A Flattering Tale About a Man and his Racehorse
Posted by Billy Koch on August 12, 2015
Horse racing partnerships bring people togather from all walks. In the summer of 2011, Little Red Feather Racing syndicated two very nice fillies. The first was an all-white daughter of Alphabet Soup perfectly named… Egg Drop. Egg Drop broke her maiden in her very first start of her career for Del Mar’s all-time leading trainer, the late Mike Mitchell, while defeating Bob Baffert’s future GI winning filly, Contested. Egg Drop would win a Grade I race of her own – the last Matriarch Stakes ever run at Hollywood Park – before being sold in-foal to Tapit for a whopping $1.9M at the Keeneland 2014 November sale.
The other filly was originally named Eye Phone but the Jockey Club frowns on that kind of creativity when it comes to copyright infringement and, therefore, we changed the name of the 2yo Flatter filly to Flattery Works. Unlike Egg Drop, who was nicknamed “the White Witch” for her abusive personality, Flattery Works was sweet and kind and loving. According to Mitchell, “she trained like a gorilla!” Who would have thought this non-descript looking bay 2yo filly might be as good as the flashy Egg Drop.
Unfortunately, we would never find out.
In her final workout before making her career debut, Flattery Works fractured her ankle and would never run for her thoroughbred partnership or see a racetrack again.
Flattery Works breezing for the late Mike Mitchell. Sherri Alexander in the irons.
I met Ryan Johnson for the first time at Hollywood Park. We had spoken for many many hours on the phone prior to RJ joining our racing partnership. RJ knew as much about horse racing as he did about his job. At the time, RJ was playing for the St. Louis Blues. Known for his speed on the ice and his willingness to “take a puck” (RJ led the league in blocked shots X times in his career), it was clear to me that we were going to be good friends for a long long time. I’m sure at some point during one of our many conversations, we uttered the Stepbrothers phrase, “Did we just become best friends?”
RJ’s first horse to make it to the races was a well-built 2yo son of Mr. Greeley named Divide and Conquer. At Hollywood Park in July of 2005, Divide and Conquer and Clinton Potts took over at the head of the stretch and pulled away to a decisive victory in his career debut. Although he probably does not want this written – a stunned RJ was brought to tears. Once I saw RJ crying, I broke down too and - to this day – over 10 years later – we still remember the moment like it was yesterday.
Over the next six years, RJ invested in many of the Little Red Feather horses and I learned a ton about Hockey.
In the summer of 2011, RJ brought his then girlfriend – now wife and mother of two of the most beautiful children you will ever see – Jenner Evans to Del Mar. I had told RJ I thought we had a very very nice 2yo filly I thought he should take a look at.
When he brought Jenner to the barn to meet Flattery Works it was love at first sight. Flattery loved the attention and Jenner loved giving the attention. The bond was quick, immediate and special and RJ purchased a share in the filly – as a surprise for Jenner.
Before RJ and Jenner left Del Mar, Jenner spent a good hour one morning with Flattery and many times, the filly would nudge Jenner in her mid-section (see photo above). At the time, Jenner could not figure out why Flattery was so interested in her belly. Jenner had no carrots, no candy, no nothing. What was Flattery telling her? RJ and Jenner tell the story best but they believe Flattery knew – before either of them – that Jenner was pregnant with their first child, Rowan.
When a horse is injured and forced into retirement, it is my duty as Managing Partner to call each of our partners and let them know. The call to RJ was – as you might imagine – not all that fun. As he always does though, RJ handled the situation with class. He knew how sorry I was and rather than make me feel worse than I already did, RJ wanted me to know that he would do whatever it takes to make sure Flattery Works was well taken care of.
So RJ and Jenner purchased Flattery Works from the partnership for pennies on the dollar. This incredibly sweet filly, cut out to be an outstanding racehorse, was headed to Northern California to rehab her broken ankle and start her new career.
On Christmas Day of 2011, RJ finally found a home for the filly at West 12 with a woman named Barbara Butterworth. It took Flattery a while to heal and “come down” from her racetrack days. At this point, RJ was still financially responsible for the filly and he stayed in touch with all of her connections. RJ’s mantra to whomever was caring for the filly was, “Flattery is a special filly to us. If you ever need any assistance with her or can no longer care for her, please let us know.”
After fully rehabbing her ankle receiving a full bill of health from Dr Noel Muller at Los Caballas Equine Practice, it was time to find her a real home and, better yet, a new job.
In April of 2012, Flattery found a home with Nick Winters, a horseman from Washington. For the first time since she left the racetrack a year earlier, Flattery Works was no longer financially responsible for the filly. No matter. RJ still spoke with Winters on a regular basis. At the beginning of their relationship, Winters used Flattery to ride trails, a far cry from her speeding around the turns of the race track. But Winters found out quickly that Flattery was more than just a trail horse. She wanted to run. So Winters obliged and – crazy as this may sound – he turned Flattery Works, a potential star of a racehorse, into a Polo Pony.
For the next several years, Winters and Flattery made quite a team in the Polo arena. So much so that she actually caught the eye of a major Polo player in California, Ashton Wolf. A deal was made and in the Spring of 2014, Flattery Works joined Wolf’s barn less than a mile from Mike Mitchell’s barn at Del Mar, at the Del Mar polo grounds.
Flattery has been given many names during her Polo career. Some call her Petalo, meaning flower petal, and now, she is simply referred to as India, meaning beautiful.
Last week, RJ was back in the Del Mar for a weekend of racing action. On Sunday morning, I drove him to the polo fields and walked around looking for a filly named India.
It didn’t take long for us to find Flattery Works (or India) and not only did the memories rush in, the tears for RJ and I started flowing once again. She didn’t have her long flowing mane anymore, they cut it off for safety while playing Polo. But she had the same sweet, loving demeanor we remembered. She put her head right onto RJ’s chest as if to say, “Thank you. Thank you for taking such good care of me.”
RJ and Flattery Works at the Del Mar Polo grounds.
Topics: Opinion Piece