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

He’s now 27 and lives happily in retirement in Frederick, Md., but Well Well became a fan favorite 10 years ago in his role as traveling buddy and stable pony to 2013 Kentucky Derby-G1 winner Orb.

While the Derby trail was a far cry from his own modest career, a revisit to the bay gelding’s roots uncovers a link to Maryland racing royalty. Foaled there on April 5, 1996, he was bred by Allaire duPont. Out of her winning homebred Maribeau mare Mari Her, Well Well is by millionaire Opening Verse. The son of The Minstrel began his career in England, making his first American start at Santa Anita on New Year’s Eve 1989. Within 90 days he was a graded stakes winner, taking Oaklawn’s Razorback-G2 and Oaklawn Handicap-G1. Also on his resume are wins in the 1991 Fort Harrod-G3 and Early Times Turf Classic-G3. He wrapped up his career with a win in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Mile-G1 at Churchill Downs. Churchill still cards the Opening Verse Stakes each year during Kentucky Derby Week.

Opening Verse spent the first several years of his stud career at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City, Md. Sending Mari Her to him was an easy decision; duPont was a co-owner of Northview and lived at Woodstock Farm just down the road.

Well Well took four tries to break his maiden, winning at a mile on the turf at Delaware Park June 29, 1999, for owner Jerome McArdle and trainer Ronnie Houghton. His connections were patient, giving him chances at Atlantic City, Garden State, Philadelphia Park and Colonial Downs before a final try at Penn National on June 30, 2001. He finished ninth, the Delaware Park score two years prior his only win photo. He earned $18,800 with a record of 14-1-1-2.

The hunt field was a logical next step for the gelding and he joined the squad at River Hills Foxhounds in Lancaster County, Pa. With Priscilla Godsoe aboard, Well Well hunted and showed and proved to be a valuable member of the team for 12 years. 

Lisa Novell Hackett, Well Well’s owner since 2015, told his story. 

“When they retired him, he was a staff horse at a hunt, and then he started to get spooky,” she said. “Lo and behold, he was blind in his right eye. Since he wasn’t able to continue as staff horse anymore, he went back to the track and he was Shug McGaughey’s pony for about five years. He was Orb’s babysitter and traveled with him.”

Foxhunter and longtime Delaware racing official Duncan Patterson, whose daughter Jenn worked for McGaughey then, connected Well Well with his new post.

It was a sweet assignment. Orb spent the winter of 2013 at McGaughey’s Florida base accompanied by Well Well. Orb kicked off his sophomore season with a score in a Gulfstream Park allowance, then followed up with wins in the Fountain of Youth-G2 and, five weeks later, the Florida Derby-G1. 

Well Well, then 17, shipped to Churchill Downs with the Kentucky Derby favorite and got a crash course in media attention. When Orb reeled off his fourth consecutive sophomore victory in the Derby, the press eagerly followed McGaughey and squad to Pimlico. Well Well was a constant in countless photos of the Preakness favorite, marching calmly – often tongue out – beside the colt as he went to the track every day.

When the time came to find life away from the racetrack, Well Well found Hackett – or vice versa.

“I had to put my hunter down and was without a horse,” she said, “and Wellie came available.”

Hackett’s experience with Thoroughbreds, on and off the track, is extensive. The New York native began riding at age 8. While a student at State University of New York at Delhi, she began galloping horses. 

“They had horses that they bred and raised and would then send them to the New York sales to generate income for the school. That’s how I got into it. Then I started walking hots at Aqueduct and fell in love with racing. But back in the early 1980s, it was very much a man’s world at Aqueduct and Belmont. So I ended up getting a referral from my school and went to Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky and broke babies for Greentree Stable. Then I went to Aiken with those horses and stayed with them there. When I went back to New York, I still couldn’t get a job at Belmont.”

She found work at a farm on Long Island, which eventually led to a position at Belmont with trainer Steve Schaeffer, and then Gary Sciacca. Next came the job Hackett calls “my best memories in racing” – riding out for Hall of Fame trainer Flint “Scotty” Schulhofer.

“If you came off the track and you said you felt a little something, he’d have the vet there that day,” she said. “He was a horseman. It was a very, very good experience. 

By 1991, Hackett was working a retail job in Washington, D.C., and galloping horses at Chanceland Farm for Katy Voss in the morning. A badly broken ankle closed that chapter in her life, and she then focused on retraining and rehoming off-track Thoroughbreds.

Marriage followed, and in 2002 Hackett and a friend/business partner purchased the 53-acre property in Frederick they christened Black Dog Farm. 

“We are a small boarding farm. My business partner was in the Montgomery County police force. She retired, and she and her husband moved to North Carolina. It’s just me now, and I have 10 horses here – four are mine and six are boarders. They are pretty much retirees or recreational riders.”

Hackett rode regularly with the Potomac Hunt. She hunted Well Well for three seasons until partial replacements of both knees relegated her to social membership. Well Well, 21 when he stopped hunting, continued to enjoy trail rides and hacking out on the farm until he was 25. 

“He started to stumble,” Hackett said, “so we called it a day.”

Although fully retired, he’s still the perfect ambassador to folks meeting a Thoroughbred for the first time. Friends and family all get a visit with Well Well when at the farm. 

“He’s such a class act, just a very special horse. And it’s so neat how he had so many different jobs and for such a long time.”

Speaking of jobs, Hackett and her husband plan to retire and relocate to South Carolina next summer. And Well Well? 

“He’s going with us to live out his days.”


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