What racehorse was the first Maryland-bred runner to top US$1 million in earnings? (Give yourself bonus points if you can answer this without using the website's search function.)
It isn't often that a Grade 3 turf sprint in January grabs much attention, but the Las Cienegas Stakes on January 11 turned out to be an exception. That was thanks to an exceptional performance by Brazilian Group 1 winner Jolie Olimpica, who announced her presence in the United States by setting a new Santa Anita course record of 1:01 for the distance of about 5.5 furlongs. It was her first race since her defeat of males in the Grande Prêmio Jockey Club Brasileiro (BRZ-G1) on June 9, 2019, a race contested over 1600 meters on turf, and extended her lifetime record to an unbeaten 4-for-4.
While Jolie Olimpica is new to North America, her bloodlines are not. She is a daughter of 2010 Belmont Stakes (USA-G1) and 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic (USA-G1) winner Drosselmeyer, a talented if lazy son of Distorted Humor. As for her dam line, she traces back to a US$6,500 purchase from the 1965 Timonium yearling sales.
National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame trainer Warren "Jimmy" Croll was the purchaser of the bargain filly by Pied d'Or (an inferior half brother to 1958 American champion 3-year-old male Tim Tam). Named Like a Charm, the filly ran in the colors of Croll's wife Bobbi and won all three of her starts, including the 1966 New Jersey Futurity and Sorority Stakes. She earned $79,914, not a bad return on her purchase price.
Like a Charm produced four stakes winners, and Jimmy Croll bred the best of them using a stallion that he had trained for Rachel Carpenter, owner of Pelican Stable. That was Al Hattab, a good colt in a crop overshadowed by Arts and Letters and Majestic Prince, and the resulting filly picked up a fair share of her parents' talent. Under the name of Herecomesthebride, she showed commendable eagerness to get to the altar, winning six stakes races including the 1978 Columbiana Handicap (USA-G3).
Herecomesthebride was a disappointment as a broodmare considering her own ability and the quality of most of her mates, and her 1986 Slew o' Gold filly Autumn Rythym managed only one win from eight starts. Considering that neither of Autumn Rythym's previous foals had won by the time her third foal, the Wavering Monarch filly China Empress, came up for sale at the 1993 Keeneland November mixed sale, the winning bid of US$21,500 seems fairly generous, especially since Wavering Monarch weanlings averaged only $9,571 that year.
Following her sale, China Empress was exported to Brazil and proved worth the price, winning a listed stakes at 2 and becoming a Group 3 winner the following year. Her one foal to earn black type, Jolie Celina (by 1987 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, FR-G1, winner Trempolino), placed four times in Group stakes, capped off by a runner-up finish in the 2003 Grande Prêmio Henrique Possolo (BRZ-G1), before producing Brazilian Group 2 winner Domenica (by Redattore) in addition to Jolie Olimpica.
Jolie Olimpica is in the barn of Richard Mandella, and there are none better than he at the fine art of getting South American runners to transfer their best form to the Northern Hemisphere. With her acclimation successfully completed, the question now is how far she will go, both up the American class ladder and in distance. She has been campaigned as a sprinter-miler thus far, but with a sire and broodmare sire that were both top-level winners at 12 furlongs and a half sister who is a Group 2 winner at about 10 furlongs, she may have far more potential than she has yet revealed--potential that may owe just a little to a bargain-basement filly and a horse-wise trainer with a charmed knack for spotting talent.
This week's mystery horse failed to make his reserve on a US$34,000 bid when offered at auction as a yearling. Three years later, after becoming a champion both years that he raced in Europe, he was syndicated at a valuation of US$16 million and was a successful sire. Who was he?
Lady Prancealot left England in 2018 with only a single win in five starts to her credit. She finished 2019 as a three-time graded stakes winner. Saving her best for her season finale, the 3-year-old daughter of Sir Prancealot made her final start of the year on December 28 in the 10-furlong American Oaks (USA-G1) and exited the race as a Grade 1 winner. It took a gutsy dive toward the inside to find the filly clear sailing in the stretch, but with an open path in front of her, Lady Prancealot showed a strong turn of foot and collared Mucho Unusual within the last 50 yards to win by a half-length.
