She wasn't even supposed to be in the field.
Two years ago, that was the message being relayed to the connections of Miss Temple City via the betting public and some opinionated Royal Ascot commentators as the big-bodied filly made her way to the start for the 2015 Coronation Stakes (G1).
What was this overmatched daughter of Temple City doing against Europe's best? She didn't even boast a graded victory in her home country and—with all due respect to Pimlico Race Course—winning the Hilltop Stakes isn't exactly a common stepping stone to going overseas and putting some of the top turf distaffers in their place.
Yet there she was with her 50-1 odds in the final portion of the straight, running alongside future Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T) and Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) heroine, Found, only a half length from the front. She couldn't quite keep pace with those quickening around her and hit the wire fourth, just two lengths behind the winner she was supposed to be no threat to. It wasn't the upset that looked possible only a handful of strides earlier.
It was the last time Bob Feld's one and only homebred had her talents so openly dismissed against top-level company.
"When we got home, we heard about the commentary and it was absolutely amazing. When you listen to it they really dismissed us completely like we were absolutely crazy for going over there," Feld recalled of that initial Royal Ascot venture. "So, yeah, it really felt good when she ran as big as she did the first time. She's certainly grown on people now. I mean, I think people now know what we knew all along: She's a high-quality filly."
The narrative for Miss Temple City heading into the June 20 Queen Anne Stakes (G1) has a different tinge than what followed her across the Atlantic the first time around. She is now a three-time grade 1 winner, a two-time conqueror of male rivals at the top level, a millionairess who makes her co-owner choke back tears when he tries to expound what she means to him.
At age 5, the dark bay mare is back at Royal Ascot for a third consecutive year, still seeking a victory on that prestigious ground but in no need of outside validation.
That doesn't mean there isn't still a point to be made. Since the time Miss Temple City finished fourth in last year's Duke of Cambridge Stakes (G2), another respectable finish to go along with her first outing, trainer Graham Motion and the ownership group that includes Feld, Sagamore Farm, and Needle In A Haystack have had a 2017 trip to Royal Ascot on the agenda as long as their charge cooperated by staying healthy and on form.
Though she heads into the one-mile Queen Anne as accomplished and more physically imposing than ever, Miss Temple City is coming at this challenge with a new wrinkle brought on by circumstances that could have derailed the entire scheme. Her run Tuesday will mark her seasonal bow, her first start since capping off her 2016 campaign with a win in the Matriarch Stakes (G1T) at Del Mar Dec. 4. Even for a horse like herself who runs well off a layoff, shipping internationally to try and fire fresh in territory where U.S.-based horses have only recently had high-level success is a task many wouldn't have the audacity to try.
To be clear, such an ambitious move wasn't part of this long-held plan. The original target of having Miss Temple City prep for this run during the Keeneland Spring meet went awry when she went rogue and got loose one morning at Palm Meadows Training Center in March, returning with some filling in a leg. Plans 'B' and 'C' then got shelved when she was entered in both the May 6 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Presented by Longines (G2T) and the May 13 Beaugay Stakes (G3T) at Belmont Park but was scratched out of each due to soft turf.
All the above could have been taken as a sign that an Ascot three-peat visit wasn't meant to be. Each time Miss Temple City has ventured to the heralded meeting, however, her connections say she has bounced out of it stronger than when she left. And considering she has been sitting on go for the better part of a month, they decided the most sporting thing they could do was not back down from the goal of letting the mare engage the best while at her best.
"I know some people are like why didn't they just go to the (Longines) Just a Game (G1T at Belmont Park June 10), which was right up the street, and we understand that," Feld said. "Graham would love to win at Ascot, we would love to win at Ascot, and this is probably our only chance to get back there with a filly of this quality.
"She runs so well fresh. She ran probably the best race of her life numbers wise in the (grade 1) Maker's 46 Mile last year (off a six-month layoff) and that played a huge part. If we thought for a second she would regress flying over there, we would stay here. But we obviously think a little unconventionally."
Feld is the first to attest that, in the storyline of Miss Temple City, debuting against a global assembly of group 1 males hardly counts as the most outside-the-box aspect of her life.
Were it not for some risk taking, the mare who became the first distaffer to capture both the Maker's 46 Mile (G1T) and Shadwell Turf Mile (G1T) at Keeneland last season would have never come to be. Feld's son Sean was working at Spendthrift Farm in 2011 during Temple City's first season at stud and he bought a season to the sire for $5,000 as part of the "Share the Upside" incentive program in hopes of getting in on the ground floor should the son of Dynaformer hit. It wasn't a total stab in the dark as the elder Feld had loved the big-bodied stallion as a racehorse. The issue was he didn't have a mare to send to the stallion.
What happened next is what Feld describes as "'blind luck" and what others would more strongly categorize as incredulous good fortune. After he and Mark Toothaker—then a partner in Legacy Bloodstock—went in together at the 2011 Keeneland January sale to land the mare Glittering Tax in foal to Tiz Wonderful for a mere $6,000, Feld ended up buying Toothaker out of his portion of the mare and sending her to the upstart Temple City with the resulting filly being the sweet-faced horse of a lifetime.
"Mark's business with Legacy was struggling at the time and he decided to cash out on his horse holdings to kind of regroup. So he was like 'Do you mind if we sell the (Tiz Wonderful) baby and I need to sell the mare' and I said sure," Feld recalled. "So he sold the baby for $25,000 privately and I then took my share of my money and gave him his $3,000 back and I owned Glittering Tax all by myself. I breed her to Temple City and the first foal, lo and behold was Miss Temple City.
"She was the very first homebred—the first and only. I'll always bring in a partner whenever I breed...but Bob Feld Bloodstock will only breed one horse, and that will be Miss Temple City."
Under Motion's handling, Miss Temple City has become a winner of six of 16 starts and was an Eclipse Award finalist last year for champion turf female. She is the barn's tomboy, larger than many of her male counterparts. And as valuable as she is now as a broodmare prospect, there was never a thought of sending her through an auction ring.
"I think she is bigger and stronger this year, if that's possible, because she's a big girl anyway," Motion said. "I'm just excited to be able to take her back. Her owners have been so good and so game too to take another shot. And to even keep her in training this year—they didn't have to do that. I'm very lucky to have her."
Miss Temple City will need to start her 2017 with a career-best effort if she is to topple the set of rivals before her in the Queen Anne, a field that includes WinStar Farm homebred American Patriot, who recently broke through for his first grade 1 when he took the Maker's 46 Mile April 14.
Emotion cuts off Feld's voice when he talks of how his mare is still willingly taking his team across the globe on a first-class ride. He admits to craving this international glory even though he couldn't ask her to do more than what she has already delivered. He is most proud of the fact that no one can say this time around they are crazy for thinking she can pull it off.
"Just getting over there is amazing and if we can get one more season out of her, we know it's a little greedy," Feld said. "She owes us nothing. It's been a great ride, it's been unreal. She has brought the family together more than ever."