Four things were against Mixed Up this year: his age, his lack of enthusiasm for soft ground, long distances and heavy weights.
Still, he pulled out the impossible, and at 10 years old, he garnered the titles that had eluded him for his entire career—the National Steeplechase Association Horse of The Year and the Eclipse Award for steeplechasing, which he won by a landslide.
Just a little horse, he’s best described as a sports car, fast and accurate on the turns and with extra gears when you need them. Like a sports car, however, he’s hampered by mud, cannot pull a trailer full of added weight and runs out of fuel faster than a mid-size sedan.
Over the years he’s won some prestigious races: the $150,000 New York Turf Writers (2006), the $100,000 Royal Chase (2007), the $80,000 A.P. Smithwick (2007). He even got a few Eclipse Award votes in 2006, but every time he won something big, he would get socked with weight for the next race and end up against the likes of Eclipse titans, McDynamo, Hirapour and, lately, Good Night Shirt.
“When you look who he lost to in those races you can see these were all very legitimate horses in big races,” trainer Jonathan Sheppard said. “It was hard to know where to put him. We tried to do something different.”
Sheppard added, “I think it’s fitting that in his supposed twilight years he’s running the best he ever has and is now a champion. He certainly has been knocking at the door for a number of years.”
But in 2009, Sheppard got cagey. First, he realized the Lasix (furosemide) Mixed Up had been on to prevent bleeding was actually doing more harm than good, and he took him off the drug, a bold move to be sure. The drug is widely used on the flat track and by jump trainers in the United States.
Then Sheppard chose small stakes features with short distances to start Mixed Up in the spring. Although once other trainers saw they had a grade I horse to contend with instead of the usual local suspects, the fields were not as strong. In May, Sheppard entered Mixed Up in a $50,000 race at Iroquois, but deep going at the Tennessee race sucked the life out of him, and he placed third.
As the summer season warmed up, Sheppard entered Mixed Up in one of the more competitive races, the $50,000 Zeke Ferguson at Colonial Downs (Va.), where he ran his heart out for second to the runaway leader Slip Away (Chip Miller).
Sheppard then took him back to Saratoga Springs (N.Y.), and he won the $100,000 A.P. Smithwick but failed to come back to win a few weeks later in the $100,000 Turf Writers Cup and again in the $150,000 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park (N.Y).
The naysayers thought he was finished. Especially when Sheppard scratched him from the biggest race of the year, the $250,000 Grand National at Far Hills (N.J.).
“People are pretty quick to write Mixed Up off just for a couple of spotty races,” Sheppard said. “Look at his weights, who he was up against. There sure has been some tough company of late.”
Jockey and assistant trainer Danielle Hodsdon has sat in the irons for most of Mixed Up’s career wins. She’s always liked the little firecracker that she calls Mickey.
“I’ve been riding Mickey since he was 5,” Hodsdon said. “He was one of the first horses I raced when I started at Jonathan’s that year. He’s matured a lot, not really grown up, he’s still full of personality and a very naughty boy.
“He pushes it to the limits,” Hodsdon added with a smile. “He’s always trying to buck me off. If he’s not doing that he’s running off with me. This is his way of saying, ‘I’m ready.’ For a little horse he’s a powerhouse, constantly jigging. You know he’s just itching to let loose, and he’s dropped me many times, even on pavement, but he knows when he’s overstepped the line.”
Sheppard owns part of Mixed Up. Although he doesn’t advertise it, he jointly owns most of his top contenders. He and co-owner William Pape have been partners in racing and breeding the horses for many years.
Sheppard has been behind six Eclipse Awards for Pape with legend Flatterer from 1984-1987, Martie’s Anger in 1979 and Athenian Idol in 1973. Until this year, 1987 was the last time Pape had stepped in the winner’s circle at the Colonial Cup (S.C.).
“People had their doubts about Mixed Up,” Pape said back in November. “But look at his record; he does best when he’s rested.”
The critics still like to contend that Mixed Up had it easy in 2009, not dealing with two-time NSA Horse of the Year Good Night Shirt, who was injured during the summer. But to Mixed Up’s defense, Good Night Shirt doesn’t traditionally run in the summer either, and the Eclipse winner proved he didn’t like the soft going when he got beat by Pierrot Lunaire at the $150,000 Iroquois.
And plenty of other horses stepped up to the plate to try to ruin his comeback parade, such as Gregory Hawkins’ Red Letter Day, The Fields Stable’s Left Unsaid, Randleston Farm’s Spy In The Sky and Irv Nayor’s Tax Ruling.
Sheppard said there’s no reason to retire Mixed Up at this point, and the game plan is the same as last year—take on the shorter distances, try to keep the weight off him, avoid soft ground and let the racing gods decide the rest.
Hodsdon said Mixed Up is still feeling pretty good right now when she hacks him around the farm. She thinks he’ll probably be even more full of spit and vinegar when they really start to put him back into work.
“I don’t see how we could retire him right now,” Hodsdon said. “He’s still very capable and wants to go. Plus, he’s not really suited for anything else. Hunting or ponying is out of the question; he’s much too volatile. He loves racing. We just have to pick and choose where to put him this season.”
Description: 11-year-old, 15.3 hand, dark bay Thorough-bred gelding (Carnivalay—Oh Nonsense, Oh Say). Bred by William Pape and Jonathan Sheppard, trained by Sheppard and co-owned by Pape and Sheppard.
Purchase Price: None, homebred.
Career Earnings: Seventh place in the National Steeplechase Association All-Time Leading Steeplechasers in America with lifetime earnings of $642,225.
Personality: “He’s compact and very aggressive,” trainer Jonathan Sheppard said. “He’s like a keg of dynamite. I think that’s why he and Danielle [Hodsdon] get along so well; they have like personalities and feed off one another.”
Grain: Hallway’s Feed.
Veterinarian: Kevin Keane, DVM.
Farriers: Chris Miller and Mark Pino.
Origin Of His Name: According to Sheppard: “His dam is Oh Nonsense, so if you’re talking nonsense you’re mixed up.”
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