In 2008, just under two months before the great race mare Zenyatta won the first of her two Breeders’ Cup races in that year’s Distaff at Santa Anita, her half-brother by Giant’s Causeway was making headlines of his own at the annual Keeneland September Yearling Sale in Lexington, Kentucky.
The handsome chestnut, who was bred by a high-profile partnership consisting of of Maverick Racing and Ashford Stud, and who carried what could be considered the bluest of racing blood, was already a half-brother to a Grade I winner — Balance — and his connections were comfortably riding the wave of his at-the-time-undefeated sister Zenyatta, which no doubt helped boost the final bid on him from Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation to $1.15 million when the hammer fell.
The colt out of the Kris S. mare Vertigineux, who would eventually be named Souper Spectacular, was one of 12 youngsters who brought seven figures on the second night of the annual yearling sales marathon. With both looks and pedigree on his side, just about everyone agreed his future was bright.
Fast forward to just a few nights ago at a tiny livestock auction located in a small, yet historic “blink and you’ll miss it” Georgia town called Eastanollee. Souper Spectacular passed through a sales ring once again, but instead of any fanfare, he was almost an afterthought in his grossly underweight body and depressed state, his recent past shrouded in mystery.
At this Georgia auction, instead of being paraded about as an example of thoroughbred breeding’s excellence, he quickly became an example of the industry’s darker side and also of a horse that, despite having everything going for him from birth, never really had much luck — but finally had it come back around in his favor.
A few months after his eye-popping sale and shortly after being broken at his new owner’s Ocala, Florida farm, Souper Spectacular was sent to New York to be cared for by Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott and to begin his racing career.
The colt didn’t actually make the races until well into his 3-year-old year, but did manage to break his maiden over Saratoga’s inner turf course in just his third career start. Two allowance wins followed before he dove into stakes company, where two disappointing fourth-place finishes were followed by an 18-month layoff and, eventually, two final career starts and off-the-board finishes in optional claiming company as a 5-year-old.
Retired with a career line of 9-3-0-0, $108,501, he was sent back to his owner’s Live Oak Stud in Ocala in 2012 and subsequently gelded. This is where his life and travels become murky. He was reportedly given to someone for a second career, but to whom and where he went remains a mystery, as do the events that got him to his current stage in life.
Longtime horsewoman Mistie Lewis was always a lover of thoroughbreds, having ridden and shown them in the Georgia hunter/jumper world as a child. Yet, the extent of her racing knowledge extends to 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat and not much further. She had also been to livestock auctions, where thoroughbreds were plentiful in the 1970s and 1980s — and was traumatized enough to never have gone back.
Until last week.
“We weren’t even supposed to be in town,” Lewis said of the fateful night of Aug. 11. “I really didn’t want to go to the auction, because I think they’re so sad and I hadn’t been there since I was a child, [but] I had my daughter Hannah who was begging to go since some people from our barn were going. So, we went.
“When we got there, one of Hannah’s friends ran up to us and said, ‘Oh my God there’s a thoroughbred here in the very back. You have to come see.’
“As we headed back there, I didn’t want to see him because I knew I’d want to take him home. And when I went around the corner and saw him standing there in all that filth, that was it, I knew he was coming home with me.
“I’d never even bid at an auction before, but a friend helped me and told me to wait. There was another guy bidding at the same time and, at the end, at first I thought he got him. But when they said it was me, we all jumped up and started hugging. We were so happy,” Lewis said.
Her final bid? $390.
Lewis quickly paid for her new purchase and worked on where he’d go and his quarantine situation. She also got copies of his paperwork, which said he was nine years of age, though she suspected he was older. And at nearly 16.1 hands, it was clear he didn’t weigh more than 900 pounds. He was emaciated and covered in rain rot and Lewis knew he had a long road of recovery ahead. She also wanted to know who he was and where he came from.
“I cant explain it, but I know it was meant to be,” Lewis said. “And we named him Seven — lucky number Seven, because the number on his hip was 27. And he had no halter or lead, so I had to go buy him one and it cost $27. And everything I paid for him totaled $427.
