In his office at Woodbine Racetrack, Jim Lawson has a large portrait of his family’s wonderful racemare Eternal Search he views with pride.
Memories of the champion, raced by his father Mel’s Jim Dandy Stable, came flooding back for Woodbine’s president and CEO when his own two-year-old filly Mrs. Barbara raced to victory in the Grade 3 Mazarine Stakes on November 27. Jim and his wife, Sue, stood proudly with Mrs. Barbara, a granddaughter of Eternal Search, who is named for his mother.
The story of how Mrs. Barbara came to be can only be described as one of fate. You see, Lawson had lost touch with his father’s champion mare Destroy, the dam of Mrs. Barbara, for years before he happened upon her in January 2019, offered for sale at the age of 22.
What followed was the beginning of one of the magical stories of horse racing that make this the greatest sport in the world.
Eternal Search was bred by Pierre Levesque’s North American Bloodstock Agency in Ontario, a foal of 1978 produced from the Ruritania mare Bon Debarras on a cover by Northern Answer. Mel Lawson purchased her as two-year-old and in her third career race the filly won her maiden at Fort Erie. From there, Eternal Search, who was trained by Ted Mann, blossomed into one of the year’s top juveniles. She beat the boys in the Kingarvie Stakes at Greenwood and placed in four other stakes including runner-up showings the Natalma and Princess Elizabeth.
As a three-year-old, Eternal Search raced 13 times and won five stakes races, mostly at sprint distances, and was crowned the Champion Sprinter at the Sovereign Awards. The rugged filly matured and at age four won six stakes at various distances on turf and dirt including the Nassau, Maple Leaf and Whimsical Stakes. She was voted Canada’s Champion Older Mare in 1982 and doubled up in ’83, winning three more stakes and placing in one at Arlington Park. Trained later in her career by Janet Bedford, Eternal Search retired to a life as a broodmare with a marvellous record of 18-11-2 from 44 races, 15 stakes wins, earning over $642,000.
“I loved and breathed Eternal Search in my 20s,” said Jim. “I think until the great Pink Lloyd came along here there was no horse like her.”
Eternal Search produced a couple of stakes- placed horses, but her prowess in the breeding shed was even more powerful through her daughters who produced stars for Mel and family such as Jiggs Coz, winner of the Grade 3 Dominion Day and Plate Trial Stakes.
Destroy, a daughter of American Champion Sprinter Housebuster, was one of Eternal Search’s last foals. She was unplaced in three races, but would prove to be one of the great modern day Canadian broodmares.
Destroy’s first three foals, including graded stakes-placed Search the Church, each won over $200,000 on the track. Then came a remarkable streak of talented foals.
Smokey Fire, a foal of 2005, won five stakes races, three graded, including the Grade 2 highland and Play the King for Jim Dandy; Utterly Cool won the 2008 Cup and Saucer Stakes and Ghost Fleet was a two-time stakes winner at two in 2009.
Destroy was voted the Outstanding Broodmare in Canada in 2010, boasting offspring which had earned over $1.8 million. Mel was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame later that year.
Sadly, Mel passed away in 2011 and the racing and breeding stock had to be sold. “Dad didn’t want any squabbling among the family about the horses,” said Jim, “so they all had to be sold commercially.”
Destroy was sold at the 2014 Keeneland Breeding Stock sale in foal to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame for $55,000 to Nancy Polk’s Normandy Farm.
Jim had bought a filly from the estate to keep the bloodlines in the family; Gravelly Bay was stakes-placed and her second foal for him was Federal Law, who was a stakes winner for Qatar Racing. But Gravelly Bay died of colic after just two foals.
There was just one other filly from Destroy who was alive and that was Flame Mingo, the Blame filly born at Normandy Farm. Lawson made an effort to purchase that one but the price was out of his range.
And then the catalogues came out for that 2019 January sale at Keeneland and Destroy was one of three mares offered by Normandy Farm. Polk had passed away a few months earlier and the horses were being dispersed. Destroy was carrying a foal by Bodemeister – the last cover date was Feb. 14 which just happened to be Mel’s birth date – and Jim put a plan together to buy her. He had longtime friend Kitty Taylor of Warrendale Sales ready to do the bidding until she found out the Normandy horses were withdrawn from the sale; Polk’s estate executor had ordered the horses out of the sale.
“I went crazy,” said Lawson. “I asked Kitty if she could go see the farm manager and while he understood that I wanted to buy her, it was not his decision.”
Eventually Lawson was able to convince the estate executor to sell Destroy to him. By then, the mare was due to foal any day and rather than move the aging gal to Ontario to foal, she stayed with Ryan Mahan at his Orchard Park Farm in Kentucky.
On February 5, 2019, Destroy produced a dark bay filly who closely resembled her famous granddam, Eternal Search. It wasn’t long before Jim was told that Destroy’s filly was quite forward, alert and sharp.
“Kitty told me she was not only gorgeous, but precocious. When she was being broken she told me the filly looked like one who could win first time out and that I should get her into training early.”
It was at the turn of 2021 when Jim sought a place in the south for Destroy’s filly to begin training and contacted Mark Casse. Newly christened Mrs. Barbara, the filly went to Casse’s training centre in Ocala and by February she was already getting in some easy breezes.
Mrs. Barbara debuted at Churchill Downs on June 17 in a five-furlong turf dash and the long-striding gal closed belatedly to finish fifth. She was a close second in her Woodbine debut in July at 5 1/2 furlongs before trying stakes company in the 6 1/2 furlong Catch a Glimpse Stakes on turf. Mrs. Barbara had a troubled journey in that race, trapped in traffic, and she landed third.
Casse believed the filly was a top contender for the Grade 1 Natalma Stakes on Sept. 19 and despite being floated out very wide on the turn for home, Mrs. Barbara finished fourth behind Wild Beauty. Second-place finisher Pizza Bianca went on to win the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filles Turf at Del Mar.
“Back in the spring, when Mrs. Barbara shipped north to begin her racing career, Mark told me we were going to keep her off Lasix as she was being pointed to the Natalma (a Win and You’re In race that does not allow Lasix). She was fourth and handled all the Canadian-based runners.”
Back with maidens, Mrs. Barbara promptly won her first race Nov. 8 and three weeks later won the Mazarine over Princess Elizabeth Stakes winner Moira.
“It sent me over the moon when I saw her go to the lead,” said Jim, who knew Mel would be proud of what his prized mare had done.
Destroy had an easy time foaling Mrs. Barbara and was bred back once more, visiting multiple Grade 1 winner Ransom the Moon (bred in Ontario by Sam-Son Farms). From that breeding, Destroy produced a colt whom Jim named One for Chap, for the nickname of his father.
One for Chap will train in Florida with Casse and Jim has a handful of other prospects and broodmares for the 2022 season owned solely or in partnership.
Destroy is now retired and lives with Taylor and Mahan along with her successful son Smokey Fire who was retired by the Lawson family a decade ago.
A former professional hockey player, Lawson, like many athletes, is a believer in fate and his discovery and purchase of his family’s old mare Destroy is rife with fateful signs.
“The stars aligned, or something was, at the way I got her back,” said Lawson. “I think there were definitely other forces at work.”