Oh, Miesque, What a Filly! - By Steve Haskin

(Originally published in the January 29, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

History was about to be made. As the field for the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) turned for home over Churchill Downs’ deep, wet turf course, Miesque was on the move. Despite going four wide into the first turn and four wide coming out of the second turn, the French-trained daughter of Nureyev was building up a head of steam, and by midstretch it was clear to everyone she was about to become the first horse to win back-to-back Breeders’ Cup races.

Her trainer, Francois Boutin, nattily clad in a beige overcoat, had been calm throughout, his binoculars zeroed in on his filly. But now, as Miesque began drawing clear of the field, the dapper, reserved Frenchman turned into just another demonstrative racing fan, lowering his binoculars, stomping his feet, and pounding his hands against nothing but air.

As Freddy Head, aboard Miesque, crossed the finish line, he pumped his fist and gave his filly a single smack on the neck.

Miesque had set the standard for brilliance and consistency on grass in Breeders’ Cup competition and elevated the European miler into another realm, especially in the United States. The fans, having just exhausted themselves the race before, cheering on Personal Ensign and Winning Colors in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I), still were able to appreciate the greatness and historical accomplishment they had just witnessed and gave Miesque a rousing ovation. She no longer was merely a French invader, but a part of American racing lore.

In 1987 she had charged through a narrow opening along the rail to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile under the California sun, blazing the eight furlongs in a course-record 1:32 4/5. One year later she took the outside route, circling the field and then charging down the Churchill Downs stretch on a rainy afternoon.

Prior to the race, as NBC was showing a replay of Miesque’s victory over her main rival Warning in the Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard Jacques le Marois (Fr-I), European analyst Brough Scott said as Miesque burst clear in the stretch: “Look at that speed. When she stretches out like that, she’s unbeatable.”

And she proved unbeatable in 12 of her 16 starts, finishing second three times and third once. And 11 of those starts were against the boys. A true miler, one of her defeats came in the Prix de Diane Hermes (French Oaks-Fr-I) at 1 5/16 miles against the top-class Indian Skimmer.

After her first Breeders’ Cup Mile victory, Head proclaimed her, “The best I’ve ever ridden.”

More than two decades later, Head, now a trainer, would eclipse his and Miesque’s feat by winning three consecutive runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Mile with Goldikova, whose career has mirrored that of Miesque in many ways.

Several years earlier another European filly, Ouija Board, had stamped her greatness in the United States, winning the VO5 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) in 2004 and the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf in 2006, and finishing second in 2005.

One can debate for hours who is the greatest European filly to compete in the Breeders’ Cup, but one thing is for certain: Miesque became the standard by which all other European fillies are measured.

She carried that greatness over to the breeding shed, producing the top-class runner and sire Kingmambo, who won three group I stakes in Europe and placed in three others. He has sired champions in the U.S., England, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, and a European champion. Miesque also produced East of the Moon, winner of the group I Prix de Diane and Dubai Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French One Thousand Guineas).

By Nureyev, out of Pasadoble, Miesque most resembled Pasadoble’s paternal great-grandsire Ribot, bearing little resemblance to broodmare sire Prove Out and great grandsire Graustark. Pasadoble’s dam, Santa Quilla, was a half sister to group I winner Comtesse de Loir, who was beaten a head by the great Allez France in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) after a memorable stretch duel.

Miesque’s influence has spread from the racetrack to the breeding farm, reaching across the globe.

Sometimes, one’s greatness is best described in simple terms. As Miesque crossed the finish line in the ’88 Mile four lengths clear of eventual Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Steinlen, announcer Tom Durkin’s voice reached a glorious crescendo, ending with the words: “Oh, Miesque, what a filly!”

That pretty much says it all.

Steve Haskin is The Blood-Horse's Senior Correspondent


Leave a Comment:

Virgil Fox

Very nice, Steve.

Thank You.

- Peace

25 Jan 2011 2:07 PM
Zen's Auntie

A Beautiful tribute to a Great Mare. 27 years old, gosh it seems like not so long ago we had Miesque and PE on the track.

