Studying great broodmares, their history and contributions is really no different than studying the contributions of nations. Some leave behind lasting gifts, others flit across the landscape like rockets and just as suddenly are gone. Still others enrich in a variety of ways; language, culture, historical monuments. This thought brings us to the outstanding broodmare Grey Flight, a daughter of *Mahmoud-Planetoid by Ariel, foaled in 1945 and sold by pedigree historian Abram S. Hewitt to Wheatley Stable at the Saratoga yearling sale of 1946. The $35,000 price made Grey Flight the highest priced filly of the sale.
Today, more than 50 years after that sale, the thought of a Saratoga without Foolish Pleasure, Bold Lad, Misty Morn, Intrepid Hero, Fly so Free or Sovereign Dancer seems inconceivable. All performed well at the Spa as have their sons, daughters and grandchildren. And all owe their origin of quickness to the grey filly sold in 1946 because Abe Hewitt “needed the money and did not know as much then as he later did.”
Hewitt need not have worried. Few caretakers finer than the Phipps family could have been found for Grey Flight, and her blood was accordingly blended with the best of Phipps’ own stallions as well as other leading sires standing at Claiborne Farm, which Grey Flight would call her lifelong home. These opportunities afforded Grey Flight ample chance to enrich her own pedigree and become that finest of matrons, a Reine-de-Course.
From fifteen matings, Grey Flight was bred to seven stallions: Bold Irishman, a three-quarter brother to Bold Irish, dam of Shenanigans (once); French juvenile champion *Ambiorix (twice); great stayer and Chef-de-Race *Princequillo (three times); great sire of sires and Chef-de-Race *Nasrullah (once); Chef-de-Race *Ribot, another stamina influence (once) and Chef-de-Race Bold Ruler, who changed the direction of American breeding (six times); and French champion and Chef-de-Race *Herbager (once). Only *Ribot did not stand at Claiborne Farm. These matings resulted in 14 winners, nine of which were stakes winners, and one of which was stakes placed.
The mating with Bold Irishman produced the hardy winner Shamrock who won 11 of 124 starts and $48,895. Both of the *Ambiorix matings produced stakes winners: the gelded First Flight, another hardy sort (216 starts) won four stakes including the Saranac Handicap, while Gray Phantom raced to age seven, also won four stakes, and was tried over hurdles, winning $130,830. At stud, he sired a handful of minor stakes winners including Bay Phantom, who earned $200,000. Until a few years ago, Gray Phantom still had some sons at stud, but his name is most frequently found today via Pass the Tab, his maternal grandson.
The three matings to stamina source *Princequillo had mixed results. One match produced Remsen Stakes winner Misty Flight, a good stalliion who sired Night Invader ($270,973) and North Flight ($332,313) as well as the excellent producer Misty Gallore. Another resulted in the non-winning colt Daylight Flight. And a third (actually the first chronologically) produced the pair’s masterpiece, Misty Morn.
Double champion runner and Broodmare of the Year Misty Morn was herself dam of champions Successor and Bold Lad (USA) (both by Bold Ruler). As a racehorse, Misty Morn won five major stakes including the Monmouth Oaks and the Molly Pitcher and Diana Handicaps and she also placed in the Ladies Handicap and Alabama Stakes.
To the cover of speedy *Nasrullah, Grey Flight produced Sport Page Handicap winner Misty Day who ran 56 times and earned $88,801. Later put to stud, Misty Day sired at least 18 stakes winners, none of them major.
Grey Flight’s *Ribot offspring, the gelding Signore, was a stakes winner over hurdles at Saratoga while her *Herbager daughter Quick Flight did not win stakes but became ancestress of Ascot Gold Cup winner Ashal.
Grey Flight’s six meetings with Bold Ruler produced just one colt, but he was a major colt. Named What A Pleasure, the chestnut won the National Stalliion and Hopeful Stakes at two and ran third in the Gotham Stakes at three. When What A Pleasure won his first stake, he vaulted Grey Flight to the status of leading producer of stakes winners; she had previously been tied with Mumtaz Mahal’s half sister Lady Juror.
Retired to Waldemar Farms in Florida, What A Pleasure was quick out of the gate as a stallion, gaining national prominence when siring back-to-back two-year-old champions Foolish Pleasure and Honest Pleasure in 1974 and 1975.
Foolish Pleasure, a Kentucky Derby winner at three, will unfortunately be best remembered as the “other” horse in Ruffian’s tragic match race, but he was actually quite a good stalliion despite having stood at three different Kentucky locations during his stud career and ending up in Wyoming where he died in November of 1994. He has proved the ability to breed on as well with such good sons as Marfa and Maudlin, but grandson Farma Way‘s premature death in 1999 was a big blow. From one of his final crops, top grass runner Kiri’s Clown made his first season at stud in 1998 and his combination of class and soundness make him the most promising of this sire line to retire in a long time.
