04/06/2012 10:24AM

Perfectly Gray, or...hey, Funny Face!


Perfectly Gray inspires nicknames - like Funny Face - wherever she goes. 

“Everybody falls in love with this horse,” says her trainer Bertrell Vaz, with a laugh.  “They think she’s the pony!”

Why?  Because Perfectly Gray sports a prominent blood mark down the right side of her face.

What’s a blood mark, you ask?  To a layperson, it’s a bright reddish-brown spot - that doesn't fade and sometimes gets more prominent with age - on a grey horse.  To an equine color student, it’s either an incomplete penetration of the grey gene or a somatic mutation.  So there you go. 

Blood marks on any equine breed are very rare, but, every now and again, one pops up on a Thoroughbred.  A Dehere mare named Charmander has a large blood mark down her shoulder - a mark steeped in tradition and called a ‘bloody shoulder.’  The multiple graded stakes-placed filly Tap for Luck sports a bloody shoulder as well.   A reddish patch marks stakes winner Armonk’s face.  And anyone else remember Thesaurus, that nifty old grey stakes performer, who had a big red blob on his forehead? We called him Spot (original, yes?).

Above: Charmander (1998 gr./r. mare by Dehere - Expressive Dance, by Riva Ridge).  Won 2 of 11 starts and earned $45,940. Photographed at Needham-Betz Thoroughbreds in 2007.  Charmander was sold at Keeneland the following January to the J.S. Company Ltd., of Japan, for $80,000.

Above: Tap for Luck (2008 gr./r. filly by Tapit - Foxy Friend, by Crafty Friend) breaks her maiden for trainer Todd Pletcher at Saratoga in 2010.  At two, she placed second in the G3 Tempted and third in the G2 Demoiselle.  In her most recent start, February 11, 2012, Tap for Luck ran fourth in the El Diario Stakes at Sunland Park for trainer Chris A. Hartman.

Above: Armonk (2005 gr./r. mare by Mizzen Mast - Flaming Satan, by Java Gold).  Won 3 of 13 starts, won the Wide Country Stakes, ran second in the G2 Matron Stakes and Dearly Precious Stakes, earned $193,248.  She sold as a yearling for $45,000 and as a 2-year-old in training for $400,000.  At the 2008 Fasig-Tipton KY Fall mixed sale, she failed to meet her reserve at $225,000.

Above: Thesaurus (1994 gr./r. horse by With Approval - Written Word, by Vice Regent.  61 starts, 11 wins, earnings of $602,235.  Multiple graded stakes-placed turf specialist.

Above:  Bertrell Vaz and Perfectly Gray at Calder Race Course, March 30, 2012.

Butwhile Thoroughbreds with blood marks aren't unheard of, Perfectly Gray…well….she's a 10 on the Blood Mark Wow-o-meter.  She looks like she’s dressing for Mardi Gras with a dark mark, with sharp edges, jagging down one side of her face like a mask.  As the woman who first told me about the filly said, “We call her Phantom of the Opera face.”

Perfectly Gray, now 4, spends her days contentedly nestled in stall 15, barn 20 at Calder Race Course.   But when she arrived at Vaz’s barn as a 2-year-old, however, she acted, well, different.

“She’s a Mr. Livingston, and those babies are kind of cuckoo,” Vaz says.  “But she’s nice now.  She’s a very good girl.”

She’s only raced once – Vaz is taking his time with her – and she didn’t inspire championship dreams.  On February 17 at Gulfstream Park, Perfectly Gray finished twelfth and last.  But it doesn't mean she didn’t make an impression.

“One jockey wanted to buy her and take her home - Rajiv Maragh," Vaz says.

The winner that day was by Fusaichi Pegasus and out of an A. P. Indy mare.  Her third dam was the immortal Crimson Saint. 

Perfectly Gray, meanwhile, is out of a Regal Search mare whose first, second and third dams were all humble homebreds for Dr. W. S. Karutz. Karutz's racing claim to fame – and it’s a dandy - was breeding Eclipse champion Brave Raj. 

Perfectly Gray will probably fit in better with the competition at her home base, where Vaz has been trained for 7 years.  He's been a horseman for about 20 years and has trained for a decade.  He drove a tractor-trailer before that, often driving from Queens, NY, down to southern Florida and back.  So why did he make the switch from mechanical horsepower to actual horse power?

“My knees got a little weak (when I got older). Horses are better," he says.

Vaz, a tall Jamaican with an easy-going manner, great smile and pleasant accent, is comfortable and relaxed around his horses.  His shedrow is tidy and his barn staff outgoing and good-natured.   He's run 14 horses so far this year with a win, a second and a third.   His career record, according to Equibase, shows 362 starts, with 32 wins, 31 seconds and 37 thirds.

Vaz may not have trained a ‘big horse’ yet but, at Calder, his oddly marked filly is certainly famous.  As Perfectly Gray’s groom led her out for photos, a woman on the other side of the barn, who works for a different trainer, yelled, “Hey, there’s Funny Face!”

Above/below:  Closeup of Perfectly Gray's chest, above.  Below, Perfectly Gray's trainer Bertrell Vaz and groom David Robles.

PERFECTLY GRAY (FL).  2008 grey/roan filly by Mr. Livingston - Regally Perfect, by Regal Search

Bred by Dr. W. S. Karutz and Debbie Schnell, owned by Marianne Rublee, trained by Bertrell 'Bert' Vaz

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Further information about Perfectly Gray: http://www.equibase.com/profiles/Results.cfm?type=Horse&refno=8346663&registry=T

One of the many interpretations of the Bedouin legend of the 'bloody shouldered mare': http://www.babsonarabians.com/Readers_Corner/Legend.htm

Thank you to trainer Bertrell Vaz, equine veterinary technician/racing fan Renee Jackoviak Armas, equine color specialist Audrey C. Crosby, and the helpful staff at Calder Race Course for their assistance.