“Myrtlewood was nearly the fastest bit of horseflesh of her time, and beautiful filly, too, neat and graceful and feminine……” Joe Palmer.
Each year since 1945, Belmont Park has offered the Grade I Frizette Stakes, named for a mare whose influence on the breed is easily as pervasive as many top stallions. Indeed, Frizette’s influence is felt throughout the racing world, through representatives which include the mighty Dahlia, Horse of the Year Ferdinand, Kentucky Derby winner Jet Pilot, and the great racehorse and sire Tourbillon to name only a few.
Yet arguably Frizette’s most important contribution to American racing and breeding came in the form of her granddaughter Myrtlewood, by the great broodmare sire Blue Larkspur out of *Frizeur by Sweeper. Named Myrtlewood, she would go on to carve a place in history as the foundation matron of Brownell Combs’ Spendthrift Farm near Lexington, Ky.
Myrtlewood’s historic reign at Spendthrift might never have come about but for Brownell Combs, Sr.’s admiration of the great Frizette, whom he saw during a visit to Europe.
When Frizette’s owner Herman Duryea died, some of his stock was sold in this country and one of Frizette’s daughters, *Frizeur, was purchased by John Madden. Madden sold *Frizeur again in the mid-1920’s and Combs jumped at the chance to own a daughter of the mare he had so admired, buying her in foal to Runnymede for $6,000.
*Frizeur’s purchase did not pay off immediately for Combs, but in 1932 she dropped the Blue Larksur filly Myrtlewood whose speed was legend and whose courage was unquestioned. Myrtlewood as a racehorse was the kind of performer who moved turf writers to superlatives.
When she set a new mile record for American racing fillies, The Thoroughbred Record’s ‘Salvator’ wrote, “A most beautiful performance! One of dazzlling brilliance and, of its kind, hitherto unequaled. One so easily accomplished as to leave the beholder wondering just what might have been recorded had there been anything to carry this lovely and quite wonderful mare to her limit?
“Such was Myrtlewood’s performance in the Lakeside Handicap. One worthy of a queen of the turf, so queenly was the manner in which it was accomplished.”
Myrtlewood was perhaps best remembered for her epic duels with the gelding Clang. It was in these five races that Myrtlewood first displayed the kind of heart-stopping will-to-win later evidenced in relatives like Seattle Slew.
In their first three meetings, the three-year-old Myrtlewood defeated the elder gelding three times. This male vs female rivalry then prompted two match races in which the pair split decisions, each going under to the other by a nose after head-to-head, record-setting duels.
Myrtlewood was retired at the end of her four year old season with a total of 15 wins and 6 placings from 22 career starts and earnings of $40,620. At four she was named Champion Handicap Mare and Champion Sprinter.
During her career as a matron, Myrtlewood produced 11 foals, eight runners, six winners and two stakes winners, Miss Dogwood and Durazna. Crepe Myrtle, her first foal, won only $950 but she produced in turn the outstanding Myrtle’s Jet, a most appropriate winner of the Frizette Stakes and later ancestress of Seattle Slew. Miss Dogwood, winner of the 1942 Kentucky Oaks, never won a championship, but hers is the branch responsible for the outstanding sire Mr. Prospector. Durazna’s championship form carried over to her career as a producer. Her branch contains champions Highest Trump and Typecast as well as French classic winner Siberian Express, sire of In Excess. Spring Beauty, a winner of just $5150, is responsible for stakes winners from England (Young Man’s Fancy II) to Venezuela (Tres Jolie) to Germany (Al Mundhir) and back once more to America (Silent Beauty).
In a 1973 Thoroughbred Record story on Myrtlewood, noted bloodlines authority Leon Rasmussen wrote, “While her (Myrtlewood’s) name grows in reverence in the better pedigrees, it is all in tail-female. Her sons did let her down.” Rasmussen’s statement is true; none of Myrtlewood’s sons became great or even respectable sires. Which makes it all the more interesting that great sires like Mr. Prospector and Seattle Slew descend from her nevertheless through the contributions of her daughters. There is argument here, obviously, that a family with a sex bias – in Myrtlewood’s case, a bias toward outstanding broodmare daughters rather than sire sons – can be redeemed in successive generations.
Instances of inbreeding to Myrtlewood, such as in the case of Seattle Slew’s successful sons Slew’s Royalty, Compelling Sound and Grade I winner Strategic Maneuver (who is inbred to Mr. Prospector) have proved very successful. Seattle Slew and Mr. Prospector have also blended well, as in the pedigree of Bluegrass Stakes winner Pulpit.
