There are many well-known world-class athletes that have achieved a stellar career in one discipline but rarely can they cross over to another. However, in the equine world such feats are possible and racing champion Warning Zone (barn name "Ozzie") is now well on his way to reaching new heights and successes in the show world after conquering the racing world. Ozzie's transition from racehorse to show horse started when he joined the off the track rehab-retrain-re-homing program at the California non-profit, Neigh Savers Foundation, Inc. organization.
Warning Zone earned almost $350,000 at the track in 16 career starts. He raced and won graded stakes races that in racing amount to performing at the highest level (Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup races are rated as Grade 1 stakes). Warning Zone's biggest win came in the Sunset Breeders' Cup Handicap in which he won almost $100,000 and was ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who just won the 2011 $5 million Breeder's Cup race aboard Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer. Warning Zone ran fourth along the inside almost all the way and had all the room he needed when Smith asked him to go. Said Smith: "So I went for it and it worked out. (Warning Zone) was sitting on a big race and he really looked the part, too. You can't go far enough for him. A mile and one-half, a mile and three-quarters, he loves it."
In his last start on opening day at Santa Anita on Dec. 26, 2008 he faltered, was injured and then was sent to a farm to be rehabbed. A little after a year it was determined that Warning Zone should no longer race although he was cleared for other disciplines. It was then that trainer Kristin Mulhall asked Neigh Savers Foundation to take him. Kristin felt he might have a second career in the show ring and when delivering him said, "Good luck with him! I am so happy that you got him and guarantee you will love him!! He has the smoothest canter and is an incredible mover as well." His hidden skills and talent were not oversold by Kristin.
Neigh Savers Foundation is a certified 501c3 California non-profit corporation that has been in operation for five years. In the last five years, Neigh Savers has rehabbed, retrained and rehomed over 135 off the track Thoroughbreds. Operating in three locations and a scattering of fosters, Neigh Savers keeps its expenses down by partnering with existing facilities. The Southern California facility is conveniently located in Ventura County's Somis at a Warmblood breeding facility. It has been run for over 30 years by Kim von Disterlo and her husband Mike and is aptly named Kimberlee Farms.
Although Kim raises the highest quality Warmbloods for sale to the show world, she has become enchanted with Neigh Saver's off-track Thoroughbreds, as it was Thoroughbreds that both Kim and Mike owned and showed "back in the day." They have been assisting Neigh Savers for a few years in boarding and retraining. When Ozzie arrived at Kimberlee Farms, Kim immediately took to him. Kim contacted Neigh Savers and asked to take Ozzie under her wing, pay all of his expenses and not make him available for general adoption.
Photo: Flying Horse Photography
From the moment Warning Zone arrived at Kimberlee Farms in April 2010, he walked off the trailer like a true gentleman and took in his new surroundings with interest. After a few months of settling in, Ozzie started working with dressage and natural horsemanship trainer, Amelia Newcomb who is the resident trainer at Kimberlee Farms. Typical of an off the track Thoroughbred (OTTB), Ozzie was rather one-sided and needed a lot of bending and suppling exercises on the ground. The exercises continued under saddle and he gradually learned to accept the bit and get round and relaxed through his body. His beautiful gaits really started to show and when he had about nine solid months of flat work it was time to incorporate a little jumping into his program. Long time friend of Kimberlee Farms, Shauna Pennell, a hunter/jumper trainer with much experience re-training OTTBs and fortunately located just a short trailer ride away, was engaged to teach Ozzie
Ozzie proved to be a smart and naturally talented student. With a very light jumping training schedule of one to two sessions a week, Ozzie went from cross poles to full courses at 2'6" in just a couple of months. In July, Ozzie showed in his first horse show in the Baby Green Hunters and received good placings despite being a little "up" with all the activity similar to the environment of the race track.
His next horse show was at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center on Oct. 20-21. Ozzie was taken to Shauna Pennell's Silvercrest Stables a few days before the show to get in a couple of good schooling sessions. Ozzie arrived at the show grounds much more relaxed than his first show outing. He again showed in the Baby Green Hunters. He won every class entered and was Champion Baby Green Hunter. He beat all the fancy Warmbloods including one that, ironically, Kim von Disterlo had bred! At the show Ozzie became a minor celebrity as many people commented on him and Shauna relayed his story to anyone who would listen.
"Ozzie has been an absolute joy," Kim reports. "He is smart, sensible, sensitive and immensely talented. He has gone from the track's winners circle to a show ring champion. I couldn't be more proud of our boy." Former trainer Kristin Mulhall adds, "He was always so nice to ride and such a pretty mover I knew he had it in him. Hopefully he will be a super star again."
Warning Zone was bred by the late Edward P. Evans, who ran the racing and breeding program at Spring Hill Farm in Casanova, VA. He produced numerous stakes winners in his time and last year his stable earned $3.6 million. Mr. Evans owned and bred 1981 Kentucky Derby winner Pleasant Colony and was known in the racing world for his philanthropy and his business ethics and honesty.
Warning Zone is Virginia-bred and is out of the Storm Bird mare Migrate. His sire is the great Chester House and his grand-sire is Mr. Prospector, who has been hailed as the world's greatest producer of top quality racehorses. We may now be able to add show horses to that pedigree
For more information visit www.neighsavers.com or call Karin Wagner at 925-980-7588.