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Silent Thunder's Homepage

Thunder's Story: The Life of a Racehorse

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Thunder's Show Photos - Beginning April 2008
Oct 2007 - Training session over fences
A Photo Chronology: Thunder's retraining
May 12, 2007 - Thunder's first jumps!
Thunder's Race Photos!
Penn National Photos
Thunder Photos - His Arrival and First Weeks
Thunder's Story: The Life of a Racehorse
Thunder's Links
Important Information about Horse Slaughter

ORIGINS

 

Silent Thunder (born in 1996) was bred in California, where his sire Bertrando stands at stud. Thunder’s breeder, Marshall Naify, had co-owned Bertrando during his racing career (Bertrando won the Eclipse Award for Older Horse in 1993 after winning several key races including the Pacific Classic and the Whitney Handicap, and finishing 2nd in the Breeders Cup Classic.) 

 

Naify must have been happy with the way Thunder turned out, because he would breed his dam back to Bertrando three more times after Thunder’s birth.  Of the seven foals Thunder’s dam, a mare named Acquired Merit, would give birth to during her years of breeding, five would go on to race, and all five of those were winners, but Thunder would be by far the most successful.  Acquired Merit would remain in Naify’s bloodstock until his death in 2000, where she was sold in a dispersal of his estate for $14,000. 

 

Naify had raced Betrando in a partnership, but branched out on his own with his founding of 505 Farms in Lexington, KY.  505 Farms would be most noted for the breeding and racing of the champion mare Manistique. Under the “505 Farms” banner, Naify would keep about 50 mares in his bloodstock, of which approximately half would be at the Lexington location and the other half at River Edge Farm in California, where Bertrando first stood at stud.  Their locale near Betrando was likely for access to Naify’s breeding rights to the horse. This is how Thunder came to be bred and born there, and his first ownership would be listed as “505 Farms”.

 

 

RACE HISTORY

 

 

RACING FOR 505 FARMS - TRAINER:  SIDNEY MARTIN

 

Thunder made his racing debut as a 3YO on April 25, 1999.  He started his racing career in Vancouver, Canada at Hastings Park. In his first race, he finished next to last, never competitive.  One week later he’d run again, and this time he finished a closing second, a good performance earning him $1600K.  His first several races were in higher-priced claiming ranks ($16,000 - $20,000) and all at 6 and furlongs. 

 

His first victory came in his fifth start, when Martin finally stretched him out to a mile and 1/16 and dropped him down into a $7500 claiming race.  The date was July 16, 1999 and Thunder was described in the official chart as “away alertly, assumed command, drew clear and led throughout.”  He won by 2 and lengths.  He was, however, claimed out of the race, and would part ways with his breeder forever.

 

 

CLAIMED BY THE SENGARA BROTHERS - TRAINER:  GEORGE CUMMINS

 

Jeffrey Sengara of “Sengara Brothers” was a lumber businessman who is actually based in Canada (British Columbia) and specialized in gambling on claiming horses. Sengara is most famous in horseracing history for his claim (with the assistance of trainer Ted West) of Budroyale, one of the most famous rags-to-riches stories in modern racing.  Claimed for $50K, Budroyale started winning stakes races and eventually would finish second in the 1999 Breeders Cup Classic.  Sengara retired Budroyale, who would win almost $3 million in his career, to a farm in British Columbia.  Sengara was quoted by news outlets during that Breeders Cup week discussing how he never thought he’d end up with a quality stakes horse like Budroyale because his “business was claimers.”

 

Thunder would race for Sengara/Cummins seven times, from July 31st to October 22nd.  He finished second 4 of these 7 races and third once.  He started off in claiming races of $12,500 value, and the last couple of races for Sengara/Cummins he dropped back down into the $7500 claiming ranks.  He’d be claimed on Oct. 22nd for $7500K (in a race where he finished a good, closing 2nd).  The $7500 price tag was the same Sengara had acquired Thunder for, and during his tenure with Sengara he had won a little over $5K in purse money.  So – he was a net gain as a claimer for Sengara.

