When you turn off the quiet country road of 71st Street Southeast onto the main street of Galchutt, N.D., you see a small church on one side of the road and a grain elevator on the other. Nestled beside the church is a farmstead tucked among the trees. As I pulled into the drive and stepped out of the car, I was greeted by an ecstatic young German shepherd cross, anxious to show me a stick he had found.
I was paying a visit to my friend Jessie Monson and her husband Dirk, owners of Ten Seven Acres. The farm is named for Jessie's two off-the-track Thoroughbreds, Ten Carrot Jewel and Spectrin Seven. However, this is no ordinary Thoroughbred farm. Unlike some ex-racehorses who find second careers at hunter-jumper barns or on the polo field, "Jewel" and "Seven" are enjoying a peaceful life on an alpaca farm.
The story of the two Thoroughbreds goes back to 2006 - long before Ten Seven Acres was a reality - and it started with Spectrin Seven.
"I had a horse in middle school and high school that my parents bought me at an auction, kind of on a whim - we didn't know much about anything," Jessie said. "He ended up being really good and I trained him through high school, did 4-H and that kind of thing, but ended up having to sell him before I went to college."
Jessie realized that not having a horse was tougher than she imagined, and began experiencing seller's remorse. She contacted the woman she sold her horse to only to find out he had recently changed hands to a 4-H family.
"I was devastated," Jessie said. "Then (the woman) said, 'But, I know about these Thoroughbreds in this pasture over by Bismark. Would you be interested?' And I said 'Sure, why not, I've always wanted a Thoroughbred!'"
One of those Thoroughbreds was Spectrin Seven.
A 1999 Oklahoma-bred gelding, Spectrin Seven is by Wrong Way Joe out of Spectrin. Spectrin is by Spectacular Bid, the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner and Horse of the Year in 1980.
Spectrin Seven's first start was at Blue Ribbon Downs, where he finished seventh in a field of 10. The racing career that followed could be described as very lackluster, with 20 total starts that amounted to zero wins and earnings of $1,207.
Spectrin Seven's career took him to various tracks across Oklahoma before concluding at Blue Ribbon Downs and heading to Turf Paradise. From there he was shipped to a farm near Bismark, N.D., to be let down from racing. (Photo, Spectrin Seven in his second career with Jessie Monson up. Dale Cardwell Photo.)
"I talked to the trainer, went out and looked and was hooked from that point," Jessie said. "He ended up coming home."
Jessie became a fan of Thoroughbred racing in 2000 when she watched Fusaichi Pegasus win the Kentucky Derby. Point Given fueled her passion for racing when he took the Preakness and Belmont Stakes the following year.
"From that point it was in my blood - I was hooked," Jessie said. "So then I found Seven and really wanted to get to know Thoroughbreds better. I worked with him for a while and we moved to Fargo so I could go to North Dakota State University."
The North Dakota Horse Park, a small racetrack in Fargo located next to the NDSU equine facility was running races at the time Jessie moved there in 2007.
"I went to talk to the general manager... [to] see if they had any positions that I could do," Jessie recalls. "They were bringing in an equine ambassador, Barracuda Boy, and they needed someone to take over his care. The thing that really got me the gig was that I had Thoroughbred experience. It was only one, but I had it. So they said, 'Well, you have an off-the-track Thoroughbred, so let's give you a shot working with this one.' "
Throughout the summer, Jessie reached out to racing fans and taught them about the sport through Barracuda Boy, a graded stakes winner and $229,377-earner who served as the track mascot.
"I had been kind of been itching to get another horse, and you go to the track and there's all these horses," Jessie said. "At the end of that season I ended up finding my other off-track Thoroughbred, Ten Carrot Jewel.
