When Keri Brion got wind that Sportswriter was being retired, she jumped at the chance to play a role in his second career. Brion, assistant to Jonathan Sheppard, had kept her eye on the gray gelding ever since her fiancé, Andrew Wolfsont, had ridden him for trainer Kim Graci.
“I just noticed a pretty gray horse,” Brion said. “He’s like white – really gorgeous. He’s a nice type, and I always think ‘Would this horse make a steeplechaser?’ “
Wolfsont, who rides first call for Penn National-based Graci, knew enough about the horse to support Brion’s interest – he was a classy, always hard-trying sort everyone in Graci’s barn loved. Wolfsont and Brion have kept a few Sheppard retirees themselves, and Brion was prepared to do the same with Sportswriter should the need arise, even though she felt sure it wouldn’t be tough to find him a home.
“I thought of Jimmy Paxson at River Hills Foxhounds,” she said. “They have this pack of gray horses and they outride at Winterthur, Willowdale, Fair Hill. Jimmy is always asking me to keep them in mind when I have a gray.”
She called Paxson, who immediately agreed to take the horse – perhaps the next member of the team of valuable outriders’ horses at steeplechase meets and point-to-points races in the Delaware Valley. Paxson’s string consists almost entirely of gray horses, so Sportswriter should fit right in with the group.
On Jan. 31, Sportswriter won a $4,000 claimer with Wolfsont aboard. Brion went to Penn National five days later with Sheppard runners and arranged for Sportswriter to ship back with them that night.
“And at 10 o’clock the next morning, Jimmy Paxson came to the barn and picked him up.”
Within a week, Sportswriter ran, won, retired and was in his new home. Brion posted a few photos of him on social media, happy to share the story.
“I had no idea at all that he had so many followers. I had just posted on Facebook that he deserved a really wonderful home. Next thing I know I’m getting phone calls and Facebook messages. I had about 15 messages from people who had seen it – they said they’d been following him for years. It was unreal.”
The 6-year-old son of Maybry’s Boy – Point Spread (by Point Given) was bred in New York by Flying Zee Stables. Sportswriter won two New York Stallion Series stakes in 2012, one at Saratoga (in photo by Tod Marks at right, defeating King Kreesa) and the other at Aqueduct. He had been a fixture at the Empire State ovals throughout most of his career, spending time with Carlos Martin, Rudy Rodriguez, David Jacobson and Gary Contessa before ending up at Delaware Park last summer with Anthony Pecoraro. Kim Graci trained Sportswriter for his last two races, both at Penn National in January where he ran for owners Charles Dielmann and Runnin Shoes Stable. When the connections decided that Sportswriter had done enough, he had earned $377,093 with a career record of 43-7-9-5.
“He had run through his conditions and didn’t owe anybody anything,” Brion said. “They could have squeezed more races out of him, but figured he deserved better. They had taken great care of him; great weight and he looked wonderful.”
With Paxson, Sportswriter will have that special home that Brion wanted for him. The Pennsylvania horseman has dealt with Thoroughbreds since 1959 and declares that he wouldn’t have anything else. His River Hill Foxhounds hunt farm and forestland in southern Lancaster County and southwestern Chester County in Pennsylvania.
“I have to caution myself not to be in too big a hurry,” he said, “He’s a classy kind of horse and very nice to be around. He’s sort of proud of himself – he has an aura about him, the way he carries and presents himself. A lot of good horses are that way, they know. I never could figure out how they know, but they do.”
Paxson plans to apply for a spot for Sportswriter in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium at the Kentucky Horse Park in October. The gelding retired with a bit of a tendon, so Paxson will give him “as much time as he takes” before taking him in the hunt field. Nicole Zardus, who whips in for River Hill, will ride him in Kentucky.
And, of course, he’ll join River Hills’ renowned pack of grays.
“I’ve always liked a gray horse, and I started collecting them during the 1990s. I tell everyone I’ve got GREYs and GRAYs. The GREYs are the darker, charcoal ones. This horse, he’s a GRAY. He’s settled right in; he’s in a big stall, eating hay, happy. For what he’s already done, he’s got to be a decent kinda horse.”