After being pensioned as a broodmare, the even-keel disposition of Princess Rooney was as important to Gentry Farm in Lexington as her quality on-track performances had been to owner Paula Tucker and trainer Neil Drysdale.
After delivering seven foals, Princess Rooney didn’t produce a youngster for two straight years. In those two years, she willingly cared for and even taught yearlings how to behave and showed them ways to quickly learn what was going to be expected on the race track.
Said Gentry, who had bought her for only $130,000 after her foals had not been very productive as on-track competitors: “She was one of the easist-going horses I’ve ever been around. That is what made her so special.
“She’s able to teach the younger generations the best way to be, and I can’t even remember a time we had a problem with her. She knew what was going on at all times.”
Foaled herself in 1980, Princess Rooney was a dappled gray in color.
Paula Tucker had assigned her to be schooled and taught the early lessons necessary to reaching the races by Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale.
Princess Rooney’s two-year-old season started right and ended on the same high notes. Drysdale placed her in six races her first year. After winning in her debut in a maiden special weight race, she was moved along to an allowance race where she was just as successful.
By the time November enveloped the calendar, she had won the much-watched Gardenia Stakes and the equally important Frizette Stakes.
Her record that first year was a perfect six-for-six. No losses. And earnings of $223,815.
The next calendar year was 1983. She was moving toward being almost white in color. And moving toward winning a million dollars.
There were six more races when she was three. She won five of those and finished second in the only race she didn’t win out of the dozen in her two campaigns.
At three, she posted wins in the Ashland Oaks and the highly sought-after Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
Those five wins at age three brought in another $264,733.
Drysdale and his boss thought another year could be even more productive. As a four-year-old, Princess Rooney was a picture of white excellence, racing some eight times and finding winning success five times even before her final assignment of the 1984 racing season.
She was sent to the last glorious Saturday of racing that year to be a prime contender in the star-studded Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Even after the male-dominated Breeders’ Cup Classic had been finished, many noted owners, trainers, and racing industry honchos were beginning their post-Breeders day conversations with the seven-length win Princess Rooney had showed them in the lopsided Distaff.
That ninth race to close her four-year-old season brought the year’s record to six wins in nine tries with a second and a third . . . to finish her career with the following numbers: 21 starts and 17 wins. Only once was she unable to finish at least third.
As a stakes-winning four-year-old she had pulled in another $854,791 to complete a Hall of Fame career with $1,343,339 in winnings.
The Eclipse Award voters selected her as the United States Champion Older Mare for 1984.
In 1985, she was in foal to the world’s leading sire, Danzig. Owner Tucker sent her to a Keeneland auction where she was bought for $5.5 million by George Aubin. At the time, it was the third-most money ever paid at auction for a broodmare.
Unfortunately, she didn’t do as well as a broodmare as she had done on the track.
After 10 years of producing foals, Princess Rooney’s youngsters had combined earnings of $377,640. She was sold to Lexington’s Gentry Brothers Farm for only $130,000.
While at the Gentry Farm, she had a last foal, House of Words, in 2004. House of Words won races as late as 2008.
Long before that time, she had been selected to the United States Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1991.
At the advanced age of 28, she was still a protective matriarch at the Gentry Farm. It was then in 2008 that she was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that quickly robbed her of vitality and comfort. She was euthanized just days after the ugly diagnosis.
Princess Rooney had been such an able learner of the tidbits Drysdale was dispensing that she won all six races her first year and then five of six as a three-year-old.
Winning 17 of 21 lifetime starts is a mostly unequaled record.
Winning the affections and trust of her caretakers and guardians was thought to be more important than all the victories found on the track.