01/09/2009 12:00AM

Toussaud, majestic and moody, was a true star


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Toussaud was so much more than a Broodmare of the Year. She had the elegance and charisma of a model and the personality of a movie star. And nobody, from trainer Bobby Frankel to her guardians at Juddmonte Farm - yes, nobody - ever said she was boring.

From her strongly personal ideas of what constituted a proper gallop to her unwillingness to settle into a life as a frumpy broodmare, Toussaud kept everyone's attention and held it with the touch of grace that compelled us all to recognize that she was a star.

I can remember the first time I met at her barn on Juddmonte Farm outside Lexington. At the time, she had been represented by only two of her five stakes winners, and Toussaud was as lean and wide-eyed as a model off the runway. Remarkably calm and self-possessed, the grand mare posed in the shady and cool space of her barn and from time to time looked around to make sure that her companion, the goat Liz, was not far away.

The lovely mare had been afflicted with laminitis early in her career as a producer, and to help keep her comfortable, she was kept shod, provided with quiet quarters, kept out of the worst rigors of the weather, and given a companion so that she wouldn't fret for company.

"Toussaud's barn was a regular barn before," said Juddmonte farm manager Garrett O'Rourke, "but after she had her problems, we enclosed a whole section of it, made two double-sized stalls for her, put in padded floors, air conditioning, and heating, and it has developed into our hospital barn now. It was renovated specifically for her and was paid for by her and her offspring."

That first visit to her barn was a revelation about Toussaud's place in the universe and about the things that made her special.

She was, for starters, a very particular mare even at Juddmonte, which houses literally dozens of top-flight race winners and producers. Even among the likes of Slightly Dangerous, Jolypha, Skimble, Dokki, Razyana, and other magnificent mares, Toussaud stood out.

Surely that is how she was on the racetrack, as well, because Frankel allowed her to lead her own training preparation, and perhaps his adaptability allowed her to relax, be happier, and therefore be a better racehorse, because she flourished under his care, winning the Gamely, Wilshire, and American handicaps.

The trademark of her best efforts was a stunning burst of speed, and this she inherited from her famous sire, the Northern Dancer champion and classic winner El Gran Senor. Once beaten during his career as the best juvenile and best miler in Europe in 1983 and 1984, El Gran Senor had the natural finesse and vigor to flatten his opponents with a late quarter-mile burst and make it look rather easy.

This ability he passed along to Toussaud, as well as his outstanding physique, with exceptional length of body and great length of hip allied with quality. One was masculine and the other quite feminine, but neither could be mistaken for a duffer, even in the dark.

If it sounds as though something more than hooves and hair, muscles and blood, made her a top racehorse and broodmare, I would say that is true. The ineffable, the essence that we cannot quite see but can only sense, was at the core of her excellence.

Toussaud could do the unexpected, but it was never out of character.

"Her second goat, Chloe, broke a leg jumping a fence," O'Rourke recalled. "And after she came back from the vet, Toussaud stood over her like a newborn foal. Then, once the goat was up and skipping around again, Toussaud went back to eating her hay. Chloe may have kept Toussaud young for a few more years."

O'Rourke added, "When Toussaud was called temperamental, people assumed she was mean, but there wasn't a mean bone in her body. She was just stubborn, and we learned that we had to work around her needs. She was so talented and her descendants are so talented that you've no choice but to do it their way. They reward you, and for whatever headaches she might have given us, she rewarded us tenfold."

When Toussaud died earlier this week, the sport lost more than a great broodmare. We all lost a special creature who embodied the spirit of joy and individuality that makes racing and breeding Thoroughbreds such a wondrous adventure.