Photo: Finishline By Design/Lawrence Van Garrett
Hope was all but lost. Inspiration was desperately needed – and so was a miracle.
Lacey McDaniel, a letter carrier for the Postal Service, had been suffering from interstitial cystitis – commonly known as IC. A chronic inflammation of the bladder, the condition caused her to persistently suffer from severe pain. She could only hope for relief from the pain, but doctors informed her that there was nothing they could do for her other than continue to manage and treat the condition.
In stepped Dr. Robert F. Jackson, a respected Indiana surgeon. He brought to her attention the possibility of adipose stem cell therapy – a method that has made a name for itself in the equine industry by helping the likes of two-time Californian Horse of the Year Lava Man and Grade 1 winners Ever a Friend and Greg’s Gold.
But as a procedure that was considered experimental, insurance would not cover its extreme cost. Lacey and her husband, Jeremy McDaniel, had already spent large sums of money on her previous medical bills, each of them working an exhausting amount of overtime to pay for them. There appeared no other way to pay for the stem cell therapy. But Jeremy found one.
Ever since he was a little boy, Jeremy had dreaming of owning a Dodge Viper. Together, he and Lacey had saved up enough money over the years to purchase one.
“It was an older one and it was really rough,” Jeremy said. “But it was still really special because of how hard we worked to get the car. I didn’t even care that it was rough. It was just something that we did together.”
But when the opportunity arose for Lacey to receive stem cell therapy, Jeremy did not hesitate to sell his dream car to pay for the treatment.
“I would go to work as an ER nurse every night to help save stranger’s lives, but I would have to walk out the door when she was on the floor in pain or shaking in tears because she hurt so bad,” Jeremy said. “So when we found out there was a chance, it wasn’t a question. We’d just paid the car off. It was the only way. I’m a nurse; she’s a mailman. We didn’t have the money. Insurance wasn’t going to cover it. But I had that car.
I didn’t look at it like, ‘I’m losing this car.’ I looked at it like, ‘I’m giving her a chance at a normal life.’ I mean, it’s just a car. You can replace a car. She may not have had another chance of having a normal life.”
The car was sold and with the money from its sale, the McDaniels were able to pay for Lacey’s stem cell therapy. The treatment helped her health tremendously, but she was still in need of hope.
“Even though the stem cell was physically healing her, the disease had actually emotionally destroyed her,” Jeremy said.
And so, with the money left over from selling the car, the McDaniels chose to buy something Lacey had always dreamed of having: a racehorse.
“We needed some kind of hope,” Lacey said. “We needed a dream. We needed something after because we were just so strained from me being so sick. We needed something uplifting and that’s how we started searching for a horse.”
Lacey took to the Internet to find the right Thoroughbred, simply using a Google search in the process. With both her laptop and her phone on hand, Lacey began her research. It was not long before she stumbled upon a young chestnut filly located in Ocala, Florida. Sired by 1999 Belmont Stakes winner and 2000 Eclipse Champion Older Male Lemon Drop Kid and out of the Gilded Time mare Gilded Wings, she immediately caught Lacey’s attention.
Turning to Jeremy, she said, “Oh my gosh, this is the horse we need.”
However, the price attached to the filly was a bit too high for the McDaniels. But they were determined to make the filly theirs. After contacting the agent, they were able to negotiate a lower price and with the help of a few co-worker friends - Kevin and Lisa Brown, along with Michael Frasier and Aaron Wells – who agreed to go in on a partnership, the purchase soon began to seem feasible.
Nonetheless, one obstacle still remained. The McDaniels live in Indiana, and the filly was located in Florida. A trip to evaluate the filly was rather impossible, so they contacted a trainer they had previously known, Danielle Rosier. She was able to recommend a veterinarian in Ocala and once that vet had examined the filly and confirmed that she was sound and healthy, the purchase was made and the filly became theirs.
Like Lacey, the filly – named Folded Wings – was also being given her chance at a new beginning. Following the 2013 OBS Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training, the filly had been injured. Given a year off, her owners at the time bred the filly but the breeding was unsuccessful. As a result, she was offered for sale as a racing or broodmare prospect. Once she found herself in the care of the McDaniels and Rosier, her life changed forever – and so did theirs.
Photo by FINISHLINE BY DESIGN/LAWRENCE VAN GARRETT
Folded Wings arrived at Delta Downs on December 1, 2014 to join Rosier. When the filly arrived, her hair coat was thick and she was out of shape, but Rosier knew there was potential in the big red Thoroughbred. When she rode the filly for the first time, this notion was only further confirmed.
