Oklahoma residents Bill and Terry Mathis have always made the racetrack a family affair, so it made perfect sense for them to name their horses after their three young children. Longines Kentucky Oaks contender (gr. I) My Miss Sophia, whose namesake is the Mathises' 11-year-old daughter, is the current standout of the couple's three-horse stable. And the human Sophia couldn't be any prouder.
"In order to get the children involved, we decided we would name the horses after them so they would take some ownership of (our horses)," said Terry Mathis, who with her husband owns the retail furniture company Mathis Brothers Furniture. "We also have a horse named Larry Boy (by Old Fashioned ) and another named Biedermeier (by Empire Maker) after our sons, and they love horse racing as well."
"We're in a fan education program—that's what this business needs—the younger fans to carry on the future," Bill Mathis added. "So by getting our children involved, we hope they someday have the passion we have now for the business."
Trainer Todd Pletcher bought the John Gunther-bred My Miss Sophia for $260,000 on the Mathises' behalf at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale from Glenwood Farm, agent.
"When we bought her as a yearling, we thought she was good-looking and she's done everything you would hope she would do in terms of filling out and growing up," said Pletcher of the daughter of Unbridled's Song—Wildwood Flower, by Langfuhr. "She's a good-sized, strong filly."
Pletcher originally thought My Miss Sophia would be ready to race at Saratoga Race Course as a 2-year-old, but later decided the filly needed to gain more maturity before making her first start. After finishing second in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden event at Gulfstream Park in February, My Miss Sophia showed her true colors when posting a dominating 11-length victory in a one-mile race over the South Florida oval March 9.
Pletcher thought the filly deserved a significant step up in class after that effort, so he entered her in the April 5 Gazelle Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack, where she turned in another convincing 7 1/4-length victory. The lightly raced My Miss Sophia will enter the Oaks with earnings of $211,800. She drew the 11 post and will be ridden by Javier Castellano, who has been aboard for both of her wins.
"It takes a pretty good horse to go from a maiden race to step up to a graded stakes and win impressively," said Pletcher, who has won the Oaks three times, the most recent of which was last year with Princess of Sylmar. "Even though she's lightly raced, I think she's talented enough to take on this (Oaks) field."
The Mathises have a long association with horse racing and the Pletcher family. Around three decades ago, Bill's father, Don, kept several horses with Todd's father, J.J.
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas also trained some horses for the Mathis family in the 1980s when Todd Pletcher was working as his assistant.
During their early years in the industry the Mathises campaigned several stakes winners, including grade II winner Pine Tree Lane, who was second against the boys in the 1986 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I). The couple, who took a 20-year hiatus from Thoroughbred racing, decided to re-enter the game in 2011.
In addition to their three-horse racing stable, the Mathises also have two broodmares: Villa de'Este and Bronze Beauty, who they plan to visit at the Taylor family's Taylor Made Farm near Nicholasville, Ky., before heading to Louisville for the Oaks. Villa d'Este has a More Than Ready colt by her side, while Bronze Beauty foaled an Eskendereya colt this year.
The couple is savoring every moment of their time back in the Thoroughbred world, and a victory with My Miss Sophia in the Run for the Lilies would certainly sweeten their return to racing.
"She keeps deserving the chance at a harder race and she's going to get that chance on Friday," said Bill Mathis, who will donate 10% of the filly's Oaks earnings to the Bright Pink Foundation in memory of his mother.
"(A win in the Oaks) would really hard to put into words...to be in a race with this sort of history and prestige, it's a dream come true to any Thoroughbred owner. We dreamed of some success, but to have this kind of opportunity is over the top."