A `Magic' moment, 30 years in making

May 19, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

NANCY ALBERTS was surrounded by media on the track. She wanted to inquire about her horse, but there was no space to move. She wanted to celebrate with her family, but there was no time.

This happens when you finally hit the big time.

After 30 years of training, breeding and owning castoffs or finding homes for them, Alberts found herself in the fame of the 127th running of the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course yesterday. Her horse, Magic Weisner, had a brilliant stretch run to come up three-quarters of a length short of winner War Emblem.

As questions poured into War Emblem trainer Bob Baffert about his horse's possibly becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner, there were questions for Alberts about Magic Weisner's possibly entering the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.

Imagine that. Questions for Alberts about a horse in the Belmont.

Her last sampling of the big time was back in 1976 and 1977 with Cormorant, who won eight of 12 races, including five stakes. In the 1977 Preakness, Cormorant was the one horse given a chance of upsetting Seattle Slew. Cormorant outran Slew early, but then faded to fourth.

The ultimate for Alberts seemed to occur Dec. 31, when Magic Weisner captured the $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship Stakes for 2-year-olds at Laurel Park. Alberts' best year was last year, when she won seven races.

But her career took a different turn yesterday. Now, racing fans are clamoring for her to enter Magic Weisner in the Belmont to challenge War Emblem. After the late charge in the Preakness, the grueling 1 1/2 -mile test makes sense.

"I don't know, I'll see how he comes back," said Alberts, 56, who lives in Jessup. "I don't know if I want to go up there. I'll see what else there is around here, but I'll probably be pressured to go, won't I?"

After some coercing from the media, Alberts then added with a smile: "I don't have anything to lose."

There were a lot of smiles at Pimlico for Alberts. She is a great feel-good story, one of the hardest workers on the backstretch, who never dreamed of having a horse in the Preakness or Kentucky Derby.

But she got a lot of inquiries about Magic Weisner in the past week. By midweek, Alberts seemed to become annoyed by all the attention. Usually reserved, not even Alberts could control the euphoria over the second-place finish.

It was as if Magic Weisner had won the race.

"Second is almost as good as first," Alberts said. "I think Maryland fans are going to be happy. Things are going wonderful right now, and I'm going to enjoy every moment of it."

She should, and deserves it, too.

Four years ago, Alberts nearly died when a horse kicked her across the stall with both hind feet, splitting her spleen into three pieces. As usual, Alberts returned before the doctors recommended.

Earlier this year on March 16, she cracked her left shoulder when the horse she was on suddenly lay down when walking out of his stall. With her left arm in a sling, Alberts decided not to prepare Magic Weisner for the Kentucky Derby, but the Preakness.

Good move.

Last week, Alberts, cracked shoulder and all and probably against her doctor's advice, climbed aboard Magic Weisner and worked her out just to make sure the horse had enough speed, which she believed was the key to winning the Preakness.

Magic Weisner was 11th at the first turn, but gradually went past horses in the final turn and charged ahead down the middle in the stretch. If only there were just a couple of more yards.

"I couldn't see a thing because I was among some fans," Alberts said. "I knew where he was in the beginning, but I had to ask people if they knew where he was a little later. When he was making the run and got to fourth, I said, `Wow, we're going to be third.' Then when we got to third, I said, `Wow, we're going to finish second.' The wire was just too close.

"I was very confident in the horse," Alberts said. "I talked to the rider [Richard Migliore] before the race, and he thought about the same strategy as I did. I couldn't have felt any better after that. We wanted to sit back and watch what happens, then explode."

That's exactly what happened, as Magic Weisner completed a miraculous run. It's a horse who had previously won only six times, and was a 45-1 long shot in a Preakness field that was classier than any other he had faced.

But the horse is just as special as the owner and trainer. Magic Weisner's mother, Jazema, was born with two crooked feet, and Alberts bought her for a dollar. Jazema ran 68 times to earn $89,199 during her career. She was later bred with Ameri Valay, and a severe ankle infection almost killed Magic Weisner at 3 months old.

But the horse recovered, and so has Alberts. As owner, breeder and trainer, as well as a single parent, you can see all those years of early mornings and late nights in some of the wrinkles in her face.

But after yesterday, all the hard worked turned into Preakness fame, and possibly a run at the Belmont.

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