Written by: Jennifer Morrison

Tracking down the history of a retired thoroughbred racehorse.

Thumbnail for OTTB: Brandenburg

Photo by Cathy McEwin

Tracking down the history of a retired thoroughbred racehorse can sometimes yield intriguing results.

For almost 14 years, the big dark bay gelding living with Dr. Pamela Angle and her family in King, ON was believed to be Brandenburg, a Windfields Farm-bred son of Northern Dancer’s great son The Minstrel.

Indeed, when Dr. Angle and her family purchased the horse from Cynthia Frise those years ago, that was the gelding’s name.

Cathy McEwin, who is currently looking after Brandenburg at her CAM Equestrian Centre in Mt. Albert, had looked up the horse’s name in a racing database and believed the gelding, thought to be 29 this year, was in fact a Windfields graduate.

While digging into the classy old-timer’s history, however, it was found that Brandenburg was the show name given to him by Frise and the horse’s racing name was Noble Bill.

Oh, and he turned 32 this year.

“Wow,” McEwin said, laughing. “That makes an even better story. So, he’s incredibly old!”

Foaled in Washington state, Noble Bill is a son of obscure sire Noble Descent from the mare Toonka by Prince Murk. The gelding raced 13 times and was a winner once for Lana and A.T. Irwin.

Somehow, Noble Bill ended up near Claremont ON where Frise purchased him around 2001 for her Rossland Riding School, located then in Pickering. An avid trainer of off-track thoroughbreds, Frise said Noble Bill, nicknamed Max, had already had a bit of training as a riding horse and developed into “super cool” show horse.

He was a great hunter-jumper up to 2’9” and was an excellent schooling horse for teenaged riders.

In 2005, he was bought by Dr. Angle in a package deal from Frise to become a riding horse for her children.

“He’s an intelligent old man, full of personality and a bit ornery at times,” said Dr. Angle, associate scientist, Evaluative Clinical Sciences, Women & Babies Research Program at Sunnybrook Hospital.

“He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body and we love him for it. He’s been retired for a few years now with his two mares, like Black Beauty and his friends, grazing in the back field of our property, overlooking a lake in King township.

At one point, about five years ago, the old fellow was learning dressage with my youngest son. Neither the trainer nor I could believe it.”

McEwin, who took “Brandenburg” in as a favour to Dr. Angle in 2016 when the horse had a foot injury, is currently nursing the veteran through a minor eye injury.

“His health is looked after by veterinarians Matthew and Anna Alloserry from Stouffville,” said McEwin.

“The first time he came here he had an injury to a hind foot requiring soaking, poulticing as well as Regional Limb Perfusion performed by (Matt),” said McEwin.

“He was a very opinionated horse to treat during all of this sometimes making him a difficult patient. He made a full recovery and was sent home to Pam and her family in the spring of 2016. He continued to do well under Pam and her family’s care. I let her know that he was welcome back any time.”

This winter, Brandenburg returned with the eye injury, but he is set to return to Dr. Angle and her family in the summer.

McEwin enjoys talking about the classy horse and his personality.

“He is a wonderful, quirky old horse who is very clear what he wants from his humans. He likes his three separate feeds in three separate feed tubs.

“He has very little teeth left so receives his roughage in pellet form, and he gets his carrots diced daily in his food. He is turned out with two yearling colts and an old pony daily and stands at the gate when he wants in for lunch. And he is very clear on this. Once the gate opens he walks himself into his stall and has lunch.”

No matter where he came from, the horse known as Noble Bill, Max or Brandenburg has touched many people’s lives, young and older.

“He just loves life that guy,” said McEwin.

And Dr. Angle and her family can’t wait for Brandenburg to return to their farm.

“He will be buried here when his time comes, but for now,” she said, “he can just rest and have fun with his friends.”