A million dollar heart

When Michael Beychok won the $1 million first prize in the National Handicapping Championship he never forgot about the filly who made it all possible. The horse that put him over the top is named Glorious Dancer, who came through for Beychok in an $8,000 maiden claimer at Golden Gate Fields. But for all the determination she showed that day to win the race by a nose, she would always be a cheap horse and cheap horses often wind up on someone's dinner table.

So Beychok vowed that no harm would ever come to this horse.

I owed it to her that she had a good life. After all, I have a better life because of her.

-- Michael Beychok, NHC winner

"I watch that race and she absolutely didn't have to win," he said. "She shouldn't have won that race, but you can just tell that she wanted to so bad. I figured I owed her something. I owed it to her that she had a good life. After all, I have a better life because of her."

Two starts after Glorious Dancer gave Beychok his big score, the new millionaire, along with brother and a friend, claimed Glorious Dancer for $6,250. He had no reason to believe that her former owners would ever send her off to slaughter, but he didn't want to take any chances.

"I figured this was a great opportunity to do what I thought was the right thing and make sure, regardless of how she finishes her career, that she would be around for as long as she could be," he said.

Beychok ran the filly, who was turned over to trainer Steve Sherman, three times and she performed well. She gave Beychok a win, a second and a third, but after she was the runner-up in a June 14 race, Sherman told him the filly was sore.

"Steve, who I have nothing but great things to say about, said she wasn't completely 100 percent sound," Beychok recalled. "He said, 'We can give her some drugs, all legal, or a shot, help her along and then race her again. But I know what your situation with this filly is and I want you to know there's a chance something could go wrong.'"

That's all Beychok needed to hear. Glorious Dancer was taken out of training and shipped to his native Louisiana for some rest, relaxation and recuperation. If she thrives, he may run her again, but he's more inclined to pull the plug on her career. He could breed her, donate her to a program for handicapped children or just let her spend the rest of her life enjoying herself in a big paddock somewhere.

Beychok started to develop his interest in horse retirement after reading about Ferdinand's grisly death in a Japanese slaughterhouse. The 1986 Kentucky Derby winner was one of his favorite horses and he proudly recalls cashing a bet on him that day at Churchill Downs.

"I read the article about Ferdinand and thought, 'you have to be freaking kidding me, this can't be true, this must be a mistake,'" he said. "How in the world could that have happened to a horse like that? Not enough attention is brought to this problem. It 's definitely swept under the rug."

He was also influenced by a cousin, Trina Bellak, who was involved in horse rescue before dying of breast cancer. Bellak was the founder of American Horse Defense Fund.

After we've cashed a bet on them and have enjoyed watching them and cheering for them, we probably don't do enough as bettors.

-- Michael Beychok, NHC winner

He hopes that his story will influence others. Not too many people win $1 million playing the horses, either in a contest or at the betting windows, but plenty of people cash big tickets, maybe a Pick Six or a superfecta. You don't have to spend $6,250 claiming a horse that gave you the big payday, but why not donate $20 to a horse rescue group in the honor of the horse who ran his eyeballs out for you?

"I think we take for granted what these horses do for us," Beychok said. "Even for the people in the business, in the industry, these horses give everything they've got because they don't know any better. When they're running they're running their hearts out. After we've cashed a bet on them and have enjoyed watching them and cheering for them, we probably don't do enough as bettors. I hope this is an example, will influence others and in a small way it will save another horse."

The problem of what to do with cheap and infirm horses after they can no longer perform on the racetrack is a difficult one. Saving every last one of them may never be possible or economically feasible. But a lot more can be done. It just takes more people deciding to do the right thing.

Michael Beychok did it. You can too.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.