By Katie Petrunyak
A 3-year-old filly trained by Cherie DeVaux will be looking to do more than just break her maiden when she makes her career debut at Turfway Park on Thursday. The daughter of Unified named Spencer's Sparkle carries the legacy of Spencer Stephens.
Spencer, whose mother Dawn was DeVaux's high school classmate, died in a car accident at the young age of 18 in November of 2020.
An openly gay person, Spencer was loved by many and was an inspiration to those around him. He was active in his church and his school's theater department and was crowned homecoming king during his senior year. After his passing, an outreach program called Spread Spencer's Sparkle was set up in Spencer's honor.
On the organization's website, Spencer is described as someone who “always had a smile on his face” and “looked out for the people he loved, was incredibly thoughtful and was one of the most fun people to be around.”
The filly now named Spencer's Sparkle was purchased as a 2-year-old by DeVaux's 11-year-old stepdaughter Reagan Ingordo. Inspired by Spencer's story, the Ingordo-DeVaux crew named their new acquisition after Spencer.
David Ingordo's daughter Reagan has used her platform in the industry to help spread awareness about charities in the past. In December of 2021, her own namesake Reagan's Decision (Unified) raced to benefit relief efforts for the tornadoes in western Kentucky.
“David and I try to teach Reagan about charity and empathy,” DeVaux explained. “With this filly, it opens up the door for conversation and it creates teachable moments. We talk about how we're blessed to have a lot of nice horses and it gives us an opportunity to show her that what we do can have a bigger meaning and can raise awareness.”
DeVaux shared that Spencer's Sparkle, who has put in seven works over Keeneland's training track this year, seems to have adopted a bit of her namesake's personality.
“I was telling Dawn about how the filly is quite opinionated and tries to get the better of her riders. She told me that Spencer was the same way.”
Spencer's Sparkle will debut in the nightcap of Turfway's Thursday card, which features a field of 12. DeVaux said she doesn't like to place too many expectations on her first-time starters, but added that the filly shows all the potential for success.
“She seems pretty quick. She should fit the six furlongs and she's bred to be able to handle the Tapeta. She definitely acts very forward mentally.”
Various DeVaux trainees have had a meaningful story behind their names over the years, like in the case of another maiden filly named Mayo Miracle that was in their stable a few years ago.
“If a horse's name can bring awareness to something, we're happy to use it as a platform,” DeVaux explained. “For us it's just naming a horse, but for Spencer's mom, who has really had a hard time with the grief, it has given her something to look forward to. She gets excited when I send her updates about the filly.”
DeVaux said that Dawn won't be able to make Spencer's Sparkle's debut, but that her team is planning to livestream the race for her. And if all goes well in the filly's first start, there will be more sparkles to watch for in the future.