All the more reason to appreciate the truly great ones while they share thier magic with us.  

Thanks Steve!

25 Jan 2011 2:30 PM

I love reading your articles Mr. Haskin!  I was merely a toddler when she was busy capturing her consecutive Breeders' Cup victories, but she was quite the mare and will certainly be missed.

25 Jan 2011 2:41 PM
needler in Virginia

Steve, other than to thank you for this lovely piece, there is NOTHING left to say that has not already been said! What a filly, INDEED!

Cheers and safe trips.

25 Jan 2011 2:44 PM

It certainly does say it all!!!

What a day that was, in just two races seeing three of the greatest female runners of the 20th century, not to mention all the high quality boy horses... I wonder how many realized at the time the history they had witnessed?

Thanks for the reminder, Steve... all too often the females get forgotten since they don't have the publicity after they retire that the stallions do. We are seeing a huge following for Zenyatta still, and we probably will, for many years... well deserved. But what of recent stars such as Rags to Riches? What of those nice fillies who ran in the Paulson colors? How about the marvelous Serena's Song, who is pushing 20 this year? How about the historic mares such as Honeymoon and Busher and **** (you fill in the blank)??

I for one would love to see an ongoing series on "where are they now?" about the good fillies and mares, and yes, the good geldings ...and perhaps even the intact males who never made it as big-time breeding stallions. If I were more centrally located, and a few years younger, I would take on such a task myself. I for one am always curious about the later lives, and about the personalities of these horses.

Living with a group of horses on a daily basis, as I do, I see wonderful bits of personality and behavior and quirks and endearments... as a lifelong horse addict it is fun to interact with them and know what to expect from each one. So I would love to know what Miesque was like as a "horse" when not doing their racetrack thing... we are told Goldikova is very professional and tolerates people but does not care for the petting etc. --- what about those earlier mares, and does the personality come down through the generations?  

At any rate, Miesque was a wonderful filly and a wonderful broodmare... and lived a long and happy life at Lanes End. How lucky she was, and how lucky we were to witness her greatness.

25 Jan 2011 2:44 PM

I was at Churchill Downs that day and the weather couldn't have been worse!  Watching Personal Ensign and then Miesque was about all I could take !!  It was absolutely incredible !!

25 Jan 2011 2:58 PM

Super article..I saw her run in each of her BC races and she was scary good..a great loss.....

25 Jan 2011 3:08 PM

Miesque was...singular & magnificent!

Requiescat in pace, bella Miesque.

25 Jan 2011 3:28 PM

When I think of Miesque I now, naturally, think of  her "spiritual" daughter, Goldikova...Freddy Head is a fortunate (and talented) man. Miesque lived a good, long life and I hope the same will be true for the current crop of fillies and mares who have given us so much pleasure these last few years.

25 Jan 2011 3:50 PM
Brian Appleton

I'm so glad you wrote a piece on Miesque, I was hoping you would! I wrote a small tribute on my blog but I didn't feel like it was adequate enough to honor such a great mare.

25 Jan 2011 4:04 PM

Merci !!!  Elle est magnifique!!!

25 Jan 2011 4:37 PM

Miesque is indeed an immortal.  Never thought that we'd see the likes of her until one named Goldikova came on the scene.  Is it something in the water that french fillies drink?  So many male-beating champions like Allez France, Dahlia, All Along, Miesque, Zarkava and Goldikova.  There were also some brilliant "lesser lights" like Tryptich and Three Troikas.  Incredible!

Which is the greatest/fairest of them all?  Your guess is as good as mine at this point but if Goldi wins a third straight Breeder's Cup mile, who would deny her the crown?

25 Jan 2011 5:33 PM
E A Blythe

For longtimeracingfan.

I was there for her 1988 Breeders' Cup as well. The performances of Miesque & Personal Ensign are burned into my memory forever. Two great, great mares.

