Standardbreds are consistently showing their versatility, whether it’s for riding or driving, for show or pleasure. Hoof Beats is happy to share stories from readers about their favorite retired Standardbreds. This month, Kimberly French writes about the Christman family and their retired racing trotter, Hoopie.
Cheyenne Christman and Hoopie take center stage after his racing career ends
He has competed against world champion Arch Madness and 2011 Horse of the Year San Pail, banked $486,191 and established his lifetime mark of 1:54.4 as a 4-year-old, but 14-year-old Hoopie was not prepared to relinquish the limelight for a life of leisure after his retirement two years ago.
The gelded son of San Pellegrino still places his hooves upon The Meadows surface as a parade marshal for the Adios each year, but has blossomed in his second career as a riding horse and barrel racer for 15-year-old Cheyenne Christman. In fact, the duo just returned from an appearance at the 2018 Pennsylvania State 4-H Horse Show on Oct. 26-28 after capturing state titles in cutback horse senior rider and raised box keyhole horse senior rider.
“We placed 12th out of 28 in both classes,” said Joelene Christman, Cheyenne’s mother and the horse’s trainer. “They did a good job, but it was not as well as we had hoped. A few things happened before the state show that I think hurt their performance. There is a month break from the district shows to the state show, and since it is the end of the season, practice time is limited. We were all set to go in one more show before the state show, but our truck needed the sensor replaced so we had to cancel.
“It fills my heart with joy every day I get to see him in the barn and I am overwhelmed with happiness that he is excelling in the contest classes. I have raced for 24 years, but my first love is riding and barrel racing. I am truly blessed to be able to train and ride these magnificent animals. Seeing my daughter and Hoopie compete against other kids with talented horses and win just makes my whole world.”
The Christman family, which includes husband and father Mark as well as grandmother Linda Armentrout, encountered Hoopie in 2007 when he was a 3-year-old. It did not take long for the love affair between the family and the gelding to be established and swiftly cemented.
“We first trained for Randy Ringer,” Joelene said. “After the first training mile, my husband was dead set on owning half of him. He knows a good horse when he sits behind one. It was against my wishes because we had a barn full, but we bought half of him for $5,000.
“Hoopie’s success was the result of my husband’s ability to handle the horse on the track, and my ability to calm him under saddle. We purchased the second half of him for $25,000 the summer of his 4-year-old year and it was the best money we ever spent. Hoopie was the first horse Randy ever bred and raised. He was happy to see the horse have a good home.”
As a 2-year-old, Hoopie first qualified at The Meadowlands, where he broke and finished sixth in his two engagements. He then moved on to Rockingham Park, where he jumped it off and finished fifth, came home sixth and finished fourth in three qualifiers there. His only pari-mutuel start that season was at Mohawk Racetrack in a $27,000 elimination of the William Wellwood Memorial where the gelding was 10th behind Laddie, that year’s 2-year-old colt and gelding O’Brien Award winner.
Under the tutelage of Joelene, Mark and Benoit Baillargeon, Hoopie demonstrated he definitely was going to amount to something. In his sophomore campaign, he earned $108,620, which included a second in a $120,900 Ontario Sire Stakes Gold final.
“My husband got driver Dan Charlino to drive him, and race him at the end of the race even though he could leave off the gate to easily make the front,” Joelene said. “Dan drove him to many victories doing just that. After making breaks for previous trainers, Hoopie went more than 180 starts without breaking stride.
“Although Dan was his regular driver, he set the track record at The Meadows for older trotting geldings with Dave Palone aboard. Sadly, his record did not even last a day, as Vivid Photo broke it with a two-hole trip. Roger Huston was nice enough to have it printed in the program and made sure we received a copy to remember it.”
During his next two seasons, the gelding amassed $134,245 and $100,490, primarily in overnight competition at The Meadows, which is the Christmans’ home track, as they reside in Avella, Pa.
Hoopie remained a competitive racehorse until age 9, when he contracted an illness that has claimed the lives of many other horses.
“We thought we were going to have to put him down,” Joelene said. “He got real sick on us. He tied up, colicked and then got laminitis. My husband and I worked day and night to save his life, but he is the toughest horse I’ve ever seen. Not only did he get better, he made it back to the races and made another $16,000 for us before we retired him for good. Now he is my daughter’s horse.
“In 2016, my Christmas present and my daughter’s was to officially retire him. It was the happiest day of my life except the day my daughter was born. Racing was always hard on him because he wanted so much to always win and has such heart. He is the best horse we ever had and is our ‘family’ horse. My husband rides him and so does Grandma—my mom, Linda Armentrout; she is where we get our love for horses from.”
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Hoopie, Cheyenne, her parents, and her grandmother, but Joelene does have one more wish to satisfy in regards to the gelding. She, however, holds the reins in her own hands.
“I want to write a book about him someday,” she said. “He has survived things that have killed other horses, and brings such joy to our lives every single day. He has been a blessing and I hope we can give him the home he deserves until his last day.” HB
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