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Stories about your favorite retired racehorses. For archived stories, click here.

Picture a fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement hot Saturday afternoon. The sun blazes. The only thing worse than the sweltering humidity are the summer bugs that buzz and dive-bomb. Yet somehow 20-year-old Humdinger and owner Laura Dietrich are a cool study in gentility as they pose for photos at Dietrich’s Middleburg, Va., farm.

It’s only fitting that the most-repeated word Dietrich uses to describe the horse is “gentleman.” He looks and acts the part, and his rank in the hierarchy of Dietrich’s spotless, airy barn is readily apparent. Humdinger’s stall door remains open, allowing him freedom to stroll safely around the shedrow as he pleases. While next door neighbor True Blue Fingers seems a tad envious, it’s a privilege Humdinger has earned.

The Phipps Stable-bred was foaled in Kentucky on March 27, 2003, boasting plenty of that stable’s venerable lineage. By multimillionaire and leading sire Broad Brush, he is out of the A.P. Indy mare Indy Pick. Indy Pick was out of Fantastic Find (Mr. Prospector—Blitey, by Riva Ridge) another Grade 1 stakes-winning Phipps homebred. All that pedigree means plenty of successful relatives – multiple Grade 3 winner Optimizer is a half-brother; Grade 1 winner Finder’s Fee (Flightline descends from her) is a half-sister to Humdinger’s dam, as is major steeplechase winner Tax Ruling; Blitey’s foals include Grade 1 winners Dancing Spree and Furlough.

Five starts on the flat as a 3-year-old for Shug McGaughey in 2006 yielded a maiden-breaker at Belmont Park. Purchased privately late that year by steeplechase trainer Neil Morris for Zohar and Lisa Ben-Dov’s Kinross Farm, Humdinger resurfaced at Fox­field on April 28, 2007, in a maiden special going 21⁄8 miles over hurdles with Chris Read aboard. They won. It was the beginning of a second career that endured until May 12, 2012.

Humdinger made 29 his 35 starts during those six years, scoring six of his seven wins. He ran at point-to-points and sanctioned meets throughout Virginia with trips to Aiken, Fair Hill, Malvern, Willowdale, High Hope and the Iroquois. In 2011, he ran three times over timber, winning twice. In addition to Read, Humdinger had his picture taken with jockeys Jacob Roberts, Liam McVicar and Matt McCarron.

In 2010, Humdinger came out for new owner Michael Smith. He was trained briefly by Diana McClure before returning to Morris, with whom he finished his racing career with stats of 35-7-7-6 and $117,289 earned.

Somehow, all the gelding’s success was achieved with three screws in his right pastern. 

“Maybe two years before the horse retired,” Dietrich began, “we were at a Christmas party and I said to Mike Smith, ‘When that horse retires, he’s just my kinda guy.’ So I asked him to please let me know when the horse retired, and damned if he didn’t call me. Mike and I hunted together, Neil too. So Mike knew the farm and the kind of home the horse would get.

“I had emails from Neil when I first brought Humdinger home,” Dietrich said. “He loves the horse. He said, ‘He has always worked his heart out. He’s as honest as can be. Retiring sound was not bad for a horse with screws in his leg.’  

Dietrich grew up in Chicago – fifth generation – and had years of experience riding and foxhunting before leaving Illinois. She also worked with Beagle and Basset packs. The first presidential campaign for Ronald Reagan brought Dietrich and her husband to Washington, D.C. 

“I did presidential advance – family advance – for Barbara Bush and Maureen Reagan. You go ahead of their visit and map out a schedule, usually with the campaign manager advising what their interests and platform are. Mrs. Bush loved literacy, for instance. Or we’d be contacted by someone wanting them to visit. So, you have to piece it together and make her day, all down to the millisecond.”

Dietrich had always been involved in political campaigns as a volunteer while still in school. Before she was old enough to vote, she ran the Illinois Nixon Youth Campaign. For the second Reagan campaign, she worked for the State Department, serving as deputy assistant secretary of state in political asylum.

She remained in her government position until the George H.W. Bush administration took over. 

“It was like a 24/7 job, so at that point I decided I didn’t want to continue.

What she wanted was to leave their Capitol Hill residence and put down roots in Middleburg. 

“It took me a long time to get my husband out here. He’d rather work than foxhunt, whereas I was always working everything around hunting.”

She has hunted with Piedmont Fox Hounds for 15 years, after 10 with the Middleburg Hunt. And for the past 10 years, Humdinger has been her go-to partner.

Dietrich did the reschooling herself after Smith agreed to retire the horse. While the horse’s manners were always impeccable – there was no rearing or bucking – there were some significant issues with brakes. At their first hunt, Humdinger stepped off the trailer, looked around and thought he was back at a race meet.

“I mean it was a little life-threatening the first couple seasons hunting. He had to get used to things like cows, pigs, barking dogs, even a few llamas. I don’t think he’s ever stopped at a fence since I’ve had him. We just had a little bit of trouble with brakes, trouble waiting at check points. It’s like anything, he just needed exposure. But he’s never had an inclination to kick anybody, horse or hound.”

Dietrich credits the handling the horse received from his early connections. He was never given any reason to distrust, she says, and therefore grew into a completely honest, straightforward horse. 

She’s also proud to point out that, while still in training with Morris, Humdinger was the mount of several young riders who have since gone on to successful careers in the racing industry. While still a student at Foxcroft School, Mary Motion spent mornings before classes riding out for Morris at Kinross. She was frequently aboard Humdinger. Motion went on to ride in sanctioned races herself after great success in the junior ranks with Orpington. Now living in Lexington, Ky., she works with bloodstock agent Chad Shumer. In recent years, Dietrich has offered Humdinger to Motion for hunting when she’s come home to visit her family in Middleburg.

Corbin Blumberg, director of racing and bloodstock operations for Starlight Racing, also had the mount on Humdinger quite often while working for Morris. Blumberg’s father, Ivan, owns a farm near Dietrich’s. Dietrich hunted Humdinger until the end of this 2023 season before fully retiring him. 

“We go for a little walkabout and stuff. So I do ride him, but I think he’s done plenty at 20,” she said. “Really, Humdinger has this huge extended family. You go in the hunt field, and people still know him. He’s the local horse who stuck around, and it’s worked out perfectly.”

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