First appeared in the "Winner's Circle" in the Jan. 18 issue of The Blood-Horse.
Under normal circumstances the sale of a $5,500 mare would hardly cause anyone at the Keeneland January sale to look up from his or her catalog. But there were two people in Keeneland's pavilion who were paying attention, close attention, when the chestnut mare cataloged as Hip No. 925 stepped into the auction ring. They were Patti Davis, who sat nervously in the pavilion's back row, and her husband, Steve, the designated bidder, seated three rows in front of her.
The mare named Euronfire had a star, a crooked white stripe, and a kind eye that calmly surveyed the mostly empty seats. Few bidders looked back at her. On her first trip through Keeneland's auction ring, back in 2009, she had brought no bid at all as a yearling. She became a three-time winner, but among the 1,027 horses that would sell Jan. 6-9 at Keeneland, her history didn't appear special.
Patti Davis knew different. For her, Euronfire was a slice of the dream. And also her responsibility.
Davis, a public relations manager in Chicago and a lifelong racing fan, was the smallest shareholder among the 10 partners who bought into the Eurosilver filly when she was 2. Euronfire was Davis' first-ever horse, and she excitedly went to see her at Tony Ocampo's Rose Hill Farm near Lexington in 2010.
"I just fell in love with her at first sight," Davis recalled. "I thought, 'I've got a living, breathing racehorse.' I was full of hope. I wasn't expecting the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) for her at the time. I was just hoping she'd be competitive at whatever level she was going to be at."
The syndicate, Two Bucks To Show, sent Euronfire to trainer Wayne Catalano and his assistant Vince Rogers. Saddled by Rogers, the filly started her career at 3 with a winning debut at Keeneland's fall meet.
But then came the bad luck. Euronfire was at Hawthorne Racecourse in October 2012 when an outbreak of neurologic equine herpesvirus, EHV-1, spread through the barn area. She tested positive, stranding her in the track's makeshift quarantine facility.
"With the state veterinarian's permission, I visited her every few days and brought her pears and carrot tops, her preferred treats," Davis said. "She looked so sad and drawn, but her nuzzling me in my hazmat suit was a sign to me that she would make it through."
Euronfire survived, but she never raced again. Two Bucks To Show sent her first to Aiken, then to Lexington's Victory Haven Training Center, where Rogers gradually rebuilt the mare's muscle and confidence. But when she stumbled one morning while training at Keeneland, Euronfire's shareholders decided her career might be nearing the end. After a shareholder vote they pointed her for Keeneland January as a 6-year-old racing or broodmare prospect but agreed with Davis that Euronfire should go to New Vocations if she didn't reach her reserve. Davis couldn't leave that to chance.
When Euronfire came into the ring Jan. 8, Davis and her husband were there and ready to bid. Thanks to the polar vortex that brought ice, blowing snow, and below-zero temperatures to the Midwest, their drive from Chicago had taken 11 hours instead of the usual six. Davis brought along a new Baker Blanket with Euronfire's name embroidered in pink and a Mexican charm called a milagro stitched inside it.
In the end Steve Davis needed only one bid, at $5,500, to buy this mare who meant so much to his wife.
In Keeneland's business office, where a weeping Davis settled up her purchase, the staff offered their congratulations. The Sallee shipping firm waived its fee to take Euronfire to New Vocations.
Back in Keeneland's Barn 30, where Euronfire was in Three Chimneys Sales' consignment, anyone would have thought Euronfire had brought $1 million. The sales staff celebrated with Davis, taking turns feeding Euronfire the ripe pears Davis had brought. When the blanket proved a little big, one of them assured Davis, "You'd want it a little loose around the sides, so when she's fat and happy after racing, it'll fit her perfectly."
The blanket, the milagro, and Davis' best wishes will go with Euronfire whenever she's adopted out.
"I hope she'll have a period of time to be a happy horse," Davis said. "She's a very sweet mare and tends to be a barn favorite, and I trust New Vocations implicitly to do whatever is right for this mare.
"This was all about doing the right thing," she added, "and I hope other owners will do the same thing, following their horse and retiring them at the right time so they have the opportunity for another career."