Monthly Archives: February 2023

Virginia-Certified Coffeewithchris Scores with Stalking Trip in Miracle Wood Stakes

The following appeared in February 18 and was written by Dan Illman. Coffeewithchris is Virginia Certified and spent his residency at Horseshoe Hill Farm in Ashland.

LAUREL, Md. – Coffeewithchris earned his second stakes victory when upsetting odds-on favorite Prince of Jericho in the Miracle Wood for 3-year-olds at one mile on Saturday at Laurel Park.

The Miracle Wood was one of four $100,000 undercard stakes races on the Winter Spectacular program co-headlined by two $250,000 stakes, the Grade 3 General George and Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie.

The Miracle Wood was the third meeting between Coffeewithchris and Prince of Jericho, with Coffeewithchris kicking off the rivalry with a 2 1/2-length win in the Heft traveling seven furlongs on Dec. 30.

Prince of Jericho gained revenge on Coffeewithchris when they met in the Spectacular Bid on Jan. 21. In that race, also at seven furlongs, Prince of Jericho swept by Coffeewithchris on the turn, then drew off to win by four lengths.

“What really screwed me up more in the [Spectacular Bid] was that they canceled a week,” trainer John Salzman Jr. said regarding frigid temperatures that forced local horsemen to adapt their training schedules.

“We had to get him ready off his biggest race of his life getting back to running another big race in three weeks, and that’s hard to do when a horse gives his best effort.”

“I got too confident with him on the turn,” winning rider Jaime Rodriguez said about the Spectacular Bid. “When he made that move, Carol [Cedeno, Prince of Jericho’s jockey] attacked me early.”

It was a different scenario in the rubber match as Coffeewithchris settled just off pacesetter Feeling Woozy through fractions of 23.79 seconds and 46.79 while Prince of Jericho raced in and among horses in midpack.

Rodriguez made the first move with Coffeewithchris, and they took over the lead turning into the long stretch after six furlongs in 1:11.69.

Cedeno wheeled Prince of Jericho to the far outside and seemingly had all the momentum, but Coffeewithchris always had a little bit more.

At the wire, it was Coffeewithchris by 1 1/4 lengths over Prince of Jericho, with Feeling Woozy another 2 1/2 lengths back in third. Then came B West, Riccio, We Dont Need Road, and Seven’s Eleven.

Coffeewithchris completed the distance in 1:37.54 and returned $9.40 as the second choice in the betting.

Salzman told Daily Racing Form earlier this week that he was worried about the distance, and Rodriguez echoed the sentiment.

“I was a little bit,” he said. “I let him break and get comfortable. Today, he surprised me, because I literally asked him, and he responded right away. He never gave up.”

Coffeewithchris was bred in Maryland by Dr. Thomas Rooney.  A son of Ride On Curlin, he was purchased by Salzman for $2,000 as a yearling.

“I bought him off Shamrock Farm,” Salzman said. “I saw him, and I liked him, and he wasn’t bringing no money. It scared me when I bought him. For $2,000, I figured he had a broken leg or something. Knock on wood, he’s okay and he’s been very nice for me.”

Coffeewithchris is owned by Salzman in partnership with Fred Wasserloos and Anthony Geruso. He has won 3 of 10 starts and earned $201.850

Trainer Brittany Russell was pleased with Prince of Jericho’s effort.

“Carol said he wasn’t necessarily comfortable down inside,” Russell said. “He was jostled around a bit on the backside. She had to get him out and get him running. He galloped out good.”

‘Getting Closer to Where He Needs to Be’: Repo Rocks Brings Three-Race Win Streak into Stymie

Originally published on on 2/20/2023, written by Keith McCalmont/NYRA

Double B Racing Stables’ Repo Rocks brings a three-race win streak into Saturday’s $125,000 Stymie, a one-turn mile for older horses at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Repo Rocks is undefeated in three starts since joining the barn of trainer Jamie Ness, posting increasing Beyer Speed Figures for scores at Parx Racing in the Let’s Give Thanks [96] in November and Blitzen [97] on January 4 ahead of a lofty 111 when making the grade in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Toboggan on January 28.

Repo Rocks, piloted by Andrew Wolfsont throughout the streak, settled in third position in the Toboggan as Pirate Rick led Little Vic through splits of 22.86 seconds and 45.76 over the fast main track. Wolfsont angled his charge three-wide at the quarter-pole and took command at the three-sixteenths en route to a dominant 8 1/2-length score at odds of 10-1 in a final time of 1:23.42.

Andrew Wolfsont guides Repo Rocks to victory in the G3 Toboggan

“It was a great effort. Did I think he’d run that good – no,” said Ness. “But I really liked him in that race. I have a lot of good horses here and he’d been working like a horse that could run that number, and he did. He backed up his training. Yes, I was surprised at the margin of victory, but I wasn’t surprised by the win. That’s what he showed me in the morning and he’s shown no indication since that it will drop off.”

The 5-year-old Tapiture gelding enjoyed a productive 2022 campaign with a record of 11-2-2-2 that included a second in the Grade 3 Toboggan and a third in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap, both at the Big A, while in the care of trainer Juan Vazquez. He made seven starts for conditioner Gregory DiPrima from April through October before joining Ness.

