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Free-Legged: USTA Classic supports show ring Standardbreds
Wednesday, August 22, 2007 - by Dean A. Hoffman

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 Dean Hoffman

Columbus, OH --- Each year in August thousands of horses converge on the massive Kentucky State Fairgrounds in Louisville for the World Championship Horse Show.

The stars of the show are the flashy five-gaited American Saddlebreds, but for a handful of horse show devotees the event is also a showcase for Road Horses, which are Standardbreds displaying their speed, gait and beauty in the show ring.

The United States Trotting Association has provided generous financial support for Road Horses in the past decade through the USTA Classic, one of the richest events in this niche of the show horse world.

The USTA Classic is open to horses that have not shown before the current year. That is, horses competing for the big money in Louisville this year are in their first season on the show circuit. Last year they might have been racing or in training to make the conversion from race horse to road horse.

Astute road horse trainers are always on the prowl for a suitable refugee from the race track that can be molded into a star of the show ring. They’re not looking for the fastest horses; instead they are looking for horses with the right carriage and gait to easily make the transformation. And eye-catching beauty sure doesn’t hurt a show horse.

For many years, the offspring of Dream Of Glory were greatly favored by trainers of road horses, or roadsters, as they are also called. Dream Of Glory himself carried his head high during his distinguished career in the 1970s, and he sired many sons and daughters while standing at Armstrong Bros. in Canada that had the same traits.

In more recent years, the offspring of Sierra Kosmos have caught the eye of more than one roadster trainer. I recall one such person calling me to inquire about a trotter competing in the mid-level trots at Pocono Downs. The horse wouldn’t ever be mistaken for a world champion, but this road horse trainer had watched him on TV and liked what he saw. He wanted my assistance in reaching the trainer at Pocono.

A few weeks later I saw the trotter’s trainer and asked if the road horse man had called him.

“Yeah, he did,” he replied. “He’s willing to pay a lot of money for that horse, more than he’s worth.”

I told him it was a free country and maybe it was time to sell. The trainer said his owner really liked the horse, even if he was just a check-getter most of the time.

A month later I saw the trotting trainer again and asked about the status of the horse.

“Oh, he’s gone,” he quipped. “We got a good price for him.”

I don’t know what ever happened to this horse, but I do know that road horse trainers are still watching the races closely for the right candidate. And it’s not only trotters that they watch. Although horses competing in the USTA Classic and other road horse events must trot, some of them come from strictly pacing pedigrees.

A good road horse is valuable to its owner because it can show at the top levels for many years. Few purses offer as much money as the USTA Classic, but owners are looking for ribbons, trophies, and bragging rights. Winning the USTA Classic can be the first step on a very lucrative career in the show ring.

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