Serena’s Song turned 28 April 4, her true age matching her official birth date. Yet in most other ways one would expect age to catch up to a horse, it largely hasn’t with her.

It was a treat to see about half an hour devoted to a celebration of her through a video made by Denali Stud, where the star mare was given as many peppermints as she wanted, and a few nibbles of a cake made by Sarah Fishback, which spelled out “Serena” in carrots and had numerical candles for her age nestled into the oats. The care that went into making the cake, and the people that gathered to celebrate her in the video, was emblematic of how she means the world to Denali.

Craig and Conrad Bandoroff largely narrated, in turn, walking viewers through Serena’s storied life. They mentioned her first race, restricted to maidens, and while she didn’t win it, they said she must have been in high esteem at her barn since she was in stakes company in her second start, and broke her maiden in her third try.

“She did what horses don’t do, with 38 starts, 11 Grade 1’s, and beat the boys on several occasions.”
Conrad Bandoroff described her running in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies against champion Flanders, and how she was barely beaten, and that it reminded him of Alydar and Affirmed.

He went on to say that she had been a front runner in the Derby, and led for over a mile, before going on to win the Haskell against colts.

They joked that D. Wayne Lukas could be thanked for her loving peppermints, to such an extent that it is good horses can’t colic on the candy!

Conrad Bandoroff also said he had a friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Lewis that evolved into a business relationship, and when Serena’s Song retired the Lewises decided to send her to Denali. Bandoroff told them he could keep her in a small pasture “like an animal in a zoo” or let her be a horse, in a pasture with buddies, and the Lewises were adamant they let her be a horse. She arrived at Denali on December 9th, 1996, and Bandoroff remembered looking at her legs when she arrived and you’d have thought she’d never run a race, let alone 38. She was the leading money earner for distaffers when she retired.

He also said, while Serena had to be good to have the foals she had, there were still decisions to be made about stallions she was sent to, and her broodmare career was right up there with what he is most proud of professionally.

“She is the definition of a blue hen mare, with 6 stakes winners. She helped us grow, with 6 seven figure plus offspring, and we are indebted to her in many ways. She is responsible for a lot of the infrastructure at Denali.”

She was also incredibly special to Craig Bandoroff, who came up with the tagline “Queen of Denali Stud.” The Bandoroffs, father and son, joked that there was probably not a horse in Kentucky who had more halters made, and every year they donate 5 or 6 to make money for charities. Given their admiration for her, it is also wonderful to see all her fans want to visit and how admired she is by multitudes of people. As her stewards, they enjoy sharing her with people who want to visit.

I feel blessed to have visited her several times myself. The first time stood out because until then I didn’t realize they even welcomed visitors, expecting mares to be off-limits due to broodmare duties as most (understandably) are. And hearing from the feature celebrating this birthday that she is considered the Queen of Denali, fittingly, it meshed precisely with a sense she had of her own greatness and how I truly got a sense of being in the presence of royalty. I was that much in awe at meeting her. I am grateful to Denali for being so accommodating over the years to all who admire her, and sharing this celebration of her during a time when visits have to be on hiatus.

I did laugh a little that they mentioned she is still quite stubborn and feisty, which was evident during the video, and that none of her daughters are. But if Serena was not stubborn and feisty who knows if she would have been as tough on the track as she was? I admire that certainty of self, that assuredness and sense of who they are, and Rachel showed it too when she refused to yield in the Haskell. It is inspiring.

Conrad Bandoroff said she is currently doing really well, and has special shoes for her comfort. She spends most of her time outside with her buddies, coming in to be groomed and in cases of inclement weather. She did look incredible, and it was wonderful to see her, and hear the memories of those who have known her best over the years, and how they sent my own memories cascading of her prowess on the track, how I loved watching her run, and even better getting to be acquainted with her myself.

I also love that her legacy not only lives now, in how grand she looks and how she is celebrated by all who want to visit her, but also will be for generations to come, through her daughters and their progeny, and all the promise inherent in Honor Code and his progeny carrying on the line with the distinction worthy of his illustrious granddam.

A toast to the wonderful Serena’s Song!