“Seven was a recurring number, so we named him Seven.”
Soon after he was safe, Lewis began the work of identifying the large, sweet skeleton of a horse, starting with his Coggins, which is the blood test for equine infectious anemia (EIA) antibodies in horses’ blood. (All horses traveling to shows and across state lines are required to have a current Coggins test.)
Lewis discovered that the name of ownership on Seven’s auction paperwork was for a woman, who she suspected was the lady she spoke to about him at the auction. At one point in the not-too-distant past, Lewis was told, Seven was donated to a zoo — Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Dahlonega, Georgia, but was eventually given to the woman listed on his paperwork. Lewis then called the veterinarian listed on the Coggins for more information, and he informed her that the woman had also told him she was given the horse by the people at the zoo.
“And then I got mad,” Lewis said. “All I got from the people at the auction were lies. They told me some old guy dropped him off [at the auction], hoping someone would take care of him when the date on his Coggins from the woman at the auction was from June. I realized she’d brought him there, but was too embarrassed about his condition; and I still had no idea about his history. I needed to find out who he was.”
Lewis then checked the tattoo under Seven’s upper lip, but she said it isn’t terribly clear or easy to read; the letter included in all thoroughbred tattoos was blurry and the numbers fuzzy, so she placed a call to The Jockey Club for help.
“I told the girl on the phone that the numbers were hard to read,” Lewis said. “We went through the alphabet together and when we got to K, [the Jockey Club representative] asked me to explain exactly what markings he had and she told me who he was. I had no idea who Zenyatta even was. I mean, I could tell you about Secretariat and maybe a couple others but I couldn’t even pronounce Zenyatta. A friend at the barn said, ‘He’s Zenyatta’s little brother,’ and I said, ‘Who?’
“So I got online and found out more about him, found Live Oak Plantation and decided that maybe they’d want to know about him; I thought they had a right to know. I spoke with a lady there and she took my name and number and I’m not sure if they’ll get back to me, but in no way do I think they had anything to do with how he ended up where he did. I do believe they thought they placed him successfully and had no control over how he ended up where he was. I can say with confidence he did not leave their property looking this way.”
For now, Seven remains in quarantine and will get a complete physical exam from Lewis’ vet on Friday. And though covered in rain rot with hip bones and ribs showing prominently, he’s already looking better and feeling brighter, Lewis said, displaying his sweet and kind disposition, as well as a grateful heart.
“He is as kind as you can imagine,” Lewis said. “Our other horse, Colby, likes two people: me and my daughter Hannah, and not even all the time. But Seven is just as kind and sweet and loving as he can be. He’s like a big puppy dog; he just wants to get to know you and he’s already whinnying for Hannah when he hears her.
“He has no shoes on and I spoke to my blacksmith who said he’ll stay barefoot for a while until he gains weight. He’s got all the fescue he can eat and some alfalfa and he’s eating well. He doesn’t seem to have any injuries, but he is a little tender on his right front … he had an abscess break so I think that may be why. We will know more when the vet does all of his tests.”
Currently, Lewis said, Seven’s future only consists of getting him well at his own pace.
“It’s not really up to me,” Lewis said. “This isn’t about me at all, it’s about him. It isn’t about my daughter or anyone else, it’s all about him. I can promise that I will take care of him for as long as I can and as long as he’s happy. And if something happens to me, my daughter will take care of him. He’s not going anywhere for a long, long time.”
Lewis plans to keep people informed about Seven’s progress through a Facebook page dedicated to him and her daughter has started a Go Fund Me page (www.gofundme.com/saving-souper-spectacular) to help with what she anticipates will be extensive veterinarian bills.
“I planned on taking care of all of it myself, but once people started hearing about him they were offering to help, so Hannah started the Go Fund Me,” Lewis said. “That money will only go for his care, but if nothing comes in, it doesn’t matter. We didn’t even know who he was to consider asking for donations.”
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.