The following post first appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.
The Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap and the winner of its 2012 renewal, the Mr. Greeley mare Aruna, figure in a great deal of racing lore and bloodstock history.
Created in 1959 and first run at Jamaica Racecourse in New York, the Sheepshead Bay Handicap commemorates one of the most important early American racetracks. Built by the members of the Coney Island Jockey Club on land adjacent to Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay began racing in 1880, and over the next decade, management there inaugurated such historic and enduring events as the Suburban Handicap in 1884 and the Futurity Stakes in 1888.
In 1886, the track became the first to have a modern turf course, set inside the dirt oval, and it is fitting that Belmont racetrack, which inherited most of Sheepshead Bay’s great races, also hosts the Sheepshead Bay Handicap raced over 11 furlongs of turf.
This year’s winner was the Niarchos family’s Aruna, a dark brown daughter of Mr. Greeley and the Unbridled mare Surya. Like Aruna, Surya and her dam, the Nureyev mare Wild Planet, were bred and raced in the name of the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings.
In addition, all three are stakes winners, and in an unusual succession of excellence, Aruna’s first six dams are all stakes winners.
Preceding Wild Planet is the Sir Ivor mare Ivory Wings, who won the Prix des Tuileries in France, as well as placing third in the G1 Premio Lydia Tesio in Italy. Returned to the States, Ivory Wings was less impressive, winning the highly unimportant Ruffian Handicap (not the one at Belmont) as a 5-year-old in 1983. Still, it was more black type, and the mare had a marvelous pedigree. Furthermore, Ivory Wings had been a good sales yearling herself, and as the second live foal out of the wonderful racemare and producer Kittiwake (by Sea-Bird), she became her dam’s second black-type performer and first stakes winner.
When Kittiwake’s second and third stakes winners came upon the turf, named Larida (Northern Dancer) and Miss Oceana (Alydar), the prospects and evaluation of Ivory Wings soared. Larida won “only” a G2 stakes and a pair of G3s, once against colts, but she was also G1-placed and was by the great little horse himself. Miss Oceana was a better racehorse, was one of the two top performers in Alydar’s first crop, along with Althea, and won a half-dozen G1 stakes.
At the Newstead Farm dispersal of 1985, Miss Oceana brought $7 million and Larida brought $4 million from Carl Icahn in the name of his Foxfield Farm. Grand as they were, they never saw the day when they were worth more.
This was a truly extraordinary family, however, and Kittiwake, a winner of the 18 races and $338,086, produced three stakes winners and another stakes-placed runner from her first five foals. Under the guidance and management of the Hardins of Newstead Farm, the lovely daughter of Sea-Bird never put a hoof wrong, but following her fifth foal, she produced only one stakes winner from eight more foals.
Kittiwake was a major winner at 3, 4, and 5. She won eight stakes, and among her additional placings was a second in 1972 Sheepshead Bay Handicap.
She was the first foal and first stakes winner out of the major stakes winner Ole Liz, who also produced the multiple G3 winner Oilfield (Hail to Reason) and the minor French stakes winner Beaconaire (Vaguely Noble). Ole Liz had been a cracking stakes winner by Double Jay, winning six of her 12 starts as a 2-year-old, including three stakes.
Ole Liz is the fifth dam and stakes winner behind Aruna, and her dam, the Roman mare Islay Mist, is the sixth. Islay Mist was a useful stakes winner who earned her credits with a success in the 1952 La Centinela Stakes. She was one of two stakes winners out of her dam, the Eight Thirty mare Lovely Evening, who was unraced.
Although a disappointment for failing to make the course, Lovely Evening was otherwise a good representative of her dam, the major winner Misty Isle, a daughter of leading sire Sickle who became a major taproot broodmare after a stellar racing career.
Bred and raced by Joseph Widener, Misty Isle won a half-dozen stakes, with the most important probably being the 1940 Matron Stakes at Belmont Park, but historically, the most interesting race she won was the Hyde Park Stakes at Arlington Park, as she defeated colts, including future Triple Crown winner Whirlaway, in the five and a half furlong race.
Aruna traces back past Misty Isle through other good mares to her 13th dam Sallie McClelland (by Hindoo), who won the 1891 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. The previous year, Sallie McClelland had won a trio of stakes, including the Surf Stakes at Sheepshead Bay racecourse.
Racing, the most marvelous of sports, reveals gems of tradition and renewal in ways that even we writers cannot make up.