The following post appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.
The happy news that Rachel Alexandra produced her first foal, a big colt by Curlin, is a reminder that she was Horse of the Year in 2009. Her successors as Horse of the Year are also mares: Zenyatta in 2010 and Havre de Grace in 2011, although U.S. racing had never before found a trio of mares to earn that honor.
Previously, Twilight Tear (1944) and Busher (1945) had been the only fillies to win successive acclaim as Horse of the Year. In between the World War II era champions and the present trio, Azeri (2002), Lady’s Secret (1986), All Along (1983), and Moccasin (1965 in a split decision with Roman Brother) are the only other fillies or mares chosen as the overall champion.
They make a grand list of exceptional racers who won many of the most coveted prizes of the American turf. And some of them became outstanding producers. In the context of Rachel Alexandra producing her first foal and the prospect of Zenyatta following suit before long, the production success of our best racemares is of even more interest.
Twilight Tear (1941 by Bull Lea x Lady Lark, by Blue Larkspur), the first filly Horse of the Year, was the most similar to Rachel Alexandra, a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro. Like the 2009 champion, Twilight Tear was from the first crop by her sire, and she also became his first champion racer.
Whereas Rachel Alexandra became a national hero with victory in the Preakness, Twilight Tear’s stablemate Pensive (Hyperion) was busy winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1944. That season, she had been terrorizing the fillies in the Acorn and the CCA Oaks so that Calumet Farm appeared to have the best colt and filly of the season.
They met in the Arlington Classic, where Twilight Tear crushed the colts, then continued a scorched earth campaign through the year that included a victory in the Pimlico Special, earning her the national title.
As a producer, Twilight Tear was outstanding. She produced three stakes winners from seven foals, and two of them were notably high-class horses. As Calumet Farm’s second Horse of the Year, Twilight Tear was initially mated to Calumet’s first Horse of the Year, Whirlaway. The mare’s first two foals were by Whirlaway, and the second was stakes winner Coiner. Her third foal, A Gleam, was by Whirlaway’s sire, English Derby winner Blenheim, and she was ranked as the second-best 3-year-old filly in 1952 behind stablemate Real Delight after thrashing the better colts and fillies on the West Coast.
Twilight Tear’s last stakes winner was Bardstown (Alibhai), who was gelded and didn’t race until he was 4, but who nonetheless was a sparkling performer. He won major stakes each year, raced through age 7, and earned $628,752 in 1950s real dollars while winning major events like the Widener (twice), Trenton, and Gulfstream Park handicaps.
Although they never met on the racetrack, Busher (1942 by War Admiral x Baby League, by Bubbling Over) was as justly acclaimed as her predecessor as Horse of the Year. Winner in 15 of 21 starts, Busher was champion filly at 2, then the best of everything at 3, when she also became the leading money-earning filly to that time.
Busher defeated older fillies in the Santa Margarita, then older colts and horses in first the Arlington and then the Washington Park Handicap, as well as colts her own age in the Hollywood Derby.
As a racehorse, Busher was clearly as talented as any human beings that her owner Louie B. Mayer elevated into movie stardom.
But as a producer, things were not so easy for Busher. From five foals, only one raced. But that one counted. The mare’s only colt was the handsome Jet Action (by Kentucky Derby winner Jet Pilot). Jet Action won major stakes each year from 3 through 6, and at stud he may be best remembered as the sire of the second dam of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.
If Busher is counted as having an erratic production record, the results from Lady’s Secret were massively disappointing (no stakes winners), and All Along (Targowice) was only good, with two stakes winners, including G2 winner Along All (Mill Reef) in France.
But of all these Horses of the Year, the queen bee was Moccasin (1963 by Nantallah x Rough Shod, by Gold Bridge), a big and exceptionally fast 2-year-old who generated a lot of discussion about her potential for the Kentucky Derby of 1966 in a crop that also included champion Buckpasser and brilliant Graustark. The Derby did not work out for any of that trio, but the unbeaten juvenile champion filly was equally amazing at stud. From nine foals, Moccasin produced seven stakes winners.
Statistically, with fewer than 4 percent stakes winners annually for the breed, that ratio of success is impossible. But Moccasin did it anyway. The best of her foals was European highweight Apalachee (Round Table), who returned to Kentucky and became a useful sire of fast, rugged racers.
And the lesson from these big, beautiful, and brilliant performers is that, just as they dominated on the racetrack, the top racemares succeed more often than the norm in their role as mothers to the next generation of racing stars.