Repo Rocks worked a bullet half-mile solo under Wolfsont in 47.46 on February 11 over the Parx main track in his first breeze back. He followed up this morning at Parx with a half-mile effort in 47.31.

Ness said he is hopeful that Repo Rocks can match up his career-best Beyer.

“Andrew got off him and said that’s the fastest horse he ever worked, and I said to him that a 111 Beyer is the fastest horse I’ve ever ran, so I know what you mean,” Ness said of the penultimate work. “That’s a big number and a lot of times you bounce off of that, but we gave him plenty of time and he’s doing great. I expect a similar effort on Saturday if everything goes right.”

Ness said Repo Rocks should appreciate added ground with a good result in the Stymie potentially setting up bigger races down the road.

“We pushed to seven-eighths last time and a mile this time. We’re getting closer to where he needs to be. Let’s do it once and then we’ll see if he can do it again,” Ness said.

Repo Rocks courtesy of

Repo Rocks, assigned a field-high 124 pounds, will exit post 3 under Wolfsont, who has won with 3-of-6 stakes mounts at Aqueduct, including Sunday’s Maddie May aboard Cairo Sugar [$57.50] and the 2021 Artie Schiller with Mandate [$91.50.]

Bred in Virginia by Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin, III, Repo Rocks is out of the Not For Love mare Hawaiian Love. He boasts a 32-7-6-6 record and $570,871 in earnings.

Calumet Farm’s Kentucky homebred Bourbonic [post 1, Dylan Davis] will hope a pace battle develops for his trademark closing kick.

Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, the 5-year-old son of Bernardini rose to prominence with a last-to-first head score at odds of 72-1 in the 2021 Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino at the Big A.

He went on to finish 13th in that year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, making the final start of his sophomore season with a distant seventh in the Queens County on December 19, 2021 at Aqueduct in his first start without blinkers since early in his 2-year-old campaign.

Bourbonic was off for nearly one full calendar year, returning to action on December 3 at the Big A with a closing fourth in an optional-claimer here ahead of another fourth in the Queens County – both outings with Kendrick Carmouche up.

He added blinkers for a rallying optional-claiming score under Dylan Davis in a one-mile optional-claimer on February 5 at the Big A that garnered a career-best 96 Beyer Speed Figure, besting an in-form Sheriff Bianco by a half-length.

Byron Hughes, Pletcher’s New York-based assistant, said Carmouche – who is out injured and slated to return on March 3 – suggested the team put blinkers back on Bourbonic.

“We thought that first race back would set him up for the stakes, but he didn’t have the blinkers on then,” Hughes said. “Kendrick thought he might benefit from putting the blinkers back on and he was right.”

Bourbonic, out of the graded-stakes winning Afleet Alex mare Dancing Afleet, breezed back a half-mile in 49.77 Friday over the Belmont dirt training track.

“He came out of it good and breezed sharp,” Hughes said. “We’re really happy with the way he’s doing right now and we’re hoping for a big performance from him.”

Pletcher shares the record for most Stymie wins [3] with fellow conditioners Bruce Levine, Gary Contessa and Gasper Moschera. Pletcher’s past Stymie winners include Manchurian [2006], Understatement [2010] and Vino Rosso [2019].

Peter Brant and Robert V. LaPenta’s multiple graded-stakes placed Miles D [post 6, Manny Franco] has made just two starts since ending his 2021 campaign with a half-length score over Speaker’s Corner in the nine-furlong Discovery that November at the Big A. Speaker’s Corner exited the Discovery to win three consecutive graded events in 2022, culminating in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct.

Trained by four-time Eclipse Award-winner Chad Brown, Miles D returned to action last February with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Mineshaft at Fair Grounds and resurfaced on January 28 at Gulfstream Park with a distant seventh in the Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper.

Named after the late influential jazz musician Miles Davis, the 5-year-old Curlin bay is out of the unraced Bernardini broodmare Sound the Trumpets. His second dam is multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire My Flag and his third dam is undefeated Hall of Famer Personal Ensign. Miles D was purchased for $470,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Manny Franco, who won this event with Turco Bravo [2016], Sunny Ridge [2017] and Mr. Buff [2021], is one win shy of the Stymie record held by Hall of Famer Jorge Velasquez.

Joseph E. Sutton’s multiple stakes-placed Far Mo Power [post 2, Dexter Haddock] crossed the wire first in the Parx Dirt Mile in September, besting multiple Grade 1-winner Mind Control by a neck only to be disqualified and placed second for interference late in the lane.

Trained by Louis Linder, Jr., the 5-year-old Pennsylvania-bred son of Uncle Lino boasts a record of 12-6-3-1 and enters from an open-company allowance win on January 30 at Parx in which last year’s Grade 2 Kelso Handicap-winner, Double Crown, finished third.

Rounding out a competitive field are the multiple stakes-placed Tough Tickets [post 5, Ruben Silvera] for conditioner Harold Wyner; and five-time winner Black Belt [post 4, Eric Cancel] for trainer Peter Walder.

The Stymie is slated as Race 8 on Saturday’s nine-race card, which also features the $100,000 Gander in Race 3. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern.


