Friday, January 21, 2011

Are There Sugar Cubes in Heaven?

Thoroughbred Times editor Mark Simon knew of my fascination with all things Nureyev when I interned at the newsmagazine for a summer in 1994. It was kind of hard not to know; I had photos of his progeny taped to the wall behind my desk, including one of a foal, captioned, “Nureyev’s newest stakes winner.” That one raised a few eyebrows in the office, as the filly in question was only a couple of months old. (She never fulfilled my prophecy but she did place second in a Group 3 race in France and is the dam of a stakes winner.)

One day Mark said, matter-of-factly, “I can arrange for you to meet Miesque, if you want.”

Miesque. Did I want to meet Miesque? That was like asking an actor if he wanted to meet Brando.

I recalled an article published during Miesque’s racing days that said something to the effect of: there was no superlative adequate enough to describe her, that the word “miesque” would have to be added to the dictionary for that purpose. That is to say, that the filly was not merely magnificent, she was miesque. Mark called Lane’s End - Oak Tree division manager Callan Strouss and scheduled my appointment while I held my breath.

Miesque and her Mr. Prospector filly were turned out in a small paddock. She was initially interested in me before changing her mind and wandering off to graze. The foal was more attentive than her dam had been, in that curious, in-your-face way that made it hard to get photos. I was disappointed in the pictures but...I had met Miesque, what else mattered beyond that, really?!
Miesque on July 23, 1994.
Later I came to know Callan through my association with Nureyev at Walmac Int’l. He appreciated my fondness for the great mare, and I was fortunate enough to get to visit Miesque a few times throughout the years. I soon learned that her quick dismissal of me at our first meeting was because I had made the very amateur mistake of not bringing her a sugary gift, which she would have been expecting.

Miesque was a fiend for sugar cubes. When she’d see or hear her sugar tin, shed spring to life and follow you around, attacking you with her tongue until she got what she wanted. And then she wanted more. It was hard to say no to Miesque, and even after bidding farewell with the gate closed behind me I always caved in to give her “just one more!” between the fence boards, while secretly thinking I really ought to make an escape before the sugar rush kicked in.

Miesque, my favorite racehorse (along with select few others), was small and slight; if you hadn’t seen her turn of foot for yourself (or in my case on TV) you’d never believe how powerful she was. She was a homebred for Stavros Niarchos’ Flaxman Holdings, which is now managed by the Niarchos Family. Niarchos had raced both Nureyev and the Listed-winning Prove Out mare Pasadoble, who often acted as pacemaker for the French Classic winner River Lady. Foaled on March 14, 1984, Miesque was the first of six foals by Nureyev out of Pasadoble: there was also Listed winner/stakes producer Massaraat, Group 1-placed Siam, and the unraced stakes producer Bravemie. (As a sidenote, Pasadoble’s 1993 Riverman filly Yogya produced 2003 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Six Perfections.)

Here is a link to Miesque’s pedigree and race details. North American readers know her primarily for her consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile victories, but Francois Boutin also trained her to two Classic wins in Europe, and she beat males in the Prix Jacques le Marois (twice), Prix de la Salamandre (at two), and the Prix du Moulin in addition to her Breeders’ Cups. The opening lines of her race record read like this: 1986 - champion 2-year-old in France; 1987 - champion 3-year-old filly in France, champion 3-year-old filly in England, champion miler in France, champion miler in England, champion turf mare (in U.S.); 1988 - champion older mare in France, co-champion miler in France, champion turf mare (in U.S.).

Surprisingly for a racemare of her caliber, Miesque was an outstanding broodmare. Her first four foals were stakes winners: French Classic winner Kingmambo (by Mr. Prospector), a leading international sire; French Classic winner and highweight East of the Moon (by Private Account), a graded stakes producer; Group 3 winner Miesque’s Son (by Mr. Prospector); and Moon is Up (by Woodman). Her fifth foal was Monevassia, the filly I met in 1994. She is the dam of European champion Rumplestiltskin. Also among Miesque’s 14 foals are Group 3 winner and sire Mingun (by A.P. Indy) and stakes-placed Inventing Paradise (by Mr. Prospector).

Whenever I ran into Callan I’d ask how “she” was doing. I never had to specify who “she” was, not just because he knew me but because, who else? I tried to see her at least once a year. If I was having a bad week, there was nothing that would cheer me up faster than being drooled on by Miesque and laughing with my friend Shana (Callan’s executive assistant) at how the mare would paw impatiently then knock us over to get to her sugar, with such an expression on her face. Now, every time I see a cube of sugar, I think of Miesque.

Her last foal was born in 2005, after which Miesque contentedly lived out her final years in a field with other pensioned broodmares, lovingly looked after by her longtime groom Wayne. She greeted her human visitors in a cozy winter blanket or fly mask, depending on the season, but always with pricked ears and wagging tongue diving after the treats she knew she deserved. And so it was until the day Miesque died peacefully, aged 27, on January 20th, 2011.

I know my friends at Oak Tree, in particular, will feel her loss.

But more importantly, since I heard the news of her passing I’ve been wondering: are there sugar cubes in heaven?

August, 2010. One of the last photos I took of Miesque...and her beloved sugar tin.


  1. Awesome post Frances! Thanks for sharing...

  2. What a lovely tribute. I loved her too. I have one of her shoes. I didn't know much about her broodmare days, thanks. And I believe that heaven is paved with sugar cubes for her.

  3. Dammit Frances, I'm crying again. Sorry for your loss. Envious of your memories.

  4. Frances,

    This is great! The personality and spirit of the great mare and her great admirer come through with such gusto.

    I met her only once, when she dissed me upon finding that I too was a slacker without sugar. (Actually was at Oak Tree to inspect another mare in her paddock.) But this post is a great reminder of the chance encounter with Miesque that was so pleasant for me.

    All the best,

  5. Thanks as always Mark :)

    Is it a racing plate, Fran?

    And Liz, join the club. It's been a sad day indeed.

    Frank, you win RRS Supporter of the Year award. (SHF is biased and therefore not eligible.) And I'm glad you, too, got to meet the lovely Miesque, even though you got burned for not paying proper homage to Her Majesty. I'm sorry it didn't go better but I also find it a little amusing!

  6. Lovely recollections, Frances. Miesque was on the scene long before I was paying attention to racing, and she's one of the ones I'm sorry to have missed.

  7. So well written Frances. Such a wonderful tribute to an outstanding mare. The farm won't be the same without her in the paddock.

  8. MIESQUE was poetry in motion and your post was equally graceful.

    There are more cubes there than she'll know what to do with.

  9. re your response to Frank, I'm just a fan, Frances. Not biased. Maybe a bit :)