OTTB: I Like Mike

Mike made a big splash at the Thoroughbred Makeover Competition all while raising money for the LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society.

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Mike had some big horseshoes to fill when he began his racing career in November of 2015. His full brother, Pender Harbour, was nearing the end of his illustrious racing career at that time as an earner of over $1 million.

Mike was also carrying the name of one of his breeders, the late Dr. Mike Colterjohn, one of Ontario’s most respected horsepeople and a Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee. Dr. Colterjohn, who guided the successful Gardiner Farms to its first, and only Sovereign Award for Outstanding Breeder passed away on March 28, 2012, one year to the day that Mike was born at Paradox Farm, in Caledon East, ON.

Mike, a $325,000 sales topper, won his career debut for co-breeder Dr. Moira Gunn, Marv Chantler and Hugh Sutherland. The son of Philanthropist–Uproar by Hail the Ruckus showed promise early in his 3-year-old season and earned a start in the Queen’s Plate where he finished 13th.

Late in 2017, Mike was not progressing in his racing career and that is when Dr. Colterjohn’s longtime friend Jim Phillips entered the picture.

“I had met Mike in college and we became fast friends,” said Phillips, an accomplished event rider who worked with mares and foals at Windfields Farm and later worked for 35 years in animal health.

Phillips, now retired from roles such as Global President of Animal Health for Bioniche Life Sciences and developer of many equine products such as Flu Avert and Polyglycan, has continued his work with developing thoroughbreds for the show ring and Mike became his next project.

“When Mike was retired by Moira and the others, they gave him to me to work with. I turned him out for the winter where he kept growing to his 16.3 hh frame.”

Mike was quick to learn the skills of eventing and gave Phillips the idea to point the gelding to the popular Thoroughbred Makeover Competition, for retired Thoroughbreds in training for less than 10 months, at the Kentucky horse Park.

That wasn’t the only idea in Phillips’ head either. He also approached the board of LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society and launched the “I Like Mike” Charity Drive website for visitors to follow along with Mike’s progress and offer a donation to LongRun.

Through the hot, summer months of 2018, Mike and Jim took part in shows in Palgrave, ON and Orillia, ON. The most important part of Mike’s training was slow, repetitive work on the flat and over fences.

“Like many thoroughbreds, strengthening his hind end takes time to allow him to progress. Mike was extremely calm and trainable.”

The “I Like Mike” initiative grew in popularity and by the time Jim, his coach and friend Frank Tucker and Mike arrived in Lexington, KY for the Makeover competition on Oct.5, some $55,000 had been raised for LongRun.

And Mike and Jim had an excellent adventure, finishing 18th of 100 entrants in eventing and as the sixth top amateur. “He received one of the top scores in the cross-country phase and was 29th out of 120 in the show jumping competition, ninth of the amateurs.”

Phillips was impressed with the Makeover competition, part of the Retired Racehorse Project that was formed in 2010 and has promoted and brought together thousands of horse owners and retired racehorses throughout North America.

“What a great experience,” said Phillips. “The facility at the horse park was incredible. The many different events made the show very interesting. The organizers did a good job of mixing the stabling, so eventers were next to barrel racers or dressage or field hunters which made for great camaraderie. Those stabled together were all cheering each other on. In our aisle there were people from as far away as California and Colorado.”

Phillips and his wife, Colleen, who have a 90-acre farm north of Toronto, even matched some of the donations from the “I Like Mike” charity drive.

While Mike will get a long rest this winter, another retired racehorse purchased by Phillips in 2015, Molinaro Kissing, is excelling in Eventing with two-time Olympian Jessica Phoenix. Named Wabbit, the grey son of Line of Departure, will soon be seen in major events leading to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Mike’s full-circle journey, from racehorse to eventer (and lovable riding companion) and the dedication of Jim Phillips will help future retired thoroughbreds for years to come.