Horse rescued from northern Colorado feedlot turns out to be descendant of Triple Crown winner
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — His name was Champ, but he was no champion.
Severely underweight and riddled with ulcers, the brown horse had been rescued from a Northern Colorado feedlot when Kassidy Webber first met him in 2014.
Then a high school sophomore living in Arvada, Webber responded to an ad for Champ at a Colorado horse rescue. The first time she saw him, three months after he had been rescued, she knew immediately that he was the horse for her — it was in his eyes.
“That’s what I tell everyone when they ask me (why him),” Webber said. “Everything about him was pretty rough looking, but he had a really kind eye. It’s just in his face.”
Taking a chance, she purchased him for an insanely cheap $750 and took him home. Fittingly enough, she renamed him Chance.
She spent the following year restoring Chance’s health and trust. Slowly, he gained weight and got used to being cared for and doted on. Over the years, Webber always wondered about Chance’s backstory and lineage. Like all former race horses, he had an ID number tattoo on the inner side of his inner lip, but it was too worn to read or track.
It wasn’t until a little more than a month ago that the Colorado State University sophomore — with the help of Chance’s tattoo and a Facebook group — finally cracked the case.
Chance was no champion after all. His great-great grandpa, though? Oh, he was just a Triple Crown winner.
‘THAT’S MY HORSE!’
Ambling down a worn dirt path during a cold snap last week, puffs of Chance’s warm breath cut the frigid air.
Reins in hand, Webber, 19, rode Chance into a large arena — a gated circle of sand tucked off of north Taft Hill Road.
Part of Taft Hill Acres, a horse-centered facility on the northwestern edge of Fort Collins, this is where Webber boards Chance while she’s studying biomedical sciences at CSU.
As daylight lingers, the afternoon sun dances on Chance’s sleek brown fur, which is cut up by a small white mark, or irregular “star,” on his forehead.
Another white patch creeps up his front right leg — a “quarter sock,” Webber said.
After buying Chance in 2014, Webber immediately joined a Facebook group dedicated to retired thoroughbred race horses in the hopes of tracing his past.
But because she couldn’t read Chance’s lip tattoo — a letter followed by a series of five numbers all racehorses have — she didn’t know what to do next.
Just over a month ago, she renewed her search, posting a picture of Chance’s faint lip tattoo to the Facebook group.
“They said, ‘No, this is a quarter horse tattoo,’” Webber recalled of the ensuing comments. One group member was able to get a possible reading of the tattoo and sent it to Webber.
She called the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) with it and, to her surprise, the woman on the other end of the phone said the ID was associated with a brown horse with a white star and front right quarter sock.
“That’s my horse!” Webber remembers saying. “That’s exactly what he is.”
The AQHA was able to give Webber access to Chance’s racing record, which included 30 races and three wins from 2009 to 2011.
The association also turned up another fact: Chance, the once-emaciated former feedlot horse, is a descendant of Seattle Slew, one of the most well-known race horses in history.
Seattle Slew — Chance’s great-great grandfather — won the Triple Crown in 1977, becoming the tenth of thirteen horses to do so. Until this year, he was the only horse to have won it while also being undefeated in any previous race.
“He’s huge in the horse world,” Webber said. “He’s insanely famous.”
While Chance has some neat ancestors and an unexpectedly good pedigree, Webber noted that it isn’t the best.
“There are other horses in Fort Collins with better pedigrees … some who are possibly even closer descendants of Seattle Slew,” she said.
But Chance’s story of ending up on a feedlot and being sold for $750 makes him special in his own way, she said.
“I looked up some of his brothers and sisters, and some of them sold for $30,000,” she said.
Trying to find out exactly how Chance went from being a race horse to a forgotten feedlot horse, Webber tracked down his former owners listed with the AQHA. She contacted them but hasn’t heard back.
“Sometimes they fall into the wrong hands,” Webber said of retired race horses. “It’s not uncommon for off-track quarter horses or thoroughbreds to be kind of thrown away like that. It happens every day.”
A FOREVER HOME
Since Webber took a chance on Chance, he’s been her “all-around” horse, meaning he can do barrel races, jumping and more — a little bit of everything.
During the school year, you can find Webber riding Chance about three times a week. On school breaks, she rides him every day, she said.
Webber said Chance has found his forever home with her. She plans to keep him for the rest of his life.
Trotting in circles around his boarding facility’s arena last week, Chance’s hooves kicked up sand as the two came to a stop near the arena’s entrance.
As I reached out to touch his forehead, he bristled a tiny bit. He’s playing coy, but it’s all an act, Webber said.
Despite what Chance has been through — and the long road that brought them together — he’s a total sweetheart.