ó Be careful when betting against Magna Fortuna.
3-year-old dark bay gelding, known to his friends simply
as Taxi, will run his second race ever when Hawthorne
Race Course begins its spring meeting this month.
get this far, he has been the longest of long shots.
long? Well, by all rights, he should be dead.
how the stars had to align to get him here, heís an
incredible long shot," said Gail Vacca.
"Pretty much off the charts."
story begins with Vacca, founder and president of
Illinois Equine Humane Center, a horse rescue, advocacy
and education organization based in Big Rock, about 45
miles west of Chicago. She sometimes attends what she
calls "kill auctions," where unwanted horses
are sold for as little as $25 and shipped to slaughter.
pretty much egregious cruelty," she said on a
recent cold morning at Hawthorne, in Stickney. "The
horses here are loved and pampered. Theyíre treated
like kings at the track. Then that world is shattered.
They become meat on the hoof. Theyíre thrown into pens
with all these other horses, and theyíre not used to
that environment. Thereís kicking, biting. The horses
such an auction in June 2009 in Shipshewana, Ind., Vacca
saw a lame mare struggling to stay on her feet in the
overcrowded kill pen. Sheíd been sold to a dealer who
intended to haul her to Canada to be slaughtered.
a former thoroughbred trainer who has been involved with
horses for more than 40 years, recognized the mare as a
thoroughbred. She spent the day haggling with the
dealer, who finally agreed to sell the horse for $300.
could hardly stand; she had trouble with her front
legs," Vacca said. "I knew that if he put her
in that trailer with the other horses, sheíd fall down
and would be trampled to death before they ever got her
took the mare home, knowing she might have to euthanize
her ó preferable to death in a horse trailer or
slaughter plant, Vacca said. But first, she wanted to
give the mare one more chance. And with corrective shoes
and treatment, the horse began to recover.
Vacca noticed that the mare ó now dubbed Lulu ó was
showing signs of being in foal. A vet confirmed it, and
Taxi came into the world on April 15, 2010.
look at the foal and it was evident Lulu had been
keeping good company.
I didnít know what he was, a Heinz 57 or what. When he
came out, it was just obvious," Vacca said.
"People who know dogs know the difference between a
poodle and a German shepherd. Itís the same with
people who know horses. It was pretty clear he was
exceptional. Good conformation, good presence."
Vacca went on a quest, first to learn who Lulu was, then
how she ended up in a kill pen, and finally who Taxiís
sire was. A series of Internet searches, emails and
phone calls brought some fascinating answers.
was really Silver Option, who had become a broodmare
after a brief and winless racing career. When her owner
thought she had lost a foal conceived earlier in 2009,
he sent her to the "kill auction."
Taxiís sire was Magna Graduate, a $2.58 million career
stakes winner who was standing stud at the prestigious
Darby Dan Farm in Lexington, Ky.
was from Magna Graduateís first crop of foals, so he
had no track record as a sire. But clearly, the pedigree
was there, along with the classic long legs and neck.
(Lulu, incidentally, has largely recovered from her leg
problems and now lives in happy retirement at the
a racehorse isnít the same as running one, of course.
It takes between $25,000 and $30,000 a year to maintain
a thoroughbred, money the small rescue organization didnít
have. So Vacca and others from Illinois Equine Humane
Center decided to form a partnership, Rescue Me Racing.
Sixteen shares were created; an initial payment of
$1,000 to get into the group was in the form of a
donation to the equine humane center, and the partners
now share costs. Suddenly, Taxi, registered as Magna
Fortuna (Latin for "good luck" or "good
fortune"), had a huge adoptive family.
fun," said retired pilot Charlie Deveaux, of
Bartlett, Ill., who went into the partnership with a
friend, Clay Kannaka, of St. Charles. "My buddy was
always very interested in owning a horse. When I started
volunteering (at the equine humane center) a year ago,
Gail introduced me to the partnership."
train Magna Fortuna, the group brought in Michele Boyce,
a licensed trainer for 25 years. The horse has impressed
didnít see him before he came in (to Hawthorne), but Iíd
get pictures weekly," she said. "We have a lot
of good photographers in the group. He was a sturdy,
sound colt. From the first time I saw him, he always
Magna Fortunaís one start, in a 6-furlong race in
December at Hawthorne, he was given the challenging
outside No. 11 slot in a field of 12 horses, most of
them more experienced. He finished ninth.
showed a lot of promise in training," Boyce said.
"His first race wasnít the best, but he learned a
lot. Heís gaining maturity, which I like to see. But
heís like a kid; heís still learning."
said she has noticed more concentration. "Heís
always trained well, but heís less of a goof-off. It
might take a couple of races to focus, but Iíve liked
everything Iíve seen about him."
date for Taxiís first race of the spring meeting,
which runs until April 28, isnít set yet. The
partnership, which will funnel a portion of any winnings
to the Illinois Equine Humane Center, has agreed he wonít
be entered in claiming races, where horses can be
claimed by other owners for a set price. And there wonít
be any big paydays from stud fees at the end of the road
because Taxi has been gelded. The next chapter of Taxiís
story waits to be written.
heís not competitive at the allowance level and weíre
spinning our wheels, weíll retrain him as a jumper or
for dressage or as a trail horse, whatever suits him
best," Vacca said. "Some owners may not want
to continue, but I suspect the only problem weíll ever
have is a 16-way custody battle for him when he ends his