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The Amazing Story Of Talbot Romeo

Published: November 27, 2020 2:30 pm ET

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A six-year-old pacer with only nine lifetime starts is rarely the material of headline news. But Talbot Romeo is no ordinary horse, and the story of his return to the racetrack is nothing short of remarkable.

In the winter of 2017, Talbot Romeo turned his share of heads for trainer John Pentland as a sophomore with a handful of impressive miles that netted him three wins in four starts and sustaining payments into the Pepsi North America Cup. Granted, none of the horses he was racing against and defeating during those February miles turned into champion racehorses, but keep in mind that his average win margin in those victories was five lengths.

Talbot Romeo's last race of 2017 came on Feb. 23. He qualified again on May 12, defeating that year's Empire Breeders Classic and New York Sire Stakes Final winner Obvious Blue Chip by five lengths in 1:54.1, but didn't make another start that season.

Eleven months later, after extensive work and rehabilitation on a soft tissue injury, Talbot Romeo returned to the racetrack. After two qualifiers in April 2018, the then four-year-old son of Roll With Joe - Northern Duchess showed that his glimpses of sophomore talent were no fluke by posting three wins and two second-place finishes in five starts between early May and mid-June while earning a 1:50.1 speed badge.

Then Talbot Romeo vanished. That was until Friday, Nov. 20, when Talbot Romeo — now six — appeared on the qualifying entries at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Once again showing the talent that jumps off a program page, Talbot Romeo qualified successfully and impressively for driver Anthony Haughan in 1:55.4.

If the time of the mile doesn't exactly fit with what one might consider impressively, consider what the horse conquered to return to the track. As new trainer and owner Mike Bishop revealed, it's substantially more than just that original and debilitating soft tissue injury. It's the story of a horse that's blind in one eye — and who overcame a near fatal accident — with a relentless desire to compete.

"I had him a couple of times, actually," Bishop told Trot Insider. "At one time, I had him for John to rehab. And then, Wayne and Karen Carroll (Talbot Romeo's breeders and original owners) took him home and gave him some time. Then, a year and a half ago or so, I was training a bunch for Karen, so they sent him directly to me to train back, swim back. I had him back — I forget the speed I had him at — but he injured himself again, and I think it was around July of last year, so almost a year and a half."

According to Bishop, it's at this point that the story of Talbot Romeo really gets interesting.

"He was a stallion at that time, and our idea was to place him as a riding horse or something like that. My girlfriend, Sarah Cottrell — she deserves a lot of credit, actually — broke him to saddle. So we took him over from Wayne and Karen, and with no intentions to ever race him again -- he had no shot at that point. We castrated him, turned him out as a gelding so he could be out with other horses, and then Sarah broke him to saddle with the intentions of placing him."

Bishop's admiration for Talbot Romeo is more than evident in his tone. "He's just a really neat horse; he's got a lot of class to him and he'd be a great horse for someone to have as a pleasure horse."

Talbot Romeo and Sarah Cottrell

Talbot Romeo, it would seem, had other ideas that involve a bit more equipment and speed.

"Sarah broke him under saddle, and he started to show he was a little bit sounder than that. We had him placed with one of Sarah's mom's friends, and she couldn't take him, all of a sudden, for whatever reason, so we kept him, and I said, 'Just keep him as a riding horse.' Sarah took him out to her place and he was outside with a herd, basically ... He was just out there, she was riding him.

"Last December, I went to the riding horse facility. I looked in the field, and there's this horse bombing through the field. I said, 'Is that Romeo?' and she said, 'Yep.' I said, just joking, 'You know what? Romeo's got to come back and do some work for his board,' not serious about it."

The need for Bishop to bring Talbot Romeo back into his care ended up becoming reality, but not for the reason he had joked about in December. Talbot Romeo was involved in a serious accident that nearly cost him a limb.

"January comes, and we got a call that he got caught in the rope fence and just about lost his left hind leg. It was nasty; it was [cut] right to the bone," admitted Bishop. "So we brought him in, back to Classy Lane, and started fixing him up with a lot of attention to that area every day.

"Time goes on, and I'm like, 'You know what? I'm going to jog him,' because the original injury up front looked amazing. And he's loving it out there, perfect, jogging great. And then COVID hit."

The harness racing industry slowed to a virtual halt in April. Sure, pari-mutuel racing was shuttered, but horses still needed to be trained ... horses like Talbot Romeo. But Bishop, who often rehabs horses for other trainers at Classy Lane Training Centre, all of a sudden found himself with more time than usual ... time he could devote to his own horse instead of others.

"This is how crazy this whole story is ... COVID hits; I'm down to one horse — Mc Pat was my only horse — so I put Romeo back in training. We had lots of time. We weren't at the barn a lot, so Sarah would ride him under saddle and get the work into him. Then, when the left hind healed up, we started swimming him a little bit. Still was a long shot — I never thought the horse would ever get raced. We had lots of time during COVID, shut down, and we put our time into him. We kind of joke that he's a triathlete because he rides under saddle, I do the track work, and he swims.

"Time just kind of flew by; it's just wild how time moved on. I just started ramping up his work, and he responded to it. We had a couple minor setbacks with his left hind leg from the scar tissue — it was pretty nasty, and it still bugs him to this day a little bit. I probably would have had him qualified three weeks ago, but the more speed I went, there was just a little something there with that left hind."

Talbot Romeo made his way back to Woodbine Mohawk Park for a serious test of that injury, with Bishop enlisting veteran horseman Anthony Haughan to guide the equine triathlete.

"I took [Talbot Romeo] in to school two weeks in a row. Anthony Haughan was in a qualifier, so I asked him to wait because he knows the horse — I jog beside him every day at the farm — and we're on the same page," noted Bishop. "I said, 'Just get him around,' and he looked great."

After a handful of solid performances in schooling miles, it was time for a serious test. The return qualifier for Haughan and Talbot Romeo was a success, with the duo winning handily last Friday. Talbot Romeo once again prevailed in a Mohawk qualifier on Friday, Nov. 27, this time against the speedy and seasoned Sports Column, in 1:55.2.

While most often justified, it's been easy for many to use the global coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for why things haven't gone all that well this year. Bishop quickly recognized that he wouldn't be here today with Talbot Romeo had 2020 not been turned upside down with the new normal of COVID protocols and guidelines.

"I don't think he would ever be back with the intentions of racing him, because I would have been busy with other horses. It was a major long shot that this horse ever came back. I would say that it's the only bright point of COVID in my life, that's for sure. Part of the whole thing was that we had time. It's pretty wild. He still hasn't made a dollar for me, but he looked amazing in the qualifiers."

Not only has he looked amazing, but Bishop reported that those problem areas with the first and second injury sites appear to be in good shape. Where Talbot Romeo goes from here remains to be determined, but Bishop will most definitely let the pacer make those decisions.

"His schedule going forward, he'll let us know ... if he goes every week, every other week, or whatever. So far, we're super excited."

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