Over the four-year history of the Reine-de-Course series, we have often written about one branch of a great family and promised that we would re-visit that family to discuss another branch which also deserves inclusion on the list. In November of 1992, we highlighted Hildene, the great Meadow Stud foundation mare, and in passing mentioned that her second dam, Ultimate Fancy, was a half sister to Idle Tale who founded another strong branch of the family.
This month, we re-visit that family as promised to pick up the story of Idle Tale and her clan, specifically Idle Tale’s great-great grandaughter Sunday Evening, a stakes winning daughter of Eight Thirty and the *Royal Minstrel mare Drowsy. This is a family which has prospered despite the tragedy of losing such good members as Dark Mirage and Timely Writer and has triumphed over the adversity of star-crossed sire representatives like Java Gold and Prince of Reason. In short, its history is an encapsulated mini-history of the sport.
Sunday Evening was bred by Greentree Farm and in their colors won the Spinaway Stakes and placed in the Schuylerville Stakes. On the 1949 Experimental, she was ranked second to champion Bed o’ Roses. The following year, Sunday Evening raced just four times, winning only once, and was retired with earnings of $23,850.
In keeping with her precocity, talent and excellent pedigree, Sunday Evening was bred to the best sires of her time – *Princequillo, Better Self, *Royal Charger, Hill Prince and Bold Ruler. Nevertheless, she produced only one stakes winner, the Bold Ruler filly Time For Bed, who won the now Grade I Test Stakes and placed in the now Grade I Spinster. Yet despite her paucity of stakes winning offspring, Sunday Evening was just beginning to roll.
In 1967 her unraced daughter Prayer Bell produced a Prince John colt who, racing as Silent Screen, would become Champion two-year-old of his season, winning such races as the Champagne and Cowdin Stakes and Arlington-Washington Futurity, all currently designated Grade I races. Silent Screen did not train on at three, and neither was he a great success at stud, ending up in Venezuela where he was leading broodmare sire in 1992, one year before his death. Today, however, we know the true worth of Silent Screen. His daughters have produced 73 stakes winners to date, 53 of which have won over $100,000. Considering his pedigree, his daughters are rare jewels and should be considered as good a broodmare prospects as can be found today.
Prayer Bell did not stop with Silent Screen but also produced stakes producers Belladora, Prayer Cap, Ringing Bells and Belle Gallante. Another unraced daughter of Sunday Evening, Royal Society, produced Year Around and Miss Exquiste, both stakes producers, while Time For Bed’s branch contains such cleverly-named produce as Sleep On It, Curlers and Forbidden Sight, all major winners or producers.
Despite the excellence of these daughters and their contribution to the stud book, however, it will be a little deaf mare named Home By Dark whose branch is the most dearly held. Her story, and the story of two of her most famous relatives are the heart of Sunday Evening’s worth.
A daughter of champion Hill Prince (and thus inbred to Idle Dell’s family), Home By Dark was foaled with flat, bent ears which contained no ear canal. Because she was rather unsightly and could not be raced, Home By Dark was sold to Duval Headly, breeder of the great racehorse and sire Tom Fool.
For Headly, Home By Dark became a veritable blue hen, but her rise to the top was fraught with tragedy. Far and away her best known foal, Dark Mirage, was a tiny black filly by the little-known sire *Persian Road II. Because of his lack of notoriety, *Persian Road II’s owner, Jack B. Ward, found himself constantly defending the horse.
“I bought him because of his beautiful conformation and disposition,” Ward said. “And I thought he never had a chance in Kentucky standing at the same farm as horses like Tom Fool, so we took him up to Connecticut. At the time, it was mentioned that he had a nice two year old filly out called ‘Dark Something Or Other’.”
“Dark Something Or Other” of course, was none other than Dark Mirage, filly Triple Crown winner of 1968. The miniscule (15.1 hands, 850 pounds) filly was constantly the brunt of jokes, such as the column The Los Angeles Times’ Jim Murray did about her in 1969.
Wrote Murray, “When horse trainer Everett King first looked into a stall at the yearling owner Lloyd I. Miller had brought to him, he though there had been a terrible mistake. The animal quivering in the corner looked less like it belonged in a stall than a kennel. Or a cage.
“‘Did you trap it or buy it?’ King demanded. ‘She’s just little. She’s a filly,’ he was told. ‘I can see that,’ snapped King. ‘But a filly what?’
“Back home,’ he added, ‘we make stew out of bigger varmits than that. What do you feed it – cheese? Put it in a room and every woman there would jump up on a table and holler. Better not let it out or the rooster might eat it. Or if it gets in the chickens a farmer might shoot it. And put a collar on it or they’ll take it to the pound.’
“They named the filly ‘Dark Mirage’, and for days, they kept checking it for antlers or to see if it chased cats. ‘Our biggest worry was someone would step on it’ King recalls. ‘We told the boys before they stuck a pitchfork in a pile of straw, to blow on it first and see if Dark Mirage was under there.'”
And there was more. “You can save money on shipping,” Murray quoted one sage observer. “Her you can mail.”
Sooner or later, however, Dark Mirage began to be taken seriously. Like another small filly 20 year later named Brown Bess, she became a champion of the first order, winning races like the Santa Maria, Delaware and Monmouth Oaks and of course, the Acorn, Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks of the filly Triple Crown. Then it all came crashing down.
Racing in California in 1969, Dark Mirage was favored for the Santa Marguerita, though running against such excellent mares as Princessnesian. Dark Mirage’s regular rider Eddie Belmonte told what happened. “We were hit hard coming out of the gate, so I took hold of her to give her some confidence. When she changed leads going into the turn, I thought something might be wrong.”
