Summer at Saratoga is heaven for the writer of a series on barnyard companion animals. Kitten season has just happened, people staying in town bring their dogs to morning barn walks, and there are bound to be goats. Each summer has its star, and this year’s star is bright enough that I couldn’t resist a special edition of Barn Buddies to spotlight him.
(Our Barn Buddies series is a long-running reader favorite. Check out the archives here. If you’d like to bring back this monthly series as a sponsor, please call our director of advertising.)
Everywhere I’ve gone this week, people have asked whether I have met Firenze, and they don’t mean Kelly Breen’s multiple graded stakes winner Firenze Fire. They’re referring to a four-month-old tabby cat named Firenze, referred to in some circles by Firenze Kitten.
“I asked the guys in the barn what they wanted to call him, and of course the first thing that came out of their mouths is Firenze,” said John Attfield, assistant to Breen.
Attfield, who is the son of Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield, said that perhaps surprisingly, he has not been a lifelong cat person. Firenze is his second cat, and he has taught Attfield a lot. Firenze knows his name, but unlike many felines, will actually come trotting when his name is called. He will not, however, come when called away from the Oklahoma Training Track, which is steps away from his barn and where he tried galloping on the outside rail a couple of times. (He had to be more closely monitored after that outburst.)
Firenze climbs trees, chases blades of grass, and will alternately accept admiration and tussle with whichever visitors come by to see him — and there are many.
Attfield picked Firenze and a littermate up from a fellow horseman on the backstretch, who insisted he had to take two kittens from a feral cat.
“He was literally as big as my hand,” recalled Attfield. “He was too little to be in the barn, so he lived in my office at Belmont.”
To Attfield’s relief, another assistant fell in love with Firenze’s sibling and relocated him, so Firenze has the Breen shedrow to himself.
It remains unclear if Firenze will be an efficient mouser; he was too little at Belmont to catch much of anything, and Attfield says there are no mice or rats at Saratoga for him to practice on, but he does pursue birds with enthusiasm, much to Attfield’s dismay. If he isn’t much of a hunter though, it won’t matter — Attfield brings him canned food in a wide variety of flavors, so that he can choose whatever suits his fancy on a given day.
Breen is mainly based in New Jersey, so his interactions with the famous Firenze have been limited, but Attfield reports the spunky kitten has made quite the impression. Breen was headed out one afternoon and had the kitten draped around his neck.
“I said, ‘Where are you going with my cat?’” said Attfield. “They’re bloody amazing animals. I didn’t realize how cool they were.”
If ever Attfield can’t find his little companion, he just peeks into the back of Firenze Fire’s stall, the first one next to the barn office. Firenze [Kitten] will nap there when things are quiet, and has a little hole back there that he can use to move between the office and his namesake. Attfield isn’t sure what the cat may get up to in the evenings, but during the day Firenze Fire is the only horse who gets a visit from Firenze.
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2021 Paulick Report.