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Stories about your favorite retired racehorses. For archived stories, click here.

Peter Brown-Whale didn’t plan on any of this. Not adopting an off-track Thoroughbred, boarding him at a local farm, retraining him and getting back into competition – none of it. The long-time exercise rider for trainer Tim Keefe had no agenda, but he had kept an eye on a favorite morning mount for several years after the horse was claimed away from Keefe.

On Sept. 6, 2021, the 10-year-old Monkey’s Medal made career start 103 in a $5,000 claiming race at Timonium for trainer Mike Gorham and owner Robert Gorham Jr. The gelding won – for the 13th time – and was claimed back by Keefe. Brown-Whale picked up the gelding at the test barn that day, and their lives changed.

“This was a purely emotional decision,” Brown-Whale said. “Not financial, not logical in any way. And it has worked out better than expected, for sure.”

Brown-Whale was Monkey’s Medal’s exercise rider from the time he arrived at Keefe’s Laurel Park barn as a 2-year-old in 2013 until he was claimed by Gorham three years later. 

“He was always one of my favorites when we had him,” Brown-Whale said. “So when he got claimed I was obviously disappointed by that, and I kept an eye on him.”

By Medallist out of the Old Trieste mare My Little Monkey, Monkey’s Medal was bred in Pennsylvania by Tom Teal and began his career running for his breeder. 

Brown-Whale was also the regular exercise rider for stable star Eighttofasttocatch, a millionaire and three-time winner of the Maryland Million Classic, so the new arrival had quite the act to follow. It didn’t take long for Monkey’s Medal to measure up.

“He had a lot of personality, kind of a horse who would play and buck a lot,” Brown-Whale said, “but just in a feeling good sort of way, not mean-spirited.” 

Monkey’s Medal debuted as a 3-year-old at Penn National in February 2014 and was a model of consistency from the beginning, placing in his first five starts before breaking his maiden at Parx Racing four months later. His connections kept him protected in allowance and optional claiming races and he rewarded them with five wins over two seasons. 

On April 1, 2016, Monkey’s Medal finished third for a $32,000 tag and was claimed by Gorham for Old Coach Farm.

Brown-Whale kept a vigilant eye on his old friend.

“I always had him in my Equibase virtual stable, so I got all the updates whenever he did anything and never lost track of him at all.”

Over the next five years, Monkey’s Medal ran 80 times – all but two at Mid-Atlantic tracks. He earned black type with a third in the Roanoke Stakes at Parx Racing in 2016, but his eight wins for the Gorhams all came in claiming races. 

“I knew a bunch of the jockeys who rode him, and I would ask about him,” Brown-Whale said. “They would say, ‘He’s doing fine.’ ”

The horse ran to his ability and remained consistent, gradually appearing in the lower-level ranks. At age 10, he was regularly running for the $5,000 tag.

“I kept bugging Tim like, ‘Hey, did you see this horse is in again?’ ” Brown-Whale said. 

He wasn’t the only one. Brown-Whale’s wife Jenn would mention Monkey’s Medal every time she saw Keefe. Then the trainer’s clients Kim and Kelly Campbell reached out about helping give the horse a fitting retirement. So did another Keefe client, owner/breeder Cynthia McGinnes of Thornmar Farm. 

“I always wanted to do right by the horse and do the right thing too, but to hear from people who had no connection to him was something else,” Keefe said. “It’s pretty amazing, and a great example of what horses mean to people.”

Five years after losing Monkey’s Medal at the claim box, Keefe returned serve and took him back. The trainer filled out the claim slip, but the others helped make it happen. With the horse came heavy numbers of 103-13-8-25 and $437,897 earned.

From Timonium, Monkey’s Medal went to Keefe’s barn at Laurel for about a week to be checked out and given time to decompress. From there, he went to Foxie G Foundation for another week to allow Brown-Whale time to find a suitable boarding arrangement. 

Monkey’s Medal was none the worse for wear, returning to his former connections sound and in good condition.

“They were definitely taking good care of him,” Brown-Whale said.

The first order of business for the new partnership was well-earned downtime and turnout for Monkey’s Medal. Brown-Whale, who grew up competing in hunter/jumper shows, had been out of that realm since 2006.

Born right next to Pimlico at Baltimore’s Sinai Hospital, Brown-Whale moved overseas with his parents – who were missionaries – while still very young. He learned to ride in Mozambique when the family lived in Africa. Wanting their children to attend high school in the United States, the family returned, and Brown-Whale has been in Maryland ever since.

“I also rode in some amateur timber races, I think maybe a dozen or so,” said Brown-Whale. “I was working for Bruce Fenwick, Tommy Smith and Charlie Fenwick at the time.”

Brown-Whale gave Monkey’s Medal a complete break for two months and then started hacking and gradually putting him back in work in May 2022.

“Then I started just teaching him some basics. I had no goals with him at all . . . I literally didn’t know what he would be capable of or what he would be good at. I didn’t want to feel any pressure bringing him along. I didn’t take him to his first show until a year and a half after I got him. 

That first show was a combined training event at Columbia Horse Center in April 2023, which the pair “won easily.” 

“He’s a very, very cool horse, and the jumping came very easily to him. I took him to the all-Thoroughbred show they had at Tranquility Manor Farms [in Monkton, Md.]. I put him in the hunter division there, and he did come in second in the handy hunter stake, but no – he’s not really a hunter,” Brown-Whale laughed.

Running and jumping was more his forte, so their next outing was a novice combined training event at the starter horse trials at Loch Moy Farm in Adamstown, Md., in November.

“He’s very good at it,” Brown-Whale said. “He finished second and won the T.I.P. [Thoroughbred Incentive Program]Award for highest-placing Thoroughbred.”

Plans are to keep working over the winter and hopefully debut at training level next spring. To date, Brown-Whale has taken just two professional lessons – one from hunter/jumper trainer Carolyn Krome, with whom he rode as a teenager. The second, from event rider Sabrina Morris, was a dressage lesson “because dressage is completely different for me.”

Most gratifying and enjoyable for Brown-Whale have been the reactions of people who have recognized Monkey’s Medal at their competitions.

“They’ve all seen him run or run against him at some point. They had no actual connection to him. But people will casually hear me mention his name and say, ‘You have Monkey’s Medal?! I loved that horse!’”

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