A walk through the wintry wonders of Kentucky pastureland this morning, with ice coating the fence boards and the stems of any hardy shrubs and plants, brought to mind an outing with a mare in 1985.
In the early spring, probably the first week of April or a bit earlier, I had the opportunity to ride along with a maiden mare going to Spendthrift Farm to be bred to Raise a Native (by Native Dancer). The man didn’t have to ask me twice.
The mare going to the shed was Monique Rene (Prince of Ascot), a winner of 29 races from 45 starts, including the Pan Zareta Handicap twice, the Chou Croute Stakes, the Mardi Gras Handicap, all at the Fair Grounds, earning $456,250. Well as she raced elsewhere, Monique Rene loved Louisiana Downs, which was pretty much the home track of owner John Franks, and there she won the Valencia, Victoria (twice), Sugarland (twice), Creole State, Suthern Accent, Honeymoon, Diplomat, and Southern Maid. The red mare was fast and game; fans loved her.
She had been a lot of fun for Mr. Franks, and he reciprocated by sending her to some of the best stallions available. For her first match, I was told that he had purchased the season to Raise a Native for $400,000. If that seems impossible today, remember that these were syndicated stallions in the days before syndication agreements allowed essentially bottomless books.
If a breeder wanted a season to a stallion of significance, he had to pay the price, whatever that was.
So, I vaulted into the passenger seat of the box truck, and we headed out to cross Fayette County on a cold morning that looked so much like this one. A freezing rain had coated the timber with a thin layer of ice, and it made a memorable morning even more lovely to look at. The temps must have risen to slightly above freezing by the time we were on the way because the roads were clear. Even the smaller ones held no hazard for a careful driver.
Even so, we went at only a steady pace because we were well ahead of time and arrived to unload the muscular chestnut mare in good time for her to be checked by the breeding crew and take a place outside the old Spendthrift breeding shed. John Williams ran the stallions and breeding shed for Spendthrift; it was a smooth-running machine, nothing out of place.
With Monique Rene being a maiden, I’m sure they jumped her with a teaser, but I don’t recall that. I only remember Raise a Native. He would have been 24 by this time, but he was still such a beast. He pranced into the breeding shed, ears up, tail swishing. He looked like the boss, and he surely was.
Although Raise a Native was no longer a youngster, he took maybe 30 seconds to cover, then was snorting like a train coming round the bend, arching his neck. He was so full of energy and character that you could see why people were drawn to him, and he sired some tremendous athletes. As he walked out of the shed, he flashed his long red tail from side to side as he went, and the morning lit him up in the bright red chestnut that was “Raise a Native red” and must have belonged to his grandsire American Flag, as well as his sire Man o’ War and Fair Play.
Reloading a well-traveled mare like Monique Rene took minutes, and then she was on the road again. Pronounced in foal by the veterinarian and returned to Louisiana, she delivered a red filly about 11 months later that Mr. Franks named Ronique. As a racehorse, Ronique did nothing. She made six starts, finished third once, and earned $700.
Although the young mare’s racing career added nothing to the sportsman’s immense racing stable, as a broodmare, Ronique more than made up for that. Her best racer was the Kissin Kris gelding Kiss a Native, who was nearly as prolific a winner as his granddam. He won stakes at 2, 3, 4, and 7, was second in the G1 Donn at 5, earned $1.1million, and was the 2000 champion 3-year-old in Canada.
Much later, in 2007, I acquired Ronique. No longer a broodmare, Ronique was not a sedentary old codger. That long-bodied red rebel would have run a 3-year-old to death. She was, without a doubt, the most active older mare I’ve ever encountered. My sympathies to her trainer Harold Delahoussaye and groom when she was stuck in a stall on the racetrack.
According to Equibase, Ronique had raced from June 1989 to January 1990, and from what I saw of her hyperactive personality on the farm, they surely gave up on the racing option with her because she was mentally unsuited to spending life in a stall.
Her foals, or at least most of them, did not have that difficulty, and certainly Kiss a Native had a very long career. Ronique spent the rest of her life on the farm with me, and perhaps it was fitting that, being there at the beginning, I was there for her at the end.