Horses are known to have a profound effect on the people who work with them. It is so easy to fall in love with them, to have them touch your soul in a way unlike any other animal or human has. In the case of Erin O’Keefe and Denman’s Call, this love developed when the gelding was just a foal.
Erin O’Keefe was working as a barn foreman in the Bona Terra A Barn at Taylor Made Farm. Her job was to, alongside one other person, care for 25 mares and foals. She fed them twice a day, held the mares for vet work, taught the foals how to lead, be groomed, and have their feet picked.
Rather than calling the young Denman's Call after his dam’s name “Maggie McGowan ‘13”, he was nicknamed “Mr. Magoo”.
When Erin O'Keefe started her job at Taylor Made, Mr. Magoo was just a few days old. “He was a nicely built foal, but kind of overlooked, because he was by Northern Afleet,” Erin explained. “He was in a barn with foals by some of the top sires in the country.”
Nevertheless, the young colt made an impression on Erin. He was funny and quirky, “a little bit dramatic”, Erin would say. There was one instance as a foal that he gave everyone at Taylor Made a bit of a scare.
“When he got an equilox extension on his hind foot (1 step beyond corrective trimming, they add equilox to be able to help correct conformation as the foal grows), we thought he was hurt,” Erin said. “He was out in the field, and wouldn't put any weight on the leg.”
“My boss came and we basically carried him in from the field. I was terrified he was really hurt, we set him on the rubber path to take a break, and he walked off fine. He just didn't want to step in the mud haha!”
If that incident wasn’t sure to leave a lasting memory of the young colt in Erin’s head, it had to be the way that he would call out to his sire from his paddock. The colt had to be in a drier paddock until his extension came off and that particular paddock happened to be across from Northern Afleet’s paddock.
“Northern Afleet used to call out to the mares during breeding season, the mares ignored him, but Denman's Call would nicker back at him. I loved it, because that was his sire haha!”
The colt left the care of Erin when he turned one years old, but he certainly did not leave her mind. She followed him from the sales, to training, to racing. Mr. Magoo, now Denman’s Call, quickly started to make a name for himself on the racetrack.
“It was so great to see him find his distance and do well. He was third in a Grade 2 in just his second start (to Nyquist and Exaggerator), and was running against some tough competition, probably thinking Derby,” Erin recalled. “He dropped back for a couple allowance races and then came back with the G1.” [Video: Watch Denman's Call win the Gr.1 Triple Bend Stakes]
“I always liked him, and thought he'd do well, but never imagined he would do that well!”
She was there the day he ran in the Gr.2 Churchill Downs Stakes on Kentucky Derby day in 2017. Though she didn’t see him up close, she cheered him on from the infield.
When the gelding’s career neared a close, Erin knew that she wanted him. “I always said I would do whatever I could to make sure all ‘my’ babies had soft landings. There were a few that were a little extra special that I hoped to one day own, maybe.”
She contacted the woman who owned him in California. The woman was originally planning to keep the gelding, but she knew how much it would mean to Erin to have Denman’s Call. “He was always a little extra special to me. I said I’d take home without even knowing how tall he ended up or what he looked like now!”
Now Denman’s Call is officially home with Erin. His racing career was successful; he won a Grade 1 race and earned almost half a million dollars. The pair are preparing for their next big test in life, the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover.
Erin is applying for a trainer’s license and, if accepted, she and Denman will compete. “I’ll let him tell me what he likes best. I’d love to do competitive trail with him, and maybe dressage or hunters, it will just depend how he progresses and what he shows an affinity for. He was pretty quick, so I thought about barrels too.”
Only time can tell where life will take Erin and Denman’s Call, but it is easy to imagine that it will be a great future for the both of them. Erin’s love for the quirky foal has brought them back together five-years later, something we can all admire and appreciate.
Today he has been relaxing, enjoying the simple life of rolling in the mud with his new friends, getting treats, and being groomed. When the weather gets a little better, Erin will begin working with him. Until then, he relaxes.
Their story is a testament to the love that those who work with Thoroughbreds possess. If this story has touched you, you can follow their RRP journey through their Facebook page “Denman’s Call - Road to 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover”.
About the Author: Through her blog Champions of the Track, Kaeli Bartholomew works to grow the popularity of horse racing through stories, photos, and videos. She aims for her content to reach new fans and kindle the love of horse racing in current fans.
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