My Charmer, dam of Seattle Slew, carries a cross of Myrtlewood’s half sister Black Curl in addition to descending from her in tale-female, so in effect whenever a horse shows a more traditional cross of Myrtlewood inbreeding to Seattle Slew, what is not showing is the additional inbreeding to her half sister.
Myrtlewood’s own pedigree is interesting in its own right, largely because of its blend of the American and foreign. She has a 5 x 4 cross of Ben Brush plus an additional cross of Ben Brush’s grandsire, Bonnie Scotland, in her sixth generation. There is also a 5 x 5 cross of Bend Or, scion of the Phalaris male line, and no less than four crosses of St. Simon’s sire Galopin 6 x 6 x 6 x 5. Further her sire, Blue Larkspur, is inbred to Colonel E. R. Bradley’s great foundation matron Padua, which is expressed 4 x 5 in Myrtlewood’s own lineage. Finally there is a 6 x 6 cross of Hermit and a 6 x 4 cross of Domino and his half sister Lady Reel.
While the great variety of sire lines easily accessible today may not have been available to Myrtlewood, she was bred in very single-minded fashion. Of her 11 live foals, eight were either by full brothers Bull Dog and Sir Gallahad II or Bull Dog’s son Bull Lea. Her three other matings were to Equipoise (which produced Crepe Myrtle); War Admiral (which produced Civic Virtue, her last foal); and Sickle (which produced Sicklewood, who was unplaced).
The Bull Dog/Sir Gallahad III matings added four more crosses of Galopin, two through St. Simon and his full sister Angelica; two more crosses of Bend Or; and four crosses of Stockwell and his half brother King Tom out of the immortal Pocahontas. If the thought of enriching and buoying up Myrtlewood’s heritage, and certainly the inbreeding of her daughters, was the idea behind the frequency of these matings, then the theory has certainly worked.
And those looking today for a formula of inbreeding the best of Myrtlewood might do well to look at young sire In Excess with Seattle Slew mares and daughters of Seattle Slew with sons of Mr. Prospector or vice versa. (This has worked particularly well with Seattle Slew’s son Capote). Seattle Slew himself has sired at least five stakes winners with inbreeding to Myrtlewood: Claxton’s Slew; Bitooh; Al Mundhir; Nelson and Compelling Sound.
Perhaps a horse is never better remembered than he is in his obituary. So it was with Myrtlewood on March 17, 1950, when she died at Spendthrift foaling a colt by War Admiral. Named Civic Virtue, the colt never won a race or sired anything of note.
Wrote Frank Jennings of Myrtlewood’s passing, “Yes, *Frizeur’s daughter, the one who came about through a young Kentuckian’s admiration for Frizette…the one called Myrtlewood died recently. She will be missed of course. She will endure a long time in the pedigrees of the future generations of her family, the heritage of which she so admirably passed on.”
Little could Jennings have known that 22 years later the first unbeaten American Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew, would be standing in the winner’s circle at Belmont Park – wearing along with his carnations the proud heritage of little Myrtlewood, granddaughter of Frizette.
It is with great pleasure that we add to the Reine-de-Course list the names of Myrtlewood and her descendents Crepe Myrtle; My Charmer; Miss Dogwood; Durazna and Gold Digger. Undoubtedly, other names from this great family will one day join their ancestors on this honor roll of great mares.
The following addition was made in a subsequent issue of Pedlines:
Gold Digger Updates – The Gold Digger group under Myrtlewood is a name we see almost constantly. But we don’t think of her in the same way as other mares – she’s more of a Miss Disco type. This is because the name Gold Digger is synonymous with that of her breed-shaping son, Mr. Prospector, just as Miss Disco is known almost entirely for her great son, Bold Ruler.
But Gold Digger is more than just the ‘mum’ of Mr. Prospector. She has some very nice daughters as well, and those daughters are responsible for some runners and sires of real quality.
Bringing inbreeding to Sainfoin/Sierra, Sir Gallahad III/Bull Dog, Florizel II/Persimmon, Black Duchess, to her own tail line of Shotover via Orion/Ornis and more, she has two standout lines currently in action: Her granddaughter Amelia Bearhart (out of her *Ribot daughter Myrtlewood Lass) and her daughter Lillian Russell by Prince John.
Two names alone stand out: top sprinter Private Zone under Amelia Bearhart (unfortunately a gelding) and Line of David under Lillian Russell. Line of David is off to a good start at stud, as his family line suggests he would do with Kentucky Derby runner up Firing Line; California Derby winner Cross The Line and minor stakes winner Dirt Monster. He also has several minor stake placed runners, but he can’t help but improve with better books – and Firing Line alone will help him get them.
We thus are now naming Amelia Bearhart and Lillian Russell as Myrtlewood descendents which have achieved Reine-de-Course status.