One of the best-known horses on the Woodbine backstretch isn't a Grade 1 winner. In fact, she hasn't even won her first race yet.
When a friend excitedly told me, “You've got to see this pony!” and led me to Starresha's stall, I thought she was actually a track pony who was stabled inexplicably in the middle of the shedrow.
No indeed, Starresha is a registered Thoroughbred, even though she couldn't look more like a Paint cross — and technically speaking, she's that, too. Bred by Barry and Deb Holmes, Starresha is by Silver Deputy stallion Second in Command, who stands in British Columbia at Road's End Farm. Her dam is Painting Shadows, a daughter of Airdrie Apache who is dual registered with The Jockey Club and the American Paint Horse Association. Painting Shadows is mostly black with white patches and spotting throughout her face and body.
We explored the science behind white Thoroughbreds in 2013 when Painted Patchen became the latest in a line of white foals born at Patchen Wilkes Farm. Trainer Kelly Callaghan has made something of a study of the genetics behind Starresha. She has learned there are many mutations responsible for white coloring in Thoroughbreds. The Patchen Wilkes Thoroughbreds carry a different mutation than Airdrie Apache's line, which creates white spotting and mottling on dark coats, rather than solid white horses.
As with Airdrie Apache, however, full siblings can sometimes have different expressions of that white spotting gene. Callaghan has a daily reminder of this genetic principle when she walks by Starresha's stall. Starresha's full sister Zindigo lives in the next stall down and is dark bay with a white star.
Besides their different coats, the two fillies are built differently. Although a year older, Starresha is noticeably shorter with smaller, more dainty feet, while 2-year-old Zindigo is rangy and tall. Fortunately for Callaghan, their personalities are similar in important ways; both fillies are friendly and happy to accept pats and mints from visitors without being pushy or aggressive.
“Starresha kind of makes faces and people don't think she's sweet, but she is,” said Callaghan.
Callaghan thinks both fillies must take after their dam more than their sire.
“[Zindigo] lives off of air, I barely feed her and she's massive. They must get that from the mother, because I've had Second in Commands before and they're not heavy,” said Callaghan.
Zindigo is entered in her first race on Wednesday. Callaghan is still hoping to get Starresha's first win after four tries at Woodbine. She expects to try once more before considering retirement options. Starresha's nature would lend her to a variety of second careers, if the Holmeses don't opt to breed her.
“The pictures have made her more famous than she probably should be. She is different. She just is,” Callaghan said. “If I were to describe her as a kid, she's the one who beats to her own drum and doesn't care what anybody says about her. She'd go to the beat of her own drum, listen to different music. She'd be the hippie child.”
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