It all began with a mare named Wanda. Foaled in 1882, it was said of her that she “ran as if the ground wasn’t good enough for her”, a reference to her lovely, graceful way of going. A 12-furlong specialist, Wanda was not out of her depth with colts and upon her retirement, she produced a dynasty. Among her best daughters were Urania, ancestress of Epsom Derby winner *Durbar, Kentucky Derby winner Kaui King and champion runner and classic sire Gulch. Another of her offspring, Countess Wanda by Loyalist, produced the mare Planutess. It is her branch with which we now concern ourselves, for this is the branch which produced the great matron Betty Derr.
Betty Derr was bred by H. P. Gardner for whom she won 14 races including the 1930 Clipsetta Stakes and the 1931 Latonia Oaks. A full sister to 1929 Kentucky Derby winner Clyde Van Dusen, Betty Derr was handled as a broodmare by her brother’s namesake (breeder Clyde Van Dusen) until 1939.
The mare then found her way to California where she was in the best of hands in the stable of motion picture magnate Louis B. Mayer. Mayer bred her to 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral and the result was the marvelous mare Iron Maiden, dam of 1957 Kentucky Derby winner Iron Liege, and Iron Reward, dam of 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps.
Mayer sold Iron Maiden to W. W. “Tiny” Naylor, who bred Iron Reward (by Mayer’s stallion *Beau Pere) from her. Naylor later sold Iron Maiden to Elwood B. Johnson of Old English Rancho, who sold her once again – this time to Calumet Farm where she would produce Iron Liege and from where her family would branch out to include such good horses as Reverse, Fair Ye Well, Kodiack and Wood Green.
Iron Reward, on the other hand, stayed in California where she had been purchased from “Tiny” Naylor by Rex Ellsworth. Ellsworth would breed Iron Reward to his home stallion *Khaled to get Swaps and other stakes winners The Shoe and Like Magic and Broodmare of the Year Track Medal.
Another of Mayer’s mares, Judy-Rae, raced in his colors, and won the Anita Chiquita Stakes. She was sold to Coldstream Stud for $45,000 but did not reproduce her racing form. As a broodmare, however, she became a priceless gem.
Her first three foals were bred by Coldstream, and they included the War Admiral filly Tulle, who is the ancestress of Broodmare of the Year Courtly Dee. Judy-Rae changed hands in 1951 at the Keeneland November sale, going to Millard Waldheim for 43,000.
Judy-Rae’s *Nasrullah daughter Judy Rullah was bred by Waldheim’s Bwamazon Farm and was a remarkable mare in her own right. Among her best offspring were the brilliant but unsound Creme Dela Creme, a Chef-de-Race, and the outstanding broodmares Road to Romance (ancestress of multiple stakes winner Wickerr) and Rhubarb, whose branch includes stakes winner Bottle Top and her classics-placed son Strodes Creek; the excellent producer Quarrel and champion handicap mare Cascapedia.
But in all honesty, it is Judy-Rae’s granddaughter Courtly Dee which has put this family on the map to stay. This is a mare to dream about owning – and a mare whose record everyone who appreciates racing and breeding can truly savor.
Courtly Dee was bred by David Unger and was far from successful as a racemare, earning only $19,426 in 33 starts. Finally, she was claimed for $15,000 by Lea Eaton for his Red Bull Stable, and the partnership bred Courtly Dee’s first seven foals.
In 1980, Red Bull consigned Courtly Dee to the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, where she was knocked down for $900,000 to B.B.A., who was acting as agent for the partnership of Helen Alexander, her mother Mrs. Helen Groves and David Aykroyd. In foal to Alydar at that time, she would produce champion Althea the next spring.
Courtly Dee did everything right for Alexander and company and had already been named 1983 Broodmare of the Year when her Forty Niner colt Twining, became her eighth stakes winner after winning the Peter Pan and Withers Stakes. Courtly Dee thus found herself hard on the heels of Reine-de-Course Grey Flight, dam of nine added-money winners.
But Courtly Dee did not just produce numbers, she produced quality as well. There was the brilliant filly Althea, who beat colts in the Arkansas Derby, Hollywood Juvenile and Del Mar Futurity then went on to be the dam of a champion, Yamanin Paradise, and two other stakes winners to date. There are good grass horses like Aquilegia, winner of the Grade II New York Handicap and placed in the Sheepshead Bay, and Brighton Beach winner Native Courier. There were also quick two year olds like Ali Oop, winner of the Sapling Stakes, and Ketoh, winner of the Cowdin and even fine producers; Princess Oola, Maidee, Embellished, Foreign Courier and Namaqua, all have produced graded stakes winners.
Indeed, when Courtly Dee breathed her last on Aug. 16, 1995, she had produced 18 foals, 15 runners and 14 winners. A truly remarkable record.
Still, it is Betty Derr herself who must be acknowledged, for she not only produced the family of Courtly Dee but Iron Maiden and her family as well. Which makes one wonder what these two fine mares had in common, and the answer comes easily enough when studying their pedigrees.
