It never fails. This time of year, when I’m chasing interviews about “notable” broodmares in the region, I get hit with the importance, dignity, steadfastness and grace of the Thoroughbred broodmare.
Racehorses own the spotlight for their racetrack exploits.
Stallions receive attention for past racing success or the potential of their offspring.
Two-year-olds shine at the sale in May, drawing the biggest names in racing to Timonium each year.
Yearlings get their chances in the show and sale rings.
Even broodmare prospects step into the sales arenas in Kentucky and command seven- or even eight-figure bids.
But broodmares? When was the last time a broodmare – a six-or-so-foals-into-her-career broodmare – attracted real attention? For me, it’s every February when I try to write that article (see page 28). For breeders, foal-watchers and hands-on broodmare managers, I’m sure it happens, but you don’t hear much chatter about broodmares on the apron at Laurel Park, around the paddock at Parx Racing or leaning on the rail at Charles Town.
“Hey Larry, who do you like in the first?”
“The 2 has solid numbers, man, but I’m still looking for a winner. What about you, Ray?”
“What do you guys think about Holy Pow Wow? She’s amazing.”
Larry and his friend were last seen walking away from Ray, shaking their heads with each step.
Shouldn’t the mares get as much attention as every other subset of the Thoroughbred breed? Mares’ Day at the racetrack probably won’t be a big seller so don’t rework the marketing budget because I made it sound like a good idea, but we could think about them a little more.
Somewhere, pretty much all year, broodmares are making new racehorses. A mare is pregnant, about to be pregnant or raising a foal – unless she gets a rare year off to recover from all that work. Like your mom, the broodmare has a difficult job. She eats for two, carries her weight and the growing foal on legs that aren’t any bigger than a gelding’s. She lives outside most of the time. She only sporadically gets groomed. She weathers winter, submits to summer and does the best she can to impart some life lessons on a child who grows up too fast, moves away and ultimately forgets about her.
And once a year, she risks her life to give birth. How many stories have you heard about mares dying during – or shortly after – foaling? It’s not an easy thing.
My role, in speaking to breeders, owners and farm staffers about mares, is to gather the stories. I hope readers get a feel for what the horses are like. I don’t meet many –
I’d spend all day driving around visiting horses if I could –
but the goal is to provide a slice of personality, a glimpse at how the mothers of your favorite racehorses do their jobs.
The term “notable” is mine and means nothing more than a broodmare worth learning more about, which is pretty much all of them. They’re all notable when you really think about it. People sometimes need a nudge or a refresher to find a reason to talk about mares, but usually warm up to it.
Broodmares can be calm, stressed, friendly, grumpy, bossy, small, big, rawboned, coarse, refined, easy, difficult. Some get along with everybody. Some want to be alone. Some help raise other mares’ babies. Others don’t want to raise their own.
The descriptions never fail to make me smile. There’s a mystery to breeding, and isn’t that the point? Biology and genetics and nature are at work, meaning all the pedigree research in the world won’t guarantee a fast racehorse or even a healthy foal.
Holy Pow Wow, star broodmare of Beau Ridge Farm in West Virginia, has never been bred to anyone but Fiber Sonde – who also lives at Beau Ridge – and two of their four foals to race won a dozen races and $700,000 each. Brooke Bowman and Becky Davis chose Frosted as a mate for Vielsalm because he won the Whitney-G1 one race after she finished eighth in the Waya-G3 at Saratoga (brother and sister watched from the winner’s circle because no one asked them to leave). The foal, Post Time, is undefeated in three starts. Jim and Gail Poulos got into ownership via claiming races, didn’t really like it and decided to buy a mare. Made From Scratch produced three winners for her new owners. The second, Sweet Valor, nearly became a hunter/jumper in retirement but is the dam of $685,000-earner and 2022 Maryland-bred Horse of the Year Fille d’Esprit.
As some old horseman put it, “The person who says he’s sure about something with horses is telling you a lie.”
The liar (story-teller is a more apt description…) would talk about a can’t-miss broodmare prospect. The old horseman would talk about every mare in the barn.