Veteran horsewoman Nancy Alberts dies at 65

Laurel-based trainer took Magic Weiner to second-place Preakness finish in 2002

May 05, 2011|By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun

Nancy Alberts, described by her peers as a tough, hardworking horsewoman with a heart of gold, died late Tuesday night at Georgetown University Medical Center, 16 days after suffering at stroke. She was 65.

The Laurel-based trainer rose to fame as one of just 13 women to saddle a Preakness starter. In 2002, Alberts went on a magical ride with the aptly named Magic Weisner, a horse she bred, owned and trained to a second-place finish in the Preakness. After missing the victory by three-quarters of a length, Magic Weisner went to the Belmont Stakes and finished fourth.

"She was an inspiration for the women, and she accomplished quite a bit with the one really good horse she had," said trainer Hamilton Smith, who stabled his horses in the same barn as Alberts' for nearly eight years. "That horse carried her across the country, you might say. A lot of men wish for the accomplishments she had. She was a good horsewoman, and she was tough, I'll tell you that. She did things her way, and everyone respected her for it."

According to Equibase, Alberts, a Philadelphia native, began her career in 1976 and finished with 161 winners and earnings of $3 million. Ameri Weber was her last runner, finishing sixth in the Pimlico Race Course opener April 23. With her having an entry just six days after her stroke, some of her peers were caught off guard Wednesday when they heard of her loss.

"I got fooled," legendary trainer King Leatherbury said. "I didn't know how serious her stroke was, and when I saw her horse running a few days later, well, it was a shock to hear of her death. She was around for a long time, and for anyone to survive in this game that long — people come and go, and you don't even hear their names. She survived, and she made the most of what she had."

Alberts purchased Magic Weisner's dam Jazema from her boss at the time, James Simpson, for $1. She trained her to 14 wins before putting her in the breeding shed with Leatherbury's retired stallion Ameri Valay. Magic Weisner was the result of the union, and the gelding went on to captivate the Preakness crowd with his last-to-second-place run. He showed he could go long in the Belmont and later won the Grade II Ohio Derby, finished second in the Grade I Haskell Stakes and won three stakes during the Laurel Park winter meet.

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"My mother was just proud to be a horseman," said Alberts' son, Will. "She was never star-struck by being in the limelight. She was proud her horse was good enough to get her to the Preakness and then finish second. She was very humble with it, and there was never anything extravagant. I think she bought a new washing machine that year. Magic's success eventually allowed her to purchase the farm in Sykesville. She always wanted to wake up in the morning and look out a window to watch her horses, and that's what she did."

Alberts was named Trainer of the Year by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association in 2002.

"Nancy did everything herself," trainer Larry Murray said. "She was a one-woman operation, and she was tremendous at it. Everyone thought she'd wind up getting hurt, instead of what happened to her. There she was at 65, still galloping horses. She worked all the time and it took a toll on her, but what a story Magic Weisner was for her. It was like hitting the lottery."

But training wasn't all she'll be remembered for, Murray said.

"You always knew if you needed anything, including a place to stay, you'd always have one with Nancy," he said. "She took [jockey] Jon Joyce in when he was a young kid and was a kind of mother to him. She 'd rent rooms or just open up her house to those who needed a place. In the last few months, an aspiring young apprentice jockey, Whitney Valls, needed a place to stay, and Nancy just said, 'Come stay with me.' Nancy was a character and tough as nails, but she'd bend over backward to help everybody."

Alberts is survived by her son, three sisters — Shirley Hickman, Linda Meister and Wilma Reese — and one brother, David Hickman.

A celebration service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the International Room (third-floor clubhouse) at Laurel Park.

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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