If Dixie Moon were human, she would cast a side-eye to someone’s loud guffaw, tell her neighbours to behave, throw things at her detractors, and generally voice her opinion.
So maybe she’s almost human.
She just doesn’t need words to make her point. She’s quite eloquent, really, in her own way.
Since she started racing for breeders Dorothy and Sean Fitzhenry and trainer Catherine Day Philllips last year, Dixie Moon has let her actions speak for her. She’s coming up to the Queen’s Plate in a week as one of the favourites, what with her determined victory over 2-year-old filly champion Wonder Gadot in the Woodbine Oaks (and just think of how many Oaks-winning fillies have gone on to win the Plates, showing their heels to the boys). Besides, she’s already tried this. She defeated colts to win the Cup and Saucer last year.
“She thinks she’s the Queen Bee,” Day Phillips said on a sunny morning on the Woodbine backstretch. “She’s a smart filly. She learns and she watches and she thinks. She’s a neat filly to be around.”
The better Dixie Moon races, the more her personality comes out. She gets more attention. She feels more special.
Those who know her understand her language, her odd facial expressions, her expectations. She usually trains in Day Phillips’ first set. But one day last week, she sat in the barn as others left, because for a change, she was scheduled for the second set. “Quoi?” Dixie Moon seemed to say.
“She was looking at me like: ‘What is going on? Where is my tack and why are we not going out now?” Day Phillips said. You could see it in her face.
Like the Queen Bee that she is, Dixie Moon gets the spa treatment from a massage machine, first thing in the morning. “One morning, I was late doing that and [groom Nicki Brolly] said: ‘Oh, she’s looking for you,’” her trainer said.
“I poked my head out of the office and she’s standing there, staring at me, like: ‘It’s time. Where are you?’”
She lives next door to stablemate Split My Pants. At first, she turned up her nose at him. Perhaps she didn’t want to associate with someone treating their pants in such a fashion. She would give him orders, in her own way. Now she likes him. Day Phillips would like to move the copper-coloured chestnut filly to a room with a better view. But Dixie Moon now likes her neighbours. Why switch condos?
Being royalty, she doesn’t really have a warm and fuzzy personality. She likes her people, but she doesn’t necessarily like people. She loves her rider, Eurico Rosa da Silva. “I think she likes Nicki even though she tortures Nicki,” Day Phillips said. “I think she likes me. I don’t know. I like to think she does.”
To know her is to love her?
Brolly met Dixie Moon when she first came into the stable as a green, unraced 2-year-old. “It was love-hate for a little while,” Brolly said.
Dixie Moon is like other fillies in her family: rather fierce. She doesn’t trouble fools gladly. She has spirit, lots of it. “She has a big attitude,” Brolly said. “You just get to know her. Everything I do, it’s under her terms. If she’s not feeling it that day, then no. We just do everything the same and whatever way works, we do it just to keep her happy. But she’s very good. She loves to train. She loves to train a lot.”
They love each other now, the Irish-born groom said. “I think both of us is as stubborn as each other,” she said. “That’s a problem. She just took more patience. She wasn’t a cuddly baby. She was just a little more fierce than that.”
Fierce? Down in Florida over the winter, a track worker in the barn behind Day Phillips gave Dixie Moon a scolding one day. She wasn’t pleased with his attitude. She’d take a swipe at him over her stall whenever he ambled by. If she was snoozing at the back of her stall when he walked by, her ears would pick up the sound of his step, his voice, and dive out of the stall at him. She has a jolly ball to keep her happy. But when this interloper came by, she ripped it from its moorings and threw it at him. Her aim was brilliant. She hit him twice.
“She’s just very opinionated,” Brolly said. “She’s very funny.”
She will try to tell the other horses what to do. She gets very offended when one of them acts up. Or if anybody is too loud around her stall. She lets people know by kicking the wall.
The first time ever she saw her face
The first time Day Phillips laid eyes on Dixie Moon, she was a foal in Kentucky, a little “pot-bellied” and immature, with a big scar on the right side of her neck. “That was really unsightly,” Day Phillips said. “She’d been kicked by her mother or another horse. Nobody really knows.”
