Neat Update: Keeneland September Memory: Purim’s Dancer Was a Runner / Now She Is Trying To Make Them

An Update to Our Story:

Earlier today, May Y. sent an email in response to this story over at That site regularly carries some of our original material. In short, Mary Y. bet on Purim’s Dance in the Wishing Well Stakes at Santa Anita in 2013, and still had the original Pick 3 ticket to prove it.

What a nice email, that truly made our day. Thanks, Mary Y. (Go over to HorseRacingNation to take a look. Sweet.)

(Hip 319 — a colt by Distorted Humor — was readied for sale at Keeneland on Tuesday / Photo By Gene McLean)

Went over to one of my favorite places on Earth this Tuesday — historic and beautiful Keeneland Race Course.

The legendary track, nestled right in the heart of the Bluegrass, wasn’t conducting live racing, mind you. But it didn’t matter. The heart was racing. The minds were racing. The emotions were racing. And, the place was bustling.

Crowds of people surrounded crowds of horses. Horses surrounded the barns and the outside walking rings. It was time for the annual Keeneland September Yearling Sale. And, it was time for some of the best and brightest in the entire Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry to congregate.

The breeders’ were there for their annual farmer’s market. It was time for them to parade the best of their wares. It was time for them to hawk their latest and greatest thing on four legs. It was time for them to sell.

The buyers were there for their annual buying spree. It was time for them to dig through the catalogues, and their pocketbooks to see if the two could marry up on just who they could afford to buy and not afford to ignore. It was their time to add to their horse rosters with some of the best youngsters that both money and ego could buy.

And, it didn’t take long to see both the beautiful horses and the beautiful people.

Early in the proceedings, Hip 291 — a bay colt by the great War Front — was led into the Keeneland Sales Pavilion with some degree of hype. It didn’t take long for the February foal to warm up the crowd and the tote board. And, prove that he was ripe.

When all was said and done, the colt — a first foal from a winning Lookin At Lucky mare — was sold for $1.2 million to the Shadwell Estate Company, Ltd.

Not bad.

Awhile later, Hip 306, a beautiful, sparkling red-headed chestnut filly by the great Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was escorted into the world’s most prestigious sales ring. The young filly came into the arena with some good advertising and advance billing.

After all, her half-brother Cupid — a son of the great Tapit — piled up a lot of purse money and credentials by winning both $1.7 million and the like of the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita; the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park; the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby and the Grade 2 Indiana Derby.

When the dust and the sales hammer had finally settled on the auctioneer’s desk, the filly and been sold for another tidy sum of $1.2 million to M.V. Magnier — of the Coolmore Farm and Ashford Stud fame.

Not bad.

(Hip 319, a son of Purim’s Dancer / Photo by Gene McLean)

But I had not come to Lexington on Tuesday to see either one of these masterpieces sold. I had come to Lexington to see Hip 319. I had driven over an hour from my home in Louisville to see the yearling son of one of my favorite horses of all time. I had travelled to watch a May foal by Distorted Humor that just so happens to have a mother by the name of Purim’s Dancer.

It was like going to see a long lost member of the family come back home for a surprise visit. It was, for me, a family reunion of some sorts.

Purim’s Dancer, you see, is a mare that a group of “dreamers” bought and hoped would turn into a good runner. Lucky for us, she turned into so much more.

She turned into a Stakes winner at Santa Anita. She turned into a filly that would run third in two Graded Stakes races. She turned into a filly — standing all of 15 hands, on a good day — that took on and ran the guts out of the great Mizdirection, a two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner. Despite the fact that Mizdirection could have easily stepped over our horse, our little filly had a fight inside her that mattered more than size of the body. She had a heart and soul that rivaled any.

She turned into one of the loves of my life.

I can still remember standing in the box seats at Santa Anita — along with trainer Tom Proctor, co-owner Corey Johnsen, and my beautiful wife Leigh Ann — and rooting like a crazy man as the little filly flew down the hillside course; cut inside the dirt crossover; and then powered through a hole along the rail to win the Wishing Well Stakes at “The Great Race Place.” That was Feb. 10 — just a day before my birthday — inn the year of 2013.

I can still feel the goose bumps as I held that mammoth bottle of Grey Goose vodka that Santa Anita officials gave us as part of the winner’s trophy presentation.

