Memories of Inky Rekindled by Port and Fort

When Tawny Port runs in Saturday’s Jim Dandy Stakes, in which he will attempt to put his name among the leading 3-year-olds, I will be thinking of a very special horse who once carried those same silks of John Fort in the Kentucky Derby more than 20 years ago, just as Tawny Port did this year. ~ Steve Haskin

Memories of Inky Rekindled by Port and Fort

By Steve Haskin


The second season for 3-year-old colts has begun with the Haskell Invitational and will continue with next week’s Jim Dandy Stakes, so right now who do you like in the Travers? I think we now know Jack Christopher wants shorter distances, the lightly raced Taiba should definitely improve wherever he runs next off his excellent effort in the Haskell, and the victorious Cyberknife, despite his perfect ground-saving trip, is formidable on his best day.

We were blown away by Charge It’s 23-length laugher against a weak field in the Dwyer Stakes, and we look forward to three Triple Crown trail dynamos, Epicenter, Early Voting, and Zandon squaring off in the Jim Dandy. And finally, we all anticipate the return of Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, who is training up to the Travers following his disappointing effort in the Belmont Stakes when he reportedly was hit in the eye with clods of dirt early in the race that had to be cleaned out by a veterinarian back at the barn, so he deserves another shot to repeat his shocking Derby performance.

So what if I told you there is a good chance the Travers winner, who is also scheduled to run in the Jim Dandy, hasn’t even been mentioned yet?

What I am saying is do not overlook Peachtree Stable’s Tawny Port, winner of the Lexington Stakes and Ohio Derby. In between, he ran a sneaky good race in the Kentucky Derby, beaten only 4 ¾ lengths at 80-1, coming back in three weeks and stretching out from 1 1/16 miles. Prior to that, he finished a strong second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks over a synthetic surface.

Peachtree Stable, owned by John Fort, has had some lean years since their last top horse, Lord Nelson, in 2015 and ’16. But they have been a force with horses such as Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, Red Giant, Flashpoint, Merchant Marine, High Cotton, and Fantasy Stakes winner Mamba Kimbo.

But Fort’s first big horse, and one who he will always remember, was Invisible Ink, whose story I latched onto while covering the 2001 Kentucky Derby.

With Fort back in the 3-year-old picture with a shot to win the Jim Dandy and Travers, I thought this would be a good time to retell the remarkable story of Invisible Ink, or Inky as he was known.

The son of Thunder Gulch, who Fort purchased for $105,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, was trained by a young up-and-coming trainer named Todd Pletcher, who was making only his second appearance in the Derby. Invisible Ink was no slouch, having finished third in the Florida Derby and fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes, but was soundly beaten in both races. Going up against the likes of Santa Anita Derby winner Point Given, Wood Memorial winner, Congaree, Florida Derby winner Monarchos, Blue Grass winner Millennium Wind, and UAE Derby winner Express Tour it was no surprise to see Invisible Ink go off at 55-1 at Churchill Downs.

What was amazing about the colt was that he was even running in the Derby, or any race for that matter.

By all rights, Invisible Ink should have been nothing more than a tragic memory in the hearts and minds of the people who raised him and broke him and treated him. Instead, here he was at Churchill Downs, about to run in America’s greatest race. And all because he refused to die, thanks to a handful of people who refused to let him die.

In March of his 2-year-old year, while being trained at Bryan Rice’s Woodside Ranch in Ocala, Invisible Ink developed a superficial cut on his ankle, which didn’t heal as quickly as they had hoped. To stave off infection, he was treated with antibiotics and a small amount of butazolidan (Bute). But the colt began eating and drinking less and less, and eventually developed colitis. Rice decided to send him to Peterson-Smith clinic in Ocala. Something was spreading throughout the colt’s body, and his condition continued to deteriorate. Eventually, he couldn’t eat or drink at all, and his blood and body functions broke down. His blood protein levels dropped so low, all the fluids he was being administered flushed into his body and he developed edema.

“You could barely tell where his head and body joined,” Fort said. “His stomach area and testicles were the size of a beach ball. From the appearance of the throat and stomach, it was as if somebody had poured battery acid down this horse’s throat. It completely stripped the skin and ulcerated the horse’s stomach to the point where it hurt him so badly he couldn’t swallow water. His whole insides were like raw meat. The poor thing couldn’t even pick his head up. He’d accumulate all this saliva and would drink that. The vets had never seen anything like it before. One thought was that someone mistakenly had given him a massive overdose of Bute, thinking they were helping him.”

The colt was sent to Peterson-Smith, where he deteriorated so badly he went from weighing 900 pounds to 500 pounds. It finally reached the point where the insurance company gave permission to have him euthanized. But Fort and veterinarian Carol Clark, with the help of Dr. Robert Copelan, wouldn’t give up hope. Fort went to see the horse, and he and Dr. Clark and Dr. Copelan discussed on a conference call just what actions they could take. Fort assured Clark that they would try everything possible to save the horse.

