Kelly Wheeler and Fourstardave

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“Dad why did I like Fourstardave so much?” Kelly Wheeler asked her father, laughing because she couldn’t quite remember how she got hooked on the big chestnut gelding.

“OK, this is good,” Wheeler, an assistant to Eddie Kenneally, hangs up with her father and begins to recount the story of her Horse Who Changed Everything.

“My dad would give me money, every race $2 to bet and I could keep the money when they would win. So, he was probably one of the first horses I bet on that won. My dad knew the horse because he follows racing, so probably when I was like 5, I bet Fourstardave and he won, so the next year I bet Fourstardave, and then he won again. I mean, I went to the track a lot, more than my sisters and brother. They’d go for like one ‘track day with dad’ and I would go a lot because I loved horses.

“My dad said, ‘I don’t know why you loved him but you LOVED him.’ And I did, I think that horse is probably why I love chestnut horses, it’s my thing, I have one.”

It’s hard not to love a horse as consistent as Fourstardave, the New York-bred who won at least one race at Saratoga every year from 1987-1994. He was a stakes winner as a 2-year-old and 7-year-old at Saratoga and won graded stakes at the Spa at 4, 5, 6 and 8. The $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap, a race formerly known as the Daryl’s Joy, will be run Saturday.

“He was kind of like a local’s horse, there’s a street named after him and there were Fourstardave bobble heads, they called him the ‘Sultan of Saratoga.’ He was a big deal. He’s buried in Clare Court.”

“I feel like I’ve seen him win, yeah, he won a race in 1994. I bet that’s when I saw him race and I was 7. That was definitely the first racehorse I ever followed, as close as you can follow a horse at 7. I knew the name and had the posters, he was beautiful, very pretty horse, well from what I remember.”

“My parents were probably like, ‘what’s this kid’s deal? She’s obsessed with this horse.’ I was. There’s a picture of me sitting in my room with all this (Fourstardave) stuff. I have a painting of Fourstardave – when you walk out of the track, you know all the people with their pictures? The vendors? Every time I’d go with my dad I’d want a picture of a racehorse. I saw this big painting of Fourstardave, I wanted it so bad; it was huge.”

She pauses and holds her arms out to show the size of painting.

“It’s a giant picture, it’s not cheap, and he was like, ‘no.’ Then he bought it for me and brought it home. That’s been hanging in my room ever since. I don’t take it with me now, I won’t take all my stuff till I am in a set place, but that thing has been hanging in my room forever. That was above my bed and lining it were little pictures of Fourstardave. My shrine to Fourstardave. For real. I said if our house started to burn down that was one thing I would take with me.”

Things came full circle for Wheeler when she started working for Charlie LoPresti in Kentucky in 2012 and was around a certain chestnut gelding with a lengthy career. 

“Obviously it was really special for me when I was around Wise Dan and we ran him in the Fourstardave,” she said. “He won in 2012 and 2013. The year I started with Charlie was the first year he won the race. It was cool to be around a horse that won the race named after the horse that got me into racing. And obviously Dan, I don’t know if he changed anything, but he solidified it. Being around that horse was, I mean, he’s truly a once in lifetime horse. That’s the kind of horse you stay in business for in hopes of being around once or again.  I think I’ll be around another one, hopefully I didn’t peak early.”

As the regular rider for Grade 1 winner Bradester and promising 2-year-old and recent Grade 3 Sanford Stakes winner Bitumen most mornings in Saratoga, Wheeler just might get another Horse Who Changed Everything.

“It all goes back to Dave,” Wheeler said. “I wish I had a better thing, I guess you could pick a lot of horses who changed things, but Fourstardave, he’s what really got me loving horse racing.”