No major American breeder ever became recognized as such without a fair amount of luck and a fair amount of good advice. John W. Galbreath acquired the mare Banquet Bell with a generous helping of each.
When Galbreath advised long-time farm manager Olin Gentry that he would like to own a Polynesian mare, Gentry chose Banquet Bell. “I liked this one,” Gentry later said, “Because her dam, Dinner Horn, was a tough one. Raced ’til she was a 7-year-old, so she had to be sound. Figured this bottom line would help balance off the Polynesian in her…they were a little unsound.”
Gentry purchased Banquet Bell for $9,000 and however good his reasons, he could hardly have guessed that she would become as fine a classic foundation dam as any farm in the Bluegrass could lay claim to. Banquet Bell raced 15 times for Darby Dan, winning just one race, a division of the Gulfstream Turf Club Dinner Stakes. She retired with earnings of only $9,472.
Barren her first season, Banquet Bell produced her first foal, a filly by Ponder, in 1957. Named Ponder Heart, the filly failed to win or place in nine starts and was equally ineffective as a producer.
Banquet Bell foaled her best and most adored foal next, a filly by Swaps on Feb. 14, 1958. Because she was from the first crop of the 1955 Kentucky Derby winner, Galbreath named her Primonetta, meaning “first little one”.
Well-named, the Valentine baby turned out to be first in many things. As a racehorse, she was Champion Handicap Mare of 1962. Her major wins included such classics as the Alabama and Spinster Stakes, and she was quick enough to equal a track record of 1:08 2/5 at Monmouth as a three year old.
As a producer, she became 1978 Broodmare of the Year. Her foals included Cum Laude Laurie, by Hail To Reason, a winner of four Grade I races including the Beldame Stakes and the Ruffian Handicap. Although she lived only to the age of 12, Cum Laude Laurie foaled stakes placed High Honors who ran third in the 1983 Preakness.
Another of Primonetta’s foals was the ill-stared Prince Thou Art, a full brother to Cum Laude Laurie. Winner of the 1975 Florida Derby and second in the Flamingo, he was one of the favorites for that year’s Kentucky Derby. However, he ran unplaced in all three classics. Later in the year, Prince Thou Art was second in the Jim Dandy and third in the Travers, but his luck ran out Nov. 9 when he fractured sesamoids in a workout. At first it appeared that he could be saved for stud, but the colt broke a bone in his left foreleg while attempting to rise in his stall and he was humanely destroyed.
Maud Muller, Primonetta’s next foal, was by Graustark and she won the Gazelle Handicap and Ashland Stakes as well as placing in two classics, the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks. Maud Muller, like her two older siblings, did not live long, just until her twelfth year. Prior to hear death, Maud Muller produced three Roberto foals. Both of the fillies were unraced and Sweet May Morning died at eight before producing anything of note, though one of her daughters is a stakes producer. Naughty Mary, the other Roberto foal out of Maud Muller, was exported to Brazil in 1992 but produced the stakes placed Majestic Light filly Bobbycom prior to leaving her homeland.
To date, Primonetta’s best chance of carrying on is in the hands of Sunshine O’My Life, a winning daughter of Graustark who has already produced Grade 3 stakes winner Dance O’My Life, a filly by Sovereign Dancer.
Primonetta had two other notable foals; Grenfall, a stakes winner by Graustark who did his racing in Ireland is best known as the sire of Grenzen, dam of $2 million earner Twilight Agenda and second dam of 1990 Belmont Stakes winner Go and Go. Primonetta’s other stallion son is Truxton King, who has sired at least 15 stakes winners including several Mexican champions.
Although Primonetta was both a champion and broodmare of the year, she was also quite simply a special horse. She lived til the grand old age of 35 and every year on her Valentine birthday she would be feted with a carrot cake. She is buried at Darby Dan’s Ohio Farm along with her daughter, Cum Laude Laurie.
In 1960 Banquet Bell produced another champion, Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Chateaugay by Swaps. It was widely conceeded at the time that a speedy workout prior to the Preakness cost him a Triple Crown and while he did not win another stake after the Travers, his stud career was eagerly anticipated.
