It was September 2009.
We had made the trip overnight to Philadelphia, arriving at the race track/casino in the very early hours of the morning. It was still dark, so we parked our truck and horse trailer in the empty casino parking lot.
Exhausted, we reclined our seats and tried to catch a few moments of sleep before hitting the road again later.
Activity starts on the race track early..... it was still dark when I heard the first noises and ruckus from the stables and saw the shadowy forms of horses being exercised on the track.
A little while later we called the trainer to let him know we were there. He, in turn, called the gate and said he'd meet us there to get us through. Security is tight on the track, and no one comes or goes without passing the security guys.
Travelling in our trailer was a three year old colt, "West", who we had collected from the "lay up" barn in Virginia where he had been since the spring, recovering from a surgical procedure to his knee. He had stayed overnight in our barn, before heading out late in the evening the day before. He was expected to go back into racing again; and in the year since, has gone on to win many races and earn a lot of money for his owner.
West was unloaded, inspected, approved of, and stalled. We were then introduced to the horses we'd be hauling back to Virginia - a tall, bold dapple gray and a fiery chestnut - "Secret Time".
The gray was going back for someone else; the chestnut we were keeping. At least for a little while; till we could re-home him; as we had planned to do with the retired racehorses we picked up from the track. We had already successfully re-homed one of the horses that we had picked up the year before; and two we had personally kept because we fell in love with them. We also had picked up a mare the month before, and we were unsure about our plan for her.
The trainer - who, unlike some cruel, sneaky trainers who find ways to secretly spirit horses off to slaughter in a round-about way - is a kind man; older, caring, and refuses to allow the horses in his barn to go to slaughter, or for that matter, questionable homes where the horses are not properly fed and cared for. He shows us around, and we chat in his office, where he has security cameras feeding images onto screens in front of his desk where he can see all the activity going on in the stable.
Exercise riders come in and report about horse's progress, and get instructions from the trainer on how to school the next horse.
We conclude our business and paperwork; and I snuck off to get my own personal tour of the track and stables.
Horses that were not being saddled and ridden or unsaddled and cooled, were being hand walked around the stable for their exercise. Their stalls were clean, and the doors were all fitted with stall "nets" so the horses had few view of their surroundings and open air flow. The horses were glossy, in excellent condition, and friendly; unlike some of the skinny, mean looking horses I had looked at in ads from other tracks on the east coast.
Kevin and I headed to the track kitchen for some breakfast, along with the other grooms, trainers, jockeys, etc.
When we got back to the stable, the vet had been there, to sedate the two geldings for the ride back to VA. I didn't understand why they needed to be sedated - the other horses we'd picked up had not been.
We also spoke to the vet about the issue with our horse's knee. We were fully aware that he had a bone chip in the knee, and that it could flare up at any time.
They loaded our horse first; and as the groom led the muscled chestnut out, the trainer warned me to move back ..... which I thought was odd. We'd never had an issue with any of the other OTTBs we'd picked up from here kicking.
The geldings were loaded, we said our goodbyes to our friend the trainer, he wished us a safe journey back home to Virginia, and away we went with our newest horse.
I did not know then that that was the first day of a whole year of problems..... mysterious, "unexplained", frustrating problems.