Canoodler finds his person

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Wendy Uzelac Wooley was beside herself. “I found Canoodler!” she squealed into the phone. Anyone who knows her understands the significance of that statement. The “Canoodler Saga” began six years ago when Wendy, then an amateur photographer, was shooting the races at Hawthorne Park in Illinois.

She befriended Liane Davis, a trainer widely known for her efforts in Thoroughbred aftercare. Wendy had an OTTB at the time, a black gelding named Jaguar Hope, the subject of her blog From Racehorse to Showhorse.

Davis called Wendy one day and mentioned that she was interested in finding a good home for one of the horses in her barn at Hawthorne. Canoodler (Broken Vow – Julie’s Love Letter, by Red Ransom) was a 17.2-hand dark brown gelding who was “just too big to be fast.”

Foaled in 2004 and bred in Illinois by Arbaway Farms, he made 17 starts for owner Scott Goldsher, hitting the board once with a win in a $10,000 maiden claimer. When he retired, his earnings totaled $7,901.

“Every time I went to the races I would visit Canoodler and we’d all hang out. I’d bring him donuts,” Wooley said. “He was a terrible racehorse but had so much personality that everybody loved him. I really fell in love with him too.”

Shortly thereafter, Wooley lost Jaguar Hope after a paddock accident. She remembered Davis’ quest to find Canoodler a good home. Wendy got in touch with the trainer and said she was going to make an offer to the horse’s owner. Davis encouraged her friend but advised that the price tag might be on the hefty side.

“I said ‘Well, I’ll make the best offer I can,'” Wooley said.  “I offered $3,000, but the owner wasn’t interested in accepting anything less than $10,000 at the time as he felt like there was a market for this horse as a jumper.”

Undeterred, Wooley stayed in touch with Davis and would periodically re-submit her offer.

“I wanted them to know I was ready to take him,” she said. “Eventually Liane said it just wasn’t enough money. I just said ‘OK, I’ve got to move forward.’ “

Davis contacted Wooley a few months later to let her know that Canoodler had been retired and was heading to Georgia and a new career as a foxhunter. Wooley was just happy to know the horse had found a good home.

Employed at the time by the LPGA, she back-burnered her horse search, and focused on her work which frequently took her all over the country.

Her friends nevertheless kept an eye open for anything that seemed a likely prospect. I happened to come across one by accident one Saturday in July 2009 at Frank Bonsal Jr.’s Mantua Farm in Glyndon, Md. Bonsal pointed out a gray gelding in his barn; another “if you know of anyone” situation. Knowing that Wooley was in Pennsylvania officiating at a golf tournament, I called and told her I thought she should make a trip to have a look at this one.

She did, and within a few days former Scott Lake trainee Hola C Bright (Valiant Nature – Escallonia, by Damascus) went home with her. Now 15, “Ollie” is regularly featured in her blog and social media posts.

Five years went by. Wooley married professional photographer Matt Wooley and relocated to Lexington, Ky., taking Ollie and her 20-something gelding Toby with her. Then one evening last year, things changed.

“You know how the stars will align in a weird way? I was sitting at Keeneland last spring talking to a friend. I was telling her about Canoodler. I wondered if he would ever turn up again. And that night I got an email from this girl who had gotten him at the New Holland auction.”

The email read as follows:

“Hey Wendy! I recently purchased a TB gelding from auction and (after some tattoo deciphering) thought that I had a match. So I Googled the name and your website popped up with photos of him from spring of 2009! His name is Canoodler and you were hoping to get him from the track.”

Wendy exchanged some emails and shared her photos of Canoodler with his new owner. Within a few months, however, the young woman reached out and asked if Wendy would be interested in buying him.

“She told me that she and Canoodler just were not a good fit. She asked if I would be interested in buying him, but I had two horses so I had to say no. She wanted $2,500. Then not too long after that, a few people contacted me to say they had seen him on Craig’s List as free to a good home.  That was when I had the heart-to-heart with my husband.”

Matt Wooley agreed – they needed to do whatever was necessary to get Canoodler to Lexington…and that led to Wendy’s animated phone call. 

“Do you know where Landenburg, Pa., is?” she asked. I did – and it was just a few miles from Fair Hill. If there is one universal truth about horse people, it’s that we love a happy ending. From that point on, things shifted into high gear.

We had to get Canoodler shipped to Kentucky, so I called Will Phipps at Brook Ledge and shared the story. Freakishly efficient, Phipps had arrangements made within about 30 minutes, and the horse was booked on a van three days later. In the interim, Fenella O’Flynn went to Landenburg, picked up Canoodler and took him back to her Grattan Farm where she checked him out thoroughly and kept a very anxious and excited Wooley updated until the horse shipped. Within a week of deciding that Canoodler needed to be in their home, Wendy joyously led him off the Brook Ledge van in Lexington.

“I’m overwhelmed that all my friends in the racing community came together to help me get this horse who was like an old friend. He just warms my heart every time I see him. He knows that I am doing everything I can to help him, and he hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. I never imagined that all of you would be so helpful. You have no idea what that means to me. It was one of the best moments of my life finding him. He’s so much more than just a horse.”