In 1973 racing reached its modern zenith with the ascension to power of the beautiful and powerful Triple Crown winner Secretariat. His story was told and retold, often with embellishments. Fans wanted to know everything there was to know about the horse and his origins.
William Nack wrote the book Big Red of Meadow Stable and Whitney Tower picked Sham to beat Secretariat in Sports Illustrated, but it was Pete Axthelm and Frank DeFord who wrote the most poetic descriptions of the great horse.
Axthelm wrote of Secretariat’s origins in Newsweek, and in so doing touched on the genesis of Virginia’s Meadow Stud where the great horse was born. “Chris Chenery wasn’t concerned with fashion when he bought the land in 1936,” wrote Axthelm, “He wanted the farm because his ancestors had built it, then lost it, at the time of the Civil War. Soon after the purchase, he made his most far-reaching investment in the bargain filly Hildene. She failed as a racehorse and she never saw one of her foals, for she went blind soon after the first was born, but Hildene went on to become what breeders call a ‘blue hen’.”
Hildene foaled three stakes winners by Claiborne Farm stallion *Princequillo, a horse who had begun his stud career in Virginia standing for a $500 stud fee before Meadow’s Hill Prince, a champion son of Hildene, helped vault him to prominence and a permanent place at Claiborne’s Kentucky farm. Yet another Chenery bargain named Imperatrice, a $30,000 purchase, was also bred to *Princequillo and later produced Secretariat’s dam Somethingroyal.
So Hildene – as a catalytic part of *Princequillo’s success – helped forge the bond between Chenery’s Meadow Stud and Claiborne Farm. A bond which would later allow Chenery’s daughter Penny Tweedy to breed Somethingroyal to Bold Ruler, thereby producing Secretariat.
Hildene herself, a foal of 1938 by Kentucky Derby winner Bubbling Over-Fancy Racket by *Wrack, cost Chenery just $750 as a yearling. Purchased from the dispersal sale of Edward F. Simms, Hildene’s family seemed to define her worth as well as anything. At the time of her purchase, her unplaced dam had foaled two very minor stakes winners; her granddam, Ultimate Fancy, was unraced and produced no winners; and her third dam was a stakes producer.
However, second dam Ultimate Fancy was a half sister to Idle Tale, who founded another strong branch of this family. Idle Tale’s branch of the family via her best known relative Sunday Evening, is another story in this series. This is the branch from whence descended such major winners as Java Gold, Indian Skimmer, Dark Mirage and Timely Writer. In essence, therefore, Hildene’s family had great depth potential and more than its share of back class.
A winner of only $100 at the racetrack, Hildene did not hint at any future promise with her first foal, Sunset Bay, a winner by Flares. As a broodmare, Sunset Bay never produced a live foal. Bred next to Sun Beau, a three-time handicap champion, Hildene produced the stakes winning gelding Mangohick, a winner of $115,115. In addition to winning the 1949 Rumsen Handicap, Mangohick placed in five other stakes.
Next came the unplaced Pass Out gelding Crescent City, then in 1945 Hildene had her first meeting with *Princequillo. Though she turned up barren, she was bred again to the son of Prince Rose and in 1947 she foaled eventual champion and Horse of the Year Hill Prince.
As a two year old, Hill Prince won six of seven starts and was voted co-champion (along with King Ranch’s Middleground) of his age and sex. As a sophomore in 1950, he took the Preakness after losing the Kentucky Derby to Middleground. In addition, he won the Wood Memorial, Withers, American Derby, Jerome, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Sunset Handicaps. At year’s end, he was named champion three year old male and Horse of the Year.
During his travels, the horses he met read like a who’s who from the history books – Your Host, sire of Kelso; Mr. Trouble, broodmare sire of Sir Ivor; and *Noor, conqueror of Citation. He became the first Virginia bred to earn year-end honors and his outstanding season made his dam Broodmare of the Year. Hildene was officially blind in 1950, so it is debatable how accurate Axthelm’s copy was about her “never having seen any of her foals”, but it is nonetheless probably safe to say she never saw any of her good ones.
Hill Prince subsequently became champion handicapper at four, when he did not begin his season until September due to a fractured cannon bone, despite winning only one of six races and just one stake, the New York Handicap. He returned at five and won the San Marcos Handicap prior to retiring to Claiborne Farm where he sired more than 20 stakes winners including champion Bayou and classic winner Levee, both Reines-de-Course. Best known as a top broodmare sire, Hill Prince’s daughters produced such champions as Dark Mirage and Shuvee and are also prominent in the pedigrees of other champions and top runners like Sacahuista, Slew o’ Gold and Java Gold.
Before moving on to Hildene’s daughters, her other sons deserve mention as well. In addition to Hill Prince, Hildene foaled his stakes winning full brother Prince Hill ($98,300) and the appropriately named Third Brother ($310,787). Hildene’s last stakes winner, champion First Landing by *Turn-To, is a story in himself.
Born on March 7, 1956, at Claiborne Farm, First Landing was named for the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the settlement at Jamestown. Nothing short of sensational as a juvenile, First Landing won 10 of 11 starts, $396,460 and was named champion of his age and sex.
The arduous campaign at two, however, had taken its toll. Though he won the Everglades and a division of the Derby Trial in the Spring of 1959, he lost more than he won over the winter and went into the Kentucky Derby with a large question mark hanging over his handsome bay head. Later found to be suffering from a kidney infection, the colt gave a good account of himself, running third to *Tomy Lee and Sword Dancer in the Derby. However, he subsequently finished unplaced in the Preakness and showed little in an autumn campaign after a lengthy rest.
