In the second of our series about some of the great fillies and mares who ran largely overseas, we are looking at the accomplishments to date of two great Euro mares who also share a couple of important connections, even though separated in time by over 20 years. Goldikova’s story is still “in progress” but Miesque’s narrative, while over with her death earlier this year, shone just as brightly during her racing career and later in the breeding shed. Both mares boast a huge fan following overseas, having established themselves as individuals who embody the highest possible breed standards in a modern thoroughbred. As we think about our own equine heroes and heroines, it is equally important to appreciate the greats of the past on a global stage, as well as those thoroughbreds of today who, like Goldikova, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Frankel and Black Caviar are writing themselves into legend.
GOLDIKOVA (2005) Bred in Ireland by owners, Wertheimer et Frère
Goldikova walked into history last week when she won the Prix de Rothschild for the fourth consecutive time. The 6 year-old daughter of Anabaa (1992) out of Born Gold (1991) by Blushing Groom (1974) has been nothing less than extraordinary in her racing career. That trend is likely to continue right through until her retirement is announced, likely some time after the 2011 Breeders’ Cup.
Her owners, Wertheimer et Frère, are the descendants of a distinguished French family whose history in the sport goes back to the early 1900’s. Proprietors of the House of Chanel, which they acquired through a partnership with Coco Chanel formed in 1924, the first of their thoroughbreds to make an international name for himself was the champion Epinard (1920). Owned by the canny Pierre Wertheimer, Epinard was the grandson of the British Triple Crown winner Rock Sand and in his native France, Epinard is still considered a racing legend to this day. In spite of his iconic status in the hearts and minds of the French, the great horse was commandeered by the German occupying forces during WWII and was reportedly seen as a cart horse before his death in 1942. A tragic end to the life of a champion who had so dominated his peers on the turf in the 1920’s. Other Wertheimer greats since the 1920’s include the spectacular filly, Midget (1953), the accomplished Riverman (1969) and the influential sire, Lyphard (1969), all of whom raced in France and England. Riverman and Lyphard were both retired to stud in the USA.
Goldikova’s trainer is the talented Freddie Head, who was a winning jockey overseas before he retired and began training for the Wertheimer family. In fact, the Head family has a long-standing tradition with the Wertheimers, beginning with the appointment of Freddie’s father, Alec Head, to train Pierre Wertheimer’s horses in 1949. Alec Head turned out to be a superb trainer and businessman, purchasing the famous French stud, Haras du Quesnay after WWII. The stud farm had been founded originally by William Kissam Vanderbilt in 1907. Haras du Quesnay is still owned and operated by the Head family today and is known for its distinguished roster of thoroughbred stallions, most recently standing Mr. Sidney (2004), Sevres Rose (1993) a grandson of Nijinsky II, Kentucky Dynamite (2003), a son of Kingmambo and the recently retired Youmzain (2003), a son of champion Sinndar.
Haras du Quesnay is essentially a non-commercial thoroughbred farm. Its horses are bred and owned by the Head family, with only a very few ever going to auction. However, given their excellent reputation in the industry, they have established the kinds of connections with the thoroughbred community worldwide that have resulted in some exceptional thoroughbreds, of which Goldikova is one. Although she was bred by the Wertheimers, Goldikova’s pedigree resounds with the influence of the Head family. A daughter of the Heads’ great stallion, Anabaa, Goldikova is inbred 3X4 to Northern Dancer through Lyphard on the bottom and 4X4 to Riverman, both horses bought by Alec Head for the Wertheimers.
During his career as a jockey, Freddie won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe three times, twice in partnership with a Head family member: the wonderful filly Ivanjica (1972), was trained by his father, Alec, and another outstanding filly, Three Troikas (1976) was trained by his sister, Criquette Head -Maarek. While Criquette Head-Maarek is the world’s most famous female thoroughbred trainer, still another sister, Martine Head, is the current manager of Haras du Quesnay. Criquette Head-Maarek’s daughter, Christiane, is currently training for Haras du Quesnay.