2023 is the 50th Anniversary of Secretariat’s ’73 Triple Crown

The 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s historical Triple Crown run is upon us this year and celebrations will take place locally and at big race events around the country, all recognizing those magical, record setting wins in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

Racing fans in Virginia got an update February 20 on plans to celebrate those historic accomplishments and hear from sculptor Jocelyn Russell, who was commissioned to design a life size monument of Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes with Ron Turcotte in the irons. A fundraising campaign officially kicked off to help ensure that Ashland, Virginia will be home to the statue.

Kate Chenery Tweedy (shown here with author Wayne Dementi) announced fundraising efforts to bring a life size statue of “Big Red” to Ashland —- to be based at the end of Randolph Macon College’s campus near the CSX train tracks —- have officially begun.
Renowned artist Jocelyn Russell (right, shown here with Business Manager Robin Hutton on the left), is the architect and genius behind the 21 foot long, 11.5 feet tall bronze monument that if all goes well, will find its home base soon in the Commonwealth. Russell’s only other “Racing Into History” Secretariat statue is in Lexington, Kentucky.
Jocelyn Russell’s masterpiece is complete and based at a foundry in Norman, Oklahoma where it is waiting to be trailered to big events around the country this year. Stay tuned for exciting announcements about the 50-year celebration!
A tabletop model of the actual “Secretariat – Racing Into History 2/2” bronze monument was on display at Tweedy’s update event February 20 at Randolph Macon College. This would be the first and only monument of Secretariat in his home state where he was born, raised and first trained.
Tweedy mentioned the rich equine history of Ashland, VA that continues today with both Eagle Point Farm & Horseshoe Hill Farm. Donna Dennehy and Karen Godsey of Eagle Point are pictured with Jill Byrne, Virginia Equine Alliance VP of Strategic Planning.
Larry Tillman and Alvin Mines were grooms at Meadow Farm in Doswell during the era when Secretariat was bred and raised. The two were recognized by Tweedy at the February 20 event.
Ashland will reap long term tourism benefits from Secretariat’s location on the college campus and his loyal fan base, who will come from near and far to pay homage to their hero.
“Virginia’s horse was a complete package,” said Tweedy as part of her presentation at Randolph Macon College. “Secretariat was a champion in all senses. He had the beauty, the strength, the coordination, the brain, the personality and the drive. He had almost a supernatural quality about him that we may never see the likes of again. It’s almost like recognizing Shakespeare or Mozart,” she continued. “He’s at that level, at the top of the heap.”
Robin Hutton, Jocelyn Russell and Kate Chenery Tweedy are engrossed in a video featuring Secretariat’s crowning achievements.
About 100 Secretariat fans and dignitaries attended the event at Randolph Macon University. A SECVA (Secretariat Virginia) civic group has been formed and includes Penny Chenery Tweedy, Leeanne Meadows Ladin and Wayne Dementi among others. SECVA is helping to coordinate fund-raising, publicity and community engagement.
Secretariat’s annual birthday celebration will take place April 1 in Ashland. More details will be announced in the coming days.
Kate Chenery Tweedy welcomed guests at the event. Her grandfather, Christopher Chenery, grew up in Ashland, attended Randolph Macon College, and in 1936 founded Meadow Stable in nearby Caroline County where Secretariat was born in 1970. Ms. Tweedy’s mother, Penny Chenery, later managed Meadow Stable and Secretariat’s spectacular career.

General Admission Ticketing Returns To Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow on May 6

Horse racing, fancy hats, tailgating, spring fashions and Virginia hospitality highlight
D.C.’s premier spring event

THE PLAINS, Va., Feb. 21, 2023– One of the nation’s oldest and largest steeplechase events, the Virginia Gold Cup celebrates its 98th anniversary this year on Saturday, May 6, at Great Meadow in The Plains. Tickets are on sale and are quickly selling.

As one of the Washington, D.C. region’s largest and oldest outdoor events, more than 50,000 people come out in their race-day finest to socialize and entertain. The fashion at the event has become as popular with a variety of hats and a fiercely competitive hat contest. Celebrity judges will decide whose hats are the most impressive in the day’s hat contest. There is also an equally competitive tailgate contest with prizes for the top three winners.

The Gold Cup’s long-standing tradition beckons to national celebrities, local VIPs, D.C. politicians as well as visitors from around the world. Characterized by lavish tailgate spreads, sleek thoroughbreds and exciting hoof-pounding competition, many companies have capitalized on what the day has to offer by getting involved with sponsorships, purchasing tents to entertain, and some actually end up doing business there.

Steeplechase offers a fast-action sport in a refined social setting and, at the Gold Cup, some of the best horses and jockeys compete over hurdles and timber fences.  Held every year on the first Saturday in May, the Virginia Gold Cup enjoys a spectacular setting in the heart of Virginia’s horse country with the Blue Ridge Mountains serving as the backdrop. It is Virginia’s answer to the Kentucky Derby.

The 98th Annual Running of the Virginia Gold Cup will take place on Saturday, May 6 at Great Meadow in The Plains. Gates open at 10 a.m. with the National Anthem and color guard pre-race at 12:30 p.m. The tailgate contest judging begins at 12:45 p.m. and the first of eight horse races will be underway at 1 p.m.

Tailgate packages, which now include tents in most areas, and Members Hill entertaining tents are available. Purchases can be made online at or by calling 540-347-2612. As in recent years, attendees must be an invited guest of a tailgate or an invited guest of a hospitality tent. General Admission ticketing has returned for 2023.

