Friday, Dec. 1, 2023

What You Need To Know: 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover



Billed as the largest Thoroughbred retraining competition in the world for recently retired race horses, the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium is now in its ninth year at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. About 400 horses are descending on the horse park this week to compete in up to two of 10 disciplines, and a panel of judges will select a Thoroughbred Makeover Champion from among the 10 discipline winners, with the winner earning a $10,000 check.

2022 Thoroughbred Makeover champion Jenna Denver and She’s A Bold One, pictured with (left to right): Kirsten Green, executive director of the Retired Racehorse Project; Cathy Shircliff, director of community relations for Churchill Downs; and Erin Halliwell, executive director of Thoroughbred Charities of America. CanterClix Photo

When: Oct. 11-14

Where: The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington

Who is eligible to compete: The competition, organized by the non-profit Retired Racehorse Project, is open to professionals, amateurs and juniors, and also features a team competition. To participate, riders submit an application detailing their riding and training experience. This year, 512 competitors were accepted back in February, although many don’t make it all the way to the competition due to training setbacks or injuries.

Their mounts (a rider can compete up to two) must be Jockey Club-registered Thoroughbreds who marked a workout or race after July 1, 2021, and did not have more than 15 retraining rides prior to Dec. 1, 2022. The horses represent a wide swath of the Thoroughbred industry, from multiple graded stakes winners to those that never actually started a race.

New this year is a pilot broodmare division, open to mares that produced a foal or were bred in the 2021 breeding season or after, and have one lifetime start or published work. They may not have had prior competition experience. The broodmares can compete in any division and will be pinned separately.


For the second year, the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program Western & Central Dressage Championship will take place at the same time.

How the competition works: The 10 disciplines are barrel racing, competitive trail, dressage, eventing, fox hunting, polo, ranch work, show hunters, show jumpers and freestyle—a free-form division that can include almost anything. Preliminary competition takes place Wednesday and Thursday (click here to see the specific tests required in each discipline), with the top five horses in each division qualifying for the Makeover Finale to be held Saturday.

Each division competes and is pinned separately in the Finale, and each has their own final test to determine the Makeover champion in that discipline. Judges from all 10 disciplines then rank the discipline champions to determine the overall Thoroughbred Makeover Champion.

The Makeover also offers a slew of special awards, everything from Best Conditioned to People’s Choice (where spectators vote by text for one of the discipline champions) to awards for horses bred in certain states or who raced at certain tracks.

How to follow along: You can watch the Makeover Finale via a free livestream. Competition starts at 8 a.m. Eastern Saturday. Follow the Retired Racehorse Project on Facebook or Instagram for more coverage of the competition.

If you’re local to Lexington, the competition is free to attend, although the Horse Park charges for parking. You can find individual competitors’ ride times here. The event also includes a silent auction, vendor fair and educational seminars.


A unique aspect of the Makeover is that about 100 of the horses competing are for sale, designated by special bridle numbers. Horses can be tried and vetted on-site.

Read more about the Thoroughbred Makeover:

• Champion jockey Rosie Napravnik’s Road To The Makeover blog

• All of the Chronicle’s previous Thoroughbred Makeover coverage



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