10/24/2012 7:10PM

Reason for Rejoicing


Please enjoy this guest blog by Tom Keyser about a most remarkable mare racing at Belmont Park on Thursday.

Above:  Much Rejoicing at Belmont Park on October 22, 2012

Thisone's for her.

When Jimmy Toner leads the 5-year-old mare Much Rejoicing into the paddock for the Serena’s Cat Stakes tomorrow at Belmont Park, he will be paying tribute to her tenacity and character during the six months since the terrifying wreck.

“Horses just don’t go through what she’s gone through and come back to race,” Toner says.

Much Rejoicing, a winner of four races including a minor stakes, was one of six horses riding in a full-size van that swerved off the road and overturned during a rainstorm April 18 on Interstate 95 in South Carolina. According to reports at the time, fire and rescue crews worked three hours cutting open the roof of the van to free the trapped horses.

They were traveling from the Palm Meadows training center in Florida to the Fair Hill training center in Maryland. Toner trained five of the horses. The driver of the Ebert van told police that a car dropped over in front of him and slowed down, forcing him to brake on the slippery roadway. The van started to sway, veered onto the shoulder and overturned on an embankment.

The driver, passenger and two Toner employees in back were hospitalized but not hurt seriously, Toner says. One horse was so badly injured he had to be euthanized at the scene. A second horse was euthanized a few days later with broken ribs and a fractured spine. A third was retired. Of the other three, all Toner trainees, two returned to racing this summer. Much Rejoicing was the most severely injured of the survivors, and Toner says he didn’t think she would survive let alone ever race again.

She thrashed wildly on her side as workers cut through the roof, Toner says, tearing open her front and back legs. She spent about 3 weeks in a clinic in South Carolina before returning by van to Fair Hill. At Bruce Jackson’s equine clinic there, she underwent daily treatments in the hyperbaric chamber, breathing high concentrations of oxygen in the pressurized chamber. That helped heal her wounds. She underwent therapy in a salt-water tank and exercised on an aquatred, a treadmill in the water. Finally, she returned to training in June at Toner’s barn at Fair Hill.

Throughout it all, Toner says, she was a model patient, seeming to understanding what was happening to her, and why. He credits his Fair Hall assistant Kelly Rubley for providing meticulous, hands-on care. And he says that Billy Terrill, president of Ebert van company, paid for Much Rejoicing’s treatment -- her injuries weren’t covered by insurance -- even though he didn’t have to.

One reason Toner has such a soft spot for Much Rejoicing is because he trained her mother, the champion Soaring Softly, who resides at Darby Dan Farm in Lexington, Ky. Much Rejoicing was born at the historic farm, and she will eventually return as a broodmare, Toner says. John Phillips, owner of Darby Dan, and AJ Suited Racing Stables share ownership of Much Rejoicing.

She has a presence about her, Toner says, and always has -- small but confident, tough, intelligent glow in her eye. She won 4 races in 14 starts before the accident, including the $60,000 Glia Stakes in May 2011 on the turf at Belmont. Her race tomorrow -- the 5th -- is also on the turf. She’s 12-1 on the morning line.

“It wouldn’t matter to me if she’s 50-1,” Toner says. “Just to lead her over there is going to be emotional. She deserves this, she’s earned it, with what she’s been through.”

Above/below:  Much Rejoicing at Belmont Park, July 9, 2011, before the Caress Stakes.

Above:  Much Rejoicing finishes second to Quebrana Shiner in the Caress Stakes at Belmont on July 9, 2011.

Above/below:  Much Rejoicing, with Dana Antonczak aboard, at Belmont Park this past Monday.  

Above:  Jimmy Toner visits with Much Rejoicing. 

Above:  Portrait of the remarkable Much Rejoicing.

Above/below: Much Rejoicing's champion dam, Soaring Softly, was bred by Galbreath/Phillips Racing Partnership.  She is by Kris S. - Wings of Grace, by Key to the Mint.   She won 9 of 16 starts, finished second once and third 3 times, and earned $1,270,433.  Her biggest win was the 1999 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, shown below.

Above/below:  And here's the second dam of Much Rejoicing. Wings of Grace, a Galbreath homebred, won 6 of 20 starts, including the G3 Boiling Springs Handicap.  The lovely mare then produced two Grade 1 winners - Soaring Softly and Plenty of Grace. She died in 2003 and is buried at Darby Dan.