At four, he displayed some of his former class and won the Santa Anita Maturity (now the Strub Stakes) and two other stakes while placing in five others. When he lost, it was to good horses like Bald Eagle and Sword Dancer, but First Landing had spent his worth at two and the best of him had been seen. He retired to The Meadow with a lifetime record of 37 starts, 19 wins and 11 more on-the-board finishes and earnings of $779,577.
Although he did not set the world on fire as a stallion, First Landing did give Meadow Stud something Christopher Chenery had longed for all his life – a Kentucky Derby winner. This was Riva Ridge, predecessor to Secretariat, who seemed born to live in that great horse’s shadow. Nonetheless, Riva Ridge was a champion at two; won the Derby and Belmont at three (losing the three year old title to Key to the Mint, who came on to beat older horses in the fall) and handicap champion at four. Retired to stud at Claiborne Farm alongside Secretariat, Riva Ridge was a useful sire, getting at least 29 stakes winners including Rivalero, Tap Shoes, Expressive Dance and Blitey.
Though Riva Ridge failed to breed on in tail-male, he did better as a broodmare sire, his daughters producing 45 stakes winners to date including millionaires Chief Honcho and Dancing Spree and $900,000+ earner Life At The Top.
Hildene actually produced two memorable daughters, Satsuma (1949 by Bossuet) and First Flush (1948 by *Flushing II).
Satsuma, who won just $2800 at the track, foaled three-time filly champion Cicada, winner of the Acorn, Beldame, Kentucky Oaks and Matron stakes on the way to earnings of $783,684. Unfortunately, Cicada produced only one stakes winner, Cicada’s Pride, a gelding who won just $75,155.
Cicada’s full sister Sabana did much better. Though she did not win stakes, Sabana has several thriving daughter branches, the best of which is via the No Robbery mare Pilferer. This branch boasts several graded stakes horses including G1 winner Astra, G3 winner Admiralty and G2 winner Lyin To The Moon.
Finally we come to the crown jewel of Hildene’s family, the great producer First Flush, whose family is composed of a whole dynasty of stakes winning and/or producing daughters, plus a stakes winning and a stakes placed son.
Unplaced in three starts, First Flush foaled a veritable dynasty of good stakes horses as a broodmare. Her Sorority Stakes winner Bold Experience by Bold Ruler is the dam of Florida Derby winner Upper Case and the second dam of Irish St. Leger winner Petite Ile (IRE), who was exported to Japan as a broodmare.
Copper Canyon, a stakes winner who was blind like her granddam Hildene, was long a paddock mate of the champion Moccasin. But that was hardly her only claim to fame. She foaled the one-eyed Nijinsky II filly Copernica, twice Grade 1 placed in the Frizette and Matron Stakes and dam of Hopeful Stakes winner Crusader Sword.
Copernica’s full sister Cherokee Phoenix is the dam of Flamingo (GR1) stakes winner Cherokee Colony and Grade 3 Honey Bee Handicap winner Risen Colony, both by Pleasant Colony.
In recent years, Copper Canyon’s Buckpasser daughter Insilca has begun to make her presence in the family felt. Among her descendents are G1 winner Turkpasser; Canadian champion Silken Cat; and two G2 placed horses, Turkappeal and Premmier Krischief.
A word about Hildene’s own pedigree is in order. Her most intense and fascinating inbreeding comes in the form of five crosses to the immortal Domino “the fleetest runner the American turf has ever known.” This preponderance of Domino blood is not unusual. Since Domino sired only two crops, it became fashionable to inbreed to him.
Hildene’s Domino inbreeding appears 5 x 6 x 6 x 5 x 5. Two of these crosses are through Domino’s greatest son Commando.
In addition to the Domino influence, Hildene is inbred 4 x 4 to Ben Brush. Ben Brush, best known as the sire of Broomstick (sire of Handicap Triple Crown winner Whisk Broom II) and Sweep (broodmare sire of Triple Crown winners Whirlaway and War Admiral) is the scion of an old branch of the Eclipse line which did not breed on in tail-male but which had marked success across the board as a good broodmare sire.
Hildene was also inbred 5 x 5 to Hampton, whose mail line is responsible for the Dark Ronald and Gainsborough dynasties. St. Simon’s sire Galopin appears 5 x 6, as does Isonomy, founder of the Blandford line (the latter supported entirely by Hildene’s dam, Fancy Racket).
Her foals had some similarities in their inbreeding, which makes one think that the patterns were intentional: Mangohick, all the *Princequillo offspring, First Flush and First Landing had inbreeding to Sundridge or to Sierra (dam of Sundridge) and her full brother Sainfoin. Inbreeding to Canterbury Pilgrim is also found in First Landing; First Flush; and Satsuma. Finally, Satsuma is inbred 5 x 5 to the half sisters Gas and Chelandry.
Satsuma’s sire, Dark Ronald-line Bossuet will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the three horses who produced the triple dead heat in the 1944 Carter Handicap, while First Flush’s sire, Flushing II, was a son of *Mahmoud who was stakes placed in France.
There is never a good time for a great broodmare to die, and when Hildene died on March 10, 1957 at Claiborne Farm at the age of 19, it seemed somehow premature. The blind mare died after foaling a Tom Fool colt who, later racing as the gelding Goodspeed, won races at three, four and five while earning less than $10,000.
Yet even as Hildene passed from life, waiting in the wings was one of her greatest contributions. No less a competitor than First Landing was only a yearling.
Without him, there would have been no Riva Ridge, and no first Kentucky Derby for The Meadow. And who knows? Perhaps had Riva Ridge not so touched her heart, Penny Tweedy might have been convinced to sell her father’s horses rather than race them. Imagine a world in which Secretariat did not carry the Meadow Stud’s famous blue and white blocks to victory! Hildene had done her job.
Reines-de-Course from this family: Hildene and First Flush.