by Victoria M. Howard
This incredibly generous Wanda Polisseni resides nine months of the year in Rochester, NY and three months in Delray Beach, FL. She shares her homes with 60 tropical birds, wallabies, four dogs and a dwarf horse.
Unlike many others, Polisseni was not brought up in the business, nor does she come from a racehorse family.
“It was always a dream of mine to own a horse. After losing my husband Eugene of 42 years in 2001, I decided to turn my dream into a reality. In 2004, I didn’t have to go further than my backyard to my neighbor, Clint Galbraith. It was New Year’s Eve and I bought six of Clint’s horses. Shortly later I purchased two thoroughbreds from the Abracadabra Farms in Ocala.
“Call it lucky or blessed, I’ve been very successful in the business. I don’t have to win to be happy. If my horse finishes fourth or fifth, I’m okay with that — as long as they come back healthy, I’m very pleased.”
This is a rarity, as many horse owners are not happy with a fourth- or fifth-place check.
Polisseni has been extremely lucky in her 18 years in the racehorse business to have owned such horses as Dejambro, Phaetosive, Classichap, Americhi, Royal Malinda, Smoky Bones, Silk Pajamas and Black Tux White Sox.
Polisseni loves them all.
“I recently lost one named Smokey Bones. My heart is broken for I started out with him, so he was very special. Dejambro is also dear to me and I made it clear that when he is done with his career as a stallion, I want him back.
“I remember in 2011 I was told not to buy the horse Black Tux White Sox, but I went ahead and bought him for he was gorgeous! Luckily, he was not only a looker but was a great racehorse that went on to make me a million dollars. Today, he is enjoying his retirement at Silver Maple Farm.”
Whenever Polisseni’s horses race, you can find her either sitting by herself or with her brother, always donned in purple clothes. Her horses also wear the color. Where did Polisseni come up with the name Purple Haze Stable?
“My daughter Kimberly loved both the color purple and singer Jimi Hendrix. In fact, that was her nickname: Purple Haze. She even had purple hair and that was in 1983 when people didn’t dye their hair crazy colors like they do today.
“Kimberly was 18 years old when she was killed in a car accident. When I was naming my stable my son said it was a no-brainer — naming my stable Purple Haze would be a tribute to my daughter. I feel like she is with me every time I race one of my 4-legged kids and I’m wearing purple.”
Polisseni currently owns 100 horses — split almost equally between thoroughbreds and standardbreds. She doesn’t have preference between the two breeds and loves them all.
She has employed some of the best trainers such as Todd Pletcher, Clint Galbraith, George Ducharme, Chris Engleheart, Howie Okusko and Trond Smedshammer.
“I met Trond in 2009 and it’s the best decision I ever made. He thinks the same way I do, and I just love the way he trains and treats my horses. I was in Kentucky when I first saw him racing. I believe he won The Futurity that day and I said to myself, ‘One day I’m going to have him train for me.’ A couple years later, we were introduced at a sale and have been together ever since. We have a great relationship and I communicate with him better than I did with any other trainer. When we go to a horse sale, Trond wants me to be a part of it. I usually go for something like the color of the horse, but Trond has ‘the eye.’ I am a little partial to Explosive Matter and Credit Winner horses, but the final decision is up to my trainer for he has done a great job for me.”
Recently, Polisseni has taken on another challenge in her busy, full life.
“One day at a racetrack, I watched a film. I had to force myself to watch the movie. It was about the fate that happens to a lot of horses that cannot race anymore. After that I would go into the paddock and see all these big brown eyes looking at me and couldn’t bear the thought of any of these horses hanging on a hook, so I started an adopting agency.
“I know I can’t save all of them — although I would like to — but hope to save as many as possible. Horses that still have a quality of life left but are unable to race anymore can live out their lives in a new career as a riding horse, broodmare or show horse. I also realize there are times when some have to be humanely euthanized.
“I started The Purple Haze Thoroughbred Adoption Agency in Farmington, New York in 2007 which is located at Finger Lakes Racetrack, right on the track. Over 400 thoroughbreds have found new homes and new careers through FLTAP.
“The best thing is when a horse reaches the end of his racing career, they can walk right over to FLTAP. I believe this is the only facility of its kind that is located right at the track.
“Recently I bought a farm in Oxford, NY, which will be restricted to New York standardbreds for the farm is only so big and can only hold so many. It’s called The Purple Haze Standardbred Adoption Program (PHSAP) and is nearing completion. The tentative date for opening is June 1.”
This is Polisseni’s latest effort to ensure a safe haven for retired standardbreds transitioning to a new life when their racing career is over.
The farm is 105 acres and the main house will become the headquarters of the PHSAP, as well as the new home of the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State.
“It needed some tailoring, which is presently being done, and now has 20 new stalls and turn-out paddocks. There will be a written application process, a small placement fee that will offset the cost of retraining, and all candidates will be vetted before acceptance. Once in the program the horses will be trained, adopted out and tracked after they move to their new home. If a circumstance arises where a horse is not in a good situation, he or she comes back to the farm and will be placed again.”
A special thanks to a wonderful, compassionate woman who is helping standardbreds and thoroughbreds. Harness racing needs more people like Wanda Polisseni.
More information on the Purple Haze Standardbred Adoption Program is available here.