Texas Horse Racing's Version of Roger Clemens, Proven Cure, Going Strong at 12

(April 16, 2006) - If Roger Clemens were a racehorse, he'd be Proven Cure. The 43-year-old pitcher and the 12-year-old gelding have both experienced long and successful careers extending far beyond the average age of retirement. They have earned the right to play 180 holes of golf every week, or to frolic in an open pasture, but the knowledge that they still have what it takes to excel at the highest level of their sport keeps them coming back for more.

For a racehorse, 12 is mid-life crisis territory. While their lifespan typically extends well into the 20s, most Thoroughbreds give up racing by the time they're six. The good ones get to breed frequently and the lesser ones move to a country farm, so either way retirement is a pretty sweet deal. The occasional racer that pushes the decade mark, even one that has lost a step or more, achieves automatic "fan favorite" status simply by virtue of their longevity.

"I've never been around one that runs at that high a level at that age," said Proven Cure's trainer, John Locke. "I suppose there have been some, but none that I've been around. He's running just as good now as he was when I was first around him. The big thing about a lot of horses is that even if they stay sound, a lot of them lose that competitive drive as they get older."

Possible for Saturday's Littlebitlively

Star treatment isn't restricted to human athletes. Just like Clemens these days, Proven Cure gets to be selective about where and when he plays. To keep him happy and sound, Locke and owner Dr. William Reed limit Proven Cure to about eight starts per year. The old guy rewards them with consistently stellar performances, winning an incredible seven of his last 10 races with two seconds and $125,350 in purse money. His next start will likely come at Lone Star Park, where he's won a starter allowance race every spring season the past three years, possibly in Saturday's $40,000 Littlebitlively Stakes.

Last time out Proven Cure lost by a nose to Charming Socialite in a thrilling Houston Sprint Championship at Sam Houston. The blazing final time was a track record, :56 3/5.

"He probably equaled or ran under the track record himself because he just got beat a little bit," Locke said. "He ran a really good race, but he just got outrun. Charming Socialite's a nice horse who's earned more than $300,000."

'The time to stop on a horse is when he's still sound'

Locke has cared for Proven Cure off and on the past three years for Reed, a Kentucky veterinarian best known for campaigning popular 7-year-old gelding Perfect Drift. The owner has long sent quality horses to Locke in Texas when his other trainer, Murray Johnson, can't find spots for them in the Bluegrass State.

Locke credits Reed and Johnson's judiciousness early on for allowing Proven Cure to remain in training all these years.

"They don't run him much-I think he ran eight times last year and he's run three times this year," Locke said. "Dr. Reed doesn't ever pressure you to run a horse. He spaces the races and picks his spots. Murray Johnson did a really good job of taking care of the horse when he was young, so I think that certainly contributed to the longevity of his career."

Reed is fanatical about giving horses time to develop when they're babies, as well as granting them sabbaticals away from the track at every stage of their careers.

"We try to give our horses at least three months per year away from the racetrack," Reed said. "We bring them home, pull their shoes and turn them out to let them run around with other horses. Psychologically and emotionally, I think horses are still herd animals and want to be turned out away from the racetrack. If anything we do gives them longevity, that's probably the most important. The time to stop on a horse is when he's still sound."

Looking ahead to 13

In Texas any horse older than 12 requires special permission to even enter a race. Section 313.111(d) of the Texas Racing Commission's Rules of Horse Racing states that "a horse that is more than 12 years of age may not start in a pari-mutuel race in this state, unless the horse has won a race during the 12-month period preceding the race in which the horse is to start."

"We'll run him at 13 if it looks like he would be competitive," Reed said. "I don't think he's lost anything from his 11-year-old year. We're never going to run him cheap. When he can't win at the allowance or stakes level we'll retire him."

Proven Cure is so old he was already a graded stakes winner with about $400,000 in earnings by the time his current jockey, Quincy Hamilton, was old enough to get a driver's license. The 22-year-old Hamilton has guided Proven Cure in his last 11 starts and called the venerable gelding the best mount he's ever had.

"He's my favorite horse in the whole world and I don't think I can compare him to any other one I've ever ridden," Hamilton said. "He's a great old man and just a pleasure to ride-full of heart and smooth as a rocking horse."

With most 12-year-olds a rocking chair might be more appropriate, but for the indefatigable Proven Cure, winning is the ultimate anti-aging remedy.

by Jim Mulvihill

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