At an age when the useful life of most thoroughbreds is over, Titan Ribot is just being recognized as a remarkable racehorse.
The 10-year-old has been a gritty competitor over seven seasons of racing and he is still going strong: He has won three of his last four starts. He is an oddity, a gelding who has sired two offspring. But Titan Ribot has earned special attention from bettors in this area because he is one of the most extraordinary mud-runners ever seen in Maryland.
Titan Ribot has had 15 starts in his career on muddy and sloppy tracks, and has won 10 of them. On other wet tracks, those labeled "good," he is four for seven. He is transformed so drastically by inclement weather that his trainer, Oscar Williams, always consults the long-range forecast before entering him in a race, even though he can't explain why the horse has such an affinity for mud.
But the trainer who bred, raised and developed Titan Ribot has some theories about the old campaigner's longevity and his fondness for mud. "He was my own horse," said Deborah Wiggins, "and I wanted to take my time with him and let him get through all the problems they have when they're young before I started racing him." Titan Ribot didn't race as a 2-year-old and started only three times at 3; after being coddled early in his life, he has managed to stay remarkably sound for most of his career.
His only persistent physical problem was with his feet -- he would develop heel cracks and quarter cracks frequently -- and Wiggins said that the colt seemed to enjoy training in the mud because the softer footing was easier on his feet. But he never got the chance to compete on a sloppy track until he was 6; when he did, he launched the most productive phase of his career.
Titan Ribot did so well -- winning all six of his starts on sloppy tracks in 1986 and 1987 -- that Wiggins rewarded him by giving him summer vacations and breeding him to a mare on her Fair Hill farm. Although this seemed to contradict the conventional wisdom that breeding and racing can't mix, Titan Ribot resumed his training with enthusiasm. "He's very smart," Wiggins said. "He knew the difference between his two careers."
When Wiggins put Titan Ribot back into competition after a summer respite in 1988, she thought she could get away with running him for an $18,500 claiming price. But another trainer claimed the horse from the woman who had spent the last eight years with him. "I knew it was going to happen eventually," Wiggins said, "but it was one of the saddest things that had happened to me in the horse business. I knew he was going to start making the rounds."
If Wiggins was unhappy about this development, Titan Ribot would be even unhappier. He had always been a temperamental, hard-to-handle animal, and one of his new owners prescribed the time-honored racetrack remedy for headstrong behavior. Titan Ribot was gelded, his incipient career as a stallion unceremoniously came to an end.
Neutering didn't change Titan Ribot much, though; he's still a bad actor off the track, and still a tough professional competitor on it. Owners Jack and Eileen Ferguson had admired the horse when he was racing for other owners, and they had Williams claim him for $5,000 early this year. Titan Ribot has rewarded them with four victories, plus occasional bites and kicks. "He acts mean all the time," Jack Ferguson said, pointing to lacerations in his shirt and pants that had been inflicted by the horse. "Everybody in the barn knows to stay away from him," he said. "His nickname is 'Iron Jaws.' "
But as well as Ferguson has come to know Titan Ribot, he can't offer any good explanation for the horse's remarkable record on mud. He says that Titan Ribot does not have the kind of small foot that is traditionally thought to be best suited to running in the mud. He thinks that Titan Ribot's predilections may come from his breeding. His daddy, Exclusive Ribot, is a decent sire of mud-runners, although his record in this regard is hardly sensational.
If, however, pedigree is the key to mud-running ability, Maryland bettors might want to look for a animal named Tito to appear in the entries on a rainy day. He is the colt whom Titan Ribot sired three summers ago, and he is now of racing age. If Titan Ribot keeps going as strong has he has been at the age of 10, he might even meet his son on the track some day.