Breeders’ Cup Contender Harvest Moon Winning 'For Her Mama'

Harvest Moon won the Zenyatta Stakes on Sept. 27 to earn an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 7. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Alice Bamford, co-owner and breeder of Harvest Moon, gives her beloved 3-year-old filly a pep talk before every start.

“Harvest Moon,” she will say, “go and do it for your Mama.”

It can be debated whether the horse understands Bamford’s encouraging words. There is no questioning her response, however.

Harvest Moon has honored the memory of her late dam, Qaraaba, by fashioning a four-race winning streak on dirt since she settled for third on turf in her June 12 debut at Santa Anita Park.

The bay daughter of Uncle Mo enjoyed her latest success when she took the Zenyatta Stakes for jockey Flavien Prat by three-quarters of a length against Hard Not to Love on Sept. 27. The 1 1/16-mile race is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series and awarded the winner a fees-paid berth in the $2 million Longines Distaff at Keeneland Race Course on Nov. 7.

Needless to say, Bamford is over the moon.

“It’s exciting to have success with Harvest Moon and we’re looking forward to a great adventure at the Breeders’ Cup,” she said. “We’re absolutely thrilled to be in the Breeders’ Cup and to be coming with her to Keeneland.”

Bamford was born in Baltimore but grew up around horses in England. She had developed a special bond with Qaraaba before the mare died of complications while delivering a Mendelssohn foal earlier this year.

“Some horses get in your heart and under your skin and Qaraaba certainly did,” Bamford said. “She was very brave and had a wonderful way of running. Anyone who was around her fell in love with her. Harvest Moon is just the same.”

British-bred Qaraaba was trained by West Coast-based Simon Callaghan, as is Harvest Moon. Regrettably, Qaraaba never fulfilled her potential as a runner or in the breeding shed. She began her racing career in England and won five times before shipping to the U.S., and then swept her two stateside starts, both on turf, before a suspensory injury abruptly ended her promising career. Bamford never imagined Qaraaba’s time as a broodmare would end so suddenly.

“Awful news, but I understand it does happen,” she said. “When you are breeding horses, a lot can go wrong. That’s why you have to really enjoy the days that go right.”

Horses play a huge role in Bamford’s life. She refers to riding as her “daily meditation.” More than many others, she and co-owner Michael B. Tabor understand how critical patience can be in a horse’s development.

Harvest Moon was allowed to work through shin issues and other minor matters at her own pace without competing at 2. She did not debut until halfway through her 3-year-old campaign, giving her time to grow into her large frame. She measures almost 17 hands.

“She’s a very big filly that physically needed time to mature, which is why she didn’t run as a 2-year-old,” Callaghan said. “Alice and Michael are extremely patient and seasoned owners, and they allowed this filly time to develop and show her true potential.”

Harvest Moon welcomed the move to dirt by breaking her maiden on July 3 at Los Alamitos Race Course. Her progress continued as she dominated an allowance optional claiming race on July 27 at Del Mar by 4 ¼ lengths. She handled her first test against graded stakes company with a 1 ¼-length victory in the Aug. 22 Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar, her third consecutive start at one mile.

The $200,000 Zenyatta Stakes represented a significant challenge in that she stepped up to a mile and a sixteenth and faced older company for the first time. She showed how far she has come by calmly sitting off the pace in second and pouncing when Prat signaled her to go. She completed the distance in 1:43.03. 

“She’s really come into herself now,” Bamford said. “She’s got a very mature brain and I think her body is catching up with her. She’s a real true athlete now.

“I know Simon is incredibly excited about her and her jockey has been as well. We’re just looking forward to the next steps and, as I said, she thinks like a true athlete and what a beautiful stride she’s got. She’s very sensible in a race as well.”

With 2018 Distaff winner Monomoy Girl and very possibly Preakness Stakes winner Swiss Skydiver heading the Distaff, Harvest Moon will face the sternest challenge of her young career.

“It’s definitely going to be a super competitive race and she needs to improve again,” Callaghan said. “But she’s a very well-bred, very good-looking filly that has got the pedigree to be a top racehorse. So you’re always hopeful she can keep improving.”

Bamford eagerly awaits next year. “She’s building each race,” she said. “Fillies are fantastic when they are 4-years-old. They reach their peak at 4 and even 5. So I would imagine and hope that the best is yet to come, but it’s one race at a time.”

Bamford looks forward to giving Harvest Moon another pep talk before the Distaff. She will surely exhort her to “go and do it for your Mama,” hoping she will respond once more.

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