Sammy Meets Hard Spun

Since I am covering the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) for the magazine again this year, I am going to be focusing on all things Oaks-related on this blog starting after the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) during Keeneland's opening weekend April 3. I hope to give you all some perspective from the backside of the track (Keeneland and Churchill Downs), and some insight into the behind-the-scenes happenings during morning training hours. 

But for now, I wanted to give you yet another guest blog entry about Hard Spun and a girl named Sammy that was submitted by an emerging young writer named Maria Michalak:

When you think about Hard Spun, it's easy to remember the front-running bay colt who in 2007 ran second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Breeder's Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I), and raced to victories in the Lane's End (gr. II), King's Bishop (gr. I), and Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II), and Lecomte Stakes (gr. III).

But when 16-year-old Samantha "Sammy" Petitte thinks about Hard Spun, she doesn’t just consider his accomplishments on the track. She also thinks of him as her hero and greatest inspiration.
A horse racing fan since age 9, when she saw the trailer for the movie "Seabiscuit" and became instantly hooked, Sammy followed Hard Spun through his whole career, cheering him on from her home in West Bend, Wis. "I first fell in love with him because there was just this look about him that made me think "He's a rock star!" Sammy remembered.
Sammy battles anorexia, the eating disorder many girls struggle with today. "Its onset was really a product of me wanting to get healthy, and then it just turned into this terrible disease," Sammy said. "Once we figured out there was a serious problem, I wanted to fix it.”
Sammy shared her story with her friends on Fox Hill Farm's forum, the "internet home" of dozens of horse-racing fans, late last fall. Sammy expressed her struggles, and also her goals.

The opportunity to meet Hard Spun at Darley's January 2010 Open House became her incentive to start fighting anorexia. Her goal was to make enough progress to go to Kentucky and see her favorite horse in person.

"I've been in a downhill slide for the past year," Sammy told her forum friends.  “Finally, I'm going to start climbing back up. I'm just trying to say (to myself), 'Do it for your family, your friends, yourself, and Hard Spun.'"
"What's stronger?" she asked herself, "your biggest true love in life (Hard Spun) or your fear of gaining (weight)? If I know the answer, then I know I'll be in Kentucky in January."
Sammy began keeping a journal on Fox Hill's forum, sharing her journey, and within weeks, had more than 200 responses. Sammy's journal filled with posts of support, and, of course, pictures of Hard Spun. "To have such a huge outpouring of support is incredible," Sammy said. "These people are my horse racing family."
Jan. 12, the day for the doctor's appointment that would decide if Sammy had made enough progress to go to Darley arrived. Her dietician would do a blind weigh in, so Sammy wouldn't know how much she gained, but she knew that the scale needed to go up. When the appointment ended, Sammy was able to happy-dance around in the waiting room. "I'm busy packing to go to Kentucky!" Sammy announced to the forum that night. Her proclamation was met with cheers.
Darley, notified by one of Sammy's supporters on the forum of her coming, treated her like a princess. "It was great to know that (Sammy's) plan to visit was a reward for a personal goal she set for herself, and to help her overcome some serious health issues," Charlie Boden, Darley's stallion nominations manager, said. "Sammy came and spent the better part of the day with Hard Spun. If we had let her, she certainly would have spent the night in the barn with him!"

For Sammy, meeting Hard Spun was a dream come true. "He's such a gentle giant,” she said. “His whole demeanor is just so sweet. And the staff at Darley gave my parents and I the royal treatment. They told me about Darley's Flying Start program. I've been trying to decide what career path I want to take, but after this experience, I feel like I might have my heart set on what I really want."
"Sammy has some lofty goals regarding her education and future involvement in the Thoroughbred industry, and we will be cheering her on from here and hope her inspirational story will be used to help others similarly affected," Boden said.
Sammy left Darley and Hard Spun, feeling more inspired than ever. "Life is like a horse race," Sammy said. "You may stumble at the start, get shuffled around, get dirt kicked in your face, but you can't stop fighting. I think of how Hard Spun came back in the Lane's End after being beaten in the Southwest, or how he kept going in the King's Bishop and Kentucky Cup Classic. Those races remind me that this is going to be a long, hard road, with bumps along the way, but I can't give up."


