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Friday, July 16, 2010

For Greta...a post parade


(Excerpts of this piece were taken from Marty McGee's article on Greta Kuntzweiler
in the June 26, 2010 DAILY RACING FORM)

Greta Kuntzweiler will ride in three races at Ellis Park in Henderson, KY. on Friday. Four years ago, any bookmaker in the nation would have taken big odds that she would never break out of the starting gate again.

At her lowest ebb, Kuntzweiler couldn't believe how badly it had turned. In jail, facing charges of making and dealing crystal meth and broke.

"Honesty, I had no perspective. I wanted to do right, but I wasn't willing to let things go."

Depression, personal problems, reeling from a drug addition and arrest 10 months earlier which was dismissed..thanks to some capable lawmaking...Kuntzweiler had hit the bottom. What had taken the finalist for the Eclipse Award in 2000 to a convicted felon awaiting sentence?

Greta believes it goes back to the 2004 Breeders Cup at Lone Star Park in Texas. A horse she had won on earlier in the year finished a dismal last place...beaten by over 30 lengths. A dinner later that night with her parents brought more bad news. They were divorcing after 35 years of marriage.

Her mother, Ann Kuntzweiler broke the news.

"I wanted to wait until after the race to tell her so as not to distract her from what she had to do. It was crushing. That was a very hard weekend for all of us."

Her parents were her rock. When they split it devastated her.

"I didn't know how to deal with it."

The path that led Greta to crystal meth might well have started with pain pills. She suffered three notable injuries in her career: a broken ankle in 2000, a fractured vertebra in 2002 and a badly separated shoulder in 2003. The final injury was devastating in more than one way. Greta was riding at Ellis Park and a horse she was on was behind another horse clipped heels and fell. Greta's horse went down also. Remi Gumm, the jockey in front of her, suffered a severe spinal cord injury and is paralyzed for life from the chest down.

"I never got to say anything to her about being sorry." Kuntzweiler said. "I never reached out to her. I never resolved it and I feel guilty about it." Gumm, who is a mother of four, lives in Ocala, FL. now.

The guilt and the injury led to abuse of the pain pills prescribed for her. It also changed the way she rode after recovering from the injury. A little less daring. Maybe too quick a return to the track.

Kuntzweiler went to Arkansas and Chicago to ride after the Ellis Park meet but the assignments
started to drop off and the wins were few and far between. She was getting the 20-1 shots, the "no chance" horses and it furthered her depression. About that time, she also began seeing a boyfriend , an exercise rider and man with several drug convictions. Pain pills turned into cooking and distributing meth.

"I was in the back yard...raking leaves when they raided the house we we renting. They got him first, I had no idea...then they came outside and got me."

The road back has been frustrating for Greta but she works hard every day to rebuild her life. She just wants to prove she is worthy of being granted another chance. She knows she has hurt herself and others. Squandered the gifts few ever receive. No more excuses. She knows she will always be a recovering addict who can never succumb to temptation again.

Little steps. A new boyfriend, clean and supportive. A sponsor and regular meetings in a 12 step recovery program. Getting back into the saddle working horses in the morning, hoping for afternoon race rides and evenings filled with practicing martial arts and working with a personal trainer. She feels stronger at 34 than she did at 24. Several mounts at Churchill Downs when she was granted her racing license renewal. A new agent, dedicated to getting her rides.

Greta Kuntzweiler will ride today at Ellis Park. A 30-1 shot in the first race, a 20-1 shot in the second race and a 15-1 in the eighth race.

Small odds when you consider the odds she beat just getting back in the saddle.

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