Reigning sprint champion Runhappy has accumulated over 28,000 followers on Facebook, where the horse's fans congregate for photos of the colt eating, dustbathing, and sleeping. The ownership/training team behind the big horse has a remote camera trained on his stall 24/7, and uploads screenshots from the nighttime camera for fans to see Runhappy snooze. Followers with sharp eyes might also occasionally notice a small ball of gray fur creep into the corner of the screen.
That would be Sancho, barn cat in residence at Runhappy's shedrow at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, Ky.
Runhappy trainer Laura Wohlers picked up Sancho from a parking lot across from the training center last year in hopes he would become a good mouser.
“He was down there meowing, meowing, meowing. He was just a little kitten,” Wohlers said. “I kind of crawled underneath the car and got him out and brought him up here. He seemed to be a stray.”
Sancho has rewarded the kindness, having exterminated mice from Runhappy's barn and traveled to neighboring barns to capture mice and bring them to Wohlers and other barn staff. When he's not hunting or napping in Runhappy's stall, Sancho has a cat tree in the barn office for his lounging comfort.
Wohlers remembers Sancho and Runhappy bonding early on. The colt seemed to instinctively know to watch his feet and teeth around the cat, and Sancho welcomed nuzzles from Runhappy in the aisle or atop his hay net.
“From the beginning, he's always hung out with Happy, maybe partly because his stall is right by the office, that was the first horse he came to,” she said. “It's funny, I was watching the Nest cam last night and [Sancho] went in there for a while and hung out with [Runhappy].
“[Sancho] really watches him. It's really strange, he'll lay in front of [Runhappy] while he's grazing, and [Runhappy]'ll just step over him.”
The barn recently acquired a goat named Heidi, who socializes with horses in the aisle, but the bond between Runhappy and Heidi is nothing like the one between the sprinter and Sancho. Heidi, a 5-month-old former bottle baby, is more of a pet for the people in the barn than the horses but has been known to accompany Sancho on hunting expeditions (no word on whether he appreciates the rather large shadow).
“Now, her and Sancho go in the stall with Runhappy, and he doesn't seem to hurt her. Every now and then he'll nudge her and she'll run off,” said Wohlers. “She follows Sancho around. She used to stay in the barn until she started following him to other barns.”
Wohlers doesn't anticipate Sancho will make the trip with Runhappy to this year's Breeders' Cup. She worries he could wander away from the barn at Santa Anita and be left behind when the stable returns to Kentucky. (Although Runhappy will be out of the barn, Wohlers has other horses at the training center, so there will be staff present to attend to Sancho in late October.) The two have been separated before, however, and are used to the routine: Runhappy always comes home again, and then it's back to power naps.
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