Iron Maiden was a daughter of War Admiral and Betty Derr. Tulle, the dam of Courtly Dee, was a daughter of War Admiral out of Betty Derr’s daughter Judy-Rae. So the two best mares in the family had the stallion War Admiral in common; they were, in fact, three quarter sisters. Which gives today’s breeders a perfect way to utilize this family. Crossing a horse with a strain of Iron Maiden – through Swaps or one of his siblings – to any of Tulle’s ancestors, from Tom Tulle to Ali Oop to Green Desert to Press Card – would give a cross of three quarter sisters in the pedigree -an excellent way to concentrate this potent blood.
Betty Derr’s own pedigree is full of quality. She is sex-balance inbred to the redoubtable St. Simon 4 x 4 and has another cross of his sire, Galopin, through daughter Vampire, so Galopin is sex-balanced as well. She is also line-bred to Pocahontas through two crosses each of King Tom and Stockwell, all through females. Her sire, Sir Gallahad III, is inbred to St. Leger winner Lord Clifden, scion of the Hyperion and Dark Ronald lines 5 x 5 and is also 5 x 5 to Two Thousand Guineas and Derby winner Macaroni. Dam Uncle’s Lassie adds some inbreeding of her own with a 4 x 4 cross of Derby winner Hermit.
When mated to Beau Pere to produce Judy-Rae, there was a significant pickup in Lord Clifden blood, as the cleverly-bred Beau Pere owned three crosses of Hampton. (His pedigree is worth remarking upon because his dam, Cinna, was inbred 2 x 1 to the closely-related Maid Marian and Baroness La Fleche, who trace in tail-female to foundation matron Brown Bess). Betty Derr herself contributed two more crosses of Brown Bess through Carbine, who was inbred to her 3 x 4.
The percentage of Galopin blood was also increased, as Beau Pere was 5 x 5 to him, and added to Betty Derr’s three crosses, Judy-Rae ended up with five crosses in all.
Iron Maiden does something rather similar in that she adds a cross of Spearmint (by Carbine); an additional Hampton cross, and another cross of Isonomy, though there is not so much of any one thing as with Judy-Rae.
If there is a caveat with this family, it is that some members tend to be unsound. Creme Dela Creme, Swaps, Strodes Creek, and Lets Don’t Fight all were injured in training, the latter losing his life. Althea, who was somewhat more durable herself, did have a severe ankle problem and was crippled toward the end of her broodmare career. So the advice here is that when inbreeding to this family, try to use the sounder members who have more starts than their more fragile counterparts.
To date the family has produced some good sires, like Creme dela Creme, Swaps and Green Desert, but there are no leading sires among them. Inbreeding to Swaps, however, has accounted for such good horses as Timber Country, his three-quarter brother Prince Of Thieves and Twilight Agenda.
A family of such scope is so worthy that it is difficult to name the best horse ever produced from it, but if we were pressed, Swaps would indeed be our choice. A unique individual who had blazing speed, Swaps set or equalled 11 world records from a mile to a mile and five eighths. He was good enough to beat pro-tem champion Nashua in the Kentucky Derby and to humble older horses at three, and grass was the same as dirt to him – nothing troubling his effortless stride.
There was, in fact, every indication that the racing public never saw all the speed Swaps had to give, for regular rider Bill Shoemaker was quoted as saying his arms ached from holding the horse – and this in world record time!
So brilliant was his speed, in fact, that it is a wonder he took the punishment he did in training. Running on a foot about which there were more rumors than the royal family, Swaps’ hoof was reportedly oozing blood from time to time. The real truth, whatever it may be, was that his foot probably did cost him the rubber match with Nashua in a much-publicized match race.
But the bothersome foot was not what ended Swaps’ career. One morning at Garden State, he fractured a cannon bone while out breezing. For a time, it appeared that his life was in jeopardy but “Sunny” Jim Fitzimmons, who had trained his great rival Nashua, rigged up a sling to protect his injured foot and to keep him from foundering. Though the horse lost 300 pounds and was in terrible physical condition when he finally was able to take weight on all his feet, his gentle disposition and great intelligence enabled him to tolerate an encumberance most horses would fight with a vengeance.
After he recovered, Swaps retired to Darby Dan Farm near Lexington, Ky, and later to Spendthrift where he would stand alongside his old rival Nashua. Although not considered a great sire, he did get 1963 Kentucky Derby winner Chateaugay as well as champion fillies Affectionately and Primonetta, the latter a Reine-de-Course. If there is tragedy in his story, it is that he did not sire a son to carry on his male line, but few sons could have posssessed his utter electricity and magnetism. When he died in 1972, a great light in the Thoroughbred world was extinguished.
Betty Derr’s family is a unique one which spans decades of excellence. For her contributions, Betty Derr, her daughters Iron Maiden and Judy-Rae and her great-granddaughter Courtly Dee are all new additions to the Reine-de-Course list. Thanks to Courtly Dee’s fine young descendents, we have no doubt that before long we will be returning to this family to add new members to the list.