Catch Twenty One was a popular horse long before he made his career debut in the summer of of his 2-year-old season. The giant British Columbia-bred son of Sungold was one of the first purchases of the newly formed Hastings Racing Club in 2015, selling for $29,000 at the CTHS Mixed sale.

Right away, he had dozens of owners giving him attention as he prepared for racing. As a son of the multiple stakes winning mare Remarkable Miss, Catch Twenty One had the pedigree to excel on the track, but after some near misses in his first few starts, a tendon injury curtailed his career.

The owners in the Hastings Club strongly supported the decision by the BC HBPA and BCTOBA, who had originally leased the horse to the Club, to donate the horse to the successful adoption group New Stride Thoroughbred Retirement Society.

“He needed eight months rest,” said Carmen Kramer, a New Stride director. “The initial rehab was hand walking and then I ponied him around trails, which he loved.”

When it was time for the horse to begin training again with a rider, Kramer sought out a former New Stride volunteer, Maciej Rotecki.

Rotecki, a farrier at Hastings Park, and his wife Kim, have been retiring and re-homing thoroughbreds on their own for many years. When Maciej met the big and playful Catch Twenty One, they clicked.

“Catch is a handful, a bit cheeky, kind of like my husband,” said Kim, laughing. “They are a perfect fit.”

Maciej, 61, has been riding since he was seven in his native Poland (his strong accent means Kim does phone interviews for him). He did eventing and steeplechasing through his 20s.

“For him it was the scarier the better as far as horses and riding. He’s broken a lot of stuff,” Kim said.

Maciej, who came to Canada about 30 years ago, has been working at Hastings Park for 19 years and often takes in retired racehorses to retrain at their 35-acre farm in Ladner.

When he met Catch Twenty One, still a ‘kid’ at just 5 years old, he noticed the gelding was happy just goofing around with his new human friends at New Stride.

“As friendly as he is, he had a bit of a tendency to ‘play’ with his humans,” said Kramer. “Maciej and Catch had a few ‘conversations’ about this and it didn’t take Catch long to connect with Maciej.”

Kim, who said the couple has had upwards of 12 retired thoroughbreds on their farm at one time, said Catch Twenty One has come to hand quickly with her husband.

“I still don’t know how they got him to race as a 2-year-old, he is just so huge,” she said of the gelding just shy of 17 hands. “But we began free jumping him at first (without a rider), doing flat work and then going over poles.”

The plan is to point Catch Twenty One to eventing shows in 2019.

“It’s neat to watch how thoroughbreds change from the hectic life of the track and blossom off track and become a special friend to someone,” said Kim.

“We love taking thoroughbreds in and re-training them. We don’t get rich doing it but we love it.”

Catchy Twenty One might not have had a chance to be a winner on the track but many of his former owners have donated to New Stride to support the work the group does with horses that can no longer race.

“There’s nothing like a thoroughbred,” said Kim. “They have so much heart and desire and talent and once you click with them, you are friends for life.”