Anyone with a spirit of adventure will applaud the decision to nominate Marietta Fox-Pitt as TBA Breeder of the Month for February for the exploits of her owner-bred ten-year-old Snow Leopardess, who completed a hat- trick in a Listed mares’ chase at Exeter, following her ground breaking success in the Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree, to where, all being well, she will return for the Randox Grand National this month.
Mother of Olympic gold medalist three-day eventer William Fox-Pitt and mother-in-law of ITV Racing presenter Alice Plunkett, octogenarian Marietta has always been her own woman, notably when her eventing career took her to international honours and close finishes at Badminton and Burghley in the mid-1960s.
The foundation for today’s success with Snow Leopardess was laid at around the same time, when on 2 December, 1963 at Tattersalls in Newmarket she paid 800gns for an Elopement foal out of You’ll Be Lucky, bred by the stage and radio comedian Al Read and who was sold immediately after leading northern trainer Charlie Elsey had paid 1,500gns for the mare’s Rockefella yearling, who proved to be the Galtres Stakes winner Take A Chance.
Newmarket trainer Jack Waugh signed the docket for Fox-Pitt’s purchase, taking the lead from his owner Lord Howard de Walden.
She recalls: “Lord Howard gave me a list of horses I was allowed to proceed on. I went round them all, decided which I liked the best and we bid for her.”
There have been few regrets over the 60 years since, for the filly, named Ysolda and trained by Waugh, finished third in the Blue Seal Stakes at two years before running up a sequence of four wins in maiden races at three. In direct female line she has been responsible for St Isabel (1968, by Saint Crespin III), St Isadora (1978, by Lyphard), Fairlead (1990, by Slip Anchor), Queen Soraya (1998, by Persian Bold) and ultimately Snow Leopardess (2012, by Martaline).
Fox-Pitt reflects: “As you can see, I’ve had the family a very long time, and it’s done me proud over the years. I’m very fond of Snow Leopardess. She loves every minute of running and jumping, and thinks it’s great.
“I decided she was a good one the day she was born. After my husband Oliver died [in January 2012] it was the first day that I felt really happy. As soon as she was born, she stood straight up as if to say: ‘I own the world,’ and I knew then she would be something special. She likes being Queen Bee.”
Something special hardly seems expansive enough to describe Snow Leopardess, who has a 50 per cent record of success, with wins on the Flat and over hurdles and fences in Britain, Ireland and France. In addition, she had a couple of lengthy breaks to recover from injury and during the second, 27-month lay-off foaled a filly by Sir Percy, now a three-year-old, who is at Fox-Pitt’s home in Kent and will go into training soon.
More than that, Fox-Pitt reveals: “I’ve got two frozen embryos by Chocco Blue, the leading showjumping stallion in the world for five years in a row, from Snow Leopardess. They’re waiting to be inserted into mares. I want to breed a top showjumper and eventer from her, as I’ve never had a horse who jumps as well as she does, so this is the ideal way of going about it.”
As if by way of explanation, she adds: “I have very funny ideas,” although no-one would argue with her general premise of making the most of her opportunities, such as continuing to race Snow Leopardess beyond this season.
“I’ll get her in foal again in 2024, because I’m not in any hurry with her,” Fox-Pitt reasons. “There’s no point in not racing her. You don’t get many good racehorses in a lifetime, so you might as well enjoy them.
“I was at the top of the world in eventing, so I wasn’t entirely stuck on racing then, whereas now racing is nearly everything. It’s always more fun to do things for yourself. And it’s more fun as you get older.”