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Off-Track Thoroughbreds Give Cerofolini New Lease on Life

For Andrea Cerofolini, the love of the horse was ignited later in life. But his passion for the Thoroughbred has taken center stage over the past decade, highlighted by an ever-deepening involvement with off-the-track race horses.

“When I’m on a Thoroughbred, I feel like I am flying on a cloud,” Cerofolini said. “I just don’t feel that way on other types of horses. It’s just magical.”

Through his connection with the Thoroughbred, Cerofolini became involved with TAKE2, a non-profit committed to promoting and developing second careers for racehorses following their retirement from the track.

“From the day I arrived, I felt so welcome,” he said of the events the organization hosts. “I felt as if I was part of an elite group. And the Thoroughbred competitors I’ve met along the way are so nice. It really is a big community of animal lovers. That’s why we have so much fun at these competitions. We get to see the same riders and same horses, which has allowed us to become friends.”

Quiet Ray, who helped light Cerofolini’s passion with off-the-track Thoroughbreds in 2015, didn’t appear to be an ideal starter horse for the then inexperienced rider. A $540,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase in 2013, the striking son of Eskendereya didn’t make much of an impact at the races, hitting the board in one of nine career starts before retiring in 2015 with $6,600 in earnings.

The chestnut, initially used as a Fox Hunter following his retirement from racing, clearly needed some time to ease off the pedal, recalls Cerofolini.

“After I took him home, I was ready to call the owner and tell them we can’t keep the horse,” he recalled. “But the horse and I fell in love only after a couple of days. He was really personable and really sweet with me, although not particularly with others. He nuzzled my neck and that was it.”

The two started showing in the spring of 2019, competed in their first TAKE2 Jumper class together in 2020, and joined the TAKE2 League for the 2021 season. Their first foray into the $20,000 TAKE2 Hunter & Jumper Finals did not go well, with an unplanned dismount leading to elimination. But Cerofolini and Quiet Ray finished third in the Jumper Finals in 2022. Thirteenth, but with just four faults, in 2023, the plan is to go for the gold in 2024.

“I’ve made some improvements, mainly in my riding, so I’ll try to win this year!” Cerofolini said.

Asked what makes the Thoroughbred the ideal partner in competition, Cerefolini explained, “The advantage of a Thoroughbred is its braveness, heart and its incredible athleticism. They are just more reactive. One thing about them is you really need to get out of their way as a rider. It’s almost like a song, and you try to stay on beat.”

Cerofolino has traveled to the beat of his own drummer through a storied life. A native of Como, Italy, Cerofolini gained valuable experience in Italian wine making, courtesy of his parents, before relocating to the U.S. to attend college in Boston in the late ’90s. Following his graduation in 2001, he embarked on a brief stint in the financial and broadcasting sectors in New York City before returning to Italy.

Drawn back to the U.S. following a divorce, Cerofolini was introduced to bird dogs in 2010, which resulted in a need for more land to care for his sport dogs. His increasing involvement with that sport precipitated the decision to leave his New-York-based position as a master tailor with the international luxury men’s wear brand Ermenegildo Zegna. His involvement with competitive bird dogging also opened the door to Cerofolini’s other passion, horses.

His four-legged companions set him on a circuitous trek around the country, ultimately leading him to Aiken, South Carolina. Instantly enamored with the region, he purchased a 50-acre tract of land in Ridge Spring in 2015 and named the property Magnolia Shadows. Built in 1895, the property’s restored plantation home became the focal point for the endeavor, marrying Cerofolini’s love of hospitality, horses and sport dogs while creating a serene country experience nestled in Aiken County. Anchoring the Equestrian training and stabling facility, Magnolia Shadows is located near several Aiken equestrian venues of show jumping, three-day eventing, polo, fox hunting, ‘Hunt Week’ and racing.

“I created this place with the traveling horseman in mind,” he said. “Having traveled all over the country with my horses and dogs, I found it difficult at times to find somewhere of quality that could accommodate us all. So I tried to create such a space where people could enjoy comfortable accommodations.”

Crafted into an Equestrian resort and campground, the property currently operates as a Bed & Breakfast and is punctuated by RISERVA 1895, an on-site fine dining and wine establishment offering high-scale Italian cuisine. Providing an elevated experience nestled in a serene rural setting, Cerofolini’s years of experience as a sommelier are underpinned by fellow Italian Cecilia Lezzani’s talents as RISERVA’S head chef.

“Everything is handmade and made on the day of serving for the number of people that have reserved a spot–we only have 20 seatings a night. Cecilia makes everything, it’s a very meticulous time-consuming operation. I am the host and I do the wine pouring and the win-tasting menus. I am very involved because I love it.”

But as much as he loves playing host, Cerofolini is always drawn back to the Thoroughbreds.

“I dedicate my life to horses now,” he said. “And without taking anything away from the other horses, Thoroughbreds are unique. They can be a little bit naughty sometimes, but that can be a positive in a sport horse. Their versatility is exciting. And you really see them pouring their hearts out in competition. I really think the Thoroughbred is the best horse in the world.”