Racing in-foal mares has never been common practice among Thoroughbred breeders but is not unprecedented. No less a broodmare than Mowerina---later the dam of English Classic winners Donovan and Semolina, as well as the high-class Raeburn---raced while pregnant with her first foal, and that foal, under the name of Modwena, won nine races including the Portland Plate and Chesterfield Stakes.
Racing a mare after she has already become a mother is much rarer, but at least one matron not only managed the feat but was a better racer during the second part of her split career than the first. Adding to her uniqueness, she was highly successful in both phases of her broodmare career, producing a Kentucky Broodmare of the Year during her first stint in the paddocks and a Kentucky Derby winner after her permanent retirement from racing.
A daughter of 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral and the juvenile stakes winner Betty Derr (by Sir Gallahad III out of the juvenile stakes winner Uncle's Lassie), Iron Maiden was an adequate but far from exceptional racer at 2 and 3. During those seasons, she won four of 19 starts and placed in another six. Given the precocity of her dam and granddam, there was no particular reason to expect that Iron Maiden would improve further, and so off to the paddocks she went for a 1945 assignation with Beau Pere.
The following spring, the mating resulted in Iron Reward, who would prove a useless race mare but produced 1956 American Horse of the Year Swaps and two other stakes winners for Rex Ellsworth, as well as 1962 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year Track Medal. Iron Reward's accomplishments made her the Kentucky Broodmare of the Year in 1955, the year that Swaps won the Kentucky Derby.
In the meantime, owner "Tiny" Naylor sold Iron Maiden to Ellwood. B. Johnston sometime in 1946, and Johnston put the young broodmare back into training. Why he did so is now a mystery, but it turned out to be a sound decision as Iron Maiden came back tougher and better than before. She made 22 starts as a 6-year-old of 1947, and her six wins that year included a defeat of males in the Del Mar Handicap on September 20. The following year, Iron Maiden made another 20 starts, and while she won only twice, she added two more stakes placings to her tally before retiring with a final record of 12 starts and 20 placings from 61 starts.
During Iron Maiden's last busy season, Johnston took her off the track long enough to breed her to his stallion Old English (the namesake for his Old English Rancho), a mating that produced the colt Iron Monocle in 1949. Iron Monocle could not win or place even once in 10 tries, though this probably had less to do with Iron Maiden's racing during her pregnancy than with the fact that Old English was a pretty poor sire. By the time Iron Maiden was ready to be bred again, however, Johnston had sold her to Calumet Farm. That gave her access to Calumet's five-time American champion sire Bull Lea, and she ended up producing four foals in five years by him, interrupted by a tryst with Sun Again. The Sun Again foal proved useless, but the three colts by Bull Lea were all winners, and each was better than the last. The first, All Power, was his dam's first winner and captured four of 18 starts; the second was three-time juvenile stakes winner Trentonian; and the third was Iron Liege, who scored an upset win over eventual National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame members Bold Ruler, Gallant Man and Round Table in the 1957 Kentucky Derby.
Iron Maiden's last Bull Lea foal was a filly named Miss Grundy, who never raced but became a stakes producer, and two other daughters by other sires became the first or second dams of stakes winners. In 1964, the aging mare closed out her production record with the On-and-On colt Azcay, who won a division of the 1968 Boardwalk Handicap. Iron Maiden died in 1964 and was buried in the Calumet Farm horse cemetery.
Neither Iron Liege nor Iron Maiden's other two stakes-winning sons were of much use as sires, and Iron Maiden's long-term influence on pedigrees has been through the descendants of Iron Reward. Still, that is more than many an equally well-bred mare has accomplished by following a more conventional career path and is worth remembering as a unique addition to American racing and breeding history.