The million was for us anyway, not him. We wanted him to join McDynamo, Good Night Shirt and Lonesome Glory as the only American-based steeplechasers to reach $1 million in earnings. He really didn’t care.
And that’s why the decision by owner Jacqueline Ohrstrom and trainer Richard Valentine to retire champion steeplechaser Demonstrative midway through the 2016 season – and $59,700 short of seven figures in steeplechase earnings – made so much sense.
After 48 starts on the flat and over fences, in England and the United States, the 9-year-old gets to go home to Virginia’s Whitewood Farm. In eight seasons as a racehorse, he won 14 races, placed second eight times, finished third eight times. His last 21 steeplechase starts came in Grade 1 company.
Careers don’t get much better than that for Thoroughbreds.
I will miss seeing the robust bay gelding run and jump – man could he jump – but I will love knowing he went home to Whitewood in the gooseneck, with Valentine driving the truck.
Demonstrative came to steeplechasing the way a lot of horses do, by accident. Bred by Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum’s Gainsborough Farm in Kentucky, the son of Elusive Quality was sent to England as a young horse and was destined for something big. His dam, the Quiet American mare Loving Pride, won a Group 3 in France and finished seventh behind Six Perfections in a Group 1 at Longchamp at 2 in 2002.
As a 2-year-old with trainer Mark Johnston, Demonstrative finished ninth of 11 in his debut at Yarmouth in July 2009. He improved a bit – finishing third at Pontefract and second (by a nose) at Southwell – but he lost all six starts as a juvenile. He won his 3-year-old debut on the all-weather surface at Chester to start 2010, added two more seconds and by July was in the ring at Tattersalls. A frequent shopper there, Valentine loved what he saw and spent 25,000 guineas. The Virginia trainer fleeced the English and everyone else.
Demonstrative won his American (and hurdle) debut in October 2010 and wound up the 3-year-old champion. In 2011, he placed in all eight starts, winning twice. In 2012, he won twice at Saratoga – a novice stakes and the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup – and won the season-ending Grade 1 Colonial Cup. He should have been the Eclipse Award winner, too, losing by 17 votes to Pierrot Lunaire (who also won two Grade 1 stakes, skipped the Colonial Cup and is winless since).
The 2013 season started with a tour de force in the Grade 1 Iroquois in May, but went wrong the rest of the way as he lost his final four starts to close the year. Demonstrative underwent a wind operation, but opened 2014 with another loss and looked unable to find his old form. Until he did.
In 2014, he put together his best campaign – finishing second by a nose in the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick, sweeping the Turf Writers, the Lonesome Glory and the Grand National and placing third in the Colonial Cup all with regular jockey Robbie Walsh aboard. The $362,500 earned is the second-highest single season total in history. An Eclipse Award capped the season.
Demonstrative came out, won another Iroquois in 2015, then was never quite the same. He finished third in the 2015 Smithwick, pulled up in the Turf Writers and was a dull ninth in the Grand National. A third in the Colonial Cup offered some hope, but when Demonstrative turned in two sub-par races in the Iroquois and Smithwick this year, Valentine called it a career.
Demonstrative will be missed wherever good steeplechasers line up to race. He will also be appreciated and remembered for a career of excellence. What’s more, he will get to be a foxhunter or a star in a Whitewood field. He’ll get to eat grass and get fed carrots over the fence, he’ll get to watch potential successors gallop up the hill for Valentine.
A good horse’s retirement brings mixed emotions. Demonstrative is gone from the racetrack. But he’s in the barn. He can’t pad his bankroll. But he can get fat and happy. He won’t be a millionaire. But he will be a celebrity.
“I thought we would retire him at the end of the year, but he’s been too good to us,” Valentine said. “I desperately wanted him to go over the million-dollar mark. . . we talked about putting blinkers on him, he didn’t deserve that, I thought that was a cheap move. He never fell, he never had an injury on the racecourse. He looks great, he’s covered in dapples. It’s not sad, it’s a relief.”