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Friday, 19 July 2013 10:24

On TRF’s 30th Anniversary, Sir Prize Birthday Proves It Works

By Francis LaBelle | News

So, it’s finally here.

Another season of racing at Saratoga Race Course, only this one is even more special because it is the 150th anniversary of Thoroughbred racing’s grandest venue. Here, social networking has more do to with hat size and credit limits than “Tweets” and “Likes,” and one victory for horse, handler or horse player can be the germ of a more-than-twice-told tale.

It is also here that people become more magnanimous and there are plenty of worthy causes that will benefit from the influx of return visitors and newcomers alike.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, celebrating its own 30th anniversary this season, has two upcoming events to benefit its mission of finding homes for Thoroughbreds after they are done racing. 

One such event is “Hay, Oats and Spaghetti,” which will be held at Mama Mia’s Pizza and Café on Monday, July 22 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The second event is “Hoofloose,” an elegant night of dining at dancing at the National Museum of Dance on Sunday, August 4.

Most people are ready to support worthy causes, but often do not get a chance to see the results of their generosity. The TRF, which operates rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of Thoroughbreds in 14 states, is perhaps best known for its Second Chances program.

And to that end, the TRF would like you to meet Sir Prize Birthday.

On May 25, Sir Prize Birthday celebrated his 33rd birthday and marked another year as the oldest of the 950 horses currently under the charge of the TRF. Sir Prize Birthday, who raced more than 200 times in his career, has surpassed the average life expectancy of Thoroughbreds by three years. 

Since 1996, Sir Prize Birthday has called the Wallkill Correctional Facility home, located about 60 miles north of New York City, his home. This is where TRF began its Second Chances program, a vocational training program to provide homes for ex-racehorses while teaching equine care and stable management to select inmates. When Sir Prize Birthday joined Wallkill, he immediately put himself in charge.

“We group horses according to how they fit with other horses,” said Jim Tremper, farm manager at Wallkill. “Sir Prize Birthday was always among the more aggressive horses with other horses. In the pecking order of the herd, he was always number one or number two. He had to be first at the feed tub, first in everything.

“But he was only aggressive with other horses. Around people, he was easy. In fact, he was so easy that for years we used him as a starter horse for new inmates. We had a lot of inmates from the inner city who had never even seen a horse before and were scared of them. But when they were around Sir Prize Birthday, it didn’t take them long to get over being afraid.”

The Wallkill program, the first of its kind, was founded in 1984. It is a rigid program, available only to inmates who are within two years of probation and who were not convicted of violent crime or sex offenses. Its success helped the TRF grow to oversee10 such facilities nationwide and, over the past 30 years, to have found homes for more than 4,000 horses.

Naturally, Sir Prize Birthday stands out.

It is not hard to understand Sir Prize Birthday’s different personality with horses and humans. As a racehorse, he is one of the few in the modern era to have made 200 starts. When he left the racetrack, he had a record of 39-38-32 from 206 starts and more than $300,000 in earnings. Bred in Florida, Sir Prize Birthday is a son of Singh, out of the Vent du Nord mare, Prize Du Nord.

“He is one of my favorite horses,” said his trainer, Tim Ritchey. “He was just all class with a great disposition. When I got him, he was an older horse, but he tried every time he went to the racetrack. He was a hard-knocking horse, and earned every penny he made.”

According to Tremper, the class carried over to Walkill.

“He is so easy, we once sent him out to work at a children’s camp,” Tremper said. “When the owner got sick and had to close down the camp, Sir Prize Birthday came back here.”

These days, Sir Prize Birthday spends most of his days with four younger horses and at feeding time, he is isolated with another.

According to Tremper, Sir Prize Birthday is no longer as aggressive with other horses, but still happy being a horse.

“He has always kept weight easy, but now, he gets senior feed,” Tremper said. “He’s doing pretty well for a horse his age.”

Which, after all these years, should come as no surprise.

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