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Cornell veterinary employee adopts injured racehorse, with hopes of raising funds for sick children

There's a love affair taking place right now. Molly with Watchmon

It's between Cornell veterinary school staff member Molly Copeland and a dapper gray stallion named Watchmon, who's had more than a forelock's brush with fame.

Before he fractured his leg racing at Saratoga Race Course in 2006, Watchmon was an accomplished racehorse. His career was cut short by the injury, but not before he had already raced as a long-shot bid in the 2005 Belmont Stakes -- the third leg of the famed Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing.

With a little luck, Watchmon, who's now on the mend and enjoying his time grazing the fields of a local boarding barn, will fulfill a purpose that many would consider higher than winning races. Copeland's plans are to charge stud fees for Watchmon and donate the proceeds to a foundation that grants wishes for terminally ill children.

"I think he has the potential to make a big difference," Copeland said.

Even the injury -- one that required Cornell surgeons to implant stabilizing screws in his leg and caused real anxiety that he might not recover -- couldn't keep this horse down. After his prior owner donated him to the Cornell vet school for teaching purposes, Copeland was allowed to adopt him in late 2006, since his injuries required special care.

"When I met (Watchmon) I fell in love with him almost immediately," said Copeland, a native of Webster, N.Y., who has worked at the Vet College for 11 years. She's currently a technician in the radiology department and speaks with technical understanding of Watchmon's injury.

With a fondness for peppermints and a budding friendship with a pot-bellied pig, Watchmon spends his days boarded at Ithaca's Flying High Farm. Copeland visits her horse almost every night to bring him out to graze in the pasture or tempt his appetite with a peppermint or apple.

Copeland says she has no direct connection to any particular organization that might benefit from Watchmon's stud fees. But she sees a link between children combating serious illnesses and Watchmon's own battle for survival -- finishing a race with a serious injury, enduring a slow recovery, and never losing his grace or gentle personality along the way.

"He has been the 'Little Engine That Could,' and he has endured in a way I think the kids can relate to," Copeland said.

Watchmon was born Feb. 27, 2002, at Woodlynn Farm in Kentucky; his parents were sire Maria's Mon and dam Watchfull. Among his many great siblings is Monarchos, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby.

Watchmon raced in the Belmont Stakes in May 2005, leaving the gate as one of the longest shots on the board. Afleet Alex won the Belmont that year. On Oct. 8, 2005, Watchmon won the Jamaica Handicap in a field of just three horses, because six others had dropped out due to rain. Along with $180,000, he also won the title of "Slop-Loving Watchmon" for that feat.

But his career-ending injury came in August 2006, as Watchmon raced at Saratoga and finished second by a nose. It was discovered later that 3/16ths of a mile before the finish line, Watchmon had fractured his left front leg. To this day, Copeland is convinced that only his heart and adrenaline took him to the finish.

It was then that Watchmon was taken to Cornell -- where many Saratoga horses are treated -- and underwent surgery to repair the break.

Copeland recalls happily how "amazing" he was during the recovery process, greeting people warmly when they entered his stall and befriending both a cat and the pot-bellied pig.

"It always amazed me that he never got bitter even for a minute," Copeland said.

by Anne Ju