Saving a Thoroughbred brings race fan full circle

Come on Mom, I want to snuggle with you!

Come on Mom, I want to snuggle with you!

Wide-eyed with excitement, the young receptionist paged through the glossy brochures.

Beautiful Thoroughbreds, groomed to perfection like glamorous fashion models, filled the pages she had organized for Centennial Farms.

It was her first job. In some ways, it was one of the happiest times of Elizabeth De Smet’s life. And the work she did, answering phones, chatting with racing officials, and other office duties, might not have seemed like much to an outsider, but to De Smet, it was her ticket in.

“That job sucked me into racing!” she says. “I used to answer phones and made frequent calls to the Racing Secretary’s office. This is where I started talking with jockey Bill Nemeti, who became a friend of mine.”

For a year-and-a-half, De Smet was treated to some red-carpet excitement. During the 1990 Belmont Stakes, she was ferried about with officials who treated her to a tour of the fabled track. And she dined with the wife of Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero.

“One of my best memories was going with Marjorie Cordaro to the Clocker’s Stand and listening to these old race guys talk about the races,” she says. “It was the coolest thing ever!”

Race name: Sunny Emblem
Sire: Our Emblem
Dam: Sunny Runner, by Root Boy
Foal date: April 6, 2003
Fast-forward a couple of decades.

Now a wife and mother who works for a venture capital firm, De Smet joined Facebook a couple years ago to search for the progeny of that well-loved farm. Though she did not find any, she discovered much more.

“I befriended Deb Dempsey of Izzy’s Love Equine Rescue, and one day, I saw that she had pulled this beautiful Thoroughbred mare named Sunny Emblem from New Holland in July 2010,” she says.

What it was about the bay brown mare, she couldn’t say for sure. But she was so drawn to Sunny’s photographs that she hopped a flight to Maryland to visit her, and almost instantly, it was love at first ear-rub.

De Smet and Sunny Emblem enjoy green pastures and bonding time.

De Smet and Sunny Emblem enjoy green pastures and bonding time.

“I don’t know why it is, but every time I meet a horse, I go right for the ears,” she says, admitting that many horses do not like that. But Sunny did! “She just loved it, and Deb commented that she’d never before seen her allow such an intimate touch.”

Despite her caution about riding an ex-racehorse—“I used to be fearless as a child, but at age 48 I have fear”—De Smet threw caution to the wind. She adopted Sunny and settled her into Crystal Farms in Dunstable, Mass., to begin a life of “re-learning” together.

Mostly, De Smet has been learning about Sunny. She discovered her mare once broke her pelvis while breezing as a three-year-old, but recovered well enough to resume racing at age four.

Although her hip doesn’t bother her, a recent bought of Lyme disease set her back a bit. Fortunately, when her attitude turned grumpy, she was tested and diagnosed quickly. “ We caught it early and treated her, and her personality started to improve,” she says.

De Smet also brought in a Reiki massage therapist to help ease any aches and pains she might have, especially after the feisty creature got into an altercation with an Alpha Mare in the paddock. Sunny won, she notes with satisfaction.

Sunny celebrates his 10th birthday with Elizabeth.

Sunny celebrates his 10th birthday with Elizabeth.

All the little interactions, lessons and experiences she’s digested take her back to her first job at the farm, learning about horses.

With her own living, breathing representative of the noble breed she admired for so long, De Smet feels a sense of coming full circle in her life.

It is enough for her to spend time progressing gradually. While Sunny gets regular exercise from an experienced rider at the barn, De Smet is satisfied to ride lightly and to immerse herself in the lifelong learning that comes of owning one’s own horse.

“This has always been my dream, to own my own Thoroughbred,” she says. “So many good horses are going to slaughter, and I lucked out with Sunny. She has a lot of heart and is very smart.”
And Sunny lucked out too, finding a friend on Facebook who will take care of her until the end of her days. —This story was originally published on Feb. 12, 2013 ♥

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6 responses to “Saving a Thoroughbred brings race fan full circle”

  1. Shannon

    So happy to read your story, Elizabeth. I adopted my own OTTB last year for my 50th birthday, and like you, he was my first horse, after wanting one my whole life and falling in love with the thoroughbred breed. So I find I am in a similar situation as you, learning all about horse ownership, and all the while enjoying him so much. All the best to you and Emma, from me and Dante!

  2. Liz

    Elizabeth is truly Emma’s Guardian Angel and we are forever thankful for Elizabeth and her ultimate kindness towards Emma. As her breeder, we had no idea that Emma would one day end up at New Holland. We had trusted our trainer to find her a good home when she could no longer race – not realizing that she would be passed along to several subsequent owners. Thanks to Elizabeth, we have been educated as to the need for responsible stewardship of animals leaving our farm. We cannot say it enough – we owe a ton of gratitude to Elizabeth!!!

    1. Elizabeth

      Liz, are you are too kind…
      Emma & Elizabeth

  3. sandy

    Emma couldn’t have a better mom than Elizabeth or a better sister than Sydney Margaret. Love all you girls

  4. Michelle Y.

    So happy for you and Emma!! You two make a great pair!! Lots of happy trails to both of you!!

  5. Elizabeth

    Since this story was written, we’ve been in contact with Sunny Emblem’s former breeder in MD. They’ve been so kind to us by sharing information on her. Most importantly, that Sunny Emblem was called Emma — and she actually prefers that name!
    My daughter was able to meet Emma’s jockey (Nick Santagata) last month while we were in Saratoga. She was also able to see where Emma’s sire (Our Emblem) and grandmother (Personal Ensign) were stabled while racing up at The Spa, as well as see the riders who used to work the same two horses!
    Emma has come a long way over the past two plus years, and we have so many horse people — from Emma’s rescuer Deb Dempsey at Izzy’s Love Equine Rescue and Sanctuary, to her massage therapist Kim Friedgen, to her vet and chiropractor and farrier, Mary Bramley — and all the ladies at the barn walking me through things (Tamison, Frani, Tammy, Casey, Amy, Kate, Taylor…) as well as the trainer working with us, Deb Brosnan who’s helped us communicate better — to thank for working with us. It’s been an amazing experience. Emma has been such a great addition to my life that I really hadn’t expected.
    I love you Emma!

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