“The first time I sat on her, I called them and told them this horse was special,” Rosier said. “You could just tell. I’ve been on enough horses to know when you’ve got a good one. Just galloping, I could tell she was classy.”
But it soon became clear to Rosier that Folded Wings’ talent was not the filly’s only significant quality. It was evident that Folded Wings’ had entered her connections life for a reason.
“I had a pretty rough winter, personally – probably the worst of my life,” Rosier said. “And she was really sometimes the only reason that I got out of bed. She’s carried me since then. She gives me something to look forward to. And that was the whole reason they bought her: to give everyone something to look forward to.”
Folded Wings’ racing career officially began on March 26, 2015 when the filly made her debut as a four-year-old at Fair Grounds Race Course. Sent off at odds of 55-1, the daughter of Lemon Drop Kid had a nightmare trip for her first time out. After breaking poorly, Folded Wings began to move up through the field throughout the one-mile turf event – only to hit the rail around the far turn and be knocked into another horse down the stretch. Despite this world of trouble, the filly put to use every ounce of effort and determination within herself, finishing third.
“Whenever she crossed the wire, I actually teared up because she laid her body down,” Rosier said. “She didn’t know any better. That’s just the kind of heart that she has.”
With her remarkable effort in her debut, Folded Wings gave her connections even more hope. And, just a few days later, they enjoyed an even more special moment with her.
The McDaniels had purchased Folded Wings at the end of November 2014, but by the time the filly made her debut, they had still yet to meet her. However, just days later, they finally had the chance to meet the racehorse that had provided them with immense hope and inspiration.
Shortly after Folded Wings’ first start, Rosier loaded up and left Louisiana with three horses – her own pony horse and racehorse, along with Folded Wings – and her dog in tow. She returned home to Indiana, where the McDaniels waited in anticipation to finally meet Rosier and their beloved filly.
“My husband and I actually drove two hours to go meet her in the middle of the night because we had waited about four months to see this horse and Danielle, finally,” Lacey said. “It was like two or three o’clock in the morning and freezing cold, but that’s when we finally met Wings. We helped her unload, we got in the stall with her, we got our pictures taken. We were just so happy. We could have waited until the next day to do it, but we wanted to be there the moment that she arrived. … She was everything we hoped she would be.”
|Jeremy and Lacey meet Folded Wings for the first time|
Photo courtesy of the McDaniel family
That night also marked the first time the McDaniels met Rosier in person. For months, they had entrusted Rosier with caring for and training Folded Wings, and over that course of time, they had developed immense respect and gratitude for Rosier.
“She does it all,” Lacey said. “She cleans her stall in the mornings, she feeds her, she grooms her, she rides her, she sets out her training program. She does everything, which is very unheard of for a trainer. Normally, the trainer’s not on the horse’s back. Danielle knows this horse inside and out.”
Rosier finds these methods to be very beneficial in training her horses. Aside from training, Rosier is a respected exercise rider who has ridden a multitude of talented horses – among them Grade 1 winners Bayern, Hoppertunity and Power Broker. As a trainer, she uses her riding abilities to her advantage, as she is always the one aboard her horses in the morning.
“I’ve never not ridden my own horses,” Rosier said. “That’s what I love to do. I would rather gallop horses than have a stable full of horses to train. I just love it. That’s what I’m good at doing. I can read a horse. … I love getting on their backs. I feel like it’s a huge advantage. It takes a lot of the questioning out; it takes a lot of the guesswork out. It’s a huge advantage for me and I love to do it.”
|Danielle Rosier aboard Folded Wings, alongside Katie Clawson|
and With Revenge ("Big Mac")
Photo courtesy of Danielle Rosier
Once back in the Indiana/Kentucky area, Rosier prepared Folded Wings for her second start, which came on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs. However, the filly’s bad racing luck would only continue. With Mike Smith aboard, Folded Wings spent the race spooking at the tents and crowd in the infield, finishing ninth of eleven.
Folded Wings’ bad luck only continued next out at Indiana Grand Race Course, where she encountered a soft turf course for which she did not have an affinity. However, her luck only got worse from there.
On August 19, Folded Wings finally crossed the wire first – and in style, as she won by 4 ½ lengths. But the win only lasted momentarily. Down the lane, her path of travel had caused another horse to lose its rider. Due to this interference, Folded Wings was disqualified and placed fifth.
“In my mind, that horse still won,” Lacey said. “And she won big. And it wasn’t like it was just a photo finish or anything; she really won big. To us that was kind of like where she did break her maiden, but things happen. It was discouraging that first day because it was like, ‘Gosh, we’ve worked so hard to get to this point and they took it away.’”
