When Tizanexpense breaks from the gate in the Grade 3 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, he will be racing for much more than the obvious.
Racing as a homebred for the Veloudis family, the earnings Tizanexpense garners on the track will be going toward a new project called Cooper's House. When complete, the house will be a safe place for children with all kinds of disabilities to go play, and it will provide resources and respite for their parents.
This is a story that if you didn't know us from the beginning, you'd swear we were making up.
”-- Tiffiney Veloudis
The project is one that is near and dear to George and Tiffiney Veloudis, who live in Lexington but were unexpectedly thrust into the national spotlight this past winter.
Their 3-year-old son Cooper has cerebral palsy, and on the advise of his physical therapist, the couple had a $5,000 playhouse installed in their yard as a new means of therapy. Their neighborhood homeowners association took issue with the therapeutic playhouse and demanded it be taken down.
The story made national news, and a Facebook page called Cooper's House was created by the family. It currently has more than 9,000 members from around the world. The issue remains unresolved, but the Department of Justice has stepped in and mediation is set for April 5.
But the story of Tizanexpense and Cooper starts long before the little boy's struggles were part of the public domain.
The Veloudis family only has two broodmares, and one of them is Tizanexpense's dam, Rezister. They usually sell the offspring and only have a handful of horses in training. Even then, they prefer partnerships because the cost is more affordable. Tizanexpense, however, has always been a bit different.
"This is a story that if you didn't know us from the beginning, you'd swear we were making up," said Tiffiney Veloudis. "He was born three months after Cooper so he became 'Cooper's horse' from the start. Coop is my child that loves and I mean loves horses."
Last year, Cooper required a stem cell transplant at Duke University, and the decision was made to sell the Tiznow colt to help cover the costs. He was entered in the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's selected 2-year-olds in training sale and sold to trainer Al Stall Jr. for $45,000, but the deal fell through.
"They found 'Expense' had a chip in his knee, and instead of helping out with our expenses, I had to pay for him to come back to Kentucky to have surgery and rehab," said Tiffiney. "There's the source of his name Tizanexpense. Last summer 'Expense' was at the farm recovering, and Coop was out there recovering with him. One afternoon, Coop was walking back and forth by the fence and 'Expense' was following him. Back and forth, back and forth. I looked at George and said, 'This horse is going to do great things.' "
Tizanexpense has two victories to his name and enters the Spiral off a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. That was his first time in stakes company, and he had a fairly rough trip after breaking from the far outside post.
"He got bumped pretty good last time, so maybe he will expect it this time and it won't spook him," said Tiffiney. "We hope he does his best, that's all we can ask. They don't know if they are the favorite or not. Maybe he will get out there, decides he likes that Polytrack, and smoke 'em."
Although the leap from allowance horse to graded stakes winner is a fairly sizable one, last year's Spiral Stakes provides plenty of inspiration. The eventual victor came into the race with only a maiden win to his name. Following the Spiral, Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby and was named champion 3-year-old male.
If God blesses our family with a winning horse, I'll use that publicity to bring light on the struggles parents face
”-- Tiffiney Veloudis, Facebook post
"We don't have the disposable income to spend on the big time racing," explained Tiffiney. "We do race a few in West Virginia, but Tizanexpense is our first ever stakes horse. In fact, he's our first allowance racehorse. If nothing else, he's brought Coop and our family a fun distraction in all of this mess."
The family is also committed to trying to raise awareness through the best horse they have ever owned.
"If God blesses our family with a winning horse, I'll use that publicity to bring light on the struggles parents face, whether it's ADHD, asthma or cerebral palsy," Tiffiney posted on the Facebook page for Cooper's House. "And now that the name and tax ID of Cooper's House is in place, I can use Tizanexpense's profits to fund Cooper's House."
While many would be soured by a public struggle like the one that has broken out over Cooper's therapy house, the Veloudis family has been inspired to help others. That is how the idea of an actual place called Cooper's House came to be.
"If anything comes out of this, I just hope one other person doesn't have to go through it," said Tiffiney. "We are fortunate enough we have the means to fight it. A lot of people wouldn't have. We just knew when this happened that so many people have supported us that we have to give back. You can't just take, take, take.
"I started thinking that the kids that would really benefit from these therapy houses are the ones that cannot have a playhouse for whatever reason. I came up with Cooper's House while talking to a friend of mine at the University of Kentucky. It will be a real live house, and it will be [a] place where the kids can go and play and feel normal. We have the idea in place, it is just the money."
Although in its infancy, Cooper's House has already received support from the likes of contractors, engineers and officials with universities. Meetings are in place with those who have already created facilities like this one as well as with local officials to discuss zoning permits. The hope is to have Cooper's House up and running in Lexington by the summer of 2014.
"I would love to say let's have it up and going by next summer, but I know that won't happen," said Tiffiney. "You want everything done right. From the research I have done, two years is pretty much the time line. We have been given so much love and support from everyone that I hope that I can repay a little bit back."
Tizanexpense and his connections may be longshots going into the Spiral, but they are certainly admirable ones.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.