Amidst all the hoopla surrounding Zenyatta’s retirement and the speculation regarding the identity of her first mate, last year’s Horse of the Year has been all but forgotten. Yet Rachel Alexandra also occupied a unique place in racing history, and her broodmare career should be of some interest.
Four other 3-year-old fillies have been acknowledged as U.S. Horse of the Year, either by consensus of racing historians or in the polls existing prior to the inauguration of the Eclipse Awards in 1973: Beldame (1904), Regret (1915), Twilight Tear (1944), and Busher (1945). (Rachel Alexandra is the first 3-year-old filly to be named overall champion in Eclipse Award polling.) All four continued racing after age 3, but none recaptured the brilliance they had shown earlier, and Twilight Tear and Busher each made only a single start after 3 before retiring. Only Beldame and Regret managed to win stakes after their 3-year-old seasons, and only Regret won another championship, being acclaimed the best older female of 1917.
As broodmares, these queens of the race course have had varied success. Beldame often is credited with being the source of August Belmont II’s belief that hard-raced mares did not make good producers, for none of her eight foals proved capable of winning a stakes, let alone approaching her own class. Nor were her daughters outstanding as producers, though Belvale (by Watervale) did produce the stakes-winning steeplechaser Fairfield (by Fair Play). Nonetheless, Beldame’s family has survived to modern times, including 2004 Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) winner Lion Heart among its representatives.
Regret sometimes has been categorized as a failure as a broodmare, but this may be somewhat unfair considering that five of her eleven foals were by Johren (Horse of the Year in 1918 but a stud failure), Mad Hatter (a champion racer who proved a useful but disappointing sire), and Grey Lag (Horse of the Year of 1921 but another stud failure who was nearly sterile to boot). She did produce one stakes winner, the gelded Revenge (by Chicle), and four of her daughters became stakes producers. The most important of them were Nemesis (by Johren), who produced three stakes winners including the 1931 Gazelle Stakes winner, Avenger, and Rueful (by St. Germans), dam of the high-class handicapper First Fiddle (by Royal Minstrel).