Shedrow Secrets: Lou’s Expectation

Shedrow Secrets

Shedrow Secrets, Installment 6

Lou’s Expectation
By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile (author of “Saving Baby”)

The look of eagles. If you’ve been blessed to have seen it, it will never leave you. John Taintor Foote best describes this confident, proud expression worn by only the finest of Thoroughbred racehorses in his book The Look of Eagles. “About the head of a truly great horse there is an air of freedom unconquerable. The eyes seem to look on heights beyond our gaze. It is the look of a spirit that can soar…It is the birthright of eagles.” These extraordinary Thoroughbreds are aware that they are something special, yet their “air of knowingness” is tempered with a quiet kindness. I had seen this look, although the sightings were very few and very far between. And I had often wondered about the broken-down horses we rescued from the track…those who possessed this “air of freedom unconquerable,” could it still shine through despite their broken bodies and wounded spirits? Then one balmy Saturday morning at Great Lakes Downs, I met Lou’s Expectation.

Lou’s Expectation ran his first race on April 12, 2002, when he was yet 9 days shy of his third birthday. A Florida-bred, Lou’s fourth start was his first win, but it was also his last race in the Sunshine State. Only 18 days after that first victory at Calder Race Course, Lou was running in California for trainer Jeff Mullins. As a three-year-old, Lou raced 14 times in less than 9 months. His success that year – 4 wins and 6 second place finishes – was quickly making the classy Valid Expectation gelding one of his sire’s leading winners. The following year in 2003, Lou continued his winning ways in California and was ranked 99th in the country by wins. But in his last race that year, he was claimed for 50K for the infamous owner Michael Gill. Lou headed east.

Lou started 2004 with a race at Aqueduct on a clear, cold January day. The dark bay gelding “tired in the stretch” and came in last…something Lou had never done. The cracks were beginning to show, as Lou again finished last in his next two races. A trainer change brought a short-lived “improvement” with a third and a pair of fourth place finishes, but Lou ended his 5-year-old year in an allowance race at Monmouth Park, outrun, and coming in last by 23 lengths.

On January 26, 2005, Lou was claimed from Gill for 10K at Laurel Park. It wasn’t but three races later that the now 6-year-old former stakes winner was running for a 5K tag at Charles Town Race Track in West Virginia. By summer’s end of 2005, Lou’s ownership had changed hands ten times in just over three years. On August 12, in his 38th start, “Lou’s Expectation bore out and bumped with Mr. Lucky Numbers at the start then was used up after a half four wide.” “Used up after a half,” Lou came in dead last, more than 32 lengths behind. After a short 12-week break, he posted a win in a 4K claiming race, a third 2 weeks later, and another win on December 30, 2005 to close out the year.

Lou didn’t run all of January 2006, and it wasn’t until the end of February when he raced again. He was now among the lowliest of Thoroughbreds, running in cheap claiming races at a second-rate track. In the 9th race on February 24, Lou faced seven competitors in a 6K claiming race. He knew what it took to win – he had done it 14 times. He “pressed the pace just off the rail” but came up short by a mere ½ length, coming in a hard-trying third. Lou made $1500 for his connections, but he couldn’t walk off the track…he needed to be “vanned off after the finish.”

Three months passed, and the beautiful bay with the interesting white facial markings was now at Great Lakes Downs in Michigan. He had again changed hands, being either sold or given away, and another race was still to be demanded of him. Other trainers at the low-level track knew of Lou and his impressive racing history. Even though he was only seven – young by equine standards – the trainers referred to him as “that old class horse.” Lou was lame, but no one said anything, nor came to his defense. On May 31, 2006, Lou’s Expectation made his 43rd start, a cheap 4K claimer. And once again, he showed his class and his heart, coming in second and earning his owner/trainer nearly $1300.

Four days after Lou’s last race, on my weekly track visit for the rescue I volunteered for, I was approached by Lou’s trainer. “You can have the horse in stall #19…and you need to take him today. I’ve got another horse that needs that stall this afternoon. If you can’t take him today, he’s gone. Oh and… he’s got a bad ankle.” Lou’s Expectation, a winner of well over 300K, was being thrown out. He literally didn’t have a stall to stand in.
Lou’s pain was glaringly obvious with movement. Limping badly as I led him from the stall, I moved slowly, trying hard not to cause him increased suffering. I was so focused on Lou’s broken ankle and each tiny step we took in unison that I didn’t notice when we finally reached a clearing. But Lou did. When he abruptly came to a halt, and I looked up from the injured limb to his exquisite face, I saw it…Lou’s Expectation could barely walk, but in his eyes, I saw his spirit soaring. The heart that propelled him to the finish line when his body could not remained unconquerable.

Lou had suffered fractures of both sesamoid bones in his left front ankle. He underwent prompt surgery but the damage was severe, leaving him with a life sentence as a “pasture ornament.” Fortunately for Lou, a board member of the rescue was thrilled to embrace him as part of her beloved equine family. Gail still recalls his noble yet kind disposition the very day he was welcomed home. And though the physical limitations resulting from racing injuries bound him to this earth, Lou’s Expectation’s spirit continued to soar upon wings of eagles. Lou was lovingly cared for by Gail for too short a time. Less than two years after his rescue from the track, Lou colicked and required euthanasia while on the operating table. During surgery, a tear was discovered in his diaphragm. His intestine had migrated up through the tear and had become necrotic, greatly diminishing his chances for survival.

