10/09/2012 10:14PM

White Bliss, or the 1-in-200,000 colt


You know how it is with Standardbreds.  Most are bay, with an occasional chestnut or grey tossed in for variety.  Some have a star here or a sock there - but 'bling,' of any sort, is mighty rare indeed.

And so Fair Winds Farm night watchman Dan Conger must have been dumbfounded watching Coochie Mama deliver her foal the night of May 6.   

“Our night watchman pulled the foal out,” said farm owner Mark Mullen.  “Sometimes there’ll be a little white, a little something, like a sock.  But the sock became a stocking, and then it was the neck, and the shoulder. The white just kept coming.  

“Our watchman is a man of few words, but he was beside himself that night.”

Farm manager Matt Gartland got a call from Conger around midnight.  He braced himself.  

“Usually if I get a phone call at midnight, it’s an emergency,” Gartland said.  “I asked him what the emergency was and he said, nothing, but they just had the foal - but, he’s white.”

What?  Coochie Mama, a long-faced, minimally marked bay, had produced a white-as-the-driven-snow white colt by the major sire Art Major?  Art Major’s color…you guessed it: he’s a handsome, ‘plain brown wrapper’ bay.

The last time two bay Standardbreds produced a white foal in North America was 1998 and, according to the USTA's Ellen Harvey, some 200,000 foals have been born since.  So the farm staff could be forgiven for not believing the colt - owned by Pete Cogilose - was actually who he was supposed to be.

“Anything can happen during AI procedures,” said Gartland, during my visit this summer.   “The farm (where Art Major stands) has some cutting horses, and one is a red roan. Knowing the type of facility Blue Chip Farms runs, I wouldn’t expect that.  But you don’t want to overlook the obvious."

Yet DNA quickly confirmed his parentage, and a new media sensation - in a brilliant white wrapper, with a smattering of red hairs along his top line - was born.

In the months since, hundreds of people - including me - have popped in to see the white colt at Fair Winds in Cream Ridge, NJ.  There was a ‘media day’ early on, when many news outlets stopped in for a look.   That spurred more visitors, of course, including the state Secretary of Agriculture, Douglas H. Fisher.  Another group consisted of several nuns, charmed by a photo they’d seen of the colt (after all, white horses, considered by many cultures to be spiritually special, play a very serious role in the Bible).

The widespread interest in his unique colt spurred owner Cogilose to start a ‘Name the foal’ contest this spring, and hundreds of people e-mailed suggestions to whitecolt@ustrotting.com.  There is a Facebook page for the colt as well - yep, just put in the name "White Colt."  

Other than being white, the colt acts like other colts.  He's been handled since day 1 and cheerfully puts on a show for his steady stream of visitors.  It's impossible to keep him clean but he tolerates baths well - which is a good thing, considering all of the cameras aimed his way.  

“He’s been bathed more times in 3 months than most horses have been in 2 years,” Gartland said with a smile.  He thought back to the night the colt was born.

“If I were a betting man, I definitely would have lost the ranch on this one.  There was no way I would have believed that colt was a Standardbred.”

Above:  Farm manager Matt Gartland has been at Fair Winds since 1976 and has loved horses his entire life - but he'd never seen anything like this colt.

Above:  Fair Winds Farm is not only a topnotch Standardbred farm but also home to Dr. Patricia Hogan's topnotch equine clinic.  

Above/below:  The smattering of red hairs along the colt's top line.  

Above:  Looking past his color, the 2012 Art Major - Coochie Mama colt is well-proportioned, athletic, smart and well-bred.

Above:  Coochie Mama, by Matts Scooter, was no slouch on-track, earning $134,643 and winning ten races, with a lifetime mark of 1:52.3.  The white colt's sire Art Major earned $2.7 million....so, well, he was no slouch, either!

Miscellaneous information about white Standardbreds, according to the USTA's Anne Chunko:  

According to searchable computer records, the first white Standardbred I found was the mare Daisy P.W. Leonard, a 1935 mare. However, I cannot say with any confidence that Daisy P.W. Leonard is the first white Standardbred ever; I can only safely say that she is the earliest that is in our searchable computer files.

In the 1970s, all horse registrations started to be computerized, and data for color from there forward is as accurate as we can make it (barring human error for the breeders not truly understanding the color definitions...).

So, long story short, we cannot accurately give a total number of white Standardbreds ever registered. It is very safe to assume, though, that that number is a very small percentage and has historically been so.

Since 1970, ten Standardbreds - including this 2012 colt - have been registered as white, and their names have often reflected their color:  Maximum White, Ima Sabino, The White Witch, Platinum Miss.  Cringer was mostly named on the basis of his name, too.  And Historicallyunique, born in 1998 and the most recent white SB produced by two bay parents, is the dam of three, count 'em, three, white foals to date.

Congilose has named named his once-in-a-lifetime colt White Bliss.

With a very special thank you to Fair Winds Farm and to Ellen Harvey and Anne Chunko of the United States Trotting Association.