Eight years had passed since Jay Romig stepped into the same racebarn as his white Thoroughbred who had once run his heart out for him at Penn National.
But time disappeared when Victorious Recall, now a 17-year-old careworn gelding, and Romig, 65, saw each other again a few months back, meeting as old friends after years apart.
“I never thought I’d see him again,” Romig says. “I thought he must be dead.”
But as soon as Romig entered the temporary barn, where Victorious Recall had been taken in by some kindhearted women, renewed vigor seemed to pump up the tired old warrior, who pricked his ears in Romig’s direction, and nickered.
“People in the barn couldn’t believe it. Everyone said they could tell he still knew me.”
Victorious Recall had been Romig’s racehorse for 13 months beginning in 2004, when he and other racehorse owners purchased him. “He never ran worse than fourth”, Romig says with pride.
During those years, Romig got to know the animal’s quirks. A veritable overachiever on the track, he ran with a stride so huge that he would kick and bruise himself with his own hooves if he wasn’t very carefully shoed, Romig recalls.
Foal date: May 3, 1997
Earnings: $248,167 in 111 starts“You had to shoe him perfectly so he wouldn’t hit himself,” he says. “We used to wrap him and put pads on him to make sure he didn’t do too much damage.”
And he had the heart of a champion, Romig says, noting that when this horse strode onto the track, he could almost feel him thinking: “You guys aren’t going to beat me!”
After 13 fabulous months with Victorious, the hard-trying horse was eventually claimed away in 2005, and from that point on, Romig never stopped worrying.
“I always kept an eye on him. I didn’t always go to Penn National when he ran, but I tried to keep tabs on him, and we did try to claim him back once,” he says. But several other owners successfully claimed the animal.
Fortune turned again however, when in December 2007, says Romig, “I was approached and asked if I wanted to take him back. I didn’t have the room on my property in Halifax, Pa., I had two with me, and boarded two, but I said I’ll take him and board him somewhere.”
Romig did his best to find Victorious a home. For a number of yeas he was comfortably ensconced with neighbors just a half-mile from Romig’s home, so visits were frequent. “It was great. They took excellent care of him,” he says.
But when his neighbors decided they couldn’t keep Victorious anymore, they found another home for him nearly 50 miles away. And for several months he tried calling the new owner, but got no response, not realizing she had become ill.
Out of desperation he drove to the neighborhood where he thought he might find the pretty white gelding, but the search seemed in vain. He even gave out his phone number in the community and asked people to contact him if they heard anything.
More time passed without a word, but then a phone call came.
“A lady said, ‘Were you looking for Recall?’ And I said, ‘Victorious Recall, yeah, I’m looking for him. Is he dead? And she said, ‘No, we have him!’ ”
The ex-racehorse who had successfully waged 111 starts and earned $248,167, had been taken in by a farm after his last owner died, and while Romig had no idea how he could help, he dashed off to the barn to see his old friend.
But he could help and he did. With the assistance of Thoroughbred welfare organizationR.A.C.E. Fund, Romig got his old horse placed with The Exceller Fund, and agreed to pay a portion of Victorious Recall’s upkeep through his retirement years.
Recall arrived at the Exceller Fund’s Missouri property on Nov. 15, and now Romig breathes easily knowing his old friend is in good hands.
“I’m going to pay every month for the rest of his life to take care of him,” he says. “I wish more people would pay for their horse’s retirements. You won’t make as much money, but you can still make it work.” — Originally published on Jan. 2, 2014. #TBT