The win will undoubtedly make great advertising for the filly's sire, Sir Prancealot, who will stand for the first time in California in 2020 after being represented by three graded winners of 2019 in the state from foals conceived in Ireland. The victory may also represent the best chance for continuation of the family of Lady Prancealot's fourth dam, Brave Raj, who took some obscure Florida bloodlines to the heights of American racing.
Foaled in 1984, Brave Raj was sired by the useful Florida sire Rajab, a son of Jaipur who placed in three graded stakes before being packed off to a regional market. Her dam, Bravest Yet, was a half sister to Grade 3 winner Perfect Poppy and was sired by Bravo, an obscure son of Bold Ruler. The female line was not stellar, but it had a certain knack for producing stakes winners in spite of its members mostly being bred to sires decidedly off the beaten track.
Bravest Yet went to the good Florida stallion Valid Appeal for her first mating and produced multiple stakes winner Peal Out. Brave Raj was her next foal, and while Peal Out was providing some reason to think that her little sister could be a useful runner by the time the Rajab filly went into training, Brave Raj exceeded all expectations. A first-out winner by over seven lengths for Al-Ben Partnership, Brave Raj looked good enough that Dolly Green bought her for US$300,000 and transferred her to the barn of Melvin Stute.
Sent to California, Brave Raj lost her first two starts in the Golden State, but then everything started clicking. At the Del Mar meeting, she won the Sorrento Stakes (USA-G3) and the Del Mar Debutante Stakes (USA-G2). She then went back to Florida to annex the last two legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes series for Florida-bred juvenile fillies before flying back to California with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (USA-G1) in her sights. Anyone who had thought she might be over the top when she finished with Added Elegance lapped on her in the My Dear Girl Stakes found themselves mistaken as Brave Raj cruised in alone at the finish of the Juvenile Fillies; Tappiano, her nearest pursuer, was five and a half lengths back. The Rajab filly then tried tackling males in the Hollywood Futurity (USA-G1) and failed, finishing fifth, but the loss did not keep her from claiming an Eclipse Award as America's best 2-year-old filly.
Unfortunately, knee trouble kept Brave Raj from running again, and her results as a broodmare were a little disappointing considering her own class and the quality of her mates. She produced 14 named foals, of which 12 started and 11 won, but her best were the listed stakes winners Russian Tango (by Nijinsky II) and Brave Bull (by Holy Bull). Russian Tango, in turn, produced Grade 2 winner Eurosilver (by Unbridled's Song), while another Brave Raj daughter, El Rabab (by Roberto), produced Canadian Grade 2 winner Muntej (by Muhtarram). A third daughter, Renfro Valley Star (by Dayjur), produced the Grade 2-winning sprinter Fast Bullet (by Speightstown).
Filfilah, a Cadeaux Genereux half sister to Muntej, proved to be the key to continuing the family. Her first foal was French Group 2 winner Baqah (by Bahhare), who in turn produced 2017 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) winner Almanaar (by Dubawi). As a gelding, Almanaar has no opportunity to contribute to future generations, but Bawah's half sister Nagrah (by the Group 2-winning sprinter Haatef, by Danzig) has come through, producing Lady Prancealot as her first foal.
With a Grade 1 win now on her resume, Lady Prancealot will undoubtedly be accorded excellent opportunities on her retirement to the paddocks. Nagrah, who is only 8, should also see the class of her mates rise, providing this family its best chance to recapture the talent that carried Brave Raj to a championship over three decades ago.
The Experimental Free Handicap has now been relegated to history, but in the days of more frequent juvenile racing was an important yardstick for rating the best Classic prospects of the 2-year-old division. Begun in 1933, its weightings were based on a hypothetical race at one and one-sixteenth miles. What horse earned the highest all-time rating on the Experimental, and what horse was awarded the largest margin of superiority over his peers?
I'm Avalyn Hunter, an author, pedigree researcher and longtime racing fan.