The decorated equine athletes that we’ve come to know and love at Woodbine hold a sentimental part in each fan’s heart. You no doubt follow their trainer’s Twitter accounts, you await their next big stakes race and yes, a few even inspire catchy cheers such as ‘Go Pinky Go!’
If Woodbine had horse jerseys, they would most likely feature stakes champs such as Melmich, Sir Dudley Digges, Aldous Snow, Johnny Bear and Danish Dynaformer ‒ some of the big players over the last several racing seasons at the track.
But where are those players now? What are they up to since slipping out of the limelight?
Multiple stakes winner Melmich has found himself in the loving care of equestrian Caroline Godson. A seasoned eventer with a keen eye for retraining thoroughbreds for a new career, Godson operates Care Equestrian, based out of Tamarack Hill in Belwood, Ontario, where she specializes in bringing horses up to the preliminary level of eventing. Godson was searching for a prospect for this year’s Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) but was having difficulty finding her four-legged partner.
“How the competition works is that you can’t have ridden the horse fifteen times before December 15th of last year. I had gone to quite a few farms and was having a difficult time finding a horse that I connected with and that I thought would be a good candidate for the project. At that time, it was the middle of the November and you could really only go to the track to see them or go to a farm and kind of try them in a bit of a circle,” said Godson.
Last year she competed at the RRP in Lexington, Kentucky, with a retired thoroughbred named Boggie. She placed third in eventing and eleventh in the field hunters with the former racehorse. While looking for her 2020 RRP partner proved a tedious endeavour, Godson wasn’t ready to give up. She decided to get in touch with LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society in Hillsburgh, Ontario, a well-known thoroughbred rehoming organization, in hopes of finding her mount.
“I contacted LongRun to see if they had any candidates because I was looking for an RRP horses. They said they did; they had Melmich and he was quite a famous horse. I never looked into that, to be honest. Somewhat naïve, I went to try Melmich and really liked him. And then I went home and googled his name and was like ‘oh shoot, he’s actually quite famous.’ I’m glad I didn’t research him before I went because I think I would have been a little star-struck. So that’s really how I found out about Melmich. I applied like every other person would apply and stated what my goals were, what I wanted, and then LongRun gave me the best candidate.”
A ‘Melmich’ Google search indeed yielded stories upon stories about the Woodbine-based stakes winner. Competing at the Ontario oval for a solid five years, the chestnut gelding continuously racked up graded stakes wins for conditioner Kevin Attard and owners Stephen Chesney and Cory Hoffman. Melmich won the Elgin Stakes a whopping three times between 2015 and 2017. In 2017, he also captured graded stakes victories in Gr. 3 races such as the Dominion Day Stakes, the Seagram Stakes and the Durham Cup Stakes.
Last summer the millionaire son of Wilko was retired and donated to LongRun. The non-profit organization has found homes for over 1,000 thoroughbreds since they began their operation two decades ago. It goes without saying that LongRun continues to play a pivotal role in fostering, rehabilitating and finding former racehorses the right adoptive homes.
Connecting Godson with Melmich proved the perfect match. Not long after, in late November, Godson brought the champ back to Tamarack Hill. Shifting gears from top-notch racehorse to a new career can take time. Understanding that process, Godson has been taking things slowly with the gelding for the last several months and making sure to ease him into his next venture.
“We are just going out for hacks and we are walking in the snow. It’s really just to try and loosen him up, get him happy and comfortable, riding him all throughout the property, through the river, and up and around the hills,” said Godson who rides Melmich across the spread of the farm, which encompasses 50 acres and backs onto the Wellington Conservation Forest.
The RRP takes place at the Kentucky Horse Park in early October. Godson has already been accepted as a trainer for the RRP project and will have until June or July to enter Melmich. She will have until August to pick their discipline (heavy hint, it may be eventing).
So far, Melmich’s progress into his new routine has been very promising. A video posted by the equestrian and reposted by LongRun on Facebook showed Melmich being neck-reined by Godson seemingly without much effort; as if to say it was old hat to the chestnut gelding.
“I don’t think anyone is going to believe me, but that was the first time I tried neck-reining him. It was the first time I took his bridle off and was like okay, let’s see if he can do this. He is a very intelligent horse, very kind-hearted, who really just wants to please. You can see when I tell him he is a good boy he licks and he chews, and he is very personable that way. I haven’t worked with a horse that wants to do a job so badly. He loves his routine, he loves being worked. He loves learning new things and having to figure out what you’re asking him.”
The pair have easily bonded over the last several months. Although Godson has seen many racehorses transition into new careers, she knows there is something pretty special about this new guy.
“Oh, his heart. It would definitely be his heart. He is the kindest horse I’ve ever met.”
Godson is also quick to admit that she is very thankful she stumbled upon him through LongRun.
“The real story here is how LongRun chose him for me [through] that application process. I don’t think we get a lot of that in Ontario. If we didn’t have an organization like LongRun, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to have such an amazing horse.”