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 occupied a unique place in racing history, and her broodmare career should be of some interest.
Four other 3-year-old fillies have been acknowledged as U.S. Horse of the Year, 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). (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 3 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.
As broodmares, these queens of the race course have 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 (gr. I) winner Lion Heart among its representatives.
Regret sometimes has been categorized as a failure as a broodmare, but this may be somewhat unfair considering that five of her eleven foals were by Johren (Horse of the Year in 1918 but a stud failure), Mad Hatter (a champion racer who proved a useful but disappointing sire), and Grey Lag (Horse of the Year of 1921 but another stud failure who was nearly sterile to boot). She 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 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 2 and 4 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, an unsound horse but formidable when he was right. 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). He was particularly tough on the South Florida circuit, winning seven stakes events there at ages 5 and 7, and topped the Blood-Horse’s Free Handicap for older males in 1957 with a rating of 130 pounds.
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, second dam of Seattle Slew. Busher also produced Miss Busher (by Alibhai), ancestress of 1980 San Antonio Stakes (gr. I) winner Beau’s Eagle, 1984 Withers Stakes (gr. II) winner and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Play On, 1992 American Handicap (gr. IIT) winner Man From Eldorado, 2002 Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) winner Favorite Funtime, and 2006 Carter Handicap (gr. I) winner Bishop Court Hill.
Rachel Alexandra’s planned 2011 mating to Curlin will mark one of the rare occasions that a stallion and a mare that have both become U.S. Horse of the Year have been mated. Sixteen foals have been produced by previous matings of animals acclaimed as 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.