by Nick Hahn – Reprinted with permission www.theracingbiz.com
With no Virginia-bred headed to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, recently departed Colonial Affair will remain the most recent state-bred to win a Triple Crown race.
Twenty years ago, Colonial Affair provided a landmark win with major impacts, one immediately apparent after the Belmont Stakes and one that would go unrecognized for years to come.
Colonial Affair died in his stall apparently of natural causes on April 23. The 23-year old had been retired from stallion duties in Argentina, where he stood for about a decade.
In delivering the wide sweeping Belmont Stakes win, Julie Krone became the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown Race — a milestone win that crossed over into mainstream media.
Colonial Affair was bred by Herman Greenberg’s Rutledge Farm in Middleburg, sired by a Virginia stallion that won the Kentucky Derby in 1981, Pleasant Colony. He was out of the winless Nijinsky II mare Snuggle.
“(Colonial Affair) was a big, scopy horse that could cover distances in an effortless motion,” recalls winning owner Don Little of Centennial Farms. “He kicked it up a notch when the tack was put on him. Otherwise he was lying down.”
Paula Parsons , the farm trainer for Centennial Farms, broke Colonial Affair in Middleburg.
“He was a big, quiet horse that was easy to ride,” confirmed Parsons. “Certainly not obnoxious as colts can be at that age.”
Centennial picked up Colonial Affair at the 1991 Saratoga yearling sale for $100,000, a deal if you could see potential.
“Funny thing about Pleasant Colony was that he was one of the least impressive horses to look at while Colonial Affair was good looking,” said Little. “He must have got it from his mother (Snuggle). But we knew Pleasant Colony was a sire of horses that would get the distance. He was a big lanky colt but you could look past that and picture what he would look like as a grownup.”
Little passed on the Derby and Preakness, despite the obvious allure, to have Colonial Affair at his best in the Belmont Stakes.
“Belmont was the target,” explains Little. “We didn’t pay any attention to the Derby or the Preakness. Our focus was to win a classic distance type of race.”
After Krone’s determined ride in the middle of the Belmont stretch, it may not have figured that Colonial Affair would be the last Virginia-bred to stroll into a Triple Crown winner’s circle.
His victory came during a renaissance of Virginia racing, a golden age. Hansel won the Preakness in 1991. In the Belmont starting gate with Colonial Affair was Paul Mellon’s Sea Hero, the reigning Kentucky Derby winner.
The impact of this mini-golden age was a huge asset in bringing in-state racing to life in Virginia. In October of that same year, the Virginia Racing Commission set a deadline for track construction applications. New applicants were interested thanks to the passing of simulcast wagering legislation earlier in the year in the General Assembly. A little over a year after Colonial Affair’s Belmont, the Virginia Racing Commission awarded an unlimited license to Stansley Racing.
It would have been ideal for Virginia breeders if the state had had racing during the early Nineties. Capitalizing on those on-track successes might have led to changes that would still be apparent. The number of Virginia-bred registered foals increased briefly in 1994 and then again when Colonial Downs finally opened. Currently however, it’s a little over a third of what is was in 1993.
“We never had a program to reward breeders,” observed Parsons. “It’s hard to know how much a lack of the program hurt us because we were successful despite not having one.”
Yet despite a diminishing foal crop, Virginia-breds continue to produce quality if not quantity, results. Quality Road and Bodemeister have launched legitimate campaigns in recent year looking to hang a Triple Crown blanket on a Virginia-bred label. Quality Road would have been the favorite in the Kentucky Derby in 2010 if not for a quarter-crack. Last year, if not for I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister, first runner up in the Derby and Preakness might have made a Triple Crown bid in the Belmont stakes.
Within the last month Swagger Jack became Virginia’s latest Grade one winner in the $400,000 Carter Handicap.
As for this year’s class, Code West is the best chance for a Virginia-bred to make a Triple Crown starting gate, probably in the Belmont Stakes.
Julie Krone, meanwhile, remains the only female jockey to win a Triple Crown race. Rosie Napravnik will attempt to add to that list when she rides Mylute in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.