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Catching up with Serena's Song
By Nicole Russo
The fire that made Serena’s Song one of the most remarkable racemares of her generation hasn’t faded over the years.
“Her biggest idiosyncrasy is she’s very protective of her foals when they’re first born,” said Craig Bandoroff, who, along with his wife, Holly, owns Denali Stud in Paris, Ky., where the Racing Hall of Fame member now calls home. “You’ve really got to give her a few days just to let them be by themselves. Obviously, we go in and do what we have to do, but she’s very, very protective when they’re first born, and then she settles down. That’s the interesting quirk about Serena – and, of course, other mares are that way.
“Way back when – and I should have known better – I was going into her stall, and I dropped a mint or something, and I bent to pick it up, and she came after me. I should have known better, I knew her well enough.”
Eclipse Award winner Serena’s Song won 17 graded stakes races, including 11 Grade 1 events, and placed in another 14 while tackling males multiple times in top-level competition, including a victory in the 1995 Haskell Invitational. Boarded at Denali since the conclusion of her racing career, the Rahy mare, now 21, is in foal to Medaglia d’Oro.
“She’s doing great,” Bandoroff said. “She’s aging well. She gets some pretty tender, loving care. We treat her accordingly. I mean, she doesn’t quite carry the weight she used to carry, but she does well, and she’s in foal.
“She’s like every good racemare – she’s not a pussycat; she’s not a pet, although she can be sweet. She’s got a very sweet tooth for peppermints. That’s the way you get to Serena’s heart. [Trainer D.] Wayne Lukas trained her well on that,” Bandoroff said with a laugh. “She’ll let you know when she’s had enough, but she’s good. You can do anything with her. She’ll pin her ears and let you know, ‘I’ve had enough.’ She’s a woman with her own mind.”
Serena’s Song, bred in Kentucky by Dr. Howard Baker, was purchased for $150,000 by the late Robert Lewis and his wife, Beverly, at the 1993 Keeneland July yearling sale.
“She fell through the cracks, but I remember at the time Wayne sort of punched me and said, ‘You just bought one of the most athletic yearlings I’ve ever seen,’ and he was right,” Bob Lewis told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He said he felt she was strong enough right then to run against the 2-year-olds ... I tell people we’ve been fortunate to have two sons and a daughter, but I almost feel as though we have two daughters when you count Serena’s Song. We realize how fortunate we are to have her. She’s the epitome of a racehorse. She just flows.”
It took Serena’s Song three tries to win her maiden, but when she did, she did so in style, romping by 10 lengths at Hollywood Park. She would compete exclusively in graded stakes for the rest of her career, taking two Grade 1 events as a juvenile and finishing second by a head to Flanders in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Serena’s Song began her sophomore campaign in 1995 with four straight victories, including a score in the Grade 2 Jim Beam, in which she trounced males Tejano Run and Mecke. Favored in the Kentucky Derby along with entrymate Timber Country, Serena’s Song set swift early fractions but tired to finish 16th as another Lukas-trained horse, Thunder Gulch, took the roses.
Wins in the Black-Eyed Susan and Mother Goose stakes and a second in the Coaching Club American Oaks sent Serena’s Song to Monmouth Park and the Haskell, where, with Gary Stevens aboard, the filly delivered one of her best performances in outlasting Pyramid Peak by three-quarters of a length.
Serena’s Song became the first filly to win the Haskell in the prestigious race’s history. She would be joined by Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
Two more Grade 1 wins followed in 1995, enough to secure Serena’s Song the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly. She won three more Grade 1 races in 1996 and finished second, beaten a neck, in the Grade 1 Whitney against males. Serena’s Song retired as North America’s leading money-winning female, with earnings of $3,283,388. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
“She had the elegance of a Grace Kelly, she had the moves of a Ginger Rogers, and she had the charisma of a Marilyn Monroe,” Lukas said in presenting the mare for induction. “For you people that are a lot younger and don’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about, she had the moves of Janet Jackson and the charisma of Britney Spears.”
Serena’s Song has been a standout in her second career as well. She is the dam of 12 foals, all of whom have started. Nine are winners, including five stakes winners.
“So often, you see these very good racemares, and lots of times, they don’t turn into good producers,” Bandoroff said. “Sometimes they do. The fact that she has turned into such an extraordinary producer and her daughters are such good producers, there’s an argument to give her blue-hen status.
“Physically, she’s such a beautiful mare. She has a lot of quality, and she throws that to most of her babies. She’s a powerful, muscular mare, and she throws that, too. They all have strong hips, big hind ends. Overall, they’re very correct.”
Serena’s Song got off to a fast start as a broodmare when her first foal, the Mr. Prospector filly Serena’s Tune, became a multiple stakes winner. Her next foal, Sophisticat, by Storm Cat, won the Group 1 Coronation Stakes in England and finished third in the classic French 1000 Guineas.
The mare followed up by producing, in succession, the stakes-placed winner Arbitrate (Deputy Minister); Grand Reward (Storm Cat), the winner of the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap; and Harlington (Unbridled), the winner of the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. She also is the dam of Grade 3 winner Schramsberg (Storm Cat).
The youngest living foal out of Serena’s Song is the 3-year-old Serene Melody. The daughter of Street Cry is unplaced in two starts in California for trainer John Shirreffs and the Robert B. and Beverly J. Lewis Trust.
