The 1995 Little Brown Jug winner Nick's Fantasy arrived back home to Pin Oak Lane Farm in New Freedom, Pa., last week. This time, things were a lot less crowded in the trailer. The first time the now 20-year-old harness racing gelding arrived at Pin Oak Lane was his birth in the back of a horse trailer on March 24, 1992.
His mother, Saraton, was on her way to Pin Oak for his birth and to be bred back to Nick's Fantasy's sire, Tyler's Mark, but Nick couldn't quite wait. When the trailer ramp came down, there he was.
Almost exactly 20 years later, on March 29, 2012, Nick's Fantasy's arrival was expected this time. The trailer in which he arrived came from the Standardbred Retirement Foundation in New Jersey, where the gelding had lived since November 2011. Jean Rastetter, a trainer based at The Meadows, outside Pittsburgh, had cared for him since 1997, but asked the SRF for help last year.
Rastetter took on Nick's care when he was no longer able to earn his keep, racing in California in 1997. She gave gas money to his trainer at the time, Bernie Wolin, to haul him from California to her home in West Alexandria, Pa., where he was a faithful riding horse for Rastetter and local children for many years.
"He did everything to please you," she said. "When I rode him, he was like, ‘I'm it and that's it.' He's a good horse; he's a pleasure to be around."
Nick's Fantasy arrived at the SRF with a dappled coat and unfortunately, a troublesome old racing injury. His left front foot had anatomical changes that compromised his hoof wall and caused chronic inflammation. While Nick's Fantasy could walk without discomfort, long term care was needed to get him to a higher level of functioning.
Dr. Steve Bokman provided guidance and SRF trainer Marie Menosky and farrier John Zeiselmeier set upon a five month plan of diligent care and cleaning .
"The best part was to see the excellent progress we got with Nick's foot," said Menosky. "John does natural foot balance and trimming and he did an amazing job on Nick. Nick was very patient every time we worked on him. Once it started to feel better, he started to play around in his paddock, rearing up and galloping. He was fun to watch."
News of Nick's arrival at the SRF was noticed by one of the first humans he ever laid eyes on -- Dr. William Solomon, owner of Pin Oak Lane Farm. He reached out to SRF staff and offered a home -- again -- for Nick's Fantasy. The decision was made for Nick to spend the winter at the SRF for intensive rehabilitation on his foot, supported by a donation from his Little Brown Jug driver John Campbell, before a spring arrival at Pin Oak Lane.
Nick's Fantasy said goodbye to his friends at the SRF on March 29 and headed west and homeward.
"This is such a touching story," said SRF co-founder Judith Bokman. "What also touches me is that when SRF first opened its doors (in 1990), we struggled for help for many years, but Dr. Solomon always gave graciously and generously."
"We're very proud to have Nick back," said Solomon. "He's by our stallion Tyler's Mark, which makes him extra special. Back in that era, we had a number of nice horses like Park Avenue Joe, who won the Hambletonian and of course Napolitano, who beatand No Nonsense Woman and of course this horse was the most special. He set a record (1:51.2) when he won the Jug that has since been eclipsed. Nick's happy to be home. When he got off the truck he said, ‘Nice to be back.'
"He lives out with my riding horse Jesse. I can see him lying there in the paddock right now with the grass up to his belly. We're glad to take him. He's a nice horse and easy to get along with. He'll be a goodwill ambassador. Maybe we'll do a little bit of riding with him if he's sound enough to do that. It's nice to have him home again."
by Ellen Harvey, Harness Racing Communications