Whether brood mares should be chosen by performance, pedigree or a suitable combination of both has been one of racing's perennial arguments. Yet there never has been any particular emphasis in this country on filly and mare races. Many tracks refuse to put on major stakes for females on the grounds that they are poor betting propositions. Others allot so much added money to lure big-name colts that the one way a filly can gain recognition is to challenge and beat the opposite sex.
Only on the New York circuit and at Delaware Park is there a real chance for race mares to take the spotlight while competing with each other. In New York, the Coaching Club American Oaks and later the Alabama, the Beldame and the Ladies yield some exceptional champions. And at Delaware Park the July series known as the Distaff Big Three always produces as exciting a round of races as you'll find anywhere in the country. The basic reason for this is that many leading breeders race in New York or Delaware, and it has become traditional for tracks in these states to cater to this sporting and relatively noncommercial type of racing. The reason so many mares enjoy long racing careers may be that most of the better ones are owned by these same breeders, who obviously can afford to "wait" with them. Less prosperous operators often damage their fillies with excessive racing at the age of 2.
We had a perfect example of "wait and win" at Belmont Park last week when Berlo won the Coaching Club American Oaks. This race for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and a quarter (it used to be a mile and three-eighths before the abandonment of the Widener Chute) is regarded as the filly equivalent of the Belmont Stakes, and its winners have included such illustrious names as Top Flight, Twilight Tear, Next Move, Real Delight and A Glitter.
If you haven't heard of Berlo,owned by William duPont Jr.'s Foxcatcher Farms, it is probably because the 2-year-old colts were making all the big-money news last year—and have continued to run each other into the ground all this past winter and spring. At 16 hands, Berlo is big and strong for a filly, not fancy looking, but with lots of quality nonetheless. She has, says Trainer Dick Handlen, "always been a bit on the keen side, but we decided to bring her along with a good deal of patience. Our objective for this season was to win a great breeders race, the Coaching Club American Oaks. If we can repeat in the Delaware Oaks, fine—but I think we've already proven that we have an outstanding race mare."
Berlo,by Heliopolis out of the Rosemont mare Faberose, did not distinguish herself in the Coaching Club event as much as she did in winning the June 8 Mother Goose, but she has still earned the title of champion of her division after a total of only six starts. The eight-horse Coaching Club field had to run the first three-quarters of a mile into a stiff headwind, and the pace set by Ogden Phipps's Sarcastic wasn't about to break any stop watches. Then Eric Guerin took over with Berlo, but he had to use his stick on her all the way to get her home three-quarters of a length ahead of Sarcastic. Trainer Handlen says she should be able to go any distance now, but a few horsemen noted a couple of suspicious ankles which could have accounted for Berlo's somewhat dull performance. This also makes her future racing career difficult to predict.
As a future brood mare, however, Berlo promises a great deal. Her racing record has only one blemish: she got away badly in her first start last October and finished third, though she was beaten only a length and a half. A week later she won easily. And this year she has won all four starts, two of them stakes against the best eastern fillies of her age.
Despite all this and her impeccable breeding on both sire and dam side, there is no guarantee that Berlo will ever drop a foal capable of beating a fat man up a hill—even if she's bred to a Ribot or Round Table. Reproducing quality Thoroughbreds is still an inexact science. On the other hand, if she remains sound, Berlo might find this just the year to add to her stature by taking on the poorest crop of 3-year-old colts we've had in some time. When a filly beats the colts you usually can be sure that the colts aren't much or that the filly is a hell of a good one.
THE OAKS TROPHY is presented to Berlo's winning team, Jockey Eric Guerin and Trainer Dick Handlen (right), by F. Ambrose Clark, dean of Coaching Club members.