 

 

CLAIMED BY HORSEPOWER STABLE LTD - TRAINER:  PATRICK BYRNE

 

Yes!  Patrick Byrne, as in the trainer of horses like Awesome Again, Favorite Trick, Countess Diana….I could go on and on….Thunder’s interaction with the famous trainer is extremely brief, as he is immediately handed over to a trainer named Ray Tracy.  Tracy would be listed as Thunder’s trainer on his very next start, although it was Byrne who claimed him.  Byrne’s role may have been just to pick some horses out for Horsepower as a consultant (which Thunder should be proud of, if Pat Byrne thought he was a nice horse!)

 

The important thing about this claim besides Thunder’s brief connection to Byrne is that he was promptly shipped out after he was claimed.  This was the end of Thunder’s racing at Hastings, the only track he was familiar with to this point.  Little did he know how many tracks he’d see before his career was over.

 

His next race (incidentally, his 13th career start) would be at Hoosier Park in Indiana on November 24th.  He ran in another $7500 claimer under the silks of Horsepower Stable Ltd, trained by Tracy.  He won – his second career win – fighting his way to win by a half length.  And – he was claimed again out of that race!

 

 

CLAIMED BY WILLIAM NORIEGA – TRAINER: WILLIAM NORIEGA JR.

 

Noriega would move Thunder to Turfway Park across the river in Kentucky.  On December 9th, he’d run in a $10K claimer and finish 4th.   According to the charts, he “lost his footing after the start.” 

 

This would conclude Silent Thunder’s 3YO year.  He had raced 14 times with 2 wins, 5 seconds, and a third. 

 

Thunder would not start for Noriega again.  It appears he was sold privately after his only race for Noriega, because his next appearance is at Suffolk Downs in Massachussetts, racing for JD Racing Stable and trained by Donald Sheldon.

 

 

SOLD PRIVATELY TO JD RACING STABLE – TRAINER:  DONALD SHELDON

 

Thunder’s first start for Sheldon would be on January 3rd, in an allowance race – he would run very poorly, finishing 9th of 10 horses.  Sheldon continues to race him in allowance company every couple of weeks.  He manage to get a third and fourth out of him.  On February 28th, 2000, he dropped back into claiming ranks, into a $12,500 claimer.  He finished 3rd, and was once again claimed out of the race.

 

 

CLAIMED BY PURCON STABLE  -  TRAINER:  KARL GRUSMARK

 

This was a major turning point for Silent Thunder.  He would have some changes in training and location, but for the remainder of his racing career, with the exception of a few final months, Thunder would be owned by Purcon Stable.  I can't find Purcon having records of owning any other racehorse besides Silent Thunder- he may have been a one-horse show for them.  They had claimed Thunder for $12,500 – and by the time he left their hands five years later, he had won $192,624 for them in purse money.

 

Grusmark is a reputable trainer in the New England area who originally trained under the famous Howie Tesher at Calder in Miami, FL (in fact, Grusmark was a pre-med major at the University of MiamiGO CANES!)  He maintains a pretty large barn and moves his horses around the northeast. 

 

Grusmark promptly moved Thunder up into higher, allowance race company – in fact, it would be more than a year before Thunder would race as a claimer again. Grusmark was important to Thunder’s career because he identified several key preferences of Thunder’s that made him a more successful racehorse: 

 

1.  He preferred longer distances.  After Grusmark acquired him, Thunder would never again race at a distance shorter than a mile. 

2.  Thunder preferred to come from far back in the pack, a closing style.  Up to this point in his career, he had mostly been pushed to run as more of a stalker, around mid-pack. 

