When terror rained down on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, a horse sale was under way in Kentucky. A Maryland-bred yearling colt from the first crop of Partner's Hero, a young Maryland sire, was one of the offerings.
JoAnn and David Hayden, owners of Dark Hollow Farm in Upperco, and Bill Beatson, an Annapolis real-estate developer, made the mistake, which they freely admit, of trying to sell in Kentucky a Maryland-bred yearling by a first-year, non-Kentucky sire. There was "zero interest" in the colt, David Hayden said.
"We were put in the back of the bus," he said. "He sold late in the sale, the 12th or 13th day."
By then, the significance of the terrorist attacks had sunk in. The auction continued with little enthusiasm. The Maryland-bred yearling by Partner's Hero out of the Hayden-Beatson mare Nin Two sold for $6,000, an almost embarrassing sum.
During that same time, Ernie Paragallo, a horse owner from New York's Long Island, was grieving the loss of friends in the World Trade Center tragedy. Eight months later, in May of last year, Paragallo bought a 2-year-old colt for $135,000 at an auction in Timonium.
He named him New York Hero, in honor of those who lost their lives and those who helped save lives in the attacks on New York. The colt, a year older, was the same one the Haydens and Beatson had sold in Kentucky in the dismal aftermath of 9/11.
Last Saturday, New York Hero entered the Kentucky Derby picture with a gritty win in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park. The Haydens and Beatson watched on TV as the colt they'd bred dueled the length of the stretch before prevailing by a neck at odds of 14-1.
Just three days before, the Haydens-Beatson breeding partnership sold a 2-year-old colt by Two Punch out of the Haydens' late mare Gala Goldie for $325,000 in Ocala, Fla. It was the highest-priced colt in the sale. Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of Godolphin Racing, bought him for his stable of 2-year-olds in California.
"The race at Turfway was icing on the cake," David Hayden said.
Added Beatson: "What transpired last week was a rare moment of jubilation in a business full of more disappointments than triumphs. It's wise to savor the victories to the fullest extent because they don't come along often."
Hayden said as breeders they take the long view, which means parting with the eventual New York Hero for $6,000 was painful, but only for a short time. Patrick Hoppel, a Floridian who buys and sells horses, bought the yearling colt with the idea of reselling him the next year.
Hoppel hit a home run. The Haydens and Beatson feel as if they ran around the bases with him.
"We are happier to have sold this horse for $6,000 and have him do what he has done," David Hayden said, "than to sell a horse for $300,000 and not have him break his maiden."
The Haydens and Beatson still own Nin Two, the dam of New York Hero, and the Haydens own shares in Partner's Hero, whom they also bred. The Haydens' great mare, Safely Home, produced Partner's Hero from a mating with Danzig.
The Haydens sold Partner's Hero for $390,000 as a yearling. He became a graded-stakes winner and earner of $554,731. He stands at Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County.
Safely Home, of course, also produced Safely Kept, from a mating with the now-pensioned Horatius. The filly Safely Kept won 24 of 31 races, including the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the Test, earned $2.2 million and captured the Eclipse Award as North America's top sprinter in 1989. The Haydens, as breeders, display a replica of that trophy in their home.
Nin Two resides outside in her paddock. The Haydens and Beatson own her 2-year-old filly by Wekiva Springs and her yearling colt by Runaway Groom. She did not have a baby this year but is in foal to Not For Love.
Despite selling her yearling colt by Partner's Hero for a mere $6,000, they expect Nin Two's other babies to bring six figures - because of the success of New York Hero. And the best may be yet to come.
Trained by Jennifer Pedersen at Aqueduct, New York Hero will race April 12 in the Wood Memorial Stakes on his home track. A respectable showing will propel him to the Kentucky Derby.
The investigation into the amputation of a horse's leg at Gulfstream Park concluded with no findings of wrongdoing against the horse's trainer, Mark Shuman, or owner, Michael Gill.
Their horse, Casual Conflict, broke his right foreleg and was euthanized Feb. 3 at Gulfstream in South Florida. Florida regulatory officials launched an investigation after one of Gill's veterinarians amputated the broken leg without authorization shortly after the race.
A spokesman for the Florida Division of Pari-Mutual Wagering said last week that examination of the leg, as well as Casual Conflict's left foreleg, revealed no illegal drugs or improper treatments.
According to the Daily Racing Form, Gill said he was considering a lawsuit against Gulfstream Park and the Florida regulators.