Spencer and Luna: A Love Story

Forget the highs and lows of Saratoga. Forget the upcoming Breeders’ Cup. This is about the true meaning of Thoroughbred racing and the special bond between a foal and a young boy that defied the odds and took them on an unforgettable journey. ~ Steve Haskin

Spencer and Luna: A Love Story

By Steve Haskin


This is not about a stakes horse or a stakes race….far from it. It is in fact about a bottom level horse at a bottom level racetrack. But most of all it is about a 9-year old boy’s love of a horse and his belief in him despite the astronomical odds of him ever getting to the races. Even when the horse did defy the odds and made it to the starting gate and proved to be totally useless as a racehorse, the boy’s love and pride in his horse never wavered.

In short, this is a story about the bond between a child and a Thoroughbred that the anti-racing people never read about or care about. They see only the cold and cruel aspect of the sport and ignore the warmth and extreme passion that has been the core of its existence for centuries.

Let’s go back to the 2018 Keeneland January mixed sale when Lexington Kentucky surgeon George Veloudis purchased a 10-year-old daughter of Pulpit named Paris Girl, who was inbred to Secretariat, for $8,000.  As a 2-year-old, she had sold for a meager $2,000 and never made it to the races. In 2020, she produced a bay colt by Alternation who was plagued with one malady after another and seemed doomed as a racehorse right from the start.

The colt was so large in utero they could barely get him out and eventually had to insert screws in his back legs causing his bones to grow in crooked with little support. It reached a point where he could hardly walk and was suffering from oxygen deprivation after getting stuck in the mare and having to be pulled out. When Veloudis finally did pull him out the colt’s tongue was blue. He also came down with infections where the screws were inserted.

He was so weak behind and the mare was so big he couldn’t even figure out how to nurse. He was what is known as a “dummy foal.” He had to have IV fluids and wore a bandage around his neck. Because he wasn’t nursing they had to give him antibodies. Every two hours they had to try to make him stand and give him a chance to nurse. For 24 to 36 hours they had to actually lift him up bodily.

Spencer, the Veloudis’ 9-year-old son, was already a professional actor, having appeared on TV and on the Broadway stage. In addition to acting, singing, taking tap dancing lessons, studying with The Joffrey Ballet and appearing in Joffrey’s “The Nutcracker.”  He spent much of his time in Manhattan with his older sister Ally, who also was an accomplished writer, actor, as well as a singer and dancer at The Joffrey. In the Fall of 2020, Spencer had just reached the final auditions for The Music Man and Les Miserables, but Covid basically shut down Broadway and became sick with what was believed to be Covid. Because of his illness his parents kept him home long past Christmas and he was there when the colt was born on March 5.

Spencer, who had grown up with horses at the family’s farm, had fallen in love with this stricken foal and rarely left his side. When Broadway opened back up he was offered first chance to go straight to the finals for The Music Man and Les Miserables, all but assuring him the role, but he declined, preferring to stay on the farm to take care of the foal. He eventually took his passion and his drive to succeed on the stage and redirected it toward horses.

“Spencer and Luna’s bond was instant,” said his mom Tiffiney, who is listed as the breeder. “From IV fluids, bottle feedings, surgeries, months in his stall, complications, and so much more, the baby, who we named Spencer’s Boy Luna because of their bond and the half moon star on the colt’s forehead, had a secret weapon on his side….Spencer. Spence cared for him, kept up with his care schedule, fed him, hovered over him, laid with him, and wrapped him in a blanket so he wouldn’t get cold. Spence disagreed strongly with the veterinarian’s opinions the colt would never race, and pushed us to trust him because he knew in his heart Luna was born to run.

“We tried to convince him that maybe one day he could become a hunter/jumper or a riding horse, but he was so much in love with the colt and always believed in him. He kept saying he wants to race. We told him, ‘But how can he? He has screws in him and he’s had all these problems and infections.’ All Spence said was, ‘Look at his heart.’”

The care and devotion paid off and so Spencer’s Boy Luna was sent to Jordan Hattaway to be broken and then to trainer Kara Toye. He stayed sound and finally made it to the races on September 1, 2022 in a one-mile maiden special weight race on grass at Kentucky Downs, racing in Spencer’s name. Not many horses in Kentucky were owned by a 13-year-old boy since the age limit for ownership was 18, but they made an exception for Spencer. Sent off at odds of 78-1, he did little running, finishing 10th, beaten more than 17 lengths. But Spencer wouldn’t give up on him. He had at least proven the veterinarians wrong who said he would never make it to the races.