Great Meadow is located just 45 minutes west of Washington, D.C. and is in close proximity to Dulles International Airport. To get there from Washington, D.C., take I-66 west to The Plains exit. Turn left at the end of the ramp onto The Plains Road (Route 245 south), follow signs to Great Meadow which will be on your left. Call 540-347-2612 for additional information or visit the web site at

The 2023 Virginia Gold Cup Races are presented by Atlantic Union Bank, Brown Advisory, Virginia Equine Alliance, VHBPA, and the Virginia Thoroughbred Association.


Virginia-Connected Forte Early Kentucky Derby Favorite

The following appeared on the website. The 2023 “Run for the Roses” will be contested May 6 at Churchill Downs. Fans in Virginia can wager the big event at any Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, VA-Horseplay OTB, at the Virginia Gold Cup Races and at Shenandoah Downs, and online via,, and

Fifty years after Virginia-bred Secretariat took the Triple Crown by storm, a champion colt with deep connections to the Old Dominion is the early favorite for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1). Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) hero Forte is a Kentucky-bred who grew up as a yearling in the Bluegrass. But he spent much of his babyhood at breeder Amy Moore’s South Gate Farm in Virginia, under the care of his accomplished Virginia-bred mother. 

That mare, Queen Caroline, was a remarkable first purchase for Moore. A retired attorney with an equestrian background from her formative years, Moore wanted to get involved in racing and breeding. While scouting out fillies at the 2014 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, she came across a lovely daughter of champion Blame, best known for holding off Hall of Famer Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

The Blame filly was bred by Morgan’s Ford Farm in Virginia, but the geographical connection was not at all what caught Moore’s eye.

“It was happenstance,” Moore said. “I went to Keeneland and looked at yearling fillies. I wanted a filly because I wanted to be able to breed it if I had any success racing it.

“She was the only one on my list that got an A+ for conformation – a really pretty filly.”

Queen Caroline as a yearling at Keeneland September

Moore purchased her for $170,000 and came up with a clever name. Alluding to both her sire and dam, the stakes-winning Queens Plaza, she was named for a queen who came in for blame…Queen Caroline. 

The estranged consort of King George IV, Caroline of Brunswick was caught up in an early 19th-century British royal scandal. They were married when George was still Prince of Wales, but the union was doomed from the start, and they were soon living separate lives. The crisis point came when George acceded to the throne, and he sought to divorce Caroline on the grounds of adultery. She was far more popular than George, however, and his effort failed. Nevertheless, Caroline was still barred from his coronation in July 1821, and she died soon after. 

The equine Queen Caroline would turn out much happier.

“She was the first horse of any kind I actually owned,” Moore noted, since in her youthful riding days, she was always on other people’s horses.

Moore chose Michael Matz as her trainer, citing the combination of his horsemanship and proximity at Fair Hill in Maryland. Matz’s highlights in Thoroughbred racing include training 2006 Kentucky Derby legend Barbaro, but his experience goes well back to his days on the show jumping circuit.

“I knew of him, because in my youth I had been a show horse rider at the time he was a Grand Prix rider. I knew him as an excellent horseman,” Moore said. “I wanted to have a horse at Fair Hill, which is a place I can get to and return from in a day’s drive. It’s a nice training facility for a horse – they get turn-out places and woods to go through.”

Under Matz’s tutelage, Queen Caroline became a multiple stakes winner who earned $401,608. She was twice honored as a champion among Virginia-breds, taking top three-year-old filly honors in 2016 and the turf female title in 2017. 

Queen Caroline retired after a limited 2018 campaign. Visiting the well-bred Violence in 2019, she delivered a flashy colt with four white feet on February 3, 2020, at the Cowles family’s Gunston Hall Farm near Lexington, Kentucky. There was one other noticeable thing about the newborn.

“He was born with floppy ears,” Moore recalled. “His ears flopped like a puppy! But they straightened out in a few days after he was born.”

Forte as a newborn with floppy ears
Forte as a 10-day-old sticking close by mom

Although a first-time mother, Queen Caroline took on her new role like a pro.

“She was a good mother right from the start,” Moore said. “She is a class act!”

Queen Caroline remained at Gunston Hall as she prepared to be bred back to champion Uncle Mo. Thus her colt spent his first couple of months in the Bluegrass, tended by Larmon Cowles and his team. 

Once Queen Caroline was safely in foal again, mother and son went home in early May 2020 to South Gate Farm near Millwood, Virginia. Here are Queen Caroline with her colt (left) and their paddock mates, the mare Rose to Fame and her foal (a Cairo Prince colt who would be named Prince of Roses).

Queen Caroline with her foal running with their paddock mates
Forte at four months old with Queen Caroline

The colt was nicknamed “Gaudy” because of his snazzy white socks, but his personality was more introverted than his markings at that stage.

“Before he was weaned, he was quite shy,” Moore revealed. “He tended to hide behind his mother when you went into the stall.

“Once he was weaned, he blossomed. He was bold and very friendly. He liked to be petted and liked to be scratched.”

Forte posing at just the right angle for his registration photo

“Gaudy” enjoyed learning the art of eating carrots, as taught by Moore’s niece, Emily Ellis (pictured above, holding him to get the right angle for his registration photo). He munched on something else too – his paddock buddy’s tail, chewing the end of it right off!

