Overcoming the odds in Thoroughbred racing happens every day. The odds in question are the betting odds, which are in actuality an opinion poll using the money from those with an opinion as to which horse will win the race. There are some horses however that had to overcome of a different nature to become winning racers. These odds had no financial weight, but were very important to the individual.
Horses can have personal demons and phobias which prevent them from achieving success. Much like humans, horses develop fears toward certain situations. These fears often become debilitating. The great German champion Lomitas had claustrophobia, which generated a genuine fear of starting stalls and the close confines of a horse van for travelling. With help from experienced and dedicated horse people, Lomitas learned to use his courage to overcome his phobia and went on to become a two time champion.
Lomitas (pronounced low-mee-tas) came into the world at Northmore Stud in Newmarket. He was bred by top German breeder Walther Jacobs, founder of Gestut Fahrhof located in Bremen. Lomitas came from a rich family as he was the son of La Colorada, the 1983 German champion two year old filly. La Colorada was sired by six time champion German sire Surumu, while her dam La Dorada was also a champion two year old filly in Germany. This is the family of foundation mare Love In, which has had a significant impact in world breeding.
The sire of Lomitas is Niniski, a dual classic winning son of the great Nijinsky. Niniski won the St. Leger Stakes and the Prix Royal-Oak during his successful racing career and then became one of the prominent sons of Nijinsky at stud. Standing his entire career at Lanwades Stud, Niniski was the leading first crop sire in 1984 and proceeded to become a two time leading British based sire in the nineteen nineties. As well as Lomitas, Niniski sired major stakes winners Kala Dancer, Petoski, Hernando, Minister’s Son and Assessor among others. He was humanely euthanized in November of 1998.
Clearly Lomitas came from regal bloodlines. He would furnish out as he grew to become an example of equine conformation excellence. His burnished chestnut coat was marked with a white stripe down his face which had a slight turn to his right nostril, and a white sock on his right hind foot. “Gorgeous” was the most often used word to describe Lomitas when people saw him.
As a youngster Lomitas was energetic and very people friendly. Jacobs had as the trainer of his racing stable Andreas Wohler, who had just taken over the stable one year earlier following his father’s untimely passing. Andreas Wohler has since become one the esteemed trainers in German racing history. Wohler’s stable was based at Bremen.
High hopes were then in place as Lomitas began his training to become a race horse. Wohler had the promising two year old fit and race ready to make his debut at Hanover. However Lomitas showed the first signs of a serious problem he had when he refused to enter the horse van and thus did not travel to Hanover to enter the race. Wohler then went back to school the promising colt.
A few weeks later Lomitas reluctantly entered the transport and was shipped to his first race. He won. The colt followed this with another outstanding performance in winning his first stakes race, the one mile Junioren Preis. Lomitas was named the top two year old colt in Germany off these two impressive races.
Andreas Wohler put Lomitas away to prepare his talented colt for the upcoming classics. Lomitas was still experiencing fear for closed spaces, especially the starting stalls. It would take the track handlers fifteen minutes to load the reluctant Lomitas for the Dr. Busch Memorial, his first start as a three year old. Once he was loaded into the gate, he ran a terrific race winning by an easy two lengths. The German 2000 Guineas was next and a chance to become a classic winner.
Lomitas went to Cologne, after a struggle to get him into the horse transport, but refused to enter the starting stalls at post time. After more than twenty minutes in trying to coax him into the gate, he was scratched and the race went ahead without him. Lomitas had become dangerous to the starting stalls handlers due to his fear. The racing commission in Germany placed a ban on him, until such a time as he could prove to be co-operative enough to be trusted to enter future races.
Enter Monty Roberts. Roberts was known as “The Horse Whisperer” in the industry. He had had success dealing with unruly horses of all types of breeds. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for understanding a horse’s fear and transmitting communication through patience and good sense in helping a horse to overcome their anxieties. Roberts had successfully demonstrated his practices in a highly publicized show in which Queen Elizabeth, a very avid and experienced horse woman in her own right, was duly impressed with.
Jacobs and Wohler called Roberts to inquire if he could be available to work with Lomitas. Roberts arrived in Germany on June 12, 1991, and proceeded to work with the colt. He was immediately impressed with Lomitas. Monty would later say, “When I began working with him, I remember stepping away from him looking him over and thinking that I am in the presence of greatness.”
