Owner/breeder Mike Repole's grade 2 winner Overdriven has endured some tough knocks in the Thoroughbred racing game, both as a racehorse and as a stallion. Injury derailed his racing career after three promising starts, and after five seasons at stud, his number of mares bred fell below the level a commercially viable stallion requires.
What Repole chose next for Overdriven's future was bold and unconventional, with the likelihood of success equaling the potential for failure. He had the stallion gelded and sent him to New Vocations' farm in Kentucky to be retrained as a show horse.
So far, Overdriven is beating the odds in a big way.
"It is very unusual, and we typically don't recommend it because it normally doesn't work out," said Anna Ford, New Vocations' Thoroughbred program director. "We get plenty of horses who were just gelded, but they weren't breeding. Once they know what they can do, it is hard to reprogram them."
Ford remembered having a long conversation about Overdriven with David O'Farrell of Ocala Stud near Ocala, Fla., where the 9-year-old son of Tale of the Cat had been standing since 2013. O'Farrell also knew what was being proposed was no sure thing.
"Overdriven is a useful horse and a nice horse, but the economics were not going to add up," O'Farrell said about the horse's future as a stallion. "Mike didn't want to see the horse sold for a ham sandwich and wind up in Timbuktu. This was a different approach and unconventional, but it was a good one."
Repole said his decision to geld Overdriven centered on finding a good home for the duration of the horse's life.
"Maybe other people would have sold him, and he would have had a couple of more years (as a stallion)," Repole said. "But what happens when he's 11 or 14 or 16. I didn't want him out of my control and in a country where I would never know what happened to him. He was good to me as a racehorse, and I gave him every opportunity. Now I want to be sure he's cared for."
Repole first contacted Ford at New Vocations because he is already an avid supporter of the nonprofit founded in 1992 to rehabilitate and retrain ex-racehorses. Finding new homes for the horses is the primary goal, and more than 6,000 retired Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds have been placed since New Vocations' inception. The organization operates out of two facilities in Ohio, one near Lexington, one in Pennsylvania, and one in New York. Repole is a co-sponsor with Mrs. Paul Robsham of a new barn at the farm near Lexington, which is on the historic Mereworth Farm.
"I called Anna because we have a great relationship, and I know New Vocations has the first right of refusal to get a horse back and make sure he's OK," Repole said.
Ford told both Repole and O'Farrell that New Vocations was willing to try transitioning Overdriven, but also stressed the likelihood the plan might not be successful.
"I told David we had a 50:50 chance, which is actually pretty good odds in racing," Ford said. "But it is not something we typically promote because there would be a lot of people who would want us to take their stallions who aren't making it. I think with a program like Old Friends, retired stallions is more their niche."
New Vocations started Overdriven with the basics. First, he had to learn how to be turned out with another horse without trying to breed it, according to Ford. Overdriven's coach was R Ranger, a 10-year-old gelded son of Forestry bred by the Robshams.
"Ranger is our only pensioned horse at New Vocations (in Kentucky) because we don't retire them," Ford said. "If they come in, they are going to get a home. Ranger has a hind end issue that keeps him from having a riding career and kept him from racing, so we took him, but he had to have a job and that job is really important. We get these tough colts who come off the track, and he teaches them how to behave. He probably works harder than any other horse on the property."
Now Overdriven and Ranger are turned out together every day.
The next phase involved putting Overdriven under saddle and back to work.
"To be honest, he's doing extremely well," Ford said. "He is actually a really lovely mover. He has not only transitioned well, but he has a really good mind, and we're really excited to see what he'll be able to accomplish.
"He was talented as a racehorse, and now that we have gotten to see him go, he's talented as a riding horse, too," she continued. "And he's really pretty. In the equestrian world to be a dark bay with four white socks and a star, you couldn't be any cuter."
Ironically, Overdriven's racing progeny are off to a decent start this year. He is co-ranked as the 11th-leading third-crop sire by number of winners with five and is among the top 20 of his sire class by progeny earnings. His 4-year-old gelded son Driven to Compete broke his maiden Jan. 18 at Gulfstream Park by 13 3/4 lengths and Driven by Thunder, also a 4-year-old gelding, won a 7 1/2-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Jan. 5 and finished second in a Gulfstream starter allowance race Feb. 1. Repole races both Driven to Compete and Driven by Thunder.
Despite the early successes by his progeny so far this year, Repole has no regrets about gelding Overdriven.
"He's produced some nice horses, dirt and turf. His babies are still running and making money for us," Repole said. "Driven to Compete is going to be a nice New York-bred turf horse. Driven by Speed has been a lot of fun. We might keep Overnegotiate and Driven by Speed and breed them, and keep Overdriven's family around."
Overnegotiate is a 4-year-old stakes-placed daughter of Overdriven out of the Elusive Quality mare Contractual while Driven by Speed is a 4-year-old filly and allowance winner out of the stakes-placed Silver Ghost mare Spooked.
Right now the toughest decision sits with New Vocations.
"I don't think we'll have any problem finding him a good home," Ford said. "The problem will be that a lot of people are going to want him. Our challenge will be to select not just a home, but the best home. It is a really good challenge to have."