Thoroughbreds from track to ring (Part 1)

Thoroughbreds have fascinated horse enthusiasts for centuries. As a breed, they are the embodiment of physical strength, displaying great athleticism, speed and stamina. Known for their elegance, Thoroughbreds exhibit profound grace and courage under saddle. While purpose-bred for racing and celebrated for their outstanding performance on racetracks around the globe, they have also proven to be suited to a variety of other equestrian disciplines once their racing days are over.


Success story! Equal Image is a 2008 Group 2 Gold Vase winner, with 10 victories to his name, including four group races for just over R1.3 million. He raced for 6 seasons before top SA event rider Erinn Dempsey started retraining him when he was 9. To date they have won the South African Supreme Working Horse Championship, the Compleat Horse at the Avis Derby, and are consistently placed in FEI 2* eventing and 1.25m showjumping.

Maud Aarts, an international horsewoman whose love of horses saw her competing at the top level in eventing and showjumping in Europe before settling in South Africa, believes that South African Thoroughbreds are good. “South Africa is fortunate to have large numbers of Thoroughbreds compared to Europe, and with local breeders increasingly recognised as some of the best in the world, we have access to a pool of potential competition horses who are often overlooked,” explains Maud.

A forgiving horse

Having worked ‘hands-on’ when training racehorses for six years in South Africa, Maud says: “I came to appreciate the mentality and character of a Thoroughbred. They are so forgiving compared to Warmbloods. As a rider, you can make a mistake and they will forgive you. Thoroughbreds have been through quite a bit when in training, so are generally easier to handle when their racing days are over and they now embark on second careers.”

When selecting a horse off the track Maud likes those who have won. This shows not only character, but soundness. “Soundness is very important,” says Maud. “I am not talking about niggly, muscular issues, as those often come right with rest and treatment, but a horse must not have any major issues. Personally, I also don’t like Thoroughbreds who are on the forehand, but interestingly those who are and have a good hindquarter jump very well,” she smiles.

Maud rates a good temperament highly, going on to emphasise that “temperament is everything. A horse who is difficult on the track will be difficult off the track.” Wise words from someone who admits that she has learned the hard way, having previously chosen a couple of horses with challenging temperaments only to realise that they end up problem cases forever.

… temperament is everything. A horse who is difficult on the track will be difficult off the track.

Second career candidates

We take a look at three Thoroughbreds who Maud recently acquired out of racing, with the intention of retraining them for second careers.


Cask – bay gelding born 2006, by Fort Wood (USA) out of Brandy Butter (AUS) by Danehill (USA). Trained by Adam Marcus in Cape Town. Raced for six seasons, winning three times (from 1,450m to 1,800m) and placed 14 times for a stake of R522,845

“I chose Cask because of his racing performance,” says Maud. Not unlike Erinn’s horse, Equal Image, Cask raced for a credible six seasons, retiring sound. “I like his breeding which shows in his good conformation,” explains Maud. Cask will be schooled for eventing and is already working over cross country jumps at home.

Pocket Filler

Pocket Filler – chestnut gelding born 2007, by Manshood (GB) out of Tiptoethruthewoods (SAF) by Fort Wood (USA). Trained by Alec Laird in Gauteng. Raced for four seasons, winning once (over 1,800m) and placed 12 times for a stake of R130,050

Maud was destined to own Pocket Filler as he caught her eye when he was just two years old. “I then had to wait three years for him to finish his racing career,” she laughs. Maud describes him as a very striking horse with a good temperament. “He will be a great junior horse as he is not only well put together, but both moves and jumps well.”

Northern Conquest

Northern Conquest – dark bay gelding born 2008, by Alado (GB) out of Romantic (SAF) by Caesour (USA). Trained by Vaughan Marshall in Cape Town. Raced for four seasons, winning four times (from 1,400m to 1,600m) and placed seven times for a stake of R233,230

“Northern Conquest was not my personal choice of horse, but a good friend in racing said I had to have him as he had an amazing canter and would be very good in the country,” says Maud. “I was concerned, as he was very strong and even in his last race nearly pulled his jockey’s arms out! I thought, ‘Oh no, I don’t know if I want this’,” she laughs.

However, by her own admission, Northern Conquest is a lovely looking horse and she does like his type. “He came out of racing being very much on the forehand, but has shown a stunning jump. We are excited about him and he will be aimed at showjumping and eventing, if we can hold him in the country,” she says wryly.

These are three exciting Thoroughbreds, and in the coming months HQ will follow their progress with Maud as they settle into their new lives after racing.

Watch this space!

Text: Michele Wing.

Photography: Courtesy of Maud Aarts

The full story appeared in the January 2015 issue of HQ Magazine.