Dark Mirage, 1968

Charles Hatton on 1968 champion three-year-old filly Dark Mirage from the 1969 American Racing Manual.


Dark Mirage was not only queen of the 1968 3-year-old fillies and, indeed, of her entire generation, she was a phenomenon difficult to explain in terms of either eugenics or physiology, achieving great distinction through the development of the psychological will-to-win to its highest power.

A filly of wiry physique, barely 15.1 and weighing 710 pounds, she revealed nothing of her athletic prowess in her parsimonious exterior. Her contrasting Lilliputian conformation and Amazonic racing form are a temptation to quote the homily that the most precious gifts come in the smallest packages.

Mr. Fitz often found occasion to say, “It is what one cannot see that counts.” One imagines Federico Tesio would have approved Lloyd Miller’s $6,000 yearling bargain, as he preferred horses who excelled through nervous energy rather than brute force.

But Dark Mirage needs no apology for either her miniature proportions or her pedigree, which is far from the dernier cri of fashion. Perhaps this last is the fault of some aberration in the perceptions of those who dictate the modes in pedigree patterns, rather than an implication she is of plebeian origins.

At any rate, she focused belated attention on her dead English sire Persian Road II, who was ostracized in Kentucky and went to Connecticut. Persian Road II won the Ebor and stayed well. One is struck by the poverty of imagination and daring in breeding circles, but J. H. Whitney ventured to import him for his intrinsic worth as a strengthening influence. Kentucky breeders were not ready for Persian Road II, the production of stayers involving long term investments few either can or will hazard in the current economy. Most pedigrees represent the aspirations of too many breeders and their individual and differing tastes and approaches to a superior horse.

Persian Road II was a stallion of lofty presence individually, and a scion of the straight-pasterned, unsound Sultan of the Stud Blandford through his unbeaten son Bahram, who was expelled from Virginia. Insinuated into his pedigree was a cross of the English Derby winner Watling Street, also imported to Kentucky and found wanting.

Dark Mirage’s dam, Home by Dark, was culled in a draft of Greentree mares. She was deaf and never raced. But she was by Princequillo’s stout son Hill Prince out of Sunday Evening, a daughter of the photogenic handicap champion Eight Thirty and that splendid producer Drowsy.

Thus, as in the instance of Persian Road II, there is good blood in Home by Dark, just as there is good blood in all thoroughbred pedigrees if one troubles to pursue it. In the case of Dark Mirage, it remained for Duval Headley’s muse Dame Nature, the magistrate of all breeders’ fortunes, to refine the crude elements and by some mysterious alchemy arrive at the 1968 3-year-old champion.

The breeder who knows horses as individuals and can define their names in pedigrees in terms of their and their offspring’s physical and temperamental tendencies, virtues and faults, has exhausted the study for all practical purposes. One is always rather lucky when the one live cell in millions fertilizes just the right egg to produce a Dark Mirage, who could run all the other 3-year-olds of her sex off their feet any time the idea appealed to her. As a performer, she capsulized all the virtues of class, courage, regularity, speed and stamina. And she polarized the division into two distinct categories, occupying one all her own in isolated splendor, and relegating her rivals to a lower order.

Unplaced in her seasonal debut at Aqueduct March 15 she compiled a string of nine straight successes, including the Prioress, La Troienne, Kentucky Oaks, Acorn, Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks, Monmouth Oaks and Delaware Oaks. She became the first to win the New York Racing Association’s coveted and elusive Triple Crown for fillies, comprising the Acorn, Mother Goose and CCA Oaks. And she transformed the Delaware Oaks into a betless exhibition. For her labors, she was rewarded monetarily with $322,432. She was favored for the Alabama when she sustained a quarter crack which shelved her for the last three months of the season.

Few fillies have so completely dominated Oaks competition, and her regularity speaks eloquent volumes for her disposition, which found her retaining her keenest edge months on end. She had the versatility to come from far back in the La Troienne and Kentucky Oaks, and prompted the pace in the Coaching Club of a mile and a quarter, longest of the three-year-old filly classics.

Never Gave Followers Any Concern

She won by margins of one to a dozen lengths, often with arrogant leisureliness, and never gave her loyal legions the slightest doubt she would prevail.

Nature may have cheated Dark Mirage of fair proportions, but she did not dissimulate, as she is highly precisioned from stem to stern, and made like a watch. In point of fact, veteran racing men including Max Hirsch and Hollie Hughes have referred to the angulation of her skeletal structure as a scale model of perfection. The majority of the most truly made specimens are to be found among the smaller individuals, as epitomized by Hyperion and his sire Gainsborough.

From her withers to her feet, Dark Mirage’s bony parts are a study in symphonic articulation. The wither is well developed and extends well into a short saddle back. The scapula is long and at the best approved angle for liberty of action, while the humerus is of almost equal length and upright, as in the cheetah, swiftest of four-footed creatures. The radius is long in relation to the cannon, the knees broad and slightly over. The tendons are straight dropped, the pasterns springy and at a 45-degree angle.

Our subject is deep through the middle at the girth and the back ribs, and the rib cage is well sprung. She is short along the top line, long underneath in the way horsemen like, while she has a long, slightly sloping pelvis and the stifles are set on conspicuously low.

Dark Mirage has strong gaskins which flow with plasticity from the stifle into the hock itself. Her muscling is of the long and supple sort one expects to see in a stayer. Her hocks are large, flat and bony.

Hind Legs Could Be Straighter

If one were captious enough to criticize her, probably it would be to wish her hind legs were a trifle straighter. She is a hard brown, almost black, marked only with a small star. Her head might fit her better were the muzzle less long, or the neck less light and scrawny. But she has a splendid, calm eye and is reputed to be a pleasure, unmitigated by capriciousness nor whimsicality, about the training stable.

She races with her head uncovered and handles like an expensive motor car, running across the loam with low strides two sizes too large for her, nevertheless always in cadence and accelerating and changing course if need be with amazing facility.

“A natural born runner” as hard boots would say.

Dr, Manuel A. Gilman measured her last September and supplies:

Height, 15 hands, ¾ inches

Point of shoulder to point of shoulder, 14 ½ inches

Girth, 69 ½ inches

Withers to point of shoulder, 26 ½ inches

Elbow to ground, 35 inches

Point of shoulder to point of hip, 47 inches

Point of hip to point of hip, 24 inches

Point of hip to point of hock, 40 inches

Point of hip to buttock, 23 inches

Poll to withers, 39 ½ inches

Buttock to ground, 52 ½ inches

Point of shoulder to buttock, 68 inches

Circumference of cannon under knee, 7 ¾ inches.

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