Project 1: "Hawkasaurus"

Jockey Club Name: Bold Hawk

Foaled: February 13, 2004
Silver Hawk
Sale History:
$45,000 RNA at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2005
Race Record:
14-3-1-5 WON the Hawthorne Derby-G3; 2nd in the Bowling Green Handicap-G2; 3rd in the Hollywood Derby-G1, Red Smith Handicap-G2 (twice); John’s Call Stakes

Race Earnings: $364,826

Over the last year, I’ve developed a relationship with 90 North Racing Stable owners Justin Nicholson and his wife Kathryn Sharpe. Together, they have been through the ups and down of the racehorse business in an extremely personal way by connecting through their heartstrings first.

We scheduled one chilly, rainy afternoon for me to meet a 9-year-old gelding named Bold Hawk and assess whether he could have a new career in retirement. “Hawk” lived in a back stall, so he would not be able to reach over the stall door to “eat” his prey.

Hawk had been sent here to regroup after a vanning accident. Although he’d been fortunate enough to escape with his life, the months spent at the Maryland layup farm had done little for him mentally. In Hawk’s world, he was physically recovered and ready to start his “retirement”—but mentally he was still angry and bitter that he might soon return to training at the track. It might sound far-fetched to some that this horse was wound so tight, but the chain shank over his nose, the lunging out over the stall door, and the kicking and biting during grooming left little else to the imagination.

What did I see that rainy day at the layup farm? I saw a confused horse. Hawk didn’t know that all the hard racing stuff was over, and all the hard training was soon to begin.

Hawk came to The Covert Farm in Nottingham, Pennsylvania a couple of days later. He was truly a huge, beastly horse, and he was soon dubbed “Hawkasaurus,” a nickname that, unknown to everyone there, he’d already been given by Catherine, the daughter of his racing trainer, Jim Tonner. Catherine had also found the beast to be quite loving and sweet—if carrot stretches were involved.

Hawk spent the first night at The Covert with a confused look about him, almost bracing for what was to come that next morning. To his surprise, it was nothing but breakfast and turnout, then back in for dinner and his stall for the night. At this day-one stage, I spend a little time observing what the horse is showing me. Racehorses are used to shipping and moving around from track to track, so coming to The Covert wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for Hawk. What I watch for is how the horse settles in, how he eats, how he looks at other horses and how he treats his human handlers.

In Hawk’s case, I took it upon myself to be the only person to lead him to and fro, feed him, and, as it is my main job, ride him. I wanted him to like me, trust me and count on me. What we started to see was that the jumping out at the stall door, the biting, the kicking—it was all a front. Inside, the beast was a scared, puppy-like character who would sooner have a pat on the neck.

How did we tame the beast? Stay tuned.

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