As an auction approaches, those interested in purchasing horses create a “short list,” or a list that records the horses one is considering buying. Usually, these horses earn a position on such a list for having a combination of a notable pedigre and correct conformation. Hip 4309 of the 2008 Keeneland September Yearling Sale did not exactly meet those credentials.
Though a granddaughter of the great A.P. Indy through her sire, hip 4309 was sired by a stallion that has had a rather unremarkable stud career in Olmodavor. Despite being sired by a young, unfashionable stallion, the yearling filly had the benefit of being out of a stakes-winning mare. However, this was eclipsed by hip 4309’s terribly crooked legs.
Hip 4309 was sold for just $3,000 to Bill Dory and the story has it that once he noted which hip number he’d purchased, he winced with realization that he’d bought “the crooked-legged filly.” And thus, the daughter of Olmodavor was named Miss Oops.
|Miss Oops with Donna Keen's popular bridleless pony, Wyatt|
Photo by Terri Cage
For the first twenty-seven starts of her career, Miss Oops did not contest outside of the claiming ranks, but captured eleven victories during the near-three years that spanned her initial twenty-seven races. Before her streak of claiming races culminated, Miss Oops landed in the barn of Dallas Keen, and in her first start for the trainer, the mare annihilated a six-furlong claiming race at Santa Anita. With her victory, Miss Oops had granted new owner Raymond Marchand his first win, blazing the path for more success.
The biggest race of Miss Oops’ career to date came on one of the biggest stages in racing. For the first time, the mare would be contesting at the allowance level, but not just at any track on any day: her twenty-eighth start would occur at Santa Anita Park on Breeders’ Cup Friday.
At the barn prior to the race, Miss Oops stood in her stall – denoted as a detention stall by a yellow sign hanging on the door. She had her game face on. She knew it was race day.
“She’s won more races in her career than all of the other horses in this race combined,” Dallas Keen said. “She’ll try harder than any of them.”
|With Miss Oops in the paddock|
Photo by Terri Cage
Thanks to Dallas and his wife, Donna Keen, I had the great privilege of walking on Miss Oops’ off side as she was led to the saddling paddock. As Breeders’ Cup horses like California Flag, Musical Romance, Nonios, and Obviously schooled among the group, I held onto the lead as I walked alongside Miss Oops into the Santa Anita paddock. The large crowd gathered for the Breeders’ Cup looked on, but my focus was on the Thoroughbred next to me. In just minutes, this grand equine athlete at the end of the lead I grasped would battle on the track on which, later that day, some of the greatest racehorses in the world would contest.
As minutes elapsed, Miss Oops grew more anxious, her eyes alert as she gazed about. The small mare – no taller than 15 hands high – danced around, eager to go to the track. Brice Blanc was soon given a leg up onto the mare and before I knew it, I was standing alongside my mother and Donna and Dallas as we stood, overlooking the track as the horses for the second race on Breeders’ Cup Friday warmed up.
My eyes focused upon the small mare as she traveled down the track, the same mare that minutes earlier, I had placed my hand on her neck soothingly as I held the lead attached to her right side. The board in the infield counted down the minutes to the biggest race of her life.
“There’s not a harder-trying horse in this race,” Donna noted as the Thoroughbreds made their way to the starting gate on the far side of the track for the six and one-half-furlong race. “She wants to win.”
Breaking from the outside post in field of ten, Miss Oops left the gate sharply, settling just off the front-running contingent as she raced widest of all. Brice Blanc urged her to keep up with her competitors and Miss Oops did as asked as the field raced down the backstretch. Less than three lengths separated her from the pacesetters as the Thoroughbreds approached the turn.
Gradually, Miss Oops began to gain ground on the leaders, advancing to third around the curve. She inched closer to the frontrunners, her crooked little legs carrying her closer to the horses ahead of her. Suddenly, I was struck with a sinking feeling when Miss Oops was forced to go wide and appeared to “hang” and make no progress at the top of the stretch.
But displaying her heart and determination, Miss Oops kicked into another gear, bearing down on the heavy favorite, Big Tiz. With each stride, she grew closer, but she simply ran out of time and ground, finishing second by ¾ of a length to Big Tiz. The disappointment of losing only lasted for a split second, only to be replaced by pride for the mare.
“It would have been nice to win, but she tried so hard,” Donna said. “I’m not disappointed. She ran great.”
I was filled with pride for the little mare I had earlier walked next to. She had exceeded the expectations anyone had had for her in her younger days. Despite taking a step up in class, Miss Oops had performed in a superb manner, showing the qualities I most admire in a racehorse: heart and determination.
Three thousand dollars. That’s all this crooked-legged Thoroughbred was once believed to be worth. But you can’t put a price tag on the heart Miss Oops has and if you did, it’d certainly be more than three thousand dollars.
|Miss Oops with Donna and Dallas Keen|
Photo by Terri Cage