Roberts found in Lomitas’ handler and exercise rider Simon Stokes, a very astute and capable horseman equal to the horse’s will power and needs. An added bonus was that Stokes was fluent in both English and German and could convey articulately Roberts’ needs to help Lomitas in his therapy. Between Roberts, Stokes, Wohler and his staff, Lomitas gradually overcame his fear of first horse vans, and then starting stalls. The horse bonded with Roberts, who had gained the trust of Lomitas, and “talked” to him.
Roberts was ready to demonstrate to the racing stewards that Lomitas was now sufficiently calm enough to load into a starting stall, so a trial was set up at Bremen Race Course. With no other horses present, Lomitas walked calmly into and out of the gate several times. He had actually stood in the stall for hours, proving that he had made enormous progress with his rehabilitation. Another trial was conducted the next day with horses in the gate present. Lomitas passed with flying colours.
The stewards reinstated Lomitas on a race to race basis.
The German Derby was now only weeks away. Wohler needed to get a race into Lomitas, and if all went well, the prime target at the beginning of the year could be reached. Lomitas started at his home track Bremen for a listed stakes race, which was the last possible trial before the Derby. Roberts led Lomitas into the gate. The horse calmly and without any trouble entered the stall as if he never had any doubts. An ironic twist to the day came when Lomitas and a few other entrants had to wait patiently in the stalls while another horse balked at entering his gate and upheld proceedings. Lomitas then broke sharply at the off and won the race, but it was clear that he needed the race for his fitness.
Monty Roberts was confident that Lomitas had learned to bury his claustrophobic fears. The horse’s “Psychiatrist” had also taught Simon Stokes the ins and outs of how to continue with Lomitas’ therapy. Stokes became Lomitas’ best friend and not only groomed him, but also continue to ride him for his workouts as well.
Lomitas entered the German Derby and was taken to the starting stalls by both Roberts and Stokes, thus continuing the horse’s education to become just as trusting of Stokes as he was to Roberts. In the race Lomitas was well placed and coming into the home straight, he put his challenge in. He looked strong but then began to drift once he was clear. Temporal, ridden by a young Frankie Dettori, mounted a serious charge to nab Lomitas at the wire and win the race.
Although disappointed with the result, Jacobs and Wohler were still impressed with the performance. It appeared that Lomitas was just slightly lacking his full fitness that day. His subsequent races the rest of the year confirmed this assessment.
The rest of the major group one races in Germany, the Grosser Preis von Berliner Bank, the Grosser Preis von Baden and the Europa Preis and were swept by the great Lomitas. Now fully confident and in top notch condition, Lomitas showed the world of racing his immense talent and class. He dominated these races, on the verge of destroying those fields. In the Grosser Preis von Baden he was ten lengths ahead of second placed Temporal, thus avenging his Derby loss.
Lomitas was named the top three year old in Germany and added to his laurels when he was voted as the German Horse of the Year. Jacobs decided to keep his star in training for the next year. Again during the winter down time, optimism for success was very high.
After an uneventful winter in which Lomitas thrived, he came back to the races to start in the Grosser Preis der Wirtschaft. He finished second to Hondo Mondo, obviously needing the race for fitness. He came back in the Gerling Preis to win the group two event with authority. Lomitas took his next race, the Hansa Preis with resounding domination. Following this triumph, dark clouds of a sinister nature came to light, threatening Lomitas’ very existence.
Walther Jacobs received a letter stating that Lomitas would be killed unless he paid a substantial amount of money to stop this from happening. The extortion letter was reported to the police and Jacobs hired a twenty-four hour security guard company to help protect his horse. With the memory of the demise of Shergar still somewhat fresh in the minds of Thoroughbred owners, Jacobs took this threat very seriously.
Wohler continued with the training regimen of Lomitas and entered him in the Grosser Preis von Berliner Bank at Dusseldorf, which he had won the previous year. Lomitas seemed quiet, almost lethargic. He had no trouble loading into the starting stalls, that crisis in his life behind him now, but in the race he never challenged or made any attempt to do so, finishing well back. It was obvious something was wrong.
A letter came to Jacobs the day after the Dusseldorf race. The crooks had poisoned his champion just enough to throw him off his game, to prove their intent. Veterinarian reports confirmed that indeed Lomitas had been poisoned, causing the dismal performance. The previous week, there was a hay fire at Gestut Fahrhof said to be lit by an arsonist, and now this poisoning of Lomitas signalled that the extortionists were deadly serious and were capable of carrying out their threat.
