Friday, March 6, 2009

The Story of Nopie

That number 6 up there is Nopie, one of the sweetest race horses you'd ever want to meet. He is just a $4,000 claimer, a bottom-of-the-barrel type, but he has great heart, would always try, loves carrots and scratches under his neck and right below his withers. He has more personality than most people. As proof, look again at the photo. Our friend Sabrina couldn't find the camera, but Nopie did that day, and grinned right at it.

He wasn't our horse, but we always stopped by his stall in the barn to say hello. He won two races back-to-back at Golden Gate Fields. Then one day he raced and didn't even hit the board. The vet checked him and found bone chips.

The next thing we heard, ole Nope-on-a-Rope (as I called him) was being transferred to a trainer in Arizona and he'd be running at Turf Paradise.

Well, we thought, Turf Paradise is a notch lower, but not so bad. Lots of horses go from here to there and do okay.

Problem was, Nopie didn't hit the board there, either.

We'd assumed he'd been retired until my partner got an email notice (we keep horses we care about on a watch list) that Nopie was running at Fonner Park, Nebraska, in a $2500 claiming race. Fonner What? We'd never heard of that racetrack. Obviously it was a bush league track. Was somebody actually going to continue to race Nopie when he was clearly not the same horse he'd once been?

Good lord. Our beloved Dopie Nopie, if he thought it would get him a kiss on the nose, would run himself into the ground trying to please his people.

So, we panicked. He'd break out of the gate and run his heart out and break his hurt ankle. They'd have to haul out the screen and shield him from the crowd as they put him down. No need to discuss; my partner and I agreed: "Let's get him out of there." We checked our bankbooks and she went to the phone.

And now she takes over the story:*
*Tom is a friend in Chicago

"I originally called the owner/trainer of Nopie the day of his last race (Friday, February 20th) and told him that morning that I wanted to buy Nopie and retire him. This trainer, Gilbert W Ecoffey (he goes by "GW") asked me how much I was willing to pay for the horse. I told him I'd be happy to pay what he had paid for the horse (Nopie had just run at Turf Paradise for $3,500, wasn't claimed out of the race and he finished out of the money). GW told me he paid $3,500 for Nopie and maybe, just maybe he'd sell him to me AFTER the race for $3,500, if he wasn't claimed out of the race for $2,500. Now remember, I know Nopie's original trainer, Steve Sherman, and Bob Bone owned Nopie - Steve said that with the finish Nopie had at TP, Bob would have unloaded the horse for $1K-$1.5K just to get rid of a horse on his way down (Mr. Bone is in racing for the $$$, he cuts his losses quickly). Add on the fact that Nopie left California with bone chips in his ankle and he probably wasn't going to do well running without a long layoff or surgery. I mentioned the bone chips to GW and he said he knew all about them, knew about it when he got the horse in Arizona but Nopie was training well and he thought he was going to win that day. I could see there was no way to appeal to his love for the animal, he was in this for the money, the horse be damned. I scrambled to try to find someone with a Nebraska license to claim Nopie for me but couldn't pull it off before the race. I waited to see who, if anyone would claim him, and then I'd seriously negotiate after that.

"Before the race is when Tom came into the picture. Tom offered to help any way he could and we were on the phone together waiting for the results to be posted (there was NO live video available anywhere to watch the race) when the quick results came up - Nopie wasn't in the top three, "that should help get the price down on him" Tom and I agreed. Then, when the results chart was posted, panic set in. Nopie stumbled out of the gate, was pulled up lame and vanned off... SH*T! I thought I was going to cry, Tom was on it in a flash - "Don't worry, I'll call the track and find out what happened". All I could think was, "I was too late, I should have offered him $4,000 and said *Don't Race Nopie*"... I felt like I had failed this horse with the amazing personality. Tom was back with me quickly and gave me the update, "He's still alive, looks like a torn suspensory, what do you want to do?" I told Tom I wanted him, as long as the injury wasn't so bad it would have been too much for the horse. Tom began the intricate maze of trying to get a horse from a track hundreds of miles and several states away from where he was. He spoke with the Racing Secretary, a Steward, the State Vet at the track and anyone else that could help him. He eventually spoke with the Assistant Racing Secretary, Wayne Anderson, who was friendly with GW. Wayne offered to help broker the deal and really smoothed the way to getting the deal done. I let Tom do the negotiating for me since it was his strength and he had developed relationships with folks at the track. We got Nopie for $1,000 from GW, a substantial savings over the original amount he had requested. I over-nighted a check for most of the amount to Wayne on Saturday and it arrived Monday, three days after Nopie's race.