Leave a Comment:


Sammy, you go girl!

25 Mar 2010 11:11 AM

I love this story. Not just for the magic that horses are capable of, but also for the wonderful human caretakers of Hard Spun who realized how this one horse could profoundly change one person's life, and embraced the opportunity to make it happen. Thank you.

25 Mar 2010 11:13 AM
Central Valley Dame

Congratulations Sammy!  You must feel wonderful that you achieved your goals.  Here's to you and your bright future.  I am a fan of Hard Spun too.  I think he is one of the most versatile horses out there.  He was overshadowed by Street Sense and Curlin but I think he gave it his all every single time.  What a fantastic horse!  I believe that his get will prove how good a horse he is.

25 Mar 2010 11:23 AM
Jim P

I've recommended "equine therapy" for a # of women battling various mental issues. Heck, I use it myself. Horses know, feel, and sense more than one could ever believe.

I do equine acupunture and Healing Touch for Animals. Working with these great TBs, at any level, is a wonderful experience.

I agree with Samantha on Hard Spun. He is a most unique horse and spoke to me. I was a winning bidder on his halter at our TOBA Awards banquet.

Sammy found a door -- one more great horse story!!!!!!

25 Mar 2010 11:42 AM

Hard Spun looks like he could win a stake this weekend!

25 Mar 2010 12:28 PM

Hard Spun was my favorite too and I can't believe he was retired too early! He could have went on to win many more races! Too bad too, because he would have been even more valuable in the breeding shed! Great Story!!!!

25 Mar 2010 2:48 PM

Hard Spun was my favorite too! What a great horse!!!

25 Mar 2010 4:11 PM

That's a great story! Although he never grabbed the headlines like Curlin or Street Sense, I thought he was a remarkable horse & also my daughter's favorite.  Three Chimney's also had a Make-A-Wish story involving Smarty Jones.  It's still good to know that our equine athletes are still larger than life inspiring heroes for younger fans.  We are about to travel to Oaklawn to see Zenyatta. I want to see her just like I did Seattle Slew and Affirmed.

25 Mar 2010 4:27 PM

  Isn't it wonderful that racehorses can continue to inspire us, even after their racing days are over?!  I have been a fan of Hard Spun, Darley, and Maria Michalak for some time, and now I am rooting for Sammy Pettite!

  By the way, Maria, only 17 herself, has published a lovely tribute to Eight Belles, entitled, Eight Belles:  Triumph Beyond the Wire.  She's an intelligent, sensitive writer whose words can touch and heal.

25 Mar 2010 4:42 PM

Good job, Sammy! I  have found that Horses are therapy for so many tough situations in life. And you couldn't have picked a better hero. Hard Spun has always been one of my favorites too. Can't wait to see his 2 year olds at the races!!

25 Mar 2010 5:36 PM
Sara in Ohio

Sammy!  I am so happy for you!  Love and kisses!

25 Mar 2010 6:42 PM

Awesome story. I hope Sammy goes a long way!

25 Mar 2010 6:45 PM

Congratulations to Sammy for working hard and making her gains to be able to meet her hero, (and mine)Hard Spun.  It is beautiful that the people at Darley were so kind and generous to this young woman.  Great story!!  Thank you for sharing.

25 Mar 2010 8:29 PM

Great story. Well done to Darley, and especially well done and good luck to Sammy. Keep up the good fight!

25 Mar 2010 8:29 PM
Ida Lee

I really enjoyed reading your story. I absolutely believe that animals, all kinds, are of great therapeutic value. I know from being around my own animals, just looking at them brings a smile to my face no matter how bad I might be feeling. I could not have any kind of quality of life without them. As to Sammy, you go girl! I hope when I go to KY that I can get close to my equine love, Curlin. You look so happy standing there close to the beautiful Hard Spun and he is lucky to have such a loving fan. He's one of my favorites too and he really does look great!!! It's obvious he's having a good life.

