Most stories of two-year-olds hitting the track aren't that exciting at a glance, except to the connections of those involved. A breeding, a conception, time to prepare, and see the starter. With time added in.
The story of MAGNA FORTUNA (Magna Graduate - Silver Option, by Silver Hawk) is a most unique and interesting one, however.
It starts with the ownership. A two-year-old gelding, MAGNA FORTUNA is owned by a sixteen person partnership called "Rescue Me Racing." The breeders (on file) are the Illinois Equine Human Center (IEHC), a not-for-profit group that "was founded to provide humane treatment and shelter while working to seek adoptive homes for all of Illinois' unwanted equines, regardless of breed."
And for IEHC President Gail Vacca, part-owner of MAGNA FORTUNA, that mission statement has taken her across the Midwest, seeking out horses to adopt and rescue, to convert horses from yesterday's grim fates into tomorrow's happy stories.
One of those trips took her to Indiana, to an auction of horses that were going to fates that you don't want to think about when wagering at Hawthorne or Arlington or whatever your track of choice is.
"Kill pen", as Ms. Vacca stated in a telephone interview with "Picks and Ponderings". According to Vacca and The Paulick Report, Arlington Park has a zero-tolerance policy for sending and dispersing retired racehorses to kill auctions. Such racehorses that would emerge at these auctions, obviously, are in direct violation of Arlington policy. According to Magna Fortuna's "biography",
"Ms. Vacca was at the auction looking for any thoroughbreds that may have come from the tracks in Illinois when she spotted a smallish bay mare that was in obvious discomfort from being severely lame in both front feet. Unfortunately the mare was already in a "kill pen" just waiting to be loaded onto a trailer for the grueling ride to slaughter in Canada."
It wasn't MAGNA FORTUNA that was purchased in Indiana, but it was Silver Option that came out of this sale, saved from a fateful trip to Canada. Ms. Vacca purchased Silver Option in 2009 from the aforementioned auction, paying only three hundred dollars ($300) and transporting her back to the IEHC base in the far western suburbs.
Three years ago and three hundred dollars was only the start. Silver Option is the dam of MAGNA FORTUNA, and at the time of the sale, she was carrying a foal. That foal, saved as well from the kill pen as was the dam, turned out to be MAGNA FORTUNA.
A most fortunate two-for-one special.
MAGNA FORTUNA was born in Illinois on April 15, 2010. Around the farm, his birthdate gave him the barn nickname of "Taxi". It's a name that's carried over in pieces for the Louisville Courier-Journal.
MAGNA FORTUNA as a yearling. Photo courtesy of owners and IEHC.
Some research would soon be done, finding out that MAGNA FORTUNA carried a fairly nice pedigree. His sire is Magna Graduate, a winner of over $2.5M and a graded stakes winner (mainly of Grade 2s and Grade 3s) in each year from ages three through six. Local fans might remember Magna Graduate from his third in the 2005 Illinois Derby or his second in the 2008 Hawthorne Gold Cup. The broodmare sire, Silver Hawk, produced numerous grass winners from Memories of Silver (also producing G1 winner Winter Memories) to Hawkster to Nashoba's Key. The Badge of Silver line currently in the sales comes out of the Silver Hawk tree.
"Once I figured out who he [MAGNA FORTUNA/"Taxi"] was, I called Darby Dan Farm in Kentucky." At the time, Magna Graduate stood (and still stands for $5,000) at Darby Dan Farm. And the Darby Dan team was quite surprised that Silver Option's foal had survived.
We go back to Indiana, to 2009, and when Silver Option was bred to Magna Graduate. And supposedly, in the eyes of the former connections, the foal wasn't expected to be birthed at all. Given Silver Option's lackluster racing career, that led her down the road to that sale.
After that phone call and in a gracious gesture by Darby Dan Farm according to Vacca, they helped with the registration costs necessary with identifying the horse, and to alleviate the $5,000 stud fee from the it-didn't-happen-but-it-did happen mating. Perhaps "Taxi" could be a jumper, a hunter, or a trail riding horse. Someone's pet, even. Maybe even dressage. But given that its sire won a cavalcade of stakes races, asked Vacca, "why not get him to race?"
Despite the sire and the long-winded journey, MAGNA FORTUNA was foaled in Illinois on Tax Day, 2010. That qualifies him as Illinois-foaled, eligible to reap all the rewards of the Illinois breeding program. He'll reap the first reward on Wednesday December 26 at Hawthorne as he makes her debut in the sixth race, an Illinois-bred Maiden Special Weight going six furlongs.
MAGNA FORTUNA in training at Hawthorne Race Course. Photo Courtesy Laura Donohoe/The Paulick Report.
Vacca sees MAGNA FORTUNA as a gelding that will race at first. "He's bred to run. And his job is a racehorse. If he likes his job and he's sound, we'll run him." However, according to Vacca, you'll never see MAGNA FORTUNA in a claiming race of any sort (hence why he's debuting in a maiden special weight). At various times, and especially after Silver Option was bought in Indiana with a successful foal, buyback offers have come, with each one turned down.
As to what Vacca sees for MAGNA FORTUNA, her first thought is on racing. "We think he can go through his statebred conditions (Illinois-bred N1X, N2X,...). And if he doesn't like racing, we'll retrain him to be a dressage horse."
But for now, he's a racehorse.
MAGNA FORTUNA debuts on Wednesday December 26 at Hawthorne Race Course in that day's sixth race, an Illinois-bred Maiden Special Weight going six furlongs on the dirt. Post time is 4:40 PM CT. Julio Felix will ride for trainer Michelle Boyce, and he breaks from post eleven in the twelve horse field.
Silver Option, the dam of MAGNA FORTUNA, continues to reside on the Illinois Equine Humane Center farm. Now 15, she has a lifetime home at the IEHC.
Special thanks to IEHC President Gail Vacca for considerations with this piece. To learn about the Illinois Equine Humane Center, you can visit their website. As they are a not-for-profit group, donations are accepted on the website. You can also send donations to them, a 501(c)(3) organization by check or money order to the following address:
Illinois Equine Humane Center
P. O. Box 337
Big Rock, IL 60511
Update, December 27: In his December 26th race, MAGNA Fortuna finished ninth in a field of twelve. However, his wide post (post eleven) did him no favors on a track that was favoring those drawn closer to the rail.