Saving Potesta, an Unlikely Story

"We didn't know how good she was going to be," said Potesta's co-owner, Joe Scardino. Here, the 3-year-old filly sets a track record in the Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar (Benoit Photo)

Lexington, Ky. – Her name means “power,” and in four starts the seal-bay filly they call Potesta exuded just that.

After a runner-up finish in her March 22 debut, she took the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) off a maiden score, set a track record while blazing a mile in 1:34.86 in the Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar, and was prepping for a start in the Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) with her connections flying high on the possibility of a Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) run. They thought she could win it.

“She was so classy around the barn and track,” recalled bloodstock agent Craig Rounsefell, son-in-law of trainer Mike Mitchell. “From the first time Mike first galloped her, he knew he had something special. Breezing, she could pretty much do whatever time you wanted to do. On the racetrack, too, horses don’t really do what she did.”

Before Potesta won the Torrey Pines, she took the Hollywood Oaks under Joe Talamo on June 23, 2012 (Benoit Photo)

But here’s the thing about racehorses and horse racing in general: not much goes according to plan.

And so it was that 80-year-old owner Joe Scardino found himself listening to the news no one connected to a promising Thoroughbred wants to hear, standing at home in California on an early Friday morning in September as Mitchell worked with vets to stabilize the 3-year-old daughter of Macho Uno, who had fractured her left foreleg in a training accident.

“I have to tell you, that was one of the worst calls I’ve ever gotten,” recalled Scardino, who campaigned Potesta with 70-year-old partner Anthony Fanticola. “She was prepping for the Breeders’ Cup. She had broken the track record and was doing extremely well. Then we got that awful call when she hurt herself. I was at home. I just remember going numb.”

Compound fractures such as the one Potesta sustained – where bone breaks through the skin – are tough to repair in humans, let alone horses. Thousand-pound animals aren’t good at standing on three legs for long. Infection can set in. And where racehorses are concerned, it takes a special patient to survive such an injury. Bred to run, conditioned to levels of peak athleticism, Thoroughbreds put on sudden hold are prone to complications and, if they manage to survive surgery, can further injure themselves during the lengthy recovery process. The prognosis is always grim.

Still, there was something remarkable about Potesta, the star of Scardino and Fanticola’s then-two horse stable. As doctors at Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center worked to stabilize the injury, which was high above the ankle, she complied perfectly.

The filly showed the same will in her recovery as she did on the track (Benoit Photo)

“She was such a good patient,” Rounsefell remembered. “It was pretty grim when she was injured, but she got up there and really helped herself through the whole process. They put four screws in to bring it back together. The vet said the whole way through it couldn’t have gone any better, from the actual surgery itself to the recovery process. Each day she just exceeded their expectations – her whole career, she always exceeded expectations. She’s just a special horse.”

Scardino and Fanticola, who have been partners for the past 15 years, are purely in the racing business, and don’t maintain breeding stock. At the time of Potesta’s injury, their only other contender was Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) runner Obviously, who finished third behind Wise Dan and Animal Kingdom.

“We don’t have that many horses, and when we get a runner like that, well, it’s not like we’ve got a barn full of stakes contenders,” Scardino said. “With Potesta, it was really exciting because she was getting better and better and we didn’t know how good she was going to be, really. The excitement was at its’ highest peak.”

The owner said saving the filly at all costs was a top priority after her injury.

“The cost was not on our minds at all,” he said. “She was so good to us, my gosh. Anything we could do, we wanted done. I told Mike Mitchell and so did my partner, ‘We don’t care what it costs, we want to save her.”

Potesta is scheduled to be sold at the Keeneland January Sale. Here, she poses at Three Chimneys on Dec. 28, 2012 (Gayle Ewadinger/Three Chimneys)

Rounsefell made multiple trips to Alamo Pintado to monitor Potesta's progress. She recovered well enough to ship to Three Chimneys Farm near Lexington, where she will be consigned to the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale as hip no. 134.

"The whole way through, we just wanted the best thing for the horse," Rounsefell recalled. "It was incredible how quickly she healed, and when they took the final x-rays the doctor gave the all-clear to leave and come to Kentucky. The actual injury site itself looks fantastic. It's quite remarkable that the whole thing only happened a few months ago."

Rounsefell said Potesta's untapped potential, a career cut short by injury, could live on in her foals.

"When you look at her from a physical standpoint, you’ll struggle to find a better type at the sale," he remarked. "She’s got size and scope and she’s correct and you’d struggle to put a hole in her, really. She’s just a first-class type. She had that freakish ability and nobody really knew where it would end."

This update on Potesta, bred in Kentucky by Maynard Farm and B.A. Man out of the Furiously mare Katzen, was issued for the benefit of the many racing fans who followed her brief but illustrious career.

"There were always people coming around the barn, sort of fans wanting to see if they could give her a carrot or take a picture with her," Rounsefell recalled. "She did have a following, that’s for sure. For a filly that only had a couple of starts, she struck a chord."

Less than four months after surviving a life-threatening injury, Potesta enjoys the grass at Three Chimneys Farm (Gayle Ewadinger/Three Chimneys)


Leave a Comment:

Pati Szpyra

She looks glorious. I'll be looking for her at the sale.