3.  Thunder apparently had a talent for the turf.  After five starts at the longer distances for Grusmark on the dirt (hitting the board a couple times but no wins) Grusmark introduced Thunder to the turf course.  He ran on it unimpressively in his first turf start on May 13th, 2000 (finishing 6th) but he just missed by a head in his next turf start.

 

On June 17th, Thunder made his first start at Rockingham Park (just outside Boston).  It was his third start on the turf.  He crushed the field by 6 lengths.  He runs twice more on the turf at Rockingham, with two seconds place finishes.

 

THUNDER CHANGES TRAINERS

After Thunder ran in Grusmark’s barn at Rockingham, his next appearance is on September 6th, at Delaware Park, in the barn of Michael Gorham.  Gorham is a Delaware-based trainer who ships to Florida for the summer.  It’s just a guess, but since Grusmark stays in the northeast and the turf courses close for the winter when the ground gets hard, perhaps Purcon Stable wanted to move him to a trainer where he could continue to run through the winter, and ship to FL.

 

Thunder won that race on Sept. 6th at Delaware Park.  Not long after Gorham entered him in his first stakes race, the Bruce Smith Memorial Stakes at Suffolk Downs.  On October 14th, 2000, Thunder made his stakes debut and finished a fast-closing second, missing only by a half length.  By hitting the board in a stakes race, Thunder had permanently earned himself "Black Type" status – meaning his name will forever appear in bold type in any official pedigree or catalogue, a mark of distinction that increases the value not only of him, but of horses in his family.

 

Throughout the fall of his 4YO year, Thunder bounced around to several tracks in the NE and race about every two weeks.  (In addition to Delaware, he made appearances at The Meadowlands, Suffolk again for his stakes race, and Laurel Park.)  He apparently also likes the turf at The Meadowlands, because he won an allowance race there by 5 lengths in his next start after his stakes race on November 2nd.

 

Thunder’s last race as a 4YO was a poor finish at Laurel on Nov. 23rd – after that he would be shipped to Florida and would not appear on the track until January.  For his 4YO year, he raced 22 times, with 3 wins, 7 seconds, and 3 thirds.  All of Thunder’s wins were on the turf, and he had elevated himself into allowance company consistently.

 

 

 Thunder began his 5YO season with a poor showing at Gulfstream – he ran 3 times and never hit the board.  When Gorham’s outfit moved back up north after winter was over, Thunder would bounce around to several NE tracks, racing 6 times and never in the same place twice in a row (Pimlico to Atlantic City to Monmouth to Delaware back to Monmouth, back to Delaware.)  He only finished in the money once (3rd at Atlantic City).

 

Then, on September 17th, 2001, Thunder re-appears at Rockingham, and is back in the barn of Karl Grusmark. 

 

THUNDER RETURNS TO HIS OLD BARN

 

He’d run 4th at Rockingham but would follow that up two weeks later with a strong 2nd at Suffolk.  He’d race a few more times at Suffolk after that, hitting the board once, and after his race on Nov. 20th, Grusmark would give him a long break, as required by the turf conditions in the northeast….Thunder would not re-appear until May of his 6YO year.

 

His 5YO season was not so hot.  He ran 15 times without a single win – he finished 2nd once and third twice.

 


Thunder’s return on May 13th, 2002 at Suffolk was quite rusty.  It was a rough race for him, but understandably so – the rainy weather moved his turf race onto the dirt track, which was “sloppy” as a result of the weather.  He “chased outside and tired” in the thick going according to the official chart, and finished next to last.  He shook off the rust and repayed his connections for his winter vacation, though, with his next start, when he returned to the winner’s circle after a drought of more than a year. 

