September 29, 2022

A eulogy for Broodmare of the Year Leslie’s Lady

Leslie's Lady with Mendelssohn
Leslie's Lady with Mendelssohn at foot (Photo courtesy of Clarkland Farm)

Broodmare of the Year Leslie’s Lady passed away Monday at the age of 26, as the Blood-Horse first reported. Yet the doyenne of Fred Mitchell’s Clarkland Farm will live long in pedigrees, with her influence just beginning.

As the dam of the prolific Into Mischief, who is emerging as a sire of sires, Leslie’s Lady would already have secured her place in breeding history. But she has another outstanding son, Mendelssohn, whose first crop will make it to the races this year, and her four-time champion daughter, surefire Hall of Famer Beholder, is still a young producer herself.

That’s not even including her other avenues of influence, through unraced son Curlin to Mischief, off to a solid start in his stud career in California, and her stakes-producing daughters Victory Party, dam of Saturday’s Southwest (G3) contender Classic Moment as well as Australian and North American group/graded stakes performer Victory Kingdom; Judy B, dam of multiple Canadian stakes-placed Sarah Her Highness; and Daisy Mason, dam of Grade 3-placed stakes winner Harry’s Holiday and multiple Grade 3-placed Remedy.

Tragically, we’ll never know what Leslie’s Lady’s $8.2 million American Pharoah filly, America’s Joy, might have accomplished. She was fatally injured in a Saratoga workout last summer.

Leslie’s Lady’s final two foals are both fillies retained by Clarkland. Newly-turned sophomore Marr Time (by Not This Time), a Keeneland debut winner, tired after a pace duel at Oaklawn Park last out, and two-year-old Love You Irene (by Kantharos) completes the series of her Storm Cat-line offspring.

Leslie’s Lady’s background

Leslie’s Lady is even more remarkable because her immediate pedigree, and race record, didn’t telegraph historically significant matron. She was by the Clever Trick stallion Tricky Creek, a hard-knocking multiple Grade 2 winner who, according to Brisnet records, never sired a graded winner himself. Leslie’s Lady was out of the Stop the Music mare Crystal Lady, who had to descend to the $6,250 claiming ranks to win twice at Fort Erie.

Bred by David Hager II in Kentucky, Leslie’s Lady brought just $8,000 as a short yearling at Keeneland January in 1997. Stedham Stud purchased her, and eight months later at the same venue, she was sold to James T. Hines Jr. for $27,000.

Leslie’s Lady soon showed much more ability than her dam during a productive juvenile campaign in 1998. Trained by Bob Holthus, she broke her maiden for a $50,000 tag at Churchill Downs and tried the Debutante (G3), where she was fifth behind Hall of Famer Silverbulletday. Off the board in the Magnolia at Ellis Park, Leslie’s Lady benefited from a couple of confidence-builders at the same track. She crushed a $40,000 claimer and an entry-level allowance to set her up for her stakes victory, a six-length romp in the Hoosier Debutante.

Although regressing in her Fair Grounds stakes tilts in the Pontalba S. and Thelma S., Leslie’s Lady was back to her best as the runner-up in the Martha Washington S. at Oaklawn Park. After a fourth in a minor Oaklawn stakes next time, she stuck to allowance company for the remainder of her career. Her last win came during Keeneland’s fall meet in 1999, by a front-running 6 1/2 lengths. She experimented on turf a few times, coming closest when just run down by a head going a mile on the Churchill lawn, and retired with $187,014 in earnings from a 28-5-3-2 line.

Hines kept Leslie’s Lady as a broodmare until his death, when his estate offered her at Keeneland November in 2006. Clarkland acquired the 10-year-old, in foal to Orientate, for $100,000.

Into Mischief puts Leslie’s Lady on the map

By that time, her then-yearling colt by Harlan’s Holiday had sold for $80,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October Sale. He would be a successful pinhook at OBS March, going to B. Wayne Hughes of Spendthrift Farm for $180,000 as a two-year-old in training.

Named Into Mischief, the bay stamped himself as one to follow – as soon as a patient Richard Mandella unleashed him in the fall. He withstood searing pace pressure and drew clear at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meeting, finished second in the Hollywood Prevue (G3), and put it all together in his two-turn debut in the CashCall Futurity (G1).

