When a race horse turns 14, the last possible year they are eligible to race, the horse and owners are recognized in a special post parade. Flapjack Attack, a harness horse named Horse of the Year, Aged Trotter of the Year and Trotter of the Year in 2004, was among those honored Sunday at Saratoga Raceway, with owners Michael Riggi of Clifton Park, NY and John Mongeon, Jr., of Ballston Spa, NY.
Unlike many other former racehorses, Flapjack Attack, now known as "Jack” on the SUNY Cobleskill campus, is still active in a second career as a mounted police horse –the first and only mounted police horse used in the 64-campus State University system. So joining the owners at the ceremony was SUNY's only mounted police officer, Jack's trainer and SUNY Cobleskill University Police Officer John Bagdovitz, who sat atop the horse while being led by SUNY Cobleskill Equine major Paige Montanye, from Ballston Spa, NY.
In his new career, Jack is used regularly to patrol the campus but also to aid in building relationships between students and University Police.
"Having Jack on campus helps break down barriers,” said Steve Ackernecht, Vice President for Student Affairs, who races and breeds Standardbred horses and was instrumental in arranging for Jack's use at the College. "Students will come up and talk to the officer while petting the horse.”
He added that harness horses, which are standardbred, have a much calmer disposition than their thoroughbred counterparts, so Jack is ideally suited for this kind of work.
Bagdovitz had never ridden a horse before learning to train mounted police horses in 2008, when he volunteered at age 48 to be Jack's trainer and the University system's sole mounted police officer. At that time, he and Jack trained together for seven weeks at a private facility in Saratoga Springs run by New York State Park Police. The program used simulated police work, such as cars backfiring, loud sounds, smoke bombs and other police activity in the training process.
"Jack is an incredible horse,” Bagdovitz said. "All the units in the training program wanted to use him.”
At SUNY Cobleskill, equine majors have the chance to ride, care for and groom Jack when he is not being used for police activities.
"I get to go to the horse barns and get to know the students in that program,” Bagdovitz said. "Personal connections are important and we are reaching out not only to the campus community but to the people in the Cobleskill community.”
Jack also leads the annual student march in honor of cancer awareness and participates with Bagdovitz in parades in the local community.
Even beyond Cobleskill, Jack's services were used at the Cortaca Cup, known as the "biggest little football game in America,” between SUNY Cortland and Ithaca College. "Jack is there to do crowd control, but a vast majority of the time it is to get people to feel good about the police presence,” said Bagdovitz.
Though Flapjack Attack is being formally honored as horse officially retired from racing, his new life as SUNY Cobleskill's "Jack” continues to keep him in the limelight. "In 25 years of working, no one wanted to take my picture until I got on Jack,” Bagdovitz said. "He is a champion in every way.” (SUNY Cobleskill)