Named after the harmonica great, Little Walter was born in California on April 25, 2003. After a rocky start, he moved to the Herrera barn as a 3-year-old and blossomed into an outstanding pacer. Never content with an easy trip, Walter like to move early and fast. After dominating his California competition his connections decided to send Walter to Indiana to take a shot at the big prize money offered at Hoosier Park. Walter finished a respectable 4th in his first start at Hoosier, then, while training on the morning of April 3rd, he collapsed at the half-mile pole, dead instantly from a sudden heart attack. Just shy of his 6th birthday, Walter was too young, and too good, to leave us so quickly. His owner, Barbara Arnstine, and the woman who raised him, Shari Burns, both wrote about Walter (see below).
Every year, for over 200 years, the Horse of the Year is introduced at the Royal Horse Show in London with a reading of a passage written by Robert Duncan. Here is a modified version for Walter.
Where in this world can man find nobility without pride?
A letter from Don and Barbara Arnstine, owners of Walter:
We are very sad to tell you that Little Walter died suddenly last Saturday of an apparent heart attack, at the finish of his training mile. We are all still in shock, because he seemed happy and full of energy right up to that moment. So many of you have shared in the Little Walter stories, we've dined together on his success, we have even turned up on your doorstep (in London) on Walter- sponsored trips. We want to share with you a last appreciation of a great horse.
Little Walter was a racehorse. That is a great compliment, because there are very few racehorses, but lots of horses who race. As a trainer said, "He likes his work." He raced 104 times in his career, and he was first, second or third in 51 of those starts. He started 97 times for us, and won 23 of them, and earned over a hundred thousand dollars. He was bred to be fast, but it took the skill and patience of our trainer, Gilbert Garcia-Herrera, to turn him into a confident, eager competitor.
The night we claimed Walter, it would have taken more than imagination to see what he would become. In a cheap race for losers, he was the worst. He was skinny, nervous, and foul-gaited; sitting behind him was like driving a time bomb. When we entered him in the stakes races, charitable horsemen thought we were delusional. Four months after the claim, Gilbert drove him to victory in a Sires Stakes Race in 1:53. Since then, he matured into one of California's finest standardbreds, despite having a serious injury from which he returned stronger than ever. But the real joy is not in finding a treasure; it has been in watching Gilbert transform this beautiful animal into a proud, confident racehorse (who didn't want a lot of nonsense unless it was accompanied by a carrot).
Our best memory will always be of Gilbert and Walter flying down the lane, the other horses trying, but never quite getting there....Walter, black and shiny in the lights, his big strong neck straining forward, his great Roman nose...he might have been carrying some centurion to Rome two thousand years ago. May his kind live forever.
Don & Barbara
A note from Ferris and Shari, the Farm Managers who raised Walter:
Dear Barbara and Don,
I can't even find the words to tell you how sorry we are to hear of the loss of Walter.
Sitting here I have so many memories of watching him grow up and to see the desire he always had in the field with the other foals. Walter always wanted to be in front no matter how he got there, cutting across the field, sneaking up to take a friendly nibble out of the guy in front of him, then turning on the gas to make it to the gate before anybody else...
Certainly he had to always stop what he was doing and come over to get some extra attention.
Most importantly as Ferris and I have said to you, Don and Gilbert we were so glad that he went to somebody that loved him as much as we did and somebody that enjoyed him as the Great horse with heart that he had. We have cheered him on and I have watched with tears in my eyes as he comes flying down that stretch with the desire in his face just the same as he did growing up not wanting anybody to get there in front of him.
Thanks to Gilbert for giving him a chance and making him a Great horse.
We will never forget the narrow, odd-gaited duckling that turned into a beautiful black swan!
We Love You, Little Walter!
Ferris and Shari
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