Mighty Heart: His Story by Jennifer Morrison
Congratulations to Jennifer Morrison on the publication of her book Run with a Mighty Heart!
Jennifer relates the heart-warming and gripping (true) comeback story of Larry Cordes' little horse who could, and describes the superb team behind his success.
I asked Jennifer a few questions about her book:
What about Might Heart captured your interest and motivated you to write a book about him?
I was trackside at Woodbine when this 13 to 1 shot, wearing the #13 saddle towel, flew past the finish line to win the [Queen's] Plate. There was barely any cheering as the only people allowed at the track were a few people with each horse and few media. We could only slightly hear track announcer Robert Geller. I was blown away that this one-eyed horse had won by 7 1/2 lengths in near-track record time and when I saw Larry Cordes and his family celebrating, [trainer] Josie Carroll looking stunned and groom Siobhan Brown crying, I had to know more.
How did you become involved in horse racing?
I was a horse nut as a child but was really into horse racing by age 10. I began following the entries in the paper, writing down my 'picks', and then checking the results the next day. My Dad made the very bad decision of taking me to Woodbine to watch racing and he would bet my picks. I knew everything about horses like Foolish Pleasure in the US (Derby winner 1975), Norcliffe and Military Bearing here. When I was 15 his friend Don Amos gave me a job working at the yearling sales. By age 20 I was working on the backstretch while I was at university. My parents were horrified. Soon I was a public handicapper as well as writing.
You've earned three Sovereign Awards given out by the Jockey Club of Canada - no small feat - what were these awarded for?
I began writing for Canadian Thoroughbred magazine, soon to be managing editor, in the late 80s. I first entered a story in the Feature Writing category early in my horse racing writing career and was nominated about 13 times before I won in 1998 for a story I did on Larry Attard and his battle with concussions. The next year I won for a story I did on the popular Woodbine horse Victoriously Bold, who died in a race at Suffolk Downs. In 2011 I won for a feature on Inglorious, the filly who won that year's Queen's Plate. I also won a Sovereign Award as part of a team for the show Talkin' Horses which won Outstanding Broadcast in 2015. Very lucky!
What made Larry Cordes select Dramedy as the sire when he bred his mare, Emma's Bullseye?
There were so many incredible twists of fate to Mighty Heart's story. Larry had befriended this lovely couple in Kentucky, Gerry and Dana Aschinger, who owned War Horse Place. This is where Larry would send his one or two foals to grow up. In 2016 Gerry had just got Dramedy, a graded stakes winner who had a brilliant pedigree but an early injury that may have compromised him through his career. Larry loved him and chose him for Emma's Bullseye. Dramedy wasn't very commercial and was eventually sold to South Africa.
Mighty Heart has only one eye. How has this affected his racing career and what and/or who helped him to overcome this challenge?
Because Mighty Heart lost his eye when he was just six weeks old, it didn't affect him much until his early days of training. As he learned his racing job, he only needed a bit more time to get used to being handled on his left side. As a 2-year-old in late 2019 he had to get used to trusting his handlers in the stall, at the gate. It was a bit difficult for Josie Carroll's team, such as groom Michael Lewars and Siobahn Brown, for a while. In his first two races in New Orleans in 2020 he didn't corner well and Josie and her team believed his empty eye-socket was sensitive to track kickback so she equipped him with a bubble blinker to cover it up before he came to Woodbine and promptly won his maiden. Now he doesn't act any differently than any other horses, other than he can be a bit sassy!
You make it clear in the book that Mighty Heart has a passionate and dedicated team behind him that has had a significant impact on his success. Why do you think the team has been so important?
Mighty Heart's team of people have all had their share of overcoming tough life experiences and I believe that their work with him from age 2 gave him the confidence he needed to be able to realize his potential. He had a lot of one-on-one care with Josie directing her team as to the details needed to achieve this. One example was Siobahn's work with him to allow the horse identifier to lift his lip to show his tattoo, something he would not let anyone do for some time.
Mighty Heart is clearly a well-built horse physically, but what personality attributes make him a champion in your opinion?
As his confidence grew from age 2 to 3, Mighty Heart began acting like a strong horse who wanted to do more. Oh, his team had plenty of days where the colt would rough them up a bit - playful nips was a constant for him the stall. He blossomed in a relatively short period of time under Josie and her staff.
Larry Cordes and his family have faced adversity themselves. How do you think Mighty Heart helped them to find joy in their lives?
Larry has only ever had one or two horses since he stepped into the sport in the 70s. He left racing for more than a decade when he lost his wife, daughter and his other daughter's husband to cancer. When he returned, he concentrated on dabbling in breeding and by then, his two granddaughters, as well as daughter Angela, were really into horses and riding. It became a family affair. They would do road trips with the horse van to take their mare to be bred. Their first couple of homebreds won some races but when Mighty Heart came from almost nowhere and won the Queen's Plate, a race they had always dreamed of being in one day, it was a joyous, emotional moment. The colt's success since then has not only brought joy to the family but to their many friends. You will see when Mighty Heart races, Larry has brought a large group to the track and many of them are first timers at the track.
What influence has all the love and tender care Mighty Heart received had on his success?
Larry and his family and Josie have managed Mighty Heart's career so well. Yes, Josie has a lot of horses in training, but Jennifer Perrin, one of Larry's granddaughters, works on the colt a couple of times a week with her 'pulse therapy' and is very close to the colt. Siobhan is a young groom who has learned about her career from Mighty Heart and her attention to the horse's everyday needs has certainly been important.
This is an inspirational story for the 'little guy'. Do you have any tips or suggestions for people who are interested in becoming involved in horse racing?
Larry makes sure everyone who talks to him about Mighty Heart knows this can happen for anyone. I agree. Yes, you need some cash and you have to expect bumps on the road. But today there are partnerships and syndicates that can help new owners learn the sport while having fun. There are yearling sales and claiming races that can get a person involved in ownership. Surround yourself with the right people in horse racing - true horse-people who are known for putting in the time for that all important one-on-one attention.
Where can readers buy your book?
Well, they can buy it from me if they wish and I will be doing book signings at Woodbine once racing gets underway. It is also on Amazon, Chapters Indigo and FreisenPress.com, the company I used to self-publish.
Thank you for writing Mighty Heart's story. It's inspiring and uplifting. Have you another book in mind?
I very much appreciate the feedback I have received from people who have read Mighty Heart's story. The fact that this all happened right when the COVID-19 pandemic put its hold on the world makes the story even more remarkable as Woodbine, under president Jim Lawson, had to find a way to conduct racing safely and to convince the government and health officials that we could race. I thank Jim for writing the foreword to the book. My first idea for a book, if I was ever to write one, was a handicapping book, picking winners at the track. I am slowly figuring out a fun way to write a book about all the fascinating aspects to sorting out a horse race!
Thank you, Jennifer, and good luck with your next writing project!