March 4th, 2024

Kentucky Oaks Contender Lemon Muffin Is the Newest Graded Winner for the Claiborne Family of Iskra

Story by B. Jason Brooks

THE ROAD TO THE 150th KENTUCKY OAKS has a new co-leader as Collected filly Lemon Muffin pulled off an unusual maiden win in her stakes debut in the grade 3 Honeybee Stakes on Saturday, February 24th at Oaklawn Park.  The win awarded her 50 points and ranks her tied for first on the leaderboard of fillies qualifying for the prestigious grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 3rd.

Lemon Muffin wins the 2024 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Credit: Coady Photography/Renee Torbit via KentuckyDerby.com

Lemon Muffin was making her sixth career start for 88-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lucas and had finished second in her prior four races, all maiden special weights at six furlongs.  Stretching out to a mile and a sixteenth for the $400,000 Honeybee in a field of ten – which included grade 1-placed Alys Beach and four stakes winners – Lemon Muffin broke alertly and settled comfortably in the first turn under 25-year-old jockey Keith Asmussen, son of thoroughbred racing’s all-time winningest trainer Steve Asmussen.  Down the backstretch, she settled in the three-path before being turned loose in the far turn and exploding to the lead in the stretch for an impressive three-and-a-half-length victory.  Lemon Muffin’s unusual fortune of earning her maiden win in such an important race was, in part, thanks to encouragement from her owner Aaron Sones who suggested it to Mr. Lucas.

The win gives Mr. Lucas a significant contender for a potential sixth Kentucky Oaks victory, which he most recently won in 2022 with Arrogate filly Secret Oath who went on to sell in last year’s Fasig-Tipton Fall Mixed Sale for $3 million to Spendthrift Farm.

Lemon Muffin was co-bred by Theodore “Ted” Kuster, his late wife Betsy, and Collected Syndicate before being consigned by Mr. Kuster’s Shawhan Place farm for $20,000 at the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.  Purchased by pinhooker Stori Atchison’s Dark Star Thoroughbreds, based in Morriston, Florida near Ocala, Lemon Muffin was resold for $140,000 at the April 2023 Ocala Breeders’ Sale to Bruno DeBerdt on behalf of Aaron Sones, a former emergency room doctor.

Lemon Muffin’s Claiborne Female Family

Mr. Kuster purchased Lemon Muffin’s unraced Claiborne-bred granddam Fee, by Claiborne stallion Spectacular Bid, at the 1990 Keeneland January sale.

Spectacular Bid

She proved to be a quality broodmare, producing grade 1-placed and multiple graded stakes winner High Stakes Player, by High Brite.  High Stakes Player earned black-type in her first stakes race for owner Michael E. Pegram, placing in the grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita in 1995.  High Stakes Player would go on to win a pair of grade 3 races in 1997, including the Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita and the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn.

Fee’s 1994 filly Mather Miss, by Irish-bred stallion Black Tie Affair, also earned black-type with a whopping ten-and-a-quarter-length victory in the Margarita Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Retama Park in 1998 for owner Stewart Mather Madison.

Claiborne Foundation Mare Iskra

Lemon Muffin and her Claiborne granddam Fee are from the stalwart family of French-bred imported Claiborne foundation mare Iskra, by her native sire Le Haar.  Foaled in 1961, Iskra was bred by Christian Lebouc and won just two of her 19 career starts.  Investment banker Robert Lehman imported her to the U.S. in 1966 for his broodmare band and, following Mr. Lehman’s death in 1969, she was catalogued for dispersal at the 1970 Keeneland January sale where Arthur B. “Bull” Hancock acquired her for Claiborne Farm.  Iskra produced a champion sire, a classic-placed sire, and the branches of three of her daughters have produced graded stakes winners.

Nasrullah

Iskra’s first foal, imported in utero, was classic-placed Naskra, by Kentucky-bred Nasram.  (Nasram – by Claiborne’s imported English-bred stallion Nasrullah – was the first American-bred to win the King George VI and Queen Eliabeth Stakes at Ascot in 1966.)  In 1970, Iskra’s son Naskra finished third in the Belmont Stakes, as well as winning Hialeah Park’s Everglades Stakes and Aqueduct’s Lexington Handicap.  He stood in Kentucky at Taylor Asbury’s Forest Retreat Farm where he sired 67 stakes winners.

