Written by: Jennifer Morrison

The life-saving tale of how Buttermilk earned his name.

Thumbnail for OTTB: Afleet’s Star

Jennifer Morrison

It is not unusual that a retired racehorse with a new job goes by another name, something shorter and more affectionate than the racing name. Afleet’s Star, however, was known by his racing name after he retired from a short career at the track and it was only years later than he was re-named Buttermilk, for the ingredient that saved his life.

A foal of 2004, Afleet’s Star was bred in Ontario by Cam Allard and Montpelier Thoroughbreds Inc. His sire, A Fleet’s Dancer, was Allard’s graded stakes winner trained by Roger Attfield and his dam, Unbridled Dancer, had a strong pedigree being by Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. The lineage power was there, but after one start for Allard, it was evident that Afleet’s Star simply did not possess enough speed for racing.

Allard offered to give the horse to his trainer Reade Baker, who had managed the career of Afleet, the Horse of the Year in 1987 and the grandsire of Afleet’s Star. Baker too tried to race the gentle bay.

“He was just slow,” said Baker. “He didn’t beat many horses, so I turned him into a stable pony as a 3-year-old.”

Afleet’s Star became part of the Reade Baker team at the Woodbine barn, accompanying sets of racehorses out to the track and doing his part to keep the runners calm and safe.

About two years ago, Baker and Trotman found Afleet’s Star very ill in his round pen at Woodbine, dehydrated from a serious bout of diarrhea. The prognosis for the gelding was not good.

“He didn’t respond to drugs that he was given,” said Baker. “The vet treating him recommended we put him down.”

Baker wanted to try one more possible treatment for Afleet’s Star, a serving of traditional buttermilk (i.e. the liquid left over from churning butter from cultured or fermented cream).

“I learned about it from Dr. Robert Copelan,” said Baker. “It can replace the gut flora in the stomach.”

Dr. Copelan, one of thoroughbred racing’s legendary veterinarians, had been in the news for his buttermilk treatment years earlier when he brought back John Fort’s colt Invisible Ink from near death to be able to finish second in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. The traditional buttermilk is left out to ‘go bad’ and then the bacteria is given to the horse.

Baker gave Afleet’s Star a quart of buttermilk for three days and the gelding responded. Now 12 years old, Afleet’s Star continues as the Baker stable pony in shifts with a much more heralded ex-racehorse, Horse of the Year, Fatal Bullet.

But Afleet’s Star will always be the one member of the Baker team who fought his way back from near death to remain an integral part of one of Woodbine’s top barns.

“The buttermilk was all that he needed,” said Baker. “Ever since then we have called him Buttermilk.”