After 142 starts, Immortal Wink flies on home
Byon July 15, 2016
Immortal Wink, a true racing warrior who ran his 142nd race in Puerto Rico on June 22, was flown back to the Sunshine State, the place of his birth, on July 2.
It took a yeoman’s effort by a professional psychologist, a breeder, fans, and horse-rescue personnel who sought pluck him from a land “without many resources” and set him down softly on a grassy field protected by theThoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
After all that running on legs that withstood so much strain, Wink’s co-breeder Kathy Von Gerhard was instantly “on board” for the seemingly impossible task of retiring and rehoming the horse; requiring airfare, quarantine, and a retirement home.
The phone call that enlisted her help came from Florida-based psychologist and horse lover Michelle “Shelley” Blodgett asking for help in a growing Social Media effort to retire Immortal Wink. Von Gerhard didn’t think twice.
“Kathy picked up the ball right away,” Blodgett says.
Von Gerhard adds, “I emailed Shelley (Blodgett) and said if she sent me her phone number, I’d call her the next day. We just connected immediately over the phone, and I was totally on board. I remembered the horse well—my husband Ralph named him.”
Noting that the Von Gerhard’s still own Wink’s dam, she continues that the instant Blodgett started talking about him, memories of the bay gelding came flooding back. “I called him Little Wink. And when it came time to give him a name, I remember saying we should name him Little Wink. But my husband didn’t like that idea. I don’t know where he got ‘immortal’ from, but that’s how he got his name.”
It was that very name that caught Blodgett’s attention, and drew her into the effort on social media to return the horse home.
“I’m a professional clinical psychological specializing in older people. I don’t know exactly why, but the word ‘immortal’ really struck me. Its such an unusual name, and he was an unusual horse in an unusual circumstances.”
So with little more than that to go on, Blodgett reached out to Von Gerhard, and the pair became the “little hinge” that swung open the “big door” leading to a whole new future for Immortal Wink.
Reaching out to friends and strangers, and buoyed by a race fan who Tweets under the handle NotCloudyAllDay, the pair quickly raised the $7,000 necessary to fly Wink back to Florida and quarantine him at Thoroughbred aftercare facility Florida TRAC.
And then the icing on the cake came when Diana Pikulski of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation agreed to open the doors of the nation’s oldest and largest Thoroughbred charity to one more horse.
“He is a war-horse and we are thrilled that his connections could get him back here— which isn’t easy,” Pikulski says. “We are happy that we can offer him a lifetime of grass and companionship.”
A little shocked at their success, Blodgett was moved to tears during an interview this week with Von Gerhard.
It all happened so fast, she says. Wink’s final race was June 22. He was purchased the next day with funds raised online and vanned to a quarantine farm in Puerto Rico. On July 2, he was flown back to Florida and taken to Florida TRAC to be let down before traveling on to the TRF.
On July 9, with her heart in her throat, Von Gerhard and her husband made a three-hour drive to visit their old horse.
“It was overwhelming. I was so nervous on the drive down. And when we finally got to the barn, there was nobody around, nobody I could ask where he was,” Von Gerhard says. “So I just walked up and down the aisle looking in every stall. When he was a baby, I used to call out ‘Little Wink’ in a certain way, and his head would come out over his stall guard. So I did the same thing … and here came his head out of his stall, just like he always used to do. I can’t even explain the emotions I felt when I saw him again.”