Well Armed: A Horse With Gumption

When I was in Louisville for the Breeders’ Cup, I had the pleasure of hearing Bill Casner, co-founder of WinStar Farm and owner of Well Armed, deliver the keynote address at the Race Track Chaplaincy of America’s White Horse Award Luncheon.

While I knew the the basics behind the story of Well Armed, who made a miraculous recovery from a broken hip and returned to the races to win the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), I had never heard it told in Casner’s own words. It’s a story I will never forget.

I was so touched by Casner’s speech that I thought I would recount some of the highlights for you in this blog, along with some recent photos of Well Armed, who is now enjoying his retirement in Texas.

Casner started his speech by talking about the word “gumption,” a term his mother often used to describe people with considerable courage and strength.

“Heroism can take many forms,” said Casner. “Sometimes it’s just getting up every day and doing your best. My mother had more grit, integrity, and work ethic than anyone I’ve ever known. She was my hero and she showed my sister and I how to conduct our lives the way she conducted hers. She truly was a woman that had gumption.

“I’ve found that horses and people are much alike. Some have gumption and some don’t,” continued Casner, who started galloping horses when he was 15. “I’ve been around of a number of horses…there have been a good number that I’ve forgotten, but there are some that I remember. The ones that I remember all had one thing in common—they gave you everything they had. They might not be the most talented individuals, but they had gumption.

“Of all those horses that I owned or have been a part of over the years, there’s one that stands out among them all. He has more gumption than any horse I’ve ever owned, and his name is Well Armed. He was born April 4, 2003. It happened to coincide with the day of our late daughter Karri’s birthday. She would have been 24 years old that day (Karri was killed in a terrorist explosion in Bali, Indonesia in 2002). Karri and Well Armed had one thing in common—they were both extremely pigeon-toed. Karri had to wear a device for three or four years, but eventually her legs grew to be straight.”

Unfortunately, they’ve never created a device for pigeon-toed horses. Due to Well Armed’s physical imperfection and the fact Casner didn’t want to diminish the yearling averages of Tiznow, who was then a first crop sire at WinStar, Well Armed was not consigned to the sales.

“Well Armed was a big, strong, colt...he had a beautiful profile, but it was a little concerning when he walked toward you, and it was obvious it was going to be a challenge to keep him sound,” said Casner, who sent the gelding to be trained at Newmarket in England because of its uphill training track and synthetic, forgiving surface.

Well Armed made it to the races during his 2-year-old year and finally broke his maiden on his eighth try at Lingfield Racecourse in England. Following that race, his trainer at the time, Clive Brittain, sent him to Dubai, where won his first start at 3, but then injured his knee in his next outing.

Casner brought Well Armed back to Kentucky, where the gelding underwent surgery to remove a chip in his knee. The procedure was successful, but three days afterward, Casner received a call from his veterinarian that Well Armed had somehow fractured his hip in his stall and was in extreme pain.

“Another vet looked at him later and said euthanasia might be the best thing considering the extent of the injury,” said Casner. “But euthanasia was not something I wanted to consider before doing everything I could for the horse.”

Under the care of equine veterinarian Natanya Nieman, Well Armed’s knee and hip healed after several months, but he had lost all the muscle on his right hip, which cause him to walk with a sideways limp.

“It was sad because he had been such a big, strong good looking horse, and he was just a shell of himself,” said Casner. "I didn’t know if he could ever return to racing again, but I wanted to give him a chance.”

Casner shipped Well Armed to his ranch in Texas, where he underwent a rehabilitation program of hand walking and swimming.

“Swimming was just the ticket for Well Armed,” said Casner. “The great thing about swimming is its controlled exercise with low concussion, but it forces the horse to use themselves bilaterally. Over a period of time, he regained the muscle in his hip.”

Well Armed swimming during his rehabilitation program in Texas, photos by Bill Casner's iPhone:)

Casner gradually began increasing Well Armed's workload, and after nine months, the gelding was walking and jogging for two hours on a free walker every morning and swimming 35 laps in the afternoons. Riding was slowly added to Well Armed’s daily regime, and after a few weeks, he was moving well and felt like a fit racehorse once again.

“We shipped him back to Lexington, and he had regained about 98% of the muscle on the right side of his hip,” said Casner. “He had grown to be nearly 17 hands and was a handsome boy.”

