Monthly Archives: August 2018

August 27, 2018

I wish Nicanor could read. He’d really get into this post. A post all about Nicanor! Not that he’s the least bit like Little Silver Charm. Nicanor doesn’t claim to be debonair or have savoir faire. He doesn’t claim to be more expert at anything. After all, he’s only 12 years old. Nicanor’s world is wide, wonderful, and full of the amazing and unexpected. In fact, the amazingness of the world seems to be Nicanor’s favorite thing about it.

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Granted, his world has been enviably benign. From the moment he was foaled, on March 15, 2006 while his full brother Barbaro was on the Kentucky Derby trail, Nicanor has been loved. By his breeders-racing owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson. By the Mill Ridge Farm staff who cared for his Mom, La Ville Rouge (now retired to the Jacksons’ Pennsylvania farm) and him. By his trainers Michael Matz, then Leigh Delacour, and their staffs. By Shamrock Farm in Maryland where he briefly stood at stud. And now, by everybody at Old Friends in Georgetown. Some show up each day just to take care of him. Others (horses in the neighboring paddocks) do many fun and interesting things just to entertain him. Best of all, so many nice visitors flock to the farm just to admire him.

Nicanor returns their attention with abounding exuberance. Or should I say, with bounding exuberance? When he spots a tour coming, he doesn’t just mosey over to say hi. Unless he’s daydreaming about something else, he comes cantering over, breeze in his mane, happy expression on his face. Never mind the dignity of those retirees with championship reputations to maintain, Nicanor is so secure in himself that he’ll gladly go the extra mile to entertain. I never thought I’d say this, but he’s even upstaging those consummate comedians, Popcorn Deelites and Special Ring.

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For one thing, Pops and Ringy have developed a fine script and they like to stick to it. They’re like a long-running Broadway musical. Nicanor is all about ad lib. You never know what any given tour will feature. Will he want petting and carrots? Will he stand aloof as a statue, posing for photos? Or will he forget even the treats and demand a group back scratch? The more hands scratching his back the merrier! When that’s over, maybe he’ll follow his new friends along the fence line. Or will he suddenly whirl around his paddock? Standing still he shows such class, but in motion, enthusiasm takes over. The noble statue becomes a frolicking goofyball.

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There’s no question he loves his new job. As soon as he sees cars park, he’s on the case, ready and waiting for a new day and new friends who’ve come to the farm just to fall in love with him. And do they ever. From Nicanor’s point of view, there’s only one thing wrong with this job. The tours don’t spend the full hour and a half with him! Whyever not? Those other horses aren’t nearly as fun, they don’t put themselves to nearly as much trouble to be inventive, amusing, and engaging. The tour guides just don’t get it, leading people away like that before the hour and a half of the tour is done!

But hey, look on a bright side. What goes up the hill must come back down. Whichever route the tours take, they have to pass his paddock again at the end. And—unless he’s gotten interested in something else—he’ll be waiting for a double-dip of love: “Hey, hello, remember me? My name’s Nicanor, I’m the one you came to see.”

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Nicanor gets a back scratch from friends Barbara Fossum and Pat Sormani.

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When that lip begins to twitch he’s saying you’ve found a sweet spot!

Watching people, I think that for many of his new friends, he’s absolutely right. He’s the one they’ll remember. He’s the one who met them the most open-heartedly and gave of himself the most personally. I notice this happening again and again, people who loved his famous brother, and people who scarcely recognize his brother’s name, falling in love with Nicanor, entirely for himself.

