He was not a star on the track, and was a plain bay with modest breeding, but he possessed desire and heart, those special traits associated with the thoroughbred.
He won five races on the track for various owners and helped teach a young woman how to exercise racehorses in the morning. That woman’s love for Saffiano led to a successful racehorse retirement business that ultimately matched the gelding with his forever home.
Saffiano, an Ontario bred by Saffir, made the races as a 4-year-old despite suffering a broken pastern as a yearling.
In just his second career race, Saffiano won by a whopping 17 lengths at Fort Erie.
The gelding raced almost exclusively in lower claiming events and in 2016 was one of the first horses ridden by Katie Larsen, who was learning to exercise horses.
“I fell in love with him,” said Larsen who is from Oakville, ON. “I made a deal with his owner at the time to take him after his last race.”
Unfortunately, the gelding was claimed from his final Fort Erie outing of 2016 and headed to West Virginia.
Larsen kept tabs on the horse as he won a few races and then began to finish far back in the field in his last few races of 2016.
“I had reached out to the new trainer and he told me I could come and get him for $1,200,” said Larsen. “I borrowed a truck and trailer and drove to Ohio to get him. He was so frail and sad looking. I brought him to the farm where I was keeping my own horse.”
The gelding blossomed under Larsen and through a mutual friend, attracted the attention of Meagan White, an accomplished rider who specialized in re-training thoroughbreds.
“I didn’t have a horse at the time, “ said White, a unit sales manager for Pepsi Cola in Hamilton who has been riding since she was seven-years-old. “I had heard Katie had a retired thoroughbred that she wasn’t sure she wanted to let go of.”
Saffiano put on a show under saddle for White and he was soon off to his new home.
White began re-training Saffiano with the help of Tanya Williamson at Hollow Hills Equestrian Centre in Wiarton. He settled in quickly to the point White was riding him in drive-through windows at Tim Horton’s.
When White began her job with Pepsi, she relocated Saffiano to Olga and Tessa Laughton’s Laughton Training and Sales in Milton.
“Tessa put on final touches for Saffiano from a dietary standpoint and exercises for building his muscle mass. Her mother, Olga, worked with me on movement and flat work.”
Last fall, less than two years after leaving the racetrack, Saffiano showed at the Royal Winter Fair, placing second and third in two thoroughbred classes.
“He certainly showed up a lot of the warmbloods there,” said White. “He excels at anything. He’s done hunter and jumper, loves kids and he is best friends with my 100-pound Mastiff mix Jimmer.”
For Larsen, Saffiano marked the first horse re-homed through her new Southern Belle Thoroughbreds, which has now found homes for some 180 retired racehorses.
“Katie is a perfect person for finding homes for off-track thoroughbreds,” said White. “She learns about the unique qualities of every horse and can pinpoint what matches then up with certain people.”
White hopes to visit the Royal Winter Fair again in 2019 with Saffiano and is looking forward to riding him in hunter and jumper classes in the summer.
“It’s a dream to have a horse like him. I can’t imagine my life without him in my family,” said White.”