DG Oaks: Callie’s Grit runs to honor Callie

Story by Tim Wilkin. Photo: Callie’s Grit and trainer Joe Sharp, by Tim Wilkin

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Thursday, Aug. 31) — There is only one place Tim Witt wants to be on Sunday. He has to be at Kentucky Downs.

Callie’s Grit is running.

The 3-year-old filly is named for Callie Witt, the 20-year-old daughter of Tim and Jennifer Witt of Rogers, Nebraska. Callie died last year doing what she loved, riding horses. The exercise rider lost her life during an accident at Keeneland while working for trainer Joe Sharp.

Callie’s Grit is entered in Sunday’s $1 million Dueling Grounds Oaks at 1 5/16 miles.

Tim Witt said he will make the 11 ½-hour drive alone from Nebraska, driving straight through to Franklin, Ky. He wants to see Callie’s Grit run. He wants to honor his daughter’s memory. Always.

“It means everything to us,”  Tim Witt said by phone from Nebraska. “We never want to forget who she was.”

After Callie’s accident, Sharp talked to Brad Grady, one of his owners, about naming some of the fillies he owns with Carl Moore after Callie.

“It was the right thing to do,” Grady said by phone from his home in Texas. “Let Callie live on through some horses because she loved them so much.”

Grady, who campaigns horses with his wife, Misty, is close friends with his partner,  Moore. They were all in on doing this, and Grady got in touch with Callie’s parents.

“I said, ‘throw me some names,’” Grady said.

And here she is: Callie’s Grit.

“Callie had grit and determination in whatever she did,” Tim Witt said in explaining the name. “Nothing scared her. Nothing bothered her.”

Grady felt horrible about the news of Callie’s passing. He did not know her, but he is very close with Sharp. He got stories about Callie through the trainer. He told her, Grady said, that Callie reminded him of his wife, former standout jockey Rosie Napravnik.

Callie’s Grit is a bay filly by Maclean’s Music. She broke her maiden in her sixth try on July 29 at Saratoga. The race was run at 1 1/4 miles on the main track after being taken off the grass. Callie’s Grit, who was ridden by Luis Saez that day, won the race by a neck.

Tim Witt was there to see the emotional win.

In Callie’s Grit’s first five starts, she had hit the board in four of them. The only time she didn’t was in the $500,000 Aristocrat Gaming Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Kentucky Downs last year.

“She went off the favorite,” Sharp said. “That was the day it monsooned so hard when we were in the paddock that they canceled after the race. I don’t think it was Kentucky Downs that beat her; it was Kentucky Downs on that day. She did not handle it. We will find out this year.”

Sharp, like everyone else associated with his barn, struggled mightily when Callie died. They are still not fully recovered, probably never will.

Callie Witt was a woman with ability and Sharp said she had an attitude that dared anyone to say she could not do something.

“She was a fiery little redhead,” Sharp said with a smile.”She was tough, she was gritty. She did not want to hear you say there was a horse you didn’t think she could ride.  The word no was not in her vocabulary.”

There have been other horses that Grady and Moore have named after Callie. The first was Callie’s Passion, who was claimed after her third start. There will be more to come.

Tim Witt will have a heavy heart as he gets to Kentucky Downs. He loves talking about his daughter, who had excelled as a wrestler in high school in Nebraska. She was the 113-pound state champ as a senior.

“She worked so hard,” Tim Witt said. “Whenever she set her mind to do something, she was going to do it.”

Sharp will saddle Callie’s Grit on Sunday and he’ll give a leg up to jockey Joel Rosario. No doubt, there will be plenty in the house rooting for Callie’s Grit to get all the way home.

“Callie was a humble girl, so she would probably not love the attention to be honest with you,” Sharp said. “You want to name a good one after her and I think (Callie’s Grit) falls into that category. Anything she can do to help us honor Callie makes it very special for us.”

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.