Wendy Kingsley ransacked her vocabulary in a frantic search for enough superlatives to describe daughter Taylor's horse, A.J. Awesome. Stopping just this side of supercalifragilisticexpialidocius, she finally conceded that the bay gelding's name says it all.
"He is just AWESOME."
He wasn't originally meant to settle in with the Kingsleys at their Long Leaf Farm in Camden, S.C. Owner Lee Einsidler sends his retired racehorses to Wendy's husband, trainer Arch Kingsley, to find suitable retirement homes.
"We've never trained a horse for him," Arch said, "but he'll send them to us knowing we'll find the right situation."
A.J. Awesome was just such a case. Now 13, the son of Awesome Again and the Turkoman mare Powerful Nation was bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs. The pricey youngster cost Einsidler $420,000 as a 2-year-old in 2005.
Sent to trainer John Kimmel, A.J. Awesome carried the colors of Einsidler's Circle E Racing in his only start, a maiden race at Belmont Park Sept. 24, 2005. The winner, Bluegrass Cat, followed up that effort with wins in the Nashua Stakes and Remsen Stakes and went on to become one of the top 3-year-olds of 2006. Second in that year's Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes, Bluegrass Cat won Monmouth Park's Haskell Invitational that summer.
"A.J. had spent the summer outworking nearly every other 2-year-old at Saratoga," said Einsidler, former CEO of Sidney Frank Importing and now the head of the Casamigos Spirits Company owned in part by actor George Clooney. "He was rank and green in that first start. Maybe a few hundred yards out he figured it out - 'I'm a racehorse.' He was third after a horrible trip; when he hit the wire he galloped out past Bluegrass Cat like he was standing still."
A.J. Awesome was next slated to run at Belmont Park on the day before the 2005 Breeders' Cup. Meanwhile, interest in the colt was such that Einsidler turned down a seven-figure offer. Six days out from the race, Kimmel breezed him on a sloppy Belmont Park training track.
"It was pouring like crazy," Einsidler said. "I left my house (about an hour from Belmont) and when I got there Linda Rice met me at my car and said 'I heard something went wrong.' "
Walking into Kimmel's barn, Einsidler learned that A.J. Awesome had fractured his right front sesamoid.
"I was beside myself; absolutely devastated," he said. "It was never about the money - if I'd needed the money I'd have sold him. It was about the horse."
Sent to Ocala for surgery to insert screws into the ankle, A.J. Awesome spent a little more than a year at GoldMark Farm where Todd Quast suggested they try a comeback for A.J. Awesome, and his training resumed.
"He was training fabulously and pointed for a race, but one morning after a work he came back and just wasn't right, so we retired and gelded him."
A.J. Awesome went to his owner's home in northern Westchester County, N.Y., to find a job in retirement. He was used as a barn pony for about a year before Einsidler made a donation to a local rescue operation and sent the horse there.
"He spent maybe a year or so there. He was adopted by a lady and I just kept tabs on him. The lady wasn't able to spend much time with him and that was driving me crazy so I got him back. I brought him to the most gorgeous barn here in Bedford, N.Y., and I was riding him myself. But we just didn't really know what to do with him, so I called Arch."
It didn't take long for Wendy Kingsley to realize that A.J. Awesome was the perfect combination of talent and temperament. He got on well with everyone who swung a leg over his back, packing experienced and green riders around with equal goodwill. One family expressed serious interest in the horse, but wasn't looking to spend the asking price.
"I told them that this was the kind of horse you couldn't afford to NOT put your child on," Wendy said.
She backed up that statement shortly thereafter when Taylor tried him out. The fifth grader needed to graduate from her "very naughty" pony, and by that time A.J. Awesome had ingratiated himself to the entire family. It was a perfect match.
Everything about A.J. Awesome - his expression, demeanor, and behavior - screams kindness. He makes himself kid-sized whenever diminutive Taylor is the handler, lowering his head and matching his gait to hers. She now happily joins her father most days after school when he hacks some of his horses out through the vast acres of woods surrounding their farm. Regardless of whatever might be going on around him, A.J. Awesome is level-headed, calm and ever-mindful of the precious cargo on his back.
"He is wonderful, incredible, super, amazing, perfect," Wendy praised.
"I feel great now that he's with Arch, but when I think about that time of my life when I had that horse . . ." Einsidler said. "That A.J. was a one-of-a-lifetime racehorse. He was the real deal."