Desert Vixen–1973

Charles Hatton on 1973 champion 3-year-old filly Desert Vixen from the 1974 American Racing Manual.


A petite, vivacious dark bay or brown filly called Desert Vixen burst on the scene with great eclat in 1973. She was among the most admirable and extensively admired three-year-olds of her sex developed in years. We should think no one will deny she deserved the fans’ adulation.

So much for the poetry reading. The record shows Harry T. Mangurian Jr.’s dainty, high-spirited Floridian won nine of 11 starts in the rather meteoric course of her campaign, finishing twice second and amassing $256,147.

She was lightly raced at two, when she won once in five chances, which was ordinary of her, but she rewarded trainer Tommy Root Sr.’s patience with retroactive interest.

This was fortuitous for the sport generally. It was bad luck La Prevoyante, of whom so much was expected, sustained a melancholy series of setbacks in the spring of ’73. This left a temporary void, for the spring form of the others was a crisis. It seemed they were innocent of any class. Providentially, Desert Vixen emerged in June to rescue this untidy situation and give point to the Himalayas of money added to three-year-old filly features.

Winner of Seven Stakes

In just four months, Desert Vixen progressed from an allowance filly to winner of the Post-Deb, Monmouth and Delaware Oaks, Test, Alabama, Gazelle Handicap and, climatically, the Beldame, in which she practically totaled Poker Night, Susan’s Girl, and other of the best fillies and mares.

Desert Vixen put it all together. She sprinted, stayed, raced in all weather, carried her weight, and ended by winning seven consecutive stakes. Her insatiable zest for competition  made her immensely entertaining. She won by the simple expedient of dashing to the front at the start and improving her position from there.

This was an effective technique as she employed it, and no performer of her capacity needs a more extensive repertoire. In Monmouth’s Post-Deb, she tied the course record of 1:40 1/5 for a mile and 70 yards. In the Beldame, she duplicated Canonero II’s 1:46 1/5 track standard for nine furlongs.

Of course Secretariat tied the world record of 1:45 2/5 for nine furlongs, set by Tentam on the turf, in the very next race on the Beldame card. But then he operated in a different time and space continuum from any other of his species we ever saw.

There was a touch of irony in the juxtaposition of the two races for the superficial Desert Vixen buffs. But it was terribly impressive for a three-year-old filly. At any rate, Mangurian was anything but stuffy and apologetic about the contrasting times, secure in the knowledge that in Desert Vixen he had mined a rough diamond for just $40,000 at the ’72 dispersal of Mrs. Muriel Adams’ bloodstock.

Mangurian also proved himself a quick study of the Stud Book’s mystique by acquiring several of Desert Vixen’s kith and kin.

These included Desert Vixen’s dam Desert Trial, for a nominal $92,000. Desert Trial was by the unsung Moslem Chief out of the unraced Scotch Verdict, by Alsab. But the furniture dealer and turfman could not have been more intrigued if she had a pedigree that covered two acres of paper, single spaced, on both sides.

Clearly, Mangurian is a stickler for performance. Whatever her bloodlines, Desert Trial had won the Hollywood Ladies, Del Mar Oaks, Milady and other added-money fixtures. Nobody can quarrel with such results.

Not caring it is unconventional for families with crosses of Attention, Alsab and Moslem Chief to breed on, Desert Vixen’s has a splendid record of continuity and achievement. Scotch Verdict produced the Monmouth Oaks winner Kilts n’ Kapers bred to National. The next dam, Glen Arvis, by Attention, and the third dam, Helen Gleason, were useful producers.

Sire In Reality Fine Miler

If Desert Vixen’s family did not rise from the ranks of the aristocracy they were born to what the Liberals call the purple of commerce. Our heroine’s sire, In Reality, is recalled as a blocky little bay horse with overstated quarters who proved an absolutely topping miler. He is, in turn, by the crack miler Intentionally out of My Dear Girl, a champion two-year-old filly and the sweetheart of the fans a few years back.

In Reality won the ’68 Metropolitan among other things, while My Dear Girl, who had shocking bad knees, won the ’59 Gardenia. How immensely Desert Vixen’s from must gratify “Sunshine” Calvert, who developed both In Reality and My Dear Girl.

There is an incomparable expression “He outbred himself.” Just as a reflexive, unexpurgated view we daresay few fancied In Reality would sire a filly capable of transforming mile and a quarter races into sprints. But then nobody imagined the sprinter McGee would sire an Exterminator, or the inbred sprinter High Time would get Sarazen.

It is our observation fillies of an introspective nature, who are always getting their feelings hurt, rarely make their mark. Most of the good ones are inclined to be opinionated and snappish, not to say downright misanthropic. Desert Vixen is neither. She is an unmitigated pleasure. She has poise and what the British term “electricity,” voluntarily investing a great deal of vigor in her work.

Races Without Blinkers

It might be inferred she attempts to run her races on one breath, but she will relax and breathe as stayers must. She races without blinkers and is the antitype of the whip horse. At times she inclined to veer out while changing stride entering the stretch. But she unwound ostensibly sound, and of the opinion still that racing is much good fun.

The fact she exhibited the same dash in the Beldame as at the outset of her brief campaign speaks for her depth and the wisdom of her handling. She is a “big little filly” as horsemen say, something above 15.2 at the withers, and with the girth of a much larger mare. Actually, her middle is her most striking feature physically.

Full of quality, with a thin coat, a star and white pastern behind, she has delicately turned ears, ample rein length and a lovely eye.

She may boast a fairly broad and well placed scapula and smooth withers. The length of her shoulder accords well with the depth of barrel, but the humerus is relatively short and less upright than the received ideal.

Superb Pasterns Provide a Study

The knees and hocks are not set on very low and her hocks are a trifle behind her. The muscling of her forearms is light, that of her well dropped stifle and gaskins relatively heavy. She has a long, well situated pelvis and her superb pasterns are a study.

The tout ensemble is that of the high-born lady, heightened by her airy grace in action. One senses she is unmistakably classy. They layman would call it an aura, we expect. If there is no statute of limitations on such reminiscence, she reminds us of Ocean Bound, a granddaughter of Hindoo upon whom Cal Shilling won the 1910 Alabama.

Desert Vixen is infallibly a good show. Anyone who did not get a charge out of seeing her flashing along pricking her ears and playing fox and hounds with her field would be bored by the opening of the Red Sea.


Desert Vixen repeated as a champion at age four in 1974 and went on to a successful career as a broodmare.

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