A filly escapes a fatal fire to be found running down the road only to win a Breeders’ Cup beating the boys
The little filly who could and would
Peter Miller With Belvoir Bay
At a time when troublesome news almost always fills what little mainstream media pages devote to the Sport of Kings, we have one of the best feel good stories ever to come along in the deep history of this game. Considering the long and storied deep history of this magnificent sport, that should not be a statement taken lightly.
Belvoir Bay, a diminutive mare in size, but not heart, beating the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is a racing story in itself. This is not just any mare however, this is a mare thought lost, only to be found running on the road in California after being turned loose to escape the dreadful San Luis Rey wildfire. This should be a mainstream news story. It should be an embraced tale. It should be remembered as a great moment in the Sport of Kings and apparently Queens.
How Belvoir Bay wound up in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, let alone winning it, is an example of the spirit of the thoroughbred. A spirit unrivaled.
This is a story about survival, love, victory, a fast horse and heart. It is not about the controversial trainer of Belvoir Bay, Peter Miller. Maybe the controversy that tends to surround Miller is prompting people to ignore the little filly that escaped a fire to win a Breeders’ Cup. Again this is not about him, it is about her. It is about the little filly that could and would. It is a story worth telling and remembering.
Back in 2015 Gary Barber thought his filly Belvoir Bay would like racing down the hill at Santa Anita after a poor showing going a mile for trainer Bill Mott in her US debut. She was sent to trainer Peter Miller with that in mind. Peter was there when she arrived and got off the van.
” I thought they brought the wrong horse. She was so small. She looked like a Shetland pony more than a racehorse. I asked is this the right horse? It was.”
“We wanted to run her down the hill at Santa Anita. She was training well, and I knew even though she was so small, she was a nice horse. There were no down the hill races for her. I wanted to run her as she was training so good so we ran her in a mile race. She drew off winning by about 7 lengths.”
Peter knew he had a runner, but now he had options with her. They were still anxious to see what she would do sprinting, specifically down the hill, but now there were other types of races they could look at. Belvoir Bay went on to win the grade 3 Torrey Pines on the main track and did indeed win her first try down the Santa Anita hill sprinting in the Unzip Me. The small filly did all they asked of her.
“Mentally she is great. She is smart and has a great attitude. She is great to train and be around and she has a lot of talent and a lot of heart. She seems to really enjoy what she does. After the Unzip me we knew she can do it all.”
Things were going great for Belvoir Bay in Peter Miller’s barn. She was stabled with his main string at San Luis Rey down near Del Mar. She was a proven stakes performer, and a horse with a lot of versatility. The worst and the best were still to come.
The day of the fire at San Luis Rey, Peter had some horses in at Los Alamitos. He left the training center for the long drive up at about 11am. The winds that day were blowing eastward which is more conducive to fires. Peter saw smoke as he drove away but it looked far from the barns so he was not too worried although he was concerned enough to put in a call to the training center to give them a heads up.
“As I was driving away I saw smoke in the distance. I didn’t think it would reach the barns. It looked pretty far away. I called to give them a heads up. I said I didn’t think it was close enough to reach the center. Those things can move fast though. The winds that day were perfect for a fire to spread quickly. I called my assistant. I told him about the fire. They could see it at that point also.”
A while later Peter got the call he did not want or expect to get. His assistant told him the fire had reached the facility. It was moving fast and they had to act fast. Peter told him get halters with names on all the horses.
“All you can do at that point is try and save who you can. You have to turn them loose and hope for the best. It is the worst scenario for a barn.”
By now Peter was flying down the “5” freeway and the phone rang again. The fire was running through the barns. “Turn them loose” was all he could tell them.
Many horses were turned loose that day including all of Peter Miller’s barn. Tragically some did not survive but they were all given a chance due to the brave actions of those scrambling in the barns, turning horses loose while putting themselves in harms way to do it.
They Are Horse Racing!
Belvoir Bay was lost in the confusion after being turned loose. She was one of the lucky ones. The little horse who looked like a pony but could win stakes was found running down a California road. It was two or three days later Peter was tracked down and told Belvoir Bay, identified initially by the halter with her name on it, was at a nearby farm. Peter had spent those days scouring the area looking for horses. His and others. He was checking halters and tattoos and found horses belonging to some other trainers, some of his also, but no Belvoir Bay.
“I got the call and went to get her. They found her running along some road. She was pretty banged up. She was burned, scarred up and her hock was all blown up. Racing her wasn’t even a thought. Getting her all fixed up was all we wanted. I lost 5 horses in the fire. I was thankful it was not more. We did all we could. She went right to San Luis Rey Equine Clinic. They got her on antibiotics and started treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. When I got her back I wasn’t even thinking about a race but she just started doing so good. It was amazing. Nothing bothers her. She was happy, none the worse for wear.”
What do you do with a happy and healthy racehorse who is training well? You race them and that is what Peter Miller and owner Gary Barber did. Belvoir Bay rattled off three wins, all in stakes including one against males in the Grade 3 San Simeon down the hillside turf course at Santa Anita. We have all seen horses win coming off a layoff. It is not often you will see a horse win coming off a fire they had to outrun to survive. A credit to this little mares spirit and heart, and also to the care and training of Peter Miller, his staff, and the people at San Luis Rey Equine Clinic where she spent three weeks.
There have been a couple of really special horses who ran the best races of their careers in losing efforts. Seattle Slew was never more impressive than his second place finish to Exceller in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Zenyatta probably ran better than she ever had in all those wins when she was second to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Belvoir Bay put herself in that elite company for a while, but she one upped it. They sent her to Dubai to race against males, with no Lasix, in the desert, in the Grade 1 Al Quoz Sprint. This is a world class sprint run on the Dubai World Cup undercard. If not for one of Europe’s best and champion sprinters, Blue Point, Belvoir Bay would have won it. She finished second but made world class Blue Point work hard to beat her in what was at that point her finest race.
“After the second to Blue Point the Breeders’ Cup was the goal and objective. I mean Blue Point if he came for the Breeders’ Cup would be 3-5 to win and she made him run to beat her. It was a huge effort. Mr. Barber was going to put her in the sale, and we figured a win in the Breeders’ Cup, which we felt we could get, would double her value. We wanted to have her peak for that race and she was.”
Blue Point won the Cartier Award for Best Sprinter in 2019 ands was undefeated on the year.
54.83, the fastest Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint ever. Here it is:
You won back to back Breeders’ Cup Sprint races with Roy H and Stormy Liberal, and Stormy Liberal is I believe the only “claim” to win a Breeders’ Cup race let alone two. I’d call you a sprinter if not for horse’s like Finnegan’s Wake and Big Cazanova. Winning those two back to back Breeders’ Cups with the same two horses or winning this one with the little mare you thought was a pony, which is more special to you?
“Well as far as an accomplishment, back to back Breeders’ Cup races with the same two horses, that I think was an accomplishment. This was special. They all mean so much to me.”
Belvoir Bay’s resume puts her in all star class. The things that are hard to measure, heart, determination, the ability to overcome put this little mare into the world class category. Her two best races, The Al Quoz, and the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint both came against males and under the toughest and most stringent pre race and race day protocols in the sport. She won the Breeders’ Cup at five furlongs from the far outside post and she had to clear the field early to do it. For a mare who was almost mistaken for a Shetland pony that is not too bad. When you add the fire to her story, and all that she went through, you have what unquestionably should be the Vox Populi award winner.