Will thoroughbred bring incredible ending to family's incredible story?

Updated 8/16/2014 10:39 AM
  • Bennett Lester

    Bennett Lester

  • I'm Already Sexy, a 4-year-old filly who was a $20,000 purchase, is competing in the biggest race of her career today, the $750,000 Beverly D. at Arlington International Race Course.

    I'm Already Sexy, a 4-year-old filly who was a $20,000 purchase, is competing in the biggest race of her career today, the $750,000 Beverly D. at Arlington International Race Course. Courtesy of Four Footed Fotos

This is a story of an ownership group, Hit the Board Stables, which features partners from California to Kentucky, formed for the love -- and the fun -- of the game of horse racing.

It's also the story of their trainer, Wayne Catalano, who for the past three weeks battled through a life-or-death illness but miraculously will be back on-track today, and of a little girl, Bennett Lester, who only two months ago was welcoming a new sister to the family, but today is hospitalized in a fight for her life suffering from a rare form of brain tumor.

And it's the story of a longshot 4-year-old filly, I'm Already Sexy, a $20,000 purchase competing in the biggest race of her career, the $750,000 Beverly D, who has brought them all together.

It's a story with so many chapters, some uplifting, some potentially tragic, but most of which have yet to be written.

And one which nearly wasn't written at all.

"We almost weren't going to run because we have a trainer who almost died and a child who is struggling for her life," said Anna Seitz, manager of HTB Stables. "But we decided we're going to do it for these two and appreciate just how lucky we are."

At the center of their thoughts today will be 2-year-old Bennett Lester, whose young parents Katie Ann and Billy (part of the ownership group), along with newborn Juliet, may or may not catch some of the Beverly D. today as they sit at their daughter's bedside.

"She is the sweetest, nicest little girl," Seitz said of Bennett, who not too long ago had a chance to meet I'm Already Sexy.

Bennett is battling ETANTR, which according to Katie Ann's blog on caringbridge.org "has only been officially recognized since 2000, with roughly 200 documented cases. Because of the rarity of the disease, there is not a lot of research and clinical data on this specific subset of tumor classification. In general, the median duration of survival after diagnosis is a year."

"They've been through a lot right now, and we're trying to just get everybody that's following I'm Already Sexy to take a minute to say a prayer for Bennett because she's going through a really hard time," Seitz said.

"I know the parents are really struggling, but we just want everybody to think of her."

While Bennett continues her fight, Catalano, thankfully, has turned the page and is well on the road to recovery after battling H1N1 influenza and pneumonia. He left the hospital earlier this week and plans to be at Arlington today to watch his three entrants in the International Festival of Racing.

"I'm getting stronger every day," the Cat Man pronounced Friday morning.

Jockey Florent Geroux, who will ride I'm Already Sexy, will sport a purple 'B' on his pant legs, and everyone in the ownership group -- about 18 are expected to be at Arlington -- will wear a purple 'B' button for Bennett and a yellow ribbon for Catalano.

Despite her victory in the Modesty Handicap on Million Preview Day last month, I'm Already Sexy is a 20-1 longshot in the Beverly D.

"She's been doing great," Catalano said. "She's probably in a little bit over her head, but this is her home track and she loves the surface. It's a rough field, but that's why they run the races."

Seitz realizes the odds are stacked against her, but hopes her group can enjoy the day, enjoy the stage -- win or lose.

"I kept telling our partners 'it's a horse race, stop worrying,'" she said with a laugh. "She's going to give it everything she has.

"You know, we're stressing about this horse and this race, but then we know that our partners are going through ---- obviously Wayne's been sick and now the Lesters have been dealing with this big struggle.

"I just want them to know that we're really thinking of them, and hopefully the filly will run well for Bennett."

What a chapter that would be.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.