Forte as a weanling

Later that fall, the weanling would bid adieu to his Virginia family and return to Kentucky for the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. There he was sold for $80,000 as a weanling to Silver Hill, a venture of Eaton Sales impresario Reiley McDonald who operates Athens Woods Farm near Lexington, Kentucky.

McDonald had expected to pay more for the weanling, purchased with a view toward reselling as a yearling. But sire Violence wasn’t that hot a commodity at the time. McDonald noticed that the colt had a bit of a lump on his back, near the tail, but surmised it was just a fatty deposit. Sure enough, that’s all it was, and it gradually went away on its own.

As the yearling developed, he continued to be both handsome and outgoing.

“There’s always one or two of them you get a special feeling for,” McDonald said, and this colt inspired just that kind of inkling.

“He was such a striking horse,” ever the one to catch your eye while driving around the farm.

“He was pretty, almost black, with the white on his face. He was so balanced and leggy that you could tell he was going to grow into a tall horse.”

The colt’s leadership of his paddock mates also set him apart.

“If you happened to be walking through the farm,” McDonald said, “he was always the first to trot over. He wanted to be scratched behind the ear.”

Then the rest of the colts would follow.

“He was ‘the man’ out in the field, the leader. Where he went, they went.”

Under the Eaton banner, the yearling was offered back at Keeneland in September. He brought a little more at $110,000, but that was a bargain considering the hefty sums spent by his high-profile buyers – Mike Repole’s Repole Stable and Vincent Viola’s St. Elias – on other yearlings. Jacob West of West Bloodstock and Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher were among the advisory team who found the youngster.

The yet-unnamed colt was sent straightaway to Ocala Stud for his early education. Part of Florida racing lore as the Sunshine State’s oldest operating Thoroughbred nursery, Ocala Stud has ties to several Kentucky Derby winners. Needles, the first Florida-bred to wear the roses in 1956, hailed from the property when it belonged to Dickey Stables. Carry Back (1961) was born, raised, and first trained at Ocala Stud, and both Unbridled (1990) and Street Sense (2007) went to school here.

Forte was a “really nice horse from day one,” Ocala Stud’s David O’Farrell observed. “He was very forward, very early. He always wanted to do more.”

As the curriculum advanced, Forte stood out.

“When he started breezing, he was a cut above the rest,” O’Farrell said. “He was always the head of the class. He was ‘the man.’

“We always felt like he could be a really good horse, from the day he stepped off the van.”

When Pletcher was in town for OBS March, the star pupil was pointed out as one ready to begin his program early in the spring. The juvenile accordingly graduated from Ocala.

Posting his first official work at Pletcher’s Palm Beach Downs base on Apr. 1, 2022, he stretched his legs a quarter-mile in :25.16. He would then receive the honorable name Forte, “strength” in Italian.

Forte winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Forte proved strong indeed on the racetrack. After romping as the 1-5 favorite in his May 27 debut at Belmont Park, he was a rallying fourth in the Sanford (G3) on a deeper, tiring surface at Saratoga. Forte was back in winning form next time out at the Spa in the Hopeful (G1). In the process, he topped a remarkable all-Eaton graduate trifecta with Gulfport and Blazing Sevens. Forte successfully stretched out to two turns in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, prevailing in a terrific battle with Loggins, then clinched his Eclipse Award in the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

Meanwhile, his yearling half-brother was making headlines too. Queen Caroline’s 2021 foal by Uncle Mo turned out to be quite a stunner. Touring the sales ring at Keeneland September, after Forte’s Hopeful victory, he commanded $850,000 from Ocala’s Mayberry Farm. The Uncle Mo youngster is currently limbering up at Mayberry, whose famous graduates include Hall of Famer Zenyatta, 2022 Derby upsetter Rich Strike, and recently crowned Horse of the Year Flightline.

Queen Caroline will meet Flightline himself soon. She’s among the stellar mares booked to the unbeaten champion in his first season at stud. By the first Saturday in May, she could be carrying a half-sibling to the Derby winner.

McDonald is delighted for Repole and Viola.

“I have a lot of respect for both gentlemen,” McDonald said. “I happen to know Vinnie quite well, and it makes it so much fun to see him having so much fun with a one-of-a-kind racehorse.”

Photo credits:

Photos of Forte as a newborn and 10-day-old at Gunston Hall Farm by Larmon Cowles
Photo of Forte running in the field at South Gate Farm by Emily Ellis
Photos of Forte as an older foal and weanling at South Gate Farm by Amy Moore
Photo of Forte winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by

Accomplished Horsewoman Firestone dies at 91

Diana Firestone was a lifelong equestrienne and award-winning owner/breeder.

Originally published on on 2/14/2023, written by Eric Mitchell

Lifelong equestrienne and accomplished owner/breeder Diana Melville Johnson Firestone died Feb. 12 at her home in West Palm Beach, Fla., her family confirmed Feb. 14. She was 91.

The tremendous loss to the Thoroughbred racing community, first reported by Thoroughbred Daily News, comes a year and half after the loss of her husband, Bertram Robert Firestone, in July 2021.

