Can Thoroughbreds still win at the CCI4* level?


The Thoroughbreds at Rolex Kentucky this past weekend did not demonstrate a level of competitiveness that could get them on the podium.

When the final penalty points were tallied, Donner the OTTB piloted by Lynn Symansky was the top placing Thoroughbred in 12th place. After putting in a respectable dressage score of 52.7 and starting in 32nd place, the pair steadily moved up the leaderboard. To their dressage score they added time penalties on cross-country and one rail in stadium to end the weekend on a final score of 67.5.

One might think that 12th is a competitive placing, however, to put their score into perspective, it needs to be noted that Michael Jung riding Fischerrocana FST, won the CCI4* event on their dressage score of 39.3. This is a 28.2 spread. Twelfth place does seem respectable but when you look at the scores, it makes you question if Thoroughbreds can actually win.

We took a look at the statistics at the four-star level since 2010 and the last 16 years of major games and the Thoroughbreds are still proving to be a relevant and competitive breed.

In the 29 non-championship CCI4* events held since the beginning of 2010, Thoroughbreds have distinguished themselves by capturing six of those prestigious championships, for an outstanding 20.7 percent win ratio. And even more impressive is that three of the championships were won by OTTBs , ex-racehorses, validating that horses who’ve competed at the racetrack are more than capable of succeeding at the upper tiers of another discipline.

6 out of the 29 CCI4* events were won by Thoroughbreds:

  • Adelaide 2013 – Christopher Burton (AUS) on TS Jamaimo
    Chris Burton and TS Jamaino, a Thoroughbred, won the 2013 Australian International Three Day Event in Adelaide. TS Jamaino is a son of the Thorougbred stallion Urgent Request, winner of the 1995 Santa Anita Handicap. Wendy Schaffer also had success with a Thoroughbred, winning the 2010 Australian International Three Day Event with Koyuna Sun. However, Koyuna Sun was bred to be an Event horse.
  • Badminton 2013 – Jock Paget (NZL) on Clifton Promise
    Jock Paget and Francis Stead’s Clifton Promise won Badminton in 2013. However, the Surrey, England-based rider had his 2013 Burghley title stripped as the result of a positive test for the banned sedative reserpine. Paget, a native of New Zealand, became the second Kiwi to take the prestigious event, joining countryman Mark Todd. Clifton Park, a bay gelding by Engagement, was known as Bachelor Boy before transitioning to his new vocation, never making it to the racetrack.
  • Rolex 2012 and Burghley 2011 – William Fox-Pitt (GBR) on Parklane Hawk
    William Fox-Pitt and Parklane Hawke, a New Zealand-bred Thoroughbred by Grosvenor, never found the winner’s circle as a racehorse, but that didn’t seem to discourage the determined gelding as he put his athletic talents to use in winning Burghley in 2011 and Rolex Kentucky in 2012.
  • Adelaide 2010 – Wendy Schaeffer (AUS) on Koyuna Sun Dancer
    Wendy Schaffer had great success with the Thoroughbred Koyuna Sun, winning the 2010 Australian International Three Day Event. Koyuna Sun was bred to be an Event horse.
  • Badminton 2010 – Paul Tapner (AUS) on Inonothing
    Australia’s Paul Tapner pilioted Inonothing to a win in the 2010 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials. The gelding by Basildon Bond had six placings at the four-star level. The intrepid warrior never raced, and was started under saddle by Tapner’s wife, Georgina. It was Georgina’s sister, Hannah, who initially began Eventing Inonothing, before Paul assumed the reins in 2003.

Why has a thoroughbred not been able to win a major games in 16 years but they have been winning non-championship four-stars consistently and as recently as 2013?
The last rider to win individual Olympic Gold while competing a Thoroughbred was New Zealand’s Blyth Tait at the 1996 Atlanta Games, with the New Zealand-bred Thoroughbred Ready Teddy. The combination would strike again in 1998, placing first at the Rome Eventing World Championships, now known as the World Equestrian Games, and hold the distinction of being the first rider/horse combination to win individual gold in both events. The chestnut gelding was by Brilliant Invader, and raced under the name Striking Back.

It’s been nearly 20 years since a Thoroughbred has earned individual Gold in the Olympics, and more than 16 years since achieving that same honor on the global stage at a major world championship. However, the major championships occur on a four-year cycle. Ready Teddy won two of the last 10 major championship games, so the statistics consistently suggest Thoroughbreds continue to distinguish themselves, winning four-stars at a clip of nearly 21 percent.

Future prospects
Another celebrated Thoroughbred making his way up the levels is Graham and Anita Motion’s Icabad Crane. The four-time stakes winner, who placed third in the 2008 Preakness, is currently being competed by 12-time USEA Rider of the Year and two-time Olympic Gold medal winner Phillip Dutton. It will be exciting to watch the progress of this master in the saddle and a talented OTTB.

There are copious volumes of stories of Eventers purchasing former racehorses for a minimal amount of money, including those who failed to make it at the racetrack, sparing others from being sent to the kill pen or just giving those a second chance at participating in an athletic endeavor that they are far better suited.

Thoroughbreds will continue to play a salient role in Eventing, and racetracks and training centers are a outstanding source to find future Eventing prospects. So continue to look for that OTTB that you can count on at every level of Eventing. You may never win a four-star, but chances are it won’t be because of the horse you are riding! You need to be realistic about your goals and ensure that you have an appropriate horse. Thoroughbreds continue to prove themselves to be a reliable and affordable mount at every level.

If you have an OTTB story that you would like to share, please email us. We would love to publish your story.


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