Trainer Mark Shuman and his wife, Anissa Butler, pulled their trailer up to Shuman’s barn at Fair Hill Training Center one day last September and instantly wondered whether they’d just made a massive mistake. As soon as Shuman shifted into park, the screaming and snorting began. The trailer shook. And every time they tried to get a shank on the monstrous gray inside, he batted and struck at them.
After about 45 minutes and a little Vicks VapoRub in his nostrils, he was out of the van and in the barn. He’d been there before, of course–throughout campaigns at 2, 3 and 4, graded stakes wins, the 2007 Triple Crown trail and $774,990 earned. So despite the chaos and commotion, Shuman and Butler were elated to bring him back. Xchanger was home.
Getting him back after his stud career had always been part of the plan. Turned out that career was more short-lived than expected, but that was just fine with Butler.
“I loved him; he’s my favorite horse that we’ve ever had,” she smiled. “He made a racket in the barn for probably the next 12 hours and then the vet showed up at 8 a.m. to geld him and that was that. Within two days I threw the tack on and got on him. He had no problems at all. He was amazing. I hacked him in the barn for maybe three days and then I was able to take him out in the fields at Fair Hill.”
Xchanger caught Shuman’s eye at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s 2-year-old sale in 2006. Bred in Florida by Oscar Martinez, the son of Exchange Rate was produced from the Crafty Prospector mare Saragoza.
“He was just a very efficient mover, he looked effortless in his work,” Shuman said. “We watched him live and kept going back and watching the videos. He looked like he did it so easily. The owner was prepared to go to $80,000. When the hammer fell at $40,000 we actually thought ‘Oh no, what’d we miss?’ ”
Domenic Zannino signed the slip for the colt, and later that evening over dinner convinced Shuman and Joe Masone to purchase 25 percent shares in him. Laid back and unflappable, Xchanger was a consummate professional from the beginning.
“Honestly, before he ran–just every day on the track training–he did whatever we asked him to do and more,” Shuman said. “From the first time we breezed him, we just never thought he was anything but a decent horse. Everything he did was always above and beyond.”
He won his debut at Monmouth Park in August 2006 and immediately vaulted into the Sapling Stakes-G3 in his second start. Bumped in the stretch, he was gritty and game enough to win.
He wrapped up his freshman season with five starts, four in graded stakes, two wins and two thirds–enough to convince the partnership that the 2007 spring classics were a worthwhile goal.
Shuman and his 3-year-old set up camp at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Fifth in Teuflesberg’s Southwest Stakes–just a length behind Hard Spun–Xchanger led early in the Rebel-G3 before giving way and finishing seventh behind Curlin.
Butler still remembers their encounters with the two-time Horse of the Year and future Hall of Famer.
“Being in the paddock with him and seeing those horses; Curlin towered over him. I still think it was the toughest crop in recent years. I was nervous all the time, because Xchanger was such a nice horse–you start worrying. ‘Does he belong or will this break his heart?’ I galloped him so I went everywhere with him.”
Shuman routinely chose not to use the identifying saddle towels when Xchanger ran in marquee races, so Butler and the colt went unnoticed in the mornings.
“He was so easy to gallop. I had all these riders thinking I was just some silly girl out there with a loop in the reins. They’d come up and try to see if they could get him to run off. They didn’t know who he was; he’d just lope around the racetrack and would never pick up the bit unless you asked him to.”
Returning home to Maryland, Xchanger won Pimlico’s Federico Tesio Stakes and entered the gate with Ramon Dominguez as the hometown hope a month later in the Preakness-G1. Setting the pace again despite a bumper-car start, he tired and finished eighth as Curlin defeated Street Sense by a head.
Shuman chose Delaware Park’s Barbaro Stakes-G3 for his colt’s next start, and that win was a confidence booster for the entire team. Xchanger ran with the varsity squad throughout 2007, going to the Haskell Invitational, the Pennsylvania Derby (which he lost by a neck), the Meadowlands Cup, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Cigar Mile.
After three starts at 4 in 2008, he was retired after a nose defeat to Eternal Star, who set a track record that still stands, in Parx Racing’s Donald LeVine Memorial. He cooled out fine and all seemed well, but filling and heat the next day revealed a fracture in a sesamoid. He was retired to stud with a record of 18-4-2-3.
He began his stud career at Jim and Sheila DiMare’s Rising Hill Farm near Ocala before relocating to O’Sullivan Farms in West Virginia in 2011. All three partners stayed in on the horse initially, but Shuman got out “two or three years ago.”
“Breeding is a rich man’s game, and none of us had the farm or mares to support him,” he said. “In those first few crops, not one of them looked like him or acted like him. And still to this day, I’ve never seen one move like him. He was just a bit of a freak, I guess.”
From his small crops, Xchanger’s best runner, World Changer, has earned nearly $60,000. When O’Sullivan management informed Zannino that interest in the stallion had waned, he contacted Shuman and Butler.
“When I got out of him I said if he ever needed a home down the road, keep us in mind. Dominic knew that, so he called us when O’Sullivan was done and asked if we still wanted him,” Shuman said. “So he was instrumental in seeing that we got him back. I wish he could have made it at stud, but I always wanted to make sure he had a fallback plan.”
After that bit of downtime, Butler took Xchanger just down the road to Wyn Lea, the Fair Hill, Md., farm owned by her mother. He started jumping just before Christmas with eyes on some hunter classes on the OTTB circuit this year.
“It’s just fun for her and he’s a big pet,” Shuman said. “If anything ever happened and he couldn’t go any further, he’d just be out in the field there eating. He’ll never be for sale.”
As his wife put it, “We wouldn’t have what we have if it wasn’t for Xchanger.”