02/21/2008 12:00AM

A filly who 'always had a mission'


LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Winning Colors, one of only three fillies ever to win the Kentucky Derby, was euthanized in Lexington on Sunday due to colic complications, the news hit hard at nearby Echo Valley Farm.

The Georgetown farm is owned by the Sucher family, whose connection to the 1988 Derby winner goes back several equine generations to the late 1960s. Donald Sucher and his wife, Shirley, had only recently moved to Lexington when, in 1967, he struck a deal with breeder Preston Madden of Hamburg Place. Sucher paid $45,000 for Madden's mare Twice Over, by Ponder, and her T.V. Lark yearling filly. The T.V. Lark filly, later named Miss Carmie for the Suchers' daughter, became the foundation mare for the Suchers' Echo Valley Farm. Her second mating produced champion Chris Evert in 1971, and that filly went on to become the dam of Six Crowns, who foaled Chief's Crown and Classic Crown.

Two years after Chris Evert was born, Miss Carmie produced All Rainbows. By Bold Hour, Grade 1-placed All Rainbows wasn't as prolific a producer as Chris Evert, but with her Caro filly Winning Colors, she made history.

"That was a $5,000 stud fee, and that was the cheapest we could find," Don Sucher said. "That's the truth. And the pedigrees seemed to work pretty good."

Carmie Sucher, now 44 and manager of the family's farm, summarizes her first impression of Winning Colors in a single word: headstrong.

Winning Colors was large like her dam, but she did not share the mare's docile nature, Carmie Sucher said.

"She was one of those horses that did what she wanted to do," she said. "She had a plan. She was a strong, husky filly, and she was always very attractive with her roan color. She stood out. She was a good horse, but she could drag you around when you walked her if she wanted to go look at something. She just wasn't laid back. She always had a mission."

Winning Colors went to auction as a yearling with a handful of other Echo Valley horses, bringing a bid of $575,000 from D. Wayne Lukas.

"I remember when we brought her out, she was standing way above the wall, and he looked at her and said, 'That's a nice filly,'" Don Sucher said. "I said thank you and he left, and I said to the guy next to me, 'He likes that filly a lot because she's big and has good muscle.'"

Carmie Sucher recalled: "She looked like she'd be a strong racehorse, and she certainly could give colts competition even then. She was bigger than some of the colts we had. That was a good price for her, and, you know, Caro wasn't that popular then. D. Wayne came back and looked at her quite a bit. He never seemed excited, just was low key, like he thought she was okay, maybe average."

But he kept coming back to look, and in the end, he bought Winning Colors for Eugene V. Klein. Winning Colors gave all of them - Lukas, Klein, and Echo Valley - a first Derby winner. It was the first and only Derby Sucher ever attended, and it took her weeks to get over the shock that her family had actually bred the winner.

"We hadn't seen her since she was a yearling, and she was just huge," Carmie Sucher said. "She was larger than life then."

All Rainbows died in 1996, but the Suchers still have her Deputy Minister daughter Forever Rainbows in their commercial broodmare band. She's due to have a Hold That Tiger foal this week.

The Suchers' affection for the family is still strong. Don Sucher teamed up with Stan Gumberg to bid on Winning Colors as a broodmare when Klein dispersed his stock in 1989, but her final price of $4.1 million was over their budget.

"It's funny, my dad saw a yearling at a sale recently that had that family, and he tried to buy her," Carmie Sucher said. "Mom yelled at him, so he quit bidding, and she didn't bring all that much. He could have had another one. It's kind of our family."