Bloodlines Presented By Mill Ridge Farm: How Alice Chandler's Faith In A Blind Filly Swung The Wood Memorial - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Bloodlines Presented By Mill Ridge Farm: How Alice Chandler’s Faith In A Blind Filly Swung The Wood Memorial

Lord Miles, with Paco Lopez aboard, winner of the G2 Wood Memorial. (Amira Chichak/NYRA photo)

Lord Miles closed on the outside for victory in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, and as a result, another son of Horse of the Year Curlin (by Smart Strike) has become a “talking horse” for the classics.

From his first crop of racers, which included Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, Curlin showed that classic performance was his strong suit, and he has been a consistent source of elite, largely classic, performers ever since. His third-crop son Keen Ice won the 2015 Travers (and sired last year's Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike); his fourth-crop son Exaggerator won the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, and Haskell; his sixth-crop son Good Magic was champion juvenile, ran second in the Kentucky Derby, and won the Blue Grass and Haskell. Other sons, such as Vino Rosso and Irish War Cry, won the Wood Memorial like Lord Miles, and the chestnut champion sired three Breeders' Cup winners in 2022: Malathaat (Distaff), Cody's Wish (Dirt Mile), and Elite Power (Sprint).

In other news of Curlin's classic colts, Skinner was a contentious third in the G1 Santa Anita Derby, beaten a nose and half-length by Practical Move (Practical Joke) and Mandarin Hero (Shanghai Bobby).

Bred in Kentucky by Vegso Racing Stable and racing for the breeder, Lord Miles is out of the unraced Lady Esme, a half-sister to three Vegso-bred stakes winners, including champion juvenile filly Caledonia Road (Quality Road) and three-time Grade 3 winner Officiating (Blame). Lady Esme is out of the winner Come a Callin (Dixie Union), and both the dam and grandam also were bred by Vegso Racing Stable.

Peter Vegso bought into this distinguished family with the purchase of third dam Twilight Service (Horse Chestnut) at the 2004 OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training. Twilight Service, bred in Kentucky by Stuart S. Janney III, had sold to Eisaman Equine for $35,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, then resold to Vegso out of the Eisaman consignment at the March sale for $105,000.

Janney had bought the fourth dam, Sunset Service (Deputy Minister), through Seth Hancock at the 1994 Keeneland July select yearling sale for $260,000 and then resold her 10 years later at the Keeneland January sale for $60,000.

In the meantime, however, Sunset Service had contributed a pair of stakes winners to the Janney broodmare band in Vespers and Database (both by Known Fact). In addition to winning stakes, each also produced a G1 winner. Vespers is the dam of Donn Handicap winner Hymn Book (Arch), and Database is the dam of Data Link (War Front).

In fact, every dam in the family, generation after generation, has produced at least one stakes winner, but none of these dams was a stakes winner herself until we reach the fifth dam, Songlines (Diesis). She was one of two stakes winners out of sixth dam Begum (Alydar). A big, stretchy, lovely mare and a half-sister to three stakes winners, Begum was not raced and for a very good reason.

She had no eyes.

Headley Bell recalled the situation: “You occasionally have blind mares, but rarely do you have a foal born like that and kept alive. When she was born, she was normal but had only these little, dark things that looked like pencil erasers for eyes.

“To make this a challenge in every sense, this filly was from the first crop by Alydar, who stood for $50,000 live foal initially, and that was a big sum in 1981 for an operation that made a living from breeding and raising horses. This one could never race, could never go to sale, and we didn't know if she could breed. Did she have ovaries, would she cycle properly without sight to respond to the changes in light? It was a leap of faith to consider keeping the newborn filly.

“At the time, Melvin Cinnamon was still the manager at Calumet, and Mom (Alice Chandler), John Chandler, and farm manager Duncan MacDonald were inclined to give it a go. Because she was a filly. She was from an old Bwamazon family, and the combination of things were such that Mom couldn't put this baby down. But still, you didn't know how this would work.”

To try to give the foal every chance, Alice Chandler and her staff at Mill Ridge set to work to teach this filly how to survive in a world without a horse's primary sense: sight.

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“We plowed inside the perimeter of the paddock so that the ground was rough near the fence,” Bell continued. “We were trying to teach her not to run into the fence by making the ground different, and then we put a bell on the mare.

“She was a foal of 1981, and we didn't breed her until she was a 4-year-old. Then we bred her to our home stallion, Diesis, and the result was Songlines. Then we were able to train Begum to load on a van and sent her to a nearby stallion, the Juddmonte horse Known Fact, and got Binalong.”

The mare's first three foals were all stakes horses, and four of her five daughters produced stakes winners.

“All because Mom was a great horsewoman and a great lover of the horse.”

What more could anyone want to be?

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