Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Two Mighty Hearts Beat As One In Queen’s Plate

Mighty Heart may have had just a maiden win under his belt when he entered the starting gate for Saturday’s Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, but the one-eyed colt burst from the starting gate on top and ran away from his 13 rivals to win by 7 1/2 lengths. In fact, the 13-1 longshot turned in the second-fastest time in the race’s 161-year history, completing 1 1/4 miles over the Toronto, Ontario, track’s Tapeta surface in 2:01.98.

Owner Lawrence Cordes couldn’t have imagined that his homebred colt would live up to his namesake so perfectly, but the result has been better than any storybook ending crafted in Hollywood.

“You’re just not going to believe what I’m about to tell you, but it’s all completely true,” Cordes said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “I couldn’t make this up if I’d tried.”

The original Mighty Heart weighs in at just 1.76 pounds, significantly less than his equine counterpart; he is a Sphynx cat, and he never should have survived.

The story begins with Cordes’ long-time girlfriend, Kimberly Rutschmann, a registered nurse who also breeds Sphynx cats as companion animals. Cordes insists he isn’t a “cat person,” but his first Sphynx, named Floyd, convinced the longtime horse and dog lover to reconsider.

Mighty Heart, the cat, belongs to Rutschmann. Seven years ago, he was born the runt in a very large seven-cat litter. His mother quickly rejected the mouse-sized kitten; he weighed less than an ounce when Rutschmann began working to save his life.

For three months she fed the tiny kitten every two hours, around the clock, with an eyedropper. Mighty Heart improved and grew to weigh eight ounces, and Rutschmann began feeding him a special mush with a spoon for two more months until he doubled in size.

Mighty Heart the Sphynx cat (photo courtesy of Angela Perrin)

By now it was late November, and somehow, the door to the cat area blew open while Rustchmann and Cordes were both at work. Cordes came home first and found little Mighty Heart cold and not breathing.

“I took him in my hands and started rubbing him to warm him up, and I called Kimberly,” Cordes remembered. “She ran home, took him and massaged him, then gave him mouth-to-mouth until he started breathing again.”

A month later, the little kitten stopped breathing again in the middle of the night. Rutschmann was able to bring him back once more.

Mighty Heart was small and a bit frail, but very determined to be a “normal” cat. Tragedy struck again when he turned four, however; he suffered a stroke that left him mostly paralyzed for months.

With what must be an infinite capacity for caring and patience, Rutshmann began her regimen of feeding little Mighty Heart three times a day and taking him to the litter box every couple of hours.

“He’s using up his nine lives, for sure,” Cordes said. “The vets said if he was going to recover, it would take about three months to see any improvement. At 3 ½ months, he sat up on his own, and Kimberly let out this yell of pure joy that I’ll never be able to forget.”

After another year, Mighty Heart was able to walk around with just a slight limp. Another problem arose more recently when his stomach began to expand abnormally. Initially thought to be a tumor, Mighty Heart’s issue turned out to be an abscess, which was easily treated by antibiotics.

“Somebody should write a book or make a movie about Kimberly and this cat,” Cordes said. “If you just sat in a chair and watched what goes on between those two, he thinks she’s his mother. He didn’t know his mother, and she did everything for him. You should see how he’s become attached to her, and he’s like a baby, he sleeps in her arms… She loves this cat, she says, ‘Larry, I don’t know what I’d do if we lost him.’ It’s just like a baby.”

Cordes had just gotten back into breeding racehorses after a 15-year hiatus in 2014, starting with a one-horse broodmare band in Emma’s Bullseye. When she gave birth to her third foal in 2017, the colt faced long odds of making it on the racetrack when he lost his left eye in a paddock accident at just two weeks of age.

“So then when I’m looking for a name for this horse, I kept thinking about that cat,” Cordes said. “Here’s Mighty Heart, this cat with incredible will to live, living with all these problems for a full life of seven years, and here’s this horse with a major handicap as well to deal with. I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna honor that cat by giving his name to this racehorse.’”

Mighty Heart, the horse, never seemed to notice he was any different than the other racehorses. The farm that started him under saddle in Lexington, Ky., had nothing but positive reports during his early training.

“They said to me, ‘This horse is something else. One eye or not, he’s gonna be a nice horse. He’s a very determined horse and he wants to please,’” Cordes remembered. “Well, they were right.”

