"I'm going to be watching," said Hancock, grimly, "and if in a couple of years I see a champion running that's by something out of nothing, I'm going to be there to check him out."
Now that Fanfreluche is safe, the question remains: Who stole her and how did she get to Tompkinsville? A few months ago the FBI and state police issued a warrant in the Fanfreluche case for William Michael McCandless, 30, an itinerant horseman and gambler. McCandless turned himself in but claimed he was innocent of the charge (a felony, "theft by unlawful taking"). He was freed on $50,000 bond and is scheduled to be tried in Bourbon County Circuit Court early next year.
Information about McCandless is sketchy. He was born William Michael Rhodes (his mother subsequently married a man named McCandless) in Paducah, Ky., and has worked at various tracks around the Midwest as an exercise boy and trainer. "Mike's a good exercise boy, one of the best," says Marion Thomasson, an Owensboro trainer who says he is one of McCandless' best friends. "He's never had a steady job that I know of. He's liable to be in Omaha one week and Louisville the next."
Thomasson says that three days after the Fanfreluche theft, McCandless called him trying to enlist his aid in getting a health certificate. A health certificate is required to transport a horse across county or state lines. It must be issued by a vet. "But I wouldn't go along with him," says Thomasson. "He was talking rattle-brained. He was desperate for the certificate."
One thing puzzles Thomasson about the case against McCandless. "Mike did not know breeding that well," he says. "As of a year ago he'd never been to any of those farms around Lexington. If he's involved, he had to have help from somebody who worked there or was from there."
McPherson says he doesn't know McCandless and didn't have anything to do with the theft. Although he admits to having known about Fanfreluche, he said he never put two and two together, never thought that his Brandy might be the stolen mare. Neither, apparently, did a Monroe County deputy sheriff or a Kentucky state trooper, both of whom were told by McPherson that he had picked up a stray mare.
"It just didn't dawn on me that she could be in this part of the state," says McPherson. "I knew that a valuable thoroughbred was missing, but I thought whoever did it had probably taken her out of the country."
McPherson drove a truck until earlier this year, when he became a steampipe fitter. He lives in the trailer with his wife and two sons. Much of his spare time is devoted to riding pleasure horses—the pony, Little C; the quarter horse, Buck; and the palomino, Morning Star.
As McPherson tells it, one morning in late June or early July a neighbor called to say that one of McPherson's horses was loose on Ky. 53. McPherson got out of bed to fetch the animal. But instead of one of his horses, he found a gentle bay mare.
"She was real gentle," McPherson says. "Why, she would let ladies ride her who had never ridden before. The only trouble was, she was hard to catch. Took two to do it, and she never seemed to like the name I gave her. She'd never answer or pay me any mind when I'd call her Brandy."