Kentucky Oaks race honors forgotten war horse

Sgt. Reckless was a hero in the Korean War, fighting alongside fellow Marine Corps troops. She won two Purple Hearts and was officially promoted as staff sergeant. On Friday, the Kentucky Oaks runs the 8th race in her honor.

Sgt. Reckless was a hero in the Korean War, fighting alongside fellow Marine Corps troops. She won two Purple Hearts and was officially promoted as staff sergeant. On Friday, the Kentucky Oaks runs the 8th race in her honor.

Horseracing’s legendary Kentucky Derby weekend, so steeped with tall tales of fabled Thoroughbreds and the glory they brought, will pause for a moment during the Kentucky Oaks Friday to pay tribute to a race-trained mare, so famous in her day, so forgotten by history.

Reckless, a race-trained Korean filly who earned two Purple Hearts and was officially granted the rank of staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps will have a race named and run in her honor during the 8th race of the Kentucky Oaks.

And her story, which author Robin Hutton hopes will take its place among the legendary tales of Seabiscuit and Secretariat, is presented in her forthcoming book, which documentary filmmaker Victoria Racimo is marketing to HBO.

“When I first came across her story eight years ago, the first thing that came to mind was why haven’t I heard of this horse before? She should have had at least three movies done about her,” Hutton says. “But when I Googled her name … there was nothing on her. It was a travesty, and I started writing a screenplay, and later, the book.”

Victoria Racimo, left, and Robin Hutton, shown next to a tribute to Sgt. Reckless, will attend the Kentucky Oaks to celebrate the war hero horse.

Victoria Racimo, left, and Robin Hutton, shown next to a tribute to Sgt. Reckless, will attend the Kentucky Oaks to celebrate the war horse.

Sgt. Reckless was a household name in the 1950s. Her heroics in the Korean War earned her media coverage that rivaled attention bestowed on other famous animals, including Lassie and Seabiscuit. And a 1990s Life Magazine listed Sgt. Reckless among 100 American heroes, alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

It was in battle, that Sgt. Reckless proved so brave, making 51 trips —on her own — through 35 miles of rice paddies to deliver ammunition and supplies to her fellow Marines. She was trained to step over communications lines, get down at the eruption of incoming fire, and ignore the sounds of battle.

She shielded fellow Marines from fire, and was twice injured in battle.

When the war ended, she was brought to the United States to live out her retirement years at Camp Pendleton in California, the site of a promotional ceremony for her in which 1,700 troops marched in her honor.

On Friday, as a short documentary of Sgt. Reckless is aired for race fans at Churchill Downs, Hutton and Racimo hope to inspire a new generation of fans for the forgotten hero. And the service of the 13-hand mare will underscore the great collaborations, throughout history, between man and horse.

Sgt. Reckless carried out 51 missions in the Korean War,  bring supplies and ammunition to her fellow soldiers.

Sgt. Reckless carried out 51 missions in the Korean War, bringing supplies and ammunition to her fellow soldiers.

“Here was a horse who was supposed to be a racehorse, and was actively training in Korea when the war broke out. The Marines bought her, trained her to carry ammunition, and she fights in a war. She wins two Purple Hearts, comes to America, and now we’re honoring her at America’s most famous racetrack,” Racimo says. “Here is a horse that has done so much for this country” and if anybody deserves to have their name up in lights, it is Sgt. Reckless.

Hutton agrees that Reckless’ name should spoken in the same breath as Secretariat and Seabiscuit.

No newcomer to the world of inspiring stories, having spent 35 years as the writing partner of Tom Laughlin (screenwriter and director of the famous 1970s Billy Jack films), Hutton says that upon hearing the Sgt. Reckless story, she got goose bumps.

“When I first mentioned the story to Bob Evans of Churchill Downs, he had never heard it. But as soon as he heard it, he was also excited by her story,” Hutton says. “Her story deserves this kind of notice. Hers is one of the true horse stories, and by the time we’re done” with the book and movie project “we’re going to make her as famous as Secretariat and Seabiscuit!”

Hutton has now written the screenplay and book Sgt. Reckless America’s War Horse, which is due out Aug. 25.

33 responses to “Kentucky Oaks race honors forgotten war horse”

  1. Cheri

    Yes, richly deserved. Horses are sensitive, smart beings.

  2. Glenn McKinney

    I was introduced to the story of ‘Reckless’ (a slang word for Recoilless Rifle) from a fellow Marine who served in the same unit in Korea. He gave me a book called ‘Sgt. Reckless – Pride of the Marines by Andrew Geer’ I came away from this story with a feeling that there was something ‘Spiritual’ going on with this very unusual horse. Geer’s book covers two sides of this story, the first is her Korean connection, which is just as exciting as her Marine connection. If a movie is made of her story, the Korean connection must be included in order to complete the amazing journey of Reckless. The second book written is also an excellent read and fills in many of the ‘gaps’ in her story. The title of this book is ‘They called her Reckless’ by Janet Barrett. If you want to be totally drawn into this amazing story , I recommend reading both books and read them in order (Geer, then Barrett). Both books are hard to put down once you start them…ENJOY


      The book that comes out August 25th is by Robin Hutton and is the definitive book to date with Marine participation,photographs and many personal quotes from the Marines who served with her.

  3. cheri vaughan

    Priceless tale of equine bravery.

