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