K Wentzien with top performer Fast Albert at Fairmount Park Racetrack in Illinois. Fast Albert has tallied $126,470 in winnings.
photo by Diana Linsley
(click for larger version)
May 18, 2012With the running of the 137th Preakness set for May 19, all eyes are on the icons of freedom and fast movement -- thoroughbred horses.
Thoroughbred owner and long-time Webster Groves resident K Wentzien knows both the ups and downs of the racing industry.
A part or full owner of thoroughbreds that run at Fairmount in Illinois and other tracks around Indiana, Chicago and elsewhere, Wentzien loves the simple thrill of racing.
"I'm competitive, even when my horse comes in last," she said.
But she said she deplores, like others, the devious racing practices in the news of late, like breakdowns from over-medication.
"People tend to think of horse racers as sleazy or filthy rich--nothing in between. Most of us just love horses," Wentzien said.
The animal lover Wentzien and her husband Paul, CFO of Delmar Gardens Inc., live in Old Webster, but keep race horses on two small farms in Calhoun County, Ill., across the river.
The Wentzien's four grown children -- Margo, Elizabeth, P.J. and Jennifer -- attended Webster Groves schools and enjoyed horses and other animals a plenty growing up under K's command.
That's because former farm girl K (of Iowa) wanted her kids to see animals as pets rather than just outdoor creatures like her mother had, she said.
Thus, their animal-oriented life sort of culminated once her kids finished school in the early 1990s. After son P.J. roamed Tibet on a graduation getaway, K hooked up with daughter Jennifer for an exotic horseback riding tour of Mongolia.
From left, trainer Jerry Hammond, assistant trainer Lori Plasters, Fast Albert and K Wentzien. Wentzein raised Fast Albert from a colt.
photo by Diana Linsley
(click for larger version)
The mother-daughter pair spent three weeks crossing bogs, hills, plains and open terrain. They saw camels, yaks and nomads.
"I realized I am a nomad at heart," she said. "It reminded me also how much I loved maintaining the farms in Calhoun County."
Formerly a newspaper reporter with a degree in journalism, Wentzien and husband, Paul, bought the farms around 1988.
She bought her first race horse at a St. Louis University High School auction not long before that. Her trainer, Jerry Hammond, came with the horse, appropriately called, "Bold Billiken."
After bidding on Bold Billiken, Wentzien bought another thoroughbred at a Chicago horse sale. Its sire was named St. Petersburg, which Wentzien found serendipitous since she'd just spent three weeks in Russia, she said. She dubbed that horse Natalia after Peter the Great's first wife.
Her horses these days have catchy names with personal associations: Fast Albert (her star), Just Luke (after a grandson), Maple Avenue (after her street), Smart Alex's Posse (owned by a group), Tillan and Susie's Faith (after two granddaughters), Raging Waters and Frosty Punch (connections unknown).
Six-year-old Fast Albert in 29 starts has six wins, has placed six times, and has one show for a total of $126,470 in winnings.
When in Calhoun County, Wentzien's natural nomad comes to the fore. She visits the farm several days a week, tending to the needs of her excitable, intelligent thoroughbreds.
"Despite their volatility, if you treat them well, they'll do anything for you," Wentzien said.
She underscored that point with a tale about her favorite horse over the years, Dude of Dixieland, who'd been sired by Dixieland Band, son of the Triple-Crown race winner Secretariat.
Dude had personality, she said. He liked beer and Twinkies and had a great sense of humor.
"He'd run up to me in the paddock and start talking in his own way," Wentzien said.
Turns out Dude of Dixieland didn't train well. He liked to play in the morning. Wentzien finally read that both Dixieland Band and Secretariat also liked to play rather than train, but they tried hard in a race.
Wentzien told her trainer to put the four-year-old Dude in a race to see what would happen.
"That horse loped along for a while and then exploded with speed. He won by 10 lengths at Fairmount," she said.
After retiring at six years old, Dude ended up with a Girl Scout troop out of Brighton, Ill., Wentzien said.
Though mainly into racing, Wentzien does some breeding with her horses as well. Both racing and breeding pose potential problems, with horses getting injured on the track and in the birthing process.
Wentzien said she grieves like any mother when her horses die, such as when she recently lost a mare and a foal due to infection and oxygen deprivation.
When Wentzien is in Webster, she's often accompanied by a big, white golden doodle (golden lab-poodle mix) named Louie.
Louie steers clear of the horses at the farm, since a horse accidently kicked him and broke his leg when he was a puppy.
When not immersed in horses or her dog, Wentzien is active in community affairs. She's on the councils of both Webster-Rock Hill Ministries and Webster Arts. She's a past chair of the city's planning and zoning commission and an active member of the League of Women Voters.
Whether in town or away, Wentzien feels pulled by a primary force: her love of horses and horse racing. There's always more to know, though, she said.
"I've been at it over 20 years and I still feel pretty green," she said.