25 Mar 2010 8:57 PM
Susan E.

Sammy, you are an inspiration.  I read this story because I too love Hard Spun (doesn't he look great??!).  

I think great things are in store for you.  You have the heart, mind, and determination of a champion thoroughbred.  You're beautiful, inside and out.  I feel good knowing that you will be working for these amazing creatures.

25 Mar 2010 10:33 PM

Wow, what a an awesome representation of the horse racing fan community, Darley, and our athletes. Here's to next year's open house Sammy!

26 Mar 2010 8:55 AM
Barbara W

I hope Larry Jones has heard this story about his "boy".

Horses do wonders for humans--I know from experience. Our horse gave me something to look forward to each day after the death of my mom at 94.

26 Mar 2010 10:01 AM

This is a wonderful story! Bravo Sammy for wanting to get better. There's nothing like a goal to get one motivated. Wishing you the best!

Kudos also to the understanding parents, the blog buddies and the people at Darley who helped Sammy on the road to recovery.

26 Mar 2010 10:37 AM

Go for your dreams Sammy!!  We have one shot on this planet so always follow your heart and passion!  PS  I love Hard Spun too, he is one incredible horse!  

26 Mar 2010 11:26 AM

I am a member of the Fox Hill Forum. We are very proud of Sammy. I am so glad that Maria (also a member) shared her story. I hope it will be an inspiration to others.

26 Mar 2010 2:17 PM

Hi everyone. I am Sammy Petitte, the subject of the article, and I just want to say thank you so much for the nice comments. I do appreciate them in this long, hard journey. It's tough, but the good news is- my dietician said, making a rough guess, if everything continues smoothly, I should be weight restored by around May. Even after that I'll have a long way to go, but I'm halfway there. :) Thanks again, Maria, for writing this article.

26 Mar 2010 6:12 PM

It saddens me that people will post repeatedly and contribute hundreds of comments to the Zenyatta/Rachel Alexandra trash talking war but an inspiring story like this gets almost no attention. I'm very proud of Sammy for working so hard to beat her illness and I'm so happy she got to meet Hard Spun! This is a great story and I'm glad Darley worked a little magic to bring some happiness to a girl who deserves it.

27 Mar 2010 1:56 PM

I always knew Hard Spun was special. He was my favorite that year and if he were still racing I'd follow race he ran.  So it was very moving to read just how special he is.   Good for you, Sammy (and I'm jealous!!!)

27 Mar 2010 7:48 PM
Kat - StirlingGlen

It amazes me to see what can happen when the human spirit is inpspired by a horse, especially a thoroughbred racehorse.  Hard Spun continues to touch lives, even though he no longer battles for victory on the track.  I am so proud of you, Sammy!  And Maria...Eight Belles has forever changed the course of your life, hasn't she?  How wonderful it is that the good Lord gave us these magnificent creatures to bless our lives. I am thankful for it. All the best as you continue on your journey, Sammy. :)

28 Mar 2010 8:21 PM

I have long known the soothing effects of horses. Sammy, I hope you will have them in your life forever. You won't be sorry.

30 Mar 2010 8:16 AM

what a great story!my eyes about fell out the first time i saw Hard Spun so i understand sammy's feelings..many here have written already about the wonderful way that a horse can touch your heart.sammy can you still feel him? i am sure you always of luck!

30 Mar 2010 7:52 PM

Congratulations, Sammy on all of your accomplishments.  I too had the opportunity to see Hard Spun as he was my favorite as well.  The staff at Darley are excellent and accomodating to everyone. Special shout out to Peggy Sherwood. She is about one of the nicest people around.

-Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

04 Apr 2010 10:15 AM
sweet terchi

Congrats Sammy! You got to meet a truly inspiring horse, and as horse and dog people know, these creatures are the ultimate therapy! Sammy,you have made tremendous progress in achieving this goal, and the rest are attainable. You have a strong support system of people who believe you .......but Sammy, believe in yourself. My sister has a favorite saying I will share with you.. 'If you believe you can, you're right - if you believe you can't, your right!' Best wishes to you!!

05 Apr 2010 12:48 PM

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