By John Gilmore
Hard Way, an 8-year-old gelding who made a remarkable recovery from a crushed vertebrae in 2010, is continuing to amaze French racing fans.
In the Prix Du Vieux Colombier Handicap over 3,100 meters at Longchamp July 6, Hard Way ridden by Christophe Lemaire and carrying top weight of 60 kilos, gradually got the better of Samurai in the last 200 meters to win—much to the delight of his connections. He is trained by co-owner Gina Rarick.
"I first saw Hard Way shortly after meeting Gina Rarick in early 2009, and he has been wearing my colors on race days since June of that year," said Mark Tronco, an American living in Maisons Laffitte who holds a half share in the gelding. "What a great ride Hard Way has been giving us all since. Spending regular time with Hard Way and watching him run makes it easy to understand what a great game this can be."
Hard Way was diagnosed in August 2010 with a crushed Atlas vertebra by Deauville veterinarian Xavier d'Ablon, who has said he's never seen a racehorse survive from this kind of injury. The gelding not only recovered, he returned to the track in April 2012 for two warm-up races before teaming up with Lemaire to launch a remarkable comeback victory in the Prix Lomagne Handicap over 2,400 meters at St. Cloud in May.
"I had hoped to have him ready to run in early May this year, to defend his title in the same race at St. Cloud," said Rarick, an American and former financial editor for the International Herald Tribune. "But his trot felt a little off to me, and he was hanging onto the bit at the gallop more than I thought he should."
Hard Way was scanned with an MRI. The original site of the fracture remains fully healed and some mild symptoms of Wobbler's showed to be no more advanced. Besides some minor signs of arthritis, the gelding passed his physical.
"The arthritis in the fractured vertebra column might have been causing some compression of the spinal column, and we gave him a dose of Tildren (a bone remodeling drug) to clear it up," Rarick said.
Hard Way is also part-owned by Kay Minton, an American residing stateside who owns a quarter of the horse. Rarick owns the remaining quarter.
"It's like belonging to an exclusive club," said Minton. "You know most of the members, everybody follows the other owners' horses—cheer when they do well—send congratulations and get together to celebrate wins or moan over losses. But most important Gina is a good friend, a good trainer who cares about horses."
In the same way Hard Way told his connections he was not finished with racing, they are taking it day-to-day to determine when he wants to retire.
"He really seems to like being with us, and yes, will most likely stay here after his racing career is over," said Rarick. "In any case whether he stays here, or goes to a retirement home in Normandy, I'll keep Hard Way as long as he's around; he won't be given away or sold. Trainers aren't allowed much sentiment in this game, but I will absolutely hang on to Hard Way."