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Local harness owner looks to honor Pancho Billa

Bills Mafia can show up in the most unlikely places.

In September, local harness owner Jim Reuther and his trainer Steve Schoeffel made an innocuous $8,000 purchase of a filly pacer at the Goshen Standardbred sale in Middletown. Little did Reuther know at the time that the filly might have a bigger following than would be expected.

Reuther has plans to rename Bee True Hanover in honor of his late friend, Ezra Castro, aka Pancho Billa, with the name Pancho Power. A couple of hurdles stand in his way before the daughter of Western Ideal becomes part of Bills Mafia lore.

“First, I wanted to get Veronica’s (Borjon, Castro’s longtime partner) blessing as far as naming the horse, and she has to check with her lawyer since Pancho Power is trademarked. Even though I’m not profiting from the name, I think she just wants to check,” said Reuther.

“The second is actually submitting the name with the U.S. Trotting Association. The only hurdle there could be if they’ve issued the name previously.”

Borjon said she is honored by the idea of a horse being named for Castro, but confirmed the family wants to study the legal ramifications before making a decision.

Reuther and Pancho struck up a friendship through Reuther’s memorabilia hobby, where he obtains mostly Bills-signed items and resells them.

“I used to send him stuff, whenever I had a signing I’d always get an extra piece for him,” said Reuther. “We became friends and then the last year he was alive he told me about this fundraiser he did at two Bills Backers bars in Dallas. They’d auction off the memorabilia to raise money and use the proceeds to buy toys for kids at Christmas.”

Reuther, 57, was touched about how Castro would put the children first before his ailments.

“That was a big reason I became buddies with him after that," he said. " I didn’t know how sick he was and I know he was throwing up from the chemo most of the time, but he wasn’t going to let those kids down.”

The former recreation director at the Attica Correctional Facility recently retired after 30 years of service at the prison and has been in the harness game for 17 years.

“I was a fan of the sport and always wanted to get into it,” said Reuther. “I actually got into the business with 3,000 bucks by partnering up on a horse and I’ve had decent luck. I currently have five horses running right now.”

His filly will likely race in Pennsylvania next year as a 2-year-old, where Reuther’s trainer is located.

His biggest win as an owner came in an $114,000 Sire Stakes race at Monticello Raceway with a New-York bred filly named Southwind Prairie, who was a $6,500 yearling purchases.

He hopes this filly can excel, especially if she is lucky enough to don the name of his hero whom he described as sincere and down to earth during their interactions.

“Any time I sent him some memorabilia he sent me something right back and would thank me a million times,” said Reuther. “Even though he was super-sick there was nothing going to prevent him from getting those kids some toys.”

His tweet announcing his intentions to name upon receiving permission caught the eye of Bills Twitter and the reactions were all positive.

“All of the years I owned horses I’ve never changed the name of a horse," he said. "Whenever the name it was at the sale, we kept it. This is the first time I’m actually changing a name, in honor of him."

Should the plan go through, when Pancho Power hits the track, she’ll have an instant fan base behind her.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.

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