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."