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There wasn’t much question about Blackfoot Mystery’s career as a racing thoroughbred.The big chestnut had three starts at the now-defunct Hollywood Park, finishing at or near the back of the pack every time.“He was a terrible racehorse,”...

Hollywood Park rescue horse finds himself in the Olympics

There wasn’t much question about Blackfoot Mystery’s career as a racing thoroughbred.The big chestnut had three starts at the now-defunct Hollywood Park, finishing at or near the back of the pack every time.“He was a terrible racehorse,”...

Hollywood Park rescue horse finds himself in the Olympics

There wasn’t much question about Blackfoot Mystery’s career as a racing thoroughbred.

The big chestnut had three starts at the now-defunct Hollywood Park, finishing at or near the back of the pack every time.

“He was a terrible racehorse,” Boyd Martin says.

But Martin, a top equestrian rider, could see an extraordinary quality in Blackfoot Mystery – the kind of talent that has them both competing for the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The Kentucky-bred horse and its rider arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, more than a week ahead of the eventing competition. Martin talked about their journey at a news conference Sunday afternoon.

Though only a small percentage of thoroughbreds have the speed to win at the track, they are nonetheless strong, talented animals.

And, if they fail at racing, they can be had cheap.

That’s why equestrian riders often keep their eye on racing, looking for promising candidates that might be worth a gamble.

“With jumping and dressage, there’s a natural talent thing,” Martin said. “You can only teach them so much … that’s hard to evaluate when you’re buying a horse off the track.”

Like a lot of thoroughbreds that don’t pan out, Blackfoot Mystery was handed over to a California rescue center by his owners. Equestrian rider Kelly Prather purchased him for next to nothing.

Thus began the horse’s second career in three-day eventing, an equine version of the triathlon that involves dressage, cross-country and show-jumping events.

Prather brought Blackfoot Mystery back East to work beside Martin, who took an instant liking to the big, gangling gelding with a floating gait.

“Good moving, good jumping horse,” he said.

Martin was looking for another ride – his previous horse had suffered a serious sprain at the 2012 London Olympics, forcing them to withdraw in the middle of the competition.

Prather, it turned out, needed to sell Blackfoot Mystery.

By that time, however, the horse had proved its worth in eventing, so its value had risen dramatically. Martin called upon New York investors and sold shares in Blackfoot Mystery to raise the $300,000 asking price.

“I’d been watching him like a hawk for a year,” he says. “I was very lucky.”

The two have been together only about 12 months, which puts them at a slight disadvantage against duos that have more shared experience. Still, Martin believes he has something special.

“He isn’t the fastest because of the way he’s built,” the rider said. “But he’s a beautiful stamp of a horse.”

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