Remembering Winning Colors: Eskimo Kisses and the Illustrious 23-b Family
Thirty years ago on the first Saturday in May, a gray filly stole the lead from a field of twenty colts and went virtually unchallenged until the chestnut colt Forty-Niner, the champion two-year-old colt of 1987, tried to catch her. It was wire finish with the gray filly winning by a nose, beating a crop of three-year-olds that included Risen Star, one of Secretariat’s best sons, Seeking the Gold and Breeder’s Cup Juvenile champion, Success Express. She showed enough promise in that year’s Santa Anita Derby running against the boys to convince trainer D. Wayne Lukas and rider Gary Stevens that she was capable of running with the colts and beating them. She would become the third filly to win the Kentucky Derby after Regret in 1915 and Genuine Risk in 1980.
The four-time winning trainer of the Kentucky Derby said that he felt “the most confident I’ve ever been about winning one of those.” Gary Stevens seemed so sure of her that after their victory at Santa Anita that he told fellow jockey (rider of the noble filly, Ruffian) Jacinto Vazquez, “I’m going to win the Derby on that filly!” While she ran her fastest ever race at Santa Anita, at Churchill Downs Winning Colors went to the front and led the entire way until Forty-Niner came barreling down towards the elegant filly. The son of Mr. Prospector came too late and even though she was tiring, Winning Colors held on long enough to secure her place in history.
It was her granddaughter that I had the pleasure of watching the first Saturday in April, an unusually frigid day for the Bluegrass. It had been snowing but by the time the post parade came out for the (G2) Ashland Stakes, a bright winter sun had melted the snow and my gaze rested on number 2, a chestnut filly racing who went out with 2/1 odds. I had noticed her the month before when she ran at the Fairgrounds Oaks (G3) when at some point, she wasn’t even pictured on the screen. The filly gave a late rally and swung wide past the group to lose by a nose to the upset, Chocolate Martini. Her run in the Ashland Stakes was done in a similar stride while she hung back and trailed the group while the temperamental Tapizar filly, Monomoy Girl captured all eyes at the front of the group. While Monomoy Girl has the robust look of the Tapit line, she put it all together to run a good race and ensure her spot in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) with a win almost six lengths ahead of the second place runner, Eskimo Kisses. Her late rally, while impressive, wasn’t quite enough to catch the propelling Monomoy Girl. While the heavy favorite won that day, I can’t help but wonder if the granddaughter of Winning Colors will be dangerous over the added distance of the Oaks.
A quick glance at her pedigree show runners that excel between 7 and 9 furlongs (1/8th of a mile) with the likes of Mr. Greeley (winner of the Lafayette Stakes, Swale Stakes and Spectacular Bid Stakes) as her damsire. Her sire is the Bernadini son To Honor and Serve who seemed to prefer 9 furlongs with a precocious two-year-old year with wins at Aqueduct in the Nashua Stakes (G2) and the Remsen Stakes (G2) as well as winning the Cigar Mile (G1) at three and the Woodward Stakes (G1) at four. Bernadini himself was an unraced two-year-old but was named Champion Three-Year-Old Male for his wins that include the Preakness Stakes (G1), Jockey Gold Cup (G1) and the Travers Stakes (G1). It should also be noted that Eskimo Kisses belongs to the Thoroughbred family 23-b, a female family group that descends from the Piping Pegs Dam. While her parentage and identity are somewhat unknown, what we do know is that through her daughters she has given North American racing a Triple Crown champion in Affirmed, the speedy Discovery whose daughters gave us Bold Ruler and Native Dancer and Kentucky Derby winners Tim Tam (1958), Lil E. Tee (1992) and Mine That Bird (2009).
With Eskimo Kisses representing the female family in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, it makes one wonder what Mendelssohn, who also comes from the family 23-b, might be capable of on the first Saturday in May.