Safe to say that Goldikova’s connections are as distinguished as the mare herself. Goldikova is a champion, but she is also a harbinger of the rich thoroughbred racing and breeding history of two historic families, the Heads and the Wertheimers. They are to Europe what denizens like the Belmonts, Whitneys and Hancocks are to American thoroughbred history.
It is fair to say that Goldikova is a precious gift to the Head family and in particular, for reasons far beyond her winning form. Her sire, Anabaa, was given to Alec Head by Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum as a gift. When training under Criquette Head as a 2 year-old, it appeared that Anabaa was a wobbler, for which there is no cure. But rather than euthanising the colt, Alec Head determined to rest him. Six months later, it was discovered that Anabaa had actually sustained a pinched nerve — the cause of his “wobbler-like” symptoms. At this point, Sheikh Maktoum gave his colt to Head, because it was the gifted trainer who had been responsible for saving Anabaa’s life. It was a great gesture from a great horseman, whose love of the thoroughbred was legion.
Predictably, Head and the lovely bay colt formed a bond that lasted until Anabaa’s untimely death, of peritonitis, in 2009. Retired to stud at Haras du Quesnay after a brilliant career on the turf, Anabaa sired classic winners Goldikova, Anabaa Blue and Martillo, as well as the Australian champion sprinter Yell and 2003 Hong Kong champion, Anabar. When Anabaa was finally moved to Castleton Lyons in Kentucky, Martine Head accompanied him on the trip and stayed with him until it was clear that the stallion had settled in. In an article in the Thoroughbred Times, she acknowledged that moving Anabaa to the USA had been a heartbreaker for her family, because they were all so committed to him. The Head family loved Anabaa, considering him “part of the family.” And so he was. Anabaa was owned by Alec Head, trained by Criquette Head -Maarek and ridden to victory by Freddie Head. The young colt who appeared to have no future at all, turned out to be a champion on both the turf and in the breeding shed. His offspring ran at all distances, over the dirt and grass, in two different hemispheres. He was clearly one of Danzig’s best sons — if not the best of them all. And just how great was Danzig? An amazing sire to be sure, but he had been a brilliant race horse too, whose career was cut short by repeated health issues. In this short clip (below), entitled “Danzig….What Might Have Been” we can re-live his brilliance on the track:
Anabaa’s death came as a blow to the Head family. It was noted that, despite all the champion horses that he had trained and bred, Anabaa was “The One” in Alec Head’s life, making the subsequent triumphs of his brilliant daughter both bittersweet and exhilarating. Like her sire, Goldikova is a thoroughbred with a kind disposition who loves to run, loves people and is always keen to answer any questions asked of her on the turf.
To date, Goldikova has won 17 of 24 starts from ages 2-6, earning slightly under 7 million USD. She has raced to victory on three continents. She has won the Eclipse Champion Turf Mare twice (2009, 2010), the Cartier Champion Older Horse twice (2009, 2010) and has twice made history, winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile for the last three consecutive years (the only horse in history to win a World Championship race three times) and the Prix Rothschild for four years running. In 2010, she was voted the Cartier Horse of the Year. With her win in the Rothschild, the sensational filly who seems to do everything just right, notched her 14th Group One/Grade One win.
Join us as we watch the stuff that makes a thoroughbred fan’s heart sing and eyes cloud with emotion. Here is a video of Goldikova’s three consecutive wins under her jockey, Olivier Peslier, at the Breeders’ Cup in the Turf Mile against the boys:
After her Rothschild win, Freddie Head reflected, “I would say she is better than Miesque, as she is better in her head and Miesque used to pull very hard. Marchand d’Or is very good and is a champion, but she has to be the very best I have trained, she is something else.”
Which hints at one facet of the Goldikova-Miesque connection….
