Redemption - By Joe Hickey

In 1975, while assaying potential Keeneland July sales purchases with my esteemed employer, E.P. Taylor asked me for my grading of Buckland Farm’s Northern Dancer—Sea Saga yearling filly. After reviewing my notes, I concluded—in rather contradictory terms—“She measures up, sir, but small enough to walk under a garden trellis.”

“Good!” the great visionary breeder explained. “Just goes to prove she’s a Northern Dancer.”

Mr. Taylor bought Tom Evans’ watch fob filly for $260,000. Named Northern Sea, she won a division of the Test (gr. III) at Saratoga, two other stakes, and produced the prolific shuttle stallion Southern Halo, sire of more than 160 stakes winners in South and North America.

I was reminded of that 1975 appraisal while nominating Windfields Farm’s candidates for the 1982 Keeneland July sale. This time my concern was for a small, backward, and timid filly that needed a good friend and lots of time. She, too, came by her petite size naturally as she was by Northern Dancer, compounded by her May 29 foaling date. She had her daddy’s hocks, too. On the plus side, she was out of Pacific Princess, a multiple stakes-winning daughter of Damascus whom Roger Laurin saddled to win the 1976 Delaware Oaks (gr. I). She (and Windfields) would have been much better served selling later at Woodbine in September, but being Maryland-bred, she was not eligible. So, she tagged along to Lexington.

Originally, there were 14 yearlings in the consignment. One filly, on being stall-cast, was scratched; a second was RNA’d. For promise fulfilled, the remaining 12 yearlings composed one of the most gifted consignments to pass through the auction ring in living memory. Take a look:

  • Devil’s Bag (c., Halo—Ballade, $325,000, Hickory Tree Farm). Brilliant Eclipse champion at 2. Syndicated for $36 million at 3. Prominent sire.
  • Secreto (c., Northern  Dancer—Betty’s Secret, $340,000, Luigi Miglietti). Ever Ready Epsom Derby (Eng-I). Half-interest sold to Calumet Farm for $20 million.
  • Love Smitten (f., Key to the Mint—Square Angel, $225,000, J.K. Rafsky). Multiple graded stakes winner. Re-sold in training for $2.6 million. Dam of 3 stakes winners, including Swain ($3,797,566).
  • South Sea Dancer (f., Northern Dancer—South Ocean, $1.8 million, William S. Farish). Commanded short-lived world-record price for a yearling filly. Stakes-placed, she produced foals that sold exceptionally well for Lane’s End, and included the multiple stakes winner Signal Tap.
  • Other stakes winners from Windfields’ Keeneland Class of ’82 were Born a Lady, a half-sister to Northern Dancer who became a revered member of Betty Moran’s Brushwood Stable broodmare band; Mike Rutherford’s Dance Flower; and Dogwood’s Nagurski, a graded stakes winner in the U.S. who was sold to Japan as a stallion prospect for $1 million. The Nijinsky horse made a name for himself as the sire of Hokuto Vega, who for a time reigned as the world’s leading money-winning female with earnings of $8,300,301.

As for the tiny Pacific Princess filly, she was purchased for $200,000 by J. McNaught and shipped abroad. The following May owner Peter G. Goulandris wrote from London to report the filly, now named Pacificus, was in training with P.T. Walwyn at Lambourn.

“I am pleased to say she has grown a little and thickened out. Her curved hocks are not bothering her at all,” he wrote, adding, “Mr. Walwyn is satisfied with her progress…but she will take time.”

As far as I could tell, she went on to win a couple of races and simply dropped off the radar screen.

Decades passed. Hair turned gray; eyesight dimmed.

Several weeks ago, fed up with the Baltimore Orioles’ relentless pursuit of ignominy, I zapped the remote and picked up the 2007 Racing Almanac, a Guinness-like compendium of I-didn’t-know-that facts and figures that I tend to binge on.

There, on page 827, in a section titled “Leading Broodmares by Progeny Earnings,” I found my little Maryland-bred friend. Pacificus, now pearl of the Orient, is credited with progeny earnings of a whopping $18,135,348. Her first two foals in Japan, Biwa Hayahide (by Sharrood) and Triple Crown winner Narita Brian (by Brian’s Time), were back-to-back Horses of the Year in 1993-94. Between them they won $16,852,032.

All Pacificus needed was time. Lots of time.

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