As a champion, race announcers called him Si My Shoes — as in “eat my dust.”
But in the slower-paced life of a retiree, the thoroughbred racehorse adopted by a Bath Township family in 2008 is known as Raleigh — short for the Magnificent Sir Raleigh, the name under which he competes today in equestrian contests.
Although the aging racehorse wasn’t much to look at when the Parks family adopted him from a stable in Wellington, Raleigh is nonetheless the three times great-grandson of Native Dancer (1950-1967), nicknamed the Grey Ghost, one of the most celebrated and accomplished racing thoroughbreds in history.
“We paid the owner’s daughter a dollar for him, to make it legal,” said Ned Parks of Bath Township.
Parks and his sister, Holly Parks-Robinson, took the washed-up racehorse and gave it to Parks’ daughter, Samantha (Sammy), to give her the experience of rehabbing a horse back to health through nutrition and proper exercise.
Sammy Parks is the third generation of her family to devote their lives to the love of horses. Her grandfather, Edwin “Don” Parks, was in the last mounted 124th Calvary that fought in the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II.
“They helped open the Burma Road for Gen. [Joseph] Stilwell,” said Robinson, who owns HPR Stables in Bath, which is affiliated with the Interscholastic Equestrian Association for sixth- through 12th-graders.
Today, life is good for the 19-year-old thoroughbred who is boarded at Ashwood Farms in Wadsworth.
“He is so loving. He does whatever you ask,’’ said Sammy Parks, 19, a sophomore studying equine management at Lake Erie College in Painesville.
Ned Parks said the horse, who came to them with several strange markings, including having one eye lower than the other and a marked divot above his nose, also had a serial number tattooed on his upper lip — the sign of a racing thoroughbred.
Parks, who operates New Directions Learning and Development in Bath, said curiosity got the better of him so he started researching the horse’s lineage.
During his online travels, he found Liz Lundberg, a jockey who raced the horse to his one and only first-place finish on July 4, 1996, at Mountaineer Racetrack in Wheeling, W.Va.
Horse and jockey were reunited last week after she accepted an invitation to visit the family.
Lundberg, who at 53 is retired from racing but still fit enough to ride to a win, said she remembered Raleigh because he was so “green” when she first met him as a youngster.
“He was a big, weedy, gangly thing,’’ she said. His legs were so close together, she said, ‘‘I thought my ankles were touching.”
Rather than the win on Independence Day, Lundberg remembers a second-place finish that impressed her more.
“That week, I had already run four races. He was my fifth horse. He was 15 lengths behind in the top of the stretch and I got beat by that much,” she said, holding her thumb and index finger an inch apart.
As Sammy Parks put Raleigh through his paces, Lundberg remembered riding the horse with the “goofy” gait.
“He was so young, it felt like I was riding a rubber band,” she remembered.
Sammy said Raleigh won her heart with his engaging personality. One of Raleigh’s favorite games is pulling a cellphone out of a person’s back pocket.
“He’s very ornery. You cannot leave a cell phone around him. He’ll get it and chuck it across the room,” she said.
His personality also shows through when he nonchalantly “takes his lead [rope] out of your hand,” Sammy said.
Robinson said she remembers wavering on whether to adopt the horse. But when they noticed him going back time and again to see a reflection of himself, her husband Larry Robinson said the family had no choice.
“He’s very social. My husband said ‘he needs to be with another horse. We have to take this horse. He’s alone,’ ” she said.
While Sammy is at school, Robinson’s students help keep Raleigh fit, riding him during classes.
Lundberg said that with a loving family, the horse could live another decade or more.
“Twenty to 30 is a good age for a horse,” she said.
But seeing the horse fit and happy is proof that there are happy endings, even in racing, a business that has a deserved reputation of being rife with fraud, she said.
“The real heroes in this story are Sammy and this family,” she said.
Other animals in the news:
• Congratulations to Paws and Prayers animal rescue and all the rescue organizations that took part in a recent successful adoption event. The rescues exceeded their goal and found homes for 108 cats and kittens during the 30-hour marathon adoption event at the Chapel Hill PetSmart last weekend.
• The Coalition for Animal Concerns will hold spay/neuter clinics by appointment Wednesday and July 11 for cats at the Louisville Library, 700 Lincoln Ave. A nonrefundable $20 deposit or payment in full is needed to secure the appointment. Animals will be transported to One of a Kind Pet Clinic in Akron for the procedures and returned the same day. Prices for male cats are $48; female cats are $58. Price includes spay/neuter surgery, rabies shot and pain medication. Appointments must be made in advance. For information or to make an appointment, call Marty at 330-499-1649.
• Meet the canine members of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Paw Patrol and their humans between noon and 5 p.m. July 7 at the Ira Road Trailhead on Peninsula Road in Cuyahoga Falls. The event is part of Summit Towpath 2012 celebrating the completion of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail through Ohio. Rangers and their animals will be on hand to meet visitors and talk about the program. Pets are welcome to attend. While supplies last, visitors will receive a free ticket to the Arlo Guthrie — Guthrie Family Reunion concert celebrating Woodie Guthrie’s 100th birthday at 9 p.m. July 7 at Lock 3 Park in downtown Akron. Opening act is Hey Mavis.
Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to email@example.com.