Before the snow pummeled Laurel Park yesterday, Nancy Alberts trotted out her star gelding, Magic Weisner, for the beginning of his latest comeback attempt.
Alberts, who lives in Sykesville, and Magic Weisner, now 6, scripted one of racing's most endearing stories in 2002. The horse Alberts bred from a mare she'd purchased for $1 finished second in the Preakness and Haskell Invitational Handicap, won the Ohio Derby and finished fourth in the Belmont.
But then the story almost turned tragic. Magic Weisner contracted West Nile Virus and nearly died. After the horse's slow and agonizing recovery, Alberts launched the gelding on his first comeback try. But in a July 2003 race at Laurel Park, Magic Weisner finished last. He hasn't raced since.
Ensuing comeback attempts were thwarted by an animal bite, a dislike for Pimlico and an infected hock. Alberts still hasn't figured out the bite, which happened at her farm. Something bit Magic Weisner above the knee.
"I couldn't even guess what bit him," Alberts said. "It was the weirdest thing. His whole leg blew up. He was dead lame."
Then, Magic Weisner rebelled at his temporary stabling at Pimlico and refused to train. Then, an infection shortly after Thanksgiving settled in his hock (about midway up a back leg).
"Now," Alberts said yesterday, "he's back doing wonderfully."
She breezed him four furlongs at Laurel Park in 52.6 seconds.
"He was just loafing along," said Alberts, who is Magic Weisner's exercise rider, trainer, breeder and owner. "But he finished strong on his own."
She said his hind end, weakened significantly by the West Nile virus, is "perfect." Alberts hopes to continue breezing Magic Weisner for six or seven weeks for his second comeback race in perhaps two months.
"I'm not ever going to give up on him," Alberts said. "He wants to make it back. He really does."
She said his fans still keep in touch.
"People still write letters to him," Alberts said. "Whenever he has a published work, I get five or 10 calls. So many people just love that horse, including me."
NOTE: This is the 10th year the National Turf Writers Association will present the Isaac Murphy Award to the jockey with the highest winning percentage (with a minimum of 500 mounts). For the first time, California rider Russell Baze won't collect the award; Ramon Dominguez will. Based in Maryland, Dominguez won 28.31 percent of his races in 2004, compared to Baze's 27.16 percent. The Isaac Murphy Award is named in honor of the legendary black jockey in the 19th century who won 44 percent of his races.