Photo: Terri Cage
It was November 2012, just days before Thanksgiving. The Texas sun was shining bright, glinting off of the bay gelding whose lead rope I held in my hand. Here we stood, in Flower Mound, Texas – thousands upon thousands of miles away from his greatest triumph. It had been nearly four years since he had trounced his rivals in the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup, but, gazing into his kind eye, I could see the dynamic, odds-denying champion within. I raised my hand to his face, gently touching the Thoroughbred I so greatly admired and adored. Looking back at me was Well Armed.
The 2009 Dubai World Cup was the final edition to be held at Nad Al Sheba, the breathtaking racecourse that held the first fourteen runnings of the World Cup. Well Armed, third to two-time Horse of the Year Curlin the previous year, was seeking redemption. Many doubted the gelding’s ability to win, believing he didn’t stand a chance. But Well Armed had a tendency to prove doubters wrong and overcome adversity, as did his loving owner, Bill Casner, the co-founder of WinStar Farm.
Photo by Terri Cage
Tragedy struck Casner and his family in 2002 when his daughter Karri was tragically killed in a bombing of Bali, Indonesia. Just months later, a son of Tiznow – one of Casner’s favorite stallions – was born on what would have been Karri’s 24th birthday. That horse was Well Armed.
Like Karri, Well Armed was born pigeon-toed. The Thoroughbred was sent to England, where he made his initial eight career starts for Clive Brittain prior to a three-race expedition in Dubai that was cut short by a knee chip. This injury saw Well Armed return to the United States, where he had successful surgery to remove the chip. But days later, Well Armed broke his hip – an injury that caused the horse so much pain that euthanizing the horse became a serious option.
But Casner had no intention to give up on this horse and after recovery, Well Armed did not give up on him. Well Armed returned to racing to capture four graded stakes races, two of which were grade ones – including, of course, the Dubai World Cup. Despite the great adversity they had faced, Well Armed and Casner had dealt with their troubles together, and together they stood on top of the world.
Bill Casner is one of the kindest persons I have ever been fortunate enough to meet and since I have known him, he has presented me with some of the greatest opportunities I have ever had. On November 19, 2012, I made a visit to his ranch in North Texas, where I was able to meet the charming Well Armed. The goodness of Mr. Casner’s heart shone through during the time I spent there, as he showed my mother and me around the ranch, allowing us to see the horses that reside there and to watch several yearlings – including a full sibling to the grade one-winning Colonel John and a half-brother to Well Armed – swim.
But the highlight of my visit certainly was found in the time I spent with Well Armed. After I fed the deserving Thoroughbred a few peppermints (which he ate eagerly), Mr. Casner allowed me to lead the gelding out of his stall before I briefly groomed the tall Thoroughbred. As I led Well Armed outside the barn to allow my mother to take several photos, Mr. Casner asked me how much riding experience I had.
“I’ve ridden all my life,” I replied, not knowing what that response would lead me to.
Minutes later, I sat aboard Well Armed’s back, his thick black mane flowing over his neck as my hands held the reins. Around the expansive arena we rode, Well Armed’s large frame moving beneath me as I sat in the saddle upon his back, my eyes overlooking the view I had from aboard him. His brown neck, covered by his thick black mane – streaked with a few white and gray strands – stretched before me, his ears pricked as he gazed about.
Riding Well Armed
Photo by Terri Cage
As the earner of $5,179,803 strode along, I was brought back to a memory. Gazing at his mane, I pictured jockey Aaron Gryder stroking the gelding’s mane and neck as the two soared to victory in Dubai, a scene I watched from the comfort of my living room, beaming with sheer joy as Well Armed – this world conqueror, this underdog, this hero beneath me – galloped across my television screen to a breathtaking triumph.
How could I have imagined that day that I would someday sit aboard that majestic champion? I couldn’t have. Maybe in my wildest dreams I could have pictured myself riding Well Armed, but never would those dreams have come true if it weren’t for the astounding goodness of Bill Casner’s heart.
And that is exactly the essence of the story of Bill Casner and Well Armed: heart. As my own soaring, joyous heart rode along with Well Armed, I overhead Mr. Casner speaking to my mother, telling her Well Armed’s story. Two words that left his mouth as he described his beloved horse will never leave me: all heart. Mr. Casner was speaking of the kind, valiant Thoroughbred I rode, but if it were not for Mr. Casner’s heart, I never would have experienced one of the best days of my life and Well Armed never would have been able to show the world just how much heart he has. Together, these two showed me perhaps the greatest amount of true heart I have ever seen.