You might like to know I was so fortunate to be friends with a couple who lived on the Oak Tree division of Lane's End. When visiting them one sunny day, they invited me to see the two mares in the paddocks behind their house. It was Miesque & her dam, Pasadoble. Then the fun started. They began racing each other along the fence line! And guess who won? It was Pasadoble! I expect Miesque was just being polite & respectful of her mother. They were very similar physically.

My friends told me Miesque remembered Mr. Boutin whenever he visited her. He always had sugar in his pocket for her.

I was so glad to learn Freddie Head was able to visit her in late 2010.

Miesque was indeed one of the best ever.  

25 Jan 2011 5:37 PM

Miesque  was great as Goldi, Pebbles, All Along, of the Euros.

A bit off topic i never heard any news about "Life Is Sweet" incident in the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic, what was the result & was anyone fined or suspended.

25 Jan 2011 5:49 PM

for E A Blythe,

THANKS for the wonderful description of Miesque and her dam... what a picture that evokes!!!

25 Jan 2011 7:04 PM

Miesque's two Breeder's Cup Mile wins were also the first two years of my love of racing. 1988-What a Breeder's Cup it was! Alysheba, Personal Ensign, Winning Colors, Easy Goer, Gulch....I could keep going on. I also love the irony that Freddie Head has such a high win percentage in that race-with two of the greatest grass mares in history!

25 Jan 2011 7:26 PM

What a wonderful tribute to a great mare.  I,too, was able to see the great mares win that day at CD.  I don't think there was a bad race on the card, one after the other were breathtaking!  Yes, it was a rainy cold day but the great champions heated it up by their victories!

25 Jan 2011 7:41 PM

What a touching tribute!!! Your articles are so well done. She was truly one of the great racemares of all time.  

Thanks for that fond remembrance of her.

25 Jan 2011 7:52 PM

Miesque was one of the best by any standard.....thanks for remembering her !

25 Jan 2011 8:26 PM
Paula Higgins

Nice article Steve. I have never seen her race but I have read about her. She was amazing and one of the greats. Interestingly, Head says he thinks Goldikova is even better. Hard to imagine any filly being better.

25 Jan 2011 8:41 PM
Robin from Maryland

Rest in Peace sweet girl, you are one for the ages now.  Not only a wonderful racer, but broodmare too.  May you run long and free forever,  You will Be Missed.

25 Jan 2011 9:22 PM

One of my very favorite racehorses ever - in fact, my "username" on a long-defunct racing forum was Miesque.  I was thrilled to see her become a superstar producer as well.  

Sigh - you know you're getting older when a horse whose career you vividly remember following dies of old age.

25 Jan 2011 9:44 PM
John T

Miesque was by yet another sucessful son of Northern Dancer,

Nureyev and her two victories in the Breeders Cup Mile were a joy to watch.How lucky can a guy get when her jockey Freddy Head went on to train the three-time winner of the same race Goldikova.As for the greatest European filly to compete in the Breeders Cup,I don,t know were Pebbles would fit in but as she was a filly

with a mind of her own I thought it was a great training job by Clive Brittain to get her to settle down and beat the boys in the Breeders Cup Turf.

25 Jan 2011 9:56 PM

Steve, thank you so much for this tribute to one of the greatest mares and producers to ever grace this earth! Once again I have goosebumps. To EA Blythe thank you so much for sharing the story of Miesque and her dam in their paddock! Priceless.

25 Jan 2011 11:15 PM

Paula, Mr Head first said that.  Then he amended it by saying Miesque was a much better two and three year old.  Then he just said, on her death, that you can't really compare the two as they ran so many years apart.  It took Goldikova a full year longer of racing to get more gr 1 wins than Miesque.  Miesque ran  better race in the /diane against Indian Skimmer than Goldikova did against Zarkava.  All their BC Mile wins were stellar.  You could argue that Mieswue's competition was better, but they are both exceptional animals.  I lean toward Miesque, others lean toward Goldikova.

