Wanderin Wonder

Many horses like Wanderin Boy go through their entire career overlooked by the fans and media. They’re always dependable, showing up in many of the grade I stakes, and while they turn in huge efforts at times, they’re just not able to get to the finish line first and make that leap into the big-time.

At age 7, Wanderin Boy has made only 24 career starts, winning nine, with six seconds and three thirds for earnings of $1.2 million. Talk about not choosing one’s company wisely, he has finished second in grade I stakes to Curlin (Jockey Club Gold Cup), Invasor (Pimlico Special), Bernardini (Jockey Club Gold Cup), and Lawyer Ron (Whitney). He has, however, managed to win the grade II Brooklyn Handicap and the grade III Ben Ali, Alysheba, and Mineshaft.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, ‘OK, so what’s the point?’

The point is, a horse like Wanderin Boy – and I emphasize the word “horse” rather than gelding – often goes unnoticed because he’s never done anything that would cause people to pay a whole lot of attention to him, other than to say something like, “It was another good effort by Wanderin Boy, but he was no match for….”

But there often is much more to a horse than his record. In Wanderin Boy’s case, this is a horse who should be admired by all those fortunate enough to see him run his heart out race after race.

His owner and breeder, Arthur Hancock III of Stone Farm, had bought a season in Seeking the Gold, to whom he would breed his Pleasant Colony mare Vid Kid, a stakes winner of almost $300,000.

Vid Kid produced a beautiful foal on April 4, 2001, but on May 3, the one-month-old colt somehow fractured his sesamoid while out in the field.

Hancock had a small portable pen that could be moved around. He placed it outside the barn, so the colt and his mother would have grass and sunshine while the injury healed. They were in the pen for six weeks, after which the vet examined the colt’s leg and told Hancock to keep him in there for another eight weeks.

Dr. Bob Hunt told Hancock he definitely would not be able to sell the horse and gave him about a 5% chance of ever running. But Hancock believes in always giving a horse every chance to make it to the races, so he allowed the colt to progress like any other horse. After the 14 weeks in the pen the colt was put out in a small paddock for three or four weeks and then turned out with the rest of the herd in one of the spacious 100-acre fields.

He was broken with the other horses and managed to come around and show some ability. Not being able to sell him, Hancock sent him to the racetrack with trainer Nick Zito. But soon after arriving, he fractured his cannon bone and was sent back to the farm, where he was stall-rested for six weeks and then hand-walked for two weeks. Dr. Hunt operated on him, putting several screws in his leg. After performing the surgery, Dr. Hunt told Hancock, “I cant believe this horse has healed so well. This is unbelievable, but he looks great.”

Wanderin Boy returned to the racetrack, but a short while later he bucked his shins and it was back to the farm once again, where he was hand-walked for two weeks and pinfired. He was sent back to Zito for the third time at Keeneland and finally made it to the races, winning his debut by 2 3/4 lengths on Oct. 22, 2004.

Following a second in a one-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs, he won a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream and then went to Fair Grounds, where he captured the grade III Mineshaft Handicap, beating graded stakes winner Pollard’s Vision by 1 3/4 lengths. It was obvious this was going to be a major star for Zito.

Then came a shocking seventh-place finish in the New Orleans Handicap, but something apparently was brewing. Shortly after that race, he fractured his other cannon bone and had to have screws put in that leg, too. He was kept in his stall for eight weeks and then hand-walked. When Dr. Hunt came by and took X-rays of the leg, he said to Hancock, “This horse must be an alien. I’ve never seen a horse heal like this in all my life.”

When he was sent back to the track for the fourth time, track veterinarian Mark Cheney also couldn’t believe how quickly the horse had healed.

It didn’t take Wanderin Boy long to pick up where he had left off. After being sent to Keeneland following a pair of good efforts at Gulfstream, he won an allowance race by 10 lengths and the Ben Ali Handicap by 5 1/4 lengths. Sent off as the 3-5 favorite in the Pimlico Special, he appeared to have the race won, but was run down late by an unknown Uruguayan import named Invasor, whom Wanderin Boy had apparently put away on the far turn. Zito couldn’t believe he had gotten beat by this horse, but little did he know who it was at the time.

Wanderin Boy went on to win the Brooklyn Handicap and finish second to Bernardini in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. A series of good races and bad races followed, including a victory in the Alysheba Stakes and a second to Lawyer Ron in the Whitney, run in a track-record 1:46 3/5. Then came a well-beaten fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Unfortunately, Wanderin Boy came out of that race dead-lame with an abscess in his foot. You guessed it, he was sent back to the farm yet again, where they had to pack his foot and let it grow out.

This year, he was getting ready for the Pimlico Special when Zito called Hancock at 7:30 one night and said, “I’m really worried about this horse. We need to send him to New Bolton (Medical Center). After being sent to New Bolton it was discovered the horse had a large stomach ulcer. He spent a while there being treated and then was shipped up to Saratoga, where he won first time back, capturing a seven-furlong allowance race by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:21 4/5. That was followed by a third in the Woodward to Curlin, breaking from the far outside post, and a second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, beaten three-quarters of a length by the defending Horse of the Year.

Here was a 7-year-old horse, who has gone through more ordeals than any horse in memory, still at the top of his game and running toe-to-toe with the mighty Curlin.

As Hancock said, “Isn’t that amazing? He just keeps coming back. I hope one of these races his day will come.”

The next time you see Wanderin Boy run, you might want to look at him in a different light and marvel at all he’s overcome. He's earned it.

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