People dream about winning the Kentucky Derby or Preakness - but not Nancy Alberts. She never dreamed that big because she never figured on having a Derby or Preakness horse.
But here she is at 56 with a scarred-up body, a cracked shoulder and a fairy-tale gelding named Magic Weisner who has transformed a hard-working, life-long horsewoman into Cinderella at the ball.
So what if Magic Weisner, whom Alberts bred, owns and trains, will be a long shot Saturday in the 127th Preakness at Pimlico? The fact that he has made the dance means that already, even if the prince doesn't call, the glass slipper fits.
"I'm having a lot of fun," Alberts said, despite struggling with the onslaught of interview requests as she tries to look after her horse. "I feel that I've got to go for it. My horse is doing good. I may never have this chance again."
Alberts thought she had experienced the ultimate when Magic Weisner, at 12-1, captured the $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship Stakes for 2-year-olds Dec. 31 at Laurel Park. She had never won a race so rich in more than three decades of training horses. The victory culminated her most successful year; she had won all of seven races.
"I'm just so excited, I don't even know that I won," she gushed in the winner's circle.
That was the second in what became a five-race win streak for Magic Weisner. Early on, Alberts considered running him in the Kentucky Derby, but on March 16 she cracked her left shoulder when the horse she was on suddenly lay down when walking out of his stall.
"Now if you tell me what prompted him to lay down, then we'll both know," Alberts says. "I went one way, and he went the other way. I hit the wall. I knew I was hurt because I couldn't get up."
And that wasn't the first time. Four years ago, Alberts nearly died when a horse kicked her across the stall with both hind feet, splitting her spleen into three pieces. She underwent emergency surgery and returned to the barn sooner than she should have, working too hard in pain but doing what she most loves to do.
She also returned too soon after breaking her shoulder. Her left arm in a sling, she continued preparing Magic Weisner for a spring classic - the Preakness, not the Derby.
"With my health, I didn't feel like doing a lot of shipping," Alberts said. "It wasn't my horse; he ships fine. I guess I'm a homebody."
Magic Weisner has won six races, matching the highest win total of any horse in the Preakness. But all 10 of his starts have come in Maryland - four at Pimlico and six at Laurel Park.
He is the only horse in the Preakness who has raced at Pimlico; that might be an advantage. But he hasn't raced against anything near the caliber of War Emblem, Proud Citizen, Medaglia d'Oro, Harlan's Holiday or the others.
Alberts says: So what? She's spent her entire career working in the shadows next to the tracks as the big trains have roared past. But the story of Magic Weisner is so improbable there just might be another enchanting phase about to unfold.
Alberts bought Magic Weis- ner's dam for $1. During her 30 years of working for respected trainer James P. Simpson, now 82 and living in Virginia, Alberts often took his castoffs and either found homes for them or raced them. In 1991, she took a crooked-legged filly named Jazema for a buck.
The filly had undergone surgery on both front legs shortly after birth. Despite the deformities, she was valuable as a daughter of Bold Forbes, winner of the 1976 Kentucky Derby and Belmont. Alberts remembers the poor filly at Simpson's farm in Virginia, recovering from surgery but longing to romp with her mates.
"She'd stand there and watch the others run and just holler," Alberts says. "I felt so sorry for her. I wondered why they just didn't put her down."
Even after healing, Jazema tried but couldn't keep up. At the racetrack, nothing changed. She just wasn't as fast as the others. But under Alberts' patient hand, Jazema slowly developed into a racehorse.
Alberts galloped her in the mornings, coaxing more and more from her. Eventually, she got her racing. And what did the $1 filly do? She raced 68 times, won 14 and earned $89,199.
Twice, she was claimed, and twice Alberts bought her back. The second time was to breed her in a mating as improbable as her race record. Alberts never forgot how Jazema had flirted before a race with Ameri Valay, a male horse in an adjacent stall.
"They just eyed each other," Alberts said. "It was the funniest thing. If you could have seen those two look at each other ... they just fell in love."
So when Alberts went to breed Jazema, she led him directly to the court of Ameri Valay, by then retired and standing at stud. Their first foal, in 1998, was the appropriately named Deliver Hope. He won three of the seven races Alberts won last year. Their second foal, in 1999, was Magic Weisner.