Where Are They Now? When One Grade I Winner Isn’t Enough

Where Are They Now? When One Grade I Winner Isn’t Enough

By Margaret Ransom TDN

For every Off-the-Track Thoroughbred enthusiast, having a sound and healthy former racehorse to partner with for a second career is all they hope for. And while these same people will tell you their horse’s racing history doesn’t matter much, many of these same OTTB devotees will also admit their immense pride in explaining their companion’s racing career, recreating as much of it as possible to anyone who will listen.

Just about everyone in the Thoroughbred industry understands that most OTTBs are runners who served as the backbone of racing, filling the smaller-money races at tracks across the country, so it’s rare when a horse who competes at the very top of the game ends up in a second career that doesn’t include a breeding shed or broodmare barn. The OTTB graded stakes winner–even a Grade I horse–is like the elusive Big Foot or UFO of racehorse second careers. We know they’re out there, yet they’re rarely seen.

So imagine, if you will, having not just one or even two, but three Grade I winners in your backyard.

Maggie House-Sauque has spent much of her life competing at the elite level in the hunter/jumper world where highfalutin and expensive Warmbloods have–for the most part–taken the place of solid OTTBs. But that’s not to say she hasn’t advocated for second careers and hasn’t had a good amount of success in the show ring with former runners. Over the past three decades House-Sauque’s father, longtime California owner Mike House, has campaigned a number of top horses either alone or in partnership, including 2022 champion 3-year-old filly Nest (Curlin), and House-Sauque has adopted and/or rehomed a handful of them, including Bing Bang (Fr) (Marignan), who more than held his own in the hunter/jumper rings for a number of years and after more than 20 years with House-Sauque died peacefully last month at age 27 due to the infirmities of old age.

At the 2012 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s April sale of 2-year-olds in training, House plunked down $160,000 for a handsome bay son of Street Hero he would later name Gabriel Charles. At the time, House-Sauque had recently given birth to her son prematurely and the baby, who they named Gabriel Charles, spent the first few weeks of his life in a San Diego NICU. Like every horse who wears the yellow and purple happy face silks widely recognized as House’s, hopes and expectations were high for the horse, but maybe more so for this one who carried a very special name.

“We took the baby to all of Gabriel Charles’s races as soon as he was able to go,” House-Sauque said. “It was definitely a family tradition. If I couldn’t go, my husband Alex would take Gabe with my dad. If my husband couldn’t go, I would. My son missing one of Gabriel Charles’s races wasn’t an option.”

Gabriel Charles won four of 12 starts for earnings of $604,400 and as if it were some kind of kismet, when he crossed the finish line first in the 2015 GI Eddie Read S. he became the House family’s first Grade I winner. Unfortunately the Jeff Mullins-trainee battled a series of issues throughout his career, including a tendon injury and a life-threatening bout with colic, and with little fanfare he was retired in 2016 after a runner-up finish in the GIII San Francisco Mile.

A brief stud career at Dave and Sommer Smith’s Nextstar Ranch in California followed, but when the handsome bay failed to attract many breeders, the decision was made to geld Gabriel Charles and give him a different kind of second career. House-Sauque is the owner of Lucky Kid Farms at Bella Terra Estates in Jumul, CA, where she lives and trains showjumpers and also gives riding lessons to kids, so she had space.

“We always said we’d do what was best for him,” House-Sauque said. “We tried to get him some good mares and my dad sent a couple to him and Jeff (Mullins) did too, but he couldn’t compete with the other stallions and bigger farms so Sommer and I decided that gelding him and bringing him home and giving him a job was the right thing to do. My son was so happy, he is totally bonded with this horse and this horse loves my son.”

Gabriel Charles, now 13 years old, has transitioned into a riding horse like a champ and he is constantly surrounded by action, from his own lessons and schooling to watching other horses’ lessons. But by far the most special thing for Gabriel Charles is spending time with his very own now 11-year-old little boy.

