Who are the best mares of recent times on and off the track?

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May 19th, 2021

One of the old adages in breeding racehorses is to breed the best to the best and hope for the best. Rarely do those hopes fly higher than when a top-class broodmare goes off to the breeding shed. Though not every great racemare produces horses as excellent on the track as she was, some leave an even deeper impression on future generations.

Let's look at some of the best of the best of recent times — mares who were either Grade or Group 1 winners, or multiple graded stakes winners, who have gone on to produce one or more generations of stars.

Then, it's your turn to decide who is the best!

Lady Shirl

Lady Shirl started her career as a nice Illinois-bred, a stakes-quality horse in Chicago at ages two and three, but went on to make her mark on a wider stage as she got older.

She won the Modesty S. (G3), the E. P. Taylor S. (G1), and the Flower Bowl H. (G1) in 1991 at age four, and also finished third in the E. P. Taylor at age six.

She produced seven winners from eight starters, including four stakes winners. Her son Shakespeare was a multiple Grade 1 winner and sire. Her daughter, Perfect Shirl, won the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1) and produced graded stakes winner Speight's Shirl. Lady Shirl's daughter Lady Shakespeare, herself a multiple graded stakes winner in 2010, produced the 2020 Natalma (G1) winner Lady Speightspeare.

Lemons Forever

At 47-1, off of a third-place finish in the Bourbonette Oaks (G3), Lemons Forever shocked the 2006 Kentucky Oaks (G1).

She garnered one more graded placing in her career, though her only win after the lilies came in an allowance at Churchill at age four.

However, her broodmare career has been very strong. She produced Unbridled Forever, who placed in multiple graded stakes at three (including a third in the 2014 Kentucky Oaks), then won 2015 Ballerina S. (G1) at age four. Forever Unbridled was even better, with four top-level wins, including the 2017 Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1).

Though it remains to be seen what more of her foals do, and how her daughters and perhaps even sons do at stud in future generations, Lemons Forever found a way to prove she wasn't just a longshot, but a mare of lasting importance.

Mariah's Storm

Mariah's Storm was a tough racemare and a broodmare of transatlantic importance.

She was one of the rare horses who came back from a serious injury to recapture top form. She won the Arlington-Washington Lassie S. (G2) at two, spent nine months recovering from a fractured cannon bone, and won five more graded stakes at ages three and four.

In the breeding shed, she produced European Horse of the Year and top-level sire Giant's Causeway, as well as his full brother Freud, who was only G2-placed on the track but has long been a top New York sire. Her daughter You'resothrilling, a multiple group stakes winner, has seven foals and all have won or placed in stakes company, including Group 1 winners Gleneagles, Marvellous, and Happily, as well as Joan of Arc, who won this year's Irish 1,000 Guineas Trial earlier this month.

Take Charge Lady

You see the words "Take Charge" in a lot of horse names nowadays, and there's a very good reason for that — Take Charge Lady.

A precocious filly, she won the Alcibiades S. (G2) at two and continued to shine in graded stakes at ages three and four, including wins the Spinster S. (G1) in both 2002 and 2003.

She was even better as a broodmare. From 10 foals, she has eight winners, including three stakes winners — multiple Grade 1 winner and sire Will Take Charge, Grade 1 winner and sire Take Charge Indy, and 2021 Santa Margarita (G2) victress As Time Goes By. Her daughter Charming produced champion Take Charge Brandi and multiple Grade 1 winner Omaha Beach.

Urban Sea

Urban Sea was a very good racemare of the early 1990s.

She was good at age three but even better at four, when she won three group stakes, including an upset victory in the 1993 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1).

But the daughter of Miswaki became a superstar in the breeding shed. Eight of her nine starters were winners, and all eight were stakes winners. Her son Galileo won six times, including the Epsom Derby (G1) and the Irish Derby (G1), and remains an international super-sire. Her son Sea the Stars won eight times, including the Epsom Derby and the Arc, and is an important sire, as well.

She has been important for long enough that 2018 Epsom Derby winner Masar has two lines of Urban Sea. He is by Galileo son New Approach, out of Khawlah, a granddaughter of Melikah, who was out of Urban Sea.

Who is the best mare of recent times on and off the track?

Looking back at last week's poll, we asked you the most surprising Preakness winner of all time. It was a close call, but the odds have it! Master Derby is the longest shot in Preakness history, and with 32% of the vote, he prevailed as your biggest surprise. Though, with 27% of the vote, many of you are still scratching your heads over Bee Bee Bee's triumph!