Winston Churchill once wisely observed, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” Truly, humans have a way of creating strong attachments to horses and these attachments are often reciprocated by the animals themselves. From a psychological perspective alone, horses are capable of impacting humans in ways that most other animals cannot accomplish. It’s why there are psychotherapy programs that use horses to improve a patient’s mental health. Psychological perspective and analysis aside, there are still countless stories about everyday people who give first-hand accounts of their own life-changing experiences with horses. Chicken Soup For The Horse Lover’s Soul, anyone? The beneficial influence of a horse on a human’s life cannot be denied.
In the sport of kings, it’s easy to pay attention to the horses when they are on the racetrack. It’s easy to enjoy the horse when all the cameras are busy capturing his alert eyes and ears during his workout routine. When he has won the Kentucky Derby and his team is surrounding him as he carries the coveted roses around his neck, it’s easy to simply freeze the horse in such a memory and move on with life. But what happens after the cameras have stopped flashing, the roses have wilted, the crowds have dispersed, and an outstanding racer has crossed the finish line for the last time? Sure, those with names like Secretariat and Seabiscuit go on to live out the rest of their lives in a comfortable pasture where they die peacefully and their legacies continue to live on long after their deaths. Other horses are not so fortunate.
On May 12, 1973, a bay Thoroughbred colt was born. Although he is easily regarded as one of the most successful racers in the industry, Exceller did not have a flashy career in his younger years. It wasn’t until he was five years old that his career would begin to take off. He would start out the race “covered up” but would give a final burst of power and speed for the last quarter mile, a maneuver that allowed him to command the Belmont track to beat Seattle Slew and Affirmed. He was and still is, the only horse yet to beat two Triple Crown winners in the same race. Despite all of these accomplishments, and being inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame, Exceller was sent to the slaughterhouse in 1997. At first, it appeared his owner’s bankruptcy and subsequently insufficient funds to care for the horse led to this fate. In reality, the owner just didn’t see a need for the horse and gave written instructions to have him slaughtered, despite an offer from someone else to take full financial responsibility for him.
In September 1997, three months after Exceller was slaughtered, an article was released on the Daily Racing Form that announced the unceremonious death of such a racing legend. Soon after the article was published, a woman named Barbara Kraus asked for supporters on the Blood-Horse Forum to help with sponsorships at the United Pegasus Foundation in Southern California. A small group of racing fans continued this petition of sorts, looking for sponsors that would help fund the care for retired and forgotten Thoroughbreds and thus, the Exceller Fund was born. The first horse rescued through the help of the fund was a Thoroughbred racer named Elite Power. His racing career came to a halt when his sesamoid was fractured. While awaiting the slaughter house at a feedlot, he was bought by United Pegasus and his care provided for by the Exceller Fund until a woman from Virginia bought him. He then began a new career as a lower-level dressage horse until he peacefully passed away.
Exceller was only 23, too old to race but still carried enough life in him to make a difference in the lives of others. Indeed, horses are animals but they are not simply animals. They are more than four hooves pounding the racetrack in front of screaming fans and anxious bidders. They are the fulfillment of a little girl’s dream, the epitome of strength and gentleness for a therapy patient, and the source of many memories families can share with their loved ones. Just as Thoroughbreds bring people together in the world of racing, so can they in the world outside of the racetrack. From the Exceller Fund’s inception and into the present day, the fund’s goal still stands: give other Thoroughbreds a better chance at life after their final finish line.
We at Past the Wire support The Exceller Fund and their mission. We encourage all to donate as they can!
Watch Exceller in the thrilling 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup here:
Always check with Past the Wire for the latest horse racing news and more…..