12/16/2005 12:00AM

A Christmas story that begins with a song


A bit of Christmas magic has swirled around Patricia Runyon ever since she first made the huge leap to become a horse owner back in 1998. And the magic blew in again when the Runyon-bred 2-year-old filly Christmas Stocking shipped to Calder Race Course on Dec. 10 and rallied for her first stakes victory, in the $100,000 Cherokee Frolic Stakes.

Christmas Stocking is the first stakes winner out of the first horse Runyon ever owned.

"Christmas is my holiday," said Runyon, who named her first purchase Christmas Shoes, after a song that Runyon and her late husband Willie recorded in Nashville back in the late 1960's. However, Runyon is quick to point out that her song was "unfortunately not the same song that's popular today."

While the Runyons' song did not take off, the filly Christmas Shoes did. A daughter of Valley Crossing bred by Derry Meeting Farm in Pennsylvania, Christmas Shoes was purchased by Runyon for $22,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic October yearling sale in 1998 and sent to the Boniface family's Bonita Farm for training.

Although a May 30 foal, Christmas Shoes won 3 of her 4 starts at age 2, and culminated her season with a victory in the Blue Mountain Futurity at Penn National for Pennsylvania-bred fillies. Heading into her 3-year-old year, Runyon's filly was a rising star in trainer Bill Boniface's barn. However, Christmas Shoes's career ended prematurely when it was discovered she had a paralyzed vocal cord. The drama of her races and retirement was chronicled in the Animal Planet television series "Thoroughbred," which followed the day-to-day lives of the Bonifaces and the Bonita Farm horses.

Runyon already had one broodmare at Bonita, and Christmas Shoes became her second. It is rare for a new owner to come up with one stakes producer, and Runyon had the good fortune to have two. The first mare, Tettau, was purchased privately while in foal to Polish Numbers in 1998. The following year, Tettau produced Move Those Chains, who would carry Runyon's colors to victory in the 2003 Maryland Million Turf.

Christmas Shoes was sent to the court of Bonita Farm's young stallion and Grade 1-winning turf star Ops Smile. The mare produced her first foal in 2002, a filly named Christmas Slippers, who has yet to win. The next year came Christmas Stocking. But after a hard-luck season in 2004, Runyon sold out, and currently owns only two horses, yearlings by Ops Smile out of her former mares: a colt out of Christmas Shoes named Chesapeake Affair and Tettau's filly named With Her Smile. Both will head to the Bonita Farm training barn at the beginning of the year.

Bonita Farm arranged to sell Runyon's horses, and Andrew Eisenberg purchased them as a group, including the yearling Christmas Stocking. Making her first start over Colonial Downs's turf course this past July, Christmas Stocking closed to finish third in a 5 1/2-furlong $18,500 maiden claiming event. Returning six weeks later at Delaware Park in a $25,000 maiden claiming race on the main track, the filly finished second. She was sent out for the same price in her next start, and Eisenberg and trainer Kevin Boniface lost her, trainer Tony Dutrow making the claim for Michael Dubb.

Christmas Stocking won her maiden in her second start for her new connections, winning by 6 1/4 lengths at 1 1/16 miles over Laurel Park's turf course on Nov. 11.

Facing 11 others in the Cherokee Frolic, her stakes debut, and at the same distance as her maiden score, Christmas Stocking was sent off as the slight 2.30-1 favorite. After biding her time in midpack, she got up late to win by three-quarters of a length. The win boosted her career earnings to $85,540.

Christmas Stocking is the first stakes winner for her sire, Ops Smile, a son of Caveat who now stands at Maui Meadow Farm in West Chester, Pa. Bonita Farm maintains control of the syndicate.

Christmas Shoes is no longer a broodmare, her final foal being Runyon's yearling colt.

"The last time we bred her she had problems," Runyon said.

The mare was found to have Lyme disease.

"It made it very difficult for her when she was in foal," Runyon said.

A home was found and Christmas Shoes is now a pasture buddy for another mare.

"She went to a good home, with someone who will take good care of her," said Runyon.