Laura Hillenbrand

Laura Hillenbrand

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Eight Belles' Gift to Seabiscuit Author

Eight Belles' death had a profound effect on Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand.

From even the greatest tragedy can come good. Eight Belles’ death no doubt will be a catalyst for Thoroughbred racing to provide better safety for the horses. For Laura Hillenbrand, author of the classic book, “Seabiscuit,” the filly’s death would have a profound effect not only on her, but a 9-year-old gelding named Rudster.

Hillenbrand, who has been disabled for years with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, has had a particularly rough time recently coping with her own malady, as well as the death and serious illnesses of several family members and friends. Even her good friend’s dog is dying of cancer. The Eight Belles’ tragedy just added to her grief.

Having feelings of guilt and helplessness over the filly’s death, Hillenbrand felt compelled to help save a horse in Eight Belles’ honor. She wrote to a friend at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Sue Finley, expressing her wishes. Her friend then e-mailed Diana Pikulski, executive director of the TRF.

A short while earlier, at a horse auction in Vermont, a man had  purchased several horses for slaughter. He wound up buying one horse too many, and with a full truck, was unable wedge the last horse in. He asked someone from Applebee Farm who was attending the sale if he was interested in buying the horse. He was, but couldn't afford it. He called Pikulski, who told him she also didn’t have the money at that time, but to go ahead and pay the $350 for him and she'd figure something out. 

“The man from Applebee took the horse home and fell in love with him,” Hillenbrand said. “Two days ago, Diana was sitting at her desk, staring at the invoice for the horse and wondering how she’d pay for it when Sue called and told her I was interested in buying a horse. Bingo! They wrote to tell me that I am now the proud owner of Rudster, a 9-year-old bay gelding, by Valiant Nature, out of Great Triumph, by Lejoli. It was something good in what had been a very bad week.”

Rudster made 74 starts for nine owners, with three wins (the last one coming two and a half years ago). Last year, he had three last-place finishes and one second-to-last in four starts. His final Beyer figure was a “7.” Shortly after, he was purchased for slaughter. Then, fate stepped in.

“He is putting on weight and settling in happily at Applebee,” Hillenbrand said. “Thank you, Eight Belles. You saved Rudster’s life.”