OZONE PARK, N.Y – Weyburn’s 46-1 upset of last year’s Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham marked the biggest longshot to win the Kentucky Derby prep since 2006 when 36-1 Like Now cruised to victory in his graded stakes debut at Aqueduct Racetrack.
A Florida-bred son of Jules, Like Now debuted in August 2005 at Saratoga Race Course for owner-breeder John Dillon. The now 19-year-old bay’s life has come full circle as he lives out his golden years at nearby Old Friends at Cabin Creek in Greenfield Center, New York, a 501(c)3 non-profit that provides thoroughbred racehorses with a dignified retirement.
Initially trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the talented gelding made his stakes debut in February 2006 at the Big A in the six-furlong Fred Capossela, leading gate-to-wire to score by 2 3/4 lengths with Fernando Jara aboard.
“He was just a neat horse who tried all the time,” said McLaughlin. “He was kind of an overachiever and did everything right.”
The 1 1/16-mile Gotham, contested that March over the old inner track, was a tall order for the bay gelding, who was stretching out beyond six furlongs and facing graded stakes company for the first time in his young career. The betting public agreed and Like Now was sent from post 4 with the third-highest odds in the field of 10 sophomores.
With Jara in the irons again, Like Now mirrored his Capossela tactics, opening up three lengths on the field from the start as Keyed Entry and Edgar Prado tracked in second. Like Now’s lead was cut to a length by Keyed Entry, who crept closer as the field turned for home. Drifting late into the stretch, Like Now dug in gamely under left-handed urging by Jara and refused to let Keyed Entry pass, reaching the wire a neck in front to upset the Gotham.
McLaughlin gave credit for the win to longtime assistant, Artie Magnuson, who oversaw his New York string at the time.
“Art was a great assistant for many years,” McLaughlin said. “He handled the horses while I was in Florida and did a great job with him.”
After his Gotham triumph, Like Now ventured out of the Empire State for the first time to contest the Grade 2 Lexington at Keeneland, finishing second to Grade 1-winner Showing Up. With the Kentucky Derby just two weeks away, McLaughlin opted to route the gelding to the Preakness instead, finishing a pacesetting seventh in a race won by eventual 3-year-old Champion Bernardini.
Like Now would win once more for McLaughlin – an optional-claimer in August 2007 at Saratoga – before being transferred to the barn of William Badgett, Jr. and subsequently through two more trainers before making his last two starts in New York for David Jacobson.
Throughout Like Now’s career, Daryl Thomspon, ex-wife of assistant Magnuson, made frequent trips to visit the handsome bay with the distinctive white blaze. She continued to follow his career even when he was no longer in McLaughlin’s barn.
“When Like Now was a 2-year-old, I was living in Westchester and would go to Belmont every other weekend. I immediately fell in love with him and he was the sweetest horse,” Thompson said. “Artie and I had remained friends after we divorced and my husband Ron and him met one summer in Saratoga and became fast friends.”
In 2009, Thompson had asked Magnuson to keep up with Like Now and expressed interest in providing him with a home when his racing days were over. Ron Thompson, along with Magnuson, had decided to surprise her by purchasing Like Now privately from Jacobson.
“I was working at the Javits Center and Ron asked me if he could pick me up and bring me to Belmont to visit Artie. We got there and Ron suggested I should go around and meet some of the new horses in Kiaran’s barn while we waited for Artie,” said Thompson. “As I’m walking on the backside of the barn, I saw a little head sticking out and as I got closer, there was a sign next to him that said, ‘Like Now – Owner: Daryl Thompson.’ I was so happy and I promised to take care of him for the rest of his life.”
Like Now retired with earnings of $407,021 and a record of 6-2-4 from 29 starts, his last race a fourth in a claiming event at Aqueduct in April 2009.
“It was nice when [the Thompsons] took him for retirement,” McLaughlin said. “They loved him and our business and were around a lot. It’s a great memory.”
Thrilled that Like Now was hers, Thompson sent the then-6-year-old to retire to a farm outside of New York City where he lived for the next 10 years. The Thompsons eventually moved to Saratoga Springs, New York and in the beginning of 2020, their love of thoroughbreds led them to begin volunteering at Old Friends at Cabin Creek, which opened in 2009 and is accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA).
NYRA and its horsemen are committed supporters of the TAA, which accredits, inspects, and awards grants to approved aftercare organizations using industry-wide funding.
Every owner competing at NYRA racetracks donates $10 per start to the TAA, helping to fund aftercare organizations that provide homes for retired racehorses. New York’s horsemen also donate 1.5 percent of the purchase price of every horse claimed at a NYRA track to TAA and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association’s TAKE THE LEAD (TTL) program, which provides preliminary vet exams and treatment, as well as costs related to transportation and rehabilitation or retraining.
In June 2020, Thompson was heartbroken to receive a phone call from the owner of the farm Like Now was boarded at, learning the gelding’s home of over a decade would be sold and that she would need to find a new place for him to retire.
Unsure what to do next, she turned to JoAnn Pepper, owner and manager of Old Friends at Cabin Creek, to ask for advice.
“JoAnn said, ‘Bring him here’ and he arrived in July of 2020,” Thompson said. “It worked out so well. I have fallen more and more in love with Like Now. He’s so happy and it was a happy ending for all.”
Pepper, who has managed Old Friends at Cabin Creek with her husband, Mark, since taking in their first retiree in 2009, said Like Now has fit in well to the herd of 15 retired racehorses that includes familiar faces such as millionaires Be Bullish and Naughty New Yorker as well as the lovable loser Zippy Chippy.
Like Now, once the unlikely longshot, has proven to be a favorite at Old Friends where he likes to show off for the volunteers and groups of visitors who tour the farm.
“He’s probably the best dancer I’ve ever met,” said Pepper, with a laugh. “Every meal brings this big excitement to him and he has some very impressive moves. I just love having him here and he seems quite content.”
For more information on Old Friends at Cabin Creek, visit http://www.oldfriendsatcabincreek.com.
By Mary Eddy/NYRA Press Office
He had only been minutes off the van but Like Now liked what he saw. He posed to let the cellphone paparazzi capture his majesty and then he calmly entered his double stall and flopped down in the shavings for a quick roll. (Connie Bush)