Ask Newell, South Dakota native Dale Simanton what he thinks his chances are against two Olympic equestrians and just smiles and shakes his head.
"We can only go out and do our best. But, I think our best is pretty darn good," he says.
On Oct. 5, Simanton and his off-track thoroughbred, Rikim, will take center stage at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md., where he will compete against nine other horse trainers for the title of "America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred."
The winner takes home a grand prize of $10,000. The event is part of the Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover, a celebration of all things related to horses who have ended their racing careers and are looking for a second one.
The competitors include Olympic gold medalist (in 3-day eventing) Phillip Dutton and his horse, Icabad Crane as well as Olympian Armand Leone with his horse Discreet Dancer.
Both Dutton's and Leone's horses come from blueblood background and raced in America's biggest races (Icabad was third in the 2008 Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the Triple Crown).
Rikim and Simanton may not have such fancy resumes, but they come into the competition with plenty of blue collar work ethic and good, old-fashioned "try" behind them.
Simanton, originally from Montana, has lived in South Dakota for nearly three decades and has been a racehorse trainer, a breeder and now a trainer of off-track thoroughbreds, taking horses rejected from the track for age, health issues or being too slow, and retraining them as ranch mounts at his Gate to Great facility near the Black Hills.
Rikim is what the racing world calls a "war horse," a horse that has run 50 times or more. He ran 75 times at racetracks up and down the East Coast before finally ending up at Beulah Park in Ohio last spring.
Along the way, he took home 12 wins and earned $92,476, which seems like a lot until you realize it comes to just over $1,200 a race, especially considering that fellow "Most Wanted" competitor Discreet Dancer took home over $47,000 a race. Rikim ran his last race on April 7 of this year and was settling in at Simanton's ranch the very next day.
Rikim spent the summer learning the fine points of being a cow horse from Simanton. He worked his first cattle branding in June, just 60 days removed from the racetrack and the pair were recently second in the Labor Day Ranch Rodeo in Newell, against seasoned, purpose-bred ranch horses.
"I don't think I've sat on a more willing, harder trying horse," said Simanton of his mount. "He always tries to do anything I ask, even if he is scared or doesn't quite get it. He always says 'yes' and gives it his best shot."
Simanton and Rikim will travel more than 2,000 miles and compete on the very racetrack where Rikim won his first race, back in 2008. They are the underdogs in this competition, but that has never stopped a good horse (or cowboy) from trying their best, Simanton said.
The final decision on who wins the title of America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred comes from a nationwide public vote. The first round of voting already is complete. The second round will take place during the competition itself on Sunday, Oct. 5 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST. The event will be live streamed on the internet and the public is invited to place their votes at http://www.retiredracehorseproject.org/2014-thoroughbred-makeover-a-marketplace-and-national-symposium