BOOM! A BURST TO THE FINISH LINE.
“They’re at the post. They’re off. Amy’s Challenge breaks best, Cosmic Burst away second…”
On March 10, 2018, seven fillies gathered at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in front of a crowd exceeding 17,000 fans. The Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes was the ninth race of the day and was part of a series of long-distance races that award points towards an ultimate spot in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, held annually at Churchill Downs. At Oaklawn, every trainer brings their horses to the indoor paddock for saddling, with the four- and five-deep crowd standing and watching every movement, looking to pick a winner.
The call to the post signals that it’s closing in on race time. Before the jockeys leg up, a few instructions are noted, with each filly exiting from the paddock to the dirt surface in order to be paraded in front of the crowd. As the clock counts down to race time, the horses start moving towards the starting gate at the 1/16-pole. After they leave the starting gate, a winner will be crowned in less than two minutes.
As Amy’s Challenge grabbed the early lead in 23.27 seconds, the filly running in second was being observed by Mrs. Norma Lee Stockseth, who races Cosmic Burst with her racing partner, Mr. Todd Dunn. As Mrs. Stockseth wanted, the pink and neon green silks were easy to see when Cosmic Burst began the race. Cosmic Burst began her journey to the track at the Benchmark Training Center outside of Dallas, Texas, and throughout Cosmic’s career, Mrs. Stockseth has seen her colors in the winner’s circle at Keeneland, Churchill, and Remington.
After traveling the first 4 furlongs in the Honeybee, Amy’s Challenge continued to lead in a swift time of 46.02 seconds. Ridden patiently by Richard Eramia, Cosmic Burst was 8 lengths behind the leader in second place. Within the enclosed grandstand, her trainer, Donnie K. Von Hemel, observed intently. Donnie K., as he is known, picked the filly out at the 2016 Keeneland Fall Yearling Sale for a purchase price of $25,000. Mr. Von Hemel has been training for the partnership of Mrs. Stockseth and Mr. Dunn since 2011, and he’s trained for Mrs. Stockseth’s family since the mid-80s. Mr. Von Hemel sets up his stable in the Temperence Hill barn, where Cosmic Burst lives during the Oaklawn meet.
Into the final part of the race, Cosmic Burst still chased the undefeated Amy’s Challenge, but the race had changed. A filly named Red Rudy came alongside Cosmic Burst, and the fillies began closing into Amy’s Challenge’s lead as they turned for the home stretch. Donnie K.’s filly matched strides with Red Rudy, the winner of the Martha Washington earlier in the meet over Cosmic Burst. A Pennsylvania-bred by the first-crop sire Violence with a small white blaze running down her nose, Cosmic Burst used that nose to narrowly lead Red Ruby down the stretch.
With 1/8 of a mile left, the bay filly did what she had done at other tracks: she left her competition behind and scored a 1 3/4-length win. The trainer, owners, fans, and others all congratulated her in the winner’s circle. Upon leaving the winner’s circle, she headed toward to her home for an evening bath and dinner while led by Donnie’s assistant, Kristal Campbell.
The next morning, I found Cosmic Burst more than ready for a photo and asked her the most important of questions – “Are you ready to be petted on?”
Her answer: yes, please.