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.”
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.
“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.