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Retired Racehorse Makeover

HopScotchIt’s a moniker, a handle, an appellation, a diminutive or, just plain and simple, a name. Yet, the process by which a racehorse acquires his or hers is sometimes complex, convoluted and misunderstood.

Often, the horse’s dam or sire is taken into consideration, and just as often a process never before applied results in the given name as it did in the case of a mare now under the hand of Dr. Jennifer Selvig.

The mare in question here is Hopscotch Ali, a former racehorse now training to participate in the Thoroughbred Makeover competition scheduled the first weekend of October at Pimlico Race Course.

Bred and raised by Canterbury Park Hall of Fame breeders Art and Gretchen Eaton, Hopscotch began her arrival into the world in the middle of the afternoon, of all things, with the Eatons and their veterinarian at the time, Dr. Dave Hermann, looking on from afar.

The delivery was taking place unexpectedly in the pasture that May day in 2005 and the Eatons were there as quickly as possible in the “Gator” and transported the newborn back to the safety and warmth of the barn with mama close behind. “We began calling her Ali, short for alligator,” Gretchen recalled. “That was her barn name.”

Sometime later a high school student who worked in the Eatons’ barn made an observation. “She’s so good on her feet that she’d be good at hopscotch if she were a person,” the girl said.

A name was born. “Hopscotch Ali,” said Gretchen.

Trained by Mac Robertson, Ali didn’t break her maiden in three starts, finishing third once for show money. “Mac simply told us that she might be put to better use off the track,” Gretchen recalled.

Now, turn the clock ahead to 2013. Hopscotch, whose racing career ended briefly after it started due to a stress fracture to the left front cannon bone, had been living life in the pasture at the Eatons’ farm the last four years.

Selvig, now the Eatons’ vet, had tended to Hopscotch and knew her well, at least on a doctor/client basis. Then she decided to give the horse and rider relationship a try.

“She hadn’t been ridden in four years. I got on her and she didn’t buck,” said Selvig. Definitely, a good start.

It didn’t take long for Ali’s other traits to show. “She’s really smart and – one of the reasons I picked her – is that she has really great movement, a correct, beautiful gait,” Selvig added. “She seems to have a very good mind and learns fast. The first time I got on her I thought she’d be perfect for the Thoroughbred Makeover Challenge.”

The Retired Racehorse Makeover competition includes demonstrations in three disciplines: jumping, cross country and dressage. Ali might be just the ticket.

“She’s very agile and quick. She floats when she covers the ground,” Gretchen said.

Jennifer has had Ali a little more than a month and says the horse’s mind might be her greatest asset. “She’s taking well to dressage,” Selvig said. “It might take her a little more time to figure out the jumping part, but she’s certainly got an aptitude for dressage.”

So, the good doctor has a thoroughbred who is smart, agile and quick, all good traits for working with any horse, but she not only looks good while running. This horse looks good merely standing still.

“People who stopped by the farm would also notice her,” Gretchen said. “There are lots of horses here but she is special.”

Special looking that is.

“She’s dark bay or brown but almost looks black,” Gretchen explained. “She has that full forelock and is kind of snorty, like a mustang. There are horses, just like people, who are strikingly pretty and that’s her. She’s just a very striking horse.”

She is not only strikingly pretty but athletic looking too, and she has the controlled, fluid movement of a runway model, an eye catcher anyway you care to look at her.

The Eatons turned down $15,000 for Ali when she was a yearling. They had other plans for her.”She was supposed to be our winner,” Gretchen said. “She was always one of our favorites and she had lots of talent.”

Ali still does – in a different arena is all.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.