Phyllis M. Wyeth, a long-time steeplechase owner through her Chadds Ford Stables, won at the highest level on Saturday, June 9, when her homebred Union Rags squeezed through on the rail to win the $1-million Belmont Stakes (Gr. 1) by a neck.
Trained at the Fair Hill Training Center by Michael Matz, the classic winner was bred by his owner, who is the wife of artist Jamie Wyeth. She sold the Dixie Union colt for $145,000 at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings and bought him back less than a year later for $390,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of selected two-year-olds in training after she had a dream that he would be a star.
A Patron Member of the National Steeplechase Association, Phyllis Wyeth has deep roots in both flat racing and steeplechasing. In 2011, her steeplechase operation had one starter, Saluda Sam, who was trained by Kathy Neilson.
One of Mrs. Wyeth’s best in her long involvement in steeplechase racing was Leaping Frog, 1979’s leading earner with $74,031 in purses from seven wins, one of which was on the flat. Among his victories was an 8 3/4-length score in the New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap at Saratoga Race Course.
Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Leaping Frog came back the following season to win the Temple Gwathmey by 1 1/2 lengths after a stirring battle with Martie’s Anger, the previous year’s Eclipse Award winner.
Mrs. Wyeth’s roots are equally deep in flat racing, and Union Rags is a part of her family history. She is the daughter of James P. and Alice duPont Mills, who owned Hickory Tree Stable in Virginia. Among the best they owned was Gone West, winner of the 1987 Dwyer Stakes (Gr. 1) and a top Kentucky sire before his death in 2009.
Union Rags represents three generations of Mills-Wyeth breeding. His dam is Tempo, by Gone West. Tempo’s dam was Terpsichorist, a Nijinsky II mare who won 11 races, including the 1979 Sheepshead Bay Handicap (Gr. 2).
In turn, Terpsichorist was out of *Glad Rags II, the English-bred winner of the 1966 One Thousand Guineas for Alice Mills and a foundation mare for Hickory Tree. Thus, Union Rag’s name, chosen by Mrs. Wyeth, spans the family tree from *Glad Rags II to Dixie Union.
Mrs. Wyeth is the second long-time steeplechase enthusiast to claim a Belmont trophy in recent decades. In the name of her Brushwood Stable, Elizabeth R. Moran raced 1985 Belmont winner Creme Fraiche. Mrs. Moran has served as chairman of the Radnor Hunt Races for more than 3o years and is a Historian Member of the National Steeplechase Association.