Diana and Bert Firestone in 2020 with Genuine Risk’s Kentucky Derby trophy Courtesy Bert and Diana Firestone

Born in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1932, Firestone was the daughter of John Seward Johnson, an executive and director of Johnson & Johnson, and Ruth Dill Johnson, a native of Bermuda. She was the granddaughter of Johnson & Johnson founder Robert Wood Johnson.

Firestone learned to ride in England with her siblings Mary Lea, Elaine, and Seward Jr., and riding quickly became her first love. In her school days at The Madeira School, she rode hunters and jumpers and fox hunted across Virginia’s northern landscape. After graduating from Bennett Junior College, Firestone had a renowned equestrian career, representing the United States in horse races and shows worldwide.

She was first married to Richard G. Stokes and then to Bert Firestone in 1973. Together, Bert and Diana bought a 1,400-acre farm in Virginia they named Catoctin after a creek running through the property. They also would later own Big Sink Farm near Lexington.

Not content with just riding, she was instrumental in the creation of a highly successful Thoroughbred breeding operation, breeding and racing seven Eclipse Award winners, including Honest Pleasure (1975 champion 2-year-old colt), What a Summer (1977 champion sprinter), and April Run (1982 champion grass mare). Running in Firestone’s familiar green and white silks, Genuine Risk won the 1980 Kentucky Derby (G1), becoming the second filly to win the premier American classic, and remains the only filly on record to win or place in all three of the Triple Crown races. Genuine Risk was honored as the year’s champion 3-year-old filly and the Firestones were honored as Outstanding Owner.

Diana and Bert Firestone
Diana and Bert Firestone Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Through 2016, the Firestones campaigned 51 graded/group stakes winners, which included 17 grade/group 1 winners and five champions. Among their outstanding runners was Theatrical, a six-time grade 1 winner and 1987 Eclipse champion grass horse that put a promising young trainer and future Hall of Famer named Bill Mott on the map.

“Number one, Diana was a good horsewoman. She knew horses, she knew breeding, and understood pedigrees,” recalled Mott. “As important, she and Bert were nice people. They were my ticket to New York and a lot my success I owe to them.”

Mott said he valued the experience the Firestones brought to their racing operation.

“The most difficult time for owners, and even trainers, is the first 10 years,” he said. “After that, they understand things a lot better. The Firestones already had a lot of experience when I started with them in 1987. They had plenty of experience and patience and understanding.”

As breeders, the Firestones produced 11 graded/group winners since 1991, including nine-time graded stakes winner and four-time grade 1 winner Paradise Creek. Among the top runners they bred are grade 1 winner Shinko Lovely, grade 1 winner Chief Honcho, and four-time grade 1 winner Winchester.

Diana Firestone’s enormous love and commitment to equestrian sports was recognized by the American Horse Shows Association with its Walter B. Devereux Trophy, which honors those who have exemplified the ideal of good sportsmanship through commitment, dedication, and service.

They were ardent supporters of horse welfare on many fronts, including as founding committee members for Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center.

“Bert and Diana Firestone, as early members…were instrumental in helping to bring recognition to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech,” said professor emeritus G. Frederick Fregin, who served as director for the center’s first 20 years, in 2021. “The Firestones’ financial gifts to the EMC allowed us to begin service to the equine community with state-of-the-art equipment. Their support continued throughout their tenure on the committee and helped to complete an EMC Advisory Council initiative to purchase new MRI technology.”

Firestone passed her love of horses and farm life to her children. Her daughter Alison Robitaille continues her legacy as a highly competitive Grand Prix rider. Firestone’s family recalled she was passionate, too, about the land on which she raised her family, having owned farms in Virginia, Florida, and Ireland—including Cabin Run, Shenstone, Catoctin, Gilltown and Newstead. She always improved every farm she touched.

“When she wasn’t with her horses or her family, she was watering trees or caring for the gardens, always with a happy dog, or three, tagging along behind her,” the family wrote in a memorial to her.

Firestone once said: “Horses, with the single exception of my family, have been the most important thing in my life.”

She is survived by four children, Lorna Stokes, Christopher Stokes, Cricket MacDonald, and Alison Robitaille; three stepsons, Matthew Firestone, Ted Firestone, and Greg Firestone; and 16 grandchildren.

Virginia Equine Alliance Looks Toward Spring Horse Racing Season

CHARLOTESVILLE, Va. – February 15, 2023 – Virginia’s horse racing venues have
announced spring racing dates for a series of Point-to-Point, Steeplechase and Harness Racing
events and the Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) is encouraging Virginia fans to take note of this
spring’s schedule and attend the races.

“We are looking forward to seeing fans at this year’s races,” said Darrell Wood, Communications
Director for the Virginia Equine Alliance. “The last live racing events were in early November
so it’s been several months since fans have been able to experience the thrill of live horse

The Point-to-Point (PTP) races will begin on March 4, 2023, as follows:

  • March 4: Rappahannock PTP in Boston, VA
  • March 18: Warrenton Hunt PTP at Airlie Racecourse
  • March 25: Piedmont Fox Hounds PTP in Upperville
  • April 8: Old Dominion Hounds PTP in Ben Venue
  • April 16: Blue Ridge Hunt PTP in Berryville
  • April 23: Loudoun Hunt PTP in Leesburg
  • April 30: Middleburg Hunt PTP at Glenwood Park

The meets sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association are scheduled as:

  • April 22: Middleburg Spring Races
  • April 29: Foxfield Spring Races
  • May 6: Virginia Gold Cup Spring Races

And finally, Shenandoah Downs in Woodstock will conduct a spring harness meet for the first
time ever. Pacers and trotters will compete from April 1 to May 14, with races every Saturday
and Sunday at 1:00 PM. Admission and parking are free for these events.