"The State Vet looked at Nopie and determined that Nopie had a complete tear of the suspensory ligament, it pulled completely free of the bone, even taking a chip of the bone off with it. The vet directed GW to put a gel cast on the leg and to give Nopie pain killers as needed. Nopie was left in GW's barn as Tom and I attempted to find transportation for the horse back to California. Wayne said he'd look in on the horse and make sure he was doing ok. We weren't able to get Nopie aboard the first couple of transports that came through town but we figured that was ok, he was resting and could use the recovery time before making the long journey home. We looked all over for rides and almost settled on shipping him first back to Arizona and then home because that looked to be the only way to get him out of Fonner Park, but even that was difficult to set up. We didn't feel comfortable leaving Nopie in GW's barn for an extended period of time, so on Wednesday Tom got another trainer at the track to move Nopie to his barn. This trainer, Cody Ungles, came highly recommended and he and Tom hit it off right from the start. Cody went to GW's barn to pick up Nopie and was dismayed at what he found. There were no wraps on Nopie's injured leg, he appeared to be in pain and he was very underweight - he looked and felt horrible. GW did not even give Nopie the slightest care. I was devastated and Tom was pissed beyond belief. At that moment we both knew we had to do something to insure that GW would never do this to another horse again, but first we had to get Nopie out of Nebraska. We had another vet come and look at Nopie, he gave him Bute for his pain and Cody wrapped up both of Nopie's front legs to make sure he had enough support. Cody fed Nopie and in a short time with care, medication, food and a little attention, Nopie started coming back around. After a day, Cody reported to Tom that Nopie was doing good and even commented that he was "a playful son of a gun". Nopie nickered at people when they walked by his stall, especially if they had food and was getting better. Tom found a ride for Nopie direct from Nebraska to California and that's where we're at today. Nopie will be back home later this week and I'll see him on Sunday, photos will follow shortly.

"I wanted you all to know the real story of what went on to save Nopie, it was not an easy process. Tom and I made lots of phone calls and sent lots of e-mails and it was an emotional roller coaster as bad news followed good news - just when things seemed to be falling into place, something bad would happen. The care that Nopie received while in GW's barn was atrocious and is something that I can not condone. GW was named the Trainer of the Year in South Dakota last year and I find that hard to believe. I will be writing to the Racing Commission for the states of Nebraska and South Dakota to complain about the treatment that Nopie received. There was no excuse for not wrapping his injury or giving him pain medication - I sent a cashiers check for 75% of the purchase price (remainder to be paid upon receiving the horse), I gave the vet my billing address to cover his bills, agreed to pay GW an additional $200 for taking care of Nopie until we could get him out of Fonner Park - I did everything to show that I would take responsibility for this horse and he couldn't even provide basic care for Nopie. It's unacceptable and I don't think this man should make his living at the expense of the well being of horses. If you have found this story to be half as disturbing as I have, please help Tom and I do something about it. Call or write to Fonner Park, the State Racing Commission, animal rights groups, anyone who can do something that makes this guy realize that what he did isn't right and won't be tolerated. If you appreciate folks like me and Tom that want to care for horses when their racing career is over, donate to groups like GEVA, Old Friends, ReRun and others like them. This has been an amazing learning experience for me, and as challenging as it has been, I’d do it again (although there were times the past week I wondered why I did it), Nopie is worth it, I truly believe that this horse is worth it."

That's my girl! Of course Nopie is worth it. And if you've been at all moved by this story, here's a link so you can even donate to GEVA in Nopie's name:

Thank you for reading.


Capn Dyke said...

Not much can make Th' Cap'n cry, but ye two fine ladies just did so. Nopie be th'luckiest horse in th'world (aye, Ornery One, Th' Cap'n meant th'pun).

Huzzahs an' Fantastic Piractical Cheers for both o'ye! Th' Cap'n will do as ye have directed an' put Her Efforts towards makin' sure th'Scoundrel who let Nopie get hurt be taken care of as he Soundly Deserves.

Th' Cap'n be Honoured t'be knowin' both Ye an' yer partner, Tigger.

Bien Dit an' Well Held.

