Forty-five years ago, a specific incident was essential to the existence of Travel Column (by Frosted), winner of the 2021 Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 20. That was the recovery of the filly’s fourth dam, champion filly Carnauba, from a knacker’s yard in Italy, scarcely 24 hours before the filly would have become rather less-valuable chops and such.
In the dead of night in August 1975, Carnauba had been secreted out of the training yard of Luigi Turner. He was the racing trainer in Italy for Nelson Bunker Hunt, the international oil tycoon and financier who owned the filly and had purchased her as a yearling at the 1973 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale for $20,000.
For Hunt, Carnauba had won eight of 14 starts at two and three, and she was ranked as the top filly in Italy both seasons. At three in 1975, Carnauba had won the Group 1 Oaks d’Italia and had ventured afield to win the G3 Fred Darling Stakes at Newmarket. As a big, dark-coated daughter of leading sire Noholme, Carnauba was a valuable racer and a high-quality broodmare prospect, as well.
So, her disappearance was a stunning blow to the filly’s immediate connections, and then the thieves demanded a ransom. Variously reported as $250,000 or more, the ransom was never going to be paid by Hunt, who reportedly feared he would be encouraging more mischief of this sort and resolved not to reward the theft.
The great columnist Red Smith expanded on the situation after Carnauba’s recovery and wrote that, “Turner kept in contact with the kidnappers, and finally he made a deal to pay $13,000,” to get her back. Turner arranged with the police to pretend to get money from a bank, then actually to place bundles of newsprint in a valise, which was thrown over a hedge to be recovered by the thieves. This worked effectively enough to capture them, and a half-dozen were jailed as a result.
Carnauba, however, had not been found.
The trainer’s son, Frank Turner, had made a mission of tracking down the filly, and eventually, he got a tip about a horse that seemed out of place. The thieves had sent the race filly to a riding academy, cropped her mane, and removed her racing plates to make her less obviously a racehorse; she had not prospered there because the young riders couldn’t handle a high-energy racehorse, and either out of spite or desperation, the thieves had sent Carnauba to a butcher’s yard, where Turner discovered her in January 1976, reportedly just 24 hours before she would have gone up to auction for meat.
Identified and returned to her owner, Carnauba was flown back to the States, and in March 1976, the young mare was covered by Hunt’s great Arc de Triomphe winner Vaguely Noble (Vienna). Carnauba got in foal on a single cover.
The result was a filly named Spirited Away, who did not race. The mare’s next two foals, Rich and Riotous (Empery) and Lyphard’s Holme (Lyphard) were winners, but by the time of the silver market crash that claimed Hunt’s fortune, Carnauba had a modest production record. So, at the dispersal of the Bluegrass Farm stock at Keeneland in 1988, Carnauba brought only $35,000 from Harry Mangurian, who knew a bargain when he saw one.
Having slipped twins to Hunt’s stallion Dahar (Lyphard), Carnauba was even less attractive as a commercial proposition, but Mangurian bred racing stock, as well as some sales horses, at his Mockingbird Farm in Florida. The mare’s first foal for Mockingbird was the stakes winner Valid Carnauba (Valid Appeal), whom Mangurian sold as a yearling for $35,000 at the 1990 OBS August yearling sale, then was resold for $60,000 at the Fasig-Tipton February auction of 2-year-olds in training in 1991. Valid Carnauba became a winner later that year, then progressed to win a stakes at three and place in two more, earning $110,292. She later sold, in foal to champion Unbridled, for $290,000 at the 1996 Keeneland November sale.
Valid Carnauba became one of four daughters of Carnauba to produce stakes winners; the others were Spirited Away, Rich and Riotous, and Lyphard’s Holme. One who did not was Pay the Ransom (J.O. Tobin), who did not race and did not produce even a black-type horse. Her best winner was Free Ransom (Our Native), and this mare produced a pair of stakes winners, including Swingit (Victory Gallop), the dam of Travel Column.
Bred in Kentucky by Bayne and Christina Welker, Travel Column was an $850,000 Saratoga select yearling in 2019, and she has earned more than a half-million with three victories in five starts, including the G2 Golden Rod Stakes last year at Churchill Downs. Swingit also produced Neolithic (Harlan’s Holiday), who earned $2.2 million and is at stud. She has a 2-year-old colt, Corton Charlemagne (American Pharoah), who sold for $1.25 million last year, and a yearling colt by City of Light (Quality Road). She was bred back to Audible (Into Mischief).