Rachel Alexandra's First Breeding: One for the History Books

Amidst all the hoopla surrounding Zenyatta's retirement and the speculation regarding the identity of her first mate, last year's Horse of the Year has been all but forgotten. Yet Rachel Alexandra also occupies a unique place in racing history, and her broodmare career should be one of some interest.

Four other 3-year-old fillies have been acknowledged as Horse of the Year in the United States, either by consensus of racing historians or in the polls existing prior to the inauguration of the Eclipse Awards in 1973: Beldame (1904), Regret (1915), Twilight Tear (1944), and Busher (1945). However, Rachel Alexandra is the first 3-year-old filly to be named overall champion in Eclipse Award polling. All four continued racing after age 3, but none recaptured the brilliance they had shown earlier, and Twilight Tear and Busher each made only a single start after three before retiring. Only Beldame and Regret managed to win stakes after their 3-year-old seasons, and only Regret won another championship, being acclaimed the best older female of 1917.

Rachel Alexandra

Rachel Alexandra will be bred to Curlin in 2011.

As broodmares, these queens of the racetrack had varied success. Beldame often is credited with being the source of August Belmont II's belief that hard-raced mares did not make good producers, for none of her eight foals proved capable of winning a stakes, let alone approaching her own class. Nor were her daughters outstanding as producers, though Belvale (by Watervale) did produce the stakes-winning steeplechaser Fairfield (by Fair Play). Nonetheless, Beldame's family has survived to modern times, including 2004 Haskell Invitational Handicap winner Lion Heart among its representatives.

Regret is sometimes regarded a failure as a broodmare, but this might be somewhat unfair considering that five of her eleven foals were by Johren (Horse of the Year in 1918, but a failure in the breeding shed), Mad Hatter (a champion racer that proved a to be a disappointing sire), and Grey Lag (Horse of the Year of 1921, but was nearly sterile and produced less than stellar offspring to boot). Regret did produce one stakes winner, the gelded Revenge (by Chicle), and four of her daughters became stakes producers. The most important of them were Nemesis (by Johren), who produced three stakes winners including the 1931 Gazelle Stakes winner Avenger, and Rueful (by St. Germans), dam of the high-class handicapper First Fiddle (by Royal Minstrel).

Twilight Tear produced only seven foals, and three became stakes winners, two of them very high class. A Gleam (by Blenheim II) was second only to her Calumet stablemate Real Delight among the 3-year-old fillies of 1952. A major stakes winner at two years and four as well, A Gleam went on to produce 1958 Coaching Club American Oaks winner A Glitter (by Khaled) and multiple grade II winner Gleaming (by Herbager) and is the granddam of 1981 champion 2-year-old filly Before Dawn.

Twilight Tear's other major stakes winner was Bardstown, a formidable race horse of varying soundness. A gelding by Alibhai, Bardstown won 13 stakes including two editions of the Widener Handicap (then one of the top races on the calendar for older males).

Busher had an even shorter broodmare career than Twilight Tear, producing only five foals before dying in 1955. Her best runner was the good handicapper Jet Action (by Jet Pilot), a winner of 11 of 40 starts who kept Busher's name alive in modern pedigrees by siring Fair Charmer, grand dam of Seattle Slew. Busher also produced Miss Busher (by Alibhai), ancestress of 1980 San Antonio Stakes winner Beau's Eagle, 1984 Withers Stakes winner and Preakness Stakes runner-up Play On, 1992 American Handicap winner Man From Eldorado, 2002 Santa Maria Handicap winner Favorite Funtime, and 2006 Carter Handicap winner Bishop Court Hill.

Rachel Alexandra's planned breeding to Curlin in 2011 will mark one of the rare occasions that a stallion and a mare that have both become Horse of the Year have been bred to each other. Sixteen foals have been produced by previous matings of Horses of the Year, with four of those foals becoming stakes winners and one, Apalachee (Round Table-Moccasin), becoming a champion. That is not a bad strike rate, but the odds are still long against Rachel Alexandra's first foal living up to its parents' class. Time will tell whether Rachel Alexandra will influence her breed or whether her only legacy will be the memory of her own brilliance.

Originally posted on Bloodhorse.com.

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