Iskra’s Claiborne-bred son Wajima, by Claiborne stallion Bold Ruler (also a son of Nasrullah), was her most successful.  Wajima was purchased for a record $600,000 at the 1973 Keeneland July yearling sale by Japanese‐American syndicate East‐West Stable.  The bay colt would become a four-time grade 1 winner in 1975 and earn Champion Three-Year-Old honors.  Trained by that year’s Eclipse Award winner Stephen A. DiMauro, his campaign included winning the Travers Stakes by ten lengths, the Monmouth Invitational Handicap, as well as defeating fields that included reigning Horse of the Year Forego in the Governor’s Stakes and Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure in the Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap.

Wajima as a 2-year-old. Credit: Tony Leonard.

Wajima entered study in 1976 in Kentucky at Spendthrift Farm where he was syndicated for a then-record $7.2 million or $200,000 per share.  In 1987, he relocated to Stone Farm, owned by Arthur Hancock III, son of Claiborne owner Bull Hancock Jr., where he resided until his death in 2001.  He sired 26 stakes winners, including U.S. multiple graded stakes winners Pretty Perfect and Polite Rebuff, Canadian champion Key to the Moon, and Canadian classic winner Crowning Honors.

Veroushka Branch of Iskra’s Family

In addition to producing classic-placed Naskra and champion Wajima, descendants of Iskra’s daughters carry on her successful Claiborne female family: multiple graded stakes winner Newsdad, by Claiborne stallion Arch, is a fourth-generation descendent of Iskra’s daughter Accommodate, by Claiborne stallion Honest Pleasure; and, graded stakes winners Top Notch Lady, by Sultry Song, and Bittel Road, by Stormy Atlantic, are third- and fourth-generation descendants, respectively, of Iskra’s daughter Tender Logic, by Hail to Reason.  Iskra’s most successful branch runs through her daughter Veroushka, by Canadian-bred Claiborne stallion Nijinsky II, from which Lemon Muffin descends.

Veroushka’s Claiborne-bred son Lucense, by the farm’s stallion Majestic Light, had victories in the grade 2 Round Table Handicap at Arlington Park in 1982 and the grade 2 San Marcos Handicap at Santa Anita in 1984.  Veroushka’s Claiborne homebred daughter Gild, by the farm’s stallion Mr. Prospector, was trained by for Hall of Famer trainer Woodford C. “Woody” Stephens and won the grade 2 Gardenia Stakes at Meadowlands in 1988 and then placed in her next start that year, the grade 1 Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct.  And, Veroushka’s daughter Find, also by Mr. Prospector, broke her maiden at first asking as a juvenile and placed in her second start, the Colleen Stakes at Monmouth.  She returned home after her three-year-old campaign to join the farm’s broodmare band and has been the most productive branch of her mother Veroushka’s family.

Mr. Prospector

As a broodmare, Find produced multiple graded stakes winner Discover, a colt by Claiborne stallion Cox’s Ridge.  A third-generation Claiborne homebred, Discover won the grade 3 Fairmount Derby at Fairmount Park in 1991 and the grade 2 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs the following year, both as a trainee of Steven C. Penrod.

Find’s daughter Detect, by Claiborne stallion Devil’s Bag, was a winner at the age of three for the above-mentioned Arther B. Hancock III and, as a broodmare, produced three black-type earners, including: High Ridge Road, a filly by Quality Road, winner of the grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Stakes at Laurel Park in 2017; Senor Rojo, a colt by Claiborne stallion Out of Place, winner of the grade 3 British Columbia Premier’s Stakes at Hastings; and, Connie and Michael, a filly by Roman Ruler, who won her debut by seven-and-three-quarter lengths at Keeneland and was runner up the following year in the grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes at Saratoga in 2010.

In 2020, Connie and Michael produced Curly Jack, a colt by Good Magic who was purchased for $180,000 as a yearling by owner Michael McLoughlin.  Curly Jack went on to win the grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs in 2022, followed by a fifth-place finish that year in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland behind an impressive field in which the top four finishers included eventual juvenile champion Forte and grade 1 winners Cave Rock, National Treasure, and Blazing Sevens.

Along with Connie and Michael successful carrying on Find’s branch of the family, her daughter Fee (mentioned above as the granddam of Lemon Muffin) produced grade 1-placed High Stakes Player, by High Brite, as well as Lemon Muffin’s dam Pelt, by Canadian Frontier.

Given the success of Claiborne foundation mare Iskra’s female family, it is not a surprise to see her fifth-generation descendant Lemon Muffin making her mark as a leading Kentucky Oaks contender.  She will be fun to follow as she progresses toward the first Friday in May for trainer Wayne Lucas and owner Aaron Sones.  She would look great in the Churchill winners’ circle under a garland of lilies.

 

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