12/21/2012 5:01PM

Hawthorne: Rescue horse makes his debut, and many of his caregivers plan to be on hand


STICKNEY, Ill. – An Illinois-bred 2-year-old colt makes his career debut in a statebred-restricted maiden race Wednesday at Hawthorne. Already, the horse has attained a small measure of celebrity.

His name is Magna Fortuna. The Louisville Courier-Journal hosts a weblog that details his history and updates Magna Fortuna’s progress at the track. Stories have been written, local television crews dispatched to Hawthorne.

“He’s kind of gone viral, it looks like,” trainer Michele Boyce said.

Boyce thinks Magna Fortuna could turn out to be a useful runner, but it’s his back story that has attracted attention.

Gail Vacca is a former trainer who founded and runs an organization called the Illinois Equine Humane Center. Vacca goes to horse auctions looking for Thoroughbreds being sold for slaughter, trying to purchase and ultimately place them in a caring environment. It was at such an auction in Indiana during June 2009 that Vacca discovered a Thoroughbred she was able to buy for $300. The mare was lame and in poor health, and even after bringing her back to Illinois and performing veterinary work, euthanasia remained a possibility. A bit of sleuthing revealed she was a daughter of Silver Hawk named Silver Option. She was found to be pregnant. And when her foal came out looking like a Thoroughbred, too, Vacca kept up her inquiries and found Silver Option had been bred the year before to the sire Magna Graduate. When Silver Option had been sold, the transaction that began her downward spiral, her owner was told she had aborted.

The foal she delivered is Magna Fortuna, called Taxi by his familiars because he was born on tax day in 2010. Fifteen people, including Vacca, have gone in as partners on the horse. On what normally would be a quiet, wintry Wednesday, they figure to ramp up the Hawthorne atmosphere.

“Between the friends and family, I think we’ll set an all-time attendance record for December at Hawthorne,” Boyce said.

After being broken in Oklahoma, Magna Fortuna came into Boyce’s stable over the summer at Arlington and progressed steadily toward his debut. He has worked 10 times in preparation for Wednesday’s sixth race, the last two drills at six furlongs, and Magna Fortuna probably is fit enough to win if he’s fast enough to win.

“He’s not a bad little colt,” Boyce said. “I don’t know that he’s stakes quality, but he should be able to go through his Illinois allowance conditions.”

If not, a class drop into claiming races is not an option, the partners have said. Successful or not in the business of racing, Magna Fortuna won’t drift into the shadows the way his mother did.