LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Watching the bay horse with a kind eye make his way around the barns at Keeneland, you would never know you were looking at a champion. You would just know you were looking at a happy horse.
On the track, Rahy's Attorney earned more than $2.1 million and was named Canada's champion turf horse in 2008. His greatest claim to fame was taking the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile the same year he was named a champion, and he did so by beating the likes of Kip Deville and Ventura. Both ended their careers as Breeders' Cup champions and earned almost $6 million between them.
Trained by Ian Black, Rahy's Attorney's last race came in 2011, when he finished a close second behind Winchester in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational. He suffered a minor injury in that start, and his owners decided the then-7-year-old Crown Attorney gelding had more than earned his retirement.
Bred in Ontario by Joe and Ellen MacLellan's Ellie Boje Farms and campaigned by that operation in partnership with Joe's mother, Jean MacLellan, brother Jim MacLellan, Mitch Peters and Dean Read, Rahy's Attorney had become a pretty popular horse, and his owners wanted nothing but the best for him.
Until he exited the Sword Dancer with a lesion in his digital tendon, Rahy's Attorney had been the picture of health. He healed nicely from that initial injury but then hurt himself two more times while in retirement, which delayed his second career a bit. One thing was clear, though: He was not happy being a pasture pet. He wanted a job.
Given that Rahy's Attorney loves the action and busyness of the racetrack, his connections decided he should become a pony horse. Track ponies serve as sort of mentors to current race horses, who might be nervous or feeling their oats a bit too much. The "pony" -- who is often times a full-fledged horse despite the nickname given his job -- rides alongside race horses as they make their way to the track in the morning for training and before a race.
Track ponies serve as both a calming presence and as an added measure of safety. Rahy's Attorney could still be in the center of the world he knows and loves, but with a more relaxed lifestyle. The trick was getting him to calm down and not think he himself was going to the races. This has been done successfully with many other well-known geldings, including multimillionaire Lava Man, who escorted I'll Have Another throughout his entire run at the Triple Crown in 2012.
He loves to be ridden and he likes attention, period. Whether it is getting candy or getting ridden, he doesn't care. He just likes attention.
"-- Stacy Pate, Keeneland outrider
The gelding became a pony horse for his trainer last year, but things haven't gone as smoothly as planned. This August, his owners decided to send him to outrider Stacy Pate at Keeneland to get his PhD or "pony horse diploma." Once he is done with his lessons, he will make his way back to Woodbine.
"He started his education in Toronto with our trainer, but he needed someone who does what Stacy does full-time," said Joe MacLellan. "They had exercise riders who were getting on him, but he just wasn't learning enough. So we started calling around and talking to a few people."
The MacLellan's have a soft spot for their champion, and given his back story, it isn't a mystery why. He and another homebred, Glitter Rox, were the first two horses the MacLellans kept to race. Although Rahy's Attorney turned into the star, Glitter Rox more than held her own. She earned just shy of $600,000 and was a graded stakes winner in her own right.
"They were the first two horses we ever kept for racing," Ellen MacLellan said. "We had sold everything before that since we are commercial breeders. That year, some circumstances at home changed, and we had people interested in forming a partnership to keep some of our babies. Those two were our crop for that year. We had no idea what we had."
In fact, while the MacLellans retained ownership of Rahy's Attorney, they set up a racing syndicate and sold half of his racing interest for a mere $5,000.
"You don't know what is inside, their drive and determination," said Ellen. "This guy, before he was weaned he was a cribber and as a yearling he had warts all over his face. We thanked the Lord we were not trying to sell him at auction because he looked so bad. When he got off the trailer as a 2-year-old at Woodbine, Ian was going, 'I am not sure about the gelding, but I like the Glitterman filly.'"
Rahy's Attorney spent the next five years proving you never know where the next champion is going to come from. He may not be the flashiest horse or have the shiniest pedigree, but boy could he run.
Because Rahy's Attorney is on track to "graduate" as a full-fledged track pony while Black is in Florida for the winter, he may stay at Keeneland through the new year and return to Canada when his trainer does. It is a bit up in the air for now, but what is a certainty is that he is enjoying his lessons.
"He is moving along pretty quick," said Pate. "He has really been settling down more and more every day out there. It just takes him a trip or two around before he gets some of the play out of him. He loves to be ridden and he likes attention, period. Whether it is getting candy or getting ridden, he doesn't care. He just likes attention."
As Pate is talking about what is next for Rahy's Attorney's lessons, the friendly gelding is busy accepting mints from his owners, making the outrider's words ring true. This is a horse that loves people, loves attention and loves action. The MacLellans love him in return and plan on visiting their gelding once a month while he is so far from home. They also maintain the Rahy's Attorney Facebook page for fans of their horse.
"We have two kids, but these horses are like our children as well and we are going to follow them forever," said Joe. "He will come home eventually to our place, but not until he is 20. This is the ideal life for him, especially with someone like Stacy who knows how to ride. He loves the racetrack and will stand out there and watch all day if you let him."
"He is the kind of horse that needs something to do," Ellen added, "and he is too special of a horse to throw out in a field. He has done too much for us to just hand him off and forget about him. Plus we have too much fun doing this stuff. We like seeing him."
As Rahy's Attorney leans in for a few more pats from his owners, it is undeniable the feeling is mutual.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.