After the Racetrack: Betty's Bambino
The goal of programs like CANTER and New Vocations is to find new opportunities for any Thoroughbred coming off the racetrack. Whether they are a stakes winner or a still a maiden after seasons of trying, each has the potential to excel in their next job and play a role in the life of a new owner while also showing what the breed can do. One horse that has done just that is the graded stakes winner Betty’s Bambino.
From racing down the hill at Santa Anita to riding the trails of North Carolina, Betty's Bambino has become an essential part of new owner Allie Conrad’s life while also demonstrating how versatile a Thoroughbred can be.
A multiple stakes winner on the track
Bred and raced by Sharon Alesia, Michael Mellen’s Bran Jam Stable, and Joe Ciaglia, Betty’s Bambino boasts a thoroughly Californian pedigree. A son of Unusual Heat, one of the state’s perennial leading sires, the gelding was trained by Peter Eurton (much like his dam, Brite Betty) and raced at Del Mar and Santa Anita.
He did not debut until age four in 2014 but made that first season a winning one, the Daytona (G3) and then the Sensational Star S. among his victories that year. Injuries forced a 22-month layoff until he returned in the San Simeon (G3), winning the 2016 edition and then trying for a second Sensational Star win, finishing third. With two graded stakes wins under his belt, the ownership group decided to retire Betty’s Bambino and offered him to Allie Conrad, who has two decades of experience with rehoming and retraining off-the-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs).
Also a photographer and software consultant, Conrad had fallen in love with the gelding during his racing career. The Mellens had previously worked with her when rehoming other horses, so they knew that this Maryland native and lifelong horsewoman was a good fit. With that, Betty’s Bambino was transported all the way from his stall in the Eurton barn in California to his special place on Conrad’s North Carolina farm, where he rules the heart of the woman who now calls him her own.
"He has that aura about him"
“Betty is a dude,” Conrad said about the stakes winner. “He has that aura about him. The moment he walked off the trailer, I knew I could do something with him.”
The gelding has a conformation more akin to a quarter horse than a Thoroughbred, with a sizeable rump that hints at why he was so good sprinting on the turf. Additionally, according to Conrad, “he’s incredibly intelligent and looks like he knows exactly how to communicate with people.”
While Betty’s Bambino did work with trainer Jasmine Hobart in preparation for the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover, his previous injuries mean that his jumping time is limited, with Conrad instead making him her preferred riding partner.
“He does some pretty hard-core trail riding in the mountains here,” she said. “He’ll do some Western dressage this year. He’s my go-to boy to ride.”
Betty’s ease with that kind of work shows another side of the Thoroughbred. Even a horse like him, one who is accustomed to being trained and handled a certain way as most stakes horses are, can transition to a new role.
Best of all, now that Betty is part of Conrad’s menagerie—which includes fellow stakes winner Ashleyluvssugar—he has become even more of a personality. Each day, his turnout features the “zoomies”—the gelding running around his paddock for 15-20 minutes. While he’s running, rearing, and kicking, the other horses observe his antics with looks akin to “what is this?”
In the barn, “he’s hilarious. Betty is all big black horse and knows how fancy he is.” He is much the same big personality that he was back in his racing days in California, a friendly horse who enjoys the company of the humans around him and the job of adventuring with his owner.
The story of Allie Conrad and Betty’s Bambino is a reminder of the bonds that Thoroughbreds can form with their owners. “He is incredibly obedient and happy to make you happy under saddle,” Conrad says. “He really helps change people’s minds. We are constantly fighting the ‘Thoroughbreds are crazy’ stereotype. They are not. When they meet Betty, they say ‘I need one like him.’”
An example of the possibilities for Thoroughbreds after racing
Now four years into his relationship with Conrad, Betty’s Bambino has settled into life as a working horse, riding along the beaches of the Outer Banks and enjoying the attentions of those who remember his winning turns on the racetrack.
For those who work with OTTBs, especially those who have competed at the highest levels, Betty is an example of the possibilities for Thoroughbreds. Whether they go on to dressage or showjumping or become a riding partner, each has the potential and the desire to continue working, thriving in a second career.
For Conrad and her Betty, this after-the-racetrack life is one of love shared between a horse and his human. “He is the very best creature on the planet. There’s never going to be another Betty,” Conrad said of the gelding. “He is the horse of a lifetime.”