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.
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.
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.
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.
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