News » Horse Honours NHL's 9/11 Fallen

September 11, 2010

Two weeks ago, Aces Mark, a six-year-old gelding, was looking for a race.

Sept. 2 looked good at New York State's Saratoga track, until the stewards announced there weren't enough horses to run. Same thing happened the next day.

So, its owners and trainers turned to Belmont Park, famous for hosting the third and final jewel in The Triple Crown. Belmont had something available — on Sept. 11.

"It was like destiny," said Lew Mongelluzzo, a Senators scout, who owns and operates Team Power Play Racing. Aces Mark is a member of that stable.

Normally, Mongelluzzo would be at Ottawa's rookie camp, watching the likes of Bobby Butler, whom he recruited to the nation's capital last season. However, director of player personnel Pierre Dorion, with the organization's blessing, told Mongelluzzo to be with his horse.

Saturday is the nine-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Los Angeles Kings scouts Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis were on United Flight 175, one of the two planes that were flown directly into one of the World Trade Center towers.

Several years later, Mongelluzzo came up with the idea of buying a horse and naming it Aces Mark in their honour. Pricing the initial cost at approximately $150,000 US for purchase and upkeep, he needed help. Not surprisingly, the hockey world delivered. The Kings were represented by former GM Dave Taylor, alongside current executives Dean Lombardi and Ron Hextall.

Also stepping up were Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, former Blues GM Larry Pleau, Hurricanes scout Bob Luccini and broadcaster Ed Olczyk. (Olczyk knows something about horses, cashing in nicely on his 2010 Kentucky Derby bet.)

Despite the assistance, things weren't always easy. The horse had breathing issues. An operation to fix them resulted in an infection. That led to a series of special procedures needed to fix the epiglottis and move its larynx.

"It didn't look good," said Mongelluzzo. "We weren't given much of a chance to race again."

The surgery was performed by a Quebec physician — and hockey fan — named Dr. Norman Ducharme. It was a huge success, allowing Aces Mark to return to the track.

At age six, this horse isn't going to win the Kentucky Derby, but, now, there are some successes. It has four wins, three seconds and three thirds in 20 races. Career earnings recently passed $80,000. Maybe it won't cover its initial investment, but Aces Mark represents something very special. (Quenneville, in particular, made sure things stayed above water financially.)

"It's all come full circle," Mongelluzzo said on Friday. "This is why we bought this horse."

If ever a horse deserves victory, it's this one. Aces Mark in Saturday's eighth race at Belmont.

In honour of Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis, on Sept. 11.