Warrior Rated R Superstar Retired to Old Friends

June 24, 2023

Rated R Superstar after his win in the Essex Handicap (G3) March 19, 2022 (Coady Photography)

By Ashley Tamulonis

Danny Caldwell had had his eye on Rated R Superstar for some time when the then 8-year-old gelding was entered to run in a 1 1/16-mile waiver-claiming race at Oaklawn Park on January 31, 2021. “I told my wife that if it works out and I’ve got $50,000 in my account, I’m going to get this horse,” Mr. Caldwell stated in a phone interview.

Fate was smiling on him and his wife Allison Caldwell that day. They won the first race of the day, a 5 ½-furlong waiver claimer for older fillies and mares, with Kasserine Pass, who was claimed for $10,000. That put enough money in the Caldwells’ account and allowed Danny to fill out the paperwork to claim Rated R Superstar two races later. 

With Rated R Superstar being an older gelding, there was a moment of hesitation. “I filled it out and went up and sat and thought about it,” Danny reminisced. “I thought, ya know he’s an older horse, and we’ve had good luck with ‘em [older horses] but that’s a lot of money. Fifty thousand to me is a lot of money. I’m a thousandaire. I got a few thousand here and there. I’m not a millionaire.” A gentle nudge from Allison in the form of a reminder that Danny would regret not claiming Rated R Superstar, especially if he beat him, solidified the decision.

With the win in race three to Rated R Superstar’s name, fate was once again with the Caldwells. Thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, claiming wasn’t wild and crazy like it is now. He was theirs free and clear. 

“There was no shake on him,” Caldwell said. “I was the only one in on him that day. Nowadays it would be ten-way shakes on horses like that.

In his first start for trainer Federico Villafranco and Caldwell, Rated R Superstar ran a non-threatening 5th in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap on February 27, 2021 over a sealed, sloppy track. Danny Caldwell said he pulled up good after that effort, so they opted to send him back out in another stakes. Their faith in him was warranted as the gelding missed by just a neck to Silver State in the listed Essex Handicap on March 13.

While he was a disappointing 8th in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in his third start for the Caldwells, he did continue to show good form, including missing 2nd by a half-length in the Grade 3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap behind superstar winner Knicks Go. He added victories in the listed Governor’s Cup at Remington Park and the listed Fifth Season Stakes at Oaklawn Park before finally finding his way to the winner’s circle in a graded event for the first time in nearly four years. 

Rated R Superstar draws away in the Essex Handicap under David Cabrera (Coady Photography)

With David Cabrera aboard in the Grade 3 Essex Handicap, Rated R Superstar utilized his patented closing style to accelerate through the far turn and into striking position. As they entered the stretch, the gelding had worked his way into third and had set his sights on Plainsman, who had come away with the lead at the top of the lane after pressing the pace from second. Rated R Superstar relentlessly drove down the stretch, finally overtaking Plainsman and pulling away to a 2 ¼-length victory. That would be the first graded victory for owner Caldwell and Villafranco.

“I’d had a lot of stakes wins but never a graded one. I don’t run in that many graded stakes, so it was an honor, and it’ll always be [an honor],” Caldwell stated regarding that important milestone.

Now firmly a fan favorite, 9-year-old Rated R Superstar would add two more victories to his name in 2022, the listed Governor’s Cup and the black-type Jeffrey A. Hawk Memorial Stakes, both at Remington Park. The Jeffrey A. Hawk Memorial would be the gelding’s final career win.

Caldwell and new trainer Martin Villafranco brought the now 10-year-old back for another year, making his 2023 bow in the Fifth Season Stakes at Oaklawn, a race he had won the year prior. With Isaac Castillo up, the gelding rallied from last to finish 3rd, missing the place by a neck. Following that effort, Rated R Superstar finished 4th in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap, 7th in the Grade 3 Essex Handicap, 7th in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, and 5th in an optional claimer, his final career start.

The Caldwells announced the retirement of their 10-year-old gelded warrior Rated R Superstar to Old Friends on the morning of June 23, 2023, in a series of tweets on the social media platform Twitter. As is often the case these days, fans of Rated R Superstar had been calling for the warrior’s retirement for some time now. When asked if that was any factor, Caldwell responded with, “People that don’t pay bills on horses always like to tell people what to do that do pay bills on horses, which really frustrates me. When a horse is doing good and a horse is sound and he wants to train and he wants to do the job he loves to do…” Caldwell trailed off before pointing out that horses in other professions often continue competing or working well past the age we typically see thoroughbreds race.

https://twitter.com/missfasthorses/status/1672248407887613952?s=20

“Horses are like people. They all have personalities, and they all have to be treated differently,” he said. He went on to express frustration with how horses are pushed so hard at two and three but then most quit on them when they turn four or older. “Horses mature and get better with age, a lot, not all of them,” Caldwell pointed out. 

Rated R Superstar is a perfect example of a horse running better with maturity. While the gelding was grade one-placed as a juvenile and earned his first graded victory as a 3-year-old when trained by Kenny McPeek, he arguably did his best running after being claimed by Caldwell. He notched nearly half of his victories and $965,374 in earnings from his 8-year-old season to the present. In fact, according to Caldwell, Rated R Superstar has looked better this year than he’s ever looked. However, that does not change the fact that HISA has disallowed Lasix in stakes races, and that was all the Caldwells intended to run Rated R Superstar in.

Rated R Superstar and his pal Teddy (Courtesy of Danny Caldwell)

“We know the horse. We know what he likes. I’m not going to run him without Lasix, and that’s my decision and my wife’s decision because we just didn’t feel like…he’s had it eight years and it’s going to be hot in Oklahoma,” Caldwell explained. With stakes races off the table due to the new rules, the Caldwells decided to move up the gelding’s retirement, stating that he would have been retired at the end of the year anyway.

“We heard through the grapevine that Old Friends was interested in Rated R Superstar when we got ready to retire him. They didn’t put any pressure on us or anything like that. They just said when we’re ready, so when we made that decision, my wife contacted them. And I think it’s a great place for him to go,” Caldwell said regarding the decision to retire their prized gelding to the beloved farm in Kentucky. 

Aware that fans are already clamoring to see Rated R Superstar, Caldwell went on to say, “He’ll love that. He’s gonna have to have something to do. He’s not [a horse] that you’re just gonna turn out in the pasture and leave him alone. I was never gonna do that, never gonna do that,” he emphasized. “I don’t think he’d make a pony horse because he’s just not cut out to be a pony horse. And so about last year I started thinking that I’ve got to find this horse something to do, find him a great home. Whatever it is, I’ve got to do it. He’s been good to me, and he’s been a blessing for my family, and he’s just a special horse to us. We’re blessed to have them ask for him.”

Rated R Superstar retires with a 70: 13-10-9 record with earnings of $1,847,397. 

Contributing Authors

Ashley Tamulonis

Ashley Tamulonis

Ashley has been an avid horse racing fan since she was introduced to the sport through the Joanna Campbell series "Thoroughbred." As a Georgia native...

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