28 Dec 2012 6:18 PM

She was something to see at Del Mar.  Love this horse.  Have a wonderful life as a Mom.

28 Dec 2012 7:45 PM

She's one remarkable horse.  She and Paynter both deserve the Vox Populi (sp?) award!  I wish her all the best in the sale and hope she goes to a terrific owner who cares as much about her as her previous connections do!

28 Dec 2012 7:59 PM
Mary Zinke

Thank you for this update. The news of her injury was so horrible. Amazing filly, amazing recovery.

28 Dec 2012 8:55 PM

How lucky we have been with Paynter's remarkable recovery, and now Potesta.  Vet medicine has sure come a long ways since just a few years ago injuries like Potesta's or illnesses like Paynter's meant the worst outcomes.  So happy for Potesta and wish her well in her new career.  I'm betting she passes on her wonderful strong will.  Thanks so much for the update!

28 Dec 2012 9:13 PM
Leslie Kuretzky

Kudos to her wonderful owners on giving her a chance. And I really hope that she remains in North America so her babies can run here.

28 Dec 2012 9:44 PM

I'm so glad her owners first priority was to save her at any cost.  She's beautiful! I hope she remains in North America as well!

29 Dec 2012 2:00 AM
Linda Stephan

Wonderful story. Very much hope she stays in the US or Canada.

29 Dec 2012 8:27 AM

I had been following her progress, thanks for the update; and the pics; I hadn't realized how beautiful she is; absolutely gorgeous; (and so correct; look at the straightness of her hind leg!) Kudos to her connections for giving her a chance.

29 Dec 2012 9:23 AM
Stellar Jayne

Bless her and the people who cared enough to save her.  In the pictures above you can see how perfectly built she is.  May she live a good life and sire many foals from first tier stallions.

A Healthy and Happy New Year to Potesta and her family.

29 Dec 2012 10:28 AM

God bless her! Let me count my pennies...

29 Dec 2012 12:45 PM
Love 'em all

What a great story!  May Potesta live the rest of her life with folks as wonderful as her previous owners.  

Thanks to all who gave this filly a chance to prove once again just how special a horse she really is.  Best wishes and much happiness to Potesta.  

29 Dec 2012 1:29 PM

I felt I had to chime in and thank the owners for their dedication to Potesta.  I wish them great luck at the sales and on the track with Obviously, a world class turf miler.

While definitely talented, what really impressed me the one time I saw Potesta run in person, in the Hollywood Oaks, was her heart and toughness.  Pressing grade 1 winner Eden's Moon, Potesta ranged up on the outside in upper stretch to gain a short advantage.  However, Eden's Moon responded, and came back on along the inside to re-take the lead by about a half length.

Typically, a horse can only make one move, and when it takes the lead only to shortly lose it, that's the race and the horse runs 2nd or worse.  That is especially the case with a horse that, like Potesta, is making just its 3rd career start and doing so in a grade 2 race against a grade 1 winner.

Yet, as soon as I began to count Potesta out, she was grinding her way right back to Eden Moon's throat, and in the shadow of the wire got up to win.  

Potesta had been forced to make two separate winning moves, and look a grade 1 winner in the eyes the length of the stretch.  The fact she won was a testament to her talent but even more so her heart.  

It appears the same heart and determination waere able to carry her through the bleakest times.

Thanks Claire for the update and story.

30 Dec 2012 10:57 PM

Potesta looks fabulous!  I prayed fervently for Potesta's recovery at the same time I prayed fervently for Paynter's recovery. Thank God for more answered prayers.  I am thankful that Potesta pulled through a very concerning injury so fabulously.  I am a big fan of hers - Potesta was on track to be a great champion, and, oh my Goodness, she was fun to watch race!  She will give birth to beautiful, talented foals.  I'm so happy she gets the chance to be a mama.  Way to go, Potesta!  

Thank you to Mr. Scardino and Mr. Fanticola for providing Potesta the best of medical care, regardless of cost, showing her love and having faith enough in Potesta to give her a chance at a full recovery and a full life.  I wish Potesta could get a Vox Populi Award as well.  She deserves one, she showed great courage and patience in her recovery, too.

Thank you for this story on Potesta.  I had heard her surgery was a success.  It's a gift to me to see how well & lovely Potesta looks today.  Good luck, Potesta.  I hope you have a fabulous life as a mom in your new home!

30 Dec 2012 10:57 PM
Old Old Cat

She looks positively beautiful.  Great slopiog withers and big solid chest.  Legs don't look too fragile.  Nice slope to her rear, with a longer back than most.  I find it heartwarming that she was able to physically and mentally recover from the devastating injury, formerly fatal.  I will be campaigning a two year old seal brown filly this year if she progresses well enough and I was wondering what factors contributed to her injury.  What training did Potesta do as a two year old, I know she did not start.  What caused the break; misstep, pulling up, another horse...  If someone could respond I would be very thankful.  Thank you  

02 Jan 2013 2:42 PM

The look in her eye, racing, reminds me of one not so lucky, Ruffian

14 Jan 2013 2:43 PM

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