04/25/2013 4:14PM

Jay Hovdey: Ismene packs an alpha pedigree


Just to keep things in perspective, one week after putting up $1.5 million in a race they called the Classic, the biggest purse at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races this Saturday afternoon is offering $27,000 for allowance horses bred in West Virginia. So much for trickle down economics.

Out West things look a bit brighter for the home grown. The Gold Rush program at Hollywood Park on Saturday is topped by the $300,000 Snow Chief Stakes at a mile and one-eighth, which is not only a lot of money for California-bred 3-year-olds but also the largest purse offered anywhere in North America this weekend.

The last time the division assembled, in the $300,000 California Breeders Champion Stakes at a mile in January, Tiz a Minister swept past Omega Star to win going away. Omega Star is back, along with Fighting Hussar, the horse he nipped by a nose in the Echo Eddie Stakes last month. It would seem, however, that Tiz a Minister need only run back to his close third-place finish to Hear the Ghost and Flashback in the San Felipe Stakes to get the job done. Both of those colts were headed to the Kentucky Derby before minor injuries put them on the shelf.

Of equal interest on Saturday will be the $125,000 B. Thoughtful Stakes, to be run at 7 1/2 furlongs on the main track. That puts the starting gate all the way to the back of the backstretch chute, with only a narrow perimeter road and a chain link fence separating the 11 fillies and mares in the B. Thoughtful from the unsuspecting public rushing past on Century Boulevard.

The race is deep at the top, featuring the multiple stakes winner Teddy’s Promise and the consistent Sugarinthemorning, who came within a neck of winning the 2012 Santa Monica Stakes when it was rated Grade 1. For 2013 the same race was demoted to Grade 2, which should have meant it was easier to win, but don’t try telling that to Sugarinthemorning. Teddy’s Promise beat her by three lengths.

Those two – and for that matter all the rest – will be chasing the enigmatic filly named Ismene. Pronounce it however you like, but defer to Greek classicists, since Ismene was the more circumspect sister of the vengeful Antigone and both were daughters of Oedipus. Ismene’s mother was also her grandmother, which, like, ick, so let’s not go there.

The family of Ismene the racehorse (try “IZ-muh-nee”) is much more wholesome. In fact, it’s golden.

Start with Careless Notion, a foal of 1970 and daughter of the Tom Fool stallion Jester. Bred to Somethingfabulous, Secretariat’s brother, not only do you get Fabulous Notion, winner of the Hollywood Starlet and Santa Susana (now Santa Anita Oaks), but when bred to Alydar out comes Cacoethes, winner of Belmont’s Turf Classic and second in England’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes and the Juddmonte International.

Careless Virgin, also a daughter of Careless Notion, was the granddam of Island Jamboree, whose British daughter Fiji came to these shores to be the female turf champion of 1998. Then Fiji had a younger half-sister named Java, and Java in turn delivered a War Pass foal in 2010 who these days does business as Java’s War, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes and bound headlong for next week’s Derby.

Ismene enters the picture through her dam, Never In Excess, a granddaughter of Careless Notion. She was bred by and races for Stephen Ferraro, a breeder, bloodstock agent, and former trainer who was smart enough to turn the filly over to Bill Spawr.

“It’s been a wonderful family for so long,” said Ferraro, who bought Ismene’s dam from leading California breeder John Harris. “And she’s made it all very exciting.”

The filly has, however, required patience. After sweeping through her first three starts without a defeat and earning the title of Cal-bred 2-year-old filly champ of 2011, Ismene chipped a knee and missed the first half of 2012.

“The chip was very minor, and it’s a non-issue,” Ferraro said. “We had her back in training last spring at Hollywood Park and she came up a little off behind. It was mild, and nothing showed up on the X-rays, so we turned her out for the summer. That’s why it took so long to get her back.”

Ismene and her unbeaten record returned in an allowance race on a sealed, wet-fast track at Santa Anita in January. Once Mike Smith realized she loathed the going he took hold and brought her safely home a well-beaten fifth. Spawr and Ferraro went back to the drawing board.

“I started training her on the Santa Anita training track,” Spawr said. “There was just too much sand for her in the main track. She’s got a long stride and she was slipping. It’s tough to do all you need to do on the training track, so she might have been a little short for her last race. But I still think she ran pretty good.”

She did, in fact, run well when second in the Irish O’Brien Stakes on St. Paddy’s Day in her first try on grass. Ismene will be trying the Hollywood Park synthetic surface for the first time in the B. Thoughtful. Rafael Bejarano replaces Smith, who’s on the road.

“I’ve had her at Hollywood a couple weeks now and she’s been handling the track real well,” Spawr said. “In fact I breezed her last Sunday morning. It was first thing after the track opened and pretty foggy, but what I could see of it was a good work. We’re taking her blinkers off for this one, hoping she’ll relax a little. Even so, I’m not sure there’s anything in there that can go with her early. The way she acts right now is as good as she ever has. But before I say she’s back to where she was before she got hurt, I’d rather wait and see how she runs.”