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Icommandmyspirit has been a blessing for the Costello family
Thursday, June 19, 2014 - by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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Rich Fisher
Trenton, NJ ---With everything that the Costello family has endured over the years, the result of a Standardbred race never constitutes the end of the world.

But that doesn’t mean Bill and Cheryl Costello don’t take justifiable pride in what their 4-year-old female pacer, Icommandmyspirit, has done in her career and especially this season.

“We have a full wall of all her pictures and the trophies,” Cheryl said. “My daughter (Sharon) made a beautiful five-foot sign with her name. It’s all her. That’s what we live for. When she’s in a race, we’re excited to go to the races.”

Chris Gooden photo
Icommandmyspirit has banked $157,084 in her career.

Icommandmysprit has won three straight starts entering Friday’s $30,000 mares winners over handicap at Harrah’s Philadelphia, which contains a pretty strong field. The mare has won 12 of 31 career races after being bred by the Costellos, who have helped fill a sad hole in their lives by raising horses.

In 2008, Cheryl had a book published entitled I Have Been Blessed, which reveals the family’s ups and downs, their dealings with abuse, drugs, alcohol and, most significantly, the death of their 26-year-old son Bill in 2004. Bill passed away when, while under the influence of alcohol, he started playing with the door in the passenger’s seat of a moving vehicle and fell out of the car and banged his head.

“It took me 20 years to write the book,” Cheryl said. “I had to write down stuff all the time just to get through it, and it really helped me tremendously. When I had finished it, it was only 130 pages and I didn’t publish it, I had it in folders and a lot of people read it.

“I let my son read it, and he was 24 or 25, and a lot was about him. It was hard raising him, there was a lot of hardship. He said ‘You didn’t finish it.’ The book had a happy ending and he said ‘Life doesn’t have a happy ending, you need to finish it.’”

Unfortunately, Bill’s death gave Cheryl the impetus to finish it with the tragic ending. After weeks of sleepless nights she wrote the second half of the book and, if there is a silver lining, Cheryl said that “lots and lots of people have read it and don’t know us and they have contacted me saying thanks for helping them get through difficult times.”

Finishing the book helped Cheryl as well, as have the Costellos' five horses -- three in Canada and two in their home state of New Jersey.

“They have definitely been a blessing,” Cheryl said. “We’d be sitting around here very depressed without them. We’re involved with our horses outside all the time. We put our interest into that and it’s been very helpful.

“We’re very spiritual in this house, without God we wouldn’t have gotten through all this. We feel Jesus is our partner; he’s helping us through all of this. Before every race, Bill and I are in the paddock. We’re one of those owners who hover over the horse, and I bless her with holy oil and we just hope that she gets through the race healthy. The horses are our children now. We do everything for them.”

And Icommandmyspirit has done what she can for her “parents,” having won $157,084. A daughter of stallion Dragon Again out of the mare Artists Flower, Icommandmyspirit is indirectly the product of advice that Bill Costello took from respected equine veterinarian Dr. Patricia Hogan.

Artists Flower suffered a tendon injury and was taken to Dr. Hogan by Bill. The vet said the horse could race again eventually, but felt it would hurt Artists Flower in the long run and advised that the Costellos breed her.

“I always like to listen to people smarter than me,” Bill said.

In what was an astonishing irony for the Costellos, Artists Flower was bred to Dragon Again on Good Friday, and Icommandmyspirit was born on Good Friday the following year.

Icommandmyspirit won one of five starts as a 2-year-old and seven of 16 races last season. Her best finish in 2013 came in winning a division of the Pennsylvania All Stars at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

This year she has won four of 10 races for trainer Chris Ryder after moving from the barn of Ross Croghan.

“She’s great, and she’s got a great personality,” Bill said. “She’s got a few quirks, but they all have quirks.”

Interestingly, Icommandmyspirit has had four different drivers in each of her most recent four starts: Scott Zeron, Andrew McCarthy, Victor Kirby and Tim Tetrick. Kirby will be back in the bike Friday.

McCarthy, who has driven the mare most often this year, with six starts, guided Icommandmyspirit to her first victory of the season in a conditioned handicap at the Meadowlands in March.

“I said to McCarthy ‘Do you want to go up to Yonkers to drive her (in the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series)?’” Bill said. “He said ‘Bill, anybody can drive this mare, you don’t need me.’ She’s just a sweetheart.”

Costello is expecting a good showing from the mare on Friday. He does not have her staked in anything this year and will take things as they come along in racing her in overnights. Her fastest time was 1:50 at the Meadowlands, and Bill feels she has a 1:49 trip in her.

“She likes the front end, she can come out of the hole, she can come off the pace; she can do just about anything,” Costello said. “She loves racing. She just loves to race.”

And the Costellos love to watch her, no matter the result.

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