training tracks in the area.  When describing the course, Matt went into detail about how the track was installed 6 inches in depth at a time, instead of the usual 2 feet.

 New track
New track

This detail to quality not only provides the best cushion for the horse, but also allows for maximum drainage of runoff water.  This attention to detail is why Steve selected Matt to train this filly.

 Dudley proudly presents his stick and shows his happy spirit
Dudley proudly presents his stick and shows his happy spirit

Due to my error, we went to the wrong barn (barn 3 instead of barn 4).  I only mention this to describe one of the cutest sights I have seen.  As I walked from the barn to the car, I was greeted by a couple of Matt’s dogs.  One of these dogs only had 3 legs.  Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he bound about and played just the same as the other dogs.   It was truly heart warming to an animal lover like myself.  I just could not love on this little guy enough.  Time and again in this sport I am reminded that the animals have natural recuperative power and the ability to adapt to physical setbacks.

In fact, I was so moved by this inspirational pup, that Jan contacted Matt to learn more about him. Matt put her in touch with his owner, Tara. Once Jan saw the photos Tara sent over, she recognized her as Flame’s rider that August day of our visit! And we had loved the way Tara touched, handled and encouraged Flame that day, with a heart full of true love for animals.  Now I know that dog is named Dudley, and I’d like to share her story just the way Tara texted it over to Jan, along with some photos:

 Dudley loving his equine twin in the barn
Dudley loving his equine twin in the barn

“Dudley is my 10 year-old lab and the love of my life! I’ve had him since he was born. I was told 14 months ago that he had 60-90 days to live because he had osteosarcoma (bone cancer). I chose to amputate the leg and start chemo. We are beating the odds so far and I am thankful for every day with him! I could not love him an more, but each day my love grows. He has taught me so much and I aspire to be like him.”

Tara has shared more moving photos of Dudley that you can view at Dudley’s photo corner.

Soon we got to barn 4. We walked through the manicured shed row looking for Flame, but  one of her handlers already had her out in front of the barn in anticipation of our arrival.   It was amazing how much she had developed in the 2 months since we’d last seen her.  The small belly was gone, and Flame had developed so much in the hips.  Someday these hips will drive her down the stretch and to the winner’s circle.

Not only had Flame developed physically; she’d also developed emotionally.  As we approached her, she leaned into Dr. Steve as if she was a child hugging a parent. 

 All horses need love.
All horses need love.

Her ears perked up as Steve and Jan stroked the horse.  Jan filmed the entire session and the horse looked like a developing teenager posing for her prom pictures.

Even though as bettors we think of horses as machines, they are living, breathing animals with a high need to be loved, just like humans.  Horses are kept alone in their stalls a good portion of the day. So, when they get the caress of an admiring human, it heals them better than any pharmaceutical product ever developed in a laboratory.  The filly could not get enough attention and Dr. Steve simply beamed as he praised and pet his prized filly.

After a brief discussion about Flame’s short term future and her upcoming s transfer to Dr. Sinatra’s Maryland farm for future development and concierge care (including acupuncture), the group headed back to the Keeneland sale.  Upon arrival at the Keeneland sale, the owners were given some news.

The Bodemiester filly had garnered lot of attention with over 60 parties looking at her since her arrival on the sales grounds. Consigner Joe Sites reported to David that a few of the groups wanted to “scope” the horse.  A scope is an endoscopy procedure in which a small tube with a camera is placed inside the horse’s nostril and allows a view of the inner breathing organs of the racehorse.   This is quite an invasive procedure and especially so to a younger horse whose parts are just not as big as a grown up horse. Every potential buyer wants their own vet to check and scope the horse personally, even though it is recorded on video like human endoscopy. Before investing in such expensive creatures, thoroughbred horse owners want to be assured they have a patent airway and sound health.

The team had a decision to make. Steve and David had to decide whether or not to allow the “Bodie Baby” (As Steve’s wife Jan had affectionately and unofficially nicknamed her) to undergo the procedure another time or more.  To do so could increase the filly’s  selling price, as an unknown variable of airway patency would be proven, and removed from the buyers concerns.  But, thinking of the stress on their weanling, they could take a stand and refuse to allow the procedure to be performed repeatedly, and sacrifice  the auction buyers’ confidence.  .  If she didn’t sell for a “respectable price”, the Sinatras were prepared to enjoy keeping the filly, and naming her “Sagemeiste”.

