Greenwood racehorse owner shares what made his steed so special
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Mark Davis
It was 1983, and Jeff Apel was a high schooler living in Lincoln, Nebraska, when a buddy invited him to tag along to the racetrack. The activity sparked an interest in thoroughbred racing that has only grown with time.
Apel went on to major in journalism, then spent 15 years writing for an independent Nebraska newspaper where he covered Fonner Park, a racetrack in Grand Isle, before becoming the assistant daily news editor at Thoroughbred Times, a magazine in Lexington, Kentucky. In 2010, Apel moved to Greenwood and started working at the Indiana Grand Casino as an electronic gaming attendant.
During a 2014 claiming race at Indiana Grand, Apel and Jackson Thoroughbred Management (a group that includes brothers Mike any Tony Jackson) claimed a horse, Lady Caroline, for $10,700. Lady Caroline was a 3-year-old chestnut mare who had run in Kentucky and several other states but never Indiana. Though she had a respectable year in 2014, she chronically struggled with bad ankles, so the Jackson brothers thought it best to make her a broodmare. Apel resisted, however, feeling a special connection to this particular animal. He struck a deal with Mike Jackson to purchase her for $2,300.
After taking several months off to refresh her body and mind at veteran trainer Marvin Johnson’s farm in Nebraska, Lady Caroline returned to the Hoosier state, where she had an outstanding season with three wins, three second place finishes, and two third-place finishes.
“She was lightning in a bottle,” Apel says, describing the 2015 racing season.
Unfortunately, 2016 was a different story. She made only two starts at Indiana Grand for the Apel-Johnson team prior to being claimed for $12,500.
“I was pretty heartbroken,” admits Apel, of having to part with his cherished thoroughbred. After Lady Carolina got claimed, she ran one more race at Indiana Grand. Apel says when the mare was walked out to the paddock to get saddled for the race, she stopped and looked right at him, almost as if to say, “Where have you been?”
“It was odd seeing her being led by somebody else, but she looked fantastic,” Apel says. “I have nothing but great memories of her.”
After a four-year racing career, earning a total of $160,195, Lady Caroline went on to greener pastures, as a broodmare at a farm in Lexington, Kentucky. Lady Caroline is slated to give birth to her first foal in the spring of 2018, supplying Apel with a new dream.
“I think it would be really special to have a foul of one of the greatest mares I’ve ever owned,” says Apel, who, in the spring of 2017, received a touching note from Stacy Tuttle, a woman from Carrollton, Kentucky. Tuttle’s cousin was Lady
Caroline’s original owner and had named the mare after Stacy’s 3-year-old daughter, who had died in 2012 when her Head Start bus overturned and crashed into a tree.
Tuttle says she’s not sure what initially prompted her to reach out to Apel except to say that grief is a funny thing that can nudge one to do something out of the blue.
“I sent Jeff that message on Derby Day,” Tuttle says. “I was missing my baby, and Caroline was a piece of her story. I wanted to make sure that whoever had her knew what a treasure was behind her
Last month, Tuttle met up with Apel and Johnson at the Indiana Grand to chat about Caroline and her namesake. Tuttle describes her daughter as a vivacious, headstrong, spunky child.
“Caroline was friendly but no-nonsense,” Tuttle says. “She lived in the moment. Whether she was going to school or playing in the mud, she filled her life with goodness.”
It’s a goodness the family wanted to carry on, so they started a nonprofit in Caroline’s memory, awarding scholarships to students interested in pursuing a career as a preschool teacher.
This sweet little girl, who loved horses as much as she loved horsing around, taught the world a thing or two about living.
“We uplift and empower people through our works and our deeds,” Tuttle says. “At such a young age, Caroline already seemed to understand that. She was such a pistol, but she brought such a peace.”
Lady Caroline’s Stats
In 2016, Lady Caroline concluded her four-year racing career with:
32 Race starts
7 Second Place Finishes
5 Third Place Finishes
Career earnings: $160,195