On the night before Baby’s last race, Angie Francart’s mind did a gallop of its own.
Her mother had already warned her that when they arrived at Charles Town Racetrack they would do their best to get the filly back, but there were “no guarantees.
“It was difficult not to run to the gate and just grab her halter and yank her back,” Francart recalls.
Instead they snuck in.
Francart, her husband Gary, and her mother and father hid in the shadows, surreptitiously waiting their chance to lay a claim on a delicate filly, named Just Telling You, who had been foaled by their family, and for whom Francart “cried like a baby” on the day she left the farm to become a racehorse.
Race name: Just Telling You
Dam: Felicity Miss
Foal date: April 16, 2004“My father watched the racing form for several months until he saw her entered in another claiming race,” she says. “When he finally found her, my parents called me and told me they were going to the races the next day. When I asked why, my Dad said, ‘Because I found her.’ ”
Waiting until the last possible second before post time, her father posted the claiming money, and when the dark bay racehorse with white blaze finished a dismal but wonderful 7th, they had the horse they called Baby, back.
“The day she arrived back at our farm, I called my husband at work and said, ‘Guess who just came down the driveway?’ It was so exciting to watch her come off the trailer. I know she knew she was back home. I could see it in her eyes—she remembered.”
Returning to Sleeping Fox Farm in Martinsburg, W. Va., after being away just a few years and with 19 starts under her belt, all could see that Baby, was different. Meanness had set in. Her coat was dull. And she charged at people, mostly men, who tried to approach her stall.
As Francart set about soothing the horse so clearly fried from her years on the track, and attending to her medical treatments for multiple ulcers, the horse lover and equestrian, who by day worked as a surgical nurse, and later, a director at a medical facility in Virginia, started to map out a plan to minister to more horses in need.
More “Babys” of the racing industry who needed a clear-headed and kind nursemaid to see them into permanent retirement, or new careers.
“When we got Baby back, both my husband and I realized that so many Thoroughbreds have bad experiences, and are not lucky enough to have an entire family looking out for them,” she says. “We knew we could, and had, to make a difference.”
After trying their hand at horse breeding early on at Sleeping Fox Farm, the couple decided after successful pairings between Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds, that they wanted to focus on helping horses who were already here: Horses in need soon started finding their way to their farm, and it wasn’t long before their dark bay poster child had company.
When the couple’s hay supplier discovered two abandoned Thoroughbreds, he called the Francarts, and the couple took them in. When word got out around Charles Town Racetrack, more calls came in, and with them, more horses.
Today, with 19 Thoroughbreds in the herd, Francart and her husband are establishing the farm as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, which will provide sanctuary for the hard-luck horses, and re-training and adoption for the suitable candidates.
“Our plan is to try not to be selective about the horses we take in,” she says. “Although we’re full right now, our goal is to help out the OTTB community by providing a sanctuary and re-homing organization.
“We’ve taken in some really sad, sad cases. But, they all need someone.”
As for her special dark bay Thoroughbred with roan flecks of color in her coat, Baby is living the life now.
After regaining her personality and fitness, she evented for a time with Francart, but is mostly the family pet. Little is asked of her, and she returns the favor by following her mistress around the barn, free of a halter or bridle, keeping an eye out for a stray piece of hay.
And Francart is so glad to have Baby back.
“After she settled into the farm, I felt like she gave me a look that said, ‘What the hell did you guys do to me?’ ” Francart says. “She’s the reason we got started in this. Every Thoroughbred we help is another horse that has gotten a second chance like Baby got.”
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