In Derby contender Vinceremos, a coincidence of names and a 'divine connection'

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05/03/2014 11:58 AM

05/16/2014 1:33 PM

A couple of years ago, Rebecca Walden was listening to a sermon at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville when she heard the word vinceremos

, which means to conquer or overcome in Latin.

The wife of Winstar Farm CEO Elliott Walden, Rebecca knew to be on the lookout for good names for racehorses, so she jotted it down in her notebook and passed it on to her husband.

The name was chosen for a dark bay son of Pioneerof the Nile, who is co-owned by Winstar and Twin Creeks Racing.

At roughly the same time, the Waldens' oldest son, Mac, started school at Palm Beach Atlantic University. The school requires community service, so Mac, who has been around horses since he was born, started to volunteer at a therapeutic riding center in nearby Loxahatchee that helped children and adults use horseback riding to overcome their disabilities.

It, too, was named Vinceremos, called that by its founder, Ruth Menor, who thought the Latin word aptly described her students and the struggles they face every day.

After Mac decided to take a year off, he got a job at the center as barn manager and spent the year there working with the horses and clients. Although he transferred to another school in Nashville last fall, he returned to Florida over spring break and invited students and volunteers from Vinceremos to come to Palm Meadows to meet the equine Vinceremos. Winstar also decided to donate part of Vinceremos' winnings to the Vinceremos center.

The coincidence of names has now turned into a community of friends, all of whom will be at the Kentucky Derby hoping that Vinceremos can live up to his moniker.

"The whole way this has come about is really special," Rebecca Walden said.

Ruth Menor founded the Vinceremos Center in 2000, and works with both children and adults in the growing field of rehabilitation with horses for a host of physical and emotional issues. (In Lexington, Central Kentucky Riding for Hope is a similar therapeutic center housed at the Kentucky Horse Park.) A priest on her board told her about the Latin word; she decided it was perfect for her work and for her students.

One of those students was Adison Gobardhan, who was born with a genetic defect that prevented her from walking or talking at almost two years old, Menor said. She started at Vinceremos at 20 months, and within several months, started walking without help.

Now four years old, Adison won the Vinceremos Rider of the Year award for 2013, and got to visit Vinceremos at Palm Meadows Training Center before he came in second in the Tampa Bay Derby. Vinceremos also won the Sam Davis Stakes at the Tampa Bay Downs.

"We understand these horses are bred to be fiery and feisty," Menor said. "But she went in the stall and he dropped his head and let her pat him. He knew exactly what he needed to do."

Adison and her mom, Aimee Tompkins, will come up to Louisville with Menor to watch Vinceremos run.

"I just describe it as a divine connection," Menor said.

Mac Walden is now finishing his sophomore year at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, where he plays basketball and is also working through his certification in riding rehabilitation. He volunteers with another therapeutic riding center there.

"Really just being with those kids and seeing how much it helped them and changed them and was able to benefit them, it just drew me in," he said.

The whole group will be reunited at the Derby to cheer on their horse. He has long odds at 30-1 after a 14th place finish in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland.

"I don't think he liked that surface very well," Mac said. "He's improved so much every race, he's a very competitive horse and every time a horse comes near him, he's always dug in."

Has conquered, in fact. Rebecca Walden says, win or not, the horse Vinceremos has put a spotlight on what she calls the age-old connection between people and horses, wherever they may be. She likes to quote Winston Churchill: "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."

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