10/28/2005 12:00AM

Bright Gold four generations in the making


Breeding and racing good horses is nothing new for Hazel Marsh, the Virginia horsewoman who with her late husband, John D. Marsh, campaigned homebred multi-millionaire Majesty's Prince and many other stakes winners.

Still, Marsh is reveling in the accomplishments of her latest star, Bright Gold. Proving all but unbeatable at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf, Bright Gold has racked up victories in her last five starts, taking two stakes at Colonial Downs en route to her most ambitious performance to date, in the $100,000 Franklin County Stakes on Oct. 20 at Keeneland.

Installed as 1-9 favorite in the field of 10, Bright Gold loomed just off the brisk early pace before assuming command going into the final furlong, and drove clear to a two-length score. She finished in 1:02.53, just .80 off the course record.

A 5-year-old mare trained by Maryland-based conditioner Mary Eppler, Bright Gold has won 9 of 25 career starts and earned $320,048. If she remains sound, plans call for her to come back to race on the turf next season, before Marsh retires her as a broodmare.

By Kentucky stallion Hold for Gold (a son of Red Ransom), Bright Gold is the fourth generation of her family foaled and raised at Marsh Thoroughbred Farm, a well-equipped 400-acre operation the Marshes established in 1967. Bright Gold's great-great-granddam, Royal Fleet (by Vertex), a foal of 1965, was among the first to join the farm's broodmare band.

John Marsh had left a huge imprint in the insurance business, as president of the company that later became Aetna. Upon his retirement in 1971, he turned to the Thoroughbred industry, where he was a major force until his death, at age 80, in 1987. A director of Breeders' Cup Ltd. and a trustee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, John Marsh was equally active within his home state, lobbying for parimutuel wagering during his tenure as president of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association.

His first broodmare purchase was the Nashua mare Melanie's Girl, whom he acquired for $10,500 at the 1967 Keeneland fall mixed sale. Melanie's Girl produced stakes winners Eager Exchange and Hagley's Relic, and her unraced daughter Pied Princess became the dam of Majesty's Prince. One of the finest grass horses in the country in the early 1980's, Majesty's Prince registered five Grade 1 victories, including two editions each of the Man o' War and Rothmans International Stakes. Majesty's Prince was the first Virginia-bred to top $2 million in earnings.

Sharing her husband's keen interest in the business, Hazel Marsh has carried on the farm with notable success of her own, and in 1992 she was awarded the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association award as the state's leading breeder. The best horse she has bred and raced on her own is multiple graded stakes winner Boyce, who earned $464,005. Bright Gold is one of five horses Marsh has in training - three are with Eppler, and two are in New York with Barclay Tagg.

Having scaled down her horse holdings in recent years, Marsh said she now owns eight to 10 mares, but breeds only three of them each year. She sold Bright Gold's dam, the Northern Jove mare Bright 'n Early, for $2,000 at the 2002 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic December mixed sale.

Marsh Farm's most famous equine resident is Majesty's Prince, who returned home several years ago after a stud career at other farms in Virginia, Kentucky, and New York.

"He looks good at 26," said Marsh, who added that he is not a pensioner. "He still breeds mares, although usually not Thoroughbreds."