It won’t be a winner’s circle photo, but the next picture Doug Allison takes with the affable grey gelding will be equally, if not more, meaningful.
In the days leading up to the April start of the 2023 Woodbine Thoroughbred season, Allison and the other members of ownership group Geaux Racing were messaging back and forth in their WhatsApp chat, talking about their prized racehorse Pink Gelato.
The sturdy son of Ami’s Holiday had gone through a winless 2022 campaign, one beset by a series of bad racing luck and a few near misses in the quest to record his maiden victory.
Allison and his fellow owners, who had claimed the horse late last August, believed it wouldn’t be long into the current racing season when Pink Gelato, trained by Woodbine-based Darwin Banach, finally experienced his milestone moment.
One phone call changed all of that.
“It’s pretty jarring when your trainer calls and tells you the horse has torn his tendon and probably won’t race again,” recalled Allison. “When we got the news, it was a bit of a shock because we were quite bullish on how we thought he was going to race this year. He was looking and feeling good, and he really deserved a win last fall. He took a couple bumps out of the gate in some races, and a couple he got trapped on the outside, so he had some bad racing luck. But they were exciting races. He was in them all and it was fun to watch.”
Allison headed to the Woodbine backstretch soon after he received the news.
“I own a third, and a friend of mine, Dr. Brendon Ringwood, who is a surgical veterinarian owns a third, so he was able to able translate what we were told and what our options could be going forward,” recalled Allison, originally from Peterborough, a 90-minute drive northeast of the racetrack, who now calls Toronto home. “The Woodbine vet, Dr. Candace Allen, she’s awesome. We had some meetings with her and then we had some time to spend with Pink Gelato. I brought my son, who is 10, to Woodbine to see him, not knowing at the time when we would see him again.”
The group’s first priority was the well-being of their horse.
“This is the first horse we owned. As much as money is part of the equation, it’s emotionally jarring. We got into this because of the excitement of racing, and you get so close to the animals. We really did see that day coming when we could be with him in the winner’s circle, but he’s also a tremendous athlete, and you want that for him too. It was an emotional time, but Darwin and his wife Erika, who is the assistant trainer, and Dr. Allen all spent a lot of time with us, walking us through everything.”
The next step was to find a new home for Pink Gelato.
The friends’ WhatApp chats focused on researching the most suitable spot for the five-year-old.
“Our third partner, comprised of my mom, Jane Allison, and Tack Lee, and I talked about what we could do. The only option was giving our horse a good second life. He’s still young, he has an awesome temperament, and he’s a beautiful horse. He’s got a long second career as a riding horse ahead of him. He’s going to have a lot of fun and lead a happy life. And that’s what he deserves.”
Hours of homework, conversations and advice eventually led the group to LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society.
Established in 1999, LongRun is the first industry-funded adoption program in Canada, earning status as one of the most respected horse retirement and adoption organizations. Over 50 retired racehorses currently reside at its sprawling 100-acre property in Hillsburgh, Ontario.
“We started looking at places where we could bring him to. Darwin and Erika spoke very highly of Vicki Pappas (founding member and chairperson) and Sarah Bowen (executive administrator) at LongRun, which has such a great reputation. So, ultimately, that was the best place for him to go. Whatever we did was going to be in the best interest of the horse. It’s a beautiful place for him to go and great people to look after him. We aren’t city folks, and we weren’t horse people, but my son, who is 10 and my daughter who is seven, fell in love with this horse right away. Now we know that we can go see him, hang out with him, bring him some treats, and spend time together as a family.”
Bred by Ron Clarkson, Pink Gelato finished his racing career with a modest mark of 0-3-3 from 14 starts along with $49,230 in purse earnings.
Allison, who works full-time as CFO of the Toronto International Film Festival, looks beyond those numbers, focusing instead on the experience, indebted to the horse who finished a game second in his final start on December 2, 2022.
“The gift he has given us is that my daughter is now in a riding camp for the summer and my son comes to the track with me all the time. We couldn’t have asked for a better horse, and we owe him so much. It was in January of last year when I talked with my friend about becoming an owner. We did our homework, found the right trainer and some other partners. We knew that Darwin and Erika were the right ones for us. Our ownership group, we all have kids in the same age range, so we wanted to be able to bring them to the track to see the horse and make some great memories. And we did.”
Now, offered Allison, is the time to make new ones.
Once again, just a few weeks ago, he turned on his laptop and started a chat on WhatsApp.
He knew what he was about to suggest might be quickly dismissed.
“When we found out Pink Gelato wouldn’t be racing anymore, I told the other owners, ‘I don’t know how you feel, but I want to get back in and have some fun.’ We’re 100 percent back in. We had so much fun last year. It was everything we wanted it to be. And it was great to hear their response, that everyone had a blast and that we need to keep it going.”
And so they will, soon.
There might be one prerequisite with who that horse will be.
“I think with the next horse we have to get another dappled grey one, because it’s much easier to see where they are on the track,” quipped Allison.
One thing that will stay status quo for Allison and Geaux Racing is their individual and collective love of racing.
It’s something they’ve already passed along to others.
“I’m happy to be the crazy father who does a bunch of weird, random stuff. If it gives them a bunch of memories as they grow up, that will make me happy. Who knows where it all leads? Maybe they are talking 20 years from now, and maybe we have five, 10 or even 20 horses.”
And perhaps the connection with Pink Gelato will one day start a new chapter for Allison.
The thought has crossed his mind on more than one occasion.
“There’s a chance down the road, maybe a year from now, where my daughter might get her own horse. If that day comes, I know where to find the perfect one.”