When Val Topp and David Bell first brought Ojibway Signal to the track as an unraced two-year-old they soon found the big fellow was going to be a work in progress.

“He’s was very good looking as a two-year-old, but he was really nervous and a bad stall walker,” said Topp. “He was kind of a high maintenance guy.”

‘OJ’ also proved to be an intelligent and keen student who quickly settled down, completed a successful racing career and just a few months into his retirement, is now an easy-going riding companion for Topp.

Bell, one of Woodbine’s most successful trainers, paid $22,000 for the tall, dark bay son of Queen’s Plate winner Niigon at the Woodbine yearling sale and brought him into the track the following spring to begin training.

Once he was gelded and started regular training OJ put his nervous energy into galloping and racing and by the fall of his juvenile season was really keen on his job.

“He was quite a good racehorse,” said Topp, who gallops Bell’s horses and helps manage her partner’s Woodbine stable.

Ojibway Signal won his maiden at the top level, earning over $33,000 for that first score and was stakes placed before his two-year-old campaign was over.

As a three-year-old in 2011, Ojibway Signal was given a chance to compete in the biggest race of them all for Canadian-born thoroughbreds, the Queen’s Plate, and while he was 14 lengths in arrears of super filly Inglorious, he came out of that race to win his next two races in allowance company putting $80,000 in his saddle pads.

His biggest win came in 2012 when he galloped around the Woodbine turf course to win a 1 1/2 mile event worth $70,000.

When the gelding was retired in November of 2014 he had earned over $250,000 in his 40 races.

Topp was eager to keep OJ for herself once his career on the track was finished, even if he was always one of the more aggressive horses she had to gallop each morning.

“From the first time I saw him I had him pegged as my riding horse,” said Topp, who was long-listed for the Canadian eventing team before she began a career at Woodbine. “He was strong to gallop but he was always interested in everything and liked everyone.”

After some turn-out time during the winter of 2015, Topp moved OJ to a nearby boarding stable and started riding the gelding in a more serene, but very different setting.

“I just started riding him around an indoor arena and that was it,” said Topp. “He became very mellow. Dave and I have gone for hacks and trail rides and he loves it.”

During the summer of 2015, Topp tried OJ in some eventing exercises and has not been surprised that her gelding has thrived.

“He’s a natural learner. He went up banks and down banks, over and through water.”

In July, OJ took part in his first eventing show at Myrddin Equestrian Centre in Georgetown, ON and placed third, looking as confident as he did on the racetrack.

While Topp says she is not going to pursue higher level events, she entered OJ in the popular Thoroughbred Makeover: Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) events at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington in late October and is excited to show off her own off-track thoroughbred.

The RRP is presented by the Thoroughbred Charities of America and has dozens of sponsors who help put on events from jumping to eventing, dressage and barrel racing in an effort to increase awareness and demand for retired thoroughbred racehorses as pleasure and sport horses.

“I’m happy enough to do lower level stuff with him. It’s exciting to be riding again.”

At 17 hands, Ojibway Signal certainly could look intimidating to any rider but like the majority of retired racehorses, he is a gentle giant.

“On the ground, he’s always mooching for treats,” said Topp. “He loves attention and looks for it.”

For Topp, a career galloping racehorses and taking them to the paddock for races is an arduous living, but when she gets home, she can’t wait to drive over to see OJ.

“It must be some kind of horse for me to come home and then turn around and drive over to ride some more,” Topp said, laughing. “But he is great and he loves it as much as I do.”