Day At The Track

Horse rescued from tragic barn fire is a winner

07:12 AM 31 Aug 2016 NZST
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Celebrity Lover, harness racing Harness racing
Celebrity Lover (2) holding off Coogan at Pocono Downs
Curtis Salonick photo
Dr. Bruce Coren treats Celebrity Lover with laser as Janus Marquis, physiotherapist for the U.S. Showjumping Team looks on at the South Florida Trotting Center
Steve Wolf photo

It was just over five months ago that the tragic barn fire took place at the South Florida Trotting Center in Lake Worth.

Of the 23 Standardbred horses in Barn 9 that evening, only five have survived and now one of those harness racing horses that were rescued, a trotter named Celebrity Lover, has made it to the winner's circle.

Sunday night at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania, Celebrity Lover, trained and driven by Sam Stathis, who owns the South Florida Trotting Center, won the seventh race trot by a neck in 1:59.

The homebred stallion, owned and bred by Stathis's Celebrity Farms, was rescued from the barn fire that frightful night on March 15. The four-year-old son of Andover Hall from the Yankee Glide mare, Celebrity Feeling, suffered 3rd degree burns over his back from the burning roof above his stall.

Within days of the fire, Stathis set up a special therapy barn at the South Florida Trotting Center to help aid the recovery for the surviving horses from the fire.

"There is no doubt that our therapy barn aided in the recovery and return to racing for Celebrity Lover," Sam Stathis said. "And the outpouring of support and love from people all over the world were a big factor too.

"We enclosed Barn 1 in fly netting," Stathis explained, "We brought in or were donated everything we could get to help these horses. The latest in laser equipment to promote healing, special nebulizing equipment to treat the horses burned lungs from the heat and smoke of the fire, an electro-equiscope, heart monitoring equipment, a theraplate unit, an equine weight scale, the best floor matting available to help prevent hoof problems and more to aid with their recovery."

"FarmVet.com donated an entire pallet of burn cream that was used up within months and then donated another pallet." Stathis explained. "We had to hand walk these horses before dawn and after sundown as their burns could not be exposed to sunlight.

"Each morning we bathed the burns, then reapplied the creams, did treatments and then repeated it all over again in the afternoon. I want to give credit to caretaker Lyne Morneau and trainer Alex Spano who worked day and night for months caring for them and to Dr. Michael Carinda and Dr. Paul Caputo for their work. We argued tooth and nail over how to treat these horse but in the long run it worked. Most veterinarians never had burn victims like this to treat."

The results were shown on the racetrack Sunday as Celebrity Lover raced parked out first-over from the half mile and Stathis rated the mare perfectly, clearing to the lead in the stretch and holding off Coogan in the final strides to win in a photo finish.

Unraced at age two, Celebrity Lover made just five starts at age 3 with a qualifying win in 2:05.4. He just qualified at Pocono Downs August 10, was third in a pari-mutuel race, timed in 1:58.3 on August 19 and is now a winner.

"I literally cried with joy after "Lover" dug in and held off Ake Svanstedt with Coogan for the win," Stathis said. "It was just five months that he (Celebrity Lover) was fighting for his life from the smoke inhalation and burns."

Celebrity Lover is the first of fire victims to return to the races and win. Stathis said that the other three of his horses that were in the fire, Celebrity Tsipras, Celebrity Lambo and Celebrity Artemis, are coming back strong. Celebrity Tsipras just qualified and raced for the first time August 14 and hopefully the other two will be racing before the end of the year. Celebrity Lover is a full brother to the mare Celebrity Artemis.

It should be noted that the fifth horse that survived from Barn 9 fire, Grateful Pride, a two-year-old colt by Bettors Delight, has also been racing for trainer Linda Toscano since late June, but has yet to win.

"God didn't want these horses yet for a reason," Stathis said. "The trainers and grooms that helped saved them from the fire and risked their lives for these animals are the real heroes. And what a feel good way to celebrate with having them not just recover from their burns and internal injuries but to race and win. You could not script a movie any better than this.

"And we will be adding more therapy equipment this year to Barn 1 at the South Florida Trotting Center," Stathis added. "I'm still trying to get an equine hyperbaric chamber if possible. Whatever it takes to help care for the horses. This fall the therapy barn will be available for all horses of every breed that need help."

For more information, visit www.southfloridatrottingcenter.com.

By Steve Wolf for the South Florida Trotting Center

 
 
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