The Tampa Bay Downs winner's circle has seen many well-known racehorses in its time, from Kentucky Derby winners to Breeders' Cup winners. But its most famous – and possibly most frequent – four-legged visitor is a rescued miniature horse named Mouse.
Mouse has been the track's official mascot for nearly a decade now, according to Tampa Bay's vice president of marketing, Margo Flynn.
“She has been a great asset bringing the horse down to the people in the truest sense,” said Flynn. “You know, a lot of kids have never touched a horse and she's able to bring it to life.”
Mouse is popular at the racetrack, where she greets one and all with a pleasant, ‘ready-for-my-close-up' demeanor. Flynn says the little mare is calm with children and patient with the tack and clothing changes sometimes required for her job. Most days, Mouse might sport a braided mane and forelock with her racing saddle (though she is not broke to ride), though holidays sometimes call for a little something special.
“Every holiday is an event for Mouse,” said Flynn. “On President's Day, she had the red, white, and blue streamers on her halter. Kentucky Derby day, her hair will be all braided with the roses. She does it all to the hilt. She has pink shiny hooves with glitter. She has regular horse stuff, too – we don't play doll with her. She has little blankets and sheets, all with her name on it.”
Mouse's duties are mostly confined to the racetrack front side, although she does sometimes attend pet expos or horse retirement events and also visits with groups from nearby schools and nursing homes if they take a field trip to Tampa. Mouse is always happy to show off for onlookers, too. She knows how to bow and can also drink from a water fountain if given the opportunity.
Flynn says the diminutive mare is camera-ready at all times and loves attention – so much that she can get a little salty when it's time to go back to her stall.
“She's very much the diva. She knows when she's ‘on stage' and how to act, prim and proper,” said Flynn. “As soon as she gets ‘behind the curtain' so to speak, beware – she's not afraid to nip, buck, or bite. She's not for the meek and mild to handle when she's not doing her gig. We've had ex-jockeys walk her up when we were short-handed and she got loose, actually. But bring her up in front of the crowd and she's never laid a step wrong. She appreciates the attention, I think. And I honestly think she doesn't like to walk away from it when it's time to go back to the barn.”
The Thoroughbreds in the shedrow (which this year is shared with trainer William “Buff” Bradley) are used to her by now, though Flynn says a newcomer in Bradley's barn is sure to do a double-take when they first spot Mouse strutting around.
Mouse, whose age is estimated around 13 or 14, was part of a multi-horse rescue from a neglect case in the Florida panhandle when she was young. She was rehabilitated and trained at a rescue in Georgia before moving to Tampa Bay where Flynn is proud to say the mare has a home for life. Mouse occupies the same stall in the barn nearest the racing office each season and enjoys summer vacations at the farm belonging to one of Tampa Bay's employees.
Flynn says racetrack employees at all levels know and love Mouse – jockeys joke about throwing a leg over her, and horsemen drop by to say hello.
“She has been just a joy to have,” said Flynn. “The horsemen love her. They see her on the walking machine or out and about and everyone says, ‘Hey, Mouse!' We love her over here, and she's been a big part of us for a long time now.”
You can follow Mouse's exploits on her Facebook page.
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