The Story of More Tea Vicar

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Editor’s Note: This Steeplechase Times profile of 2012 3-year-old hurdle champion More Tea Vicar won first prize (Personality Profile) in the American Horse Publications editorial contest for 2012.

Monday’s Child, a broodmare at Lisa and Zohar Ben-Dov’s Kinross Farm in Virginia, lay on her side, hurt and exhausted. She’d struggled in the cold and rain and mud, a long way from a straw-bedded stall, warmth and human attention. 

Her foal, a plain chestnut colt, was halfway into the world, halfway not. Unassisted, she wasn’t going to become a mother and he wasn’t going to live.

And then, by chance, help arrived.

Neil Morris and Chris Read, the Kinross trainer and chief assistant, saw the mare while driving between barns on the farm. Monday’s Child wasn’t due for a month and like all the other mares at Kinross, wasn’t even supposed to foal at the farm near Middleburg. Morris and Read parked the Chevy Tahoe, hopped the fence, ran to the mare.

“She was distressed, just laying there like she’d given up,” said Morris. “It was a breach birth, the foal was half out, she was hurt. It didn’t look like either of them were going to make it.”

Morris called veterinarian Dr. Ian Harrison, and asked for help. Even if he hurried, Harrison wasn’t going to get there in time.

“You have to get the foal out or else you’re going to lose him and the mare,” Harrison said. “Get the foal out, do what you can and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Grabbing the front legs, Morris and Read pulled the foal into the world. He looked dead, with no movement, no noise, no struggle. Morris wiped the amniotic fluid off the colt’s face, cleaned him, and – not knowing what else to do – blew into his mouth. Read took off his Barbour oilskin raincoat and placed it on the horse’s back.

“Get him warm, do what we can,” the two men thought.

The foal’s tongue, blue and lifeless, flopped out of his mouth. They put it back; it flopped out again. Because they weren’t sure what else to do, they started CPR by pressing on the foal’s ribcage. They stopped and saw a little flutter, a small sign of life, just behind the foal’s elbow.

“Did you see that?” Morris said to Read.

Just as quickly, the heartbeat was gone so they started again, pumping on the foal’s ribcage and blowing air into his mouth. This time, the flutter came back. And stayed. The colt – cold, dirty, born dead a month early, lying on the ground in a Barbour coat – nickered. He was alive. Read picked him up like you would a sick dog, and carried him to the farm trailer for a ride with his mother to the barn. There, the crisis continued but this time with optimism.

“We just laid there with him, kept him warm, kept blankets on him and he came around,” said Read. “He stood up in the stall like a normal foal. We were just doing what we thought might work – mouth to mouth, smacked him on the side, pushed on his side, tried to get him back and it worked. I really don’t know why or how. They’re the foals that die.”

Not this one.

He lived, thanks in part to the last acts of his mother. Badly injured in the delivery, she lived a few months – long enough to nurse him, raise him to a healthy, seemingly normal foal.

“I remember thinking that we’d saved the foal, he could be a horse on the farm,” said Morris. “Nobody thought he would amount to anything. He was here, always kind of the bridesmaid, the extra horse.”

More than three years later, the Virginia-bred son of Congaree named More Tea Vicar, is a champion – completing a 3-year-old hurdle season of a win, two seconds and $21,300 earned in three starts. His victory came in the $25,000 Raymond Woolfe Memorial at Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C. Nov. 17. He led throughout, put his jumping skills to good use and kicked away from the last fence, where championship rival Top Man Michael fell, to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The development rewarded Read and Morris for their effort, a horse for his will. They don’t call him Miracle Horse or anything else special around Kinross, but he’s earned a spot as a homebred, a trier, a winner, a champion. His dam Monday’s Child was a half-sister to Segregation Lane, champion 3-year-old hurdler of 2000. The daughter of Lear Fan was smallish, so Kinross chose Congaree for her first mating because of the sire’s size and scope.

“It’s kind of fun,” said Morris. “These homebreds seem like they’re around a long time but he’s only 3. He’s improved every time we’ve run him, done nothing wrong. He was on the short list, if he didn’t do anything over hurdles, to be moved out of the barn. He didn’t do anything on the flat because he’s one-paced. They don’t write races far enough for him. He was on the list to be reviewed the first of December, he’s off the list now.”

For sure.

More Tea Vicar made his racing debut at Fair Hill in late May, then tried four flat starts at a mile on the turf at Colonial Downs. He never got closer than third and was fourth (disqualified to fifth) in a race for amateur jockeys at Delaware Park in September. He made his jump debut at Virginia Fall in October and finished second by a neck to Orchestra Leader. Second again to Irish winner Top Man Michael in soft turf at Far Hills, More Tea Vicar went to Camden looking for firmer turf and a reversal. Ridden for the third time by Bernie Dalton, the chestnut got it – setting the pace throughout and kicking away late. Top Man Michael was threatening at the last, but you’ve got to jump all the fences.

“He’s got a high-cruising speed and can use it,” said Dalton, who picked up the ride when Jacob Roberts chose stablemate Personal Fight at Virginia Fall. “He’s real quick over a fence and can get you a length or more the way he does it. If he has to chip in, he can do that too. Every time I’ve ridden him, it felt like he improved 10 pounds.”

Dalton didn’t hear the full story until he’d ridden the horse, but thought of it after the Woolfe victory at Camden.

“Life is funny, he survived,” said the jockey. “You’d like to think maybe he’d be something good.”

Morris agreed.

“He’s a good horse, I don’t know whether he’s great, but he’s a good horse,” said Morris. “He’s been fun to take to the races, it’s meant a lot to us, meant a lot to Zohar and Lisa. He’s always been around people, he trusts people.”

With good reason.