Off she went to the Keeneland yearling sale, being a daughter of Curlin and out of a mare (Dixie Chicken) that produced Guy Caballero, winner of the Plate Trial last year. She didn’t sell because of that big scar. “And she had a bump on her bum and a bump on her nose,” Day Phillips said.
So home she came and eventually went into Day Phillips’ care. “Her blemishes to me are beautiful,” she said.
“When I saw her as a yearling, she had a beautiful walk to her,” Day Phillips said. “She’s always been a light-bodied filly as far as weight goes, but she has very solid bone, and a lovely nice big hoof on her. She always walked well.”
When she began to train, she did everything right, offered no complications. But when she started breezing, her trainer could see there was more there. “She did everything easily,” she said. Da Silva thought she was special, too.
She broke her maiden at seven furlongs, with her connections terrified the race wouldn’t fill. It did. Just. Day Phillips was already thinking about running her in the Natalma and she needed that race to prepare.
Still, they thought her so immature, they’d best not run her again that season. But she thrived on training and got stronger with racing. She acted like she was ready to run, so Day Phillips entered her in the Natalma.
She finished second by 2 ¾ lengths to Irish-bred Capla Temptress. At odds of 13 to 1, Dixie Moon defeated the imposing Wonder Gadot by a head. (And she defeated her again in the Woodbine Oaks as a 3-year-old, holding her off by a head again.)
Day Phillips wasn’t at Woodbine for the Natalma; she watched the race on a television set in Kentucky, where she couldn’t really see the finish line so easily. She thought she’d won. “I was in a room full of people, screaming like an absolute maniac,” she said.
Now what to do with her? Day Phillips thought Dixie Moon enjoyed the turf, and the Cup and Saucer against males at Woodbine seemed her only option and would set her up perfectly for the Breeders’ Cup. She defeated them all.
Off to the big leagues
The Breeders’ Cup had been on their minds since August, and so they took her to California for the event last November. “She handled everything so well,” Day Phillips said. “She was perfect. She flew. She did everything like a champion. She was always a little bit of an up filly, so we worried how she would handle the paddock at the Breeders’ Cup as a 2-year-old filly.
“She was on the muscle, no doubt, but she didn’t put a foot wrong,” Day Phillips said. “She’s a very classy filly. She just walks into the gate and stands when we school her.” She finished sixth to Rushing Fall in the Juvenile Fillies Turf – and defeated Capla Temptress.
After such a supreme effort, Day Phillips had no intention of running her again in 2017. But in the two weeks following the Breeders Cup, Dixie Moon blossomed. “I couldn’t even understand how that could happen,” said the trainer. “She was just really happy and training well. She should have been on a down cycle, but she was on an up cycle.” Da Silva couldn’t believe it, either.
So they did run her in the Ontario Lassie Stakes at Woodbine, but she finally took a downswing by her last race. She won it by only a nose. She didn’t have the same sparkle. They didn’t even run that fast. “We wanted to see if she could run on synthetic,” Day Phillips said. “That’s a big reason why we ran. “
Still, that effort wasn’t a confidence builder. She later proved that synthetic footing is just fine.
She spent the winter in Florida. Day Phillips thought she was in very good shape when she entered the filly in the Applachian Stakes at Keeneland against Rushing Fall. But this Kentucky spring was cold and icy and uncomfortable. Day Phillips had expected apple blossoms. She found snow. The turf was yielding and Dixie Moon finished last of nine. Day Phillips was “pretty devastated.”
Dixie Moon’s blood work came back “a little funny,” but it was debatable whether or not it contributed to her poor effort. Back home at Woodbine, Dixie Moon was back to her sparky self and finished second in the Selene Stakes, after being blocked.
Wonder Gadot was the heavy 1 to 5 favourite in the Oaks in a five-horse field. Dixie Moon showed her heart and out-footed her to the wire in a time that was comparable to the clocking registered by Telekinesis in winning the Plate Trial. At 1:50. 38, Dixie Moon was two-hundredths of a second faster, but it’s the blink of an eyelash.
Come Plate day, Dixie Moon will put on her game face, to be sure. She doesn’t seem to be afraid of anybody. Cross her at your own peril.