Horse racing is often quoted and sentimentalized as the sport of kings. But in an era of female empowerment it’s important to highlight the queens of this sport, too. We tracked down some of the stakes-winning fillies and mares who are now breathing new life into the Canadian racing industry and across the globe.
Snuggles ‒ Queen of the West
A well-known name at Hastings Racecourse, and for good reason, Snuggles clinched seven stakes in over a dozen starts at the Vancouver racing oval.
The BC-bred stakes champ is owned by Swift Thoroughbreds, a racing partnership between Mark and Naudia Mache and Horatio and Jackie Kemeny.
When asked about her career, owner Mark Mache was lavish with praise for their homebred champ. “She was sort of the perfect storm. We had the stallion [Rosberg] and the mare [Daymaker] so it really felt like she was all ours, which was sort of special to have both. We’ve had a bunch of nice horses and a lot of stakes winners. But with her she also had an incredible amount of charisma and personality which really transcended what she accomplished on the track. Her results spoke for themselves.”
Her name may sound cute and cuddly, but don’t be fooled – her results were fierce. Snuggles clinched five black-type stakes, one listed stake, and also the 2016 Grade 3 Ballerina Stakes with jockey Rico Walcott. All in all, the champ retired with over $300,000 in the bank.
Earnings aside, did the chestnut mare lived up to her name? Did Snuggles actually like to snuggle?
“She was always a handful. She always caused us a lot of nervousness on race days, for sure. She was okay in the barn ‒ to groom she was actually quite sweet and nice to be around. It was more on the racetrack she kinda had a lot of quirky things,” said Dino Condilenios, who oversaw the champ’s training during her two-year racing campaign.
For Mache, Snuggles’ racing days won’t be forgotten anytime soon. “It was quite an adventure every single time she went to the track. I think that sort of separated her from a lot of the others. She almost had this human characteristic, not just to us, but a lot of people really related to, so she was really special in that regard. No matter how much talent she had, all her wins were always dramatic. She would never win by that much, so she always made the race as exciting as possible.”
Racing days in the past, Snuggles is now really embracing her name in her new venture as a broodmare. Currently she has a weanling filly by Mo Town and is in foal to Lookin At Lucky.
Snuggles’ mom, Daymaker, is also currently with her in Kentucky and was bred to Mendelssohn.
When will Snuggles and her crew ‒ weanling and foal to drop ‒ cross back over the border?
“Ideally, we would have her come up later this year so that when she foals she would foal in British Columbia and the Lookin At Lucky foal would be a BC bred,” said Mache.
Scholastic endeavours on the track would obviously include mastering the science of beating the competition. Enter the champion filly Academic.
Purchased as a two-year-old for $54,000 by Bear Stables, Academic put her name on the map after winning the 2015 Woodbine Oaks for owner Danny Dion and conditioner Reade Baker. Despite a disappointing performance in the Queen’s Plate, the Ontario-bred Henny Hughes filly followed up with two stellar performances out west in Alberta and Vancouver.
Under the tutelage of trainer Tim Rycroft and partnered with jockey Justin Stein, Academic secured Gr. 3 wins in both the Canadian Derby as well as the B.C. Derby.
Training her for nearly three decades, Rycroft is quick to recall those two extraordinary moments in his career. “Growing up out west, you are watching some pretty nice horses and some big-time trainers win those races. It was always a dream to have a horse good enough to be in those types of races. Those are the two biggest races out West ‒ the B.C. Derby and the Canadian Derby [just five weeks apart]. It was kind of surreal because it happened quite quick; the two biggest races out West in five weeks was pretty unbelievable,” said Rycroft, who recently expanded his string to Woodbine.
The 2015 Sovereign Champion three-year-old filly made three more starts at Woodbine before retiring. Eleven career starts, including three stakes wins, would see the champ take home $519,545 in earnings.
In 2017 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Mixed sale, the stakes-winning mare was sold in foal to Curlin for $500,000 to Breeze Easy, the partnership owned by Mike Hall and Sam Ross.
According to Stuart Angus of Taylor Made, Academic currently has an Uncle Mo filly by her side. Her yearling colt by Curlin will sell in Book 1 at the Keeneland September sale. Academic is also expecting again; this time she is in foal to Catalina Cruiser.
The retired champ and offspring are currently boarded at a small prestigious farm in central Kentucky and are still owned by Breeze Easy.
Iron-clad Escape Clause
Another queen from the West that is worth mentioning is Escape Clause.
Purchased at the CTHS (Manitoba Division) yearling sale for a mere $3,792, Escape Clause was trained by Don Schnell and went onto earn $942,638 in 35 career starts.
Between 2016 and 2018 the Manitoba-bred won 12 stakes at Assiniboia Downs and a couple of stakes at Century Downs before making her way south to California. In 2018 she took home honours as the Sovereign champion older mare for her owners Barry Arnason and True North.
However, she didn’t stop there. Taking the south by storm, she won the Kathryn Crosby Stakes at Del Mar and placed in several graded stakes to finish out the year. Last year, she secured a win in the Gr.3 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita and then captured the Harry Henson Handicap at Sunland Park.
Retired later in the year, Escape Clause was then sold to Katsumi Yoshida for $300,000 at the Kentucky mixed fall sale. Yoshida is the CEO of Northern Farm in Hokkaido, Japan. According to former trainer Schnell, the stakes-winning mare is currently in foal to group 1 winner Duramente in Japan.
Queens of the sport aside, there should also be a moment to reflect on some champs from out West that have now passed on.
Prominent B.C. racing owner Glen Todd informed CT that his stakes champ Commander has passed away. The multiple stakes winner, who secured back-to-back (2012/2013) victories in the Gr. 3 B.C. Premier’s Handicap, had retired from racing and moved onto a second career with an equestrian in BC before passing away a couple of years ago.
Ron Smith, who trained Fancy As, noted that his beloved stakes champ passed away last month. Fancy As won multiple stakes at Stampede Park, Assiniboia, Northlands Park as well as Hastings Racetrack. In 2001, he won a handful of graded stakes including the Gr. 3 Alberta Derby, the Canadian Derby, the B.C. Derby as well as the Premier’s Stakes. In 2007, Fancy As was retired and turned out to live on a friend’s farm. He turned 22 in late May.
Additionally, the well-known True Metropolitan, trained by Terry Jordan, has moved onto heavenly pastures. The millionaire stakes champ won multiple stakes from coast to coast. Some of his career highlights include victories in the 2006 Gr. 3 British Columbia Premier’s Handicap, the 2007 Gr. 3 Dominion Day, the Gr. 3 Autumn Stakes and the 2008 Gr. 3 Eclipse Stakes.