Bonapaw lived with us as a reserved, benign presence. Except for his good looks he didn’t call a lot of attention to himself in retirement, but he sure did attract notice on the track. Bred in Kentucky by Dr. William O. Reed and bought at the Keeneland yearling sale by twins James Richard and Dennis Richard, Bonapaw began racing at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas, Louisiana. At two and three he ran like a pretty good sprinter. At four be developed into an extraordinary one. Having conquered the Louisiana circuit, he went to Oaklawn Park for his first graded stakes win in the Count Fleet Sprint. By this time, Gerard Melancon was his regular jockey.
Bonapaw was on a roll. He marked his five year old campaign with five stakes wins, including the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park, where he beat the formidable Aldebaran. For another year he continued to earn at graded stakes level, raced at Kentucky Downs, and won at Keeneland. He retired to the Richards’ farm with earnings topping $1 million and with a race at the Fair Grounds named after him.
In 2009, James Richard, Jr. retired Bonapaw to Old Friends and he began his new career, greeting his fans and introducing his new admirers to the beauty and athleticism of the Thoroughbred.
When he arrived at the Georgetown farm, a surprise came with him—his trophies. When Michael called Jamie Richard to thank him, Jamie answered that since Bonapaw won the trophies, he figured they were Bonapaw’s. Old Friends has been honored to display Bonapaw’s tall silver Vosburgh trophy on the office mantelpiece for years. Maybe even nearer to our hearts is the glass bowl Bonapaw won in the stakes named for Taylor’s Special.
When Bonapaw first joined the gelding herd in the original left-hand back pasture, he laid down the law to them. That’s a ploy some less dominant horses use when uncertain of their reception, but within a week Bonapaw had fit into what would be his place in the pecking order, not the boss, but a herd member they all accepted.
With people, Bonapaw was dignified and a bit aloof, polite but not interested in being best buddies. His good looks drew the eye. His bay coat was a handsome burnt sienna with a touch of flash from his bold blaze and expressive eyes.
As the years went by, what had been the original gelding herd gradually shifted to a younger population. Bonapaw became a senior member but continued to fully participate in their races and the frat boy tone of their play. When this herd moved to the big, new front pasture, he was very much part of the breathtaking sight as they thundered over the rolling land.
Then he grew less able to keep up with the herd. Along with effects of aging, he was diagnosed with EPM. Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis is caused by a single cell parasite to which nearly all horses are exposed, since it’s carried by opossums and other small quadrupeds. It is not contagious between horses. Its neurological symptoms include loss of coordination, but it does not cause pain.
Moving in with quieter companions, Yankee Fourtune and Regal Sanction, Bonapaw received carefully monitored medication and care from Dr. Waldridge. All the barn staff, Carole and Antonio especially, gave him patient and loving care. He seemed so healthy otherwise that we never gave up hope that the meds would catch up with the condition. Looking at his beautiful body condition and bright eyes, it was hard to accept that he was losing the battle, but he was. Then his symptoms sharply worsened. Treatment and his strong constitution had done all they could. A well-lived life had run its course.
I’ll always remember Bonapaw’s Vosburgh. And I’ll always remember Bonapaw himself as an eye-catching, peaceable presence, the kind of horse that racing people dream of, and a horse whose benevolent composure his companions, human and horse, appreciated.
All photos by Laura except my 2009 snapshots