Molly D’Agostino stands for standardbreds

Her MMXX Standardbreds creates opportunities for standardbred horses in their second career.

by Chris Lomon

Molly D’Agostino has plenty to show, literally and figuratively, for her advocacy of the standardbred breed.

It was a short conversation, the one that happened a handful of years ago, but the words she heard that day struck a chord with the doting young horsewoman.

“I had a horse, Fox Valley Photog, who my family raced until he was 14 and then he was retired,” said the New York-born D’Agostino, who now calls Connecticut home. “We had him in our backyard, and I remember the day that our neighbor, someone who is in the quarter horse world, watched him run around outside. She said, ‘Wow, he’s really fancy.’ I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but she helped me break him so that I could ride him.”

When she did, D’Agostino had a thought.

“After a while, I decided to take him to the National Standardbred Show,” D’Agostino said.

Held in late summer in New Jersey since 1995, the show is presented jointly by the Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization of New Jersey (SPHO-NJ), the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey (SBOA-NJ) and the United States Trotting Association (USTA). Standardbreds from across the country travel to compete in over 40 classes, open only to the breed.

Fox Valley Photog’s racing career produced 35 wins and $144,532 earnings in 308 starts.

The chestnut gelding, a son of Vaporize—Fancy Creek Photo, would find greater success in a vastly different setting.

And with it, D’Agostino would discover a career she had never envisioned.

“I’m kind of that stage mom, who is so happy and proud, so we started to take him to horse shows around New England,” D’Agostino said. “He was doing great and when we started doing these regional shows — he was winning — people were wondering what this horse was all about. I was excited to tell him he was a standardbred and that he raced 308 times.

“People wanted to know how they could get one. And that’s when the lightbulb went on… I have this connection to the racing industry and now I am starting to build connections in the riding-horse community.”

The more D’Agostino ruminated, the more she believed the two worlds could be merged to create a unique initiative.

In 2020, she made it a reality.

That was the year D’Agostino started an all-standardbred horse show team (MMXX Standardbreds) to open doors and eyes for the breed.

Its mission is to create a market for the equine athletes in the show ring; the largest commercial transaction pool for equines in North America.

Home to several standardbreds, either permanently or seasonally competing in several events under saddle, MMXX assists racing connections with the retraining of their horses for sale in a second career.

All transactions are done off-track, with MMXX acting as the liaison between racehorse connections and potential pleasure homes.

The results have been blue ribbon, to say the least.

“I have been involved with racing my entire life and I have always had an appreciation for horses, so when I had an opportunity to take it into a new realm, the show ring, and to see these horses beat the traditional show breeds, like quarter horses, and other warmbloods; it was fantastic,” D’Agostino said.

And deeply rewarding.

“We are in triple digits at this point, in terms of horses that are now in the show world,” she said. “Getting to follow along in their journey, seeing and reading about how they are excelling.”

A glance at the MMXX website (Fox Valley Photog’s racing ID tattoo is now part of the MMXX logo)

shows just how successful standardbreds have become in the ring.

Ribbons, awards, and accolades are on full display in the Hall of Fame section.

“There are a lot of stereotypes about standardbreds in the riding world that are completely untrue and unfair,” D’Agostino said. “We figured the only way to rewrite history was to go out and beat them at their own game. And that is what we are doing.

“The heart that these horses have on the racetrack and in the show ring is remarkable. They are an amazing breed.”

A breed that D’Agostino knows well.

Her love of racing and its equine participants is in her DNA.

Lon Rosenfeld, her uncle and a successful Vernon trainer and driver, was the one who got her mother Laura, and father Joe, involved in harness racing.

A young Molly cleaned stalls and helped around the barn before attaining her groom’s license.

She worked for her uncle and father, as well as Frank Davis and David Dewhurst.

While racing was music to her ears, so too were other pursuits.

A record deal — Molly is an accomplished musician — led to travel and touring. Her studies, specifically, attaining a law degree, didn’t allow much time for other personal interests.

Racing, however, was never far removed from her thoughts.

After earning her law degree, Molly delved into the horse ownership ranks when she purchased a yearling.

She has owned horses ever since.

“I have always felt a bond with horses, and I have always had a profound respect for their kindness, athleticism, talents, and abilities,” Molly said.

Molly has never been more invested in the sport, a tireless and passionate proponent for the health and welfare of standardbreds.

The MMXX adoption program, launched in the fall of 2023, has helped place almost 100 horses to date at tracks and centers throughout the U.S., from Bangor to Yonkers and several other racetracks.

“Our average adoption price right now is $3,500, which is phenomenal for these absolutely amazing animals,” she said. “I think more people are finding that out for themselves, that these standardbreds are first-class athletes.”

Including those in the horse-riding community.

Convincing them to consider standardbreds is becoming less of a struggle.

“The only way you can make change happen, in terms of suitable aftercare, is power in numbers,” she said. “We want to get their name out there, that standardbreds have the heart, the talent, and the smarts to walk amongst others in the show ring.

“We want to engage the horse-riding world throughout the U.S. and introduce them to the power of the standardbred.”

Molly has found a common theme in her interactions at horse shows and with those who have adopted horses through the MMXX pipeline.

“It’s always along the lines of, ‘I had no idea…’ and ‘How wonderful and easy they are to train,’” she said. “We want people in horse-riding circles to join the fun too and get yourself one of these wonderful standardbreds.

“A lot of the people who get a standardbred are pleasantly surprised how quick the transition is, how fast they become your best friend, and how capable they are in the show ring. That is an absolute dream for us to hear.”

The dream for MMXX going forward is an unexpected one.

“It might be the opposite of what you think, but if my program is successful, there won’t be a need for us,” Molly said. “That’s my goal, to create a platform where owners and trainers can connect with these riding-horse homes.

“I’m working with Charles Taylor, a standardbred breeder, to build an online portal where we can start facilitating both adoptions and sales. Hopefully, it is something where I can hand off the reins and it can be taken in the direction of a self-sustaining model.”

For now, it is business as usual at MMXX.

It remains, cliché noted, a true labor of love for Molly.

“All of what we do is off-track, which I am very proud of,” she said. “We have great people at every track connecting us to the right people. My network goes throughout New York. One of the big reasons why we have grown is Kim Martino; she is one of the representatives at the racetrack. She has done so much to build up those connections.

“I’m so proud of what we have accomplished. But I think the biggest thing is that trainers and owners are starting to come to us organically. When it comes to adoption fees, their response is, ‘That doesn’t matter. I just want to find them a good home.’”

As it is for Molly.

There are recurring reminders, pleasant ones, that MMXX is making a significant impact on behalf of former racehorses.

“Every time I get a connection from the racing world, someone who is telling us they want a better future for their horse, and that they want us to help with that, it is something we are so proud of,” Molly said.

There is also a sense of pride in a journey that is not yet complete, but already has much to show.

“Watching this idea come to fruition and people seeing value in this is wonderful,” she said. “These horses deserve that recognition. They are truly beautiful in every way.”