25 Jan 2011 11:51 PM
Rhonda from Saskatchewan

I guess it is a true sign of the magnificent talent of a racing thoroughbred when you can remember specific races that they ran in just like it happened a moment ago even when it was more than twenty years ago.

Miesque is one of those for me.

Her two Breeders' Cup wins are indelible in my mind.

She was so tough and tenacious and yet oh so feminine.

I always thought of her as the true definition of a Steel Magnolia.

This earth was graced by her presence.

Rest In Peace Miesque. Free At Last!

26 Jan 2011 12:47 AM

Particulary enjoyed reading this blog Sreve, all of your articles are well written and informative but this one stirred some old memories. I was actually there in 1987 to watch her win, that race was memorable. What a brilliant turn of foot and explosion she oerformed that day. It's a rare feat when a horse can do that, only the great ones can accomplish that. Not gonna get into who is better, Miesque or Goldikova at a mile. It's best to honor them both along with so many other great milers, but now it's Miesque turn.

Her grand daddy Northern Dancer is argueably the greatest sire in American racing history. His bloodline is legendary, and when you got Graustark and Ribot on the dams side, all I can say is wow.........

Thanks for sharing Steve.

26 Jan 2011 1:58 AM
Asst. Hotwalker

I was at Churchill that day. She was a wonderful mare, who had a heart the size of a dump truck. After the PE/WC duel this was special. I believe Groovy had won the sprint.

26 Jan 2011 6:36 AM
Ed Atkins

I will never forget the spectacular turn of foot when Miesque broke free in the stretch for her first BC victory. Her smooth stride seperated her for speed and efficiency from any other following. It was a unforgetable sight and left no doubt she was very special.

26 Jan 2011 8:06 AM

What more can you say about such a great horse. She certainly made her mark in horseracing history.  May she rest in eternal peace.  Thanks for another great tribute Steve.

26 Jan 2011 9:01 AM

Wonderfully written as always!!!  Longtimeracing fan:  I agree!  Would LOVE to see an ongoing, Where are they now, with pics.  Those in the past were such a patchwork in my life of why I love the TB so much. Always look forward to your pieces.

26 Jan 2011 9:03 AM
Stephi S.

Miesque was a great race horse, as is Goldikova. I hope that Goldikova does as well producing as Miesque did when she finally retires. Hopefully that will be after she wins another Breeder's Cup. What struck me was how much alike they are in looks. Both compact bay mares with a small white star in the center of their foreheads. I have often wondered if Mr. Head had a frisson when he saw Goldikova for the first time, she is so much like Miesque physically. In uncaptioned pictures, it would be hard to tell them apart. And Mr. Head's accomplishment is as stunning as his mares'. He has won the Breeder's Cup Turf Mile five times, twice as a rider and three times as a trainer.

26 Jan 2011 9:22 AM

She was....a true champion and a beautiful looking horse.  What a combo; so tough and a great beauty too!

26 Jan 2011 9:35 AM
LouAnn Cingel of Union, Missouri

A wonderful write up Steve-fantastic!  Thankyou for the helping me to relive the moments. And to simply say it again,

"Oh, Miesque, What a filly!"

Love & Blessings

26 Jan 2011 10:08 AM

It is almost as if Miesque waited  until she passed her torch to the next generation of being great racehorse/broodmare--Zenyatta. I know that's silly but that was the first thing I thought when I heard she passed away.

26 Jan 2011 10:08 AM
David Lawrence Scally

I firmly believe that the standard for greatness of a filly/mare is the ability to defeat males in Grade/Group I races [or historic equivalents].  Lest we forget, the majority of her races were Grade/Group I open to both sexes  and yet only one male ever finished in front of my favorite horse, Miesque [Soviet Star in the 1988 Prix du Moulin].  

However, those "learned equine writers" who dismiss competition between fillies/mares in Grade/Group I races are also wrong.  All Grade/Group I are tenacious fights against the strongest possible opposition.  Those restricted to fillies/mares are frequently run in faster time than identical course and distance races open to males on the same card.   Remember also that four fillies finished in front of the immortal Miesque in her other three losses.