"The intention was to retrain her and sell her in the spring. Well that didn't really happen. I ended up getting her, and a friend and I worked with her over the winter. And come spring I thought, 'you know, it would be really fun to try and race her ourselves.' "
Ten Carrot Jewel is a 2004 mare bred by Jeff and Deb Hilger, owners of Bleu Valley Farm in Minnesota. The Hilgers were inducted into the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame in 2011 as outstanding breeders. Ten Carrot Jewel's sire, Ghazi, won the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park in 1992 and finished second in the Grade 1 Rothmans Limited International Stakes at Woodbine the same year. He ended his career with 14 starts and earnings of $536,620.
Her dam, Diamonds Are, was sired by Herat, a graded stakes winner who earned $771,415 throughout his career and started in the 1986 Breeders' Cup Classic.
Jessie worked with Ten Carrot Jewel over the winter to condition her for racing the following summer. The North Dakota Horse Park is only open for training during the racing season, so Jessie substituted the track for trails. A sandy trail that weaves between power line poles along the highway next to the horse park served as Ten Carrot Jewel's training grounds.
"I would take her out there and (train) her every day by the highway in my western saddle," Jessie said. "It wasn't a great place but it was the only place that I had. And that's how I got her fit. So when the track opened she became more of a real racehorse again and I had exercise riders take her out on the track and work with a trainer there to get her better fit."
Although Ten Carrot Jewel raced under the name of a licensed trainer, Jessie remained her primary care-giver and oversaw her training and racing career while working as the track general manager's assistant. Ten Carrot Jewel amassed $4,163 in 21 starts before her retirement in 2009. (Inset photo, Ten Carrot Jewel breaks from post No. 3 in her final career start. Dale Cardwell Photo).
"We didn't do very good, but we learned a lot," Jessie said. "She stayed safe, we had fun doing it which was really the main point - to learn more about the industry."
Fast-forward back to 2015. As I visited with Jessie in her barn, she explained that she and her husband purchased their farm in Galchutt in 2013.
In addition to the Thoroughbreds, Jessie and Dirk decided to begin raising their own alpacas to sell the fiber and eventually begin showing. They currently own one male alpaca, called a macho, who goes by the name of Einstein, and four females called hembras. Their latest addition is a male cria (baby alpaca) named Homer out of their hembra, Barb. They also own a llama, two dogs, two pigs, two parrots, chickens, ducks and a very lively miniature horse named Fred.
Fred serves as a companion to the Thoroughbreds and the official mascot of the farm. I couldn't resist joking that even off the track, Jessie's Thoroughbreds have their very own pony horse.
Jessie rides Spectrin Seven and Ten Carrot Jewel for leisure at Ten Seven Acres and on trail rides with friends at nearby state parks. She also enjoys competing in dressage at local horse shows, and has helped register a local riding club's shows for The Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Incentive Program benefits. Jessie remains passionate about Thoroughbred racing, and is interested in continuing her involvement in the ownership aspect.
"With the Triple Crown I think there's going to be a resurgence of excitement for people," Jessie says. "We're even thinking we should breed Jewel ... and maybe bring in some partnerships to raise the baby. We might not do great, but it's going to be fun."
(Jessie and baby alpaca named Homer at her farm in North Dakota. Annise Montplaisir Photo.)
As Jessie and I chatted, I mentioned how her life with horses led from one experience to the next. Jessie laughed.
"I always say I should write a book because these things happen, and if one thing would have been different, the rest would have changed! Like selling my horse before college wouldn't have led me to Seven, which wouldn't have led me to getting jobs at the track, meeting all the people I did and getting the other horses ... and eventually this farm because we had the horses. When we moved it was like, 'well, what makes more sense, to buy another house in town or to get a farm where we can have them at home?' That led to the alpacas, chickens, everything."
She laughed again before adding, "Some things are kind of fate in a way."
Annise Montplaisir, a sophomore studying management communication and international studies at North Dakota State University in Fargo, recently finished an internship with the American Quarter Horse Association in Amarillo, Texas, and will be traveling to upstate New York for the first time next month to work with the team this summer at The Saratoga Special.