Nora Calhoun, Arthur and Betsy Sinclair. (Photo courtesy of Betsy Sinclair)
An Equine Welfare Feature
Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications
TORONTO, Ont. – As she ran her hands over the dark bay gelding’s mane, Nora Calhoun, for a moment, recalled the day of May 13, 2005.
It had been some time since the wife of former Thoroughbred trainer, the late John Calhoun, had seen the still-sturdy son of Wonneberg, the horse known as Maple Tints during his racing days at Woodbine.
The reunion between the two, last summer, was at times emotional for the woman who had welcomed the Ontario-bred into the world nearly 18 years ago.
“Maple was foaled at 2:15 in the morning,” recalled Nora, who owned the horse her husband bred and trained. “Because he was black at the time, he was born I nicknamed him ‘Midnight.’ He was 15 days overdue, so I lost a lot of sleep waiting for him to make an appearance. He always did things his way from the beginning. John and I tried for over an hour to get him up to nurse. He would have none of that. We finally left him and went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep, worrying that if he wasn’t up, he wasn’t nursing, and that first milk was so important. So, I got up numerous times for the rest of the night, stripping his dam, Worthy Turn, and bottle-feeding him because he was down every time I went into the barn.”
Her persistence was eventually rewarded.
“Finally, when I went in at about 6:30 in the morning, I looked at him and said, ‘Are you ever going to stand?’ and lo and behold he bounced right up. I knew then that he had been enjoying breakfast in bed and double dipping.”
Maple Tints made his racing debut on August 3, 2007, at Woodbine, and finished fifth. It wasn’t until his seventh start that he broke his maiden, the milestone coming 15 days before his third birthday.
Sent on his way at 21-1, he rallied to secure a half-length win at one mile over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
The dramatic, come-from-behind score put Calhoun through her paces.
“One of my favourite memories of Maple Tints was the day he first ran on the turf and won that race,” she offered. “He was behind the field turning for home. I was watching with my sister outside on the second floor at Woodbine. Apparently, so my sister says, every time he passed a horse, I would go down another step all the while cheering very loudly, until he reached the finish line in front. I was so proud of him.”
Maple Tints, who would never contest a stakes race, compiled a record of 4-2-5 from 58 starts, to go along with $200,354 (U.S.) in purse earnings.
The highlight came in the form of consecutive scores in late 2009. It would be 26 starts before his next win, in what would be his final trip to the winner’s circle, on July 11, 2012. His final start came on November 23, 2012, at Woodbine.
Not long after that chapter of his life came to a close, Maple Tints joined the ranks of the LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society, one of the most respected horse retirement and adoption organizations, and the first industry-funded adoption program in Canada.
At that time, LongRun, established in 1999, hadn’t moved into its sprawling 100-acre property in Hillsburgh, Ontario, the place that is now home to over 50 retired racehorses.
Betsy Sinclair, a former schoolteacher living in Wellington, a southeastern Ontario village nestled near the shores of Lake Ontario, was familiar with the organization.
Retirement, which offered the opportunity for the couple to welcome a horse into their lives, led Sinclair to LongRun.
“We got Henchman through LongRun,” said Sinclair, of the Ontario-bred son of Endeavor. “I have had a connection to horses almost my entire life. We lived on a farm and had a workhorse. I had the horse gene, so that horse started my life around ponies and horses. I was a schoolteacher for 35 years and my husband worked for Panasonic and traveled all over the world. It really wasn’t conducive to having a horse and we didn’t have a farm, but after we retired, we had the time and opportunity.”
Unfortunately, Henchman wouldn’t be in Sinclair’s life for long.
“We eventually discovered, through a number of tests, that he had end-stage liver disease. We did everything we could for him, but there came a time when we had to say goodbye. When Henchman passed away, I realized how much I missed having a horse around. I love them. There is just something about a horse that is therapeutic. It’s so nice to have your psychiatrist so handy.”
It was Maple Tints who would fill that void and role for Sinclair.
Along with her husband, she travelled to several Ontario farms connected to LongRun to look at horses, hopeful of finding one they could eventually bring home with them.
“It was going farm to farm to farm. One of the places we visited had three horses. The third one they brought out was Maple, and Arthur, my husband, said, ‘That’s the horse. This is the one that has a presence.’ So that’s how we got him.”
Sinclair and Maple Tints have been together since 2017.
It has been, she said with a smile, the perfect fit for both.
“We’ve been to the Royal Winter Fair, in competitions – last year he won Reserve Champion at an Arabian show. He just has a wonderful presence. Even if he never went to another show in his life, I don’t care. He’s just so laid-back and he’s very smart. He’s easy to get along with.
“A friend of mine, Olivia Stevenson, at the barn where he stays rides him a great deal. She often shows him for me when I can’t make it. She told me that he treats me differently than he treats her. She said that when she gets on him – she’s about 22 – that he gives her a workout. When I get on him, he’s more laid-back. So, that’s the kind of guy he is.”
Sinclair makes multiple drives each week, about 20 minutes in the summer, closer to half hour in the winter, to the facility where Maple Tints is stabled.
Every trip is a welcome one for Sinclair, who has bestowed a royal title to her beloved horse’s barn name.
“In the barn, he’s known as King Arthur. He has his harem of ladies that he goes out with every day. He doesn’t like going with the boys. He has quite a bond with the ladies.”
Calhoun and Sinclair have forged a close bond of their own.
Although they are miles apart – Calhoun lives in Riverview, New Brunswick – the pair connect often, whether it’s a quick phone call or through email.
“I am so thankful for LongRun and what they do for retired racehorses,” said Calhoun. “If not for them, Maple Tints and Betsy Sinclair wouldn’t have found each other. Or would they? I think they were meant to meet. Betsy is the person a breeder or previous owner wants to find to take care of your horse when you no longer can. There is nothing Betsy won’t do to keep Arthur happy and healthy, and I am so grateful that she is his owner now.”
Seeing Calhoun and Maple Tints reunited was a special moment for Sinclair.
“Knowing Nora as I do, she loves to be involved in his life. She misses John and she misses the horses. So, the joy in her eyes when she saw this beautiful horse again was wonderful.”
Maple Tints continues to do well in his post-race life, one that could see him add new skills to his repertoire in the near future.
“We are working on dressage with him,” noted Sinclair. “That’s where we’re going to try and take him in the next few years. So, we’ll see where this adventure takes us. He’s 18 now, but he looks amazing.”
At least most of the time.
A rainy day typically brings out a different look for Maple Tints.
“He’s a smart boy, he’s easy to get along with, and he’s very good looking, except when he rolls in the mud which is one of his favourite things to do. It also seems like whenever I take someone to visit him, he presents as this brown horse with mud all over him. If it’s a rainy day, he’s into the mud. But I wouldn’t trade him for a million bucks. He’s an incredible horse and I love him.”
It was something Calhoun saw, first-hand, during her reunion with the horse she has still a great affinity for.
She knows her husband, who trained until he was 92, and passed peacefully at the age of 94 after a lengthy illness on March 14, 2016, would feel the same way.
“When I visited them last August, I could see the mutual love. That’s exactly what I wanted for my Midnight. I’m sure John would fully agree with me.”