The aforementioned Kings, who race a stable of cheap horses around West Virginia and Ohio, have made a living buying broken-down horses and nursing them back to the races. When Bob heard that Great Redeemer was for sale, he thought he might make an ideal restoration project and took a chance. When the horse arrived by van at Waterford Park, in West Virginia, Diane took one look at Great Redeemer and blurted to her husband, "Yuck! Why did you buy that horse? He's just a tall mess of bones."
"I bought him on the phone," Bob replied. "If I'd seen him, I would never have bought him."
Great Redeemer, by then a gelding, not only was weak and skinny and blighted with open sores, but also had a slightly bowed tendon in a front leg. The Kings went to work. They wormed him, treated the sores and nursed him with hay, oats, sweet feed, mashes and vitamin supplements. "It takes a horse's heart away to be abused like that," says Bob. "All I knew was that he had run in the Kentucky Derby, and I wanted to give him a chance."
This was the basis on which Bob had bought the horse for one of his owners, Ben Zytnick of Pittsburgh. "How many times do you get to own a horse who once ran in the Derby?" Bob asked him. Zytnick and his wife, Debbie, were intrigued enough to start paying the bills for Redeemer's rehabilitation.
The job was not easy. The horse was traumatized. "He hated the racetrack," says Bob. He won only one of 21 races in 1984, when he was an 8-year-old, but he picked up enough cash, $3,907, to pay for his feed. In '85, Diane started taking him fox hunting at a club outside Cleveland.
"On Wednesdays I would take him from the racetrack and hunt with him," she says. "He would gallop 20 miles some days, over fences and creeks. He loved it. A really good jumper. Then I'd bring him back to the racetrack and he'd race on Saturdays. It blew everybody's mind. They couldn't believe you could hunt a horse one day and race him a few days later. He had always shown great speed. But after I started hunting him that year, he started coming off the pace."
"Hunting changed his whole attitude," says Bob.
And it began to pay for Zytnick. On Sept. 2, 1985, in the third race at Thistledown, with Diane in the irons, Great Redeemer came charging from far off the pace to win by two lengths. Zytnick had $20 across the board, yielding him a profit of $1,554. "Boy, we were happy," he says.
But it was Great Redeemer's last victory on the track. Shortly afterward, Diane began grooming him as a full-time fox hunter and show horse. In the five years since his retirement from racing, Diane says, he has won more than 100 blue ribbons in shows.
Now 15, Great Redeemer is living the good life. Diane caters to his every taste. "What really turns him on is carrots," she says. "I plant two long rows for him every year. He shows all summer and hunts all fall. In the winter, I take him to Florida. Imagine that. He vacations in the sun."