On October 19, Luna ran in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Keeneland and was eased after falling so far behind the field at odds of 72-1. Instead of being discouraged, Spencer kept saying how proud he was of his horse for racing at Keeneland. Running him in a claiming race was out of the question, as there was no way they could risk losing him.

Spencer kept insisting there was something wrong with the horse the way he stopped so abruptly. So they tried again on December 16 at Turfway Park, but the result wasn’t much better, with Luna finishing 12th, beaten 21 lengths at odds of 116-1.

Also in 2022 Spencer began showing and riding Saddlebreds competitively after getting his lessons from Susi Day at Grey Ridge Farms. She could sense the love he had for horses right from the start. In his first major competition in full suit this past May in Madison, Wisconsin he won first place. When Spencer put his mind to something there was no stopping this determined young boy. And his mind was always on Luna.

Spencer’s parents kept trying to convince him they had done all they could with Luna and that he probably just needed to be “a fun horse.” But Spencer, who had the ability to read horses and connect with them, noticed Luna had shown good early speed and then “hit a wall.” He was convinced he had a breathing problem.

This past January, Luna was sent to Rood and Riddle clinic in Lexington to have two chips removed. Spencer, still feeling the colt was having trouble breathing, wanted the vets to scope him, but they found nothing. Despite that, Spencer remained steadfast in his belief the colt was losing his air. It was decided they had nothing to lose so they had the clinic perform a tie-forward procedure where a suture is placed to pull the larynx forward and prevent the soft palate from displacing.

It looked like an unwise decision when Luna developed an infection from the procedure and came down with a 104-degree fever. Sent back to Rood and Riddle he was put on a nebulizer and given steroids to control the swelling and then went to Kesmarc, a leader in equine hyperbaric medicine, in Versailles to continue his recovery.

If the colt was having trouble breathing in his races at least Spencer would now know for sure. After this it would be futile to keep going with him if he continued to run so poorly. The colt had been through so much already from the day he was born.

Earlier this year, the family’s friend, Billy Jarrell, who had provided insurance work for trainer Eric Reed, suggested they send Luna to him. Veloudis wanted to send Reed both Luna and a 4-year-old Arrogate colt who had already won. Reed said he was full and couldn’t take the Arrogate colt, but for some reason he took Luna and made room for him in the shedrow. Just like that, Luna was now being trained by the 80-1 winner of the 2022 Kentucky Derby — Rich Strike. Everyone at the barn immediately took to Luna because of his sweet disposition, which can be attributed in good part to Spencer for all the love he lavished on him since he was a baby.

Spencer became more optimistic when Luna’s works began to get faster, with one being faster than any work he had ever had. Reed agreed that Luna had been having breathing issues, and now he needed a confidence builder.

“Eric said, ‘Let’s send him to Mountaineer Park (in West Virginia) and let him have some fun races there,’” Tiffiney said. This way it would help him get over his confidence issues.

So they entered him this past Sunday going six furlongs. Earlier in the week Spencer and the family were in Indianapolis for a big national Saddlebred event, the All American Classic Horse Show, but Spencer’s mind was on Mountaineer and Luna’s return to the races to show that he was a different horse after all he had been through. George and Tiffiney returned to Kentucky to watch one of their 2-year-olds run and then went back to Indianapolis for the remainder of the competition, where Spencer finished second in his event despite his mind being elsewhere. “All he kept thinking about was he had to go see his baby,” Tiffiney said.

From Indianapolis they had to rush to West Virginia, arriving at the track just before the race. Unlike in Kentucky, Spencer, at age 13, was too young to be listed as owner and he wasn’t even allowed in the paddock. Because of his new high-profile trainer, who was very popular at Mountaineer, and his quick works, Luna, racing in Tiffiney’s name, was sent off as the even-money favorite.

Luna tracked a rapid pace of :22 1/5 and :45 1/5 before taking the lead inside the eighth pole and drawing away to a 2 1/2-length victory. Spencer, standing by the rail, kept cheering Luna on, finally putting his hands on his head and over his face, almost in disbelief, and continuously shouting “That’s my boy! That’s my boy! That is my boy! I knew you could do it, Luna.”