“We can hardly wait for the 2023 spring season to begin,” Wood said.

The VEA is also encouraging fans to take note of the upcoming summer racing season at
Colonial Downs in New Kent, which begins July 13 and runs through September 9 with racing
every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 1:30 PM. Stay tuned for more information as the
summer season approaches.

For more information and any updates to these schedules, please visit


About Virginia Equine Alliance
The Virginia Equine Alliance is a non-profit, 501 (c) 6 organization which is comprised of the
Virginia Harness Horse Association, the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective
Association, the Virginia Gold Cup Association, and the Virginia Thoroughbred Association.
The purpose of the Virginia Equine Alliance is to sustain, promote, and expand the horse
breeding and horse racing industries in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Alliance seeks to
establish and support new and multiple venues for horse racing in the Commonwealth and to
advocate and support legislation, regulations, and rules beneficial to the breeders and owners and trainers of horses (“horsemen”) in the state. The Alliance represents the interests of horsemen at meetings of the Virginia General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Agriculture, the Virginia Racing Commission, racing associations, breeder’s organizations, horsemen’s organizations, and other like groups. The Alliance is committed to increasing public awareness of the economic and environmental importance to the Commonwealth of the horse breeding and horse racing industries.

$975,000 in 2022 Virginia Breeders Awards Announced; 46 Different Farms Share in Bonus Monies

Knockgriffin Farm, Audley Farm Equine and Morgan’s Ford Farm were the top recipients of 2022 Virginia Breeders awards from 46 Commonwealth-based farms that shared a total of $975,000 in bonus monies. The trio earned $94,630, $94,290 and $86,846 respectively.

Knockgriffin scored 18 separate awards — most of any farm or breeder — led by Seaside Dancer’s five-pack at Golden Gate Fields and Mo Clare’s, who won the Brookmeade Stakes at Colonial Downs along with an allowance there. The awards from that pair were $19,489 and $12,473 respectively. Sendero won a $19,489 bonus via another New Kent stakes — the Jamestown for two-year-olds. Other multiple award winners bred by Knockgriffin were Smart Battle and Soupster with three each.

Audley’s 11 awards were led by Determined Kingdom’s pair — a victory in Colonial’s Punch Line Stakes and one in a Laurel allowance. Those $19,489 and $8,107 awards highlighted Audley’s ’22 portfolio. Glowcity had a trio of winning scores in Maryland — a maiden special weight and two claimers — which totaled $20,892. In addition, Jane Mast won a maiden special weight at Saratoga which produced a handsome $15,006 bonus. 

Morgan’s Ford Farm-bred horses combined for 15 wins including two each by Surya, Alex Joon, Flat Cat and Akingisalwaysking. Both of Surya’s came locally — in a maiden special weight and an allowance at Colonial. Alex Joon, whose $12,473 bonus from a Colonial allowance was tops among the 15, also scored in a claimer at Oaklawn. In addition, Morgan’s Ford Farm partnered with Godolphin and Tiznow Syndicate in other breeding ventures. Tango Charlie (two wins) and La Samana Laura (one win) earned awards respectively from those.

Surya, bred by Morgan’s Ford Farm, captured an allowance at Colonial Downs August 1 with Forest Boyce in the irons (Coady Photography).

Rounding out the top five were breeders Althea Richards and Chance Farm. 

Richards had eight wins including four by Green Up, winner of two stakes — the Cathryn Sophia at Parx and the Boiling Spring at Monmouth. In all, the Upstart filly amassed $54,101 of Richards’s $75,467 total. Kenny Had a Notion, with two Charles Town allowance wins, chipped in nicely with over $11,000 in bonuses.

Chance Farm, with 17 wins and $56,342 in bonus award monies, was fifth best. Princess Kaira’s four wins at Parx led the way and five others chipped in with two wins apiece including Executive Chef, who captured the Auburn Stakes at Emerald Downs and a maiden special weight at Golden Gate. Red Pepper Grill prevailed in a pair of claimers at Aqueduct. Others in the two-win group include Call the Po Po, Ready and Rich and Upgrade Me.

Gigante’s two wins at Colonial Downs pushed breeder Ann Backer and Smitten Farm into sixth place among bonus earners with $47,296. The Not This Time colt bankrolled a $25,000 award by winning the TAA Kitten’s Joy Stakes and $14,032 from a maiden special weight, both in New Kent.

Jockey Feargal Lynch leads Gigante to a Jamestown Stakes victory in 2022 (Colonial Photography).

Lazy Lane Farm’s $46,852 in awards came from eight winners, led by Largent’s score in the Edward P. Evans Stakes at Colonial — a $19,489 bonus. Their Sing Along Suzy had a pair of claiming wins at Tampa Bay Downs.

Victories by Repo Rocks in the Let’s Give Thanks Stakes at Parx and a Belmont allowance paid off nicely for breeder Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin. The triumphs earned respective bonuses of $10,758 and $13,434.  American Dubai’s March 26 win at Oaklawn — as a 9-year-old — added to Iselin’s $31,003 final tally.

