Charles Hatton on 1955 champion three-year-old filly and handicap mare Misty Morn from the 1956 American Racing Manual.
Breeders used to feel that they had been ambushed when their mares produced more filly foals than colts. Their disappointment stemmed from the fact that not many decades ago the associations offered meager opportunities for the female of the species to pay their way in competition among themselves, with the result that fillies were “a drug on the market” at the yearling auctions. How very different now. There are scores of stakes, ranging in value up to more than $100,000, for fillies and mares. And often as not fillies command the highest prices at the sales. It seems that racing men and breeders have come to realize that while we have a superabundance of Thoroughbred sires, high-class producers still are comparatively rare, and matriarchs such as La Troienne, Myrtlewood, Alcibiades, La Chica and others are the next best thing to a license to print one’s own money.
There are prepotent mares, just as there are dominant sires, and in the Blue Grass and other production centers, generations of sportsmen and breeders have founded successful studs on the issue of one matron and her daughters and granddaughters. Indeed, these illustrious matrons are regarded as pearls beyond price, almost as members of the family, and it would be unthinkable to sell one of them or any of their female descendants who showed the quality in training to perpetuate the line. As Brownell Combs said of Myrtlewood, “One would have to be quitting racing to sell a mare like that.”
The Wheatley Stable of Mrs. J. S. Phipps in 1955 was doubly fortunate to have two three-year-old fillies of top class and the highest breeding, either or both capable of establish a family of her own. We refer to High Voltage, who was the ’54 two-year-old filly leader, and to Misty Morn, who was voted not only the outstanding three-year-old filly last season, but the champion of the handicap mares as well. Both, further, are product of the Phipps’ select stud, which is maintained at the Hancock family’s historic Claiborne near Paris, Ky. This circumstance enhances the pleasure which their owner derives from their racing successes.
Misty Morn and High Voltage were by common consent the two most capable three-year-old fillies of the season, the only question being which one was entitled to the honors. Trainer James Fitzsimmons and his staff estimated, for a time, that High Voltage was the “tougher” of the two. But in the end, when their records were balanced, there was clearly no alternative but to award the laurels to Misty Morn. She met all comers, including the colts and the older mares, over all sorts of tracks and at all distances and won nine races—an arduous campaign of 22 starts. She was four times second and twice third and amassed $201,850 during a season which would have completely depleted most of her sex.
Further, Misty Morn climaxed her long and brilliant career on November 12 at Jamaica with what was perhaps her most distinguishing success. Carrying 113 pounds and conceding weight on the scale to all her eight rivals except Thinking Cap, Misty Morn won the important Gallant Fox Handicap over the searching mile and five eighths route in 2:42 2/5, rewriting the track record. Additionally, the going was considered no better than “good.” She raced almost continually from February through November, which speaks for her toughness of fiber.
It was not until June that the Wheatley filly ventured out of the allowance division to compete in stakes. She had been a trifle backward at two, when she won only two little races in 15 starts, but she showed steady improvement with more maturity at three. In her first appearance in a stakes, Misty Morn chose no less ambitious a placing than the nine furlongs of the $35,000 added Providence at Narragansett Park. The field included the colt Saratoga, who was the Preakness second behind Nashua, and was quixotically attempting to concede her 17 pounds, himself carrying 123. He was an odds-on favorite. He made two runs at the filly, but she beat him a length and a half.
The form of this race was questioned at the time, most of the cognoscenti taking the skeptical position that Misty Morn simply outran herself. But she came back to account for the Monmouth Oaks, the Diana Handicap at Saratoga and then was beaten a diminishing head by Manotick at a seven-pound weight disadvantage in the mile and a half of the Ladies Handicap at Belmont Park’s brilliant autumn meeting. She tried the colts again in the Yankee, conceding weight on the scale to most of them, but was blocked. Then came the Gallant Fox, in which she met older males at a weight disadvantage and won in record time.
Misty Morn was said to have been unwound for the remainder of the season in sound condition, and of course she cannot have had anything very clinical wrong with her when she won the Gallant Fox in her finale. It seemed to us that the Wheatley filly had come a long way in a relatively short time. There is a story, nor do we know that it is untrue, that she was so slight as a yearling that the wisdom of making any attempt to train and campaign her was doubted. But given the opportunity, she soon made it clear that she liked to run and was intuitively a racehorse, so it was decided to continue her career.