Below, 6 year-old Goldikova pictured in her last race to date — the Prix Rothschild, which she won for the fourth consecutive time. Olivier Peslier would say later that he never needed to touch her once with his whip — she just accelerated when asked, all on her own:
MIESQUE (1984) Bred in Kentucky by owners Flaxman Holdings Ltd. (Niarchos family)
Let us introduce you to Miesque. She was one of the very first “fabulous fillies” to invade the boys’ turf when she ran in the Breeders Cup Mile in 1987. Watching her here, it is easy to understand what it means to witness a thoroughbred’s great heart:
Miesque was owned and bred by the flamboyant Stavros Niarchos out of his very fine stallion, the great Nureyev. During his lifetime, Niarchos was an enthusiastic and successful competitor in France, England and the USA. Other than the champion Nureyev, his first big winner was Dactylographer (1975), a son of Secretariat. Miesque was, without question, the best horse he ever raced — and her jockey was the young Freddie Head. The dark bay filly with the white star and Freddie Head were as indissociable as Ronnie Turcotte and Secretariat. They were a team that chalked up 12 victories in 16 starts in England, France and the USA, earning over 2 million dollars USD in the process.
Like “Goldie,” Miesque hailed from the family of the incomparable Northern Dancer. But unlike the Head-trained Goldikova, Miesque was “hot” in character. Like so many great thoroughbreds, the filly had a mind of her own and it was through Freddie Head’s deep understanding of the thoroughbred, together with trainer Francois Boutin’s patience, that her disposition was channeled into a hardy, competitive spirit on the race course. Temperamental or otherwise, Miesque was adored by her fans and enjoyed international fame. When she appeared at the 1987 Breeders’ Cup for the first time as a 3 year-old, her French campaign preceded her. But when she took the BC Turf Mile for the second straight time at 4, she became a legend — no other horse had ever done this before. She retired having been named Champion at 2, 3 and 4 in France, England and the USA.
Here she is winning the Breeders Cup Turf Mile for the second consecutive year (1988). With this win, the noble Miesque walked into horse racing history:
Miesque is known today in North America through her brilliant progeny, the best of whom was unquestionably Kingmambo (1990), a son of Mr. Prospector (1970). But Miesque had 13 other foals, including a full sister to Kingmambo called Monevassia(1994) who has already produced the champion Rumplestiltskin2 (2003) by Danehill. In turn “Rumple” is the dam of the promising filly, Why (2008), by the great Galileo. Miesque’s other winning offspring are the French champion filly, East of the Moon (1991), Mingun (2000) and Miesque’s Son (1992). The latter is the sire of Miesque’s Approval (1999) who retired with earnings well over 2 million USD and earned the titles of Eclipse Award for Outstanding Male Turf Horse and Florida-bred Horse of the Year in 2006.
Kingmambo is an American legend and a sire of sires. And it is he who assured that the great heart of Miesque would go on. Prior to his retirement, Kingmambo had sired 13 millionaires and a goodly number of winners of over 200K USD. Among his millionaires are the champions Lemon Drop Kid (1996), American Boss (1995), El Condor Pasa (1995) who stands in Japan, Student Council (2002), Rule of Law (2001), Henrythenavigator (2005) and Tawqeet (2002). Progeny who earned 500K USD or more include the likes of Archipenko (2004), Parade Ground (1995), Light Shift (2004), Detroit City (2002) and Master of Hounds (2008). When pensioned by Lane’s End, Kingmambo’s champion offspring had raced worldwide, on dirt and turf and at a range of distances. All were as consistent in the winner’s enclosure as they were sound. Today, Kingmambo’s progeny and their progeny comprise an almost dizzying array of champion bloodstock.
In 1999, Miesque was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. She died on January 20, 2011 and is buried at the Oak Tree Division of Lane’s End Farm where she lived as a broodmare following her retirement from racing.
Miesque stands 82nd on the Blood-Horse’s list of the 100 Greatest Thoroughbreds of the 20th century and 14th on Tony Morris’ international list of the greatest fillies of the last century. She certainly deserves to be remembered in this way.
Yet neither honours nor her impressive legacy to the breed can ever quite compete with our memories of her, coming home with a young Freddie Head in the saddle, her body streamlined in flight as she reached toward the wire. It is in the wake of thoroughbreds like Miesque that we learn to appreciate the art and grace of a thoroughbred.