There are some circumstances in life that are far too poetic to be mere coincidence – like the idea of a song that foretells a racehorse’s life.
Sweetwhiskeybrown is a 5-year-old bay gelding by Capitalimprovement out of La Vita’s Infinity, by Timeless Native. “Whiskey,” as he’s nicknamed, was born and raised on Peach Lane Farm in Opelousas, La. Peach Lane owner Lora Pitre has been raising the foals belonging to owner and breeder Marcia LaMarche for 20 years, and witnessed nearly all stages of Sweetwhiskeybrown’s life.
“I was there when he was conceived, born, raised, until he went to the track,” Pitre said. “He was easy-going to raise, never caused much of a problem and was easy to break.”
LaMarche, who has owned and bred racehorses for 30 years, claimed Sweetwhiskeybrown’s dam for $3,500. She became the foundation broodmare to LaMarche’s breeding program, and went on to produce seven winners, stakes winners Anything But Quiet and Viking Princess and another stakes-placed runner. Her last foal was Sweetwhiskeybrown.
“Lavita was 22 years old when (Sweetwhiskeybrown) was born,” LaMarche said. “And when he was 5 months old, Lavita said ‘I’ve done my job,’ and she laid down and died. So he was kind of orphaned at a young age, and he didn’t grow out the way a lot of babies grow out – he was a little small in stature. But he had this wonderful, wonderful personality.”
Sweetwhiskeybrown’s name came along shortly after the passing of his dam.
Mike Dean, a local musician who writes about the history of Louisiana in his songs, is one of LaMarche’s favorite artists.
“I love what he writes about,” she said. “You feel in his music like he has lived every experience, and somebody had given me his CD that has the song ‘Whiskey Brown’ on it.”
Written about the history of horse racing in Louisiana, ‘Whiskey Brown’ tells the story of a man who works in the oil fields and raises racehorses. When the family falls on hard times, the Thoroughbreds must be sold – all but Whiskey Brown.
One verse of the song is written from the perspective of the man’s daughter:
And she’d say Whiskey, Whiskey Brown
Oh how I love to hear your hoof steps comin around
I can hear you gallop across the acorn covered ground
Oh my favorite sound is sweet Whiskey Brown
“My husband and I went to see (Mike Dean in concert) one night,” LaMarche said. “I brought a picture of (Sweetwhiskeybrown’s dam) – it was right before she died, and she was big and fat and dappled. Whiskey was probably about 4 or 5 months old and I brought the picture and asked him if I could use the name. And he said, ‘Ma’am, I would be honored.’ So that’s how his name came to be.”
Saddled with a name as beautiful as his personality, Sweetwhiskeybrown made one start as a 2-year-old in December 2012 and two as a 3-year-old in early 2013 before he sustained a back injury. He was given a break from racing and turned out in early 2013. He returned nearly a year later and won in his third start back, taking a maiden-claiming race in mid-March 2014 at Delta Downs. Three starts later he won again and was claimed from LaMarch for $5,000 at Evangeline Downs.
LaMarche claimed Sweetwhiskeybrown back three starts later, for $5,000, and immediately retired him from racing. He ended his career with two wins, two seconds and a third in 12 starts and earnings of $32,930. (Check out Sweetwhiskeybrown’s race record, courtesy of Equibase)
“I knew he was going to go to Remember Me Rescue to find the perfect home and person for his wonderful spirit,” she said.
Thus began the most recent chapter of Sweetwhiskeybrown’s story. Remember Me Racehorse Rescue, a retirement organization for ex-racehorses, decided to use Sweetwhiskeybrown for Battle of the X’s, a retraining competition for Off The Track Thoroughbreds. Thirteen ex-racehorses were randomly paired with 13 trainers, who are given 120 days to retrain them for a new discipline of riding.
Ashley Schmidt Beall is an amateur competitor who has been successful in hunter, jumper and equitation classes. She and Sweetwhiskeybrown’s paths crossed when they were paired up for the competition. Beall, who lives in Colorado, was responsible for picking up Sweetwhiskeybrown from the rescue in Texas and transferring him to a barn in Fort Collins, which is near her home, to begin training.
On Nov. 22 and just three days after settling into his new digs, the competition commenced. Beall went to work teaching Sweetwhiskeybrown to become a hunter – a discipline he showed potential for.
Sweetwhiskeybrown was jittery to begin with, as he had been off the track for less than a month before joining Beall in Colorado. Despite the short amount of down time, the two were jumping fences before Christmas.
Sweetwhiskeybrown’s personality continued to be one of his greatest assets, and Beall’s two sons, Raiden, 6, and Maddox, 4, fell in love with him. (Raiden leading Sweetwhiskeybrown below, photo courtesy of Allen Beall)
“He’s just so sweet,” Beall said. “He has a dog-like personality. My kids were trying to get him in our car once, and he had his knee lifted up into the car. My 4-year-old was luring him in with snacks, and Whiskey was going to get into the car. He’s just part of our family. That was two months into the competition, so he wasn’t even our horse when that was happening.”
Even though Sweetwhiskeybrown had established himself as part of the family, Beall and her husband, Allen, were going to have to make a decision. Battle of the X’s took place at the end of March in Fort Worth, Tex. Each of the 13 trainers had 10 minutes to showcase their horses’ new talents, as they competed for $10,000 in prize money. After the competition, each of the horses would be auctioned off, with a 25 percent commission going back to each of the trainers and the rest donated to Remember Me Racehorse Rescue.
“I knew he was going to be auctioned and my family would either have to go through the process to bid on him or else say goodbye,” Beall said. “And my kids loved this horse.”
That’s when Pitre came along with a blank check signed by LaMarche.
Sweetwhiskeybrown’s former owner believed that he had found his forever home with Beall and her family.
“She wanted sweet Whiskey to have a special person in his life,” Pitre said. “She was pleased with the job Ashley did and thought if she wanted him she’d buy him for her.”
“He’s supposed to be with Ashley in Colorado and her two children,” LaMarche said. “They absolutely adore the horse. And as an owner, as a breeder and being in the industry as long as I have, that’s the perfect dream that you have for one of your retirees. He really is a special horse. But to me, every horse that I’ve raised is special, and every name is special. I love raising babies, I love seeing them win and I love finding the perfect after-racing career for them.”
Sweetwhiskeybrown is currently back where he belongs, living with his new family in Colorado. Beall plans to take it easy for the next few months, competing in 2’6″ and 2’9″ schooling hunters or the pre-green hunter division.
“But other than that, he’s just going to be a family horse,” Beall said. “Let my kids ride him and just enjoy him and trail rides for fun, but nothing serious.”
Beall goes on to describe how Sweetwhiskeybrown interacts with her children.
“Whiskey knows my kids and they belong to him – they’re his kids,” she said. “And he’ll be all kinds of silly to me, and they walk up and he lowers his head and does whatever they want, and he’s so gentle. So I know he knows, ‘OK, these are the kids, they’re small, so be gentle and kind.’ “
So it’s appropriate that the song “Whiskey Brown” ends with this verse:
And she’d say Whiskey, Whiskey Brown
Yeah I’m so glad to have you still around
My lil boy on your back and you both look so proud
My sweet Whiskey, Whiskey Brown.
Read more about Remember Me Racehorse Rescue
Annise Montplaisir (pictured with Sweetwhiskeybrown in Fort Collins, Colo., is a sophomore studying management communication and international studies at North Dakota State University in Fargo. Currently an online publications and communications intern with the American Quarter Horse Association in Amarillo, Texas, Annise previously served as an intern at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn., and at the North Dakota Horse Park in her hometown.