Cranbury, NJ --- That Cowgirl Hall is racing in the Breeders Crown, or racing at all, is nothing short of a miracle.
Despite suffering a near life-ending injury as a freshman, the 4-year-old daughter of Cash Hall has amassed $441,078 in career earnings and, with a solid fourth-place finish in last week’s Breeders Crown elimination, has earned a berth in Saturday’s $250,000 Mare Trot.
Owned by Ted Gewertz, Michael Rosenthal, Jean Brunet and Debbie Brunet, Cowgirl Hall is a well-built, streamlined, yet anxious mare who has earned the majority of her dollars trotting around New York State raceways.
“She’s been very good to us,” said her conditioner, Debbie Brunet. “She’s got a lot of talent and it’s a bit of a miracle that she ever made it to the races.”
Brunet purchased Cowgirl Hall out of the 2010 Standardbred Horse Sale at Harrisburg for $23,000.
“We really liked the breeding and liked the looks of her once we saw her in the flesh,” she recalled. “Her dam -- Centerfold Hall -- is a well-bred mare who was a very nice 2-year-old.”
Centerfold Hall 2,1:56.3 ($88,136) is a daughter of Garland Lobell who won multiple events at two, including an $82,000 Kentucky Sire Stakes final and an Arden Downs division at The Meadows.
|Cowgirl Hall has banked $441,078 in her career.|
After training down well over the winter months of 2011, Cowgirl Hall appeared poised for a successful freshman campaign. She won her pari-mutuel debut in a Saratoga overnight on June 29 by six lengths, trotting in 2:03.1 with Debbie’s husband Gates in the sulky. After a third-place finish in a $25,439 New York Sire Stake, she finished a strong second to Check Me Out in a $16,810 Tompkins-Geers at Tioga Downs on July 14, timed in 1:56.3.
It was then that near-disaster struck.
“She had just finished second to Check Me Out in the Geers and we were thrilled,” Brunet recalled. “After we brought her home that night, she somehow found a nail in her stall, and got hung up on it, literally.”
Cowgirl Hall likely kicked a board that resulted in exposing a long nail that protruded out in her stall. During the night she somehow impaled herself upon it. The nail went straight into and through her shoulder joint. It did not affect the muscle, flesh or cartilage surrounding the joint.
“It was just a freak thing. The nail was long and had gone all the way into her right shoulder -- a near perfect straight puncture wound. There wasn’t any blood but we hit her with antibiotics and cleaned up the wound and for two days she seemed okay. Then on the third day, she seized up and couldn’t walk. Her shoulder was all blown up.”
Debbie and Gates loaded the filly onto a trailer and headed for Cornell University’s Veterinary Clinic.
“It was all we could do to get her on the trailer, that’s how bad she was,” Brunet remembered. “Gates drove her down to the university and when he took her off the truck, the veterinarians there told him that her chances were not good; that 90 percent of shoulder joint infections result in the horse having to be put down. The vets there were not optimistic about her chances at all, and in fact, told Gates straight out to just put her down, that there would be very little hope for her to ever walk normally, let alone race. But Gates was determined and told them to do whatever they could to save her.”
The operation cost a hefty $10,000, but Gates and Debbie’s faith in Cowgirl Hall paid off quicker than anyone thought possible.
“After surgery, the attending veterinarian, Dr. Lisa Fortier, told us there was no debris in the wound, and that the fluid looked good,” Brunet offered. “Cowgirl was at the clinic for several weeks and when she came home, she appeared to be fine, like the injury hadn’t affected her at all.”
Miraculously, Cowgirl Hall returned to work immediately, jogging and training, and scoring a winning 2:00.3 qualifier at Vernon Downs on Aug. 26. One week later she won a $36,050 Historic division at Vernon, wire-to-wire, in a seasonal best of 1:57.
“She was a tad ouchy for a few days, but after the swelling went down, the wound never really seemed to bother her, and it didn’t affect her stride,” Brunet acknowledged. “We were thrilled that she seemed to take it so well.”
Cowgirl Hall went on to procure $52,385 in earnings her freshman season, scoring additional wins in a $16,355 Simpson at Vernon in 1:57.2 and a $12,200 New York-bred late closer at Yonkers in 2:01.4.
At 3, Cowgirl Hall came back stronger than ever, scoring a trio of wins in her first three trips postward that year. She won a $10,900 New York Sire Stake Prep in 1:55.1, drawing off by 8-1/4 lengths in her customary, gate-to-wire fashion, then ten days later won a $59,346 NYSS at Saratoga in 1:57.4 in the same style. She then won a $12,800 New York State Fair test in 1:56.4, and would go on that summer to win four more times, amassing $351,245. The high point of her sophomore season came when she captured the $225,000 NYSS final at Yonkers in 1:57.1 on Sept. 22, 2012.
Debbie Brunet is no stranger to harness racing, having been taught the ropes via her father, trainer Jack Sherren.
“My dad was my mentor and he was a great teacher, and a kind, gentle soul,” she stressed. “He taught me how to take care of a horse the right way. He just loved horses and I used to go with him every day after school, when we lived in California and raced at Hollywood Park. He was a very talented horseman who had a true love of the business.”
Debbie met Gates Brunet while working in California for her father, and in 1976, married him and together the couple moved to New York, near Vernon Downs, where they have been based ever since. Together Debbie and Gates train “about a dozen horses in the summer,” before heading to Pinehurst, S.C., for the winter.
“We usually have anywhere from 15 to 18 babies down there,” she stated.
This year, Cowgirl Hall has added another five wins and four thirds to her tally in 17 seasonal starts. Lifetime she’s posted 16 wins, six seconds and nine thirds, and this summer recorded a career mark of 1:54.3s in a Vernon overnight with Gates in the sulky.
Debbie Brunet stressed that while the filly is a tough competitor on the racetrack, she’s also a demanding keeper.
“She’s a real high maintenance filly who has to be turned out every day,” she said. “She needs to get out, she doesn’t like too much time in the stall, and frets if she doesn’t get her pasture time. As soon as we turn the truck on, she knows she’s going to race and starts walking around her stall. This routine has worked best for her, and it works for a lot of our horses. We continuously rotate horses in and out from Vernon.”
Cowgirl Hall’s luck of the draw has been consistently poor when it comes to her Breeders Crown starts. Last year at Woodbine she drew post ten, and after a first-up trip, finished sixth. Now, she’s drawn post nine in this year’s final, but Brunet still has faith in her mare.
“We haven’t been lucky with the Breeders Crown draw, but at least we’re showing up,” she chuckled. “The filly is feeling good right now and came out of her elimination well, and we’re very happy to have the opportunity to be part of another Breeders Crown.”