I can still feel the shake of jockey Gary Stevens hand, as the Hall of Famer told us “thanks” for giving him the opportunity to ride her. Are you kidding me? The best rider to ever throw a leg over a Thoroughbred was thanking us? Truthfully, I wanted to ask him for his autograph and a photo op.

And, I can still remember the interview with the on-site television crew and looking to see my ugly mug appearing on that giant screen TV in the infield after the race. Don’t remember what meaningless words I mumbled. That doesn’t matter. But I remember the feeling. That still matters. To this very day.

I can still remember, too, walking into the paddock for the Sen. Ken Maddy Stakes at Santa Anita on Breeders’ Cup Day in November of 2013. It was the last race before the Breeders’ Cup on that beautiful Saturday in November. The world’s audience was already assembling to see the Breeders’ Cup races to come. The paddock was stacked with illuminates and stars. The fans were packed to the gills. And, a couple of my buddies from Vegas had made the trip to see our filly, too.

There were so many people moving and pushing around you couldn’t even see our little filly in the midst of the action. Not until she pushed her little head over the audience, as if to say, “Excuse me. I have a job to do here.”

She ran fifth that day, with Johnny Velazquez in the saddle for the first time. (Stevens rode another one of Proctor’s horses that day and finished just ahead of us.) It just wasn’t our day.

(A picture of me feeding Purim’s Dancer an apple after her run at Santa Anita in the Ken Maddy Stakes hangs in my office to this very day / Photo by Gene McLean)

As soon as the race was over, Leigh Ann and I headed to the backside to check her out. That day, while the world readied for the Breeders’ Cup, Leigh and I stood there on the Santa Anita backside, far from the excitement and hysteria, and fed her an apple. It was her normal post-race snack. And, she loved them. Not as much as winning, mind you. But she loved them.

On the day before she raced, little Purim’s Dancer would go to her respected corner in the back of the stall and was not to be bothered. Ears pinned. Mind focused. She knew what she was there to do. And, socializing was not part of the program.

The minute after the race, though, little Purim’s Dancer was a lovable beauty. She would share kisses, if not her peppermints and apples. She would love hugs and rubs. She was yours. All yours.

And, to me and LA, the Breeders’ Cup races suddenly meant very little. Our little filly, though, meant a lot.

Purim’s Dancer would come back to run third in the G2 Monrovia Stakes in January of 2014, and then we ran fourth in the 2014 version of the Wishing Well. Immediately following that race, though, it was discovered that Purim’s Dancer had sustained a chip bone in her knee. And, a bit later, we determined that her race career was over.

At the 2010 Keeneland September Sales, we purchased Purim’s Dancer for the sum of $12,000. When her race career was over in the Winter of 2014, one of pure discontent, she had earned over $211,000.

Now, that’s not bad. Not for a bunch of “dreamers.”

After her injury, we bred Purim’s Dancer to Kentucky Derby winner Orb. She quickly got in foal, and in the November of 2014 we sold the filly — expecting her first foal — for $190,000 to the dynamic ownership team of Gary and Mary West.

It was a sad day, for sure. But it was a good day, too. Purim’s Dancer was going to a great home. It was a great start to a whole new career. And, I knew I would always keep up with her.

While her first foal — that colt by Orb, who is now named Speed Freak — has yet to make his first start, I keep up with the family. Not every day, mind you. But regularly.

On Tuesday, Purim’s Dancer had her third foal go through the sales ring at Keeneland. He is a May 16 foal, and still has some growing to do. After all, he is a bit like his mother and a tad under-sized. But if he is anything like his mom, he, too, will be a fighter. And, I hope, a real runner.

He was purchased for $60,000 by Margaret O’Toole. I don’t know her, but one of my other partners — Lenny Kohn — told me late Tuesday night that the new owner may plan to ship the colt to Europe for his raising, and, eventual running. God bless both owner and colt. I hope they both have as much fun as we did.

We will be rooting. We will be following. We will be cheering. After all, the Distorted Humor colt is part of the family, right?

For now, and ever more, though, Purim’s Dancer will always be remembered in the McLean household. Always. And, if I need a reminder, her halter hangs right by my office door. Each and every day, I walk in and do some work. On my exit out the door, I always stop long enough to tap that box frame three times.

(I will have to tell you why three is the magic number at another time. But it is significant to us McLeans, as well.)

I like to think that little ritual brings me luck. Don’t know if it does or not. But it doesn’t matter. That little filly does bring me great memories. And, today, I got to relive another one.












The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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