Friends, indeed, to gelding in need


November 30, 2003|By TOM KEYSER

The ominous comment read: "Pulled up, vanned off."

That was the description of the 91st race in the nine-year racing career of Big Rut. The race for low-level claimers took place Oct. 29 at Charles Town. That was all Connie Warner needed to hear.

The 10-year-old Big Rut was a seven-time stakes winner in Maryland and Delaware - in 1996 and 1998, at ages 3 and 5. Back then, Hamilton Smith trained him at Laurel Park, and Warner galloped him in the morning.

"He was my favorite horse in the barn," Warner said. "He was such a good horse, a happy horse all the time. He always did everything right. He had so much class. He was like the barn pet."

Smith trained the chestnut gelding, a South Carolina-bred, from November 1995 (his first race, a victory at Laurel) until February 2000 (when he was claimed for $50,000). Five months later Big Rut was running at Charles Town. He made 36 of his last 40 starts there, gradually descending the ranks until, at odds of 30-1, he couldn't finish the race.

Warner made a flurry of phone calls and tracked down Cynthia Reed, Big Rut's trainer at Charles Town. Reed told her that Big Rut hadn't hurt himself in that last race, that the jockey had merely pulled him up because he wasn't handling the mud.

Warner said she would like to bring Big Rut back to Maryland. Reed said she would sell the horse for $2,500. Warner talked to Smith, who talked to Jim Peters Jr., who owned Big Rut when he raced for Smith. Smith arranged the deal, and Peters put up the $2,500. Big Rut arrived at Smith's barn about a week and a half ago.

"He's too nice a horse to end being abused or something like that," said Peters, who lives in the Cayman Islands most of the year.

A former Virginia breeder and owner, Peters doesn't own horses anymore. But he was in the business a long time, and he knows what sometimes happens to horses when they disappear from the races. Sometimes they end up at the slaughterhouse.

Peters said he bought Big Rut for Warner, so she could train him for a second career. Warner still exercises horses for Smith, and she also works in the afternoon at the track accompanying horses on her pony from the paddock to the starting gate.

She's been riding Big Rut around the backstretch; he's a little sore but doing OK. Then she's going to try to turn him into her lead pony. If he doesn't like the job, then she plans to make him a riding horse or maybe even a show horse for her 14-year-old daughter, Leeanna.

Warner has found homes for horses off the racetrack before, and she hopes what happened with Big Rut might inspire more people to do the same.

"It's sad what happens to some of these older horses," Warner said. "I'm just very, very glad we got Rut back."

For the record, Big Rut raced 91 times, from Nov. 3, 1995, to Oct. 29, 2003. He won 22 races, including seven stakes, the richest being the $75,000 Annapolis Stakes in 1996 at Laurel. He finished second 18 times and third 16 times. Big Rut earned $570,488 for his owners.

Starting in full stride

Wendy Pensivy had no opportunity to breathe easy when she became stakes coordinator two months ago for the Maryland Jockey Club. The Maryland Million was bearing down on her, and that was followed by the Fall Festival of Racing with its six stakes.

For Pensivy, who turned 34 six days ago, the job was the latest in a long line of horse-related duties that have consumed nearly half her life. After graduating from high school, she worked five years on a farm in Virginia. Next, she worked seven years at Bowie as a hot walker, groom and exercise rider. Lastly, she has worked four years in the MJC racing office.

"She's done an excellent job," said Georganne Hale, racing secretary, who, with Pensivy may form the only female racing secretary-stakes coordinator duo in the business. "All during De Francis Dash day, I kept saying: `You did a hell of a job with all these stakes.' "

Said Pensivy: "I like the challenge, especially when things work out as well as they did for the De Francis Dash and Maryland Million. I get a lot of satisfaction out of a job well done."

Down the stretch

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