Later it was suggested that Dark Mirage had shied somewhat at a cellophane wrapper which blew across the track in front of the horses. But whatever the reason veterinarian Jock Jocoy diagnosed the tiny filly with a dislocated sesamoid of the right front foreleg. Because there was no fracture, hopes were high that she could be saved.
Dark Mirage was, in fact, saved – from March 1 until July 9. But complications had set in as they often do, necessitating surgery to place steel plates in the leg and even placing the courageous filly in a sling. Still, she continued to founder in her left foot, which had been stressed when Dark Mirage put added weight onto it to relieve the pain in her injured limb. When at last the filly stopped eating, the decision was made to destroy her. She was to have been bred to Dr. Fager the following spring.
No less tragic was the story of Timely Writer, a great-grandson of Home By Dark. At two and as an early three-year-old, Timely Writer was just about everybody’s choice as the 1982 Kentucky Derby favorite. During that period he won the Champagne, the Hopeful, the Florida Derby and Flamingo Stakes and placed in the Cowdin, Futurity and Saratoga Special.
Then in late April 1982 Timely Writer suffered an intestinal blockage which required surgery. There would be no Kentucky Derby for the little Staff Writer colt.
Timely Writer recovered well, however, and he appeared on target for a comeback toward the end of 1982. With the three year old classics split among Gato Del Sol, Aloma’s Ruler and Conquistador Cielo, the three year old title was still up for grabs.
In August, Timely Writer issued his first challenge, winning the Yankee Handicap at Suffolk Downs. He then added an allowance race at Saratoga but missed the Jerome, a crucial prep for the Marlboro Cup because he still had some residue of a cough suppressant in his system. It was a prep he needed. Timely Writer ran badly in the Marlboro, finishing seventh to Lemhi Gold, but made up for it by winning a 13-furlong handicap at Belmont in his next start. He was ready for the race that could still win him the three-year-old title, the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Going off favored, Timely Writer was racing easily behind horses, about six lengths from the lead when suddenly jockey Jeff Fell heard a horrible noise – Timely Writer’s left foreleg. He fell in an instant, taking Johnny Dance with him and causing Sing Sing and Khatango to lose their riders. Timely Writer’s injuries were so severe he was destroyed on the track, as was Johnny Dance. He was buried next to Ruffian in the Belmont infield, reminder to all of how fragile are these wonderful animals we love.
Despite the tragedy, Sunday Evening’s family – and especially Home By Dark’s branch was merely down, and far from out. Gray Mirage, a Bold Bidder half sister to Dark Mirage, began the revitalization, winning the Pinafore Stakes and placing in the Grade I Santa Barbara.
Today, her branch is strong indeed through her grandchildren, Grade I winners Missy’s Mirage (by Stop the Music) and Classy Mirage (by Storm Bird), both excellent broodmare prospects themselves. Another granddaughter of Gray Mirage is the truly outstanding European filly Indian Skimmer, winner of the French Oaks, the Dubai Champion Stakes and the Phoenix Champion Stakes to just touch the highlights, and champion in England, France and Ireland. But for a bad ride in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Turf, she might well have won Grade I’s in four countries.
Another truly fine daughter of Home By Dark is Dusky Evening. Her Nijinsky II daughter Javamine won the Grade I Matron and later produced Travers winner Java Gold (recently exported to Germany after disappointing as a sire) and Doncaster Cup winner Spicy Story. Javamine died young, however, without producing a filly heir, as her only female offspring was an unnamed Damascus filly who died as a yearling.
Javamine’s half sister, Ivory Dawn, has done better. Her Storm Bird colt Bluebird was a top sprinter in England and Ireland and has been a leading sire in Europe. He is currently a dual-hemisphere sire, standing half the year in Australia.
Ivory Dawn has several fillies to carry on this branch of the family including Ivory Gull, a winning full sister to Bluebird. She also has fillies by Deputy Minister, Well Decorated and Old Vic.
Other hopeful branches include Sleep On It’s daughters My Girl Jeannie and Slept Thru It; Bold Wench, a daughter of Forbidden Sight, and Firgie’s Jule, who has not produced a stakes winner yet but is still a young mare.
Sunday Evening’s pedigree is full of the best speed of both Europe and America. Not only was she inbred 4 x 4 to the speedy The Tetrarch, sire of “the flying filly” Mumtaz Mahal, she has no less than four crosses of America’s superior speed sire Domino. Adding her sire’s 2 x 4 cross of half brothers Friar Rock and Fair Play and taking a close look at the flip-flop relationship between Friar Rock and Man o’ War (Friar Rock is by Rock Sand-Fairy Gold, Man o’ War by Fairy Gold’s son Fair Play out of a Rock Sand mare) we begin to see the complexity of this great foundation mare’s lineage.
When her best daughter, Home By Dark, came along, she was inbred 5 x 6 to Idle Fancy, the foundation dam also of Hildene, her sire Hill Prince’s dam. Added also was another cross of Domino through Ultimus and more Rock Sand through Tracery, the basic strengths of Sunday Evening’s own pedigree. The little deaf mare was a “natural”.
For the highs of Indian Skimmer, Silent Screen, Java Gold and Bluebird, as well as the highs and lows of Timely Writer and Dark Mirage, we proudly add foundation mare Idle Fancy, as she ties this family to Reine-de-Course Hildene as well as Sunday Evening, Prayer Bell, and Home By Dark to the Reine-de-Course list. The family has come full circle, and it has been a marvelous journey.