In Trainer Larry Rivelli’s barn at Arlington Park, there is a small bay racehorse named Helicopter.
Helicopter isn’t a household name for most horse racing enthusiasts.
Helicopter has never competed in a graded race and he doesn’t hold any breeding value for the sport. He is a gelding.
As a two-year-old, Helicopter raced fourteen times and stamped out a performance record for that year that held descriptors ranging from “failed to menace” to “no factor.”
When he began his three-year-old debut, Helicopter didn’t hold any promise as a Kentucky Derby hopeful. It wasn’t even a distant dream.
Helicopter was running in low-purse claiming races and losing in every outing.
It seemed Helicopter just wasn’t meant to be a racehorse.
In his 19th career start, Helicopter delivered a surprising 2 ½ -length victory as he bulleted past his rivals in the field.
He had finally won his first race after eighteen failed outings.
When Helicopter delivered a second career victory, he was privately purchased by Trainer Larry Rivelli in May of 2009.
Rivelli explained, “Helicopter was part of a two-horse package. I think the pair cost roughly $7,500.”
In his first start with Rivelli as the trainer, he won by 8 ½ lengths in a claiming race at Arlington Park and earned $6,000 – nearly covering his purchase price during his third career victory.
After winning his next race by two lengths, Helicopter had begun to demonstrate his potential on the track. He had won three consecutive races in the claiming circuit under Jockey Brandon Meier.
Rivelli immediately sought to retrieve Helicopter from his new owner.
Rivelli explained, “I liked the horse. After the race, we privately purchased him back for double of what the guy had paid to claim him.”
Helicopter never ran a single race for the new ownership prior to being recovered by Rivelli.
And, Rivelli never entered Helicopter in a claiming race again.
On September 6, 2009, Helicopter set foot on the track for his next race and clinched another victory.
Then, Helicopter went on to break two track records. He set the record for 10 furlongs in 2:02.95 during a starter race at Keeneland in October of 2009.
In his next outing, Helicopter set another record during an allowance race in Canada, running 10 furlongs in 2:03.47.
Since Rivelli began training the horse, Helicopter has only made one start without Meier as his rider.
And, Helicopter made it clear how he felt about racing without Meier aboard.
Since that race, Meier has remained Helicopter’s regular jockey.
And, they have amassed quite a nice winning record together.
With Rivelli as his trainer, Helicopter has won twelve races with Meier aboard in sixteen starts.
Helicopter has won on varying surfaces – dirt, synthetic and wet dirt.
Recently, Helicopter attempted his first turf race at Arlington Park.
Prior to the race, I saw a bunch of young children standing at the rail waiting to watch Helicopter’s turf debut.
I was curious if they knew anything about horse racing.
I asked one of the girls, “Who do you think is going to win the race?”
She didn’t even pause as she shot back her answer.
In one word, a kindergartner had matched my handicapping pick.
Helicopter was the clear favorite, riding a six-race winning streak.
Sadly, he didn’t win his turf debut.
However, Helicopter has won some fans with his overall winning record.
Fans from all age ranges.
Fans who come to the track.
And, fans that came to the track on a weekday.
Helicopter’s fans don’t care if he is running for roses, large purses or against graded-stakes winners.
They just like to see Helicopter win a race.
And still, Helicopter isn’t a household name for most horse racing enthusiasts.
Yet, it may do some good to start talking about Helicopter in the racing world.
He helps bring fans to the track for an average race on an ordinary day.
And, the local community comes out when Helicopter is racing.
It is an exceptional victory for the sport.