Lomitas was shipped out of Germany and went into hiding. He showed none of his old fears when he boarded the plane which took him from Bremen to England. Only a select few knew of where the horse was. It has since been revealed that Simon Stokes accompanied Lomitas to Lester and Susan Piggott’s stables in Newmarket. While in seclusion, Lomitas went by the pseudonym “Pirelli” to deflect knowledge of his presence. Tighter security for the horse was implemented. He was exercised pre-dawn in an attempt to avoid probing eyes.
Although he began to train well and was seemingly putting the poisoning incident behind him, racing Lomitas in England was never considered. His training was never publicized but he was beginning to stand out on the gallops. Lomitas still wanted to race, and it would only be a matter of time before his true identity would be discovered. Jacobs’ fears for his champion’s safety led him to ship Lomitas and Stokes to California in another clandestine operation, to continue his racing career. Monty Roberts was foremost in arranging the travel plans and secure the services of Ron McAnally as trainer.
He developed a series of quarter cracks not long after his arrival. Lomitas had never had any foot trouble previously. McAnally enlisted hoof specialist Ian McKinley to look at the problem. “What happened to this horse five months ago” asked McKinley upon his initial inspection. The band of tissue had darkened around his feet and grew down, separating the stress areas which resulted in the cracks. McKinley applied Equilox on each foot for treatment, in order to artificially strengthen the hoof wall. This took some time, but by February Lomitas went back into training.
Lomitas made four starts in California showing some of his old fire. He won one race via disqualification to the horse that had impeded him in the stretch. Then in April at Hollywood Park he ran the fastest final quarter mile in that track’s history. However he had been so far behind before his big run that he could only finish second. Lomitas was still however suffering with his feet, so Jacobs decided to retire him to stud. The beautiful champion spent several weeks at Roberts’ ranch to unwind and then returned home to Gestut Fahrhof in Germany to begin his new career.
Lomitas was as successful at stud as he was on the track. With his impeccable conformation and bloodlines, he was able to sire some wonderful and memorable sons and daughters. His first crop led him to become the leading freshman sire in Germany, and from this great start he never looked back.
That first crop contained Belenus, winner of the German Derby and the Europa Preis, German 2000 Guineas winner Sumitas and Arlington Million winner Silvano. The latter was bred and raced by Gestut Fahrhof and travelled extensively. He won the G1 Singapore Cup and the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup in the Far East. He also won the Grosser Preis Der Wirtschaft on home soil, thus avenging his sire’s loss eight years earlier. Silvano is currently standing stud at Maine Chance Farm in South Africa to great acclaim. He was the Equus Champion sire there in 2013.
Further crops sired by Lomitas had top notch stakes winner such as Championship Point, Veracity, Shalanaya (Prix de l’Opera), Blue Moon, Divisa, Liquido (German St. Leger), Molly Malone (Prix du Cadran), Meridiana (Italian Oaks), Quilanga, Sadowa (Italian 1000 Guineas), and the amazing Danedream.
Danedream was undoubtedly Lomitas’s best offspring. Standing barely over 15.0 hands, this Cartier champion three year old filly, and two time German horse of the year, captured the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2011. That same three year old season she won the Italian Oaks, Grosser Preis von Berlin and the Grosser Preis von Baden. At four Danedream won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and repeated in the Grosser Preis von Baden. Danedream’s Arc victory was sweet for all who loved Lomitas, as this race was the target for the four year old campaign that was throttled by the death threats to her sire.
During his stud career, Lomitas spent five seasons at Darley’s Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket. Sheikh Mohammed had purchased a large share in him. Lomitas came home in 2007 to further his career but had by this time begun to suffer from low fertility. He covered only a small book of private mares. On August 31, 2010 Lomitas was euthanized due to failing health. He was twenty-two. Lomitas is buried at Gestut Fahrhof.
Lomitas was a special horse. Bred to be a champion, he succeeded in doing so. He became a wonderful sire and helped to perpetuate his great bloodline. But above all he faced his fears and conquered them. His life was seriously threatened and he survived. I can’t think of another Thoroughbred in recent memory to overcome such high odds stacked against his chances of succeeding, and do so with such incredible class.
Whether one believes in the methods of Monty Roberts or not, one cannot argue with the success he had in helping Lomitas get past his claustrophobia and go on to success. I for one do believe in his methods, and applaud Monty for his major contributions to horse care and health.
Loved by all who knew him, Lomitas has earned a special place in the annuls of Thoroughbred history. I wish I could have met him.
Photo of Lomitas and Monty Roberts courtesy of Gestut Fahrhof.