In recent months, a lot of discussion has taken place about what some perceive to be the ever increasing fragility of Thoroughbred racehorses. Many experts are of the opinion that because breeders tend to lean toward breeding more and more for speed and precociousness rather than stamina and longevity, the modern day Thoroughbred athlete has become increasingly prone to injury and premature retirement.
In a day and age where Thoroughbreds seldom make more than twenty or thirty starts, it is indeed considered a rarity to see horses continue to race much beyond their three or four-year old season, let alone into their teenage years.
One such horse who defied all the odds and proved himself time and time again to be a modern day “iron” horse is a gelding named Esther Egg.
Bred in Illinois by Tom and Robert Dew, Esther Egg, a dark bay son of Secret Hello out of Eloquent Esther (by Apalachee) began his career at Arlington Park in October of 1997. A month later, the two year old broke his maiden in an allowance event at Hawthorne for owner/breeder Tom and Robert Dew and trainer Tom Dorris. Over the next seven years, Esther Egg would go on to win an incredible 19 additional races and earn over $400,000 for several different owner-trainer combinations. To Esther Egg the connections apparently did not matter, he loved his job as a race horse and clearly knew how to win races.
The highlights of Esther Egg’s racing career were many, including a third place finish in the Illinois bred Land of Lincoln Stakes at Sportsman’s Park in 1998. Following a long lay-off after having been injured in late 2001, Esther Egg rebounded for what was perhaps his most triumphant year on the track. By the end of 2002, the then seven-year-old iron horse had won 8 of 18 starts, earned over $80,000 for the year, had only been out of the money in one start, and had four times run Beyer figures of 100+. Incredible!
The next few years for Esther Egg would bring considerably less racing success; however, that didn’t stop him from winning another 9 races and an additional $92,000 by the time his racing career would eventually end. In 2003 Esther Egg forever disappeared from the Illinois racing circuit and wound up slowly spiraling down the claiming ranks, eventually racing in bottom level claimers at Indiana Downs, Ellis Park, River Downs and Beulah Park. By the summer of 2008 it was clear that at age 13 the iron horse had lost his competitive edge and desire to race. By that time, I’d been following Esther Egg’s incredible career for quite sometime, and new that I just had to do something to see to it that this amazing iron horse would be afforded the proper humane retirement that he so justly earned and deserved.
The iron horse comes home… Sometime in mid-July 2008, after Esther Egg had run another poor race I decided to reach out to his owner/trainer Don Horrell to let him know that there were folks back here in Illinois that wanted to bring Esther Egg home when he was ready to retire. Initially, Mr. Horrell was not receptive to the idea of retiring Esther Egg, but I asked him to keep my number handy and to please call me should the horse ever need a new home. Having been active in rescuing Thoroughbreds from kill auctions and slaughter feedlots for many years, no one understands better than I do just how quickly a horse can go from being a once-pampered race horse to being loaded on a one-way trip to a miserable death at a slaughter plant. I was determined that this would not be a fate that Esther Egg would ever know, if had anything to say about it.
Esther Egg would race one final time on July 30, 2008. He raced poorly once again, and so I decided to give Mr. Horrell another call to see if he was ready to retire the old chap. To my sheer delight, Mr. Horrell was happy to hear my voice on the other end of the phone, and he immediately agreed that the time had come for the iron horse to retire from racing. That was it, Esther Egg’s long racing career had finally come to a close. The final tally: 123 starts - 24 wins, 19 seconds, 18 thirds and over $486,000 in earnings, spanning 11 years of racing! I dare say that one would have to look long and hard to find another horse more worthy of the title “iron horse” than Esther Egg!
Over the course of the next several days arrangements were made for Esther Egg to be transported from Mr. Horrell’s farm in Indiana (near the Kentucky border) back to Illinois. Illinois-based trainer Chris Dorris agreed to pick Esther Egg up at Ellis Park in Kentucky and deliver him to Arlington Park. Aprile Horse Transport facilitated the second leg of Esther Egg’s journey from Arlington out to us at the Illinois Equine Humane Center in Wilmington. Both Chris Dorris and Tony Aprile graciously picked up the trucking tabs, and we are deeply grateful to them for their respective parts in bringing our boy safely home. We are also incredibly grateful to Mr. Horrell for putting Esther Egg’s welfare to the forefront and for ensuring his continued well-being by donating him to the ILEHC.
The ILEHC lost Iggy during January 2016. He had come in from the pasture, had his grain and expired in his stall. A necropsy was inclusive.