ARCADIA, Calif. — They say there is a story behind every champion, but not many narratives can compare to the incredible journey taken by this one horse.
From escaping the flames and furnace of a wildfire to breaking records at the recent Breeders’ Cup world championships at Santa Anita, Belvoir Bay’s “emotional” tale is the stuff of the movies.
To cap it all, she’s just sold for $1.5 million at auction.
However, her ashes-to-riches story could have been very different.
In December 2017, the Lilac wildfire in southern California tore towards the San Luis Rey Training Center, a facility that holds and trains some of the best racehorses in the US.
Fanned by the wind, the fire spread rapidly and there wasn’t time to evacuate all of the horses. The only option was to set them free to run for their lives. One of those who set off through the blaze was Belvoir Bay.
“That was their only chance of surviving the fire. There were hundreds of them and the fires were wild. It was mayhem,” the horse’s trainer Peter Miller told BBC World Service at the time.
The fire devastated much of the center. Out of the 450 horses that were evacuated or released, 46 died.
Like many of the horses let loose, Belvoir Bay was still unaccounted for days after fleeing the flames.
“It was a living nightmare,” an emotional Miller told reporters at Santa Anita. “I thought I lost her.”
Eventually, the horse was found in a nearby barn but she wore the scars of her quite remarkable escape.
“It was so hard to identify her,” said then-owner and former MGM chief executive Gary Barber. “People were sending us pictures and we were like, ‘That doesn’t look like her’.”
She had suffered severe burns to her legs and was sent to the San Luis Rey Downs Equine Clinic where she spent time in a hyperbaric chamber, a treatment sometimes used on burn victims.
However, after a couple of weeks of treatment, the horse was returned to Barber and so began her incredible racing comeback.
Seemingly unfazed by her death-defying experience, she won her first race back, the Mizdirection Stakes, and continued to improve with every stride.
The highlight of her miraculous career came at last weekend’s Breeders’ Cup, described as the world championships for thoroughbreds, where she stormed to victory in the $1 million Turf Sprint, beating a field of 12 which included two-time champion Stormy Liberal, also trained by Miller.
If victory wasn’t enough, she ran a track record — covering the five furlongs in a stunning 54.83 seconds.
“We nursed her back to health and the rest is history, as they say,” Miller told reporters after the race. “She’s tough as nails. She’s just very special to me. That’s why it’s extra emotional.”
The win means Belvoir Bay has won 12 of her 28 career starts, earning an estimated $1,699,787 in the process.
$1.5 million sale
Belvoir Bay’s record-breaking win has attracted plenty of attention and the horse has since sold at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale, North America’s oldest thoroughbred auction house, for an eye-watering fee of $1.5 million.
She was bought by Mike Shannon, an agent from Bluewater Sales, who described her as “the fastest mare in the world.”
It is not yet clear what the future holds for Belvoir Bay but, given her amazing genes, she certainly has potential as a broodmare once her competing days are over.
“She really and truly ran for her life,” said Bluewater Sales’ Meg Levy, referring to the horse’s incredible past.
“I just can’t even imagine. We were talking about those dots on her coat whether they were from the fire because she was obviously turned loose in the middle of the cinders.
“Watching her deal with all this, running in that race, flying right here, coming into the barn, she has never batted a hair.”
Belvoir Bay is not the only horse to have fled the San Luis Rey fire and gone on to have a successful career.
Many of the horses from that day have gone on to win races across world, including Conquest Tsunami who won the 2018 Daytona Stakes.
Miller, who held a string of horses at the Californian stables during that time, is proud of their success.
“These fire survivors have run as good as anything we’ve got. They are very strong and resilient,” he told NBC.