The true tale about an injured race horse rehabilitated and returned to racing by an 8-year-old boy is a comeback story worthy of Disney.
The story about Paul Sawyer nursing his injured harness racing horse, Derek Bromac N, back to soundness and then racing him again as an aged competitor is the subject of a new book written by Paul’s mother, Amber.
Although Amber wrote “Love to Race” five years ago, she left the unpublished book sitting on a shelf until last year. She decided to pursue the idea of getting it published last April when she needed something positive in her life.
“It’s a heartwarming true story,” Amber said. “It tugs at your heartstrings.”
The Horicon mother and son are second and third generation harness racers. Amber’s father raced for many years, and when Amber was in her teens, she became a sulky driver, competing in races in 14 states.
Amber wrote the story as though the horse was telling it. She decided she would tell the story from the Derek’s perspective because the horse is so expressive.
“This horse has such a personality,” Amber said. “You just look at him and you know what he’s thinking.”
The New Zealand bred Standardbred was born in 2000 at Bromac Farms in Christchurch and began racing as a two years old, dominating track times at a young age. Along with his racing qualities, his habit of sticking his tongue out while being harnessed and on the racetrack made him a favorite.
“Anybody who knows Derek, loves him,” Amber said. “He’s quite the most gentle horse.”
The pacer had six wins in New Zealand, then as a 4-year-old, was sent to California to begin his racing career in the United States where he won 26 races. With a pari-mutual career of 288 races with 32 wins, Derek’s lifetime winnings totaled $265,864.
His success took a turn for the worse when Derek was 13 and injured a suspensory ligament during a race. A veterinarian told the owner the horse wasn’t worth treating because of the extent of the injury and the horse’s age. Derek’s owner, a good friend of Amber, contacted her about taking Derek.
“My friend Peter Kass said, ‘Amber, I don’t want any money for him, just give him the good home he deserves. I know you can fix him,’” Amber said.
Initially, Amber wasn’t interested in taking the horse. The injury Derek sustained would mean a long recovery period without guarantee of success. The horse’s age was a factor not only in his ability to heal but whether he would be eligible to race again. Professional pari-mutuel racing has a cap on how long the horses can compete; they must be retired at 15.
Despite her misgivings, Amber relented, and in August 2013, the 13-year-old horse came into the Sawyers’ care. Less than a year later, the horse seemed well enough to begin racing again. His conditioning for the track began in March and when he showed no signs of lameness, Derek was entered in fair races as a 14 year old.
Amber drove the horse in the races because her son was too young to be a sulky driver — drivers have to be 16 years old — but she consulted with her son about how he wanted her to run the races.
“Paul told me to take care of Derek,” Amber said. “He told me, ‘Just make sure he’s OK out there so we can race again next week.’”
One of two harness racers in the country still competing at 15 years old, Derek’s last race was August 2015 in Michigan. His win in the race made him the oldest winning racehorse in the country.
Although he’s now retired from racing, Derek has taken on a new role. He’s become an ambassador for Standardbreds and harness racing. He visits nursing homes, takes part in parades and Reading with a Race Horse events.
“He’s been at the Midwest Horse Fair for five or six years in a row,” Amber said. “He’s appeared in The Daily Citizen Newspaper, featured in two issues of Hoof Beats magazine and appeared on Wisconsin Public Television’s Around the Corner With John McGivern, featured on Fox 47 News out of Madison and was the 2019 Wisconsin District 3 Equine of the Year as well as receiving a service award in 2015 from the Wisconsin Harness Horse Association.”
When she decided to dust off her book, Amber contacted Nico 11 Publishing & Design in Mukwonago. After reading the story, the publisher agreed the book should be published. Amber’s long-time friend Tami Joe DeLisle of Reeseville illustrated the young readers book.
Amber is thrilled “Love to Race” has been enthusiastically accepted by Derek’s fans and former owners. Amber will be promoting the book with a Midwest signing tour.
Signed copies of the book can be purchased directly from the author by contacting her via Facebook or email at email@example.com. The book is also available from the gift shop at the Goshen Historic Track and the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame as well as from Amazon.