 

Thunder moved with Grusmark’s crew to Rockingham in June, and after finishing off the board in his first start there, he’d win another allowance race on July 7th.  Grusmark must have been optimistic about Thunder’s two wins, because he moved him into some minor stakes races.  Thunder ran in the Sam McCracken Memorial Handicap on September 1, 2002 – and he finished fourth, and was very competitive in the field.  The chart said “advanced outside, circled five wide leaving the far turn, made a late run and finished willingly.”  It turned out that the finish was basically a four horse blanket – the winner won by a nose, the horse in second held on by a neck, the third place finisher was a nose behind him, and then came Thunder, only a neck back from third.  In total, Thunder was less than a length from a stakes victory.

 

Two weeks after the Sam McCracken, Thunder ran back in an allowance race and finished 2nd, closing in on the winner but failing to catch him.  (If you hadn’t noticed yet, this is a theme of many of Thunder’s 2nd and 3rd place finishes…the late closing horse who just misses.)

 

On October 5th, Thunder would return to stakes competition – the Bruce Smith Memorial Stakes.  This was the stakes race he had earned his black-type in two years prior (in 2000).  He ran another great race, finishing 2nd by a half length – and in doing so had once again hit the board in a stakes race.

 

After his second stakes placing, Thunder would for some reason undergo yet another change – once again he was transferred to another barn. 

 

 

THUNDER CHANGES TRAINERS, AGAIN

 

Thunder shows up next at Tampa Bay Downs with trainer Bruce Alexander, who winters his horses in Tampa.  Thunder’s first start at Tampa Bay on December 19th would be his final start as a 6YO, and it was a fantastic debut in Tampa.  He won going away by 3 lengths in a high priced ($40K) claiming race.  

 

Thunder’s 6YO year was a marked improvement from his prior year.  Of his 10 starts, he won three times and finished 2nd twice.

 

 

What was very interesting about Thunder’s last race as a 6YO (and his first race at Tampa Bay) was that his win was over a yielding turf course.  Two weeks later, Thunder would race for the first time as a 7YO on January 4th, and would win his second race in a row, again over a yielding course at Tampa Bay.  Yet another preference of Thunder’s had surfaced – he liked a soft course. 

 

After noticing these back-to-back wins on yielding courses, you can suddenly look back and see that he has shown a preference for softer courses in the past.  In his first year of racing on turf he won three times, and two of those three were on “good” courses (as opposed to “firm” – the hardest, driest classification) – and in fact, Thunder won his first turf race (the one at Rockingham) on a “good” classification.

 

Thunder had a great winter at Tampa Bay.  After winning his first two starts there he’d finish 3rd in his next race (on a “good” course day) and then on March 8th he’d get another yielding course and he’d win his allowance race by a neck.  It was a gutsy race on paper, described as follows:  “SILENT THUNDER was boxed in and forced to wait for clear racing room while advancing after five furlongs, angled off the rail to challenge the leader in the furlong grounds, gained the lead inside the rail the final furlong then was fully extended to turn back Total Anilation [the 2nd place finisher] late.”

 

After one more race at Tampa Bay where he finished off the board, Thunder moved with Alexander’s outfit north for the summer to Fort Erie Race Track in Ontario, Canada.  Back to Canada, where his racing career had begun!

 

Something went awry for Thunder that summer.  He raced four times in Canada (three times at Erie and once at Woodbine) and never hit the board.  Alexander dropped him down from allowance company (his first race at Erie was an allowance race) into a September 5th $50K claiming race at Woodbine...where one what was surely one of the most traumatic moments of Thunder's racing career occured.  A horse in front of him broke down and fell, and Thunder fell over him.  The horse who went down in front of him was euthanized on the track but Thunder managed to escape without serious injury, running loose on the track at first until he was caught.  The story made the Bloodhorse Magazine:

http://bloodhorse.com/articleindex/article.asp?id=17882  

It also made the Toronto Sun:

http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/HorseRacing/2003/09/06/177808.html 

 

In his next race, on Nov. 9th, he had dropped down into a $14K claiming race, and he finished off the board. Thunder then disappears for several months....perhaps he needed to forget his accident.  He does not show up in a race over the winter or spring.