Well Armed began training under Eoin Hardy, who galloped him for a month, then breezed him and decided he was fit enough to race. In his first time back after 15 months, Well Armed broke slowly, but finished a fast closing fourth in an allowance race at Oak Tree at Santa Anita in October 2007.

That was the last time Well Armed would ever break slow. He won or placed in his next seven starts, including a victory the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park, which earned him a ticket to go back to Dubai and compete in the 2008 World Cup. Well Armed finished a respectable third behind Curlin in the race, then capped off the year with scores in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) and Goodwood Stakes (gr. I).

Casner’s ultimate goal for 2009 was to send Well Armed back to Dubai for the World Cup, which, of course, he won in spectacular fashion.

“The further he went, the higher my confidence rose,” Casner remembered of the race. “With three eights of a mile to go, I knew they weren’t going to catch him. When (jockey) Aaron Gryder asked the horse to run, he just re-broke and continued to run under a hand ride. For the last eighth of a mile, Aaron was just patting him on the neck. He won by an incredible 14 lengths. I never watch that race again without getting chills.

Well Armed winning the Dubai World Cup under Aaron Gryder, courtesy of Dubai Racing Club 

“We’ve had some horses win some important races over the years. But I can safely say I will never experience again what I experienced that night with Well Armed," Casner continued. "That horse carried (my wife) Susan and I to the highest mountain top we will ever stand on. Well Armed, who was born on our late daughter’s birthday and carried her initials on the sleeves of our silks that night, and had overcome tremendous adversity, had just won the richest horse race in the world.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever have another horse that I love as much as Well Armed. That horse is something special, and he occupies a very big place in my heart, and he has what my dear mother referred to as gumption.”

At the end of his speech, Casner thanked all the people that had been involved in Well Armed’s incredible story.

“You don’t stand on that mountain top without the efforts of many people,” he said. “Dr. Natanya Nieman saved Well Armed’s life. Geronimo his groom loved the horse like it was his own child. Clive Brittain kept him sound and believed in him. Eoin Hardy did an excellent job of training the horse and doing what he could to keep him healthy and happy. Aaron Gryder rode the horse in each and every race and did it without fault.

“As for me, my wife of 37 years, she’s been with me on the backsides of small tracks in the Midwest to that mountaintop in Dubai. Without her love and support, I would only be another claimer.”

***************************************************************************************************

Well Armed has made some new friends since being retired in February and sent to Casner's ranch in Texas. Pictured below is Well Armed with one of his favorite buddies, "Samson."

"He dearly loves that little horse," said Casner.

Well Armed and Samson

Well Armed is also paddock buddies with a gelding named Bet Me Best. Campaigned by Casner in partnership, Bet Me Best was also a multiple stakes winner, scoring his big victory in the 1999 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II).

Well Armed and Bet Me Best

Every now and then, Casner and Well Armed have a ride together, and the gelding is enjoying some Western style training.

Well Armed with his Western bridle

Well Armed and Casner are obviously BFFs

"He loves his mints and gets some each day," said Casner. "He's been a blessing in our lives."

Have you known a horse like Well Armed that has a lot of gumption? Perhaps it's your own retired Thoroughbred who is now giving you the ride of you life. I would love to hear your stories.

38 Comments

Leave a Comment:

smartydeb

An absolutely WONDERFUL story, I knew that Well Armed had raced after fracturing his hip, but never knew the rest of the tale.  Thanks for sharing and best wishes to Well Armed in retirement, he looks very happy and healthy.

15 Nov 2011 6:59 PM
Tiznowbaby

Thank you so much for this. I love this horse and it's wonderful to see him enjoying life. Well done, Mr. Casner.

15 Nov 2011 7:13 PM
txhorsefan

Thank you so much for providing such a wonderful story about one of my most favorite horses, Well Armed.  I followed him during his racing career and was familiar with parts of his story but I really do appreciate all the additional details you've provided, as well as the photos!!  He still looks wonderful and I'm so happy that he is enjoying his retirement and all his paddock pals.  It gives me great comfort to know that he is right here in Texas, too.  Thanks!

