BOWIE -- Carol Russell says she tosses and turns in her bed at night, wondering how she is going to pay all the bills her old campaigner Biddle Street Pete has run up this year.
The 9-year-old stallion, long a fixture at the Maryland tracks, might have his last hurrah at Laurel Race Course this weekend.
G; Pete isn't limping or physically ill. In fact, he looks
splendid. He's just slower, the competition tougher, and, after seven years and 97 starts, mostly at Laurel and Pimlico, it might be time to try Penn National.
"I just have to win a race, and if that means running Pete for a $2,500 claiming tag at Penn, that's what I have to do," Russell said.
Russell works two jobs to support Pete: one as a groom for her trainer, Berkley Kern, at the Bowie Training Center, the other selling tack supplies at a saddle shop in Highland.
This is nothing new for Russell. She has worked for the phone company, waited tables, bartended, clerked in convenience stores, all to support her horse habit.
The other option is to give the horse, who hasn't won a race this year, one last try at Laurel, running for a $5,000 claiming tag in a sprint for non-winners in 1991. He just might win, as he did last year, two days before Christmas.
Normally, this kind of decision is not so heart-wrenching.
But Russell and Pete, and even Kern, who is not a sentimental guy, have such a mutual sort of attraction, and have been together so long, that a move probably will mean the breakup of the team.
If Pete runs at Penn, he will lose his eligibility and his stall at Maryland tracks, where the rules say horses can't compete or live if they drop below the $5,000 level.
That means Pete will have to train off the farm, owned by Russell's neighbor, Donald Souder, in Howard County. That, in itself, is not an unpleasant option.
"Pete loves Donald's farm. He's been there before during recuperation periods," Russell said.
But it means Russell will quit Kern after 15 years and work full time at the tack shop to be close to Pete.
For the past seven years, hardly a day has gone by that Russell has not seen and cared for Pete.
It might be the longest-running equine soap opera in track history.
First, Russell was Pete's groom when he came to Kern's stable as a 2-year-old. Then, four years ago, she became his owner. When Pete went lame after a successful career in allowance and high-class claiming races, his former owners wanted to sell him. Russell put up $13,000 that she had inherited from her mother's estate to buy him.
"Berkley thought I was crazy," Russell said. 'He said, 'This horse might never run again.' "
But Pete earned the money back for Russell in three starts.
"But that was then, and this is now," Russell said.
Pete's real troubles started this year at Pimlico.
During the running of a race in April, he was hit in the eye by a rock.
"Whatever hit him reached all the way down into the deepest layer of his cornea," Russell said.
Despite efforts by local veterinarians to try to save the eye, he lost it.
"Then, when he came out of the anesthesia from the operation, he fell and broke three ribs," Russell said.
Russell literally slept outside the horse's stall for two days until he was discharged and was safely back home.
Why is Russell so obsessed with this horse?
"I just don't know," she said. "I guess it has something to do with his personality. He thinks I'm his mother. Even Berkley calls him his 'son.' "
Pete was originally purchased out of a sheriff's sale for $350 as a weanling. He was bred, in racing parlance, to be nothing. He has crooked front legs. Kern has trained him his entire career. They have beaten all the odds. Through his last start, Pete had earned $134,523. He has had a bone chip, a fractured cannon bone, he bleeds badly and has arthritis.
"Yet he still wants to run," Russell said. "Whether he performs well or badly, he knows what his job is, and he's happy doing it."
It is certainly a remote possibility that Pete would be claimed at Laurel. But what if the unthinkable happened at Penn National, and Pete was claimed?
After all, he's never run so cheap, and, until this year, was a big money earner on the Maryland circuit.
Kern says he can't imagine anyone would want him.
But if it happened, Russell said, "They'd have to carry me out of there on a stretcher.
"But no matter what happened, I'd get him back. He will always have a home with me. People give me a hard time about this horse. But I know he just wouldn't understand it if strangers started to take care of him.
"I know you can't save the whole world," said Russell, a divorced mother of two grown sons. "But you can try to save your own little piece of it.
"Pete is my buddy. Sometimes, I think he's all I have."