On this the 21st of January 2011, a Grandstand full of Florida Rabbits looked forward to our best day, when in fact we were about to experience
OUR WORST DAY
Not only did our beloved Charley run last as the 8-5 favourite, but unbelievably he was sold out from under us to another owner for a $16,000 Claim at the conclusion of the race!
Picture left is a dejected, & dirty General Charley being taken to his new owner at the conclusion of the race. Looking in his eyes I sense a confusion - perhaps a sadness - as he starts to realize he is not going back to the barn he loves. I stare at this picture with great despair. We no longer own our hero, General Charley.
Setting the scene, General Charley had been enjoying a 2 month racing respite while training at Tampa Bay Downs in western Florida. Under the care of trainer Jimmy McMullen, Charley had been enjoying his time in the Florida sun, tuning up for his first race of this his 9th year. His winter coat had been clipped, and he looked magnificent.
All the investing owners jetted down to Tampa Bay to take in the race which was scheduled at a mile and 1/16th on Tampa Bay's lush turf course. In addition, Florida based Rabbit Mom Mary Ann Thrun had brought upwards of 30 of her fellow Sarasota Church members with her to the track, all eager to see a Red Rabbit Racing victory. Kathy Rabbit's college roommate Katy also came on over with husband Rick. I would bet upwards of 10% of the entire live crowd at Tampa Bay Downs that day were Rabbits - there expressly to watch Charley. Anticipation for the race was sky high.
Jimmy had secured France's own Frederic Leclund to ride for us as Prime RRR jock Eddie Perez was not in Tampa Bay. He - or any other Frenchman - will not be asked to ride for us again.
The race instructions were simple. Use our excellent number 2 Post Position to get the lead immediately, slow down the race on the lead and hold enough in reserve to hold sway over the bunch down the lane. We won 6 times using that technique in 2010 - should work in 2011, right?
Well, in the paddock Charley comes in and looks great. The Paddock is packed with Rabbits, many seeing him for the 1st time and all excited as he gets bet down from the 3-1 morning line odds to the 8-5 favourite at post time. We greet longtime friend Jimmy McMullen and meet Freddie LeClund who looks great in our RRR silks.
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The Tampa Bay area was rocked by a rainstorm the night before the race that takes all races off the turf on our raceday. We consider scratching, but we decide to go forward as Tampa Bay is known to have a main track which drains well - so it shouldn't be muddy. During the Post Parade, Charley looks good except for a little more lathering than usual on his neck and hind legs. Something was bothering him a bit.
As the Horse in the 1 hole had scratched we were the 1st to load into the gate. It seemed to take forever to load the remaining 8 horses. Through my telephoto lens I see Charley in the gate impatiently pawing first with his left front leg - and then with his right - anxious to get out of the damn gate. But the doors remain closed.
Finally , the gate springs open and for the 1st time ever we see Charley break not out - but straight up in the air on his hind legs. The field is 3 strides running before Charley gets back on all fours and leaves the gate. We had lost before the race had even started.
Picture composite left is the break with Charley's head way up in the air with the second photo the lead we spotted the entire field. We ran last in all the calls of the race except one. After the race jockey Leclund tells Jimmy that Charley just "unravelled" as the gate opened and reared up. Said he couldn't do anything about it.
That was depressing enough until 15 seconds after the race is over we hear the following over the Track Loud Speaker.
"ATTENTION. CLAIM THE NUMBER 2, GENERAL CHARLEY."
Utter disbelief as we had not even contemplated that anyone would take a 9 year old gelding. We find out later the new owners are Midwest Thoroughbreds - a stable of over 200 horses that runs nationwide. Trained by Jaimie Ness. They did nothing wrong as we were the ones who had entered Charley in the Claiming Race - but I really wonder if morally they feel great about taking the only horse off a one horse stable when they have over 200. Obviously, they don't care but it sure leaves a bad taste in my mouth I can tell you.
Talk about a mood shift in the course of 2 minutes. Pre-race everyone is as high as kite, chattering about the great fun this is. 120 seconds later after the race, we are a horseless racing stable and have lost a great horse we had all bonded tightly to in General Charley.
Note to Mom Rabbit and all our friends from her church. Thank you so much for coming out and watching this with us. The best thing about this adventure is sharing it with family and friends - some of which we had never met before. Very sorry that it didn't turn out better but I assure you -
WE WILL BE BACK AND RACING SOON AND WILL TRIUMPH AGAIN!
BUT THE LAST WORD NEEDS TO BE SAID ABOUT OUR CHARLEY. IT WAS AN HONOR TO BEHOLD HIM.
HE RAN WITH SUCH HEART AND COURAGE.
OVER HIS CAREER WITH US SINCE JUNE OF 2008 HE GAVE US 29 RACES WITH 10 WINS, 5 SECONDS, AND 3 SHOWS.
THIS RUN WITH HIM WAS THE ADVENTURE OF OUR LIVES.
THANK YOU TO THE GENERAL
HE WILL ALWAYS BE OUR GENERAL CHARLEY. ALWAYS.