15 Nov 2011 9:05 PM
Karen in Indiana

Thank you for the update on Well Armed. He has been a favorite of mine since the first time I saw him and after I heard of his incredible recovery, he became even more special. He gave me goose bumps with that World Cup win. So very glad he's able to chill out and enjoy retirement. Thank you so much to Mr. Casner for taking such good care of him. I'm sure it cost a lot just for Well Armed to survive that injury, a lot of owners would not have had the resources to be able to do that.

15 Nov 2011 9:24 PM
Clever_Reign17

Well Armed means so much to me. His story gave me hope when my OTTB gelding was injured last fall, and I talked to him about his "cousin" almost everyday. Bill Casner is a wonderufl horseman, and it gives me such a good feeling in my heart and soul to know what he did for that gorgeous boy.

Unfortunately, I lost my gelding this September due to his injury...but if anyone wants to know his story and the "gumption" he had, I will gladly tell it. Over and over again.

15 Nov 2011 9:27 PM
Clever_Reign17

Well Armed means so much to me. His story gave me hope when my OTTB gelding was injured last fall, and I talked to him about his "cousin" almost everyday. Bill Casner is a wonderufl horseman, and it gives me such a good feeling in my heart and soul to know what he did for that gorgeous boy.

Unfortunately, I lost my gelding this September due to his injury...but if anyone wants to know his story and the "gumption" he had, I will gladly tell it. Over and over again.

15 Nov 2011 9:29 PM
stelligan

Thank you so much for sharing the story and photos of one of my favorites.  It's always nice to catch up on the geldings after retirement and I'm so happy that Well Armed is so well-loved and cared for.  Made my day.

15 Nov 2011 9:47 PM
wlcink

One of the best stories ever.... thank you so much for sharing.  Though I've never had the pleasure of meeting the Casners, I grieved for their incredible loss and have cheered their every success - all the while, knowing it could never replace what had been tragically taken from them. They are a testament to what is right about this industry..... need more like them. Well Armed is certainly a triumph, and his gumption is surely a reflection of those who never gave up on him.... Happy trails big guy!  Wendy Christ, Ocala

15 Nov 2011 9:53 PM
Past The Grandstand

I love Well Armed so much! I'm a big fan of his. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Casner a few weeks after Super Saver won the Derby. Everyone was talking to him about Super Saver, but when I brought up Well Armed, his eyes lit up. It's truly a great story. Thank you for sharing.

I own a retired racehorse that has "gumption." Perhaps he doesn't have as much as Well Armed, but he definitely has a story behind him. I write about him periodically in my blog. Here's the first blog post I wrote about him: pastthegrandstand.blogspot.com/.../diary-of-dexter-retired-racehorse.html

I love reading Beyond the Blinkers. Keep it up!

15 Nov 2011 9:58 PM
Sugarfoot

Thank you so much for your story on Well Armed as I was a big fan of his during his racing career. I too think he is an amzazing horse who overcame drastic odds to become a great champion. Thanks again.

15 Nov 2011 10:05 PM
Carolinaracingfan

What a beautiful article & what a wonerful man Mr. Casner is! I just LOVE hearing how nicely Well Armed is being looked after in his post-racing life. God Bless Casner! This is what should happen to these wonderful horses after they've retired from the track!

15 Nov 2011 10:24 PM
jamicheleify

I couldn't help but cry.  What a great story!

16 Nov 2011 12:42 AM
Criminal Type

What a great story ! Well Armed sure looks like he is enjoying his retirement. What a gorgeous horse.

16 Nov 2011 6:04 AM
breeze10

Esther:  Thanks for a great article!  It is always great to read about such wonderful horses and the connections who love them so much!  I was always a fan of Well Armed (but did not realize all he went through to achieve)...God Bless him and I hope he lives many years in the company of his BFF's!!!  Bless the Casner's for never giving up on him and always doing the best for him.  Racing needs more owners/breeders like the Casner's!

16 Nov 2011 7:03 AM
Cindy Rullman

Beautiful story about the great things that can happen when good people are committed to doing the right thing for their horses. The only part that I would disagree with is Mr. Casner's assertion that not all horses have gumption.  All horses DO have gumption -- it's part of their God-given DNA -- but not all of them are fortunate enough to have good owners or trainers who understand how to inspire them to use it.

16 Nov 2011 7:17 AM
Old Horse Lover

Thank you for the update on Well Armed.I have loved his story from the first time I heard it and have been trying to find some up to date information on him for a while.Thank you again for making my morning bright.