 

It was the end of Thunder’s 7YO year.  He’s getting up there in age for a racer.  Of his eight starts, he had won twice and finished 3rd once (all at Tampa Bay)...and experienced his first (and only) accident.

 

 

 

Whatever Thunder did on his lengthy break – whether it was rest or some sort of rehabilitation – it worked out well.  Thunder made his 8YO debut at Fort Erie on June 14th, 2004 and roared to a 5 and a half length victory on another “good” turf course.  He was described by the chart as “much the best.”  It was a $7500 claiming race.

 

A month later (July 13th), he runs again, this time in a $14K claimer.  He wins again, by 2 and .  He’s back, and looking good!

 

About six weeks later, Alexander runs him again, this time he has returned to allowance company.  He wins again by almost 3 lengths, in his usual fashion.  The chart said “SILENT THUNDER came from well off the pace to close ground into the far turn, kept coming at the leader in the drive and was up to prove best.”  Three in a row!

 

His next start was on October 2nd at Monmouth Park in NJ.  After running twice at Monmouth (finishing 2nd and then one race off the board) he ends up in Tampa again. 

 

Thunder would run once more as an 8YO, on December 26th at Tampa Bay.  Unfortunately the rainy weather forced his turf race to the dirt track, and he finished off the board.  His 8YO year had ended, and he was still hanging in there, despite his creeping age for a racehorse.

 

Thunder’s 8YO year was certainly a statistical success on paper – he had raced six times with three wins and one second – winning 50% of his races and hitting the board in 2/3 of his races.  And one of those two races he did not hit the board in was a dirt race!

 

 

Now he was back at Tampa Bay, a track he had proven an affinity for, and he’s ready to run on the turf.  On the day he turns 9 (New Year’s Day) Alexander puts him in a 1 and 1/16 mile $16K claiming race on the turf.  Thunder wins by a half length, “running down the leader in the late stages” according to the official chart. 

 

 Thunder ran again as a $16K claimer on January 19th and finished fourth in a race where the pace was slow and he couldn’t close in on the leaders.  On February 24th he raced as a $16K claimer again and won by a length, again “running down the leader late.” 

 

This would turn out to be Thunder’s last win of his racing career.

 

Thunder would disappear for the month of March after his win the last week of February.  Was his age catching up with him?  Maybe he was a little stiff or sore?  His next start on April 3rd would be as a $25K claimer, and he would run abysmally and finish next to last.  On April 24th he would again fail to hit the board.    

 

An exercise rider at Tampa Bay would step in and play a key role in shaping the direction of Thunder’s life.  Somehow she had come to believe that Purcon Stable might be interested in selling him.  Perhaps there was concern about his age creeping up on him, even though he had won two races to begin the year.  He could have been entered into cheap claimers where he probably would be claimed away; but before Alexander had the chance to run him for a cheap price, this rider called her father, Bob Wolf, a local trainer based at Penn National.  Bob is married to Marcia Wolf, who also trains with him.

 

One of Wolf’s clients, Matt Lutze, would purchase Thunder in a private sale that spring.  Thunder shipped to Penn National, and in the twilight of his career, changed hands once again.

 

 

SOLD PRIVATELY TO MATT LUTZE – TRAINER:  BOB WOLFE

 

Thunder made his debut at Penn National on August 6th.  He ran poorly, finishing 5th.  He’d finish 5th again on August 24th.  At this point he was running in $5K claiming races, the cheapest price he had ever run for.  No one wanted to claim a 9YO racehorse, he was in little danger of being claimed – and he wasn’t hitting the board, either.

