Out of the Blue

April 1, 2024

Blu and the Waller family. (Photo courtesy of the Waller Family)

A Thoroughbred Retirement Story

Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @WoodbineComms

The smiles came quickly when Meghan Waller turned to her two young children and said, “Let’s go see Blu.”

It had been a recurring thought throughout the day, the one where Waller, along with her son and daughter, would make the two-minute trek to Wake Robin Farm in Mount Albert, Ontario, to see A Thread of Blue, the ex-racehorse she had recently adopted through LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society. 

“We had finished dinner – it was around 7:30 – and I think we all had the same thought of wanting to go see Blu.”

They received a warm welcome when they arrived.

Blu and Nolan. (Photo courtesy of the Waller Family)
Blu and Nolan. (Photo courtesy of the Waller Family)

“My son, Nolan, went into his stall, wrapped his arms around his neck, and Blu just stood there. It was so lovely to see him embrace the kids and be so gentle.”

It has become a familiar scene, one that Waller never saw coming.

“I knew about LongRun through some barn mates and following them on Instagram – I love reading all the stories – but I hadn’t really considered adopting a horse through them,” she said of LongRun, one of the industry’s most respected horse retirement and adoption organizations. “I’m not sure as to why. We found the perfect horse in Blu.”

Purchased by D.J. Stable for $430,000 as a 2-year-old in training in 2018, A Thread of Blue debuted at Saratoga that August, finishing sixth.

He broke his maiden in an off-the-turf sprint on Oct. 7 at Belmont Park and was third in the one-mile Awad Stakes on the grass one month later at Aqueduct.

A change in scenery, specifically, the Sunshine State, that December, would be a winning move.

The dark bay won a Dec. 22 allowance race and the Feb. 3 $100,000 Dania Beach Stakes before posting his initial graded stakes win for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin in the Palm Beach (G3T).

Bred in Kentucky by Flaxman Holdings Limited, the son of Hard Spun came to Woodbine-based trainer Don MacRae’s barn in June 2021.

The multiple graded stakes-winning conditioner claimed the horse on behalf of owner Michael Lay for $50,000 ahead of a 7 ½-furlong race over the Woodbine inner turf on July 3.

A Thread of Blue, who finished third for Hall of Fame conditioner Mark Casse and owner Gary Barber in the $108,700 allowance optional claiming race, made a strong first impression on his new connections.

“He came to us in great shape,” recalled MacRae, who is closing in on 600 career wins. “Mark [Casse] and his team took good care of him and so did our team. You could tell he was a nice horse from the start.”

A Thread of Blue would win once in 12 starts for MacRae and Lay, but it was one for the record books.

On Oct. 2, 2022, A Thread of Blue covered 1 1/16 miles on the Woodbine’s inner turf in 1:40.93, a mark that still stands as the track record.

A Thread of Blue and jockey Declan Carroll winning Race 5 on October 2, 2022, at Woodbine (Michael Burns Photo)
A Thread of Blue and jockey Declan Carroll winning Race 5 on October 2, 2022, at Woodbine (Michael Burns Photo)

The dark bay would post 11 top-five finishes under the tutelage of MacRae, cracking the top four on eight occasions.

His final start came on Nov. 5, 2023, at Woodbine. A Thread of Blue finished fourth in the 1 1/16-mile race on the all-weather track.

“He had been unlucky in a few starts, but he gave it his all like any good athlete does,” said MacRae. 

“The one thing that makes his story even more remarkable is that at one point in his career, I found out that he was kicked in the head by another horse when he was standing in the stall. He was taken in for surgery and there was a chance he wouldn’t make it. But he did… that is amazing.”

Soon after his final race, the decision was made to donate the horse to LongRun.

“Giving horses a great spot to go to is something we need to do and do more of as an industry,” offered MacRae. “And that is exactly what LongRun provides for horses. You know they will be looked after and that they will find a good home.”

It just so happened that around the time A Thread of Blue had been officially retired, Waller was looking to bring a horse into her and her family’s world.

Finding the right fit, however, was proving to be a daunting task.

“We were looking for one who my kids could eventually ride, who I could ride, but most importantly, a horse who my kids could simply be around,” said Waller.

“But my search was not turning up anything. I was driving all over, two hours in each direction, and nothing was panning out.”

A conversation with Kelly Maxwell, owner of Wake Robin, would change those fortunes.

“Kelly asked if I had filled out an application with LongRun,” recalled Waller.

“A safe horse was our number one requirement. I told her I hadn’t and that I wasn’t thinking about that green of a horse, per se.”

“She told me the application could take a while, so I should fill it out, and see what might come out of it.”

Waller mulled over the idea, not fully convinced it would put her on the right path.

After she put the kids to bed that night, Waller opened her laptop and filled out the form.

The more she typed, the more invested she became.

“I poured everything into it, what I was looking for, what my goals were, and my past riding experiences were.”

Waller still believed it was a longshot at best, that finding a horse through LongRun was wishful thinking.

When she heard a ping on her phone the next day, letting her know she had a new email message, Waller wasn’t expecting it to be a note from LongRun.

But that’s exactly what it was.

“Lauren [farm manager, Millet], from LongRun, emailed me and said, ‘I have the perfect fit for you.’”

Trepidation had turned into guarded optimism.

“That Sunday, my family and I went out to LongRun. We met Blu. He was so level-headed and lovely. He loved the kids – his ears were pricked the whole time. He was very interested in them.”

“I thought, ‘Let’s just give it a go. Let’s give it a shot.’”

Days later, A Thread of Blue stepped off the horse van at Wake Robin, his new home.

He had a welcome party waiting for him.

Georgia, Blu, and Nolan. (Photo courtesy of the Waller Family)
Georgia, Blu, and Nolan. (Photo courtesy of the Waller Family)

“Blu came off the trailer, and my daughter, Georgia, was there to see him. She was at March break camp on the farm, so she got to be there for his arrival. He walked into the barn like he had been there a million times.”

“It was so nerve-wracking – it was like being a new mom. I had his stall ready. He was going into quarantine, which is standard, but it can be tough on some horses. It’s being alone and in a new place, so I made sure his stall was cozy and I filled a ball feeder with treats. It’s a type of gadget where he can knock it around and the treats come out. I thought it might help keep his mind occupied.”

A Thread of Blue made fast friends with Florida Won, another LongRun adoptee, who is now known as Felix.

The two have been inseparable since their first interaction.

“Maybe the two of them are out there talking about their past lives at the racetrack, but he clung to Felix, and it feels like Blu is living his best life out there.”

A life that Waller is grateful to be part of.

Waller has been moved by seeing the bond between her family and Blu grow each day.

“I was planning on heading up to North Bay to look at a horse the following Friday, but I cancelled that plan – we found Blu. I am a believer that what is meant to be, will be. The stars aligned and he is meant to be here with us.”

Thanks, in large part, to a leap of faith and LongRun, the first industry-funded adoption program in Canada.

“It’s also nice to know that LongRun is there for the long run. They are there to support you. They want to see the horses succeed in their new homes. It’s a wonderful peace of mind to know they are there.”

Just as it is in knowing their beloved Blu is always close at hand.

@jonathanstettin What a surprise….thank you—- thank you….I can say I was part of history.

John Ball (@P3Tacco) View testimonials