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Breeders' Cup 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Past the Grandstand

Ponies of the Track - Cinch: The Perfect Prince

Photo: Terri Cage Photography


It is a normal day at the track. The sun shines down on the crowd, bettors stand in line to place their bets, the smell of hot dogs and lemonade drifts through the air, and a group of pony horses and their riders stand along the rail. A small child reaches up to touch one of the horse’s noses, giggling as its whiskers tickle her palm. The rider smiles, telling the child the horse’s name. The horse may not be a grade one-winning Thoroughbred; it may not even be a Thoroughbred. But a new fan has just been made.

There are many forgotten heroes at the racetrack of the human variety: grooms, hotwalkers, EMTs, veterinarians, and jockey valets among them. But there are also equine heroes outside of the obvious racehorses: the outrider horses and lead ponies. They are kicked, they are bit, they are slammed into, and they are pushed around. They tolerate the immature two-year-old, the testy mare, and the lazy gelding. Their riders often endure the same difficulties. But these horses also provide guidance and comfort for many racehorses, as well as a best friend for many young children and loyal racetrackers that visit the track.

For racing enthusiasts that frequently watch racing on television or visit the track regularly, a pony horse may become familiar in appearance, but it is rather unusual for a pony horse’s name to be known. The name of the racehorse alongside the pony is in the program, on the television monitor, and in pedigree databases, but the pony is largely anonymous. But for hours upon hours – whether it be in the morning or afternoon – the pony works tirelessly, often encountering unruly racehorses and unpredictable weather. It is time to shine a light upon these hard workers.

Please enjoy my first installment of a new series featuring these horses, called “Ponies of the Track.”

Cinch: The Perfect Prince

The white and brown pattern of Cinch’s tobiano coat is a contrast to the solid, sleek coats of the Thoroughbreds that travel alongside him. He has become a familiar sight to many Southern California racing fans, as well as any fans that attended or watched the Breeders’ Cup races held at Santa Anita in recent years. The lead pony for such horses as Turf Sprint runner-up Tightend Touchdown and Filly & Mare Sprint third-place finisher Dance Card at this year’s championships, Cinch has become one of the most popular and easily recognizable ponies among fans on the Southern California circuit.











Cinch and Mary Ellet ponying Dance Card at the Breeders' Cup
Photo by Terri Cage


More often than not, Cinch is ridden by his twenty-year-old owner, Mary Ellet. Ellet has grown up around the racetrack, as her parents work at the track – both as pony riders, though her mother also outrides in the morning. Cinch joined the Ellet family in 2007 for the purpose of being used by Ellet’s brother for rodeo. However, in May 2011, Cinch’s life took a different course.

“My brother brought his horses home from college during winter break,” Ellet recalled. “My mom and I didn’t let him take Cinch back because we liked him too much. Because of how level-headed and calm Cinch was, we guessed that he would have no problem whatsoever on the track and he didn’t!”

Since then, Cinch has joined Ellet in ponying for various trainers – including Bob Baffert, Barry Abrams, Richard Mandella, and Mike Mitchell – at the Southern California tracks: Santa Anita Park, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, and Fairplex. Just as the Ellets predicted, it was immediately evident that Cinch would make a good track pony. Like any pony needs to be, Cinch is durable and willing to endure whatever his job throws at him.

“He doesn’t mind when the horse is slamming into him or acting up,” Ellet stated. “He’s not very sensitive to the stirrup hitting his flank area [and] he doesn’t mind if a horse gets too close to him. He knows what his job is and I know that’s not going to quit on me when a horse gets too crazy or too tough. And because of his thick build, he doesn’t get pushed around much.”
















Cinch as a unicorn on Halloween
Photo by Terri Cage 

Cinch has proven to be the perfectly suitable horse for Ellet to use as a pony, as his helpfulness often makes the difficult job of ponying an easier task for Ellet.

“He’s very light on the mouth and moves off my legs and body weight so I don’t have to put too much work into steering or controlling him – most of the time it’s just a finger,” Ellet said. “I can, and do, drop my reins so that I can pet the racehorses to calm them down and Cinch just navigates off of my leg.”

