02/19/2008 12:00AM

Winning Colors dies; filly won 1988 Derby


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Champion Winning Colors, one of only three fillies ever to win the Kentucky Derby, died Sunday morning at Lexington's Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. The 23-year-old mare was euthanized due to complications from colic.

She was in foal to Mr. Greeley and also lost the foal.

In 1988, Winning Colors joined Regret (1915) and Genuine Risk (1980) as the only fillies to win the Kentucky Derby by defeating Forty Niner by a neck. She had come into the race off powerful front-running performances in the Santa Anita Oaks, which she won by eight lengths, and the Santa Anita Derby, which she took by 7 1/2 lengths. Ridden by Gary Stevens for owner Eugene Klein and trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the massive gray filly employed the same pacesetting strategy on Derby Day, giving her owner what he called "the greatest thrill in sports" and her trainer his first Derby victory after 12 tries.

"That's a special horse in our history and our legacy," said Lukas, who was assisted by his son Jeff when he trained Winning Colors. "She was the first one that kind of put us over the top, and started our Derby run. And I think she was the one probably kept Gene Klein interested all those years - his favorite and mine, and certainly Jeff's too. Of all the horses that we've had in our stable, and we've been blessed with some good ones, that was probably the one that was closest to Jeff."

Winning Colors could not duplicate her Derby effort two weeks later in the Preakness. Risen Star, third in the Derby, came back to win the Preakness after Winning Colors and Forty Niner engaged in a speed duel early in the race. Risen Star also defeated Winning Colors in the Belmont.

But Winning Colors clinched her reputation as one of the era's great racemares, putting in an epic performance against Personal Ensign in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Winning Colors had not scored since her Derby victory and was meeting an undefeated older runner in 4-year-old Personal Ensign. Sent to the lead once again, Winning Colors appeared to have the field in her pocket early on as Personal Ensign languished eight lengths back. But Personal Ensign came back, grinding down Winning Colors's lead in the stretch. The two battled to the wire, where Personal Ensign just got her nose in front to preserve her perfect career with 13 wins in 13 starts.

Winning Colors was voted the 1988 champion 3-year-old filly.

At 4, Winning Colors won 2 more times in 7 starts, first taking an allowance and then the Turfway Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap, a listed event. She ended her career finishing ninth in Bayakoa's 1989 Breeders' Cup Distaff, leaving the races with a lifetime record of 8 wins in 19 starts and $1,526,837 in earnings.

Winning Colors produced 10 foals, seven of whom started. Only one, the Mr. Prospector filly Golden Colors, earned black type, finishing second in Japan's Daily Hai Queen Cup.

Klein had purchased Winning Colors for $575,000 at the 1986 Keeneland July yearling sale, and he sold her for $4.1 million to Gainesway Bloodstock Services at Keeneland's 1989 November sale when he dispersed his bloodstock. Klein died the following March. Winning Colors went through the auction ring once more, at the 1994 Keeneland November sale. Offered in foal to Storm Cat, she brought $2 million from the British Bloodstock Agency (England), with Gainesway acting as agent. The Storm Cat filly, later named Stormin Winnie, never raced.

Winning Colors has been buried at Greentree Farm, a division of Gainesway, in Lexington. Regret is buried at Gainesway. The farm retains two daughters, an unnamed 2-year-old Orientate filly now training with Ron Stevens in South Carolina, and a yearling Mr. Greeley filly.

- additional reporting by Mary Rampellini