Into Mischief appeared the type to prosper on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail, only to be sidelined by injury in the spring. Although he resurfaced to win the Damascus S. back at Oak Tree, and concluded his career with a second in the Malibu (G1), there’s a lingering sense that we didn’t see his full potential realized on the track.

Into Mischief’s stellar record at stud only reinforces that idea. Leading sire for the past three years, the Spendthrift patriarch broke his own North American single-season earnings mark in 2021. His standouts run the gamut from one-turn artists to those who can carry their speed over a classic distance. Thus his Breeders’ Cup winners are a microcosm – Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) champions Gamine (2020) and Covfefe (2019), Dirt Mile (G1) heroes Life Is Good (2021) and Goldencents (2013-14), and 2020 Horse of the Year Authentic, who turned the Kentucky Derby/Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) double.

Into Mischief’s son Mandaloun, second across the wire in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, appears poised to write a whole new chapter in 2022. So does Life Is Good, set for Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup (G1) and a potential Saudi Cup (G1) battle with Mandaloun.

Beholder and Mendelssohn make Leslie’s Lady a legend

There’s no what-might-have-been about Into Mischief’s half-sister by Henny Hughes, $6.1 million-earner Beholder. Spendthrift Farm’s $180,000 yearling purchase achieved her utmost in a superlative racing career, as a champion at two, three, five, and six. The only Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner to add the Distaff (G1), Beholder incredibly regained her Distaff crown three years later in 2016, in an epic duel with Songbird. Her sterling 26-18-6-0 resume reflects 11 Grade 1 wins, including a 2015 Pacific Classic (G1) rout over males.

In the fall of 2016, Beholder and Into Mischief’s yearling half-brother commanded a sale-topping $3 million at Keeneland September. M.V. Magnier, acting on behalf of the Coolmore partners, secured the handsome bay colt we now know as Mendelssohn. His career would have had a more typical trajectory had he remained stateside. But once sent to Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle, he embarked upon a learning curve on the European turf followed by a global tour.

Mendelssohn put Leslie’s Lady in an exclusive club as the dam of two Breeders’ Cup winners when capturing the 2017 Juvenile Turf (G1), and his blistering dirt debut in a track record-setting UAE Derby (G2) made him a fascinating contender in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. A brutal trip in the slop put paid to his chances early on at Churchill Downs, and frequent transatlantic treks arguably took their toll as the season progressed. O’Brien reportedly second-guessed that management after Mendelssohn retired to stud. It would be no surprise if his first crop comes out gangbusters this summer, and progresses from two to three as Mendelssohn did.

New flower blooms from an ancient vine

As the unfolding histories of Mendelssohn, Beholder, and Into Mischief attest, Leslie’s Lady must have been a genetic gold mine. Perhaps she was tapping into the deeper reserves of her family, reaching back to her third dam – and beyond.

Her third dam, the *Sea-Bird mare Last Bird, produced Grade 1 winner Roanoke. Interestingly, she’s also the ancestress of 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness (G1) champion I’ll Have Another, who likewise emerged after a couple of lean generations in his female line.

Last Bird was herself out of the high-class juvenile and noted broodmare Patelin, whose descendants via other daughters include champion Pleasant Stage, Marsh Side, A Phenomenon, Class Play, and Pilaster. Yet they too are just a cluster on the vine that stretches still further.

This is the perennial 23-b family, going back to *Gallopade who bequeathed a legacy chiefly through three daughters. Her filly Fandango is the ancestress of American legends from Domino to Affirmed and Ghostzapper. Another daughter of *Gallopade, Reel, is famed for producing Lecomte and Prioress, and her modern descendants include Winning Colors.

Leslie’s Lady comes from the branch mediated by *Gallopade’s daughter Cotillion. This line is also responsible for Discovery, a Hall of Fame weight carrier and celebrated broodmare sire, and more recently, the phenomenal family of Smart Strike and Dance Smartly.

From this perspective, Leslie’s Lady can be interpreted as an ancient vine finding a way to blossom anew into its third century.