Little Mike: The Big-Hearted Old Gelding

By Art Parker

There’s nothing like the feeling I get when it happens. I feel grateful for racing and I feel grateful for those that make it go, especially the day-to-day warriors. The horses that help fill the stalls and the starting gate more than all others are the geldings. Many of them make up the large majority of the senior citizen regime at every track. Every day racing in this country depends on those old guys to keep our race cards filled. Every day racing almost always gives you the thought of claiming horses, the guys we call cheap.

Those old gelding claimers hit the track every day and so many of them seem to last and last. They go out there and try with every step and many of them run in pain, and we know that. But even those win races and come back full of themselves acting like a little kid. There is a special place in my heart every time I watch some of these guys do battle. Often I don’t even bet a race because I want to see the old geezer beat the young punks. I pull for them, and sometimes don’t even bet on them simply because they don’t warrant a bet. So I just cheer them on wanting them to beat some smarty pants 3-year old or even whip up on an arrogant young 4-year old that has won a few races.

Almost all of those guys are cheap in terms of value. Cheap they are, but they each have a heart that’s worth millions and millions of dollars. And my heart has a place for those horses.

Speaking of a million dollars and speaking of the old guys, there’s one that is not so cheap. No, he is not John Henry. He is not Forego, nor is he Kelso.  But I love him just as much because he is something special like those other old geldings. I’m talking about the lovable gelding known as Little Mike.

Little Mike in Dubai

Little Mike in Dubai

Little Mike was the oldest horse in the race when they went to post in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Belmont the last Saturday of September. At post time he was winless this year. A trip to Dubai, which was anything but productive, probably took its toll on him. He had not run his best in two outings since returning to the states. He was overshadowed in the race at Belmont by a killer looking three-horse entry from the powerful Ramsey stable. The Dale Romans trainee, usually a front runner, did not take the bait when the Ramsey rabbit took the lead. Another old Mike with the last name of Smith told Little Mike to wait and he did. He waited and took the lead at the top of the stretch and then fought off the two Ramsey closers with courage and determination to prevail by the narrowest of nostrils. The two old Mikes did a great job together. I found myself yelling at the computer screen pulling for the old man to win it.

Little Mike rewarded my cheering with a $16.80 parimutuel redemption. But I didn’t really care about the money. I just wanted to see the old man with a big heart win. Little Mike has also won the Arlington Million and the Breeders’ Cup Turf at 17-1 and many more races. He has won 13 times from 26 wins and bankrolled nearly $3.5 million.

Little Mike is not cheap but he is like his gelded brethren that give me that great feeling about racing. How could anyone not love a horse like Little Mike, or any old gelding that gives their all on the track? They give us everything with all their hearts and all they ask for is some hay, oats and water. Let’s hear it for Little Mike and the other old men that still hang around the starting gate. They don’t demand a new contract every time you turn around, they don’t have agents and many of them play the game long past the time other athletes are washed up.

Thanks Little Mike and to all of the others with old legs and big hearts. And, by the way, Little Mike… if Romans takes you to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup, I will be pulling for you.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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