Whitworth Debutante Preview / Red Hot Michele Boyce

At $50,000, the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante is the richest race of this Hawthorne season – which says a lot about how horse people are struggling just to persist at this moment in Illinois racing history.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Whitworth was a $100,000 race during a race meet that featured the $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup, and likely Whitworth favorite Jolina has roots reaching back toward those happier times.

Jolina, a Richard Otto homebred trained by Tony Mitchell, is by Lemon Drop Kid, but it’s the female side of her family that resonates back through Illinois racing. Jolina is out of Julie Be Good, who is out of Julie Mis.

Julie Mis, a foal of 1992, was also an Otto homebred. Her dam, Smiling Neatly, a foal of 1982, wasn’t bred by Otto, but he campaigned and bred her. Julie Miss didn’t win the Debutante, but during the fall-winter meet at Hawthorne in 1995 she captured a pair of Illinois-bred allowance races, the second of them by more than nine lengths.  

Julie Mis’s first foal to race was Summer Mis, also trained by Mitchell, and one of the best Illinois-breds of the early aughts, a winner of the Grade 3 Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland. Summer Mis had more speed than stay to her, and when she tried to carry her speed two turns in the 2001 Debutante she was run down and beaten into second by a filly named White O Morn.

Julie Mis’s second foal to race was Julie’s Prize, a filly who had more staying power than speed. Julie’s Prize still was a maiden when Mitchell and Otto ran her in the 2002 Debutante, which she won by more than four lengths.

Julie Mis’s next five foals didn’t amount to much, but her sixth and last foal to race, Julie Be Good, was another runner. After a pair of second place finishes to start her career, she won three races in a row and appeared to be on the way to Illinois stake competition when injury cut short her career.

Otto added Julie Be Good to his broodmare band but her first three foals showed little to no talent and she moved on to a third career having nothing to do with racing. But the last foal Julie Be Good produced was Jolina, who stands a strong chance of adding another Debutante to the family trophy case. Jolina ran up the track making her career debut over the summer in an Arlington turf route but won second time out in a Hawthorne dirt-sprint maiden race by more than seven lengths. For lack of a better spot, Mitchell shipped her to Indiana Grand to start in an open turf-route allowance race, where Jolina battled for the lead and held second in an encouraging performance.

“She hung in there. They tried to get to her a couple times, and finally the favorite and second favorite went by her at the wire,” Mitchell said.

The Whitworth is carded for 6 ½ furlongs this year, a distance Jolina can handle. Otto’s silks are seen less and less often these days. Julie’s Prize died either of an aneurysm or heart attack following a race at Tampa Bay Downs in March 2006. Summer Mis died after foaling a few years ago. Alette, another useful Otto broodmare, was recently sold at auction. Alette is a sister to Mourette, the dam of Sir Anthony, an Otto homebred who has won two Grade 3 stakes and still resides in Mitchell’s barn. Races have been tough to find this fall for Sir Anthony. Mitchell’s stable has shrunk along with Otto’s broodmare band. Jolina could make it feel a little more like older, better days.

Hot Boyce stable has Debutante filly

Jolina isn’t the only Debutant entrant with noteworthy Illinois roots. Katie M’Lady, who starts for Cherrywood Racing Stable, Oak Rock Racing, and trainer Michele Boyce, also has Illinois stakes winners reaching decades back.

Katie M’Lady is out of Katie the Lady, a foal of 2006 who won the Illini Princess Handicap and more than $335,000. Katie the Lady was produced by Kate the Great, a foal of 1999 who won the Lincoln Heritage Handicap.

Kate the Great was among the first horses that owner-breeder Jack Barr gave Michele Boyce to train. Boyce also trained Katie the Lady and trains Katie M’Lady, the third foal to race from Kate the Great.

“I think Katie the Lady is going to be as good a producer as her mother,” Boyce said.

That’s saying a lot. Kate the Great got six of her foals to race, all of whom won, and five of whom earned more than $200,000. Grade 3 winner My Mertie was retired after 2019 but stakes-winner Blue Sky Kowboy still has a stall in the Boyce barn. Super Soldier, a foal of 2010, was a very fast middle-distance grass horse during his day.

Katie M’Lady might also be a grass horse. After finishing second at Arlington making her career debut in a turf sprint, Katie M’Lady, by Dominus, comfortably won a Hawthorne turf mile on Oct. 11. Boyce and company have gotten four dirt workouts into her since then, but it’s an open question whether the filly can produce her grass form on the main track.

“She’s game and she’ll try, but I don’t think dirt is going to be her long suit,” said Boyce.

Boyce enters December’s first two-day racing week with nine Hawthorne winners from 32 runners, tied for fifth in the trainer standings, and her stable really has come alive in recent weeks. Last Saturday, Boyce let fly another sharp Illinois-bred 2-year-old maiden winner, Cat Attack, who stretched out from three sprints to win a turf mile by more than 10 lengths. Cat Attack, bred and owned by Steve and Diane Holland, is the first foal to race out of the mare Kitty’s Castle.

Blue Sky Kowboy, Boyce said, is sitting on a strong race but has nowhere, really to run. Best suited to turf and synthetic surfaces, Blue Sky Kowboy could try Hawthorne dirt this month for lack of a better option.

Regardless, after waiting and waiting for Arlington to open and spending much of that shortened meeting this summer getting her stable in order, Boyce’s stock have found their legs again this fall. She considered sending a string to Fair Grounds after wintering some of her horses at Tampa Bay Downs the last six seasons, but Covid-19 complications made turning some horses out and leaving the rest at Hawthorne seem like the best plan.

“We’re going to stay put and do some winter training this year,” Boyce said.

And be ready for spring, 2021. Things could be looking up by then.