Dr. Steve & David discussed this in great detail for almost an hour with the help of their advisors.  Finally, Dr. Steve drew the line in the sand, and set a limit. His response as a horse-lover and doctor that he would allow the horse to be scoped again ONLY if she had not already been scoped a total of three times.   David checked with Joe Sites: the weanling filly had been scoped twice. Thus reassured, Dr Steve allowed a third scoping, but no more.   This is consistent with his  belief that these young horses should not be traumatized with excessive invasive, repetitive procedures. In people medicine, endoscopy procedures are performed once, and filmed. Any MD wishing to view the findings may do so. There is a standard of care, and human physicians trust and follow it. With throughbreds, owners want their own personal vet to do the procedure and give an opinion.

I left Steve & David alone to discuss the scoping situation in more detail.  To kill some time I strolled around the sales pavilion. I noticed a display of equine themed paintings.   Further inspection informed me that an auction of these fine equine paintings would be held in a few weeks.  These painting were not the type you see at some “starving artists” sale, nor were there any tapestries of Elvis or dogs playing poker.  These were full-fledged artist’s paintings of horses in a variety of settings.  Some were on the racetrack, some were in the pasture and others were paintings of horses & dogs hunting foxes together.  I admit I do like sports art and have my share of Leroy Neiman paintings.  However, this took any previous art I have observed to a new level.  This was a collection done by notable artists who put all of their energy into capturing the beauty of the equine athlete and their human connections. Some were very highly valued (and expensive) historical pieces.

A few paintings caught my eye and I sent an iPhone pic of one to a friend for their opinion.  Instead of getting an opinion, I simply received a “Don’t bid against me” text.   The auction is November 19 and the paintings are worth seeing, well except the one a particular friend is interested in.   

 Race Day Painting David`s friend has an interest in
Race Day Painting David`s friend has an interest in

After a quick trip back to the hotel to freshen up, it was time for the team to have dinner and discuss the website.  This would be our first face to face meeting about the website since content was added in early August.  As with any start up business there are many issues to consider when you try to formulate a long term plan. 

 Tom Carley, Steve Sinatra and David Smith meet up at JW
Tom Carley, Steve Sinatra and David Smith meet up at JW

While we continued to discussed the product and decide which strategic focus we would head in, one thing became apparently clear:


What does this mean? There are many websites that report on the news. There are many website that interview the stars of the sport. Those are all good and I am taking nothing from them. However, the purpose of this website is to examine real issues and educate those that follow the website in all aspects of the business. That includes the c current debate about the use of drugs such as Lasix pre-race.


  • Why are horses given so many drugs these days when horses performed more frequently in generations past with veterinarian involvement only in catastrophic occurrences?
  • Why aren’t more younger people drawn to the sport?
  • Why are horses not given the proper nutrition, including the use of organic ingredients?
  • What is the importance of energized/natural mineralized water in the development of the horse.
  • How do we encourage more females to participate in the sport?

While this was the initial meeting and there were few concrete decisions made, the meeting did yield a strategy.  Several short term developments are going to be made to the website. These include informational and educational offerings that address:

  • The benefits of proper nutrition with non-GMO organic foods.
  •  How to use natural foods and supplements to help eliminate the need for “bleeder” medications.
  • A racing 101 interactive teaching session to teach new fans the basics of handicapping– including key things to look for in reading the racing form.
  • Confirmation 101, which would include an explanation of “the basics” in  what defines “good  confirmation” in a thoroughbred, and how to look for it while at the sale.
  • Wagering 101, to include physical items should you look for when a horse is in the paddock & warming up on the racetrack before you make a wager?

I walked away from the meeting not only confident in the future success of the website, but also just feeling that we are a simple group of guys doing the right thing for the animals & the sport. Dr. Sinatra has purchased a farm in Maryland that will be the first of its kind. The farm will offer customized concierge care for the racehorses. This care will focus on non-GMO feed, natural spring water, targeted nutritional supplements, omega 3’s, various energy medicine modalities, and most important, love, and nurturing of the animal. Pharmaceutical involvement will be carefully discerned and will be limited. Steve’s immediate goal is to win a Grade I race without the use of traditional veterinarian intervention. Energy medicine — interventions like acupuncture and more — is an emerging trend in humans and this kind of treatment also has benefits for the horse.

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