There once was a mare named Grey Flight.
A foal of 1945, the gray daughter of English Derby winner Mahmoud (by Derby winner Blenheim) sold at the 1946 Saratoga select yearling sale. The filly was so fine that she brought $45,000, the highest price for a filly at the Saratoga sale 75 years ago.
The buyer was the Wheatley Stable of Gladys Mills Phipps, and Grey Flight went on to become a stakes winner at 2 and 3, earning $68,990. Better at two, when she was ranked fourth among the fillies on the Experimental Free Handicap, Grey Flight won the Autumn Days Stakes at Empire City racecourse and was second or third in a half-dozen more stakes that year, including the Frizette and the Spinaway.
Grey Flight’s connections to Saratoga do not end with her sale there and good effort in the Spinaway. Most notably, the mare’s daughter Bold Princess won the 1962 Schuylerville Stakes at Saratoga, and Grey Flight’s son What a Pleasure won the 1967 Hopeful there.
Quite a few of Grey Flight’s further descendants have won major events at the Spa over the decades, and on Aug. 7, Bella Sofia won the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga, and her fourth dam is a mare named Clear Ceiling.
Like Bold Princess and What a Pleasure, Clear Ceiling is out of Grey Flight, and all three are by the Horse of the Year and great sire Bold Ruler. When Wheatley Stable retired Bold Ruler to stud at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, the decision was made to keep the horse, arguably the fastest son of the great sire Nasrullah, as a privately owned stallion by the breeder.
Although the common practice of the time was to syndicate prominent sire prospects, Mrs. Phipps was a woman of independent mind and fortune, and she certainly loved her horses. By keeping Bold Ruler privately owned, Wheatley took a risk by losing the profits from a syndication; the benefit of keeping him private was that Wheatley was able to arrange foal-shares for its increasingly popular sire with some of the best broodmares in the country.
As luck would have it, however, Wheatley had two of the best broodmares in the breed already in their band at Claiborne: Grey Flight and her champion daughter Misty Morn (Princequillo).
In all, Grey Flight produced nine stakes winners, including three by Bold Ruler, and Misty Morn produced five stakes winners, including four by Bold Ruler. Two of those were the champions Bold Lad (champion juvenile colt of 1964) and his full brother Successor (champion juvenile colt of 1966). Misty Morn had been one of the mares in Bold Ruler’s first book, and she produced the filly Bold Consort, who won the 1963 Test Stakes.
One of Grey Flight’s foals by Bold Ruler who didn’t win a stakes was Clear Ceiling, a filly born in 1968. From 17 starts, Clear Ceiling won five races, and she became an important producer when sent to stud.
Her best racer was 1,000 Guineas winner Quick as Lightning, who proved the only winner of a top-class race bred on the cross of Horse of the Year Buckpasser to a daughter of Horse of the Year Bold Ruler.
Clear Ceiling’s second and third stakes winners were Stratospheric and Infinite, by the Phipps stallion Majestic Light (Majestic Prince). Tragically, both Quick as Lightning and Stratospheric died before producing foals, but Infinite, winner of the Garden City Stakes and third in the Diana and the Yellow Ribbon, did manage to produce the minor stakes winner Polish Treaty (Danzig), as well as the three-time winner Option Contract (Forty Niner).
Option Contract is the second dam of Bella Sofia and produced the solid stakes winner Shake the Dice, who earned $523,851, and the stakes-placed Love Contract (Consolidator), who is the dam of this year’s winner of the Test.
Bella Sofia is the third foal of her dam, following winners by Bullet Train and Overanalyze. Now a winner in three of her four starts, Bella Sofia has immediately brought a degree of attention to her sire, Awesome Patriot, that was missing before.
Retired to stud in Kentucky at Spendthrift Farm, Awesome Patriot (Awesome Again) is a full brother to 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow, who has his best racer to date in 2021: Hot Rod Charlie, who was home first in the G1 Haskell (then disqualified), second in the G1 Belmont Stakes, and winner of the G2 Louisiana Derby earlier in the year.
Bella Sofia is undoubtedly the best racer to represent Awesome Patriot and is the sire’s fifth lifetime stakes winner from five crops of racing age. Now standing at stud in Ohio, Awesome Patriot is notable for his part in reviving the G1 quality in this branch of the historic female line of Grey Flight.