History Lesson: Mrs. Revere

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Spend any amount of time in the barn areas at places like Saratoga, Keeneland and Churchill Downs and one is bound to bump into Dr. David Richardson. Most times in Saratoga he’s near the first turn at the Oklahoma Training Track, not far from trainer Bill Mott’s barn.

The association with Mott goes back three decades for “Doc” Richardson, and one of the best products of that relationship was Mrs. Revere. A standout racing on dirt or turf in the 1980s, Mrs. Revere is the namesake of the featured Grade 2 stakes this weekend at Churchill Downs for 3-year-old fillies on the grass.

Richardson and Dr. Hiram Polk bred Mrs. Revere, mating their Hard Work mare Gudewife with the Grade 1-winning Chieftan stallion Silver Series. Gudewife was a minor stakes winner on the Chicago circuit in 1976, yet her daughter Mrs. Revere was anything but minor. She won 12 of 28 starts, finished second seven times and earned $429,545.

“She ran against the best and was a dead-game filly,” Richardson, a general, thoracic and vascular surgeon from Louisville, said this week. “And she was a tiny little thing, probably only 15 (hands) and change and maybe 900 pounds.”

Small in size, but big in ability, Mrs. Revere did indeed race against some of the best fillies and mares the hit the racetrack in the 1980s. Mrs. Revere was one of the first horses Richardson and Polk sent to Mott, who then was pouring the foundation for his own Hall of Fame career but certainly nowhere near the household name in racing circles that he is today.

The way Richardson remembers, they approached Mott to see if he was interested in training Mrs. Revere. The response wasn’t altogether different from what one might get today, depending on the timing and whether Mott is finished with his main priority of the morning: training his horses.

“He was fairly young then, of course we were a little younger, too, but he was still younger than we were,” Richardson said. “We bought a couple mares and so we had bred Mrs. Revere and some others. When Mrs. Revere was a yearling we went out to talk to him. Told him we had some fillies that we planned to keep and even though we’re not big, rich guys, we said we’d like you to train for us if you could. … He looked at us like we were nuts.”

Nuts or not, Mott accepted the assignment. Mrs. Revere didn’t race as a 2-year-old, given time after bucking her shins.

“I remember he called and said, ‘I’m sorry I bucked her shins,’ but at the same time said she probably had to be pretty fast to buck her shins,” Richardson said.

Mrs. Revere returned to training in the fall and made it to the races by mid-March of her 3-year-old season. By then Mott had called Richardson, suggesting he “might want to get on an airplane, come down and watch her run” at Fair Grounds. Richardson did and the filly won. He never missed a start, trekking for races at Keeneland, Fair Grounds, Arlington Park, Saratoga, Belmont Park, Oaklawn Park, Louisiana Downs, Ak-Sar-Ben and of course, Churchill Downs. She made 12 starts at Churchill, winning six times and finishing second two other times, including the 1984 Regret, Edgewood and Dogwood and 1985 Kentucky Cardinal. Out of town she won the River Cities Budweiser Breeders’ Cup at Louisiana Downs and Furl Sail and Truly Bound and Fair Grounds. One race that Mrs. Revere lost sticks out to this day in Richardson’s mind.

“The best race she ran was a race she lost,” he said. “She lost to Lady’s Secret, by a nose in the Ballerina. We were 30-1 and we beat a Claiborne horse, a Phipps horse, a Greentree horse and a Whitney horse. You go up there, and I’d been going to Saratoga for years starting in the ’70s, and when you’re 30-1 you start looking around and thinking, ‘Did I make a mistake here?’

“Harvey Pack, he had his handicapping show at Siro’s and he had Andy Beyer up there with him. They were doing the show, talking about the races and got to the Ballerina. I can’t remember who they picked, but there were some questions about Lady’s Secret. She had won the Test [eight days earlier] but was going against older horses. Finally one of them said, ‘What about this filly, Mrs. Revere?’ Well, we had run our previous start at Ak-Sar-Ben. Then it starts about how we brought her from the Midwest with a pickup and a gooseneck trailer and so on. They looked down on Kentucky racing and not many people knew Bill at the time, outside of Kentucky, so one of them joked, ‘Where is that track anyway?’ Then someone said it was Arkansas spelled backwards and everyone got a good laugh.”

The connections of Lady’s Secret probably weren’t laughing in the stretch as the gray daughter of Secretariat needed to dig in to first turn away a stubborn Majestic Folly and then hold off a hard-charging Mrs. Revere. Lady’s Secret won by a nose, her second consecutive graded stakes win for D. Wayne Lukas, in 1:22 3/5.

“We got beat a nose and got by her the next jump,” Richardson said. “That was a huge race. Of course the next year Lady’s Secret is Horse of the Year. That was a great race for Mrs. Revere and showed us just how good she was.”

Mrs. Revere retired at the end of her 4-year-old campaign in 1986 with a third in the Churchill Downs Budweiser Breeders’ Cup at her home track. She produced only one foal – the stakes-winning Majestic Light filly Maria Balastiere bred and raced by Polk and Richardson – before she was lost to lymphoma. Shortly after Mrs. Revere died Richardson approached the Churchill Downs racing office about the possibility of naming a race for the mare. A 6-furlong stakes was suggested and another as a lead-up to the 1988 Breeders’ Cup, but Richardson stuck to the belief that it should be on grass.

“Jerry Botts, who was with the racing department at the time, said it would never go,” Richardson said. “Then we talked about it, thought about how it might be that one last opportunity for 3-year-old fillies to run against their own age. Fillies that might run in the QE II. Finally he said, ‘let’s try it.’ “

Saturday marks the 23rd edition and the Grade 2 race, now worth $175,000 going 1 1/16 miles on the turf. A full field of 14 entered Wednesday, including last-out stakes winners Effie Trinket, Dance Again and E B Ryder on the list of entrants. Also in the field are Grade 3 winners I’m Already Sexy, Nellie Cashman and Tapicat, stakes winner Emotional Kitten and Allegheny Angel and Praia, allowance winners at Keeneland.

Richardson, along with members of Polk’s family, will be on hand to present the winning connections with the trophy for the Mrs. Revere during the Downs After Dark program.

“We’ve always done that and plan on doing it Saturday night,” Richardson said. “We came close to winning it with our filly Liz Cee, but got beat a in photo on the money by a Farish horse, Spanish Parade. That was really something, almost winning the race named after your horse with one of your horses.”

Historical information on Mrs. Revere Stakes through 2011, courtesy of Churchill Downs.

Watch Lady’s Secret hold off hard-charging Mrs. Revere in 1985 Ballerina at Saratoga.

(Editor’s Note: The following is the first article in a regular series that will shed light on the rich, colorful and sometimes forgotten or ignored history of racing in North America. If you’ve got a topic that’s interesting or something you’ve always wondered about related to racing, send it to Tom Law at [email protected]) and we’ll start digging.