After 142 starts, Immortal Wink flies on home

Immortal Wink is reunited with his co-breeder Kathy Von Gerhard on July 9.

Immortal Wink is reunited with his co-breeder Kathy Von Gerhard on July 9.

Immortal Wink, a true racing warrior who ran his 142nd race in Puerto Rico on June 22, was flown back to the Sunshine State, the place of his birth, on July 2.

It took a yeoman’s effort by a professional psychologist, a breeder, fans, and horse-rescue personnel who sought pluck him from a land “without many resources” and set him down softly on a grassy field protected by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

After all that running on legs that withstood so much strain, Wink’s co-breeder Kathy Von Gerhard was instantly “on board” for the seemingly impossible task of retiring and rehoming the horse; requiring airfare, quarantine, and a retirement home.

The phone call that enlisted her help came from Florida-based psychologist and horse lover Michelle “Shelley” Blodgett asking for help in a growing Social Media effort to retire Immortal Wink. Von Gerhard didn’t think twice.

Immortal Wink
Sire: Gimmeawink
Dam: Uppermost Inmymind, by Loach
Foal date: March 6, 2006
Earnings: $111,193 in 142 starts
“Kathy picked up the ball right away,” Blodgett says.

Von Gerhard adds, “I emailed Shelley (Blodgett) and said if she sent me her phone number, I’d call her the next day. We just connected immediately over the phone, and I was totally on board. I remembered the horse well—my husband Ralph named him.”

Noting that the Von Gerhard’s still own Wink’s dam, she continues that the instant Blodgett started talking about him, memories of the bay gelding came flooding back. “I called him Little Wink. And when it came time to give him a name, I remember saying we should name him Little Wink. But my husband didn’t like that idea. I don’t know where he got ‘immortal’ from, but that’s how he got his name.”

It was that very name that caught Blodgett’s attention, and drew her into the effort on social media to return the horse home.

“I’m a professional clinical psychological specializing in older people. I don’t know exactly why, but the word ‘immortal’ really struck me. Its such an unusual name, and he was an unusual horse in an unusual circumstances.”

Immortal Wink is greeted by Kathy Von Gerhard and her husband Ralph.

Immortal Wink is greeted by Kathy Von Gerhard and her husband Ralph. Photo by Suzy Sommerfield

So with little more than that to go on, Blodgett reached out to Von Gerhard, and the pair became the “little hinge” that swung open the “big door” leading to a whole new future for Immortal Wink.

Reaching out to friends and strangers, and buoyed by a race fan who Tweets under the handle NotCloudyAllDay, the pair quickly raised the $7,000 necessary to fly Wink back to Florida and quarantine him at Thoroughbred aftercare facility Florida TRAC.

And then the icing on the cake came when Diana Pikulski of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation agreed to open the doors of the nation’s oldest and largest Thoroughbred charity to one more horse.

“He is a war-horse and we are thrilled that his connections could get him back here— which isn’t easy,” Pikulski says. “We are happy that we can offer him a lifetime of grass and companionship.”

A little shocked at their success, Blodgett was moved to tears during an interview this week with Von Gerhard.

Immortal Wink was flown from Puerto Rico to Florida after making 142 starts in his race career.

Immortal Wink was flown from Puerto Rico to Florida after making 142 starts in his race career.

It all happened so fast, she says. Wink’s final race was June 22. He was purchased the next day with funds raised online and vanned to a quarantine farm in Puerto Rico. On July 2, he was flown back to Florida and taken to Florida TRAC to be let down before traveling on to the TRF.

On July 9, with her heart in her throat, Von Gerhard and her husband made a three-hour drive to visit their old horse.

“It was overwhelming. I was so nervous on the drive down. And when we finally got to the barn, there was nobody around, nobody I could ask where he was,” Von Gerhard says. “So I just walked up and down the aisle looking in every stall. When he was a baby, I used to call out ‘Little Wink’ in a certain way, and his head would come out over his stall guard. So I did the same thing … and here came his head out of his stall, just like he always used to do. I can’t even explain the emotions I felt when I saw him again.” — Along with the 82 people who donated funds to help Immortal Wink retire, his breeders have pledged support in his aftercare costs.

11 responses to “After 142 starts, Immortal Wink flies on home”

  1. Dawne Hess

    Wow, what a wonderful story on this war horse! I saw him a couple of years ago posted on the CANTER web site and wondered what happened to him. I’m always interested in Gimmeawink’s prodigy as I own a ’06 gelding by him; Gimmeawinn. I bought this half brother of Little Wink 5 years ago from the now closed Beulah Racetrack to compete in the dressage arena. Gimmeawink’s youngsters often are lovely, athletic movers. I wonder if Little Wink is a bouncy, lively fellow with immense intelligence?! Tons of applause to you for going those great lengths to bring him home to safety!

  2. Texas2Step75

    This is the nicest story and Little Wink has such soft and intelligent eyes. Lovely head and in the photo
    taken in the pasture, i can almost promise you he remembered the previous owners. Look at his ears.
    This is the first i have read about the endeavor to get him back from Puerto Rico. Wonderful job on everyone’s part. So glad for everyone. If only every horse at the end of their racing career could be so lucky. Been behind that effort a long time. Happy long life Immortal Wink! Linda in Texas

  3. lexi63


  4. Rebecca Kerns

    What a momentous and joyous occasion!! How thrilling!! I have followed his rescue journey since it’s inception, and however small my donation was, I feel a part of him now. Thank you to all involved in his safe and happy forever return!

  5. Cheri

    A joyous homecoming for the Florida Boy! Courtesy of some Earth Angels! Long Live Immortal Wink and his connections.

  6. Crystal Harrison

    I have been following every update of Immortal Winks’ (Little Winks) saga through twitter. Shelley Blodgett and Kathy Von Gerhard have been keeping us posted!

  7. Mary McLeod

    Thanks to ALL for the tears of joy about Little Wink!!! He is so handsome and looks so very happy. Love to ALL, Mary in Boone

  8. Kerry

    Wonderful story!! Thanks to everyone who made Little Wink’s well-deserved retirement possible. I have a “war-horse” on my farm, Spite the Devil. Its a joy & privilege to care for these special horses who have given SO much during their careers on the track. God Bless you, Little Wink!!!!

  9. Jodie asher

    Thank you for the details of his rescue! As one of many who tweeted and pledged, I am so moved to hear about his start in life. Love the idea of his “little wink” nickname!! Thanks to Kathy and Ralph, and of course Shelley!!! Happy retirement beautiful boy!!

  10. Teresa Fasolino

    Thank you for posting this wonderful story. I’m thrilled for Immortal Wink that he could come home safely thanks to his loving former co- breeder and 82 generous friends . I know how nerve wracking the whole experience can be, last year with the help of “horse rescue facilitator” Kellie Stobie and the great folks in Puerto Rico Castle Village Cares and Anthony Bonomo of Brooklyn Boyz Stable were able to bring home our former race horse Bishop Of Nola .

  11. B&D cattle

    Wow A war horse saved this should be the end of all horses breed buy the owners the mares or people that buy or raise horses When they have fulfilled the purpose be returned to last owner for retirement and not discarded or sent to auction house or slaughter Retire in pease Little Wink Thanks to all that more or less saved him

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