A 2011 Preakness contender, plucked in early September from the slaughter pipeline for a mere $100, was reunited last weekend with the racing family who’d named him for a cherished colleague, re-homed him after a successful career, and who, after nearly losing the OTTB, stepped up to facilitate a permanent and safe retirement for the animal.
In an emotional moment, multiple graded states placed Thoroughbred King Congie, 8, greeted his former connections at West Point Thoroughbreds weeks after his rescue from auction in Delaware County. President Terry Finley and Chief Administrative Officer Debbie Finley, along with daughter and Communications Director Erin Birkenhauer placed their hands on their one-time racehorse and rejoiced. He was safely at N.Y. horse sanctuary, Old Friends at Cabin Creek.
Sire: Badge of Silver
Dam: Wise Ending, by End Sweep
Foal date: March 2, 2008
Results: $243,740 in 11 starts“My Mom and Dad got super emotional when they saw him,” Birkenhauer says. “He looks great, he’s put on some weight, and he’s happy. It’s just so eerie how close he came to going to Canada or Mexico.”
The family learned the horse was in trouble on Sept. 2 and quickly sprang into action, Birkenhauer says. Recalling the horrible morning she learned the horse who’d been named for a treasured colleague and mentor who died young, might have also left this earth too soon, she and her family reached out immediately to offer Congie a home.
And, while grappling with the “literal shock” of the news, she and her family facilitated a new home for Congie with friend Michael Blowen, founder of the famous Thoroughbred retirement farm, Old Friends.
Acknowledging that no horse should end up where Congie did, Birkenhauer says she was so upset by the news that she asked herself, “My God, how did we let this happen?”
“All our horses are special. My family and I know this is a business and it’s how we make a living. But all of our horses, not just the successful ones like Congie, are like family to us,” she says. But that it had to be him, a horse named after mentor and friend Congie DeVito, who died at age 35 of brittle bone disease, made it all the more poignant. Congie the man, lauded in the Paulick Report after his death as the “forever king of West Point” faced everyday from a wheelchair, but always with a smile, she says.
“I worked closely with DeVito. I was his assistant, and he mentored me. He was born with a genetic disorder, brittle bone disease, and never walked a day in his life,” Birkenhauer adds. “He had such a positive attitude. He was a sports fanatic, and made it really, really far in Jeopardy tryouts at one point … he was such an inspiration to me. When I think I’m having a bad day, I just think about Congie. Everyday was a bad for him, and he made the best of it.”
Taking a page from DeVito’s playbook, Birkenhauer worked the phones on a very bad day. And with the support of Dawn Robyn, executive director and founder of Rosemary Farm Sanctuary, who rescued the horse in the parking lot of the auction, along with Michael Blowen, and JoAnn Pepper of Old Friends Cabin Creek, Congie was at last rewarded.
“We went to visit Congie on Sunday. He’s in his own paddock, just hanging out with horses like Will’s Way. We were just so happy to see him,” she says, adding, “The responsibility to take care of our horses isn’t something we take lightly.”
As West Point still tries to piece together how Congie wound up at auction, Birkenhauer notes that aftercare for Thoroughbreds is a high priority for the Thoroughbred partnership. They now encourage owners to call them, and will take back horses when necessary. And through the Congie Black and Gold Fund, started in honor of Congie DeVito, helps find homes for their Thoroughbreds after their racing careers end.
And, now Congie has found a perfect home at Michael Blowen’s Old Friends.
“I have a great relationship with Terry Finley, and I know he personally does so much to help jockeys and horses. So when Terry emailed me to ask if we could squeeze Congie in somewhere, I was thrilled to say yes,” Blowen says. “To me, these horses are the stars. I worked for many years writing about movie stars for the Boston Globe, and I never got star struck. But, when I think about the great horses we have here, like Congie, I get goosebumps.”