Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shake the Bank

by Kristin Bednarski

In the fall of 2005, Shake the Bank, his name stitched across the front of Breeders’ Cup hats, was best known as the rabbit for 2004 John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner Better Talk Now. Today the 9-year-old gelding is beginning his second career as a jumper in Maryland with his new owner, Lauren Hamilton.

Hamilton didn’t expect to fall in love with Shake the Bank, let alone own him. However, when the horse stepped off the trailer at the Spurlock Equine Associates clinic in Lovettsville, Va., where Hamilton was working, he won her over.

“He has a personality that you just want to be around him,” Hamilton said. “I spent the majority of the day with him, and I just bonded with him.”

But when his checkup was over, Shake the Bank returned to training for Bushwood Stables. Hamilton added him to her virtual stable online and quickly contacted Shake the Bank’s trainer, Graham Motion, and owner, Brent Johnson, to express her interest in the horse. Hamilton followed the horse as he raced, went to watch when he ran locally, and visited him three times.

Hamilton’s interest paid off. A year after she wrote Motion and Johnson about Shake the Bank, the team decided it was time for Shake the Bank to retire from racing and find a new home. In all, the son of Sandpit—Silver Spool, by Strike Gold, had started 39 times, placed in a pair of stakes on the turf, and earned $214,266.

“When we decided we were going to retire him, I talked with Graham about what Shake the Bank would enjoy doing personality wise,” Johnson said. “We decided it would be a really good place for him to go (with Hamilton), and we made the decision to send him over.”

Hamilton said she almost cried when she heard the news. She introduced Shake the Bank to his new home at a farm near Frederick, Md., and began retraining the ex-racehorse to be a jumper. Hamilton started by working on basic rhythm and built up to small jumps. She said the key technique for Shake the Bank is to keep him busy. Whether she is riding him or whether he is hanging out in his paddock, the horse constantly finds a way to show his personality.

“He wants to be around people all the time,” Hamilton said. “He will put on a show no matter what; if you aren’t paying attention to him, you will soon. He’s a beautiful, striking horse and has a unique personality.”

From untying himself in the barn area to finding a way to get his blanket off in the field, Shake the Bank is a trickster just as he was on the track, where he showed his speed but fooled people while doing it.

“It worked great in that first year,” Johnson said about Shake the Bank being a rabbit for Better Talk Now. “Because he was opening the bigger leads, it made the riders make earlier moves and that opened it up for Better Talk Now in the stretch.”

Eventually, though, people caught on. And as Better Talk Now matured, he didn’t need Shake the Bank anymore. After racing on his own for a while, Johnson decided against dropping the horse down to lower level races. As he has done with the majority of his horses, he wanted to find Shake the Bank a second home that fit him well, and Hamilton made that easy.

“He is an exceptional horse, and for them to give him to me was beyond generous,” Hamilton said. “They cared about him so much that money was not an object in finding a home for him, a situation where he would have a chance to do something else.”

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