As a native of the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado, I spent plenty of time during the autumn months enjoying the cooler weather of the high country taking in the spectacular views of the large aspen groves as they turned from their summer green to the brilliant yellow hues of fall. It should come as no surprise then that one of my favourite names to appear in a pedigree is that of Fall Aspen.

A Kentucky foal of 1976, her breeder was a man fascinated by the American West and had a penchant for naming several of his horses after western locales. He was Joseph Metcalf Robeling, the great grandson of Brooklyn Bridge architect and builder John Robeling.

Her sire Pretense, a son of Argentinean-bred Endeavor, was bred by Liz Whitney, the wife of John Hay “Jock” Whitney, at their Virginia estate, Llangollan. Pretense was a multiple stakes winner and earned a championship in the handicap division at the age of five prior to his retirement to Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky.

The dam of Fall Aspen was the cleverly named Change Water, a 1969-foaled daughter of Horse of the Year Swaps and Portage, by War Admiral. While Change Water showed little ability on the track, winning only once from 12 starts, she improved her value in the breeding shed, producing four black-type horses.

“It should come as no surprise that one of my favourite names to appear in a pedigree is that of Fall Aspen”

Fall Aspen was the third produce of Change Water and the first of her three black-type horses. Other offspring of Change Water included the stakes-placed Paintbrush, latterly the third dam of Grade 1 winner and sire Dixie Union, and Mid-Atlantic perennial leading sire Allen’s Prospect.

Racing in her owner’s colours, Fall Aspen was a top-class two-year-old filly on the East Coast. After breaking her maiden on her second try, she jumped right into stakes company winning both the Grade 3 Astarita Stakes and Grade 1 Matron Stakes over a span of 14 days at Belmont Park. Two weeks later she finished fourth in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes and was put away for the season.

She won her debut at three, taking an allowance at Aqueduct followed by a win in the Prioress Stakes a month later, which would be her final stakes victory. Kept in training at four, she won twice more in allowance company.

Joseph Roebling passed away in July 1980 and his horses were dispersed by Fasig-Tipton in New York. Fall Aspen was purchased by Leslie Combs of Spendthrift Farm with business partner Francis Kernan, for whom she made her final start a winning one at Keeneland in October.

Retired with eight wins from 20 starts and earnings just shy of $200,000, she was vanned across town to begin her broodmare career in the same fields she romped as a foal, her owner’s Spendthrift Farm.

Stud career

As a shareholder in the highly popular Northern Dancer, Spendthrift was allowed to send one mare to his court each season.

They thought highly enough of Fall Aspen to send her to Maryland for the 1981 season, although the partners may have been slightly disappointed when the resulting filly sold for $410,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale, a far cry from her sire’s average of over $1.7 million.

Given the rather unimaginative name Northern Aspen, and racing in the colours of aviator Allen Paulson, she began her racing career in France where she won the Group 2 Prix d’Astarte at three.

Transferred to California for her five-year-old season, her training duties were taken over by John Gosden, who guided her to the top level of racing on the West Coast. After consecutive placings at Grade 1 level, she broke through with a win in the Gamely Handicap, ensuring a value much higher than her initial purchase price and starting Fall Aspen off on the beginning of a fabulous broodmare career.

Northern Aspen was bred primarily to her owner’s stallions early in her career and produced little of note until her ninth foal, Cypriata (by Seeking The Gold), finally earned some ink when taking the Penny Ridge Stakes at Sportsman Park in Chicago, several years after Paulson had parted ways with his Grade 1-winning mare.

Kept at home for the 1982 breeding season, Fall Aspen was covered by Spendthrift’s leading sire, Exclusive Native.

Grade 1 winner Mondialiste is a descendant of Fall Aspen

Named Elle Seule, this chestnut filly – like her sibling before her – made her name in France by also winning the Group 2 Prix d’Astarte. Unlike her half-sister, though, her only American start failed to enhance her resume as she was well beaten by the colts in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

Elle Seule did, however, outperform Northern Aspen in the breeding shed. Sent to Lyphard as a maiden, she produced Only Seule, a filly with only one win but who produced two-time French Group 1 winner Occupandiste, by Kaldoun, for the Wertheimer family. Retained as a broodmare, she has produced four stakes winners for the French-based breeders including Group 2 winner Impressionnante (dam of Group 1 winner Intello), Group 3 winner Only Answer and Grade 1 winner Mondialiste.

In 1990, Elle Seule was purchased in foal to Nureyev by Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Farm for $1.5 million, where she delivered Mehthaaf, winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas in 1994. On back-to-back coverings to Danzig, she also produced the Group 1-winning sprinter Elnadim and stakes winner Ashraakat. Two more stakes horses followed in Khulood (by Storm Cat), who won the Group 3 Nell Gwyn Stakes, and Listed winner Museeb, a full-brother to Elnadim and Ashraakat.

In turn, Mehthaaf’s stakes-placed daughter Tanaghum (by Darshaan) has produced four European stakes winners in Tactic, Yaazy, Matterhorn and Bangkok. Two other daughters are the dams of multiple Group 1 winner Ribchester and Group 3 winner Convergence.

