Cup of Coffee: For Soup

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Barn 8. Through the tunnel. Left and right. Across from Eaton. The signs hang in the same spots, two long rectangular ones three stalls from each end. A big square one in front of the navy-clothed welcome table. Cards await in a hand-painted blue wooden box. Catalogues, a couple copies of the Tuesday Special, a pair of sunglasses, an unopened can of Coke. Eight white fans. Eight flower baskets. Eight yearlings. Four showmen, navy shirts, await the night’s action. White, blue, green, a bit of red trim. Everything is the same. And everything is different. 

Mike “Soup” Recio isn’t here. The scion of South Point Sales Agency is in the ICU at Central Baptist Hospital in Kentucky fighting sepsis, fighting for his life. 

When there is a crisis, don’t ask what you can do, just do something. 

Friends organized a GoFundMe campaign, it’s raised $404,133. A trust was set up for Recio’s 4-year-old twins, Addison and Wesley. McCarthy’s, the Irish Bar in downtown Lexington, auctioned off box seats and box stalls, halters and hotels, collecting over $80,000. Archie St. George shaved his head, raising $3,000. 

John Fahey III and Justina Severni are doing what they can, running South Point’s eight-horse consignment at Fasig-Tipton’s Selected Yearling Sale Monday and Tuesday nights and another eight-horse brigade for the New York-bred sale this weekend. 

Good assistants don’t think for themselves, they think for their boss. Fahey and Severni are simply extensions of Recio this week. 

“Our owners never had a second thought, they wanted to sell here and get a good sale for Mike,” Severni said. “It puts things into perspective.”

Stone Bridge Farm’s Mike Heitzman, with two horses in the consignment, handed out cards, picked up lunch, helped any way he could.

“Everybody’s working together,” Heitzman said. “Mike knows all the players, it’s a lot easier with him being here. It’s not the same but we’re trying to get through it. Tougher than a night in jail, brother.”

Fahey dropped everything, pitching in for a friend he met when Recio was an intern at Churchill Downs and Fahey was assistant for Wayne Lukas. Recio guarded the horseman’s lounge on Derby Day and wouldn’t let Fahey in the door. They’ve laughed about that ever since. Perhaps to get him back, Fahey invited Recio to his bachelor party but not his wedding. They laughed about that, too.

“I’ve always been the fill-in guy since he’s had his own consignment. We buy horses together, do a lot of things together, he bounces things off me. I talk to him every day,” Fahey said from under a tree in the courtyard Tuesday afternoon. “I’m not doing anything special, just filling in the gaps, trying to take the stress off everybody, keep the mood light and fresh and get these horses sold.”

Hours later, South Point sales coordinator Severni checked her phone, organized a taxi and waited for the show. The reason Fahey is just filling in the gaps is because Severni has shingled the roof, getting the horses sold. The previous night, they did exactly that, eclipsing South Point’s highest sale when Hip 24, a free-walking son of Gun Runner, fetched $550,000 from Michael Hernon on behalf of Lael Stable. 

“It’s been difficult, but it’s gone pretty well so far. I got emotional last night,” Severni said. “Being so busy has helped. We’re helping Mike the best way we can, to sell these horses really well and do the best job we can up here. That’s taking our minds off what is happening back home. These are the best horses he’s ever sold. He loves Saratoga, he’d want us to be up here doing our best.”

Recio was stricken with sepsis Saturday, July 24. By Monday, the news was grim, and his friends poured into the hospital to see their friend from Ocala who had clawed his way to Saratoga, the guy who was readying his best team for the best sale. His friends rolled through the hospital, a good-will train to the bedside of a friend. Doctors told them he could hear every story, every inspiring mantra they offered. What else could they do? 

“That’s when they said he might not make it,” Fahey said. “Nine out of 10 don’t make it. Everybody said he’s the one.”

Recio has improved gradually but still has a mountain to climb. Fahey has faith that he’ll be the one. 

“Because he’s stubborn, he’s a fighter,” Fahey said. “You know how much fight goes into getting these types of horses, with all the competition, with all the backstabbing, to come here and sell at Saratoga.”

Severni agreed. 

“You’re not friends with Mike unless you’ve had a couple of major fights,” she said. 

Recio was scheduled to get a tracheotomy and a feeding tube Tuesday. That should – could – make a big difference. 

“He’s 46 years old, 4-year-old twins, next thing you know you’re fighting for every breath,” Fahey said. “Hopefully there’s a happy ending to the story and we can all laugh, catch up on the stories we missed.”

Like the one about his friends rallying to the cause and his horses selling through the roof.

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