Meadow Star: Dazzling Champion Sparkled in ‘The Mother of All Gooses’

Meadow Star after winning the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to cap an unbeaten, Eclipse Award-winning campaign in 1990. (BloodHorse Library)

Meadow Star surely enjoyed a stellar racing career.

She won her first nine starts. Eight of them were stakes and four were Grade 1s.

She was a decisive winner by five lengths in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the undefeated filly was a unanimous choice as the year’s champion 2-year-old filly.

At 3, she was tested against colts in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes, in which she finished fourth and suffered her first defeat. Returned to distaff competition after that setback, she romped by six lengths in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes.

Yet even though she assembled such an outstanding career, there was one race that dwarfed the others and will always be remembered whenever she is mentioned.

It was that unforgettable day in June of 1991 when she emerged as the filly who won “The Mother of All Gooses.”

In the 26 years that have passed, few races have matched the buzz, excitement, drama and fanfare that was rolled into the 1991 Mother Goose. It matched horses from connections that were polar opposites and brought together two fillies who put on a dazzling show that was ultimately decided by an inch – if that.

And it was a dream-come-true for headline writers.

To start, there was Meadow Star, a daughter of Meadowlake out of the In Reality mare Inreality Star, who was purchased for $90,000 at the 1989 Keeneland September yearling sale.

She was bought by Carl Icahn, a Wall Street tycoon who became known as a corporate raider for his hostile takeover of Trans World Airlines (TWA) in 1985.

She was trained by LeRoy Jolley, who won the 1980 Kentucky Derby with the filly Genuine Risk and was voted into the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1987 at the age of 50.

Meadow Star made her career debut on June 13, 1990, at Belmont Park and registered a convincing 5 ¼-length victory at 2.20-1 odds.

In short order she then reeled off victories in the Astoria, Schuylerville, Spinaway, Matron, and Frizette Stakes, the last three being Grade 1 races.

She was so dominant that she was sent off as a huge 1-5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Belmont Park and was never threatened in closing out her 2-year-old campaign with a perfect 7-for-7 record.

At 3, she started the year with wins in the Queen of the Stage and Grade 2 Comely Stakes, both at Aqueduct, and Jolley decided to tackle males in the Wood Memorial Stakes with an eye toward the Kentucky Derby as opposed to the Kentucky Oaks.

After Meadow Star finished fourth in the Wood, beaten by 10 ¼ lengths by Cahill Road, Jolley decided to keep Meadow Star in New York and the focus became the New York Racing Association’s Triple Tiara series.

Meadow Star had little trouble in the opening leg, winning the Acorn by six lengths as the 3-5 favorite.

But the challenge went through the roof in the Mother Goose when a highly formidable foe targeted the same race.

At 2, Lite Light was one of the top fillies on the West Coast and she traveled east to face Meadow Star in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. The daughter of Majestic Light, owned at the time by Jack L. Finley, was the 9.20-1 second choice in the wagering but was no match for Meadow Star, finishing 12th.

But at 3, Lite Light blossomed and she was sold in March to Oaktown Stable, the racing banner for the flamboyant rapper M.C. Hammer, who had become a mega-star through his 1990 album “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em” and the hit single “U Can’t Touch This.”

Born as Stanley Burrell, the charismatic rapper turned racing into “Hammer Time” with Lite Light as she won the Santa Anita Oaks and then the Fantasy Stakes and Kentucky Oaks for new trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

After winning the Kentucky Oaks by 10 lengths and securing her fourth straight graded stakes win – three of them in Grade 1s - Hammer’s brother Louis Burrell Jr. said on an ESPN telecast that Lite Light would be pointed to the Belmont Stakes. As time passed, however, the target became the Mother Goose, which was schedule for June 9 at Belmont Park, the day after the Belmont Stakes.

As the race grew near and Hansel beat Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold in the Preakness to eliminate the chance of a Triple Crown sweep, in some corners the Mother Goose became a more anticipated race than the Belmont.