“We get good reports,” Bandoroff said of Serene Melody. “She’s run a couple of times. I don’t think John has them cranked when they first get there. But the reports are very positive.”
The mare’s offspring have proven popular in the auction ring as well. Colourful Score (Storm Cat) sold for $3.5 million as a yearling, Sophisticat for $3.4 million, Harlington for $2.8 million, Spark Candle (A.P. Indy), for $1.5 million, and Serena’s Tune for $1 million.
“Generally, when we’ve taken them to auction, they’re well received – not just because of their pedigrees, but physically,” Bandoroff said.
Two daughters of Serena’s Song are stakes producers in their own right, with their daughters appearing to be poised to carry the family’s success into another generation. In a brief career as a broodmare, Serena’s Tune, who died in 2006, produced Irish Group 3 winner Vocalized as well as the stakes winner Serena’s Cat, who in turn produced recent Grade 2 winner Noble Tune.
Sophisticat is the dam of French stakes winner Sefroua, who was Grade 3-placed in the United States, and the English Group 1-placed Pursuit of Glory. She also is the dam of the stakes producer Suppose.
Four sons of Serena’s Song – Arbitrate, Grand Reward, Harlington, and Schramsberg – also have embarked on stud careers.
“Not only has she [been successful as a broodmare], but there’s a family being built around her,” Bandoroff said of Serena’s Song. “That’s more than you ever ask for. For her daughters [to continue the family], that’s really something special, bloodline-wise.”
1992 b. m., Rahy – Imagining, by Northfields
Breeder: Dr. Howard Baker (Ky.)
Owners: Robert and Beverly Lewis
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
Record: 38-18-11-3, $3,283,388
Stakes victories: 1994 Oak Leaf Stakes (G1), 1994 Hollywood Starlet Stakes (G1), 1995 Santa Anita Oaks (G1), 1995 Las Virgenes Stakes (G1), 1995 Mother Goose Stakes (G1), 1995 Haskell Invitational Handicap (G1), 1995 Gazelle Handicap (G1), 1995 Beldame Stakes (G1), 1996 Santa Maria Handicap (G1), 1996 Santa Monica Handicap (G1), 1996 Hempstead Handicap (G1), 1994 Landaluce Stakes (G2), 1995 Jim Beam Stakes (G2), 1995 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2), 1995 Santa Ynez Breeders’ Cup Stakes (G3), 1996 Fleur de Lis Handicap (G3), 1996 Pimlico Distaff Handicap (G3).
Awards and honors: Inducted into Racing Hall of Fame, 2002. Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly, 1995.
Notable foals: Group 1 winner Sophisticat (Storm Cat); Grade 2 winner Grand Reward (Storm Cat); Grade 2 winner Harlington (Unbridled); Grade 3 winner Schramsberg (Storm Cat); multiple stakes winner Serena’s Tune (Mr. Prospector); stakes-placed Arbitrate (Deputy Minister).
Serena’s Song: Foals to sell at auction
Serena’s Tune (1998 Mr. Prospector f.): $1 million Keeneland July yearling (Winsong Farms from Denali Stud, agent for Robert and Beverly Lewis)
Sophisticat (1999 Storm Cat f.): $3.4 million Keeneland July yearling (Demi O’Byrne from Denali Stud, agent for Robert and Beverly Lewis)
Arbitrate (2000 Deputy Minister c.): $260,000 Keeneland January all ages (Oak Stable from Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent)
Harlington (2002 Unbridled c.): $2.8 million Keeneland September yearling (Eugene Melnyk from Denali Stud, agent)
Colourful Score (2004 Storm Cat c.): $3.5 million Keeneland September yearling (John Ferguson Bloodstock from Denali Stud, agent for Robert and Beverly Lewis)
Spark Candle (2005 A.P. Indy r.): $1.5 million Keeneland September yearling (Nobutaka Tada from Denali Stud, agent for The Robert & Beverly Lewis Trust)
Stormberg (2008 Storm Cat r.): $450,000 Keeneland September yearling (Jack Sims from Denali Stud, agent for The Robert & Beverly Lewis Trust)
One of the all-time greats
Thank you for this update. It would be wonderful to have similar articles on broodmares we know and love.
One of the soundest, hardest knocking racehorses you'll ever see in the modern era. Never missed a day of training and never got injured. Heart of a lion and tough as nails. One of my all time favorites for sure! I love that she's still sassy as ever too.
Love that filly who always ran with her head down. Was at her Hall Of Fame Induction at beautiful Saratoga New York and I have a wonderful litograth of her winning the Jim Beam Stakes autographed by D Wayne Lukas as he walked right on by just as I had made a purchase up at Saratoga. Horse Racing Story!
I recently visited Serena's Song at Denali and she looked fantastic, especially for her age. And it's true: she absolutely loves peppermints. It was an honor getting to meet her, as I have great respect for her as a racehorse and producer. She was recently featured in one of my articles: http://www.horseracingnation.com/blogs/grandstand/Broodmares_in_the_Bluegrass_123 Mary Cage
Kinda scary that she doesn't carry the weight she used to carry and at 21 is still foaling. I sure hope this is her last
What a gorgeous horse she has always been!