  4. Cynthia

    I can’t wait to read the book! Thank you very much for this beautifully written article, Susan, and to Robin and Victoria for keeping Sgt. Reckless’ light burning in the world. She may have been small in stature, but she is a giant among American heroes!

  5. jon

    It is hard to top a chestnut Thoroughbred mare. They are special.

  6. SpotOn

    My dad served in Korea(S.E.A.L) and mentioned her fondly. I honestly think she was one of the reasons he supported my early riding lessons and my love of horses.


      SpitOn….how to get in touch with you! Do you remember some if your Dad’s stories? Is he still with us?

  7. Terri Griffith

    Thank you Victoria!

  8. Terri Griffith

    Thank you for the wonderful article. Race 8 on May 2 is the Eight Belles. I went to the Churchill Downs website and can’t find any reference to a race in honor or Sgt Reckless. I would love to watch the race. Do you have any more information or coud you please clarify? thanks!


      Yes, the 8th is the Eight Belles but presented by Sgt Reckless. We just found this out today.

  9. Judi Doyle

    Thank the universe for our horses and all animals. Slaughter for consumption is barbaric, and it must stop now…

  10. Judi Doyle

    I so loved horses my whole life. It started with the guy bringing a pony around our neighborhood to take you picture atop said pony. I got to lead the pony from house to house until I had to turn back home, sadly..Hopalong Cassidy was my hero! I am so proud to still be around horses although not as much as I would like. Reckless, You are now my hero today and on into the future. Bravo to Churchhill Downs for naming a race in your honor for your heroic life. Thank you.

  11. Barb

    Years ago when I was in elementary school, I hated to read until I read a book about this horse. I do not remember who the author was and unfortunately I no longer have the book. I also read that when she was brought to Camp Pendleton she did have a foal but that was the last I heard of her. This book helped me to like reading.

  12. Susan Crane-Sundell

    It is gratifying to know that Reckless was so well respected for her service. Having her rewarded in retirement with a good home and a chance to live out her years in peace is a testimony to how well her work was appreciated. It is a miracle that she survived. Now she will finally get her story told-thanks to everyone involved in honoring her contributions and her memory.

  13. Mary Margaret

    I have seen the HRTV episode, many times, of Reckless and fell in love with her. Please let us know when the book is available. It is definitely a must have. She deserves all the recognition bestowed upon her.

  14. Margaret

    I’ve viewed the YouTube video several times. I’m looking forward to this book. One question? Will it be available in Kindle format? I try mostly to buy all my books in Kindle now since I’m trying to downsize….I do make exceptions!

  15. Patty Hamilton

    I want to know more about Sgt Reckless. Thank you Susan Salk and Robin Hutton for your work in getting Sgt Reckless’s true historical story out to the general public.

  16. Phil

    HRTV produced a nice segment about Reckless as well. Here is the link

  17. Marlaine Meeker

    Thank you so much Susan Salk for sharing Ssgt. Reckless’s story. A truly inspiring story that Robin Hutton has worked so hard to bring back as it deserves.

  18. jan

    I saw a film clip on youtube last year. It featured original footage about Reckless. I believe it was called “Sgt Reckless Pride of the Marines.” The story is truly amazing. I hope that the writers have had contact with the guys in her unit while they are still alive. I understand she ate scrambled eggs, as well as slept in their tent. Bet they have some stories to tell. Even the one of getting her to the states is a tale in itself. So glad this is happening on Oaks Day.

  19. R.A.C.E. Fund, Inc.

    Bravo. A job well done Victoria and Robin. Let us never forget Sgt. Reckless and all of the animals that have participated and still participate in wars to this day defending our country. Sgt. Reckless was definitely the little mare that could. She is a hero…

  20. clarice

    WOW!! Our family is blessed to have a war horse in our history. Gray John was my husband’s great-great greandfather, Nathan Boone’s war horse during the American Civil War.

  21. Jeannette

    Sgt. Reckless’ story is amazing. She is a true hero. I am also glad that more people will now learn about how she served during the Korean conflict. Breyer, that makes the collectible horses, has one dedicated to Sgt. Reckless. You can probably find it online or your local tack store. Well done, Sgt. Reckless!

  22. Michelle

    I love this story! What an incredibly smart horse! The military did the right thing by bringing her back to the U.S. for her retirement. She SHOULD be as famous as Secretariat and Seabiscuit. I hope HBO picks up the movie!

  23. Nicole

    Thank you to all involved for sharing this special filly with the world. As always, it literally brings tears to my eyes knowing what she has accomplished and how she was forgotten. I’m glad she’ll finally be recognized and honored for the hero she truly is by the entire nation.

  24. Colmel

    Thank you so much for bringing this story to us. I was born on an Army base around the time of the Korean Conflict. I’d never even heard of Sgt. Reckless. I’m excited to hear more and will be anxiously awaiting the book and movie.


    History will be remembered AND made on Friday with the SGT RECKLESS ! The 8th race on Oaks Day. Thank you Susan for a beautifully written story about this remarkable filly who could.

    1. Susan Salk

      I’ve caught the excitement! I hope this story goes all the way to the silver screen! And thank you for the interview.

  26. Diana

    I think I remember a movie from the 50’s or early 60’s that included this story. They may not have used her correct name. Does any one else remember this?

  27. JK4M

    Well deserved and way overdue…remarkable little mare.

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