Carl Gessler's phone rang and he immediately expected the worst.
Jack Fisher was calling, undoubtedly the bearer of bad news after another disappointing performance from Gessler's Quem Se Atreve.
It had been almost two and a half years since the 8-year-old had visited the winner's circle. Since taking the Grade II Georgia Cup on April 15, 2006 Quem Se Atreve had gone winless in eight starts. In four of those he failed to finish the race. Forgive Gessler if he wasn't overly excited to hear Fisher's voice.
"Jack called me and he says 'Did you see it?' and immediately I thought he had thrown the rider or just stopped out there," Gessler said. "But Jack tells me he won, and I couldn't believe it."
Neither could the betting public.
Sent off at a robust 29-1 Quem Se Atreve (Carl Rafter) defeated 10 rivals en route to winning the $50,000 Belle Mead Plantation Stakes at Kentucky Downs, while paying an even $60 to win in the process.
He also fended off a new work order. Gessler and Fisher had decided to retire Quem Se Atreve to a life of fox-hunting if he put forth another poor performance.
"Surprise, surprise. that's for sure," Gessler said. "This was going to be it. If he didn't run a good race he was going to be retired to be a hunting horse. It's been a long time since he's won, well over two years, so Saturday was going to be it."
Gessler was in Washington with his daughter when he received Fisher's phone call. He later watched the replay and was left wondering exactly who he was watching tote Rafter around the course before drawing off to score by 7 3/4 lengths. Quem Se Atreve was a relentless warrior on the front end early in his career, but lately there had been much more stop than there had been pop.
"I watched the replay and he was great out there. I saw his ears pricked and him looking happy. I asked Jack 'Who was this horse that was out there?' We hadn't seen that horse in a long time. And the neat thing was that he actually sat behind a horse and then passed him, which was different because he is normally in front," Gessler said. "I asked Jack why we can win a $50,000 stakes race and we can't even win a $15,000 claiming race. I guess now we have to go on. I love the sport and the meets are such great fun, so we'll look for another spot for him and see how it goes."