Shaaz’s two allowance win at Santa Anita as a 4-year-old produced five-digit awards for the William Backer Revocable Estate. The Uncle Mo horse triggered bonus paydays of $11,225 and $10,758 which helped trigger Backer’s total of $29,981 in rounding out the top ten.        

Chambeau’s stakes win in the M. Tyson Gilpin produced a $19,489 score for breeder Sam English II. The daughter of Karakontie followed that with an allowance win at Pimlico in September. English’s overall 2022 award totaled $29,903. 

Other ’22 notables include Boldor — bred by Carlos Moore and Gillian Gordon-Moore — who prevailed in the Meadow Stable Stakes last summer. The now 7-year-old Munnings gelding produced a $23,387 reward in winning his third career Virginia-bred stakes.

The Virginia-bred with the most bonus earning wins was Determined Love, who got his picture taken five times at Fort Erie and once at Penn National. The now 6-year-old Shackleford mare was bred by Mr. & Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin.      

Boondoggle, owned and bred by Leanne Hester, produced five wins in Maryland resulting in $16,012 in Breeders bonus monies. The 9-year-old gelding’s wins also provided Hester with over $20,000 in stallion awards. Boondoggle is a son of Gone Clubbing, who she stands. Hester had two other Stallion bonus scores with Spritzer, who was also sired by Gone Clubbing. In all, she received $37,514 in stallion awards from a $75,000 pool. 

Ruxton Farm was next with $29,933 in stallion bonuses courtesy of Fierce Wind, whose offspring won a trio of races. Tolaga Bay captured two last August at Colonial — an allowance and starter allowance — and Itsknownasthebern won a claimer at Timonium. 

Lady Olivia at North Cliff, LLC got a $5,090 check for stallion Cosa Vera, whose mare Osa won a maiden claiming race at Colonial July 20. Smallwood Farm earned $2,460 in awards from stallion Friend or Foe, whose filly Almendra R. won back-to-back claiming races at Camarero Race Track.

Tenured Industry Professional, Jill Byrne, Joins Virginia Equine Alliance

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – February XX, 2023 – The Virginia Equine Alliance – a non-profit, 501 (c) 6 organization that sustains, promotes and expands the horse breeding and horse racing industries in Virginia – has announced Jill Byrne as its new vice president of strategic planning.

“Byrne is a wonderful fit for the role, especially with her decades of experience in the horse racing and breeding industries,” said Jeb Hannum, executive director of the VEA. “From being in the heart of it by exercising horses, to working in strategic communications roles, Byrne has a thorough understanding of the industries.”

The organization will work with Byrne’s depth of industry expertise to further advance the community’s understanding and enthusiasm for horse breeding and racing.

Byrne’s other roles throughout her career have included serving as an on-air personality for TVG, the director of broadcast and programming for Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, the director of industry relations for the Breeders Cup and, most recently, the vice president of racing operations for Colonial Downs here in Virginia.

“I like to say that my career in the industry truly began when I was much younger, growing up on the farm and working with horses, from exercising them to caring for them,” Byrne said. “I am grateful to have had both hands-on experience as well as experience in strategically promoting the industries.”

Raised in Barboursville, Virginia, Byrne grew up on a horse farm with two parents who were both accomplished equestrians. She attended a boarding school near Belmont Park racetrack, and while most students her age may have chosen to spend their weekends differently, Byrne remembers fondly spending weekends with her father at the track.

“My love for the industry began at such a young age, and it has been a part of my life ever since,” Byrne said. “Growing up in Virginia, I have a close connection and passion for the horse breeding and racing industries here.”

Byrne attended the University of Virginia, where she studied history and political science, but her passions led her back to the racetrack. She has worked with many top horses, including Favorite Trick, who eventually became the only other two-year-old horse to win the honor of Eclipse Horse of the Year, aside from the world-renowned Secretariat.

One of Byrne’s passions is thoroughbred aftercare, meaning the care given to thoroughbred racehorses after their racing career is over to ensure a meaningful life beyond the racetrack. Currently, she works with the Virginia Thoroughbred Project based in Montpelier, Virginia.

Byrne says that she is looking forward to promoting and advancing Virginia’s horse breeding and racing industries in her new role with the VEA.

To learn more about the Virginia Equine Alliance and Virginia’s horse racing and breeding industries, please visit


About Virginia Equine Alliance

The Virginia Equine Alliance is a non-profit, 501 (c) 6 organization which is comprised of the Virginia Harness Horse Association, the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, the Virginia Gold Cup Association, and the Virginia Thoroughbred Association. The purpose of the Virginia Equine Alliance is to sustain, promote, and expand the horse breeding and horse racing industries in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Alliance seeks to establish and support new and multiple venues for horse racing in the Commonwealth and to advocate and support legislation, regulations, and rules beneficial to the breeders and owners and trainers of horses (“horsemen”) in the state. The Alliance represents the interests of horsemen at meetings of the Virginia General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Agriculture, the Virginia Racing Commission, racing associations, breeder’s organizations, horsemen’s organizations, and other like groups. The Alliance is committed to increasing public awareness of the economic and environmental importance to the Commonwealth of the horse breeding and horse racing industries