26 Jan 2011 10:14 AM

Thank you, Steve, for bringing to life the great ones that I missed for not following racing back then.  Your description of the races and the horses makes them real to me so that I can enjoy and appreciate them along with those who were fortunate enough to see them in their prime.  I cannot thank you enough, but I will keep trying.  Thanks!

26 Jan 2011 10:24 AM

I was at CD for that Breeders' Cup and it was such a great day of racing!  The weather was horrible but the racing was magnificent!  I remember well how Miesque just flew by and won that race and the crowd's reaction.  What a horse!  Thanks for the memories, Miesque!

God bless you!

26 Jan 2011 10:52 AM

What a year 1988 must have been in horse racing!!  I wish I was there!  May Miesque rest in total peace and carry with her the thanks we send her for such a big beacon of light she shined on the racing industry and the fans.  

26 Jan 2011 10:54 AM

That '87 BCM win was unbelievable. She never had to be "great" in the breeding shed for me, she was great just by being her...that was enough.

You can never compare horses that ran generations apart...track surfaces, riding techniques, lasix, race meds, etc...

26 Jan 2011 11:18 AM
barry aksarben

Have been following horseracing all of my life as my parents were huge fans of the sport and took me and my siblings many many times to Oaklawn and the old Ak-Sar-Ben and at the time the new Arlington ( I even was a hotwalker in the summer for Jack VanBerg ) I love the articles on past champions whatever the sex or age. I dont try to compare to closely the great. I just enjoy them when they are here and keep them in my memory. My personal favorite was a hard knocking Van Berg horse named Joey Bob who finally after a few tries gave Jack his Cornhusker win and I got to celebrate with the rest of his staff and his great family although I believe his dad ( the legendary Marion ) had already passed on) Thankfully, I had met him a few years earlier. Thanks for the memories

26 Jan 2011 11:28 AM
steve from st louis

Steve: Miesque had such a   aristocratic look about her, a beautiful head straight from that great Roman,  Ribot. Goldikova surely has a ways to go in the produce book before passing the Boutin mare.  

26 Jan 2011 11:31 AM

Thank you for a wonderful tribute ~ with Miesque, just writing the truth is a tribute.  Seeing Goldikova at Churchill in November sure brought back  memories of '88.  Cold, nasty day . . . watching a mare who was hot as firecracker when she charged down the stretch.  There have been a lot of great mares come out of Europe, but in my opinion Miesque, and now Goldikova, stand apart.

The mares who can travel everywhere, run against the boys time and again and win consistently---those are the true treasures.  That should be plenty for anyone, but then Miesque went on and produced as well as she ran.  Wonder if we'll see that again for decades?  What a fabulous mare!

26 Jan 2011 11:51 AM

Kingmambo, perfection...great mothers often produce great sires.

26 Jan 2011 12:09 PM

Thank you for a wonderful piece Steve. What a wonderful mare she was. She will be greatly missed.

26 Jan 2011 12:57 PM

Rest in Peace, Beautiful Girl. My  Condolences goes out to her connections. Thank You, Steve, for your Tribute to this beloved horse.

26 Jan 2011 1:00 PM

I was there in '88. And believe me, my breath evaporated when Winning Colors lost. Meisque's win re-energized me, and the crowd. I only wish your well-written article here had room for photos. Wonderful memories of Misque. Thank you, Steve.

26 Jan 2011 1:01 PM
Matthew W

She won with that burst of speed--blew them away, actually--at one mile, she was something--and she paid well in both Breeders Cup races, she was 2nd choice in them both--Miesque! One of the great horses of my lifetime....

26 Jan 2011 1:57 PM
Matthew W

I also noticed that head--Miesque had the look of a champion--not in size of body but her head was her dominant feature--I, too, would take Miesque over Goldikova--not sure Goldy would have a chance with her when she got a look at that head! I wouldn't want to bet against Miesque in that one....

