LOUISVILLE — In her 29 career outings, Ornate was a decidedly workmanlike performer for Anita Cauley, collecting seven wins for the longtime owner and breeder over three seasons.
While Ornate's on-track results might not have wowed her followers, her second career in the breeding shed has done just that.
Cauley was euphoric after watching her homebred juvenile filly On Fire Baby record a 61/4-length victory in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs on Saturday, and the Louisville-based owner made sure to pay homage to the mare who was largely responsible for that moment.
On Fire Baby is the second graded-stakes winner to be produced by Ornate, the former $80,000 Fasig-Tipton July purchase who has become the star and main contributor to Cauley's four-horse broodmare band.
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Campaigned by Cauley and her late husband, Barry Ebert, Ornate is also the dam of Grade II winner High Heels — who ran third in the 2007 Kentucky Oaks — and stakes winner French Kiss. Those three, along with another daughter of Ornate named Lustful, make up Cauley's entire breeding arsenal which currently resides at Lee McMillan's Amende Place in Paris.
When High Heels — the first foal out of Ornate — retired with earnings of $484,636, Cauley figured she had already experienced her once-in-a-lifetime horse.
Four starts and three wins into her career, On Fire Baby is forcing her owner to have second thoughts about that.
"I have been very lucky to have the fillies I've had out of Ornate. She's been very kind to me," beamed Cauley after the Golden Rod. "With High Heels I thought, 'Wow, I've been in the business for 20 years and I finally get a good horse.' I just would say little prayers that I hope I get one more chance before I pass to experience that again. It's beyond words to think I've got another sister who can do something special."
One who can attest to how much Ornate and her daughters have meant to Cauley is Gary "Red Dog" Hartlage, a native of Louisville's Shively suburb who has trained for Cauley for more than 20 years, and who conditioned Ornate and High Heels.
Like Cauley, Hartlage keeps the number of head in his barn at modest proportions. And just as a strong family has elevated Cauley in racing, Hartlage maintains a kindred atmosphere in his shedrow as clients flood the winner's circle when one of Hartlage's runners make it there.
"That is exactly why my late husband and I hired him is because when you see the atmosphere around his barn, it is family through and through," Cauley said of Hartlage. "Everybody cheers for everybody else. We could all be very competitive, we all want to win but we all want everybody to do well. I feel as much a part of his family as my family."
According to Hartlage, the latest member of Ornate's clan could be the one who ends up at the head of the table.
On Fire Baby broke her maiden by 4 lengths first time out at Ellis Park in August and went on to win the Grade II Pocahontas at Churchill on Oct. 30 en route to becoming the seventh filly to complete the sweep of the track's 2-year-old filly stakes.
The only loss the gray daughter of Smoke Glacken suffered was a fifth-place finish over the Polytrack at Keeneland in the Grade I Darley Alcibiades, a race that was won by eventual Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf victor Stephanie's Kitten. Though she won from off the pace in the Pocahontas, On Fire Baby proved more dangerous on the front end when she wired the field in the Golden Rod after getting a leisurely half-mile in :50.01.
"She's that good, and I think she has plenty more left in her, too," Hartlage said. "High Heels, her sister, was good but this filly does things you don't think as a trainer you would dream about. She's the best one I've ever had."
So emphatic was On Fire Baby's effort in the Golden Rod that Hartlage indicated she would be nominated to both the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby — something he also did with High Heels.
"High Heels was a bit petite and going up against the boys would have been rough for her ... but this filly might be able to withstand some bumping," Cauley said of a potential Derby run. "But when Gary says (she's the best he's had) I break out into complete goose bumps — because that is pretty scary."