Sunday, July 15, 2012

Grace At the Top

Grace Hall arriving at Churchill Downs in May, 2012
When Grace Hall won the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park on July 14th, she became a millionaire (with $1,140,000 in earnings, to be precise) -- something her illustrious third dam, Life At the Top, fell less than $11,000 from accomplishing herself.

Bred by Eaton Farms Inc., Red Bull Stable, and Seminole Syndicate, Life At the Top was sold to D. Wayne Lukas for $800,000 at the 1984 Keeneland July select yearling sale. Her hammer price was the median marker for sire Seattle Slew’s 17 yearlings to sell that year. Though judged just an average Seattle Slew by the marketplace, she turned out to be the only Grade 1 winner in his fourth crop of foals.

Seattle Slew, sire of Life At the Top.
Not to be confused with the Group 3-winning British-bred Life At the Top (a foal of 1986, by Habitat) or Listed-winning New Zealand-bred Life At the Top (foal of 1984, by Prince Echo), Life At the Top was produced from the Riva Ridge mare See You At the Top, a winning half-sister to Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Bold Forbes. The bay filly was raced by L.R. French and Barry Beal, who had co-owned Seattle Slew’s first crop champion Landaluce. Life At the Top finished second at Hollywood Park in July of her two-year-old season prior to winning a maiden special weight and placing second in the Sorrento Stakes, both in August at Del Mar.

Life At the Top
She was away for the remainder of her juvenile year but came back to race 18 times as a sophomore in 1986, when she compiled a record of six wins, five seconds, and four thirds -- and this while racing from January 5th through November 29th. Life At the Top won the Mother Goose Stakes-G1, Ladies Handicap-G1, Long Look Handicap-G2, Las Virgenes Stakes-G3, and Rare Perfume Stakes-G3, placed second in the Kentucky Oaks-G1, Coaching Club American Oaks-G1, Gazelle Handicap-G1, Cotillion Handicap-G3, and Pasadena Stake, and third in the Alabama Stakes, Acorn Stakes, Spinster Stakes -- all three Grade 1 races -- and the Grade 3 Santa Ynez Stakes. Fourth also in the Monmouth Oaks-G1 and Fair Grounds Oaks-G3, she was a finalist for the three-year-old filly Eclipse Award but lost out to six-for-six Tiffany Lass (Melair was second in the voting; Life At the Top was co-third with Classy Cathy). Tiffany Lass had defeated the pacesetting Life At the Top by a head, with champion two-year-old filly Family Style a neck behind in third, in a four-horse photo in the Kentucky Oaks. Ironically, Tiffany Lass was the best foal sired by Life At the Tops relative Bold Forbes.

Returning at four, Life At the Top made six starts, winning the Rampart Handicap-G3 and the Shirley Jones Handicap, and was retired after a seventh-place run in Grade 1 Top Flight Handicap on April 26, 1987. She earned $989,504, with a career record of 27-9-6-5; she was worse than fourth only three times and won stakes from seven to ten furlongs.

Put through Fasig-Tipton’s 1987 Night of the Stars sale as a broodmare prospect, she was signed over to Lee Eaton, agent, and a year later Joe Allbrittons Lazy Lane Farms paid $1.9 million for her in foal to Mr. Prospector at the Keeneland November sale.

Life At the Top produced eight foals, all fillies, before her death at Lazy Lane in Virginia in 2002:

~1989 Dream Season (f. by Mr. Prospector). $900,000 yearling; unraced.
~1990 ELIZABETH BAY (f. by Mr. Prospector). $1 million yearling; Group 3 stakes winner; stakes producer.
~1991 Cracovienne (f. by Danzig). Unraced.
~1993 Gingerbread Feast (f. by Hansel). Stakes-placed winner.
~1994 Dorcinea (f. by Nureyev). $600,000 yearling; winner; stakes producer.
~1997 Silver Top Hat (f. by Silver Hawk) Unplaced.
~1998 Life in Seattle (f. by Unbridled). Winner; stakes producer.
~2001 Tash Dash (f. by Coronado’s Quest). Unplaced.

Ten-year-old Life At the Top nursing her Hansel filly, Gingerbread Feast.
Elizabeth Bay was the best broodmare of Life At the Top’s daughters, foaling Grade 3 winner Bayeux, Listed winner Colonial, and stakes-placed Katoomba. Her Danzig daughter Dunnes River had three stakes winners: Cutlass Bay-G1, Boscobel-G2, and Crested.

But Grace Hall’s granddam Dream Season didn’t fare too poorly in the breeding shed herself. From three foals to race, she had three stakes horses: Listed winner Seasons Greetings (Ire) and the stakes-placed duo of Legend of Spring (GB) and Deep Space.

Grace Hall, by Empire Maker and bred by Darley, is the fifth foal of Seasons Greetings (by Ezzoud). Trainer Tony Dutrow bought her for $95,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, a price well below Empire Maker’s 2010 yearling average of $182,000 and median of $140,000. But like her great-granddam, she’s proven to be one of the best of her sire’s crop -- Bodemeister is, so far, Empire Maker’s only other Grade 1 winner foaled in 2009.

To date, Grace Hall has made eight starts -- in contrast to Life At the Top, who had started 12 times by July 6th of her three-year-old season -- with five wins, two seconds, and a third, counting the Spinaway Stakes-G1, Gulfstream Oaks-G2, Delaware Oaks-G2, and Blue Hen Stakes among her wins for owners Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stable, and The Elkstone Group. She lost out on the two-year-old championship to My Miss Aurelia, who handed her her only juvenile defeat, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes-G1. In addition to her two wins in 2012, Grace Hall was second in the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes and third -- one place farther back then her third dam -- in the Kentucky Oaks-G1. Along with Oaks winner Believe You Can, she is currently at the top of the three-year-old filly division.

Grace Hall is inbred 3x4 to the full siblings El Gran Senor (broodmare sire of Empire Maker) and Try My Best (sire of Ezzoud), European champion sons of Northern Dancer and Sex Appeal, a pattern (at 4x2 to Try My Best on top and El Gran Senor on the bottom) that also yielded Ramonti, winner of Group 1 races in England, Hong Kong, and Italy. Chinchon (Ire), a G1 winner in the U.S. and Hong Kong, is bred on a similar angle, 3x3 to Try My Best and Northern Prancer (a full sister to El Gran Senor/Try My Best).

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