Jan (from VA) said...

I'm so proud of you, Joyce! Thanks for sharing - I hope that horrid person loses all rights to even look at a horse!

Smadraji said...

nice posting

Margo Moon said...

Way to go, Joyce and team! There were so many points during this where it would have been so easy for many people to just give up and say they'd done all they could. Soooo glad you two don't know the meaning of giving up.

And I know on some level Nopie realizes what you've done for him.

I promise to write those letters and help you draw attention to GW. Unfortunately, there are lots of GWs on the track.

Kiss that boy on the nose for me and Doll, okay?

Again, way to go, girls! I'm proud to know you.

Joyce said...

We have already visited Nopie at GEVA once and he is in their "penthouse stall." LOL! He's eating like a big pig, standing well on all legs, and is playful as all get-out. The volunteers even bought him some kind of ball-toy-thingy for him to play with because Mr. Nopie Diva keeps demanding their attention, and they can't get any work done with him begging for cookies and scratches. We're visiting him again this weekend, so perhaps I can get some photos of him to post.

Anonymous said...
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Joyce said...

Note: all spam and abusive comments will be deleted.

Anonymous said...
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Capn Dyke said...

Th'usage o' th'title 'Anonymous' be Reserved for those who have not th'Courage t'stand up behind their words, Me Tigger. Think on these words where cowardly anonymi are concerned - 'Methinks th'lady (or man) protests too much.'

What ye did for Nopie was Noble an' Grand. What this man did t'Noble was cruel. Anyone with Truth in them can see this for th'Fact it be, m'Dear.

Echo Farm Racing said...

Kudos to all involved in Nopie's retirement at GEVA. I'm sure he'll continue to progress and thrive with the excellent care. Too many horses don't get the opportunity that Nopie did.

Anonymous said...

I know GW very well. I consider him a good friend. This is a guy that will count out the same number of peppermints every night so that his horses can have a treat. All I have to say is good for you for helping the horse out, but please keep in mind that this case does not happen every time in every barn. I train, and I know too well that injuries happen and unfortunately sometimes they don't survive them. Just please keep this in mind the next time you all go to the races.

Joyce said...

Well, I appreciate what you're saying, but please bear in mind I'm only talking about GW's treatment of this one particular horse after it was clear the horse's racing career was over. No doubt GW treats his racing horses well since he profits from them. However, he was running Nopie when he had bone chips and admitted as much to us and another trainer at Fonner Park told us he saw Nopie's condition himself after GW was supposed to be caring for him until we could get him shipped out of there. He was in pain, was skinny, and the injured leg wasn't even wrapped...kind of harsh for a horse with a torn suspensory. Now I know horse racing is a tough business and GW has to make a living, but I simply found his treatment of Nopie to be inexcuseable.

Anonymous said...

Well You must keep in mind when you leave your horse with a 20 year old kid that he may not get pampered the way you might like. Yes, GW should have wrapped his leg, but the kid is young and probably had 30 head horse. It is a mistake on his part, don't get me wrong, but give him a break. This article makes GW sound like a cruel person, but that in fact is not true. Yes, he did win trainer of the year for a reason, and at such a young age it does prove something. He does care for the animals and is a very good business man, and he is also human and can make mistakes.

Joyce said...

You're entitled to your opinion. I will simply disagree. I also heard GW was recently barred from training in another state because he abandoned his horses for three whole days while he was on a bender. Perhaps it's merely a nasty rumor, but since it was another trainer who told me about it, I expect the story has some credence.
I can cut anybody a break, esp. 20 year-old kids, but animal cruelty is animal cruelty, and it's guys like this that turn many people off to horse racing as a business...something this dying industry doesn't need.

Joyce said...

Double-checked. The state is Minnesota.

Sharla Sanders, Founder, The Second Race said...

I met Nopie in June, the last time that I had visited GEVA. What a love bug, this is the third time that I have stumbled upon a story or mention of Nopie. I would love to reprint your blog post on my own if you don't mine.

I have started a group, The Second Race, where I transition race horses straight from the race track, lay up farms or from owners/trainers when their racing days are over. Your story of Nopie and the frustration and anguish is not unknown to me. Thank you for caring for this gelding that needed an angel!!
Please let me know it's okay to highlight your story. You may reach me at

If you are on Facebook, check me out as well. You may even see another race horse you know :)

Sharla Sanders