After the Racetrack: Beckham Bend
Sometimes, a horse just hits you right in the heart. The way they carry themselves on the racetrack, the tenacity they show in their stretch drive, something catches your eye and then you are hooked, getting excited anytime they show up in the day’s entries or you catch their photo on social media.
And occasionally one finds their way into your life serendipitously and changes your path. For Ginny O’Malley, that horse was a guy named Beckham Bend. For this month’s After the Racetrack, we look at a unique bond that reminds racing fans just how special a horse can be and what aftercare means for many Thoroughbreds.
A Brilliant Beginning
Bred in Florida, Beckham Bend boasts a pedigree with multiple classic connections, from his sire Invisible Ink’s second-place finish in the 2001 Kentucky Derby to his grandsire Thunder Gulch’s Derby-Belmont wins. He spent much of his career racing in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, frequenting Suffolk Downs, Presque Isle, and Mountaineer during his 56-race career. In his time on those circuits, Beckham Bend built up a following, fans cheering him on as he set a track record for a mile on the turf at Mountaineer at age 10.
When his racing career was done, owner Craig Cox and former owner Michael Clark contacted Ginny O’Malley, owner of Packard Meadows, a farm near Buffalo, New York, to see if she had space for Beckham Bend. O’Malley had taken in another retired Thoroughbred, Shinhopple, and knew she had stall space for another. When Beckham Bend arrived at Packard Meadows, she discovered the joys of rehabbing newly retired Thoroughbreds and finding them a new job for their post-racetrack years.
Growing up in Maryland gave O’Malley many opportunities to ride and work with horses as a child. She and her twin sister had taken riding lessons and had fallen in love with a particular horse at the facility they attended. Her parents adopted that horse and took her in to their family farm, called Packard Meadows. As she grew older, though, O’Malley gave up riding, but, after nearly four decades, she picked it back up as an adult. Her late husband purchased a farm near Buffalo for O’Malley. She named it Packard Meadows in honor of her family’s Maryland property.
After taking in Shinhopple first and then Beckham Bend, O’Malley found that she had a knack for working with OTTBs (off-track Thoroughbreds) and decided to turn Packard Meadows into a sanctuary. After he was gelded, Beckham Bend, also known as Benny, became one of the farm’s lesson horses, a well-behaved gentleman that has his share of admirers off the racetrack just like he did when was racing in the mid-2010s.
Benny on the Farm
Beckham Bend ran his last race in August 2016, and within a month was with O’Malley. “When we got him and trailered him to the farm, he was so keyed up,” she remembered. “He never stopped being a racehorse until he was gelded.”
After six months of letdown, something each horse gets when they arrive at the farm, she was content to let Benny be a pasture pet until she spied him watching riding lessons in the farm’s arena. “He was watching lessons one day so we thought that maybe he would enjoy that job.” To become a lesson horse, though, Benny had to be gelded, which can be risky for older horses.
When he arrived at Packard Meadows, Benny was 11 years old, already much older than most Thoroughbreds are when they leave the racetrack. By the time he was gelded, he was already 13 or 14, a tough age for a procedure like that. Beckham Bend persevered through his recovery, and, within a couple of months, had gone from a racehorse to a gentleman. “We were able to get in the stall with him, able to kiss him,” O’Malley said. “He became this horse that wanted your attention.”
Under saddle, they discovered that Benny had some dressage experience, something that he would do during the winter months when he was not racing. Though previous injuries in three of his four legs meant that jumping was not an option, his dressage experience made him easy and smooth to ride. Now, the track record holder at Mountaineer has followed in the footsteps of many an OTTB and found a second job for his later years.
He also has inspired O’Malley to take in more newly retired Thoroughbreds, with the farm currently housing seven and planning to take in more if the opportunity arises in the future.
A Little Help from Their Friends
Thanks to the joys of working with Beckham Bend and his fellow OTTBs, O’Malley has applied for nonprofit status for Packard Meadows, with the goal of making the farm a protected home for newly retired Thoroughbreds, many of whom come to her with injuries. For fans of horses like Beckham Bend and others, especially geldings, following their careers and offering to help with their care through donations is a great help to sanctuaries like Packard Meadows, a way to thank the horses for the joy that they have brought us.
Next time you are at the racetrack and spy the name of one of those horses that tugs at your heart, consider what you can do for them after their career is over. Your support can go a long way to ensuring that these horses find a second job and a home for those years after they leave the backside and become an off-track Thoroughbred.