Helping matters were world events of the time which gave the race its unforgettable promotional tag. Earlier in the year, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had called the Gulf War “The Mother of All Battles” and it didn’t take long for witty headline writers and even Jolley himself to call the Mother Goose “The Mother of All Gooses.”

Hammer and his family and entourage took it from there to create the kind of interest in the Mother Goose that transcended horse racing.

Prior to his famous brother’s arrival at Belmont Park, two days before the Mother Goose and on the eve of the Belmont Stakes, Burrell Jr. told a handful of reporters in Belmont’s paddock that no one could touch Lite Light. Not Meadow Star. Not even Hansel or Strike the Gold.

“If Strike the Gold wins [the Belmont] and we win, I want a match race,” Burrell Jr. said. “We’ll take on Hansel. I’ll take on any 3-year-old colt. Period. We’ll take one on every five weeks … I think it’s exciting for racing to have a filly like this.”

Burrell Jr. then proposed a wager with Icahn.

“I’ll bet him anything he wants. I’ll bet his interest in TWA,” he said. “I was at Aqueduct to see Meadow Star run in the Wood, and I met Mr. Icahn there and told him I had a filly who could beat Meadow Star. He said he didn’t know who Lite Light was and he kind of laughed. 

“We’re going to have a real nice victory party after the Mother Goose. It’s like when Mike Tyson fought [Donovan] “Razor” Ruddock. Razor gave it everything he had, but lost. That’s what’s going to happen [in the Mother Goose to Meadow Star].”

Even Hammer was supremely confident of victory, and added more fuel to the build-up for the race that mirrored hype for a pro wrestling match as opposed to a horse race.

“[Lite Light] looks like a champion to me,” he said. “Meadow Star looks like a runner-up.”

Icahn, not surprisingly, kept a low profile, though he did agree to a $35,000 wager on the race with Hammer, with the winnings ultimately going to the Children’s Rescue Fund.

A day before the Mother Goose, the Belmont Stakes was won in dramatic fashion by Hansel, who held off Strike the Gold’s closing bid by a nose. It seemed that would be a tough act to follow, but the Mother Goose still managed to be the show-stopper of the weekend.

With Hammer in attendance for the Mother Goose, and resplendent in a white suit, he and his entourage once again took over Belmont’s Turf and Field Club. For three days, members of the Burrell family and their friends had taken up residence there, at times with some of the group getting jackets and ties to cover up garb that failed to meet the room’s dress code. They also wagered with gusto, putting stacks of mutuel tickets that were larger than a deck of cards on their table – and none were from the $2 window.

Their biggest bet was saved for Lite Light as they put at least $100,000 to win on her in the final minutes to send her from 4-5 to 1-5 before she finished as a 1-2 favorite.

In the small field of four for the 1 1/8-mile stakes, Meadow Star, the 9-10 second choice, grabbed the early lead while Lite Light had a bit of an awkward start and was last in the early stages. With jockey Jerry Bailey masterfully conserving Meadow Star’s speed, she led through leisurely fractions of 24 4/5 and 49 2/5 seconds.

On the turn, jockey Corey Nakatani made his move with Lite Light and joined Meadow Star at the three-eighths pole. For those final three furlongs, they raced as a team in a furious and epic duel. Neither horse gave in. In the final yards, with each stride the lead seemed to shift from one filly to the other, until they crossed the finish line in unison with nary an inch between them.

“Give me the last bob,” Hammer yelled as he watched a slow-motion replay of the race. “Give me that bob. Let’s call it a dead-heat and everyone’s happy.”

Bailey believed he had he had won, but he, too, was willing to hedge his bets while waiting for the winner to be declared. “I knew I didn’t lose,” he said, “but I was willing to take a dead-heat.”

It took six tense minutes for the stewards to feel confident enough to declare a winner, but finally Meadow Star was posted as the winner of “The Mother of All Gooses.”

“I’ve never seen a number look so good,” Jolley said after Meadow Star’s number was posted on the toteboard as the winner. “This is about as good as it gets. It seemed like forever waiting for that photo finish result to be posted. I wouldn’t want to go through another race as exciting and yet draining as this one. At the wire, I thought Lite Light’s head was down and Meadow Star’s was up. I thought Lite Light had the advantage on the bob.”