But greater things were in store. Folded Wings returned to Churchill Downs and although she finished fourth after a poor trip in her next start, everything fell together on November 4. Facing nine other fillies and mares in a mile and one-eighth event on the turf, Folded Wings went from eighth to first to win by 2 ¼ lengths, claiming her first official victory.
“To actually say my horse won at Churchill Downs, that’s huge,” Lacey said. “Ever since I was a little girl – probably eight years old – I’ve watched the Kentucky Derby and just been in awe of all that stuff. And here I am, standing in that same winner’s circle where all these great champions have been. It was very, very special.”
But it is not only Folded Wings’ talent and her ability to win that has earned her a special place in the hearts of her connections. In fact, that is only a small reason why their love for her is so vast; the filly’s vibrant personality has made them fall head over heels.
“She is – like my husband and I say – larger than life,” Lacey said. “She’s a clown. She wants your attention. It seems like people are drawn to her – kids, adults, whatever. You want to go over there, you want to pet on her, you want to love on her. You’re just drawn to her.”
|Folded Wings being playful with Jeremy and Lacey|
Photo courtesy of the McDaniel family
To share the vivacity of Folded Wings with others, the McDaniels have created a Facebook page for the filly (“like” it here). There, they share photos and videos displaying her charismatic personality, as well as video montages that Jeremy has created detailing Folded Wings’ inspiring story. With more than 400 likes, the filly’s growing fan base can keep up with her through the page’s posts, which are often accompanied with the hashtags #RunForCourage, #BigRedFilly and #RedRuffian.
“For us, we want everybody to see how special she is,” Jeremy said. “It’s a weird way of saying it, but it’s like, we know what she’s done for us. If that inspiration can be passed on to one person or two people, then that’d be great.”
To help those who have faced the same hardships, the McDaniels have chosen to set aside portions of the filly’s earnings to donate to a candidate for stem cell therapy. In addition to this, Jeremy has designed a Folded Wings T-shirt – from which all the proceeds will go toward this cause, as well. Working with Dr. Jackson, they hope to raise enough money to help someone receive the treatment that has so greatly helped Lacey.
Order a Folded Wings T-shirt here.
“I know we wouldn’t be able to pay for all of it, but I’d like for us to be able to help cover some of their costs,” Lacey said. “It’s such a de-facilitating condition that, just the money you spend out of pocket alone – even with having insurance – just for your medications, your doctor visits, is astronomical.
With stem cell, there’s a hope for a cure and I would like to be able to help someone. If someone had come along and was able to help us at the time, that would have been awesome, so I would like to be able to give back and help someone that I know is gonna be a good candidate. I just feel it’s right, because Wings is a part of that. She came from the money from selling that car, so she’s a huge part of that.”
This generosity is a testament to the McDaniels’ caring nature and thoughtfulness towards others. They are the exact opposite of the stereotype of greed and pretension that many racehorse owners face. In fact, the McDaniels and the other people in the partnership that owns Folded Wings are all just normal people – most of them mailmen or nurses.
“To us, it’s never been about money,” Jeremy said. “It obviously takes money to have a racehorse. It’s better when she runs well, but we loved her as much before she was a winner at Churchill Downs as we do now. But she and Danielle gave something to us that money can’t buy. Sure, we bought a racehorse, but a lot of people own racehorses – and racehorses that win. But to us, Wings is our American Pharoah. She’s that special to us.”
Rosier, too, has become a special part of the McDaniels’ lives. Not only are they grateful for her care and guidance of their filly, but since they purchased Folded Wings a year ago, Rosier’s friendship has also become meaningful to them.
“It’s all been a big blessing,” Jeremy said. “Wings and Danielle are family. A year ago, it was a horse that we found and we believed in, and Danielle was a friend. But now, we consider them both family.”
Folded Wings has been a source of inspiration for all of those who have come to know her and her story, but it is her connections whose lives have gained a brightness they desperately needed because of her. The filly evokes profound emotion from them, bringing them to tears at the thought of how much she means to them and how significantly she has impacted their lives.
“She gave me a reason to go on and she’s helped not just me,” Lacey said. “So many of us were in a rough patch when we got her and she gave so many of us a reason to get up in the morning. She brightens my day, as she has all of ours. She was something we all needed. She’s hope, she’s inspiration. She doesn’t go out to race to earn money; she just does it because she loves it. She’s just full of life and has so much character. … I feel like she saved me; I really do. When I was at my lowest of lows, here comes this big chestnut filly into my life who gave me something to look forward to when I needed it more than anything.”