Quality in a plain brown wrapper

Quality in a plain brown wrapper

By Emily Shields

On looks alone, Rings a Chime was unassuming: a dynamite runner hidden in a plain dark bay wrapper. In reality, she not only cultivated the richest single season by a Washington-bred runner to date, but she went on to be a two-time state champion and produce a dual Grade 1 winner. As humble as she looked, Rings a Chime proved to be a mighty representative of the Evergreen State.

Although she was not foaled until 1997, the story of Rings a Chime begins with a visit to the 1993 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale by Terry and Mary Lou Griffin. They went to $17,000 to acquire the stakes-winning Red Ryder (a full brother to Mr. Prospector) mare Outofthebluebell while the mare was in foal to Time for a Change. The resulting filly never made it to the races, but the Griffins had their eyes on Outofthebluebell’s first foal, a stakes-placed filly by Fast Play named Dona Coquis.

With Fast Play being by Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, the Griffins selected another Seattle Slew son, Grade 3 stakes winner Metfield, to visit Outofthebluebell in 1996. The resulting filly, Rings a Chime, was born March 15, 1997.

Rings a Chime brought a high bid of $26,000 from trainer Lloyd Mason and owners Dave and Trish Currie at the 1998 WTBOA Summer Sale. The future star left her home state to train in California at Golden Gate Fields, where she made her debut June 20, 1999.

Champion at Two

Her ambitious first start came in the Malcolm Anderson Stakes, a five-furlong sprint against males, all of which had run before. Despite her inexperience, Rings a Chime finished second, beaten only a head for the win. She also ran second in the Juan Gonzalez Memorial Stakes at the Pleasanton fair before being dropped into maiden special weight company.

Rings a Chime was heavily favored to win her third start, a maiden race at the now defunct Bay Meadows, but she finished second again, this time behind a Thunder Gulch filly named Spain. That runner would go on to earn over $3.5-million and count the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) amongst her seven graded stakes victories.

Three months after her inspiring debut, Rings a Chime finally won, driving home by 4 1/2 lengths despite rider Russell Baze losing his whip in the stretch. The filly then blossomed, adding a Bay Meadows allowance race by three lengths, followed by the Bay Meadows Lassie Stakes by another 4 1/4 lengths. That impressive effort sealed her title as Washington’s champion two-year-old filly, but Rings a Chime ran one more time that year, finishing third to a field of colts in the Doonesbury Handicap. She only lost by a length.

A Change in Ownership

Joseph Kowl of Turf Side Stables offered Mason and the Curries $200,000 for Rings a Chime that winter, and after much deliberation, they turned him down. Just an hour later, Kowl called back, explained how much he wanted the filly, and gave a $400,000 offer. Rings a Chime was sold.

New trainer Lonnie Arterburn mapped out an ambitious campaign for the Metfield filly, starting with the 1 1/16-mile Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3). It was Rings a Chime’s first try beyond a mile, and eventual heroine Surfside was already a dual Grade 1 winner. Surfside defeated Rings a Chime that day but the margin was significantly closer when Rings a Chime ran third, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths, behind Surfside and Spain in the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G1).

In the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks, Rings a Chime dueled with Surfside for the lead before weakening to fourth. Hardly discouraged, Arterburn shipped Rings a Chime to Kentucky for Keeneland’s Grade 1 Ashland Stakes. Despite being away from the competitive likes of Surfside and Spain, Rings a Chime was sent off at seven-to-one odds in a six-horse field on a track wet from recent rain.

Under Shane Sellers, Rings a Chime set the early pace, had a two-length advantage at the top of the stretch, and dug in gamely to defeat Grade 1 winner Zoftig by a nose. Other Grade 1 heroines, Circle of Life and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Cash Run, finished third and fourth respectively, while favored Deed I Do ran fifth.

The gritty Ashland performance earned Rings a Chime her spot in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) starting gate, but still did not garner her much respect from the bettors. She was sent off at 20-to-one in the Oaks, but led all the way until the quarter pole, where she gave way to the closing Secret Status. It was a banner day for Washington-breds, as fellow state-bred runner Classy Cara finished third.

Unfortunately, a minor tendon injury suffered while running last in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G1) ended Rings a Chime’s race career. She retired with four wins, five seconds, and two thirds in 13 starts for earnings of $606,315. Her 2000 campaign earned $526,275. Unsurprisingly, she was voted as the state’s horse of the year and overall champion three-year-old.

In the Breeding Ranks

The valuable Rings a Chime was sent to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky and quickly booked to Storm Cat, but failed to get in foal. She was then a $975,000 RNA at the 2000 Fasig-Tipton select November sale. She aborted a Saint Ballado foal the following year.

Robert and Janice McNair’s Stonerside Stables went to $800,000 to acquire Rings a Chime at the 2002 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale, and she finally produced a live foal the following year, a filly by Kingmambo named Regal Chime.

A $485,000 Keeneland September yearling RNA, Regal Chime would make two starts at three. After winning her debut in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race at Gulfstream Park for the McNairs, she ended her racing career with a second in a mile turf allowance at Churchill Downs, but unfortunately died as a four-year-old.

Rings a Chime continued to have some bad luck in the breeding shed, with her $124,938 earning Storm Cat son Liston dying as a five-year-old, her 2012 Distorted Humor filly Opus dying unraced at five, and neither her 2013 Tapit colt nor her 2016 Medaglia d’Oro foal saw their yearling season. She was also barren to Distorted Humor twice.

Despite this tough luck, Rings a Chime has done what she always did on the track: beat the odds. From six starters she has four winners, including the $208,985-earner After the Bell, a gelded son of Empire Maker who won 12 races over five seasons, and dual Grade 1-winner Country Star.

Also sired by Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Empire Maker, Country Star emulated her dam by winning a Grade 1 race at Keeneland – this time the 2007 Darley Alcibiades Stakes – before adding the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes in track record time two months later. Country Star earned $668,865 and was ranked second, two pounds below champion and Breeders’ Cup Fillies (G1) winner Indian Blessing, on the Experimental Free Handicap.

When the massive Darley operation acquired Stonerside in 2008, Rings a Chime was part of the transfer of livestock.

From Washington, to California, to Kentucky, the nondescript Rings a Chime proved her mettle over and over again, earning her spot in the Washington Racing Hall of Fame.

Emily Shields is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She has been covering horse racing since 2006.