16 Nov 2011 9:14 AM
Daina

Thanks you soo much for this article. I have been searching for an update on Well Armed and hoped there might be an article someday in the BloodHorse.  Well here it is.  He looks so happy.  Glad to see this.   I have loved that horse since the first time I set eyes on him - - I think it was in an allowance race??   I just remember seeing him as he entered the starting gate and I remember thinking WOW.  He just looked like a beautiful powerful horse - - something special - and he went on to win the race.  So of course I continued to follow him and his story.  I just knew that horse was going to be something.  And then the Dubai World Cup - - I was jumping up and down and screaming at the TV when Well Armed was pounding down the homestretch.  I was just so happy for that horse.  I knew it - knew my instincts were right - WOW - what a race.   After he won that race I thought to myself that after all the love Bill Casner and friends gave to him - he gave back to them on that day.  I think he was running for them.   I love to educate people that know nothing about horseracing and when I give them a list of races to watch - - Secretariat's Triple Crown, Zenyatta's Breeders Cup Classic's - - I always include Well Armed's Dubai World Cup.  I think it ranks right up there with them.   I get chills and tears in my eyes when I watch it. I'm going to watch it again right now.    Thanks again for this post.....

16 Nov 2011 10:18 AM
deb

there is nothing like a beloved friend and spending time with them.

thanks for sharing this tribute.

16 Nov 2011 10:34 AM
melanchthon

Wonderful story.  Truth is stranger than fiction.  Don't you wish all race horses had owners that loved them this much.

16 Nov 2011 11:22 AM
edrul427

All the best to mr. Casner and his wonderful horse

16 Nov 2011 11:38 AM
Stellar Jayne

You brought tears to my eyes with Well Armed's and the Casner's story.  I knew Well Armed won the Dubai World Cup, but I did not know the back story of the challenges he faced as a youngster and later.  Truly he has Gumption and the good fortune to be owned and  cared for and loved by Bill Casner, his groom Geronimo and the team who restored him to greatness.

The Casner's also have the same Gumption given the loss of their daughter Karri in that cruel bombing.  There is no sorrow like the loss of a child, especially under those circumstances.

Bless them all!

16 Nov 2011 12:02 PM
Zen4Zen

Kudos to the Casners!  A great and poignant story of love and patience for a horse with abundant gumption.

16 Nov 2011 2:16 PM
Barbara W

Thank you for filling in the parts of this story I didn' know. W.A. is one beautiful boy! God bless the folks at WInStar. They are first rate.

16 Nov 2011 2:24 PM
A Horsey Canuck

Thank you Esther for another wonderful article. I just watched Well Armed's Dubai World Cup win. What a grand fellow he was and is. Thank you so much for such recent pics of him. How nice to see such a hero enjoying life. Kudos to Bill Casner and his family for taking such good care of this wonderful champion. Thank you, Esther, for giving both Bill and Well Armed the spotlight that they both so well deserve.

16 Nov 2011 3:54 PM
ofelia

Thank you for the wonderful story. I too have a horse with gumption and all heart. Two years ago my beloved QH palomino gelding, Golden Score, foundered severely in both front feet. After several months he stabilized only to have another setback. He abscessed in both feet and had to spend several weeks at the equine hospital with special plates in order to be able to drain the abscess and clean it.Throughout the ordeal he never failed to greet me with a nicker. He would also whinny at the cows in the nearby pasture no doubt dreaming of the day when he could nip at them once again. I cried on his shoulder begging him not to leave me. He did not. He then began to turn the corner and improved. He is now 17yrs old and fully healed. Even though he wears special shoes, we take extended trail rides on our ranch. He is my first horse and the one that taught me how to ride, to feel what it is like to have the wind in my hair and the one that makes me laugh after a thrilling ride. I know the day will come when I have to say goodbye but for now the ride is not over. I am grateful for him and for all he has enriched my life with.

16 Nov 2011 7:19 PM
Lmaris

Considering the drought that has destroyed so many pastures here in Texas this year, its great to see lush pasture for Mr. Casner's horses.  Also great to see a man really care about the horses he owns, and want to keep them close to him.  Would love to be able to visit Well Armed and his buddies.

