Horse Blago: 'Everybody comes to see the gov'

Horse named after Illinois governor doing well in new home

December 29, 2011

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Blagojevich the horse enjoys a jog around his paddock.

This Blagojevich loves to jog around his paddock. Of course, he has a lot of hair. And he likes to joke around.

So far, the standard-bred harness racing horse named after the former governor hasn’t cracked any Elvis jokes…  

But his trainer Karen Tkaczyk says he’s the barn prankster.  

"He’s just like a clown, you know? Like, he’s got a window in his door and if you’re standing there he comes out and he takes your hat off your head. He’ll grab your jacket. He just likes to play like a little puppy dog almost, you know?" she says.

Blagojevich, the horse, was born in 2005 on a farm in Big Rock, Illinois. The breeder named him Blagojevich, mostly to be cute. Horses are often named after their mothers, and his mother was called Political Promise. Plus, the horse racing industry at the time was trying to get on the governor’s good side.

His owners included Phil Langley and John Johnston, two racetrack executives. Johnston ended up testifying against the former governor in his corruption trial. He said Blagojevich tried to extort campaign contributions from him. 

And so Blagojevich the horse became a sore subject. Langley and Johnston sold him for $5,000.  He now races in Michigan and Windsor, Canada.

His new owners couldn’t change his name, though.

Tony Somone of the Illinois Harness Horseracing Association says once a horse races one time, his name becomes permanent.

"That’s for obvious reason. You’re not going to change the name of a horse and people who are betting get confused," Somone says.

It’s such serious business, horse names are actually screened and registered.

Janet Terhune of the U.S. Trotting Association makes sure the names given to standard bred horses are appropriate.

"We use urban dictionary a lot because people are always trying to name horses nasty names and don’t ask me why. I have no idea," she says. "There was a whole series of ‘panties’ that raced in the 1970s. I was like, really? Panty Raid, I mean, she was a great race mare, but we have to have a horse named Panty Raid?"

Horses also aren’t supposed to be named after specific people. The name ‘Blagojevich’ worked because it was the former governor’s last name only. Had the owners tried to register him as Rod Blagojevich, the trotting association probably would have said, “no.”

In his new home, the horse doesn’t really go by his name anyway.

"Actually we call him 'the governor,'" Tkaczyk says. "As a matter of fact, when I call him to enter him in race, I always tell everybody it’s the gov, and they’re like, OK."

His handlers know a little of the former governor’s trial.

"I heard he tried to sell some kind of senate seat or something," Tkaczyk says.

Apparently, the horse is comfortable in his more anonymous setting. Not only has he won his new owners a little bit of money, he’s popular.

"He’s got a great personality," she says. "Just an all around great animal to be around. Competitive on the track and nice in the barn."

Out of 91 races in his lifetime so far, he’s won 11 and placed well in many others.

I told his trainer if she really wanted to get him energized before a race, she should play some Elvis  music in the barn, but probably not "Jailhouse Rock."