In the last year, Barbara Banke has had incredible luck naming horses after family members. It's a bold thing to do, considering how risky the horse business can be, but each horse bearing a name of Banke's loved one has managed to shine.
"That doesn't happen often—it may be more impressive than having a good horse," said Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan, who often buys horses for Banke at auction.
First was Teen Pauline, named after Banke's mother, who set a track record when she zipped five furlongs in :56.53 in her career debut at Saratoga last summer. The daughter of Tapit also went on to also place in the Sept. 2 Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) at the New York track.
Then came Kauai Katie, who is named after one of Banke's daughters. After victories in last year's Adirondack and Matron stakes (both gr. II) and this year's Forward Gal (gr. II) and Old Hat (gr. III) stakes, the daughter of Malibu Moon could easily be considered the most accomplished 3-year-old filly sprinter in the country.
Banke's third crown jewel, Dreaming of Julia, named after another daughter, has certainly made her presence known along the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) trail.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, the homebred daughter of A.P. Indy most recently posted a breathtaking 21 3/4-length triumph in the March 30 Gulfstream Oaks (gr. II).
Dreaming of Julia didn't need much time to blossom on the track, as she captured her first two career starts last year by nearly 27 lengths. The bay filly then demonstrated the ability to win a close battle, scoring a grade I victory in the Frizette Stakes by a head last October.
She closed her 2-year-old campaign with a respectable third-place finish in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park. In her 3-year-old debut she was runner-up to Live Lively in the Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II).
Raced in the name of Banke's Stonestreet Stables, Dreaming of Julia boasts a career record of 4-1-1 from six starts, for earnings of $767,000.
Bred in Kentucky, she is out of the four-time graded stakes-winning Wild Rush mare Dream Rush, who scored her biggest victories in the 2007 Darley Test (gr. I) and Prioress (gr. I) stakes.
Moynihan explained how Banke had privately purchased Dream Rush, who was carrying the Kentucky Oaks hopeful.
"She's actually the mare we bid on when she went through the sale," said Moynihan of Dream Rush, who was bought as a racing prospect for $3.3 million by Halsey Minor at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November mixed sale through Debbie Easter, agent. Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency consigned as agent.
Minor went on to race the mare seven more times before breeding her to A.P. Indy and selling her to Banke.
"We loved the mare and the fact she was in foal to A.P. Indy—that was an added bonus," said Moynihan. "Had we bought the mare as a racing prospect when she sold at Fasig-Tipton, that's probably who we were going to breed her to.
"Dream Rush herself is an absolute beautiful physical," Moynihan added. "She won two of the big broodmare-making races, and then you breed her to A.P. Indy who throws stamina in the picture where she had so much speed. It's produced a very lethal combination of a fast horse that can run far, which is what we all want; that's what we all strive to breed, anyway."
The resulting foal, Dreaming of Julia, was a star in Moynihan's book from the time she took her first steps.
"She's been beautiful ever since she was born," he explained. "As far as A.P. Indys go, I would venture to say she's probably one of the two or three nicest ones I've ever seen, period, and that's a pretty elite group.
"She was just a real straightforward horse with no real issues. She kind of fit that unique blend of a filly. A.P. Indy is such a good broodmare sire...that these kinds of fillies are very little risk, because if for some odd reason they don't run, they're worth a great deal of money as broodmare prospects. But if they do run, then you're in another stratosphere residual value-wise."
For now, it's safe to say Dreaming of Julia has taken Banke to another sphere of excitement in racing. Time will tell whether it reaches the heights of her Horses of the Year Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, but regardless of the outcome on the first Friday in May, Banke is enjoying the ride.
So is the real life Julia, for whom her star filly was named. "Both she and Katie are big horse racing fans," said Moynihan. "They just love it."
With Banke's track record, how could you not?