Honest Pleasure suffered a similar fate, moving to three different farms, the last of which was in California where two of his top racing sons, Judge Angeluccci and the ill-fated Bedside Promise, did their best running. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to establish himself there either, dying of Cushing’s disease in 1992. While not the equal of his paternal half brother either as a racehorse or sire, Honest Pleasure was proficient at each task and most certainly displayed a better disposition. Perhaps the best measure of Foolish Pleasure vs Honest Pleasure’s racing class is that the former defeated Forego, while the latter could not. At stud, Foolish Pleasure sired at least 40 stakes winners while Honest Pleasure got at least 24. Honest Pleasure’s daughter, Narrate, may keep his name in pedigrees for some time. She is the second dam of Pulpit and Tale of the Cat.
Fillies produced from the Bold Ruler-Grey Flight matings included Schuylerville winner Bold Princess, ancestress of Intrepid Hero, Sovereign Dancer and Capricorn Bell; Black-Eyed Susans winner Bold Queen; Matron Stakes second Great Era, who died at the age of seven after producing only two foals; winner Clear Ceiling, ancestress of Quick As Lightning, Inside Information and Educated Risk; and winning Pleasant Flight, ancestress of Private Light and Priolo.
Grey Flight was actually retired from breeding twice – once after foaling Quick Flight in 1966. When Mrs. Phipps was told by “Bull” Hancock that the 22-year-old mare was in excellent condition, it was decided to continue breeding her and she thus produced two more fillies by Bold Ruler; Clear Ceiling and Pleasant Flight.
Pleasant Flight, born in 1969, was Grey Flight’s last foal. Retired from breeding a second time, Grey Flight was not bred for 1970 and she was subsequently destroyed at Claiborne Farm in early June of 1971 due to the infirmities of old age.
Hers has been a versatile family. Bold Princess, Misty Morn, Clear Ceiling and Pleasant Flight are all producers of the highest rank. There have been good nationally-ranked sires like What A Pleasure and Sovereign Dancer and a lot of either good regional sires or useful sires like Captains Courageous, Time for a Change, Intrepid Hero (who died after siring only two crops) and Misty Flight. And there have been champion runners of both sexes and on both dirt and turf. The common denominator to all of them is simply the Grey Flight quality, which she so obviously passes along.
Note too how many good horse have been inbred to her: 1996 Preakness winner Louis Quatorze; European champion Priolo; stakes placed Brighter Course; California stakes winner Tossofthecoin and Puerto Rican champion Cmdte Pepe Rios to name only a few.
On the surface, Grey Flight’s pedigree appears to be the simple combining of a European sire (*Mahmoud) with an American type mare (Planetoid) tied together by inbreeding to Roi Herode and Amphion.
But in the farther removes of the pedigree, one finds multiple crosses of Stockwell (out of Pocahonats) and even a cross of the Pocahontas son Knight Of Kars doubled through Sweep’s sire Ben Brush. Roi Herode and Black Duchess (to whom *Mahmoud is inbred) have in common the Galopin son Galliard and the foundation mare Martha Lynn, ancestress of Voltigeur and Eulogy (third dam of Le Samaritain, sire of Roi Herode) as well as Derby winner Wild Dayrell.
Closer up Planetoid, the dam of Grey Flight, was by speed sire Ariel out of the blind mare La Chica who descends from a family whose other branches include Native Dancer, Tight Spot and Track Barron. Planetoid was inbred 3 x 2 to Sweep (Ben Brush-Pink Domino by Domino). Added to this was yet another cross of Himyar, Domino’s sire, and one cross each of the French stayer Roi Herode and Amphion (sire of Sundridge, and tail-male ancestor of Count Fleet).
*Mahmoud, sire of Grey Flight, was a son of *Blenheim II, but his second dam was the “flying filly” Mumtaz Mahal, a pure dominant for speed. This mixture of classic blood and speed produced in *Mahmoud a new type and he is generally considered as much a source of speed as he is of stamina.
Grey Flight is beyond any doubt one of the most important American-bred matrons of the last 75 years. Her family’s growth shows no sign of slowing and the quality has not abated from the time of Misty Morn (1952) to Inside Information (1991). She is something of a legend at Claiborne Farm where she is remembered as a proud symbol of the combined breeding power of the Hancock and Phipps families. “One like her would be welcome back any time,” a Claiborne spokesperson said recently.
Reines-de-Course from the Grey Flight family are: Grey Flight; Misty Morn; Bold Princess; Clear Ceiling; and Pure Profit. That we will revisit this family again to name new Reines is a virtual certainty.