In 1971, a 2-year-old colt, Lola Wantz, was looking forward to an idyllic life.
He had raced well during his first season at the track, winning two stakes events before being sidelined by a minor shin problem. Ordinarily he would have returned to competition as soon as the injury had healed, but his owner was a kind-hearted woman who didn't want to abuse her nice little colt.
Bernice Bertacchi decided to retire Lola Wantz after his 2-year-old campaign and let him serve as a stud horse. Starting at the age of 3, when most thoroughbreds are in the midst of the racing wars, Lola Wantz romanced a few mares a year and spent the rest of this time munching grass in a pasture in the New Jersey countryside.
He did, at least, until his idyll ended abruptly last week. At the age of 9, Lola Wantz found himself with a jockey on his back, being loaded into the starting gate at the Meadowlands Race Track. He was probably as perplexed by the whole situation as the handicappers who wondered what to make of a horse returning to competition after a sevenyear layoff.
Mrs. Bertacchi had pampered Lola Wantz for as long as she could, even though his lack of popularity and success as a stallion made him an economic liability. But when her husband died, she faced financial problems that forced her to sell all her horses.
"Mrs. Bertacchi was very affectionate toward her horses," said Clarence Hardy, who owned a small ranch near her farm. "She'd call people who knew would handle them right and ask them if they'd like to buy her horses. She asked me if I'd like Lola.
"I've been breeding quarter horses for a lot of years and I thought that with his size and muscle structure Lola could be a tremendous stallion for quarter horses. I paid in the neighborhood of $5,000 for him."
Hardy, who works in a General Motors plant and breeds horses as an avocation, soon realized that he was not going to get much of a return on his investment. A stallion needs a reputation so that people will pay to breed their mares to him, but Lola's achievements had been long forgotten. Hardy conceived a remedy for this problem: Lola could make a comeback, reestablish his ability, then return to stud when breeders were eager to use his services.
"I bred two quarter horse mares to him in July," Hardy said. "Then in September I put the saddle on the old horse and rode him pretty good. He never stopped steppin'. He showed me he had the potential. I had a couple of vets look at him and they said his heart was good, his legs were good. So I said I might as well try."
Many stallions are intractable after they have been in stud, but Hardy somehow got Lola Wantz to cooperate with his plan.
"I'm more or less a cowboy," he said, "and I know there are ways to break a horse out of any habit. Lola's intelligent enough to know when to run and when to breed. That's part of his greatness."
After three months of training, Lola Wantz was entered in a tough allowance race Monday night at the Meadowlands. All of Hardy's race track acquaintances voiced extreme skepticism about his reclamation project, and the crowd concurred, making Lola Wantz a 26-to-1 shot in the field of six.
The crowd was right. Lola Wantz stayed in contention for half a mile but faded in the stretch and finished 16 lengths behing the winner. Hardy was undaunted.
"As far as I'm concernedm," he said, "Lola won the race. He did tremendously, coming back after seven years. He's a tremendous animal. He has a chance to be a great runner. I'd like to establish him as one of the greatest horses ever produced in New Jersey."
Lola Wantz had better try to fulfill his owner's fantasies if he wants to get back to the good life.wooing mares and munching grass on a New Jersey hillside.