New Challenge For 'Wonder Woman'

Published: June 26, 2013 06:54 pm EDT

As if 73-year-old Wanda Polisseni doesn’t have enough challenges and obligations in her wonderfully hectic life, she’s added another. Last month, with the impetus from her trainer Trond Smedshammer, she purchased last year’s New York Sire Stakes champion two-year-old trotting colt Fashion Blizzard, who’s been struggling at three.

“I received a phone call from Trond, and he asked me how’d I feel about buying Fashion Blizzard,” she said. “I love the horse. He was great last year. He was having trouble and making breaks this year. Trond thought he could figure him out. I said, `Of course, go ahead.’”

What the heck, she only owned 120 horses at the racetrack and at the farm.

Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds? “It’s roughly 50-50,” she said.

Her approach? “I let the trainers worry about them,” she said. “I get to love them and watch their races, which is phenomenal."

One of the Thoroughbred trainers who has had her horses is Todd Pletcher, perennially at or near the top of the standings at the major circuits in New York and Florida.

“She’s a very nice lady to train for,” Pletcher said Tuesday. “She’s great. She understands the game and she’s a pleasure.”

The pleasure is all hers. Literally.

“The most exciting thing for me is to see my very own horse go down the track in my colours,” she said. “When my horses race, I always wear purple. I feel I’m supporting the horse. Win or lose, as long as my horse comes back healthy, I’m happy. I’m very pleased.”

Smedshammer is pleased to have her as a client and as a partner on Fashion Blizzard.

“I can’t describe how nice she is to train for,” he said Tuesday. “She’s great. You can’t ask for better. She understands that they’re all not going to be champions. All she wants is for them to get their best shot to be the best they can be. She just never puts any pressure on you. She loves her horses and she has a great attitude about racing.”

Now wait a second. Is this the same Wanda who is involved with the Finger Lakes Adoption Program? Yes.

Is this the same Wanda who attracts thousands of visitors to her Christmas lights display? Yes.

Is this the lady that races Thoroughbreds under the name of My Purple Haze? Yes.

And harness horses under the name of Purple Haze Stable? Yes again. She wanted to call her Thoroughbred stable Purple Haze, but that name was turned down by The Jockey Club.

No matter. She is literally “Wanda the Wonder Woman” in Upstate New York. What’s absolutely stunning about her resume is that she’s only owned horses for nine years, yet has achieved considerable success. Last year in the New York Sire Stakes, her two-year-old trotting filly Royal Malinda and her two-year-old pacing filly Silk Pajamas combined to earn more than $160,000.

This year, Americhi, a three-year-old pacing colt, finished third in a division of the New York Sire Stakes at Yonkers that went in 1:55.

Americhi, a son of American Ideal, was unraced at two, and that was by design.

“We’re firm believers in not killing them as two-year-olds,” she said.

Wandasbettorchoice, a three-year-old colt by Bettors Delight that she owns with George Wyman, raced only twice last year, then broke his maiden in his sixth start this year before stepping up to his Sire Stakes debut, finishing out of the money at Yonkers June 14.

He may have better days ahead of him.

These are better days for Wanda.

In 1983, her 18-year-old daughter Kimberly was killed in a car accident. In 2001, she lost her husband, Gene, who was a vice-president of Paychex.

“You have to go on,” she said.

She figured the best way to handle the present and the future was to connect to her past.

“I had always been around horses,” she said. “When I was a kid, we boarded harness horses on our farm, in a little burgh called Potter between Canandaigua and Keuka Lake. I said, `One day I’m going to own a horse.’ I also said, `One day I’m going to win the Kentucky Derby.’ My husband passed away in 2001 and I decided I wanted to do something that I’ve always wanted to do. I wish I’d done it a lot earlier.”

Wanda purchased six harness horses from Hall of Famer Clint Galbraith, whose farm in Scottsville wasn’t far from Wanda’s home in Fairport, a suburb of Rochester.

“Two weeks later, I went down to my home in Naples, Florida and bought three Thoroughbreds,” she said.

Naming her stable for a Jimi Hendrix song? “My son Greg came up with the idea,” Wanda said. “Purple was Kimberly’s favourite colour. And she loved Jimi Hendrix.”

How did Wanda’s stable grow from nine horses to 100?

“It just catapulted,” she said.

Her home is near Finger Lakes Racetrack and Wanda was one of the driving forces that created the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program in November, 2007. All Wanda did was contribute The Purple Haze Center, a 10,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art barn that can house up to 16 Thoroughbreds. FLTAP has found new homes and new careers for more than 400 Thoroughbreds in less than six years and the program was presented the prestigious Lavin Cup Award at the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ annual awards dinner in 2007.

“I wish I could do more,” Wanda said.

She doesn’t help horses only. For the past decade, she has brought thousands of visitors to her home to see what has become her legendary Christmas lights display.

“Just before Thanksgiving, I put them up,” she said. “We get thousands of people coming past the house. Just to see the look on their faces...three out of five cars have adults only.”

Some people offer to pay an admission fee. She declines, telling them to donate the money to charity if they are so inclined.

Inside the house are two eight-foot evergreen trees adorned in white lights.

In a story in the Fairport East Rochester Post last December, she told reporter Bethany Young that the genesis for the lights display may have come from her childhood:

“We were dirt poor,” Wanda said. “I think that’s why we didn’t have many decorations.”

She does now. Lots of Christmas lights and lots of horses.

“I’m 73 and let me tell you, most of my people, I outrun them,” she said. “I go day and night. I start at 6:30 in the morning and go to midnight. I watch some TV and go through my mail and I go to sleep at 2 a.m. I don’t know how I do it. I like to do things differently.”

(Harness Horse Breeders of New York State)



The love of People and the love of Horses, makes WANDA a QUEEN, good luck with your horses. Have a good day.Ron

Nice Lady !!! We were in a rail box next to her at Lexington when her horse Dejarmbro won a heat of The Kentucky Futurity, and out of the blue (I mean purple) she asks my wife to look after her purse while she goes for her winners circle picture. She has fun watching her horses. Maybe if I had looked after her purse,I would have had more fun too. Just kidding !!! Good Luck to her with Fashion Blizzard and the rest of her horses.

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