A weekend in late July was an exciting whirlwind for a mother and her two teenaged daughters, who adopted an unraced 2-year-old named Are We There Yet from trainer Vicki Oliver at Keeneland and took him home to West Virginia to begin a new career.
Are We There Yet, who was bred by Ian Banfield’s St. George Farm, is a son of champion and leading sire English Channel and is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Cistron. After the youngster had completed several months of training, Oliver believed he would not succeed as a racehorse, so she had him gelded with the intention of placing him with a local Thoroughbred adoption program.
“I try really hard with any horse to make sure they have a good home,” Oliver said. “That’s part of our job, too.”
While Oliver made plans for Are We There Yet to begin a new life, Jennifer Clark from Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, had come to Lexington so her daughters – Kendall, 17, and Kenzie, 15 – could attend a youth leadership conference through the National Angus Association. Because the sisters had visited Keeneland during the conference, Clark and her sister and a friend who also came on the trip hadn’t planned to go to the track until the three received a recommendation from VisitLEX, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“The lady said you should really go out to Keeneland in the morning and watch them (train) the horses,” Clark recalled. “We thought that sounds lovely.”
While at Keeneland, Clark and her friends did what many visitors do: They stood at the rail to observe the horses and talked to other people who were doing the same. Among them was Bob Landry, a longtime Keeneland racing employee who during his workday has opportunities to answer all kinds of questions about Keeneland and horse racing.
Clark told Landry that she has a daughter who was determined to buy an off-the-track Thoroughbred to become a jumper.
“I said, ‘What do you think about that because I personally think that’s a horrible idea,’ ” Clark said about her daughter’s notion, “and he said, ‘No. Actually, I think that’s a great idea. What you need is one of the horses (who is available for adoption).’ ”
Landry and several others said Oliver had such a horse in a nearby barn. “Are you serious?” he asked her. She answered, “Well, we have been looking at these farms that have (off-the-track) Thoroughbreds, but today … what?”
“The horse is right over there,” Landry said. “You have to at least look at him.”
“So I walked down here,” Clark said, “and the rest is history. Why would I say no to this opportunity?”
Clark’s sudden decision to adopt Are We There Yet was not so far-fetched. With her husband, Kirby, she and her daughters reside on a 500-acre farm that once was an equine training facility and “has everything that would give a horse a beautiful home.” The family has five horses, but their farm is used primarily to raise Angus cattle and grow crops.
To ship Are We There Yet to his new home, Clark called two friends who drove a horse trailer some six hours to Keeneland the following morning while the Clark sisters met their horse and quizzed Oliver about him. They had shopped for horse equipment while in Lexington, and Kenzie marveled at her good fortune to buy a halter – even though she didn’t know at the time that she’d have a new horse to wear it.
By late Sunday afternoon, Are We There Yet had arrived at his new home, where he would be renamed as a tribute to two people who made his adoption possible.
“We named him Oliver but his nickname is Olibob after Bob,” Clark said.
The following day, she texted an update:
“He is settling in beautifully and I think he loves his humans. Only downside I’m seeing is that we are having a hard time getting our chores done because we just would rather stand around and look at him and are still in awe that all of this just happened lol”