A $375,000 yearling purchase at the 2010 Saratoga Yearling Sale, Irish Mission was bought by Robert “Shel” Evans from the consignment of her breeder, Sam-Son Farms. Evans, who had employed former Sam-Son trainer Mark Frostad to build him a Canadian racing stable, took that trainer’s advice, along with that of racing manager Patrick Lawley-Wakelin to splurge.
At first blush, Mark Frostad knew he had a work in progress. Tall and leggy, the chestnut daughter of Giant’s Causeway was somewhat awkward when she came to his barn. But at the same time, the veteran conditioner had plenty of faith the fledgling filly could be a good one.
Turns out, the man with four Queen’s Plate and Hall of Fame credentials, was bang-on in his assessment of the Ontario-bred who stands an imposing 17 hands.
“At the beginning, her size was an issue, but only because she had to become comfortable with it,” said the three-time Sovereign winner as Canada’s champion trainer. “And there was every indication she would. It was just a question of time. But every day, she would get better and stronger.”
Frostad knew a patient hand, even after her racing career got out of the gates, was in order.
Irish Mission made her debut on August 11, 2011, in a seven-furlong race contested on Woodbine’s E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
She caught the public’s attention, sent off at 7-2. However, she was bumped at the start and finished eighth of 12, 10 _ lengths back of the winner.
A move to the Polytrack for her next start, at seven furlongs, resulted in a sixth-place finish on September 3. The third time wasn’t quite the charm, either, as Irish Mission finished fourth, over 1 1/16 miles on the Toronto oval “Poly.”
In her last start of 2011, she contested the 1 1/16-mile Princess Elizabeth Stakes, a key two-year-old filly race for connections setting their sights on the Woodbine Oaks. She ended up fifth, less than three lengths back at the wire.
Her first season at the races didn’t yield a win. Then, her first start as a three-year-old was a sixth-place finish at Gulfstream.
Yet, through it all, Frostad never wavered when it came to his belief in the filly.
“Obviously, you are disappointed that you don’t win but with some horses, you have to step back and look at the big picture.”
Irish Mission got that “big picture”, her first win, in her third start of 2012, coming at Keeneland, on the heels of a narrow neck loss in the Sunshine State.
Things were about to get a whole lot better.
Irish Mission returned to Canada and took on the country’s top three-year-old fillies in the Woodbine Oaks. Sent off at 9-1, the Robert Evans’ colour-bearer took all the spoils in the $500,000 race.
Exactly three weeks later, she loaded into the starting gate for Canada’s most famous horse race. At the end of the 1 _-mile Queen’s Plate, she was a game second, 1 _-lengths behind Strait of Dover.
“Like she always does, she fights right until the end,” recalled Frostad. “She doesn’t want to give up. She ran an amazing race.”
A disappointing sixth-place finish in the Prince of Wales Stakes, second jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown Series, was soon forgotten after a sparkling triumph over the colts in the Breeders’ Stakes (third jewel of the Crown) on August 5.
Irish Mission’s three-year-old campaign came to a close with a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer on September 16.
“We always knew she could run all day,” offered Frostad. “It was just a question of her finding her rhythm. And she did.”
Once an awkward filly, the Sam-Son Farm-bred miss is now a decorated star, highlighted by two Sovereign Awards for Canada’s champion three-year-old filly and turf female. Her dam Misty Mission, who still resides at Sam-Son Farms, was named the 2012 Outstanding Broodmare Award.
The “Mission” may be far from over. And that suits her connections just fine.