Horse named after fallen firefighter wins 1st race
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WLKY) -- A thoroughbred named after a fallen Kentucky firefighter competed Wednesday at Keeneland. It proved to be an emotional day, as the firefighter's family met the horse and then watched him race.
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Captain Grider is named after Campbellsville Fire Capt. Tony Grider. Grider, 41, passed away on Sept. 20, 2014. He and Alex Quinn, 22, were on the fire truck's ladder when it got too close to a power line after dumping water on the Campbellsville University's marching band. The band had been participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on Aug. 21 when the firefighters were injured.
Grider's parents, Shirley and Orvis, along with his older sister, Tammy, went to Keeneland Wednesday afternoon to meet Captain Grider.
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Shirley Grider became emotional seeing the horse for the first time, telling the 2-year-old thoroughbred, "You're a special horse, so special. We love you and want you to do good today."
Tammy Grider was struck by the horse's beauty and spirit, "It's emotional. It's very emotional, just knowing there's a namesake for my brother."
The group spent about 30 minutes with the horse and trainer, Dante Zanelli. Zanelli said he hadn't trained a horse in six years. Instead, he has focused on breeding and selling thoroughbreds. But when the horse was born, months after his friend's death, he knew the horse was special.
"There was something about this horse. I called him my Derby horse," Zanelli said.
Zanelli had been friends with Tony Grider and his family for more than 20 years and said naming the horse after Tony Grider seemed to be a fitting tribute to his friend who "was one of the most special people anybody could meet."
When Keeneland's fourth race of the day began Wednesday at 2:45 p.m., Captain Grider was off to a slow start.
"Come on, brother. Move up," Tammy Grider was heard shouting.
But in the final moments, the horse surged ahead. In his first ever race, Captain Grider won.
Zanelli, who watched the race alongside Orvis Grider, could hardly believe it, "He won by this much," he said holding his thumb and index finger just a few inches apart, "He didn't win by 3 feet, he won in the last foot."
Later, making their way to the Winner's Circle for pictures, the Grider family became visibly emotional.
"I was thinking about him the whole way through. I was cheering, 'come on, brother, you can do it.' So it was incredible to see his namesake cross the finish line in first place," Tammy Grider said.
"I'm just so pleased, so happy," Shirley Grider said, adding, "I really believe in the Lord, and he knew that's what we needed."