Cinch has established himself as a versatile pony, exhibiting the ability to escort all types of racehorses.

“He’s great with all horses,” Ellet stated. “I would say that he’s the most influential with the nervous horses because he’s so calm that he doesn’t rile them up any more (than they already are). But, he doesn’t mind being a babysitter or a tow truck; he’ll do whatever I tell him to.”

But it is not only Cinch’s willingness under saddle that makes Cinch such an outstanding pony. The gelding has a kind disposition that is made apparent to any fan that meets him along the rail.

“Cinch adores people, little kids especially,” Ellet said. “When I’m walking down the tunnel in between races, if there is someone leaning on the rail, Cinch will literally stop and make them pet him. Or, if I’m waiting by the wall and a little kid passes by, he watches them and if they stop, he immediately walks up to the rail, whether I want him to or not.”











Jockey David Flores' son playing with Cinch's mane
Photo by Terri Cage 

Cinch’s kindness extends beyond his friendliness towards people, however. Although he prefers for attention to be on him rather than other horses, he is kind to every fellow equine. This feeling is mutual for many of the racehorses he encounters, but especially fillies, making him quite the ladies’ man.

“There are some horses, mostly fillies, that love his mane,” Ellet stated. “They just stick their nose in his mane the entire post parade. Blind Luck adored all of my horses, but she loved Tango (another track pony that belongs to the Ellets) and Cinch the most. I could tell when she really liked my pony because, when she was happy, she would lick the pony’s neck.”

Although Cinch is typically fond of most racehorses he ponies, he has found a competitor in Tiz the Truth, a talented three-year-old son of Tiznow trained by Bob Baffert.

“Tiz the Truth recognizes Cinch now, although Cinch doesn’t like Tiz that much because I always give way too much attention to Tiz and not enough to Cinch,” Ellet said. “He’s never had to compete for my affection before.”

Despite this, Cinch will always have Ellet’s affection. In their years together, the bond between the two has vastly grown, extending beyond the racetrack.

“I love Cinch for a lot more reasons than him just working well on the racetrack,” Ellet said fondly. “He’s my partner, he’s my best friend, and he’s my perfect prince. I trust him with everything. I can give total beginners lessons him, trail ride, barrel race, rope, and work on the track. He’s there whenever I need him.”














Mary Ellet aboard Cinch, with her mother, Cindy
Photo by Terri Cage 


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Older Comments about Ponies of the Track - Cinch: The Perfect Prince...

I have noticed Cinch many times at the Southern California tracks, he really stands out among the other ponies. There is also another pony I have been watching for a few years, this one is an appy and they always have his tail tied to the saddle. Did you ever meet this horse? He looks like he would be a character, like many appys.
  • grandstand · If you're talking about the leopard chestnut Appaloosa at the Southern California tracks, that is Indio. I've never met him, but he is one of my favorites! I, too, love Appaloosas, as I own and show one :) - Mary Cage · 1425 days ago
  • https://www.facebook.com/maryellet · Indio was Jack Van Berg's pony, but was ridden by Mario for like 3 years. He was just sold to the Proctor barn a few weeks ago. · 1414 days ago
standardbreds are smaller and have an easy disposition so they're well fitted for this work.
A lot of them are retired standardbreds
i love lava man
there are many heroes at the racetrack, thanks for this fine article. Cinch is cool!
Very nice, Mary C. The track ponies do an important job, and by nature they are largely calm and steady; some become "mentors" for their racing counterparts. Best Pal and Lava Man seem to be/have been in that category on the California tracks. Thanks for telling us about Cinch!
I'll be the first to admit that I sometimes forget about the importance of the track ponies, but what wonderful ambassadors they are for our sport ... especially to our youngest fans!
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About Mary Cage


Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage, a 21-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association and has interned at WinStar Farm with a marketing focus - with projects involving photography, videography, giving tours, data entry, etc. 

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. She has also worked as a hotwalker and groom.

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer/photographer and marketing/communications specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan and transport you to some of racing's biggest events through her photos and words.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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