Edited Press Release
At age 12, Anna Huard rode her Thoroughbred Manhattan Striker in the 2018 Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, just months after his last race, a fifth-place finish in the World Class Leadership Handicap at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong.
Five years later, Huard and Manhattan Striker are still together, and as Huard began her senior year in high school in Michigan, she took home the trophy in the Hunter Division for the TAKE2 High-Score Junior Rider Award, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA). Huard earned 452 points, 85 points more than the runner-up, Julia Buytenhuys.
Created for the 2018 season in partnership with TCA, the award recognizes the junior riders competing on Thoroughbreds in nationwide TAKE2-affiliated Hunter and Jumper classes, with a trophy for the champion, and TAKE2/TCA saddle pads for the top five junior riders in each division.
In addition, all junior riders who are enrolled for the award and compete in TAKE2 classes are eligible for a drawing for a $1,000 scholarship grant from TAKE2. The grant can be used to pay tuition and expenses for higher education anywhere in the U.S. Individuals are eligible as TAKE2 Junior Riders until the end of the TAKE2 season in which they reach the age of 18.
When Huard began the 2023 TAKE2 season, she didn’t really think that she had a chance to finish as the top junior rider.
“There was a girl above me who is so good, and I thought, there’s no way I’m beating her,” said Huard. “But as the season went on, I thought, ‘OK, this could actually happen.’
“I was so excited, and really proud of all the trainers who helped me get there. And my horse was so good.”
Huard received her trophy at the Kentucky Horse Park in September, during the Kentucky National Horse Show. She also competed in the TAKE2 Hunter Finals at the show, finishing in the top 10.
Bred in Australia, Manhattan Striker raced exclusively in Hong Kong, running 23 times without making it to the winner’s circle. He was one of a dozen horses acquired by CANTER for retraining and adoption at Willowbrooke Farm, one of the organization’s three Michigan facilities. Founded in Michigan in 1998, CANTER has affiliate chapters throughout the U.S. The 100% volunteer organization provides retiring Thoroughbred racehorses with rehabilitation and retraining for new career opportunities.
Willowbrooke’s owner Jennifer Blades said that the 11-year-old didn’t make a particularly good first impression with his groundwork, but his trainers, including Blades, Michelle Friedman, Laura Steenrod, and Huard’s mother Sara Anderson, had him ready for the Thoroughbred Makeover that fall.
He has more than made up for those early less-then-favorable efforts.
“Ask him anything, and he’ll do his best to be the best,” Huard said. “He’s very smart, and he takes care of me. If I ride up to a jump and it’s a bad distance, he will save my butt, as we like to call it; he’ll shorten stride and take care of me.
“He listens really well,” she continued. “He’s very serious and he likes to win, but he’s also the type of guy that if you have a younger kid who wants to sit on a horse, he’s your guy. You can put anyone on him.”
In addition to traveling to horse shows and attending high school, Huard is also applying to college, where she wants to enroll in a pre-veterinary program while continuing to compete.
“I hope that I can bring him with me,” she said. “That’s the goal.”
But even if Manhattan Striker can’t accompany her to college, he’ll be waiting for her when she goes home.
“He’s never leaving us,” she said. “We’ll keep him forever.”
For the second straight year, Cyanea Robine won the TAKE2 Junior Rider Award in the Jumper Division with Riley, but she is currently taking a break from the show ring. She is in her first year at Montana State University in Bozeman.
“My first few weeks here in Bozeman have been awesome, the weather has been very enjoyable, and the view looking anywhere is beautiful,” Robine said. “I am currently studying film, and I am about to start on my first personal project along with helping some seniors with their senior film.”
She added, “I knew going into college that I would have to stop riding since it’s expensive to go to college and ride at the same time. But Montana State has an IHSA hunt seat team, so if I start to miss riding too much I know that’s a possibility for me to join! Along with that Montana State has a really good rodeo team as well which is a super fun thing to watch.”
The TAKE2 Junior Rider Award is helping to fulfill the program’s mission.
“We’re thrilled to see the success that Anna and Cyanea have had on their Thoroughbreds,” said Erin Halliwell, executive director of TCA. “Programs like TAKE2 that work to incentivize riders to choose a Thoroughbred as their next mount have really moved the needle in terms of creating a demand for Thoroughbreds among equestrians. We know Thoroughbreds are extremely versatile, trainable, and willing and we are proud to partner with TAKE2 to help spread this message.”
The TCA, which provides funding to approved nonprofits working to support the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industries, distributed grants totaling more than $821,000 to 75 organizations this year. The TAKE2 Program has been a proud TCA grant recipient since 2016.
“We are so grateful for the support of the TCA,” TAKE2 Executive Director Andy Belfiore said. “Our focus from the start has been promoting second careers for retired racehorses, and the partnership with TCA on the Junior Rider Award has been a real success story. Encouraging young horsemen and women to compete on Thoroughbreds creates a lifelong love of the breed and opens even more opportunities beyond the racetrack.”