Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Well Armed and Bill Casner: All Heart

Under the Texas November sun, the bay gelding that stood before me was certainly a long way from Dubai. But, gazing at his kind eye, I could see the dynamic, odds-denying champion within, the one that had galloped to an awe-inspiring win in the richest race in the world. I raised my hand to his face, gently touching the Thoroughbred I so greatly admired and adored. Looking back at me was Well Armed.


With Well Armed
Photo by Terri Cage
This elite Thoroughbred is of course best known for his record-breaking victory in the 2009 Dubai World Cup (GI), a race in which Well Armed annihilated his rivals by an astounding 14 lengths. But there’s more to Well Armed’s story than his brilliant victories. This horse had overcome unbelievable adversity before he achieved his greatest victories, with the help of his loving owner, Bill Casner.

Casner had dealt with his own hardship as well, particularly when his daughter, Karri, was tragically killed in a bombing of Bali, Indonesia in 2002. Just months later, a horse was born on what would have been Karri’s 24th birthday. That horse was Well Armed.
Well Armed
Photo by Terri Cage

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 the son of Tiznow 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 wasn’t going 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’d 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’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. 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 for my mother to take several photographs, Mr. Casner asked me how much riding experience I had.

“I’ve ridden all my life.” I replied.
Riding Well Armed
Photo by Terri Cage

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. 

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’s exactly the quintessence 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 weren’t 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.


Mr. Casner, with heartfelt gratitude, thank you, thank you, thank you. I will never be able to thank you enough.

8 comments:

  1. Love your story. How very special and very kind of Mr Casner to let you ride. That must have felt magical. I love this horse and the story behind his recovery as well as the faith that Mr Casner showed. A part of his daughter, Karri, has to inside this horse. I remember watching that Dubai World Cup and was yelling and cheering him on. Wonderful people and wonderful horse.

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    1. Thank you! It truly was a magical moment and I am still in shock that it happened. I am incredibly grateful to Mr. Casner. His kindness blew me away. I completely agree with you.

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  2. What a greatstory about a wonderful man and a tough horse!

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  3. Wow!! Mary, what a wonderful story! And the photos - oh,my!!! Thank you so much for sharing with us. I saw Well Armed posted on facebook that he had a new young friend named Mary and I just knew it was you and sure enough, you were the lucky one. Must admit to my jealousy, but I am so happy for you!!

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    1. Thank you, Celeste! It was an absolutely incredible experience - one I'll never forget!

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  4. I'm going to repeat a common phrase in this post's comment section: WOW! I was thinking it was cool enough that you got to lead Well Armed around, but when I saw the picture of you riding him, my jaw dropped to the floor. Congratulations! I can only imagine what it must feel like to sit astride the same back that has carried jockeys to multiple-million dollar victories. I'm shocked, and very glad for you! This is truly an amazing experience.

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    1. Emily, your words basically reflect my thoughts during the entire experience! When Mr. Casner handed me Well Armed's lead rope, I was shocked. I've held the lead to some pretty cool horses, such as Lights on Broadway and King of Speed, but not a multiple grade one winner that had earned more than $5 million! And when Mr. Casner suggested that I ride the horse, I was beyond thrilled. I even imagined the arena dirt was the dirt of Nad Al Sheba while I was riding him; I couldn't help it! I am never going to forget my visit to Mr. Casner's ranch and cannot stress enough how grateful I am to Mr. Casner. He and Well Armed make a very special team.

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