16 Nov 2011 11:05 PM
Ute Shepherd

Thank you for this wonderful story. I own a OTTB mare that came to me after suffering through abuse and neglect. She was a fighter though and never gave up. She learned to trust again and is happy and healthy today. Bill Casner is a wonderful horseman and it is wonderful to see how much he loves and cares about the well-being of his horses. It was great to see Bet Me Best again, who has always been one of my favorites too.

17 Nov 2011 8:15 AM
RPREACH

I saw Well Armed run at Aquaduct.  Being a big fan of Tiznow, I was interested in WA. He appeared to float over the track. He was a smooth runner and very fast.  After all his trials, and successes on the track, it wonderful that he's safe and enjoying his friends in retirement. God bless his owners for giving him all the love and care they did. Wonderful story.

17 Nov 2011 11:14 AM
Jennifer in Columbia

Thank you so sharing this wonderful story. I had no idea that Well Armed had such a challenging life. How amazing to see all that he accomplished thanks to the love and devotion of his people. Big thanks to all his connections for helping him achieve greatness. Thanks also for the wonderful photos of a happy, retired Well Armed. Love it!

17 Nov 2011 12:57 PM
tanzkd

since I live in Tx. - would love to visit Well Armed if possible to thank him personally for all the great thrills he gave me during his career & for being such a great ambassador for the sport . Any chance his adoring fans may visit?

17 Nov 2011 5:23 PM
newsline2

Sharing stories like this are at the heart of all legends. Bill's candidness allows us to experience it a little, too. Stories like this create a portal that allows the public to pass through and be part of horse racing community. They need to be told-again and again. Kudos to Well Armed's connections for their dedication to this horse and a job well done.

18 Nov 2011 6:42 AM
arcadiagirl

All I can say is "wow".

20 Nov 2011 3:56 PM
Archangel

Bill Casner and Well Armed are two peas in the same pod and I dare say that if each had not had the other we might have had a different story here.  Well Armed definitely has the gumption, then and now, along with the fighting spirit to make it through all of the hard times (and good times). But I think it took Bill Casner to make him realize that heart and fight and spirit. And it was Well Armed that made Bill Casner realize what was in him, and bring him back. It is true that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man and I think in this case - vise versa.  Bill Casner and Well Armed are tied at the heart and their story, which I have known of for several years has taught me an important lesson - never give up b/c good will come from bad - if you are willing to work and wait long enough.  Bill, and Well Armed, thanks for the lesson.  Clare

20 Nov 2011 5:09 PM
Ida Lee

Reading about Mr. Casner and Well Armed has always brought a tear to my eye. Mr. Casner's love for this horse is so heartwarming. That he would still be such an upbeat and loving human being after losing his daughter the way he did and finding forgiveness...well, it's more than I would do. When I first heard Well Armed was being retired, I realized that I did not worry for one second what would happen to him off the track. I just knew he would be a loving pet and friend and live happily ever after. If only all TB's had a future this beautiful. And, yes, I saw the Dubai World Cup and Well Armed's amazing performance. It's right up there with the greatest races of all time.  

20 Nov 2011 6:01 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

I feel lucky to have seen Well Armed in a race. It was the Pacific Classic at Del Mar several years ago and he ran a very good second. His story preceded him to the track and watching him race is a memory I cherish. I also met Mr. Casner at Lone Star Park where he graciously signed photos of another equine star, Super Saver.  Great story.  Thank you.  

23 Nov 2011 9:01 PM
Susan W.

This is a truly beautiful story and I am enjoying all the comments as well.  The most telling fact is that Mr. Casner and Well Armed are true friends.  True friends will do anything for each other, as is shown by the devotion and love these two continually exchange.  Thank you for the story, the comments and the lovely photos that show Well Armed enjoying life.  This is as it should be.

24 Nov 2011 5:31 AM
Past The Grandstand

Here's another horse with gumption, Lights on Broadway:

pastthegrandstand.blogspot.com/.../inspired-by-lights.html

I love hearing about and meeting horses like this.

24 Nov 2011 6:40 PM
Aragorn8763

Hi everyone. I was wondering if someone could tell me how they make the decision to geld a racehorse? It seems that Well Armed was pretty successful so I was curious as to why he didnt remain a stallion. I ride, but cant say I know much about this industry.

08 Dec 2011 7:24 AM

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