The gentle bay mare showed no signs of foaling. So on the warm night of May 19, Paul Brown, wanting to give the pregnant horse more breeze, left her stall gate open.
Early the next morning, Brown caught a glimpse of white on the long driveway up to his trailer. He thought it was a white fawn toddling its way across the farm. Soon enough, though, it dawned upon him that this was no deer; it was a new foal, freshly escaped from the barn, racing as best he could to show his more than impressive self to whoever was looking.
The Thoroughbred colt, like his father, is pure white, one of the few that have descended from the founding line of those originally birthed on Lexington's Patchen-Wilkes Farm, the ones with the surprising one-in-a-100-million mutation that made hard-bitten horse enthusiasts turn in adoration, made the immutable Jockey Club change their books and made equine geneticists go into overdrive.
The colt is named Chief White Fox, after his sire, The White Fox. By virtue of his color alone, his market value hovers around $40,000, judging from the bidding on a Pennsylvania half-brother, a yearling whose reserve wasn't met at a Fasig-Tipton sale last month.
And the Chief won't even start training to race for another year.
What makes him so valuable so young? It is not his parentage's racing record. It is his mutation.
In 1963, a brown mare, covered by a chestnut stallion, dropped a pure-white baby on the ground at Patchen-Wilkes Farm. The baby, named White Beauty, was no albino. She had brown eyes. Farm manager Herman Goodpaster had a heck of a time convincing The Jockey Club that it wasn't a teaser stallion or the horse who brought the mail that had impregnated his mare. Eventually, with some persistence on Goodpaster's part, the keepers of the books for all Thoroughbred horse pedigree and identification created a new color classification for the foal.
Then, a few years later, that filly gave birth to another white filly. Then that white filly gave birth to a roan filly. Then, a few years later, that roan filly gave birth to a white filly.
It was said Goodpaster lost sleep regularly over his white misfits.
It would take 40 years to understand how the biology of that first union of two Thoroughbred horses of ordinary color worked to make the first stunningly beautiful white one.
But this is horse racing, not a beauty contest.
The value in a horse like one of his sons, 5-month-old Chief White Fox, is not without debate.
Paul Brown, Chief White Fox's owner, says that during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, a potential buyer came by to see the handsome colt, but Brown wouldn't let him go for less than $50,000.
Not bad for a colt bred with Brown's own broodmare and for The White Fox's reasonable stud fee of $500.
Tim Holland, a pedigree specialist and handicapper at Bloodstock Research and Information Services in Lexington, says the white Thoroughbreds "sell much better than their pedigrees suggest." He says they're in demand for their beauty as show horses, if nothing else, and that, in a market that sees some well-pedigreed horses going for $5,000, a recent white sold for $15,000 and another had bidding up at $40,000.
Still, the racing record of the White Beauty line is not without its limits. Patchen Beauty, for example, born in 1995, won twice in 23 starts, making $54,268. But, it should be noted, she made the front page of The Daily Racing Form as a 2-year-old and was marched in front of the grandstands at Churchill Downs "as if it were Derby Day," says Barry Ezrine, farm manager of Patchen Wilkes. When Patchen Prince was born, national news outlets including Fox News and National Public Radio ran segments on the occasion.
The dominant white coloration for Thoroughbreds is still rare. Eight years ago there were 16 U.S.-bred white Thoroughbreds recognized by the The Jockey Club. In May 2010 there were 106 on the books, mostly because the white distinction has become more ecumenical, now including some less than pure white. For example, a well-known sire of white Thoroughbreds out west named Airdrie Apache is what many might call a paint.
Handicapper Holland says that with so few whites running right now, it's like asking for lightning to strike twice to have a white Thoroughbred be the next Secretariat. He says that no stud with serious chops so far has been bred to one of those white fillies, but let one white win some stakes races and that would be another story.
In a few days, says Ezrine, eager to get that story going, he is likely to run 2-year-old The White Prince at Churchill Downs.
Out at Elmhurst Farm on Winchester Road, Chief White Fox romps in a leased paddock with a gelded son of Gone West. Almost too quickly, I'm Going West charges up on the Chief's mama, a limping Diamonds and Lace. The Chief, who moments ago had hid behind his mother in mock shyness, now stands boldly before her, guarding her from the larger, stronger horse.
"He's brave," says Brown. "That's for sure."
And that gets Brown to musing a little, to explaining why he isn't selling the horse right now.
"If I owned this farm, I wouldn't take a million dollars for him," Brown says. "I've been told white racehorses can't race, but my daddy always said that you gotta ask the horse what it wants to do. This could be the one."