Inside Track: Heart of a Hero

Inside Track: Heart of a Hero
Photo: Vassar Photography
Ranger Heartley

When it comes to her horses, Sue Dowling of Stoneview Farm in Hempstead, Texas, takes Shakespeare’s famous question “What’s in a name?” from Romeo and Juliet very seriously.

Unlike Juliet, however, who is essentially expressing her thought that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention, Dowling believes the name can sometimes make the horse.

Dowling, who bred the stakes-winning gelding Ranger Heartley with her husband, Craig Upham, decided to name the horse after a local heroic army ranger, Sgt. Jeffrey Hartley, who was killed in Iraq in April 2008.

When Ranger Heartley was claimed for $32,000 in his third start by trainer John Sadler on behalf of musician Herb Alpert, it was Dowling’s hope that Ranger Heartley’s name would continue to evoke respect for United States soldiers, and, in the process, attract some new fans to the sport of horse racing.

“When you’re naming a horse, you have to remember the whole industry,” said Dowling. Ranger Heartley, who most recently scored in the $100,000 California Derby Jan. 16 at Golden Gate Fields in his stakes debut, is so far the best horse Stoneview has ever bred.

“When we were breaking Ranger Heartley, we knew he was special and that he would be a very useful horse for the industry,” Dowling said. “When you live in a small town, and (tragic) things happen to people and families, it becomes very personal, and I think you need to pay it forward to your community and your country.”

While Dowling didn’t know ranger Hartley personally, his heroic acts in the military and his generosity toward his friends inspired her to honor him. Dowling said that Hartley, who died at age 25, was “always giving back to this community in one way or another. He was always giving of himself.”  

Hartley’s father told Dowling that his son had died while throwing himself on a land mine to protect two other young rangers. Dowling and Upham could see Hartley’s full military funeral, complete with fire trucks, Black Hawk helicopters, and more than 3,000 attendees, from their farm.

Dowling changed the spelling of Ranger Heartley’s name out of respect for the Hartley family, as well as the fact the horse was born on Valentine’s Day. The name Ranger Heartley is also especially appropriate because he’s by the stallion Lost Soldier.

“Our farm is not even a half-block from the cemetery where (Hartley) is buried,” said Dowling. “I stopped at the cemetery, and I don’t know what brought me there. I had read newspaper articles about Ranger Hartley, and I saw that he was born around the same time as my horse—Feb. 17.”

It was then that Dowling decided to name the horse in order to—in a way—carry on the soldier’s legacy. After Ranger Heartley’s California Derby victory, Dowling ordered the winner’s circle shot and presented it to Hartley’s family.

“His father broke down and started crying,” she said. “They’re beside themselves; they think it’s wonderful (I named the horse after him).

“Horse racing needs more fans at the racetrack,” Dowling continued. “I think (giving horses meaningful names) is one way we can get people to the racetrack and help the sport.”

As an additional way to honor her horse’s namesake, Dowling did something worthwhile with a portion of the money she received when Ranger Heartley was claimed last July.

“We put $3,200 of that in a scholarship fund (in Hartley’s honor) at the local high school,” she said. “I’m hoping we can help pay it forward and continue to help donate (each year). It’s not a lot of money, but it’s a start. Maybe (Ranger Heartley’s story) will help people think about what they’re naming their horses and put some meaning into it.”

Ranger Heartley, who has won four of nine lifetime starts, could be pointed toward the $150,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Feb. 20.

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