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 Pensioners on Parade

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

effervescent pensioner racehorse

John Hughes can speak volumes about Effervescent. After nearly 40 years with trainer Jonathan Sheppard, Hughes knows the daughter of Citidancer–and her whole family. “We foaled her here. She was born, raised and broken here,” Hughes said.

“Here” is bucolic Buttonwood Farm near West Grove, Pa., a 250-acre property owned by Rodman and Alice Moorhead. Across Route 926 from Sheppard’s training base, Ashwell Stable, Buttonwood was also home to Effervescent’s dam, the prolific Gemini Dreamer mare Gemini’s Gem.

“The reason I bought Gemini’s Gem [as a 2-year-old in 1992] was because she was a half-sister to the top steeplechase horse in the country at that time–Victorian Hill, trained by Janet Elliot,” Sheppard said.

Hughes agreed with the purchase, and with how it turned out.

“Buying that mare turned out to be good because the family has done really, really well,” he said. “She was one of the foundation mares for Jonathan.”

Gemini’s Gem won on the flat and over jumps before joining Sheppard’s broodmare band. Sent as a maiden to Citidancer in 1995, she produced Effervescent the following March.

“When we broke Effervescent, it was like she’d been broken all her life,” Hughes said. “You just got on her and went; she never did anything, which is the temperament of that family. They are a pleasure to deal with.”

Late to the races, she made her first start at 4 in 2000, winning first time out at Garden State.

“Effervescent was a very useful mare as a racehorse,” Sheppard went on. “Unfortunately in her last start, a turf race in Saratoga, it rained and they took the race off the grass. She was second but came out of it with a bad tendon and we had to retire her.”

Then 7 years old, she earned $96,825 in her 17 starts with a record of 5-4-1.

Then the good fortune began. Effervescent was sent to Florida to Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 winner Alphabet Soup in 2004. That mating produced multiple stakes winner Italian Wedding in 2005.

The chestnut gelding developed into a steeplechase standout, winning the prestigious New York Turf Writers’ Cup in 2013 over a field that included champions Divine Fortune and Demonstrative. Italian Wedding then capped off his career-best season as an Eclipse Award finalist. Retired after the 2014 season, Italian Wedding–warmly referred to as “Sausage” around the barn–earned $257,504 for breeder/owner/trainer Sheppard. And the tide was just starting to roll.

Effervescent’s next winner was Cubist, her 2007 filly by Royal Academy. A winner of three of her 23 starts and $87,299, Cubist’s finest hour came at Saratoga in 2012 with a win in the Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords Stakes over jumps.

Another filly, Warm Glow, followed in 2008. The daughter of Sky Classic placed in stakes and won three times in seven starts for earnings of $134,820.

Great Illusion, Effervescent’s 2010 foal by Great Notion, was the only offspring Sheppard did not keep.

“I had been given a breeding to Great Notion by Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton of Silverton Hill who had campaigned him,” said trainer Leslie Falini Young. “I didn’t have any mares so I offered it to Jonathan. Then I think he had too many horses the year she was a weanling, so he kindly gave her to me.”

Great Illusion won twice for Young, got claimed and was with trainer Mario Serey Jr. in mid-December.

Effervescent produced three more foals before being pensioned after weaning in 2015. Ebullience, her 2012 son by Fairbanks, is the latest to carry the trainer’s colors. And Sheppard likes what he sees.

“He ran for the first time [in mid-November] at Penn National and had a good third. I told the rider first-time starter, don’t push him, just drop back and let him make a run through the stretch. He’s bred to go a distance and this was 6 furlongs. He closed strongly through the stretch and finished third, so I was pretty happy with that. He’s had quite a bit of schooling and I plan to campaign him as a jumper. We like him; he’s a nice young horse.”

Two more Effervescent foals wait their turns–a now-2-year-old colt by Cape Blanco (Ire), and Effervescent’s final foal, a flashy chestnut yearling filly by El Padrino.

“Jonathan’s theory is ‘why not keep the family going when they do well?’?” Hughes said. “Effervescent was a good mom, and they are nice horses to work around. And you always look forward to her foals because they all ran well.”

The Hall of Fame trainer downplayed his pedigree insight.

“It’s not any great science really on my part,” Sheppard said. “It’s a sort of gut feeling or hunch. You can’t really explain why but I get these ideas in my mind of what might be the outcome of a certain breeding–a certain mare to a certain stallion–regarding size, racing ability, temperament, things like that.”

Hughes and wife Wendy manage Sheppard’s breeding operation and broodmare band, which includes three daughters of Effervescent, all in foal for 2016: Quantock, Cubist and Warm Glow.

Last fall, Effervescent was relocated to the nearby farm of Dr. Roy Bergman, the equine reproductive specialist with whom Sheppard has worked for many years. She’s company for Bergman’s mare Chiqueada, and come spring she’ll help raise youngsters. It’s a post her dam, Gemini’s Gem, held before passing away in 2014.

Gemini’s Gem made news for another reason that summer when three of her daughters, Rare Mix, Brilliant Match and Glittering, all won races within the same week.

Still elegant at 20, Effervescent gets around just fine despite a big, arthritic left knee. And nothing makes her happier than her regular visits from the ever-devoted John and Wendy Hughes, their pockets always spilling over with carrots.

Sheppard is quick to assign credit where it is due.

“Both John and Wendy are extremely loyal, very thorough on the horses. They’re just members of the family, and a very large part of any success I might have had for decades.”

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