Updated: Oct 9
Horse racing is all about defying the odds. Our favorite stories are about the horses and people who found success even when the world seemed stacked against them, as these stories fill us with hope and inspiration. Buried among the moving and emotional stories of horses like Seabiscuit and Exterminator is the tale of a horse named Elmhurst.
The story of Elmhurst begins at Calumet Farm, one of the most iconic Thoroughbred farms in racing history. He was born on Valentine’s Day in 1990 to a beautiful bay mare named Mimbet. Though Mimbet never won a race in eight tries, her dam Our Mims was a three-time Grade 1 winner and one of Calumet’s champions. Mimbet was sired by Raise A Native who was lightly raced, but showed pure brilliance. Elmhurst was Mimbet’s third foal and her first and only sired by Wild Again, winner of the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). With a pedigree as royal as this, expectations were high for young Elmhurst.
After selling for $100,000 at the Keeneland January Horses of All Age Sale, Elmhurst was shipped overseas to France to begin his racing career. While he seemed promising in his debut in 1993, finishing second in a Weight For Age at Evreux, it soon became clear that it wasn’t going to be easy for Elmhurst to break his maiden. For two years he traveled around France, visiting racecourse after racecourse and yet failing to win even a single race in seventeen tries.
Oftentimes in horse racing, the best horses have made a name for themselves by the time they are mid way into their three-year old season or have at least accomplished something by the time they are four. Elmhurst, however, turned five years old without a single win to his name. It seemed that his royal breeding hadn’t actually worked out the way his connections had hoped. He had the beauty and the bloodlines, but things were just not coming together for the poor horse. Being so, it was surprising when someone had an interest in purchasing Elmhurst. C.N. Ray of Evergreen Farm and trainer Jenine Sahadi offered Elmhurst’s owners $50,000 to take the five-year old maiden colt off their hands. His owners obliged and Elmhurst was shipped from France all the way to sunny Southern California.
Sahadi and Ray immediately made some changes to Elmhurst’s career. First, they decided to have him gelded. Then they entered him into a six-furlong Maiden Special Weight on the dirt at Santa Anita in February 1995. The changes in scenery and surface proved to be everything Elmhurst needed; the five-year old gelding won his first race for his new connections. He was a maiden no more.
Off of the momentum of that win, Elmhurst won an Allowance at Santa Anita. Afterwards, however, Elmhurst seemed to go back to his old ways. He was performing decently at Southern California tracks like Del Mar and Hollywood Park, but he was once again failing to find the winner’s circle. It took him over a year and fourteen more races to be victorious again, finally winning another Allowance at Santa Anita in October 1996.
It was then that Elmhurst was finally able to prove what he was made of. He won another Allowance and then tried his hand in stakes company, rounding out his six year old season with a win in the Flying Continental Handicap at Hollywood Park. After a few races as a seven year old, Elmhurst's connections decided it was time to step him up into graded stakes company. The competition in these races would be the toughest Elmhurst had ever faced, but they had faith in him and his abilities.
Elmhurst rewarded that faith by finishing second in the Triple Bend Breeders’ Cup Handicap (G3) and four months later he finally won his first big race: the Breeders’ Cup Handicap (G3). With that promising win under their belt, Elmhurst’s connections decided to enter him into the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).
Elmhurst had never faced Grade 1 competition before and had only won his first graded stakes race one month before the Breeders’ Cup. However, Elmhurst’s team - owner Evergreen farm, trainer Jenine Sahadi, and jockey Corey Nakatani - had joined forces in 1996 to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Lit de Justice. Even though Elmhurst seemed outmatched, they clearly knew what they were doing when they entered him into the Breeders’ Cup.
The betting public sent Elmhurst into the starting gates at odds of 16-1; he would have to put in the performance of his lifetime if he were to win this race. When the gates burst open and the horses hustled out of them, Elmhurst was immediately left in their dust. He was trailing the field in last all throughout the race and though at first he seemed hopelessly beaten, he was actually saving energy that the other horses in the race were rapidly expending trying to keep up with the blistering pace set up front.
While the leaders started to make their way around the far turn and into the stretch, their legs tired and strides shortening, Elmhurst was barreling past horses as if they were standing still. Midway through the stretch, Elmhurst appeared on the screen in a blur. He had all the speed and momentum in the world and was absolutely flying down the middle of the track, passing horses with ease. With all the power he could muster, Elmhurst thrust his neck across the wire first. The seven-year old gelding had just ran the most sensational race of his career. In doing so, Elmhurst set a Breeders’ Cup Sprint record of 1:08.
[Video: Watch Elmhurst (#3) win the 1997 Breeders' Cup Sprint]
Elmhurst continued to race for two more years, but never again found himself in the winner’s circle. None of that mattered, however, as he had already etched his name into horse racing history with his Breeders’ Cup win. He was officially retired at the end of his nine year old season with a record of 51: 8-11-6 and earnings exceeding $1.1 million.
The gelding first went home to C.N. Ray’s Evergreen Farm in Paris, Kentucky and was eventually shipped out to California. In 2008, Elmhurst became a member of Rocking Horse Ranch. There he had the duty of teaching confidence and kindness to children and young adults dealing with trauma and mental health issues. He resided at the ranch until 2011, when it was announced that Elmhurst would be coming back to Kentucky to retire to Our Mims Retirement Haven.
"He has taught quietness, kindness, and hope to many," Rocking Horse Ranch's founder Kathy Plaisted explained. "He will always be a favorite here at the Ranch — not because of his winnings (although we do love to show off his record-setting video) but because of his amazing spirit. Of all the horses I have ever met, he truly has a heart of a champion! He has worked hard both on and off the track and is deserving of such a fine retirement.”
Our Mims typically provides a safe, happy place for Thoroughbred mares to live out their final days, but they couldn’t resist adding Elmhurst, the grandson of their namesake Our Mims, to their barn. Elmhurst joined “the ladies” of the Haven on October 3, 2011. Elmhurst lived at Our Mims for ten more years, where he brought joy and many laughs to everyone who visited the Haven. “Elmhurst loves the ladies,” Our Mims’ website described. “He is known to pop bra straps. If he sees cleavage, he will pull the shirt out and look down. He rubs bottoms and is a genuine cad! He will probably be our first sexual harassment lawsuit... But he will always be The King of Hearts here at Our Mims.”
Even into his thirties, Elmhurst was as bright and beautiful as could be and was always a fan-favorite for visitors of the Haven.
On January 4, 2021, Elmhurst, “The King of Hearts”, passed away from heart failure. He was 31 years old, an age that serves as a true testament to the excellent care that Our Mims Retirement Haven gives to their residents.
His story - a tale of triumph against the odds, a tale of patience and love - will be retold time and time again. It is stories like his that remind us all why we adore horse racing so much. Though Elmhurst is no longer with us, his spirit and the love that surrounded him will live on at the Haven and in horse racing for the rest of eternity.
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