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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

$800 Horse Raising Awareness For Thoroughbred Retirement

Roy Steele is a noted handicapper, largely thoroughbred, with a website called horsewhispererusa.com and a regular on Horse Racing Radio Network.

And just as one would expect, Steele has gambled on an $800 "bet" and won.

When returning from the Forest City sale in London, Ontario, a year ago, he happened across an estate auction on the road between London and Sarnia. The farm had belonged to Ike Matthews, who had been a small breeder of cattle and horses.

“There were all these animals among the construction equipment,” remembers Steele. “One of the horses was a pacing yearling by Whosurboy (Artsplace–Sweet Reflection, by Big Towner), who I like very much. His babies have gone for $20,000 to $30,000 at Harrisburg.

“This one was a bit undernourished, covered in mud, and sandwiched between a backhoe and a bulldozer. There was no one there apart from us. I paid $800 for him, on my credit card.”

The horse that was revealed once the mud was curried off, was pleasingly put together, and it didn’t take long to show he had some talent.


“He has a great temperament, and he has that big rolling gait like Whosurboy’s,” says Steele.

“My partner, Mark McGuinness, came up with the idea to name him after a charity to draw attention to the sport. I loved the idea, but you wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to name a horse after a charity!”

Cancer research was their first choice for a cause, but after having been stonewalled by miles of legalese and red tape emanating from both Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong campaign, and Prostate Cancer Canada, Steele decided to change tactics.

“The lawyers vetoed everything we suggested. With a lot of these charities you’re just supporting the suits in the fancy offices on Bay Street,” he says. “Then I thought of Old Friends.”

Old Friends is a registered charity providing a forever home in Georgetown, Ky., for retired Thoroughbred racehorses, especially (but not exclusively) those with stakes records and high profiles. President Michael Blowen, fittingly, is another old friend of Steele’s -- and he was delighted to make a deal on a handshake.

Steele’s gelding, now renamed Oldfriendskentucky, is donating 20 percent of his earnings to support his Thoroughbred cousins at Old Friends. In return, Old Friends’s 40,000 followers on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are helping to raise the profile of harness racing.

Now that Steele has a model in place, he’s envisioning an entire stable of horses trotting and pacing for charity. With two more Whosurboy youngsters in his shedrow waiting their turn, we could be witnessing the beginning of a movement. Steele has a sister to Oldfriendskentucky that he will be naming HRRN, after Horse Racing Radio Network, and another horse he plans to name Sgt Neil Green Beret after a friend who died in Afghanistan while taking care of his son in the British Army.

Oldfriendskentucky most recently won at Woodbine on March 26th, for new trainer Richard Moreau and driver Sylvain Filion, in 1:54.2. His next start will be tomorrow at Georgian Downs with an estimated post of 8:05 p.m.

Steele hopes to bring Oldfriendskentucky not far from his namesake this fall to race at The Red Mile.

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