“Not too long ago he got loose somehow, as they do, and ran around like a mad man,” House-Sauque remembered. “And after a couple of minutes he saw Gabe and ran right over to him and stopped. That just shows how much they love each other. He would not stop running until he found Gabe.”

Gabriel Charles’s status as the only “big horse” at Lucky Kid Farms wouldn’t last, however.

In 2015, House-Sauque’s father privately purchased a handsome gray 3-year-old Dundalk maiden winner named Hunt (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) and brought him to California for a turf campaign. In the care of trainer Phil D’Amato, for more than a year Hunt raced primarily in allowance company before winning his first stakes, the listed Siren Lure S. at Santa Anita in 2016. And then in 2017, the House family was back in the GII Eddie Read S. winner’s circle after Hunt earned his first graded stakes win in the Del Mar turf feature, claiming a second victory in the race for the House family. Wins in the GII Del Mar H., GII Seabiscuit H. and GI Shoemaker Mile followed, making Hunt the official House horse and their most successful runner up to that point.

And all the while the affable gray enjoyed stable visits from his family, especially House-Sauque herself.

“We always visit our horses in the barn area,” she said. “We do it as a family, my husband Alex and my son and my parents and I. Hunt loves people so he loved the visits. And my dad always knew that when Hunt was done he had a home with me, no matter what. And that’s exactly what happened.”

In 2019 after suffering a minor injury Hunt was retired with a record of 32-9-5-3 for earnings of $918,156. These days 11-year-old Hunt is now nearly white and spends his time sleeping in the San Diego sun when he’s not being ridden or providing entertainment for House-Sauque’s camp kids.

“During holidays and school breaks kids come and do camp here,” she explained. “We dress the horses up and paint them and do games and things with them. Hunt loves the kids and he loves the attention. He is the most kind soul and we love having him here and I thank my dad every day for doing the right thing for the Huntster.”

Growing up around the racetrack always creates tight bonds with the families who participate, as everyone knows, and this scenario was no exception for the House and Wellman families. House-Sauque has known Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Aron Wellman since he was nine and she was 12. They used to hang out at former trainer Jude Feld’s Del Mar barn as kids and have maintained a friendship ever since. And it was Wellman who brought Mike House in as part owner of Nest.

In 2021, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ GI Frank E. Kilroe Mile winner Ohio (Brz) (Elusive Quality) had been retired sound at age nine and Wellman was looking for a place for him to be let down and get some training with the idea he’d eventually become a riding horse for his daughter, Sadie. Soon after, Ohio arrived at Lucky Kid Farm, where House-Sauque would develop a plan for his post-racing life.

Trainer Michael McCarthy called House-Sauque at the time as he was preparing GI Preakness S. winner Rombauer for the GI Belmont Stakes to give her more insight into the handsome gelding.

“I couldn’t believe he took the time during the most important time in his career after winning the Preakness and while he was getting ready for the Belmont to call me and tell me about Ohio,” House-Sauque remembered. “He told me his quirks, some of the little issues he had, all of it. He didn’t want me to have any surprises and he wanted Ohio to have a great retirement. He really went above and beyond.”

It wasn’t long before Ohio’s retirement plans changed, though only slightly.

“Aron came to visit and saw how happy he was,” House-Sauque said. “I told him Ohio could stay if he wanted him to for as long as he wanted him to. And Aron decided that it would make Ohio most happy to stay and be one of the lesson horses here. And Ohio is so happy doing it, too. He loves the kids and he loves his job. He was made to do this.”

The novelty of caring for three Grade I winners isn’t lost on House-Sauque, who has always been a racing fan in addition to advocating for OTTBs. But she says the horses’ racing accomplishments don’t really have much to do with their lives today and shouldn’t define their care, or care for any OTTB for that matter.

“They’re the same as all of my horses here,” House-Sauque said. “They eat the same food, they get the same care as all of them. Bing Bang was here almost his whole life and there are other OTTBs here owned by some clients. Yes, it’s great to have them here and it’s special for us knowing what they did on the track for our family and for Aron’s, but it doesn’t matter.

“We love them all the same.”

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