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I think that for the first time in his life, Nicanor is carving his own trail. He’s making his own reputation, who he is. Impressive, and kind, and fun, and silly at times, with even more than usual of a horse’s instinctive gift to be in the present, to experience each experience, and to live with bursting abundance. Nicanor may not have earned a million dollars or competed for pecking order with the horses in the surrounding paddocks, but I’d say this horse knows a thing or two.

photos by Laura


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August 16, 2018

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Genuine Reward (1993-2018)

As painful as it is to write a goodbye to a horse I love, it’s far more wrenching when the horse is important to many people, and whose passing is, in a way, the end of an era. Throughout his 25 years, Genuine Reward carried a double dose of love on his elegant, golden-red back, his fans’ love for himself and for his extraordinary dam. He was the first of the two foals of 1980 Kentucky Derby winner, Genuine Risk. She was the second filly to win the Derby after Regret’s 1915 win, and remains one of only three fillies to do so (the third was Winning Colors in 1988).

Watch Genuine Risk win the 1980 Kentucky Derby

Genuine Risk was inducted as a Racing Hall of Fame champion in 1986. Here are her National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame pages.

On retirement from the track Genuine Risk was bred to Secretariat, which would have produced the first foal of two Kentucky Derby winners in history. But that was not to be. That foal was stillborn, and subsequent breedings to different stallions failed to produce a live foal until May 15, 1993 when the aptly named Genuine Reward was born at Three Chimneys Farm. Health issues made his earliest days anxious, but as soon as he was in the clear, racing and local Lexington news media were invited to celebrate him. Stories about him featured frequently, and racing fans couldn’t get enough of photos of him galloping and nuzzling with his famous mom.

Here’s a vintage video clip of them as aired on ESPN2.

As he was by formidable turf sire Rahy, it was anticipated the colt might become a stakes winner on either dirt or grass, and when he was mature enough, owner-breeders Mr. & Mrs. Bertram Firestone put him in training with Bill Mott. But the colt repeatedly bucked his shins (tore the connective tissue between the leg muscle and canon bone). Racing was just not in his future. (Gossip says he wasn’t that enthusiastic about training, anyway. Wasn’t he already a star? Didn’t the world already adore him just for being him? And truth to tell, the world did adore him.) So Genuine Reward entered stud in Virginia. However, it’s a rare breeder who’ll take a chance on a stallion who’s both unraced and untried. Eventually Genuine Reward found a career siring polo ponies in Wyoming. Here’s the story of his retirement to Old Friends.

“Genuine Reward, son of Genuine Risk, to Old Friends” by Joe Nevills and Nicole Russo, Daily Racing Form, June 30, 2015

To make a long tale short, thanks to Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand and others who helped facilitate, Genuine Reward arrived at Old Friends in July 2015.

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At once we fell in love with him. Not only was he one of the most beautiful horses ever to grace our Georgetown farm, G. R. (as we called him) was also one of the smartest, and though a stallion, one of the nicest. Having grown up as a child star, he took to the tours like the experienced pro he was. Basking in affection was second nature to him, and for three glorious years he relished starring on tours daily, often three or more times a day, with his jaunty mixture of aplomb and kindness. Unlike some, G. R. never strove for attention. He didn’t need to. It never occurred to him to wonder why so many people loved him. That was just who he was, and he gave kindness as generously as he received it.

We were not prepared for what at first seemed a minor infection to became the fast decline it did, but his time had come, and he made that clear. Yesterday afternoon our resident vet, Dr. Bryan Waldridge, and staff members he knew well, were with him at the end.

Genuine Reward’s obituary by Matt Hegarty, Daily Racing Form, August 16, 2018.

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I’ll always remember G. R.’s kindness to all, those who were part of his everyday routine and all those who met him. I’ll always remember his pleasure in his admirers’ love. And his shining eyes and caramel colored mane, and his fine, elegant conformation. His intelligence. His gallop to his feed tub and his particular nicker when his daily supplement snack was brought. And how in his final days he watched out the window each evening for the carrot shreds Michael or Diane or I stirred into his dinner. Those always coaxed him to eat a little more.

Genuine Reward, you lived a life of abundant good fortune and love. From foal to elderly retiree, you handled whatever life presented you with kindness and grace. Is there any achievement more praiseworthy than that?

photos by Laura


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