All eyes will turn to Belmont Park in a few weeks when the track hosts the third jewel of the Triple Crown. No matter who wins the Preakness, and no matter which horses arrive to contest the 1 ½ miles, the real star of Belmont might be in trainer Robert Falcone Jr.'s barn.
Falcone is the proud owner of miniature mare Snickers and her six-week-old colt he named Cannoli. He didn't necessarily expect to end up with one of the biggest attractions on the backstretch (Falcone said fans, photographers, and horsemen regularly stop by to check in on the pair), but saw a chance to help a horse who needed it.
Falcone and assistant Natalie Fawkes went to a livestock auction in Cranbury, N.J., looking for a goat to soothe a horse in his shed row. It turned out there were no goats for sale that day, but there was a group of miniature horses.
“They say everything that doesn't sell there doesn't go to a good spot,” Falcone said. “We were walking around and saw these mini ponies, and all of these mini ponies are jumping up and acting crazy, and there's this one all the way at the end that just had her head to the bottom of the straw, didn't want anything to do with what was going on, just looked really miserable. We were like, ‘Oh, we have to buy her.' We felt bad, and she was cute.”
Falcone and Fawkes waited until nearly the end of the auction before the mare came up for sale, and it was then the auctioneer revealed she was pregnant. Falcone figured he had come this far; why rescind his offer of a good home now?
Baby Cannoli! Mama Snickers!! pic.twitter.com/vMYnR4jAEw
— Robert Falcone Jr (@FalconeJr) April 13, 2017
It took Snickers, as he named her, some time to warm up to Falcone. He suspects she encountered rough treatment somewhere along the way — she had a bad cough at first and was underweight with a long coat. She also didn't have a lot of trust in humans, either.
“You could tell she wasn't the best taken care-of, going [to the auction],” said Falcone. “She was scared for the first few weeks until she warmed up to me and Natalie and let us go in the stall with her. Every time she sees us in the barn, she starts nickering. At first she wouldn't take anything from our hands like carrots or anything like that, but she got used to us and lets us hand feed her now. She definitely needed a little bit of trust.”
Cannoli was born a few weeks after the mare's arrival, on April 8, and is an outgoing little colt with lots of spunk. Falcone entertained several name options for him, including Oreo since he turned out to be black and white, but in the end, went with one of his own favorite desserts.
“He may be a lot smaller than the racehorses, but he acts like one,” Falcone said. “When we walk them out to the pen, he'll go on his hind legs and walk on his hind legs. As you're walking him, he'll buck and bronc.”
Snickers and Cannoli sleep in a pony stall at night and during training hours, and they graze outside the barn in a pen Falcone constructed with supplies from Home Depot. Falcone's Thoroughbreds aren't fazed by the tiny duo. The trainer now considers them barn mascots, and humans adore them.
— Robert Falcone Jr (@FalconeJr) April 8, 2017
“We have our regular visitors who come every week, every time they come to the track on the weekend,” he said. “They'll come by and take pictures of them.”
For more photos and videos of Snickers and Cannoli (because let's face it, who doesn't want more mini horses in their social media feed?), follow Falcone on Twitter.
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