Gander Arrives at Runnymede Farm in New Hampshire

June 4 started out as just another clear, beautiful day for the 9-year-old gelding Gander at Better Days Farm in Bedford Hills, N.Y. Located in the heart of Westchester County and run by Sue Vitro, the farm had been home to the horse since last December, following recovery from surgery by Dr. Alan Nixon at Cornell University, who his life after Gander broke the short pastern bone in his left foreleg during a morning breeze at Saratoga Sept. 1.

Until that time, the freakishly fast, game, Gander had thrilled many fans from New England to New York and beyond, a winner of 15 races from 60 starts with more than $1.8 million in earnings. The son of Cormorant out of the mare Lovely Nurse was bought by Ted and Michael Gatsas of New Hampshire at the behest of their trainer, Charley Assimakopoulos at the Ocala Breeders Sales Co.'s 1998 March sale for $50,000. Gander was named New York-bred horse of the year in 2000, champion 3-year-old colt in 1999, and champion older horse in 2000, 2001, and 2002.

The Gatsas family, including Michael's son and daughter, Matthew and Amanda, who run the day-to-day operations of Sovereign Stables, were determined to bring their pride and joy home safely.
It happened June 5, when Gander was vanned from Better Days to Runnymede Farm in North Hampton, N.H., not far from the Gatsas' residences in Manchester. Gander will become the paddock mate of another champion, Peter Fuller's Mom's Command, winner of the 1985 New York Filly Triple Crown. Twenty-three-year-old Mom's Command has been pensioned at the farm since Thanksgiving.

When Vitro's assistant, Heidi Fisher, who has been taking care of Gander since December, brought her charge in from his paddock for a bath that Saturday afternoon, then put him in his stall with a sheet over his torso to keep him clean should he decide to roll, the gelding could sense something was amiss. This never was part of his routine.

The following morning, following feeding, when he wasn't put out into the paddock, Gander knew that this day would not be normal.
"He loves to roll," said Vitro. "If we let him back out into the paddock, he'd be black by the time we got him on the van to New Hampshire at 9 a.m."

Instead, Fisher put front bandages on her favorite, wrapped his halter like he was still a racehorse, and said good-bye.
Ironically, Better Days Farm was formerly named Tanrackin Farm, home to the first New York-bred gelding to put the breeding program on the map. That was Win, owned by Paul Cornman. Currently, Gander stands third among all New York breds in career earnings, behind Funny Cide and Say Florida Sandy.

Ted, a State Senator in New Hampshire, remembered how close to death Gander was at two, with a high fever and some lung problems.

As for the race most remembered, Ted says it was the Saratoga Breeders' Cup in 2002, when Gander stumbled out of the gate, throwing rider Mike Smith. "When he crossed the finish line, rider less, in first place," smiled Gatsas, "it was incredible the applause he was getting from the Saratoga crowd. I'll never forget it."

As for Michael, the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs stands out, though Gander finished ninth after getting a call at the top of the stretch. "We had to supplement him for close to $400,000 because he was not originally nominated, but for two guys from New Hampshire to be able to walk behind the horse as he came to the track, with family, friends, our early trainer Charley Assimakopoulos, you can't put a price on that."