And once the race was declared official, it was Icahn who could dance for joy.

“That had to be one of the most exciting races I’ve ever seen,” he said. “[Meadow Star] is one of the greatest fillies ever.”

As much as there was no shortage of smack-talking in the days before race, Icahn said he found Hammer and his family to be gracious in defeat.

“I think Hammer was better off betting the $35,000 than the airline,” Icahn said. “Hammer’s a pretty good guy. I saw him after the race and he whipped out his checkbook and wrote a check. He even wrote on it that it was for personal advice.

“The Burrells are great. They’re great people and they’re great for racing. We need more people like Hammer. They add glamour to the sport.”

After the heart-stopping finish in the Mother Goose, there was huge interest in their next meeting, which was taking shape as the 1 ¼-mile Coaching Club American Oaks on July 6 at Belmont, the final leg of the Triple Tiara. 

This time it was a mismatch.

With a practically bare-chested Hammer bouncing up and down as if he was filming a music video while rooting for his filly from an owner’s box next to blue-bloods such as the bemused heads of the Phipps family, Lite Light, the 4-5 favorite, collared 6-5 second choice Meadow Star at the three-sixteenths pole and pulled away to a decisive seven-length victory over the 2-year-old champion.

“It was the greatest feeling ever,” said the 29-year-old Hammer, who took off his flimsy top after the race and triumphantly stood shirtless on his seat and flexed his muscles to the approving crowd below him in the grandstand. “It was one of supreme bliss and ecstasy. I was also aware of history being made, being the first Afro-American to win this stakes.”

Icahn and Hammer had upped the wager to $150,000 on the CCA Oaks (Hammer even offered to give Icahn odds and put up $200,000 to Icahn’s $150,000) and the money went to the Save the Children charity.

After 11 straight wins over fillies, the CCA Oaks marked Meadow Star’s first loss to a fellow female.

“She ran real well,” Jolley said. “She ran into a better horse.”

On that day, she did.

Sadly, Meadow Star was never the same after the CCA Oaks. Neither was Lite Light for that matter.

Jose Santos aboard Meadow Star. (BloodHorse Library)

Meadow Star never won another race and Lite Light finished her career losing her next 10 starts.

Meadow Star did not race again until September when she was fourth in the Maskette. After finishing sixth three weeks later in the Ruffian, Jolley did not run her again until April 1992, when she was seventh in the first of five 4-year-old races that closed out her career, with none of them producing a finish better than third.

Rubbing salt in the wound, neither Meadow Star nor Lite Light was voted the champion 3-year-old filly of 1991. That honor went to Dance Smartly, who had an undefeated campaign capped by a victory in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Yet, whatever happened in her final races could not take away from her six Grade 1 wins and that one magical day in June of 1991 when Meadow Star earned a permanent spot in racing lore.

To this day, she’s still remembered as the winner of “The Mother of All Gooses” and let’s just say “U Can’t Touch” something like that.

Fun Facts about Meadow Star

  • Her 1-5 price ($2.40) in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies is the lowest payoff ever in a Breeders’ Cup race.
  • Aside from Lite Light, among the horses Meadow Star beat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies were Dance Smartly, who was third, and Flawlessly, a two-time champion as the top turf female, who was seventh. Both Dance Smartly and Flawlessly have been voted into the Hall of Fame.
  • Meadow Star is the third dam (maternal great-grandmother) of Arrogate, who is currently No. 1 in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Top 10 poll.
  • Beginning with the Juvenile Fillies, owner Carl Icahn donated all of Meadow Star’s earnings to the Children’s Rescue Fund, a charity he founded for homeless children.
  • Meadow Star had a record of 11 wins, one second and two thirds from 20 starts with earnings of $1,445,740.
  • In 13 of those 20 starts, Meadow Star went off at odds of 6-5 or less.
  • In her career, Meadow Star was ridden by four Hall of Fame jockeys: Jose Santos, Chris Antley, Jerry Bailey and Pat Day.

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