Fall Aspen produced the first of her eight colts in 1984. Native Aspen, by Raise A Native, earned black-type courtesy of a placed effort at Garden State but he would not be able to match race records with his older brothers to come.

Fall Aspen switched to the ownership of International Thoroughbred Breeders in 1984 and was sent to Walmac Farm for a covering to Alleged. The resulting colt, Mazzacano, was foaled in Britain but had a brief stay in the US where he was sold for the bargain price of $70,000 at the Saratoga August Sale only to return to his birthplace, where he was to earn over $265,000, primarily in staying races.

“Bianconi became Fall Aspen’s ninth stakes winner when he won the Group 2 Diadem Stakes at Ascot”

The following year, Fall Aspen was foaled out in Ireland, where she raised the Shareef Dancer filly Colorado Dancer, a name Joe Roebling himself would be proud of. Like her sisters before her, she followed the familiar route of winning Group races in France prior to export to the California turf, where she ran third in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Handicap at the end of her three-year-old year.

Owned by Sheikh Mohammed, Colorado Dancer was sent to top stallions in Kentucky. Sent to Seeking the Gold for her third season, she produced a bay colt named Yaazer. While inspecting his two-year-olds in 1998, Sheikh Mohammed asked trainer David Loder which of his horses was the best in the string. When Yaazer was pointed out, the Sheikh applied for a name change. The newly named Dubai Millennium not only fulfilled the Sheikh’s vision of winning the Dubai World Cup in 2000 but also an additional three Group 1 events in Europe. Sadly, he died from grass sickness after covering only one season but his legacy is guaranteed through his outstanding son Dubawi.

Other stakes winners tracing back to Colorado Dancer include Group 2 Lowther Stakes winner Threading and dual Group 3 winner Dee Ex Bee.

On the cover to Sadler’s Wells, Fall Aspen produced the unraced Dance of Leaves, who in turn produced the high-class colts Charnwood Forest, winner of the Group 2 Queen Anne Stakes, and Medaaly, the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy winner. An additional eight stakes horses can be traced back to Dance of Leaves including German stakes winner Heartily, a horse whose pedigree features a double of Fall Aspen as a daughter of Dubawi.

Fall Aspen returned to America in 1987 and once again found herself in the sales ring, this time carrying a full sister to Colorado Dancer.
Her sale price exceeded the million-dollar barrier for the first time as she was hammered down to David Jamison for $1.1 million. The foal she was carrying at the time, Sheroog, showed little ability, winning once from eight tries, but her first two offspring were the stakes-winning colts Sharaf Kabeer and Group 2 winner Kabool. One of her daughters, Gorband, also foaled Richmond Stakes winner Harbour Watch and South African Group 1 winner Europa Point.

Fall Aspen then went on a spree of producing Graded/Group stakes winning colts, including three Group 1 winners in a row.

The ill-fated Dubai Millennium was out of Colorado Dancer, herself a daughter of Fall Aspen – Photo: George Selwyn

The first of these was July Cup winner Hamas, a son of Danzig owned by Sheikh Hamdan. He was followed by the Sadler’s Wells colt Fort Wood, who won the Grand Prix de Paris for Sheikh Mohammed in the same year that Hamas took the July Cup. Fort Wood would go on to become a leading sire in South Africa as the sire of 15 Group 1 winners.

Her next foal was the Woodman colt Timber Country. This was the first of her offspring retained to race in America and he proved up to the task for D. Wayne Lukas. A dual Grade 1 winner at two, when his wins included a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he earned Classic victory at three in the Preakness Stakes and finished third in the Kentucky Derby. Sold to stand in Japan, he had limited success at stud, but his exploits on the track were enough to earn Fall Aspen the honour of Kentucky Broodmare of the Year in 1994.

The following year, the mare produced a colt by Woodman’s champion son Hansel. Like his sibling, Prince of Thieves also joined D. Wayne Lukas, who guided him to a stakes victory in California and a second in Grade 2 Santa Anita Derby. He also ran third in the Kentucky Derby, thereby providing his dam with two consecutive sons to hit the board in America’s greatest race.

With her value skyrocketing, Fall Aspen returned to the Keeneland sales for the third and final time. In foal to Danzig with a full-brother to Group 1 sprinter Hamas, she was purchased by John Magnier for $2.4 million to join his Coolmore broodmare band. And in the spring of 1995, she delivered the bay colt Bianconi, who would become her ninth stakes winner when he won the Group 2 Diadem Stakes at Ascot. He was also her fourth son to take up stud duty when he retired to Ashford Stud in 2000.

Fall Aspen passed away in 1998 and is buried near the breeding shed at Ashford Stud in Kentucky. She made four trips back and forth across the Atlantic, producing 12 winners from 14 foals who earned a combined $3.3 million. She exchanged hands publicly three times for an aggregate of $4.3 million.

Watching the extended family of Fall Aspen earn black-type over the years has given me nearly as much enjoyment as viewing those colorful mountain vistas of Colorado.