26 Jan 2011 5:15 PM

Mr. Haskin,

For those of us who haven't seen Miesque run, your writing is priceless. Thank you for a wonderful piece... she may be gone but your words keep her alive.

Long live Miesque! In our minds and through her progeny she is immortal!

26 Jan 2011 8:21 PM

Saw Miesque in person at Hollywood Park in 1987.  Watched her again at Del Mar on the screen in 1988.  Was so impressed both times.

26 Jan 2011 10:32 PM
Like It Is

I watched Miesque win both Breeders Cup Miles. The first on TV and the second in person. Goldikova has also won 2 consecutive Breeders Cup Miles, not three as the writer claimed. She might try for 3 next year, but it's only 2 at the present. They certainly are 2 of a kind. Great Fillies!

27 Jan 2011 2:29 AM

I was 11/12 yrs old when I watched The Great Miesque

win the BC.I was in awe.Thank You ol girl for performances like yours made me a lifelong fan of the sport.I will never forget you.

27 Jan 2011 2:45 AM

Found this!  WONDERFUL!!!!  1988 Miesque Breeders Cup Win


27 Jan 2011 12:39 PM
Matthew W

Like it is: Goldy has won three in a row--she waited for room/ran down Kip Deville at Santa Anita...then she was shuffled way back from the 13 hole and blew by them all down the stretch, again at Santa Anita....then this past year at Churchill Downs--three times a Breeders Cup Champ!

27 Jan 2011 1:52 PM

okay, folks, now that Zenyatta's betrothal has been settled and announced, who would you pick for Goldikova? Miesque had foals by the top sires in her day--- so what should we come up with for her "spiritual daughter" Goldikova??? Bear in mind she MIGHT come to the US for breeding but will reside in Europe, no doubt.

27 Jan 2011 5:37 PM
Fran Loszynski

Such a nice tribute. My mother loved a horse named French Cream, I never can find anything anymore on that horse. The French racehorses have style. I would be amiss if I didn't add (are you going to Gulfstream this weekend)

GO ALEXANDRA RYLEE! Another "great" filly!

28 Jan 2011 8:55 AM

Like It Is, Goldikova has won three BC Miles, 2008, 2009 and 2010. She will try for her fourth this year.

I was too young to watch Miesque race but she really was an outstanding champion, and her legacy certainly lives on in her offsprings' exploits and also in Goldikova.

28 Jan 2011 1:10 PM

What a beautiful tribute, Steve. Thank YOU for always making our hearts beat just a little faster while imagining our horse champions' "stretch runs"  in your articles.

28 Jan 2011 5:09 PM
Mike Relva

She will be missed. Thanks Steve.

29 Jan 2011 10:41 AM

THANK YOU Steve for another exquisitely written tribute to a brilliant International superstar. Your readers' comments give me great comfort in the appreciation shown by the American racing faithful for foreign-bred and (primarily) raced Thoroughbreds. Miesque truly raised the standard for greatness on the turf and in the breeding shed. I am also heart-warmed whenever I hear of former human connections visiting their retired stars - thank goodness Freddie Head was able to visit her last year. How blessed he has been to have shared so intimately and significantly in the lives of the immortal Miesque and the magnificent Goldikova.      

30 Jan 2011 2:10 PM

I would like to clarify a statement in my response to Steve's article. I did not mean to imply that Miesque was foreign-bred, as she was actually bred in KY. but did most of her racing off U.S. shores.

30 Jan 2011 3:47 PM
Big Lou

Indeed it was spectacular what the great Miesque accomplish in her racing career.I remenber watching on her second Breeders Cup try and i thought no way that she can win this year again,but nshe prove me wrong,and i enjoy seing such magnificent performance

02 Feb 2011 2:13 PM

Steve - I think Bob Hope said it best, so I'm just going to quote him: "Thanks for the memories."

02 Feb 2011 5:02 PM

she left many great horses be hind her! what a great mare! she lived a lon and great life!! R.I.P.

06 Feb 2011 5:11 PM

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