August 11, 2017

2017 0811 Johannesburg Smile arrives 1

Johannesburg Smile arrives at Old Friends

Here’s a story of a horse who isn’t a star. His retirement didn’t make news. But his journey says a lot about a certain kind of horse. Horses who once thrilled racegoers, once earned nicely for connections and bettors, but later face an uncertain future. Here’s a story of how people worked together to gain one horse a secure retirement.

Johannesburg Smile, foaled in New York in 2007, won the 2011 Noble Nashua Stakes at Belmont Park at 4 years old. At 5 he won the Lemon Drop Kid Stakes. At 6, he reached the top of his game when claimed for $100,000 by Mike Repole and trained by Todd Pletcher, he nearly won the 2013 Toboggan Stakes (G3). Have a look at the determined heart of this horse when he was in his prime.

2013 Toboggan Stakes. Johannesburg Smile is on the inside, post position 1

His body language says it all. At 6 he was into what he was doing and gave his all. He was what the game is all about.

He ran some more good races, but by age 8, time had caught up with him. When he ceased to appear on the track, his apparent retirement made good sense. Then, at age 10, Johannesburg Smile reappeared on the track. This time his claiming tag was $12,500.

You see two kinds of horses racing at that age. One kind, like John Henry, Cetewayo, or Old Friends resident Flick (1992-2016; raced to 2002), stays on top of their game and their competitive urge keeps burning bright. They’re still into it, they can still do it, and that’s great. The other kind isn’t so lucky. For an older has-been, having “back class” can be a double-edged sword. Some people hope the horse will regain some form, or if an ungelded male, might interest a breeder. But by age 10 his former 114 speed figure had dwindled to a dull 80 (Equibase). He was racing hard to nowhere.

Old Friends began trying to retire Johannesburg Smile in early 2017. It’s a long, frustrating story, so I’ll fast forward to June, and his drastic drop into a $4,000 race. But for Johannesburg Smile this became a stroke of luck when Old Friends was contacted by Ginny O’Malley. Turns out other folks had also noticed this horse’s situation. Better yet, they backed their concern with positive help.

So on June 14th, Johannesburg Smile ran his $4,000 race. He no longer had it in him to win even this, but thanks to the teamwork of more than a dozen people, he won a secure retirement. Ron Paolucci of Loooch Racing Stables, Inc. claimed him on our behalf, Ginny cared for him at her farm, then personally trailered him down to Old Friends in Georgetown (Your visit was fun, Ginny. Come back and see him soon!). I’ve seen Facebook posts mentioning more than a dozen people who helped, and I’m aware of still others. If you’re among them, I hope you’ll understand when I don’t attempt a list for fear of leaving out some deserving people. All of you, please accept Old Friends’ heart-felt thanks for your part in getting the job done at last. And please, come visit Johannesburg Smile so we can thank you in person!

2017 0811-1 JS grazing

The good life. Photo by Laura Battles.

In fact, everybody reading this post, you’ll love meeting this hard worker who gave his all, as much when he was a low level claimer as when he was in his prime. Of course, at 10 he’s hardly a senior resident at Old Friends. In fact, some of us call him Junior. Or Johan Junior, because he looks so much like his dad, Johannesburg. When he first arrived he was angry. He thought that after his wonderful weeks with Ginny he was back at a track. He looked us right in the eyes and told us exactly what he felt about that—loudly.

2017 0811 JS What kinda race track is this

Arrival day. He looks at his new world. “What kinda race track is this?”

But he soon figured out there’s no race track on the farm. He’s so smart, playful and kind that the barn staff and tour guides are already in love with this resourceful charmer. You will be too, when you meet him.


2017 0811-1 JS face

He’s got a reason to smile. Photo by Laura Battles.







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14 responses to “August 11, 2017

  1. Pattie Benedix

    I’ll be back in April to meet Johannesburg Smile !! My Heartfelt Thanks to everyone who made this possible for such a Brave Trooper !! Enjoy your retirement, Big Boy:)

  2. That is fantastic. I groomed his mother Serenity’s Smile when she was at Finger Lakes Racetrack when Bill Strange was her trainer.

    • oldfriendsblog

      Her son’s gorgeous. If you’re down our way anytime soon, come meet him! Not to mention our several Finger Lakes competitors!

  3. Your posts should come with warnings: DO NOT READ WHILE AT WORK. Difficult to explain the blubbering from my cubicle.

    Seriously, these stories make my heart SING (while I’m blowing my nose). So many horses deserve this kind of “unsung hero rescue” effort. It’s nice to read that yet another one has made it, and to Old Friends, to boot!!

  4. Kathy

    So glad he has finally arrived and is settling in.

  5. There is a lot more to this story. As there is, with all these poor souls. Glad to be a small part of his retirement. He looks great. Ginny is amazing!
    Happy life at Old Friends, JS. Hope to see you soon.

    • oldfriendsblog

      Yes, many facets and viewpoints involved. Wonderful how cooperation between good people at the right time came through for JS. Thank you for your role in his retirement to OF.

  6. Gae

    Wonderful to read this. Certainly sounds like he was ready for retirement and a quick learner once he arrived — no race track in sight. Whew! Nice to see Ogygian in his pedigree. Hope to see Junior one one of these days — maybe next summer.

    I did see John Henry race and win at Belmont when he was older and he looked just great before and after.

    • oldfriendsblog

      He’s the exact color Ogygian got in the winter, almost a darkish blood bay. Now that he’ll be spending more time outdoors it’ll be fun to see if he lightens up or if this is his summer color and he gets darker in the winter.

      • oldfriendsblog

        But I should add that there’s one thing he’s definitely doing more each day and that’s relaxing into his new home. He loves tours and is super with them. Already has figured out how to work the crowd for more carrots with those big, soft, kind eyes of his.

        • GAE

          Thanks for the updates. It will be fun indeed to see if he gets a little summer tan now that he’s spending more time outdoors or if this is his summer shade — a hint of Ogygian in winter — isn’t that something! So happy to read that Junior is doing more each day learning to relax and enjoying a new life as a retiree working the crowds. No more angry eyes LOL. Love reading this. So happy for him.

  7. Ginny O'malley

    Thank you so much for offering him a loving and forever home! He was such a pleasure to have at Packard Meadows! Jack and I loved our visit and you and Michael were so gracious. We will see you soon and please give JoJo kisses from us!

  8. SO glad he made it safe to Old Friends. No more racetracks or old, angry feelings for this boy. Surrounded by love and a team devoted to his care, JJ has a whole LOT to be smiling about! And so do WE…. 🙂

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