The tear in Lou’s diaphragm was determined to have not been a recent injury, but rather an existing one from some prior blunt force trauma to his body. A probable cause would be when two horses collide with each other during a race, just as Lou and Mr. Lucky Numbers did less than three years before Lou died. And although Lou’s life was cut drastically short, he was fortunate to experience love and kindness in the end. Mr. Lucky Numbers was not so fortunate…racing to 10 years of age, he was confirmed slaughtered in 2008.


  1. Lou was a very noble and kind athlete that is very much missed at our farm. If given a chance at retirement earlier he might still be with us. We all miss you Lou.

  2. This story is repeated over and over, day after day in this ugly business. And not many of the “throw- a- ways” experience a measure of human kindness, as Lou did, before they depart this earth. No, unfortunately, the vast majority are loaded on to trucks to begin the painful cruel journey to the ultimate horror. There is no human compassion in this industry. There is nothing good about horseracing, period. It runs on abuse and ends with unspeakable cruelty.

    • I have to agree with you . Unfortunately, there are so many who refuse to see the horrible cruelty in the sport…..only the excitement, the money, and the fancy hats on Ky Derby day.

  3. You are so right, Rose…these true Shedrow stories ARE repeated day after day. How anyone can continue to support this abusive, cruel billion-dollar industry is beyond me.

    Anytime an animal – any animal – and money go head to head, the almighty dollar will win out every time in the world of “sport” (that term used loosely).

    I wish I knew how to copy a photo into these comments…I would love to show everyone a beautiful headshot of Lou. His sweet face with the content and peaceful expression he is wearing will give the readers of his story some peace of their own…just knowing that what the racing industry did to him didn’t break his spirit, like it has done to so many others…and to be able to “see” in his face the love, kindess and caring he enjoyed for 18 wonderful months.

  4. I have said this before and I will say it again. After seeing the cruelty all over the planet in every country that is done to horses it would have been better and kinder if horses had went extinct 12,000 years ago when they disappeared from North America. If that had happened the horse would only have been fossils on display in a Museum. They would have never known cruelty and greed that now exists. It least the ancestors of today’s horses would have lived and died free from the cruelty of man.

  5. I can understand the anti-thoroughbred racing point of view but I respectfully disagree. I happen to know people in that field that are heartily behind clean racing and ALL that that entails. Horses do love to race and can be raised in a healthy manner and safely taught to do it. These people would join in your efforts if they were encouraged and NOT ranked in with the garbage out there. From the first sentence at the name of the trainer I could have told you of the likely out come! His nick name is “Milkshake” and is well known. Sadly it is the likes of his sort that still have huge influence in State legislation, winking or closed eyes with Laws and track officials and vets that would not be tolerated in the private world.
    I also feel that with the split in the clean up effort; i.e., Eliminate racing stance & Correct racing stance, our desire to help the animals is further weakened, which only benefits the “take the money and run” group.
    What we need is a unification of all equine involved uses to benefit the horse during its “working” years and into its retirement, without castigating any of the people that enjoy the horse but rather the METHODS used to provide the enjoyment.
    As to the handicapper, a numbers fanatic/puzzle solver, and the gambler: It would seem to me that it is a “no brainer” for them to want as level a base for their own interests as possible. So, they should also be easy to recruit for the effort to change the environment in the equine and thereby the animal world.
    I say increase the size of the army of change. Do not open fighting fronts on more than one front.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful, respectful comment, Ann. That said, there is no room for compromise here. Horseracing is exploitation of a weaker species, for gambling no less. One Thoroughbred snapping a sesamoid is too much. One “retired” racer being bled-out is too much. The abuse, the cruelty, the suffering can never be entirely eliminated, and you know it. So if forces are to be combined, it is you and the other “good people” you speak of who should march with us. You don’t need to race horses. Cease and desist.

    • Ann, I don’t know if you have experience at the low level tracks, but I do. In fact, about two months ago, I was with one of the officials at a low level track here in Ohio. I asked this person if one of the trainers was a “good guy”. I was, in fact, asking if this trainer would do the right thing for his horses. The racing official told me that on any given day, given the right circumstances, every single owner/trainer at this track would hand a horse off into a bad situation. Therefore, please do NOT tell me how great the racing industry is because it wouldn’t be a true statement. Racing is a gambling industry and it is corrupt and sinister. End of story.

      • This is true of any low level track and even some more prestigious tracks also. I have been trying to find out about a horse called Catlaunch. He raced his whole career in Ohio with one or two exceptions. He is now 12 years old and started several times this year. He started 108 times and earned around over a million $. His last race was listed as the dreaded DNF. I wrote a letter to Blood Horse magazine because they had an article about his remarkable career last year. I have not been able to find out what his status is. It would seem nobody is interested in him now because it may not be a “good story” at this point.

  6. There is a lady here in central Ohio that started a very successful racehorse rehabilitation/adoption program about 20 years ago. When we were chatting on the phone a couple of years ago, she told me that she injects her horses all the time to “keep them going”. My opinion of her quickly went down the toilet. The sad thing is that I still believe that she is one of the better people in the industry but that isn’t saying much. However, at least she attempts to help some of the horses that are “done” racing although her organization picks and chooses those that they believe can be adopted out quickly.

  7. Mary, this is true of many of the “better” people in racing. The horses at greatest risk get little or no help. Many of these so called rescues are, in reality, not doing what people assume…helping those most in need.

    There are no happy endings for any race horse, even those with “happy endings” pay some price (my OTTB has arthritis in her shoulder … and not from “performing” after her racing career … )
    SO, basically, the only happy ending for a race horse is … not to be a race horse in the beginning, be a horse that is some kind of extended family member, with people who really care

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