Borrowing a friend’s old jockey saddle, Jackie Acksel, a middle-aged mother of two, swung onto the back of the luckless racehorse and folded into traffic heading toward the starting gate at Delaware Park.
Ignoring the gentle ribbing of stewards yelling, “Don’t fall off!” the one-time jockey set her legs into an unnaturally cramped angle caused by leather that were too short, and piloted Smalltownman to the scene of his comeback.
It was August 2011 and just a month earlier, Smalltownman had put in a poor performance at Parx Racetrack in Pennsylvania. And as she watched from the sidelines as the 17.2 athlete failed to hit the board, Acksel knew he was better than what she was seeing that day; she decided to take matters into her own strong hands.
Sire: Sultry Song
Dam: Sistine Light
Foal date: March 19, 2006
Earnings: $258,722 The longtime exercise rider and former jockey, age 45 at the time, convinced Smalltownman’s connections to let her, a retiree of 15 years, return to the saddle and try piloting Smalltownman to victory.
A plan that at first blush must have seemed far-fetched soon gained ground as she argued her point: She knew the horse better than anybody; and when she exercised him on the track she got a great response. Convincing the connections at Nycoon Racing that after spending many hours in the animal’s company, grooming him, lavishing treats and attention on him, that she knew how he ticked.
Four weeks later, she was on her way.
When the gate flew open that August day, the pair got off to a solid start, but at the end, with her physical strength flagging, her legs wobbly and painful in the cramped position, the two only managed a respectable second place.
Still, it was a comeback. And from that point on, they went on to win approximately $200,000 together before he was claimed away in March 2013.
“I’ve won a lot of races in my life on horses that got claimed later. It never bothered me. But that day, the day Smalltown got claimed, I walked back to the jocks room, and I was crying,” she says. “He got claimed four times after we had him, and I always worried about whether he’d be OK.”
Feeling like she’d abandoned the animal who earned so much for her family and his owners, she doggedly pursued every new owner and made the same offer: if Smalltownman didn’t work out, for whatever reason, she’d buy him back.
Finally, last month, she got the call she’d been hoping for. His last owner agreed to sell him back for half of what he’d paid to buy him, and although he wasn’t actually worth that much, she willingly paid it.
“I went to see him at his barn so we could make arrangements for transportation, and as soon as I walked in he started hollering at me like he used to,” she says. “He started kissing me, and he remembered me, and everything I taught him, like how to bow.”
“Getting him back was the best thing,” Acksel says, noting that this horse had put food on their table, and gave her the courage to climb back in the jockey’s saddle. A feat that has earned him a permanent place in her family.
31 responses to “She wins $200K on beloved t’bred, later buys him”
What a great article, and such a great thing you did for Smalltownman.
Thank you , but smalltownman is the one who did great by us .
And every one that was part of him stood by him !
Class act all the way Jackie. ????????
I am so proud of Smalltown and Jackie Acksel came back racing, doing very well. Her talented and beautiful twins Ashley and Emily, are also great riders. Great talented family.
Love, love,love this story! To both Jackie & Smalltown………we need more of you both!
As one of Smalltown’s owners who helped buy him back, I want to thank Jackie and my trainer (and good friend )Marty Digrius for taking care of him for the rest of his life. I can’t wait to ride him myself!
Thank you for the heartfelt comments it’s so overwhelming
GREAT story, Susan, thank you for sharing!
Good luck Jackie. Great story. I did work for you and Charlie in Maryland long time ago
We are fortunate at Woodbine to have Emma Jayne Wilson, who has two retired racehorses, Eurico Da Silva, who sponsors (and visits with treats)some of our LongRun retirees, and several others from our jockey colony who either have a retired thoroughbred or support thoroughbred retirement through charity work.
You bring tears to my eyes and joy to my heart!! Good luck to you both in the days ahead!
There is the horse that touches ones soul. It seems that those horses arrive when they are supposed to. Jackie found the one that is supposed to be with her. It is clear that the horse knew who his person was to be. It is great to see that they found each other again.
Yet again Susan makes me cry!! Love this story. Kudos to you Jackie. As someone who loves racing because of the horses – true stars of the sport – this story really touched me. I know there are good and bad sides to this sport (to every industry, really). I wish all horses were as fortunate as Smalltownman and all people in racing were as compassionate as Jackie.
as an ex jockey that story warmed the cockells of my hearth
What an amazing story!
Jackie, you are truly inspiring; and Susan, thank you for sharing this incredible story!
Smalltownman, congratulations on your forever home!
There you go again Susan…writing with such heart I get goosebumps just reading. Love, love, love this one. Kudos to Jackie…something tells me we would get along well!
Thank you love the story but I want everyone to know smalltownmans owners all helped buy him back, what great owners some times I get so upset with this sport, then owners like nyconn racing and marty Digrius show they care !! I am giving him a forever home, me and my twin daughter’s Ashley and Emily rescued over 20 horses in the past 5 years ,NOW we are keeping Smalltownman as part of the family , future plans are for my girls to show smalltown .
We still plan on a small rescue 5 a year if anyone is looking for a horse I can help
I used to hate it when so many trainers at the end of the season begged me to take a horse that was in their barn that was sound but not fast and they worried about them. this shows that the small owners and trainers are not the ogres that they are so often portrayed as and this story proves it!
I have an ex racehorse. He has found a home with us for the rest of his life. He loves my daughter and will do anything she asks. He is doing dressage now and loving it. It challenges him and it’s what he needs. He’s a sweet boy who was lucky to get a happy ending
what a great story! Love this ““I went to see him at his barn so we could make arrangements for transportation, and as soon as I walked in he started hollering at me like he used to,” she says. “He started kissing me, and he remembered me, and everything I taught him, like how to bow.””
And some people still think that horses only live “in the moment”
What a wonderful story and a great way to start my day reading it!
For those who like stories like this … and a great story it is … Kayla Stra, a jockey out here in Southern California, always rides a gorgeous gray named “On Holy Ground” … She loves him dearly and her eyes shine whenever she’s on him. She says that once he’s done running, he’s going straight to her. He is a maiden and has never won, but she loves him dearly … He’ll be set with her for life. They make a beautiful pair.
Great story! Brava and well done!
Too bad the majority of people in the industry do not have the same ethical responsibility to the very creature that provides their livelihood.
https://www.facebook.com/…/permalink/521447841257240/ a little more to the story…
Your link just takes me to Facebook, not to a specific location.
Way to go, Jackie! May you and Smalltownman enjoy many more years and many miles together!
What a big, grand-lookin’ guy he is! My old boy is 21 now, and I’m 64, and we’re still going strong 🙂
please message me and let me know your a smalltown fan and i will friend you ..so you can follow smalltown and our other rescue horses .. at facebook jackie acksel
or my new page coming soon acksel racing
What a wonderful story. I really, really hope someday that I can adopt one of these guys!
What a wonderful way to start my day, thank you! Wishing Jackie and Smalltownman a long and happy life together.
I know Jackie and think she’s a really nice lady, so I’m not surprised she would go above and beyond for Smalltownman. I wish there were more stories like this for ex-racehorses!