It didn’t matter that this was a maiden race at Mountaineer. There could have been no greater joy winning the Kentucky Derby. This was three years of love, dedication, trust, and never losing confidence in his boy all coming together in one glorious moment of jubilation.

“Spence is not a crier, but the tears were flowing,” Tiffiney said.

The first person to text Tiffiney was Luna’s first trainer, Kara Toye, who said simply, “Luna tuna!! Yay yay yay!” Tiffiney responded with only “Spence cried,” to which Kara replied, “Omg of course! So happy!”

“We supported Spence but never seriously thought Luna would win or stay sound enough to race,” Tiffiney posted on Facebook. I WAS WRONG. Spence loves horses and has a connection with them. He always has. He’s his daddy’s child. His reaction to Luna winning was the best. PRIDE! I’m proud we have raised a kid who will push us when he feels strongly about something. I can’t predict if Luna will ever win again. And it’s ok if he doesn’t. But on Sept 17, 2023 he made Spencer a winning Thoroughbred owner.”

Regardless of what the future holds for Spencer’s Boy Luna, this was a moment to cherish forever, a bond between a boy and his horse and their unlikely path to the winner’s circle. It didn’t matter which one.

It also didn’t matter in the end that Spencer decided not to do the coveted role of Gavroche in Les Miserables. But if he had he would have given new meaning to the young street urchin’s lyrics, “It only goes to show what little people can do.”

Photos courtesy of the Tiffiney Veloudis

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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42 Responses to “Spencer and Luna: A Love Story”

  1. Carol McComiskey says:

    Thanks, Steve, for this wonderful story featuring the not so famous side of horse racing. They all can’t be stakes winners, but to true horse folks, they’re all noble, from the cheap claimers to the graded stakes winners. Bless Spencer for knowing that, and you for writing Spencer’s and Luna’s story.

  2. Steve,

    Thanks for the heartwarming story. It made my day !!! Been fighting COVID ( Yes it’s back and tested positive wear a mask when reading this … LOL) this past week. You always bring the light when times are dark.

  3. Deacon says:

    If Spencer can be referred to as a modern day horse whisperer, then you are definitely the “word whisperer”.

  4. Sarah McCarthy says:

    May Luna gain confidence from the victory and continue to thrive for Spencer.

  5. Davids says:

    Brilliant, Steve. There are not enough uplifting stories like this to quell the constant negativeness that is written about horse racing then spread throughout the internet/media in constant waves of attack.

    I’ve been watching the Keeneland sales daily and as much as you adore watching the exquisite ‘sights of perfection’ the heart goes out to those colts and fillies that draw little or no interest while being whisked away in a flash.

    Good on you, Spencer. Thanks, Steve.

  6. Deacon says:

    I am not sure that I have ever read a more heart warming & emotional story such as this. You told this saga with remarkable
    passion & care, my eyes welled up that it made it hard to finish reading the story. As we near the 1st day of Autumn this story has put a beautiful final touch to summer. MY heart was so very warmed by this read, fall & winter are not my favorite times of year. Not from an old California surfer boy. Thank you for posting Steve.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I truly appreciate that Deacon. I knew I could depend on you to comment and share your feelings. You are the first male to do so. Racing is more than facts and figures and handicapping. There is a place for them for sure and I post that as well. But once in a while we need stories like this. I just wish the interest was more evenly balanced.

      • Deacon says:

        Like you & so many others I truly love horses. I used to ride a lot as a kid on my uncles ranch. I never had the resources to buy a thoroughbred but I sure wanted to. These stories need to be told. For many, horse racing is basically about the gambling aspect, plus the rich folks who can drop 10 million at an auction. I wonder how that person now who bought the infamous The infamous, The Green Monkey. Horses come & go, such is manner of the sport. The champions last in our memories & stories like this will always stay with those really care. Folks like you & Lynda plus others. I will never forget this story.

        Again so many thanks to you for keeping these stories alive.

  7. Steve Haskin says:

    Looking at all the comments, as usual if not for women I probably would have retired years ago.

  8. Joanne Spencer says:

    Wonderful story, Steve!!