 

This is one of my favorite stories about Thunder - Wolfe thought maybe with Thunder’s late running style and preference for distances, they should try him in an unusual race offered on Penn National’s card on September 3rd – a two mile marathon on the grass.  Penn National’s inner turf track is one mile around, so a two mile race would effectively be two laps around the oval.  Thunder came out of the gate in good order with the rest of the field and settled mid-pack.  He was moving well as the field passed in front of the grandstand and under the wire the first time, and as they turned into the backstretch to begin the second trip around….Thunder pulled himself up!  His jockey would return him to the barn, shaking his head and said that Thunder “just knew where the wire was, and thought he was done.”  Once he had fallen out of the pack, there was nothing that could be done.  

 

This was Thunder’s second “DNF” or “Did Not Finish” on his entire race record (The first "DNF" was in 2003 at Woodbine when he fell.) A recent DNF could be damaging to any sales prospect, because it could be assumed that a horse who fails to finish was pulled up for health reasons.  Thunder dropped down to a $3500 claiming price on September 15th.  He finished 4th.  He’d run again in the same class on October 6th, and was 4th again.

 

On October 29th, it appeared to be do or die for Thunder’s racing career.  It was a soft course that day, and a full field.  Thunder came home 5th, and failed to even show a closing kick.  He had just run his last race. 

 

Thunder’s nine year old year was a story of a talented racehorse tailing off as his age began to overcome his ability.  Of 11 starts, he won twice – both wins early in the year in Tampa – and never hit the board again.

 

It was late fall at Penn National and the turf course was closing.  No one heading south for the winter would think a $3500 claimer was worth vanning south as a new charge in a new barn, and Bob Wolfe’s barn remained at Penn National all year.  For the next several months, Thunder would be eating and taking up space in a racing barn with no prospect of earning any purse money, and more money would be spent on his upkeep before the turf course reopened than he was worth as a horse who failed to be claimed out of a $3500 claiming race. 

 

Many horses who end up in these situations end up in “night auctions” at a track – auctions where horses are sold for mere hundreds of dollars to get rid of them and avoid the financial drain of an animal who has become ‘unprofitable’ – and most of the time these horses are bought by meat packers to take them in large vans directly to the slaughterhouse.  In the case of Penn National, Thunder could have been headed to New Holland, the slaughterhouse auction location nearby in PA.  Most of the horses sold at New Holland are driven over the border and slaughtered in Canada, or driven to the slaughterhouse in Illinois, depending on which meat buyer purchases them.  Fortunately for Thunder, Bob Wolfe and his wife Marcia cared about the horses in their barn and do what they can to protect the future of their horses. 

 

www.canterusa.org is a website that allows trainers (or in some cases owners) to post their racehorses online as what is sometimes a last-ditch attempt to try and find them homes for little to no expense as a way of saving them from a much worse fate.  CANTER stands for “Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racers.”  The Wolfs had posted several of their horses on this website before with some success, and the first week in November, immediately after his last race, Thunder’s picture and posting appeared on the website with hundreds of other horses looking for homes.

 

I found Thunder while weeding through dozens and dozens of thoroughbreds on the track who were close enough to drive to take a look at.  I was seriously contemplating acquiring a horse after deciding that I could manage to keep a horse financially with some astute money management.  Of the numerous postings I looked at, Thunder was one of two horses I zeroed in on.  There was something about his face in the photo – his inquisitive expression –  his impressive bloodlines, which I had looked up on the pedigree query site, and his race record, which told me that he has a big heart and a competitive spirit.  I actually went to see the other horse first.  I liked the other horse, but I had some concerns about the injury that had forced that horse’s retirement from racing and I did not want to make any decision until I had seen Thunder.  On Thursday, December 29th, I drove up to Penn National and met the Wolfs and saw Thunder for the first time.  As soon as I stood in front of his stall, I felt like fate had put me on a collision course with him.  On New Year’s Eve, 2005 – one day before he officially turned 10 – he was vanned to Meadowville farm in The Plains, VA and his new life began.  Hopefully the end of Thunder’s racing story will be the beginning of a new story for him – and hopefully both he and I will be able to use his life experiences to promote the CANTER organization and the need to promote finding second homes for racehorses.