This is by no means the first time that a horse has seemed a poor risk as a yearling, and then agreeably surprised everyone by proving a performer of the top notch. Social Outcast was so crooked in front his people were dubious that he would stand training and he served as a menial, a workmate and traveling companion for Native Dancer during the first several years of that champion’s career. The overgrown Osmand was one of the “chain gang” of Elmendorf yearlings when he and the highly esteemed Chance Shot were being broken. Efforts were made to give away the filly Strange Device, she showed so little promise as a yearling, but nobody cared to have her and by the end of the following season she was acknowledged to be one of the best of her age and sex. These and many others have appeared from time to time to flout those who fault unraced Thoroughbreds and deal in generalities.
If Misty Morn was painfully sparse as a yearling, her legs were in order and she obviously has a big heart. A sandy bay with a narrow, rather long star as her only marking, the Wheatley filly measured 15.3 hands at the withers upon the conclusion of the ’55 season, when she was sent to Claiborne to vacation briefly. She girths 69 inches, measures 15 ¾ inches around the gaskin and has 7 ¼ inches of bone. She is very racing like, almost delicate in appearance, but this last is deceptive. What flesh she has when in condition was maintained throughout her long campaign.
Mrs. Phipps’ homebred reminds one vaguely of those old-fashioned prints of Firenze, another bay mare of rather small model, who nevertheless was up to carrying big weights over long routes with the colts and fillies alike. Her head is attractive and very effeminate, with good width between the eyes and jowls and neatly tapered ears having an inward turn. The rein length is in homogenous proportion with the rest of her conformation and extends into high withers and a short back.
She has fair length from hip to hock and her hind legs are reasonably straight. The croup slopes just a trifle and the flag is set high. Her quarters are not remarkable for any unusual development of muscular investiture, instead they are those of the stayer. She is the antitype of the rumpy, precocious colts and fillies who show blazing early speed as two-year-olds. Misty Morn has a pleasing middle piece in that it provides ample heart and lung room for one of her moderate size, and she is not particularly light in the flank for all her racing experience. That she is a good doer goes almost without staying.
The Wheatley filly has a stout, well-laid shoulder, which is one of her salient physical attributes. The muscle is developed a little beyond the norm without being heavy. This, along with her rather narrow front fork, assures a freedom of action and minimizes the chances of tiring unduly when racing major distances. Her forearm is, like her gaskin, more notable for angulation than conspicuous muscularity.
She has broad, flat, closely knit knees and stands over them in a barely perceptible manner. This construction and her springy pasterns, which are of the correct length and angle, suggest that Misty Morn may stay sound longer than most of her age and sex division.
At a glance, she is a charming bit of blood, with all the balance for which her sire Princequillo and so many of his progeny are noted. As highly precisioned “as a watch,” as horsemen are wont to say, one has the impression that she will mature into a lovely specimen of broodmare.
Though Misty Morn has never been very dashing out of the gate, she has a low, sweeping stride and is a bold-going filly. Her Monmouth Oaks showed her to have more pluck than most of her sex, for she was in quarters a trifle close at the crucial stretch turn, but she resolutely forged her way between her rivals to attain the lead. There are not many fillies who have the daring to move up in a flying cordon of horses.
The ’55 champion is a beautifully bred young mare. Foaled on May 21 at Claiborne Farm, she is by the classic sire Princequillo out of Grey Flight, who also raced for Wheatley and won stakes and purses in the amount of $67,990. Grey Flight, in turn, is by the Epsom Derby winner and noted sire Mahmoud out of the fast mare Planetoid. The latter introduces Ariel into the pedigree and is out of El Chico’s dam, La Chica. It is the immediate family of Native Dancer. Though it was thought to be specifically a source of sheer speed rather than stamina, the tribe has produced some excellent stayers in recent generations.
Princequillo, a tail-male St. Simon, was the best cup horse of his day and represents a distinct outcross for most American mares. He stems from Rose Prince and Papyrus. The Mahmoud cross also adds strength, for he is by Blenheim II and comes of the family of Nasrullah and Royal Charger, tracing to Mumtaz Mahal. Misty Morn’s pedigree challenges comparison.
Misty Morn did indeed “mature into a lovely specimen of broodmare.” She was Broodmare of the Year in 1963. A later post will examine the female family of her dam, Grey Flight.