The cheering has forever faded from Armbro Feather’s (1:51.3, $1,454,927) ears. The Canadian Harness Racing Hall of Fame pacing mare will be 29 on January 1.
Memories of her 56 wins in the Roses Are Red, Breeders Crown and Jugette have faded from the memory of most. Her 14 foals are long since raised; one of them, Get Jazzed, was still racing as recently as a few weeks ago at Saratoga. Armbro Feather is living out her days at Winbak Farm in Chesapeake City, Md.
“She’s fine, she lives with probably 15 other retired mares and they just hang out,” says Winbak General Manager Garrett Bell. “She was a good mother, did very well, an easy keeper. They’re getting two square meals a day and all the hay and water they can drink. They get checked twice a day, and if they have a problem, if they are losing weight, of course we make adjustments.
“She’s got some creaky bones. She doesn’t get around real well, but where she is, she doesn’t have to. If it takes an hour to get to the feed trough, it takes an hour to get to the feed trough. She’s by no means a cripple, just slow now.”
A little further south on the Delmarva Peninsula, the trotter Incredible K will be 30 on January 1 in his retirement home in Berlin, Md. The now-gelding (a stallion until age 28), he raced for owner/breeder Kevin Bonacorsa from age 3 to 18, winning at least one race in all those years but his last. Incredible K is one of the few horses to take advantage of USTA rule provisions that allow limited racing past age 14 in matinee and amateur competition.
Born in Hambletonian’s hometown of Chester, N.Y., Incredible K started 344 times for 53 wins and $311,035.
“He’s just a good old horse,” says Pam Polk, who boards the horse for Bonacorsa, who she’s known since she trained Incredible K’s dam Kinkajou. “Kevin called me a few years ago and asked if I could look after him. He drives a limousine and he said that getting in to the city (New York) and then getting home (to Long Island) to feed K was just getting to be crazy, so he asked me if I could take him.
“I told him I just wasn’t set up for a stallion, but Kevin said he was thinking of gelding him so he went ahead and did it. He came through it just fine. He’s no trouble around the ladies; he does have his girlfriends, but he’s a gentleman. He also has his donkey friend, Sarge.”
“He’s the son I never had,” jokes Bonacorsa about the horse who’s been in his life nearly 30 years. “For about eight years straight, he won between $30,000 and $35,000. I raced him conservatively; he could leave, take him back and come up the lane.”
Bonacorsa primarily drove the horse himself, but did lend him out occasionally for amateur races.
“I let people drive him in amateur races; these guys were pen-pushers,” he said. “You could put a monkey behind him and drive him. Only once he made a break. The gate was leaving and this big divot of dirt hit him right in the eye. He jumped sideways, but he’d never made a break in his life except for that.”
Bonacorsa said he never considered any plan other than caring for Incredible K for the rest of his life after racing.
“I’m an animal lover. I had friends that gave away horses and when they went to check on them they were skin and bones out in the field with no water somewhere. Or they just disappear out of sight. I’m not a real trustworthy person that way. For years I took care of him and Pam has been a friend for years.”
Polk says the old campaigner is aging easily and with grace.
“He’s just a good old guy,” she said. “He does let you know his opinion every now and then, but really, he’s no trouble. I have to watch him to make sure he doesn’t get rain rot (a skin disease caused by a wet coat) and I’ve figured out the key to these old horses is soaked hay cubes. He loves his hay cubes.”
In Campbellsville, Ky., Rapid Duane (2:03h, $3,187) is still on the job at age 33. Rapid Duane raced at 2, 3 and 4, primarily at Louisville Downs for Roger Cullipher and Jakie Holt and later for Mike Murphy. When the stallion developed soreness in 1984, his current owner, Bernie Cave, bought him from Murphy, whose wife Barbara gave the stallion the enduring nickname of “Popcorn.”
“I bought him for $500. He has been my teaser, helping me with the breeding of my broodmares and is still on the job,” says Cave. “I feed him a special blend of alfalfa meal, ground corn, soybean meal and crimped oats since he has no jaw teeth. Very few people know about him, but he’s my equine hero.”
Finally, a long and circuitous chase to the finish line is over for Soul Chaser (1:47.3, $689,152), who will turn 12 on New Year’s Day.
The horse with 34 different owners competed at locations as far flung as Stampede Park in Calgary, Alberta, Northlands Park in Edmonton, Alberta, The Meadowlands and Indiana Downs, before heading east to Maine and then to Truro Raceway in Nova Scotia in early 2012. The gelding made a total of 262 starts (60 wins) before beating one horse in a qualifier in August.
That’s when trainer Darren Crowe and Ryan Ellis, who occasionally drove Soul Chaser, bought him and asked Jackie Moore, director of the Maritimes Standardbred Pleasure Horse Association (www.mspha.ca) for help finding him a new career.
“Souly came to us through the Crowes, Darren had him at his barn,” said Moore. “Once Souly came to us in September, we put a little description of him online, put some pictures on. We showed him to a family with a 7-year-old son and about three weeks later he went to his new home.
“He’s very laid back and has a lovely boy who adores him. Both the son and mom have fallen in love with Souly. Not doing too much with him yet, they have had the saddle on a few times but are mostly letting him get turned out and relax.”
Soul Chaser’s long journey arou