Dubai: Can a top-class girl beat top-class boys... it can happen. But in the 23-year history of the Dubai World Cup (Group 1) very few have tried and none have succeeded. Yet, though in 2001, Japan’s To The Victory made a valiant attempt to lead all the way only to be swallowed up in the final 200 metres by the Bob Baffert-trained Captain Steve, ridden by Jerry Baily.
However, there is a trainer in Louisiana who knows a thing or two about running fillies against their male colleagues. For as a very young man back in 1988 he was the exercise rider for the D. Wayne Lukas [aka-The Coach] trained filly Winning Colors who achieved what only two other fillies in the 142 year history of the Kentucky Derby have done — win.
Dallas Stewart had also been the morning rider for 1986 US Horse of The Year, also a filly, Lady’s Secret, who was the winner of 11 Grade 1 races and earned the nickname, The Iron Lady for her toughness. So had begun this passionate man’s affinity with the equine ladies.
Stewart is the by-product of a very strong woman who reared three children as a single mom while working as a dedicated surgical nurse. As much as she wished he would get a solid education, her outgoing son had other ideas. At just fifteen years old he was earning his keep as an exercise rider, all the while studying and absorbing knowledge about the animals who would be his life.
Stewart recalled: “ When I was growing up I rode in the local neighbourhood and we started taking horses to bush races and minor tracks and that’s the way I got started in races. I fell in love with the horses.”
She’s an extraordinary athlete with a lot of energy when she trains. She eats well and has a great temperament. She looks great and I feel we’re on track.”
- Dallas Stewart » Trainer
Stewart formed what was to become a lifelong friendship with Hall of Fame jockey Randy Romero and combined his morning riding duties with working as Romero’s Valet in the afternoon.
With his charismatic, enthusiastic persona he soon found his niche in life when he went to work for one of the greatest US trainers of all time, D. Wayne Lukas, who during Stewart’s watch won three Kentucky Derby’s, including with the aforementioned female — Winning Colors — plus six consecutive Triple Crown races,
Stewart says: “I started with Lukas when I was twenty six, there were so many good horses, it was pretty phenomenal. I stayed eleven years and left to go out on my own in 1997.”
With his blessing, some of ‘The Coach’s’ owners gave Stewart a helping hand to get him started and he won his first Stakes race, The Prairie Bayou with Rod and Staff that very year. Stewart very quickly established himself as a high calibre trainer and a popular employer with his special brand of infectious delight in his job.
At the Keeneland yearling sales in 2004, Stewart, along with a group of others, purchased a life-changing horse — a filly they would name Lemons Forever — for $140.000 (Dh514,220). So awesome was she that when the legendary Romero first breezed her, he reported back to Dallas saying, “You need to go buy her mother, father, sister, brother and all the family, she is very special.”
The intuitiveness of Romero was proved to be spot on when ‘Lemons’ won the 2006 Kentucky Oaks at exorbitant odds of 47-1. She then wrote the next chapter of Stewart’s story with her sale for $2.5 million to Diamond prospector Charles ‘Chuck’ Fipke who bred her to Unbridled Song to produce Unbridled Forever, winner of the 2015 Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes (trained, like mum, by Dallas Stewart).
Covered again by the same sire, Lemons then produced Forever Unbridled who has inherited her dam’s toughness on the track. She has won two Grade 3’s, a Grade 2 and four Grade 1’s.
The 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff was memorable for the epic stretch battle between Beholder and Songbird, the former getting her nose in front, but only a length-and-a-quarter behind them in third came Forever Unbridled, a particularly gallant effort as she subsequently had surgery to remove a bone chip.
She returned seven months later with a Grade 2 win at Churchill Downs [Fleur de Lis] and then followed up by taking the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, before adding the cream on top by claiming the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff — giving huge kudos to her trainer and his team.
Stewart’s admiration is very clear as he says: “She’s an extraordinary athlete with a lot of energy when she trains. She eats well and has a great temperament in the barn and she’s very aggressive on the track. She looks great and I feel we’re on track.
“The weather here in New Orleans is similar to Dubai right now. She will fly to Florida on the Monday, March 19, and on to Dubai the next day.”
Forever Unbridled will be partnered in Dubai by last year’s winning pilot, the evergreen super jock Mike Smith, who is not known for making mistakes when selecting his rides on the big occasions.
The lucky owner of this striking looking mare is no stranger to racing in Dubai as he has a couple of horses with our Champion Trainer Doug Watson.
Stewart speaks humbly of his gratitude in meeting Fipke after he purchased Lemons Forever and then sent him her progeny to train.
With a couple of Medaglia d’Oro youngsters in the wings, this is a story that has even more to give and the next instalment will be unveiled on Dubai World Cup night and Dallas Stewart, along with his wife Yvette, and sons Wesley and Cole, will be hoping it’s a Ladies Night.
— Jacquie Doyle is a former trainer and mother of leading jockeys, James and Sophie Doyle.