10/07/2008 12:00AM

Princess Rooney dies at 28


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Hall of Famer and champion Princess Rooney, winner of the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 1984, died Tuesday at age 28.

The gray mare was euthanized at Gentry Brothers Farm in Lexington due to complications from equine protozoal myelitis. Veterinarians had diagnosed her with EPM in August, according to Gentry Brothers Farm manager Matt Howard.

Princess Rooney, a daughter of Verbatim and the Drone mare Parrish Princess, had been pensioned at Gentry Brothers since 2006. Her last foal, a Chester House colt named House of Words, was born in 2004; he is a winner this year at age 4.

“We’ve always had her babysit the fillies after we wean them,” Howard said. “We’d stick them out in the field with her, and she always kind of adopted them until they became yearlings and we shipped them off for training. She was one of the most level-headed mares I’ve ever dealt with. She was always easy to deal with, and I’d love for that to have rubbed off on those fillies. You could walk up to her and call her name and she’d walk up to you. She was just a remarkable horse and a joy to be around. I know she’ll be missed, not just by me, but by all the guys who work on the farm and the fans who used to come visit her.”

Dr. Ben Roach and his son Tom at Parrish Hill Farm bred Princess Rooney. Paula Tucker bought her as a yearling for $38,000 at the 1981 Fasig-Tipton July sale and quickly found she had a treasure. In her first season at the track, Princess Rooney was undefeated in six starts, winning by margins from three to 18 lengths. Her first Grade 1 win, in the Frizette, was by eight lengths.

Princess Rooney extended her streak at 3, winning four more times (including the Kentucky Oaks and Grade 2 Ashland Stakes) before finally finishing second to Ski Goggle in the Acorn. She later was thought to have sustained a hairline fracture in her left knee, and trainer Frank Gomez sidelined her.

Seven months later, she returned to a new trainer, Joe Pierce Jr., and lost her first two races back. Transferred again to Neil Drysdale, she went on to win six of her eight remaining career races, including the Grade 1 Vanity Invitational, Spinster Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She retired after the Breeders’ Cup win with 17 wins from 21 starts, 2 seconds, and 1 third. Her earnings stood at $1,343,339.

Princess Rooney was the first Breeders’ Cup winner inducted into the Hall of Fame, in 1991.

In foal to Danzig, she sold for $5.5 million to George Aubin at the 1985 Keeneland November sale. Current owner Robert Gentry bought her in foal to Deputy Minister for $130,000 at the sale a decade later.

Princess Rooney produced only one stakes performer, the stakes-placed Woodman filly Lady in Waiting.

Princess Rooney has been cremated, and interment plans are pending.