02/25/2005 12:00AM

Estrapade, turf champion, dies

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Estrapade, champion turf mare of 1986 and the only female to win the Arlington Million, died of a heart attack Friday, just hours before she was to be donated to the Old Friends retirement facility. A Vaguely Noble mare, she was 25.

Michael Blowen, who heads the Old Friends facility, said that Estrapade died Friday morning at Hill 'n' Dale Farms in Lexington, where the Allen Paulson estate boarded her. She had been scheduled to ship Friday to Old Friends at Hurstland Farm in Midway, Ky. Michael Paulson, son of the late Allen Paulson, had arranged last week to give the mare to the program, which retires breeding stock. Estrapade would have been the second Eclipse Award winner to live out her days at Old Friends, joining Sunshine Forever.

"She was old and she had Cushing's disease," Blowen said, "but for a 25-year-old mare, she looked good. I couldn't sleep last night, I was so excited about having her come here."

Cushing's disease is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland, which regulates the equine endocrine system.

Bred in Kentucky by Nelson Bunker Hunt, Estrapade began her career for Hunt in France. At 2 in 1983, she won the Prix des Tourelles and ran second in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille in her best showings. She added to that tally at 3, winning the Group 3 La Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte and the Prix de la Pepiniere and finishing third in the Group 3 Prix Corrida. Imported to the United States in 1984, she immediately proved herself worthy of top company with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon.

Estrapade went on to win the following season's Yellow Ribbon, and days later Allen Paulson bought her for $4.5 million when Hunt's Blue Grass Farm offered her at Keeneland's 1985 November sale. She went on to become the first champion for Paulson.

During the 1985 and 1986 seasons, she captured six graded stakes, five of them Grade 1 events. The most important of those, and the one that clinched her championship title, was the 1986 Arlington Million, in which she defeated Divulge and Pennine Walk. Her other Grade 1 wins that season came in the Yellow Ribbon, Oak Tree Invitational, Santa Ana, and Gamely.

Charlie Whittingham trained Estrapade in the United States.

Retired after the 1986 season, Estrapade left a race record of 12 victories from 30 starts, as well as 5 seconds and 5 thirds, for lifetime earnings of $1,924,556.

As a broodmare, Estrapade produced just two winners from six starters. Those were the Blushing John gelding Rice, a Grade 2-placed stakes winner, and Troika, a filly by Strawberry Road.

Estrapade had been pensioned since 2003.

Blowen said that Michael Paulson agreed to allow Estrapade to be buried at Hurstland, where she will be memorialized with a headstone and a plaque detailing her accomplishments. Blowen added that Old Friends would hold a memorial service at Hurstland in the mare's honor within a week or two to unveil the headstone.