Mighty Heart didn’t race as a 2-year-old, and when he made his first start at 3 this February at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, La., trainer Josie Carroll told Cordes she wasn’t quite sure what to make of his strange behavior.

“On the first turn he threw his head up and went almost to the outside rail, losing about 12 lengths,” said Cordes. “On the next turn he did the same thing. The jockey brought him back in, and in the stretch he was 20 lengths behind when they were half way down the stretch, and he made up 14 lengths in not even half the stretch. We were like, ‘Whoa. Imagine if he hadn’t lost those 24 lengths on the turns!’”

It took several months to find the issue, because it was well-hidden. Mighty Heart had impacted wolf teeth sitting below the line of his jawbone, right where the bit would lay in his mouth. As soon as those were removed, the colt broke his maiden with ease, besting a field of Queen’s Plate-eligible entrants by 5 ½ lengths at Woodbine.

Cordes admits he and Carroll rushed Mighty Heart into his next start, an allowance race where he was collared late and finished third.

Then, Carroll came to Cordes with a unique proposal.

“She said, ‘Let me train this horse up to the Plate,’” Cordes said, laughing. “She said, ‘Just leave it to me, six weeks, I’ll train this horse up to the Queen’s Plate. Larry, if you let me do it, you will not be dissatisfied. Let’s unveil him at the Queen’s Plate.’ Well, I just about had a crap in my pants; she had the favorite in the Queen’s Plate with Curlin’s Voyage, and here she is touting this horse!”

Mighty Heart responded with his giant victory, running the fastest Queen’s Plate since 1957.

“The jockey (21-year-old Daisuke Fukumoto) told me, ‘I could have had this horse run two seconds faster if we wanted,’” said Cordes. “When he started moving away from the crowd, he just took off like a jackrabbit. When turned for home was on the rail, a horse came up outside him, and the jock said he just cocked his head to the outside and switched into fifth gear and never wanted to stop. He actually ran a mile and a half race, then they had to send an outrider out to pull him up!”

Cordes desperately wanted to bring the feline Mighty Heart with him to Woodbine for the race, but the COVID-19 restrictions meant the cat had to stay home. The pair have met before, however, and will likely do so again before the horse’s racing career is over.

Up next, Cordes said he doesn’t want to rush the colt back in 17 days to make the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the Canadian Triple Crown’s middle jewel, so the third leg, a 1 1/2-mile turf contest in the Breeders’ Stakes, will likely be Mighty Heart’s next outing.

“I said to the Woodbine CEO that I know pressure’s on for me to run him because it’s for Canada, but I have to think about the horse’s well-being,” said Cordes. “Horse injuries occur from fatigue, not so often from just a misstep, but the misstep that is caused by fatigue. I don’t want to do that to him.”

Before Mighty Heart, there was one more horse Cordes named in honor of a Sphynx cat: Floyd, the one that made him fall in love with the breed.

“Floyd (the cat) was my best friend,” Cordes said, his voice wavering with emotion. “It’s in my will and all my kids know, his urn will be with me in my coffin when it’s my time.”

One-eyed Mighty Heart wins the Queen’s Plate by 7 1/2 lengths under Daisuke Fukumoto

The Thoroughbred “In Memory of Floyd”, Mighty Heart’s year-younger half-brother, had a touch of second-itis through his first several races, losing by a nose, a nose, a neck, and a head, before finally breaking his maiden in late 2019. The gelding needed a chip removed but developed arthritis after the surgery, so Cordes retired him to be his personal riding horse.

“It’s special to have that connection with the horse, after how much Floyd meant to me,” Cordes said. “This horse, a month after he’d been off the track, you could put a child on him. He’s so gentle and kind.”

Floyd the horse, and both the equine and feline Mighty Hearts, will have forever homes with Cordes and Rutschmann. The story of the cat who survived and the horse who overcame the odds at this year’s Queen’s Plate will be something the pair will cherish for the rest of their lives.

“Winning the Queen’s Plate, it’s something I wish everybody could experience, especially with a horse like him,” Cordes summarized. “It was just an incredible, exciting thing.

“You know, I’ve been in racing 40 years. I haven’t bred a lot, but I really enjoyed the excitement that people were having leading up to the Queen’s Plate. You could just hear in their voice the excitement they had about seeing him, and we’ve had hundreds of phone calls since the race. It was really something.”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Two Mighty Hearts Beat As One In Queen’s Plate appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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