“You can’t imagine what this horse looked like,” Fort said. “I was in Viet Nam and I’ve seen creatures who were dying, whether it was a bird or a dog or a person. You know when someone or something is beyond hope. I had never seen a creature sink this low. He was virtually on life-support system. We were giving him plasma at a rate of $1,000 a day. It was hour to hour, trying to save his life. This horse was dead.”

Clark would spend nights with Invisible Ink, coaxing him to eat. She would hold dissolvable food pellets called Purina Equine Junior in her hand, one at a time, trying to get him to take it. They also treated him with medication to help stop the acids from flushing back into his throat.

Dr. Copelan finally suggested they give him buttermilk that was left out in the sun to reintroduce bacteria and help restore the colt’s immune system. They found an old-fashioned farm in Ocala where the owners made their own buttermilk, and left it out in the 90-degree heat. After it became, as Fort said, “filthy and disgusting,” they fed it to Invisible Ink through a tube inserted in his stomach. They combined that with stomach medication. Soon, the colt began to respond. Once they were able to stabilize his manure and got him to where he could drink and eat on his own, the horse was on the first step to recovery.

By Memorial Day, Invisible Ink had turned the corner, and by mid-July he had regained the weight he had lost. Soon, he began to blossom, and eventually was sent to trainer Todd Pletcher. Before the Blue Grass Stakes Dr. Copelan paid a visit to Invisible Ink and told Fort, “I can’t believe it. I’m treating this horse for the Blue Grass, and a year ago I was trying to save his life.”

“With Dr. Copelan’s consultation and the inspiration of a young girl named Carol Clark and her traditional medicine, we were able to virtually bring this colt back from death,” Fort said. “People frequently give up in the things they try to do, but nature never gave up here. Nature was trying to restore this horse’s body back to health. Once we got out of nature’s way it was able to succeed. That this horse was able to survive is one of the most miraculous things I’ve ever seen.

“Winston Churchill once gave a famous speech to a group of youngsters at a boys school in England, in which he concluded, repeating over and over for several minutes, ‘Don’t ever…ever…ever…ever give up.”

In the week leading up to the Derby I became quite attached to Invisible Ink, knowing his story and watching him thrive at Churchill Downs. One of my fond recollections was when Fort was looking to get a halter and nameplate made up for Invisible Ink, and I suggested he leave the nameplate blank. I said in jest, “When someone asks you why there is no name on the halter you tell them, ‘The name is on there; it’s written in invisible ink.’” It was meant as a joke, but that’s exactly what Fort did, and he has since treasured that halter and blank nameplate.

I watched Invisible Ink graze each afternoon and could see his coat blossom more by the day, making him a live longshot. But as I mentioned, just being there and running in the Derby was a miracle in itself.

Ridden by John Velazquez, who was starting an incredible run as the No. 1 rider for Pletcher, Invisible Ink raced in ninth, then moved up between horses before swinging six-wide turning for home. Monarchos put in a big run and opened up in the stretch, drawing off to a 4 ¾-length victory in 1:59 4/5, the second fastest time in the Derby behind Secretariat. But Invisible Ink was also loaded and kept coming, just nosing out Congaree for second. The horse who refused to die had run one of the fastest Kentucky Derbys in history.

Although Invisible Ink won only one allowance race the rest of his career, he did join an illustrious list of Kentucky Derby runners-up that includes Native Dancer, Nashua, Gallant Man, Sword Dancer, Sham, Easy Goer, and Alydar, just to name a few. He pretty much faded into obscurity, but his second-place finish in the Derby in the second fastest time ever run and finishing ahead of eventual Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Point Given will remain a part of Derby lore.

Seeing Fort’s name back in the 3-year-old picture with Tawny Port brought back wonderful memories of a very special Derby and also that day in 2011 when a grief-stricken Fort called to inform me Invisible Ink had died of a neurological disorder at age 13 at Pin Oak Lane Farm in New Freedom, Pennsylvania.

Most of Fort’s words were indecipherable as he tried unsuccessfully to get them out through the tears that flowed freely and the distinct quaver in his voice. Finally, he was forced to end the conversation. He truly had lost a member of his family. Although Inky was far too young, Fort was well aware that every day of the colt’s life was a miracle.

I know I’ll be thinking about him when I see Fort’s familiar purple silks in action on the big stage next Saturday.


Photos courtesy of Louise E. Reinagel and Cynthia Hunter


Signup for the newsletter For new announcements, merchandise updates and other excitement here at, please enter your email address in the popup window. Our mailing list is never sold or viewed by anyone other than