Forgotten horses deserve second chance
The grandson of Seattle Slew stood in a Washington feedlot last month, awaiting death. Espresso was skinny and malnourished. He had a bum...
Seattle Times staff columnist
The grandson of Seattle Slew stood in a Washington feedlot last month, awaiting death.
Espresso was skinny and malnourished. He had a bum knee. He hadn't raced in more than a year. And so, 30 years after Seattle Slew's Triple Crown triumph, Espresso was marked for a trip to a Canadian slaughterhouse.
Horse racing's underbelly can't even respect the blood of royalty.
What a downfall it could have been if not for Julie Bridge. She found an online ad for Espresso, and he was just what the lifelong horse lover had been looking for: a bay off-the-track Thoroughbred with a white star on his forehead.
When Bridge was 6, she had a horse named Fox Fire that looked similar. But Espresso was different. He had these big eyes, which were so distinct even on a computer screen. She just couldn't get over his face.
"He had a combination of a very sad look in his face, which most horses in a feedlot have," said Bridge, a software sales specialist from Novato, Calif. "But he had a very kind and gentle eye, and I had been looking for that."
On May 1, Bridge purchased Espresso, sight unseen, for $800, just days before he was scheduled to be shipped to Canada. She had him transported from the Yakima feedlot to a nearby farm. That's when she looked at the horse's tattoo number and learned his pedigree.
Registered name: Captain Dudley. Sired by: Yoonevano and Bizarre Fantasy. Yoonevano's famous parent: Seattle Slew
"I was ecstatic," Bridge said. "I loved Seattle Slew, and Seattle Slew tends to produce horses that are very levelheaded and have enormous hearts."
Espresso is the first Thoroughbred Bridge has rescued, which has long been a goal of hers. She's developing something she calls the Equine Assisted Leadership and Coaching Program. She wants to use horses for human therapy. Bridge also wants to buy enough land to create her own rescue farm.
"I think there's always a second life for any horse," said Bridge.
It's unclear how the grandson of one of horse racing's greatest winners wound up a truck ride from being slaughtered. He was born in Canada five years ago. He raced in the United States at ages 2 and 4, but he never enjoyed great success. Then he drifted into darkness.
If a woman hadn't been enthralled with his look and his eyes, he'd be dead now.
"It points to a darker side of the Thoroughbred industry," Bridge said. "There is a disposable nature of the Thoroughbred industry that's really tragic."
These horses have one year to really shine. They're stars at 3, and then they're forgotten by casual observers.
The Triple Crown concluded Saturday. For the 29th year, no horse won all the three legs. After Seattle Slew won it in 1977, Affirmed matched the feat a year later, and since then, there's been a drought for the 3-year-olds. So that's nearly three decades' worth of horses without one enduring superstar.
We forget too easily. Then the darkness takes over.
"I've been a horseman for 20 years in this country," said Alex Brown, an exercise rider who recently began taking a stand against horse slaughter. "If you had asked me this time last year about horse slaughter, I wouldn't have had a clue. You're kind of like, 'I don't know, and therefore I don't care.' "
Barbaro changed his thinking. Like so many, Brown watched the 2006 Kentucky Derby champion's valiant fight for his life after a hind leg injury. Brown was inspired.
"Now I care deeply about the issue," he said. "I think, for any horseman, it's his or her responsibility to understand this issue. I'm sad it's taken this long.
"We need to suck it up and take care of our horses — and not just when they're making money. The horse industry has become such a big business, it's ridiculous."
Brown runs the site www.TimWolleyracing.com, which has become a gathering place for the Fans of Barbaro. Over the past year, the group has saved 950 horses from slaughter. Brown has reduced his workload so he can focus on managing the site.
It averages about 6,000 visits per day, Brown says. The message board averages an astounding 1,800 posts daily. Barbaro's legacy has become a greater awareness for horse safety.
It will take a persistent movement to fight horse slaughter. In 2006, 100,000 U.S. horses were killed. Since then, all three U.S. slaughterhouses (two in Texas and one in Illinois) have been closed, but horses are still regularly sent to Canada and Mexico. And the fight to keep slaughterhouses closed at home isn't over yet.
But at least there's an organized movement to save horses. And there are people like Bridge, who's one horse into a worthwhile mission.
She couldn't sleep last week because she was anticipating Espresso's arrival. He was shipped from Washington to California on Wednesday. Bridge and her husband, Ty, have only one child, 2-year-old Alex. But their family is growing.
Said Bridge: "My son will very likely be an only child — with a lot of equine siblings."
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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