Harness racing's social media community erupted on Sunday Feb. 9, following the $6,250 claim of Sydney Seelster at Flamboro Downs. Horses are claimed every day in the harness racing world, but this particular claim upset many fans of the sport.
To some, the horse might be just a $4,500 claimer (plus allowances), but for owner Sydney Weaver the pacing mare was worth a lot more.
In 2012, Weaver, a 13-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, received the best Christmas gift any child could receive--a racehorse named Sydney Seelster, hand delivered by longtime owner Cesar Kowalski.
Since then, Weaver and her namesake horse have been inseparable. On race day, the Weaver family can always be spotted wearing pink in light of Sydney Seelster's nickname, "Pinky."
Weaver, of Acton, Ont., has a deep passion for the sport and is often found trackside at Mohawk throughout the summer.
In addition to being a harness racing super fan, Weaver is also an ambassador for the sport as an award-winning writer, public speaker and inspirational leader.
With the help of her father, Don, Weaver also founded Friends Of We Care--a charity designed to send special needs kids to summer camps.
Needless to say, Weaver has certainly accomplished a lot at a young age.
This past Sunday, Weaver was heartbroken when Sydney Seelster was claimed by Guy Gagnon of Gatineau, Que.
The Standardbred racing community was taken aback by the news of Weaver losing her most prized possession. Fans immediately took to Facebook and Twitter to offer their thoughts and support, demonstrating how the standardbred racing community can quickly band together.
"At first, I couldn't believe it. I actually thought it was a joke,” Weaver said. "Then it hit me and it wasn't a very pleasant night. It was just an awful feeling to lose something or someone so close. We barely slept.”
Though it may have seemed impossible to some supporters that Gagnon wouldn't know the relationship Weaver had with Sydney Seelster, it turns out that the Quebec resident simply is not a participant on social media sites where Weaver's story is prominent.
"I honestly had absolutely no idea about the story behind Sydney Weaver and her horse,” Gagnon said. "I feel terrible for putting the claim in and certainly never would do that to the little girl and her horse.
"My wife is a school teacher and deals with kids every day,” Gagnon continued. "I coach kids' hockey and I'm very involved with children. We wouldn't like it if something like that happened to us. I wish this never happened, but we are doing what is right and giving the horse back. It's the right thing to do. I would like to meet Sydney and her family in the future and offer my sincere apologies in person.”
Gagnon also offered his thought process behind seeking Sydney Seelster.
"I had a horse claimed on me last week and wanted to fill the stall. I searched a bunch of cheaper horses at Western Fair and Flamboro and noticed Sydney Seelster.”
Weaver is thankful that Sydney Seelster will be returning home.
"I'm just happy to be getting ‘Pinky' back,” Weaver said. "She's a part of our family and we're thankful to have so many caring friends.”
Weaver's mother, Lisa, is also appreciative for Gagnon's efforts.
"We thought it would be possible for him not to know the story and that turned out to be the case,” she said. "We're very thankful for Mr. Gagnon's understanding and doing what we felt was right. Mr. Gagnon was very apologetic and sincere throughout this entire process and we thank him for that. Something that started out awful has turned out for the better and we are very lucky to have so many caring friends in this sport.
"We know horses are claimed every day,” she continued. "We understand the business and logic of the sport. We just didn't think in a million years that she would leave Sydney.”
Sydney Seelster was entered into a $7,500 claimer (plus allowances) on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at Flamboro Downs, in which the Weaver family claimed their loved one back.
Gagnon also arranged to pay the difference in the claiming price ($3,125) as Sydney Seelster was raised in class and Gagnon offered the Weaver's any prize money that the 22-time winner earns.
Sydney Seelster finished third in the $5,000 event, earning $600 for the Weaver family.
A simple misunderstanding has been rectified in lieu of one of harness racing's most beloved owners.
So is it a coincidence that Sydney Seelster is being re-united with Weaver two days before Valentine's Day? Maybe…maybe not, but it's certainly a perfect time to mend a broken heart. (WEG)