Lise watched the filly cavort around her dam in the small turnout paddock the next day, the dark coat an obvious contrast to the powdery snow. The baby now wore a little foal slip — her first halter. The weather had warmed up nicely by mid-afternoon as promised, allowing for the filly’s first outdoor experience to be captured by the local and Metropolitan Toronto media. Reporters, photographers and film crew had recorded the arrival of Just Lucky and Sotisse’s first offspring for their Sunday evening newscasts and Monday’s papers. A nice, feel-good racing related story for the off-season. Her fame would last a few short days for now, and would wane until she was a two-year-old in training. At that point their interest would once again peak, critically, waiting to see if she would live up to her heritage.
For now the filly ran on spindly legs, bathed by the dropping afternoon sun, totally unaware of the weight she so unsuspectingly carried on her slight shoulders. A year from this coming December, when she was a yearling rising two, Lise would make Queen’s Plate nominations for the filly and the other young hopefuls designated as prospects that might carry the Triple Stripe colours in the prestigious classic. Through her ancestors, the first-born daughter of champions Just Lucky and Sotisse had inherited a destiny that pointed her to that race in three and a half years, the last weekend in June, on Woodbine’s main track.
Whether or not the filly made it that far was anyone’s guess. This dark foal would always be vulnerable to the same innate rules that governed the sport of Thoroughbred racing. Any number of evils could obstruct her intended path — it would be naïve to think otherwise, no matter how special she was. But she had made it this far, overcoming her first hurdle to be running around beside Sotisse with that gawky way of going unique to a newborn Thoroughbred. Right now, she was all hope.
Lise had been around to watch the filly’s sire and dam compete in the coveted event, but those two had been her father’s vision. This filly was hers. She was determined that, together, she and this little filly would pick up where their parents left off.
It was all about patience and time. It would be twenty months before the filly would be backed for the first time, in September of her yearling year. She would not race until the following season, and then only sparingly — enough to give her the experience that would set her up for the important sophomore campaign. The months that preceded breaking, though seeming long and uneventful, were a vital period of development. A careful feeding and blacksmith program were necessary to maintain strong, straight limbs and ensure proper growth and health.
It was all about foundation….breed the best to the best — that was only the beginning. Solid genetics, balanced nutrition, compassionate handling, progressive loading under saddle, careful monitoring of every step. For too many in this industry, it was all about the dollar, a quick return on investment more important than the well being of the animal. Bringing it all together to reach the ultimate goal took balancing and perseverance.
She had heard it said that the Kentucky Derby was the toughest race in America to win. Likewise, Lise felt the Queen’s Plate was the most elusive contest in Canada. Having the best horse a week before Plate Day didn’t mean a single thing — it came right down to the day itself. Next December, somewhere between three and four hundred yearlings would be nominated for the classic. As many as twenty might go to the post on race day, though more likely, twelve to fourteen. And only one would get their picture taken in the winner’s circle, under a royal purple and yellow blanket of flowers. Only one winning team would be on the podium accepting the fifty gold sovereigns and gold trophy from the Queen’s representative. Many are called, few are chosen…and only one comes home first. Lise looked out at the tiny girl poking her dark face out from behind Sotisse. At this stage of the game, it was a pretty lofty expectation of one so small.
Lise slid off the fence and into the paddock, calling Sotisse. It took time before both mare and foal came in her direction. The filly was already showing an amazing degree of independence, preferring to dodge snowflakes and dance away from her mother rather than follow. Sotisse nickered at her baby anxiously. The mare was easily caught and led to the gate, and finally the filly galloped urgently to her dam’s side. Lise snapped a second light rope onto the filly’s tiny slip and took hold of the active little body, popping and squirming to a chorus of her mother’s worried chatter before jauntily allowing herself to be guided back into the barn.
“Cheeky little girl, aren’t you?” Lise said as she turned the pair loose once they were safe in their stall. “Well, just hang onto that attitude, all right? I’ve got plans for you, miss.”
Hopes. Dreams. Nothing less than greatness.