Finding value in those that finish last can be a rewarding challenge.
As long as horse racing has existed there have been winners and losers on race day. Some equine athletes only qualify as the latter on a bad day while others seem destined to consistently fail on the track.
However, failing in one discipline does not determine life's success. We see horses and their riders managing to overcome many obstacles in the pursuit of greatness.
Colonel XX, renamed "Bonheur XX," an American Thoroughbred, was one such failed racehorse that landed in the hands of now seven-time Canadian Olympian, Christilot Boylen.
In 1960 Christilot was only 13 and Bonheur was a five-year-old fresh off the track. Together the two traveled the world to learn to become a world-class Grand Prix dressage team. In 1964 their hard work landed them at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. The pair failed to medal but set the record with the youngest Olympic dressage rider ever at age 17, which stood until 2008.
The pair continued to travel the world competing and repeated their Olympic performance in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Again the pair failed to medal but to make it to the world stage for the second time was quite an accomplishment for this "unsuccessful" racehorse.
Poggio II was also a two-time Olympian with origins at the track. However, his journey to stardom has the most unusual back story, or should I say backcountry story.
Poggio II's career before eventing was as a pack horse in the Cascade Mountains. He came to find his faithful Olympic partner via a classified ad. His partnership with Amy Tryon proved successful and the pair competed with the US Olympic Equestrian teams in 2004 and 2008.
Neville Bardos was a three-year-old racetrack reject possibly destined for slaughter when Boyd Martin decided to take a chance for $850. Neville was not only high-strung, but he was also prone to cribbing. During cribbing a horse will grab a hold of the walls or doors of their stalls and paddocks and then suck in air.
Martin limited Neville's stable vice by using a cribbing collar and Neville's endless energy was directed into eventing. The pair began winning competitions until Neville was critically injured in a barn fire in 2011.
Martin managed to rescue his equine partner and Neville recovered from his injuries but the story doesn't end there. Neville went on to be named Horse of the Year by the U.S. Equestrian Federation in 2011 and then traveled on to the 2012 Olympics in London as a back-up mount for Martin.
Doc Bar was a Quarter horse stallion born in 1956. His career on the racetrack was short-lived following dismals earnings from just four starts.
Nevertheless, his good looks found him success in the halter arena and he went on to become a leading cutting horse sire.
In light of the amazing performances of American Pharoah in 2015, it is easy to forget that for every champion there are multiple "losers" at every race. Our modern culture has recognized the plight of these racetrack "rejects" and there are many organizations now devoted to providing retirement careers for racehorses.
Hopefully the few stories shared here will inspire some to explore racetrack retirees for their next mounts. Please visit Retired Race Horse Project to find your own future champion.