Flying Changes: Matched Pair

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Seven years ago, he led the Woodward for a mile. Six years ago, he tried the Grade 1 at Saratoga again and finished sixth. Today, he stands around and waits for the love of his life.

And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I like to think he likes me, he knows me and he waits here for me to pull in the driveway in my truck, but I don’t know,” said Trish McLaughlin, the proud owner of retired Grade 1 stakes campaigner Past The Point. “He’s got a home for life with me. I love him.”

Bred by Sequel Bloodstock and purchased by Darley for $400,000 as a 2-year-old at Barrett’s in 2006, Past The Point spends his summers at Sunnyside Farm on Route 9N just outside of town. McLaughlin, sister-in-law and a key assistant with her husband Neal to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, rides the 11-year-old gelding almost every day and has him rising up the horse-show ranks in Florida – where he was a series champion this winter – and New York.

“We were at a show and a guy comes up and says ‘I’ll give you 15 (thousand) for him if you put him on the trailer right now,’ ” Trish said on a break outside Kiaran’s barn last week. She told the man her horse wasn’t for sale, but that only increased the offer. Then she told him the horse was not for sale at any price. Ever. He left, reluctantly.

Past The Point spent four seasons on the track for Darley, first with trainer Eoin Harty and later with the McLaughlins. The son of Indian Charlie, who goes by “Charlie” around the barn, finished first or second in his first four races including a Churchill Downs maiden win as a 3-year-old and a second in the Lemon Drop Kid Stakes at Saratoga in 2007. The Kentucky-bred finished third in the 2008 Super Derby to Going Ballistic and Grasshopper.

The next year, Past The Point won a Saratoga optional claimer, then made Curlin work in the Woodward – going to the front for Edgar Prado and denying all challengers. The Horse of the Year roared past at the eighth pole, but Past The Point stayed for second at 41-1.

Still with Harty, Past The Point wintered in California (where he placed in the Grade 3 Native Diver and Grade 2 San Carlos) and returned to win another optional claimer at Saratoga in 2009. He tried the Woodward again, but was a well-beaten sixth in Rachel Alexandra’s rafter-rattling win.

In 2010, Darley moved the horse to the McLaughlin barn – and unwittingly changed his life.

“He was quite tough in the mornings,” Trish said. “In the barn he was lovely, a 5-year-old could walk him. On the racetrack he was not easy. Jogging the wrong way or something, if you threw the reins at him he was quiet and easy to ride though and I remember thinking ‘OK, when this one is finished racing I’d like to have him.’ I just liked him.”

Past The Point lost all four starts for the McLaughlins and faced a career crossroads as a 6-year-old with stakes form, four lifetime wins and $418,025 earned. His last race was a lackluster seventh in Belmont Park’s Westchester Stakes.

“They could have realistically dropped him and somebody would have taken him,” Trish said about a potential life in the claiming division. “And at first he was promised to someone else, but a week later they came to me and asked if I wanted him.”

Much like his attitude toward morning training, Past The Point dove into his new life a little too much. Trish wasn’t sure what she’d gotten herself into. The racehorse really didn’t want to be a show horse.

“I can’t ride him, I can’t ride him, I just can’t ride him,” she would tell Neal at home. “What do I do? Do I sell him?”

Around the show barns, people said “Here comes Trish and the racehorse” and scattered.

Eventually, she took some advice from a trainer about not micromanaging the horse, about letting him make the decisions every once in awhile, about approaching things differently. And the racehorse started to change.

“I was always trying to frame him up and working on him and trying to make him do it,” she said. “As soon as I left a little bit more up to him and stopped trying so hard, he became an absolute pleasure to ride. He’s all about being a riding horse now.”

Thursday afternoon, “Charlie” shared a grassy field with two other Thoroughbred retirees named “Tom” and “Agi.”

The former, a New York-bred named Tom’s Thunder, ran 53 times, won the 2002 Alex M. Robb Handicap and earned $463,485. The latter, Pennsylvania-bred Explosive Agitator, won twice in 14 starts. Together, they resemble grandfathers who meet in the park to play checkers – only the horses stop to go for rides or greet visitors now and then. The bay gelding walked up to his owner in the paddock, let her snap on a rope lead and sauntered out the gate. She dropped the rope to latch the gate, and Past The Point – former speedy 2-year-old sale horse – stepped on the rope and grazed.

Dressed in a mesh fly mask and sheet, he looked anything like the racehorse he used to be.

Trish picked up the rope and headed toward the barn. Past The Point walked under the shedrow, turned left into his stall and looked for the hay. All the while, his owner bragged about him. He’s competed over jumps 3 feet high. He stands all day at a show, tied to the back of a trailer. He’s procured a pile of ribbons and won a series championship at The Ridge Farm in Wellington, Fla. this winter. He only gets antsy around the racetrack, as he did during a show at the Yaddo Showgrounds near the Rec Hall this summer.

Past The Point rotates between Saratoga and Florida with the McLaughlin racehorses, but does more work down south.

“The time of year is kind of a vacation for him because I don’t have the time to ride him as much,” said Trish. “In Florida I ride him every day, he does a lesson a week, a show a month and loves it.”