Dolphus C. Morrison, breeder and initial owner of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, passed away Oct. 26 in Columbia, Mo. after a long illness. Morrison was 82.
Morrison was a stalwart in Thoroughbred racing for three decades when he and longtime trainer, Hal Wiggins, struck gold in 2009 with a brilliant daughter of Medaglia d'Oro who went on a campaign for the ages. A daughter of Morrison's homebred stakes-winning mare, Lotta Kim, Rachel Alexandra captured the 2009 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) by a record-setting 20 1/4 lengths to become the first top-level winner for Morrison as an owner.
Wiggins was the only trainer Morrison employed during that three-decade stretch. The two longtime friends and colleagues shared their career pinnacles with Rachel Alexandra, which Wiggins holds dear to this day.
"It was almost unreal. It was just like a dream come true," Wiggins said. "We were hoping to get good horses, naturally, every year; but we never, ever expected that we would be blessed to have a horse like Rachel. People would congratulate me, but what was rewarding to me is (Morrison) and his wife (Ellen) got to experience that, after 30 years, to finally be there on the top.
"He was so good to me and my family. He was not just a client, he and his wife were the best of friends to us also. He was just a very, very generous man. I was blessed for him to be in my life."
In the days after Rachel Alexandra's Oaks triumph, Morrison and partner Mike Lauffer sold the bay filly to Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables and Harold T. McCormick and she was transferred to the barn of Steve Asmussen. She would become the ultimate ambassador for Morrison's breeding program by earning historic victories over 3-year-old males in that year's BlackBerry Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) before defeating older males in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I)
The campaign earned her year-end honors—she also was named champion 3-year-old filly—and induction into Racing's Hall of Fame this August in her first year of eligibility.
"He was kind, he was smart, he was generous," said breeder, veteriarian and longtime Morrison friend Dede McGehee of Heaven Trees Farm, which foaled and raised Rachel Alexandra and was home to Lotta Kim. "He was a little unorthordox at times but he was a father figure to me. He was kind to everyone who worked on the farm, he was kind to everyone who worked on the track. He treated everybody with respect. He will be missed, I will tell you that. I have missed him since he retired."
Morrison dispersed his Thoroughbred stock at the 2012 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. Lotta Kim was not included in that dispersal, as she was privately moved to McGehee's ownership.
While Morrison had lived in Columbia, Mo. for years, he was born in Alabama. Described by McGehee as "the biggest University of Alabama fan on the planet," Morrison attended David Lipscomb College in Nashville where he got a degree in accounting. It was in the steel industry where Morrison would make his professional mark, retiring as president of SMI Steel Inc. in Birmingham, Alabama.
In addition to Rachel Alexandra, Morrison also bred multiple grade I winner You, and graded stakes winner Gold Edge. You, a daughter of You and I, won her career debut in 2001 for Morrison and Wiggins and finished second in her second start in an allowance race at Churchill Downs.
After that race, You was privately purchased by Edmund Gann and moved to Bobby Frankel's stable. She won the Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) in her next start at Saratoga Race Course. She would go on to win five grade I races in 2001 and 2002, including a memorable edition of the 2002 Test Stakes at Saratoga.
Morrison is survived by his wife, three children, and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.