LAS CRUCES - A riderless horse that crossed the finish line first in an Aug. 4 race at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack & Casino is on its way toward Internet fame, thanks to a video that's gone viral.
Through Friday, the roughly 1-minute, 40-second Facebook video featuring a racehorse named Fancy Stripe had garnered more than a half-million views and nearly 9,800 shares since being posted soon after the race.
Fancy Stripe wins at Ruidoso, New Mexico racetrack
At the race start, Fancy Stripe stumbled out of the starting gate, causing jockey Justin Shepherd to tumble off. Fancy Stripe recovered. But instead of stopping or running to the side of the track, the 3-year-old horse kept running — competitively.
Reins flapping, Fancy Stripe, wearing No. 3, kept pace with the three other horses in the race, soon securing a place at the head of the pack.
In the final stretch of the 7.5-furlong race Fancy Stripe appears to crowd the nearest contender, Wrapped, and its jockey. The riderless horse then crossed the finish line first, just ahead of another.
Does Fancy Stripe's win count? Racetrack says no.
Ty Wyant, Ruidoso Downs Racetrack & Casino media relations director, said Shepherd was OK after the fall. He was "able to walk off the track to the jockey quarters," the racetrack announced in a news release.
Wyant said he's seen horses wander off to the side of the track after losing riders. And on occasion, he's seen a riderless horse finish a race.
"As far as one actually finished first, I don't recall it," he said. "It's highly unusual. He (Fancy Stripe) obviously knows what his job is and ran around."
Cynthia Lovell of Midland, Texas happened to be attending the races that day. She said it was funny to see the horse continue after the jockey fell off and "then watch Fancy Stripe run the entire race ahead of the rest."
"The really funny part was the lady next to me who was determined to go and collect her winnings, even when the people with her told her she didn’t win," Lovell told the Sun-News on Friday.
A number of social media viewers asked the racetrack whether Fancy Stripe's win counts. Unfortunately, it doesn't.
To win, a horse must have a rider, Wyant said.
Without carrying the extra 100-plus-pound weight of a jockey, a horse would have an advantage over others carrying riders.
During the race, the track's announcer was keeping the audience — and jockeys — posted with a running commentary, Wyant said. As far as the crowd goes, "they got into it."
"I think they were kind of rooting for it, actually," he said, referring to Fancy Stripe.
Some commenters noted the situation could have been dangerous. Without the guidance of a jockey, the horse's unpredictability risked the safety of other horses or riders. But, at least in this instance, the horses and riders emerged from the situation unscathed.
Facebook post continues to go viral
Wrapped, the horse with a jockey that appears second in the finish-line photo, was the actual winner of the race, which was the second of 10 races run on Aug. 4.
Fancy Stripe's performance will be officially logged as an unfinished race.
Meanwhile, the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack & Casino's Facebook post continues to gain traction. Wyant said it "definitely went viral."
"It may be the most-viewed video that came out of here," he said.
Ronnie Cloud was the official second-place finisher while Attila’s Ghost finished third, according to a racetrack news release.
Jockeys were wearing pink in the race to honor breast cancer patients and survivors.
Diana Alba Soular may be reached at 575-541-5443, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AlbaSoular on Twitter.