  9. Sharon Brock says:

    Awww. No fair Steve making me cry. What a great story. The love of horses was passed down from my Mother, to me whose first word was horse (much to my parents chagrin), to my son, my granddaughter, and now my great-granddaughter. We were watching the Breeder’s Cup and my little great-granddaughter started squealing, clapping her hands, and bouncing around on her heels. The horse on the screen was Epicenter. I hope her love for horses continues as long as mine has. Thanks again Steve.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you so much for sharing, Sharon. I hope one day horses bring your greeat-granddaughter to tears as well. You have laid the foundation.

  10. Linda Mann says:

    🙂 thank you. Much needed story.

  11. Beth Koch says:

    Oh Steve, you’ve done it again. To paraphrase Spencer’s Mom, “I’m (not much of a) crier, but the tears are flowing”.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Horse stories that bing us to tears are the fabric of the sport. As Jo Anne said below they write themselves. I’m just privilged to be able to present them.

  12. Stephanie Morse says:

    Darn Steve, will you ever write a story that doesn’t bring me to tears? happy, sad, any kind. This one was marvelous.

    I got a bit skeptical when I saw the Saddlebred picture, (oh no, what is wrong with Steve? is he pranking us, was he pranked lol). Saddlebreds are my favorite breed (sorry everyone). I hope young Spencer sticks with them. I always was sad that Miss MaryLou gave them up. She would have been lovely showing a Fine Harness horse and I think she would have enjoyed the after show parties!

    Luna must be some horse.

    Once again, thanks for all your writings. Going off to share with some Saddlebred groups

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I hope I never do, Stephanie. They are not all like this, but too many wondeful stories that arre not about grade 1 horses go unnoticed.

  13. Ms Blacktype says:

    What a wonderful story, Steve. Spencer is a truly remarkable young man, and has that connection to horses that all of us feel. As for Luna, after all his physical ailments, it’s great to hear about his maiden win. I hope he stays sound and lives a full life in the company of the Veloudis family. They literally did everything possible to make this modest racehorse a success on a level where he can thrive: All for the love of the horse.

  14. Casey Phillips says:

    And that’s what it’s all about. The love of the horse. The devotion to their care. Horse people “get it.” Animal people “get it.” If someone doesn’t “get it” they have no understanding of the empathy we feel. The animals also “get it” and you see how they react to certain people more than others.

    Thanks Steve for making me tear up and think about my horses both of whom have been gone for 15 years.

  15. Jo Anne says:


    The best stories write themselves, but you put into words what the rest of us haven’t seen.

    Thank you.

  16. Lynda King says:

    “For the love of a horse”.
    Thank you Steve for sharing Spencer and Luna’s story with us.
    It made my day!

  17. Matthew W says:

    Might as well make moolah, watching your current favorite horse run this Saturday! Ceiling Crusher, a leggy Cal-bred filly is 5-1 in The Cotillion, a gr1 race—Ceiling Crusher crushed a gr3 field in her latest, I think she will grab the early lead, and if allowed to run free for a half …she will be tough to beat! She has talent!..Much smaller Cal-bred crops now, good to see The Chosen Vron and Ceiling Crusher having graded success!

    • Matthew W says:

      This Saturday is a big day— Parx has developed stand alone races for fillies and colts, stand alone gr1s ….good fields, a Horse Racing positive..

    • Davids says:

      Matthew, your prediction came to fruition. Take a bow, the script was perfect.

      • Matthew W says:

        This $22k Nor Cal yearling purchase is a story! She turned back challenges by four fillies, including The Oaks winner, she was coming away at the end Ceiling Crusher is a nice filly..

        • Matthew W says:

          Mr Big does not cover big books, you just never know where a good horse is going to come from, 65 years ago a $400 mare named Joppy was bred to a $400 sire named Saggy, they got a colt who made 37 starts, his first two seasons, one of them a Derby victory….he was no fluke, was Carry Back—he was front page sports news, and was one of the early millionaires..

  18. Amy Hurley says:

    Thanks for this article, Steve. You’re right: This is not the kind of story that the PETA people and their ilk pay attention to, because they don’t allow anything to disturb their belief that racing is cruel and should be banned. But the bond between Spencer and Luna just illustrates what is at the core of horse racing, breeding, and yes, showing horses as well: the love between human and equine. I’m glad Luna finally broke his maiden, but even if he never wins another race, he is a champion to at least one boy and his family.

  19. Jiffy says:

    Beautiful! I don’t know how you found this story, but it was a pleasure to read. Thank you for sharing it. My best wishes to both Spencer and Luna for lots of success in whatever their future endeavors may be.