Just because a filly doesn't win the Kentucky Derby or go around smashing world records, her name won't be as widely acclaimed as Swaps or Citation. That is an injustice for which horsemen, otherwise as gallant a segment of the population as any, are responsible. Yet the basis for this whole industry is breeding—and without first-class mares on the country's breeding farms, what does a breeder prove by owning a million-dollar stallion?
Major filly and mare races, which are just as important to a breeder as the Belmont Stakes, just haven't been exploited as much as they deserve in relation to their tremendous influence. Mares aren't usually familiar to the general public until one of them develops into such an outstanding racer that she becomes a very special sort of celebrity. Thus a man who may have no idea of how many fillies have started in the Derby will nonetheless remember the name of Regret, for she was the only filly ever to win it. Similarly he may, upon mention of the name Bewitch, recall that this great daughter of Bull Lea still holds the money-earning record ($462,605) for any race mare. The names of Twilight Tear and Busher should ring a bell too, for both of them in the mid-40s were voted horse-of-the-year honors.
Fillies and mares race, of course, for the same reason as colts, and although the majority of them lack the physical strength to compete on equal terms with the better colts, the owner of a filly is vitally interested in determining his filly's racing class and her qualities of speed and stamina, for these are the factors which will relate directly to her future value as a desirable brood mare. With racing growing by leaps and bounds, there is always a market for good mares, and the choosy buyer will give special attention to a mare whose racing career included a few notable stakes victories. Likewise a buyer at the Keeneland sales later this month and at Saratoga in August will probably be more impressed if the yearling of his choice is out of a mare of proved racing ability rather than out of an unraced mare, no matter what success may have been enjoyed by the yearling's granddam or great-granddam.
Where, then, does the owner with a good filly or mare take her for the best tests and the proper recognition? In recent years Delaware Park has become the best place to go, and it has done more than any track in the country to build up distaff racing. Delaware Park's General Manager Bryan Field says, "There was double motivation behind our filly and mare program. Our track was being hurt by the overlapping racing dates of tracks in neighboring states, and about the only way we could figure to get around—or overcome—this serious intrusion was to offer horsemen something really smashing and big. Secondly, most of Delaware Park's directors are connected with the breeding end of racing. So, out of all this collective thought and study, came a perfect solution: we would put on a series of three filly and mare races for a total value of a quarter of a million dollars, and the best would be sure to show up."
The series, which soon came to be known as the Distaff Big Three, has received the blessings of such influential local horsemen as William DuPont, Donald Ross, Walter Neffords and George Widener. And to add to the growing interest in the buildup of filly and mare races, the track recently polled the membership of the American Trainers Association to draw up a list of the 10 greatest race mares of all time. The list (see box) contains some of the great names in American racing which influenced breeding long after their racing days were over.
Quite aside from the general subject of distaff racing for a minute, this chart shows so acutely how tremendous has been the increase in purse distribution in recent years. Look, for instance, at the record of Regret, who won nine of 11 starts including the Derby—and yet her winnings only totaled $35,093. The fifth name on the list, Miss Woodford, was the first American racer of either sex to earn $100,000, but look at the number of victories she had to achieve to reach that goal. And how about the last name on the list, Imp, who started an unbelievable 171 times—winning 62 races—and still only earned $70,119.
Trainers, incidentally, are going to be polled annually from now on to discover if they feel there are any active race mares who deserve to make the select list.
The 1956 Distaff Big Three provided Delaware Park patrons some pretty exciting racing—and some exciting upsets. The first was the Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies only, at a mile and an eighth. In this one King Ranch's Dotted Line, a well-beaten sixth behind Levee and Princess Turia in the Coaching Club Oaks at Belmont, turned the tables on her conquerors, winning by a neck. A week later, the New Castle at a mile and a sixteenth found Calumet's Miz Clementine in front the whole way to beat Searching, Myrtle's Jet and nine others.
Last weekend the victors of the first two races clashed for the big money, a gross purse of $156,500, of which over $100,000 would go to the winner of the Delaware Handicap. But Miz Clementine and Dotted Line weren't the only runners to show up. Some 13 other fillies and mares came out to challenge them, and in the field were last year's Delaware winner, Parlo, and that gallant gray, High Voltage. Also down from New York where she hadn't started since winding up seventh in the Top Flight Handicap over a month ago, was Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane's 4-year-old bay filly Flower Bowl, a daughter of Alibhai out of Flower Bed. Somehow the crowd let Flower Bowl get away at 16-to-1 odds. And somehow Flower Bowl fooled 'em all. While Miz Clementine, Parlo and Blue Sparkler fought it out for the first mile of this mile-and-a-quarter race, Flower Bowl was coasting along in 12th position. Sixth at the head of the stretch, Jockey Logan Batcheller gave her the word, and at the wire it was Flower Bowl by two lengths over Manotick, with Open Sesame third.
There may be better fillies than Flower Bowl around, but I doubt if there will be any more thrilling renewals of the Delaware Handicap. And if Flower Bowl never steps into the winner's circle again, there may well be some day a breeder knocking on Mrs. Sloane's door to say, "I want to breed a mare of proved ability. Your Flower Bowl showed me in the 1956 Delaware Handicap that she has speed, stamina and heart. That's all I need to know."
It is more usual for the owner of the mare to seek the services of the best available stallion, at a fee which may run up to $10,000. Then the foal remains in the possession of the owner of the mare. Mrs. Sloane will have no trouble getting the best of sires for her filly when Flower Bowl is retired to the Brookmeade Farm, Upperville, Va. as she probably will be in two or three years. A career of many years could follow during which Flower Bowl can provide a major boost for Virginia breeding. Thus a race which may be quickly forgotten by the public can have incalculable long-range effects on the whole breed and industry.
10 GREATEST RACE MARES
A recent nationwide pole of trainers produced the following listing of the 10 greatest American race mares of all time.
1 Gallorette (foaled in 1942)
2 Twilight Tear (1941)
3 Regret (1912)
4 Top Flight (1929)
5 Miss Woodford (1880)
6 Busher (1942)
7 Beldame (1901)
8 Princess Doreen (1921)
9 Bewitch (1945)
10 Imp (1894)