Unfortunately, that career was largely a disappointment. His best U. S. get was True Knight, winner of the Suburban Handicap and $739,673. Exported to Japan in 1972, Chateaugay sired champion two year old Hokuto Flag. The son of Swaps was third leading broodmare sire in England in 1980 and some of his daughter’s best get include Diana Handicap winner Bailrullah, Spinaway Stakes winner Buzz My Bell and champions Henbit and Zaccio.
Luiana is Banquet Bell’s other major producing daughter. Her best offspring is champion and double classic winner Little Current by *Sea-Bird. Winner of the 1974 Prekness and Belmont, Little Current has been a somewhat disappointing sire. Two of his best get are Flamingo Stakes winner Current Hope and Hollywood Oaks winner Prize Spot. As a broodmare sire, he has done marginally better, his daughters having produced 38 stakes winners through the end of 1999 including millionairess Memories Of Silver and multiple stakes winner Belle Of Cozzene.
Prayers’N Promises, by champion Foolish Pleasure, was another of Luiana’s major winners. She accounted for the Grade I Matron and Spinaway Stakes and has produced two good stakes winners, Anjiz by Nureyev and Nabeel Dancer by Northern Dancer. One of her daughters, Palm Dove, is also a stakes producer.
Luiana produced three more daughters who foaled stakes winners or producers; Water Dance by Nijinsky II, Fair Renown by Stage Door Johnny and Winding Stream by Swaps.
Banquet Bell foaled her last offspring, Jawn by Graustark in 1971. Jawn is responsible for two minor stakes placed horses. Banquet Bell was retired after two barren years and pensioned at the Darby Dan Farm in Ohio where she died in 1977. She had done her job well. Few mares purchased for $9,000 can claim a daughter who became a champion and broodmare of the year, a Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner and a daughter who foaled a Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner. To say that Galbreath made a wise choice when deciding to add a Polynesian mare to the Darby Dan broodmare band is beyond understatement.
Banquet Bell’s pedigree is deserving of not only comment but admiration. She was inbred 5 x 6 (supported only by her sire) to Polymelus, sire of Phalaris. She also inherited through her sire a 6 x 6 cross of Sainfoin through two of his most potent influences, the sire Rock Sand and the mare Bromus (dam of Phalaris). Sainfoin then met his full sister Sierra via the double of Sundridge which Polynesian also carried in his pedigree.
Banquet Bell also had a 6 x 7 x 6 cross of Amphion, tail-male ancestor of Sunstar and Count Fleet, while her dam gave her a 5 x 6 cross of fine broodmare sire Gallinule, sire of Pretty Polly and White Eagle, and a 4 x 5 cross of Spearmint. Last but not least she claimed a 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 cross of the king of sires, St. Simon. Her four St. Simon lines were sex-balanced via two son lines (Chaucer and Persimmion) in Polynesian to two daughter lines (Venus and Concertina) in Dinner Horn’s contribution.
It is always interesting to see how pedigrees change from mother to daughter. Primonetta, Banquet Bell’s best daughter, is a perfect example.
Matching Banquet Bell with Swaps gave Primonetta excellent balance in several areas: Swaps’s daughter cross of Polymelus via Cinna met male lines of Phalaris and Polymelian; his *Sir Gallahad III cross found his full brother *Bull Dog and his paternal grandsire, Hyperion, met his half brother Unbreakable. In short, it was a perfect match.
Luiana’s pedigree was very different, giving this Banquet Bell daughter a French flavor, with a 5 x 4 cross of Bruleur sons Ksar and Pot Au Feu. However, the double of Phalaris afforded by Pharos and Sickle countered this stamina with a rich dose of speed, as did the line of Mumtaz Mahal in Badruddin, and the sex-balanced Teddy cross (daughter Coeur A Coeur to son *Bull Dog) stabilized the pedigree overall. The end result is a very versatile pedigree and Luiana’s rather better production attests to this.
For many years, Americans and later Europeans and Japanese breeders have watched the descendents of this grand Darby Dan foundatioin mare and have enjoyed seeing them in action. It is fitting to acknowledge Banquet Bell’s classic contributions, along with those of her daughters Primonetta and Luiana by adding them to the Reine-de-Course list. They are welcome among their great predecessors.