“I think of him at every race”: his daughter Deborah says of Fred Greene Jr.
BALTIMORE — Of all the photos on Deborah Greene’s phone, there’s one that has the most special meaning. Taken in the spring of 2019, it shows her father, then 92, gently holding her head while standing over one of his new foals, a three-week-old bay filly. The foal’s mare stands protectively behind them.
The photo represents both the past and the present. His father, Fred A. Greene Jr., a retired home builder and real estate developer who successfully bred and owned horses for decades, died 14 months later at age 94. The filly, named Luna Belle, would become the best of her generation in the Mid-Atlantic.
“He was the last colt my dad got to see in his lifetime,” said Deborah Greene, who co-bred Luna Belle with her father and longtime Laurel Park-based trainer Hamilton Smith; Greene and Smith run her as co-owners. “I think of him at every race and he is with me. He is with me, and I know how happy he would be and I know how happy he is for me and Ham.
Hot on the heels of five straight wins, all in play, Luna Belle will face her biggest challenge yet when she makes her first graduate business appearance at the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) on May 20. at the historic Pimlico Race Course. Be run for the 98and times, the 1 1/8 mile test is the largest race for 3-year-old fillies in Maryland and one of the most prestigious in the country.
“I’m a nervous wreck,” Greene said. “It’s not that I’m not a big dreamer, but I never dreamed of having a racehorse to run in a graded event. I had never thought of that. I was always happy to have a decent horse that could break even. I heard my father say once, many years ago, that it’s exciting when your horse crosses the finish line first, whether it’s a claiming race, a allocation race or stake race. It’s the same feeling.
This one, naturally, would feel a bit more special. Besides Black-Eyed Susan’s prestige, a win would be another testament to her father’s legacy as a rider.
“It makes it that much more special, especially for Deborah,” Smith said. “She gets emotional every time the horse runs, and rightly so. She and her father were a good couple. They loved and cared about each other, and she is as happy as can be to have this filly.
“She really is her father’s daughter. She acts like him,” he added. “When it comes to making decisions, both have left it to me. I’ve never raced a horse or done anything of that nature without going through them first. I I always asked their opinion, and they were like, “You’re doing the best you can. She looks so much like her dad, it’s amazing.”
Until the screams.
“Dad was very vocal, and so was I. Someone once said they didn’t think anyone could shout louder than my dad when his horse was coming down the stretch, but you can,” Greene said. . “When she won the [2021 Maryland] Juvenile [Fillies], I had to attend a Christmas party and I was watching it on TV. I was screaming so loud that everyone in that room thought someone was dead. I’m excited.
Luna Belle gave Greene and Smith something to get excited about. She won once in her first five starts, finishing fourth by a length in the Maryland Million Lassie and second in the Smart Halo before her victory in the Juvenile Fillies, which led to her being named the champion filly of 2 years from Maryland.
Filly Great Notion is undefeated in four starts as a 3-year-old, winning January 29 Xtra Heat, February 19 Wide Country, March 19 Beyond the Wire and April 16 Weber City Miss, all at Laurel, the latter earning him a pop-up berth in the Black-Eyed Susan.
“I think when Luna Belle won the Xtra Heat it was the first race we won where I didn’t just cry missing him, but I know he was happy. Just an emotional scream,” Greene said. “Sometimes I still do, [but] my memories of my father are so happy that most of the time I smile. It’s so great to have so many pleasant memories, and many of them are related to horses.
Fred Greene’s top horse was mare Debbie Sue, named and owned in conjunction with his daughter and trained by Smith. She won the Maryland Million Ladies in 2006, the 2008 and 2006 Brookmeade and finished second in the 2008 Ladies. She retired with over $400,000 in scholarships.
Greene also owned a horse named Iron Streak, who won his first two career starts, including the 1977 Primer at the old Bowie Race Track and was headed to Youthful in mid-June at Belmont Park before injury put an end to end to his career. Affirmed would win the Youthful, with Alydar fifth.
“There was a headline in the Daily Racing Form [that read]”Iron Streak Favored Over Affirmed and Alydar,” Deborah Greene said, “so you never know what it might have been.”
Greene also owned six-figure winners Heavenly Moon and The Poser, and 2011 Maryland Million Nursery finalists Coach Fridge and I’m in Heaven, who went undefeated as a 2-year-old in 1997, including Laurel’s Toddler Stakes. I’m in Heaven is the mare of Heavenly Moon, who gave birth to Luna Belle on March 30, 2019.
“[Luna Belle] is her legacy,” said Deborah Greene. “It goes back to the grandmother he had with [late trainer] Quartermaster Mitchell. Steward Mitchell bought her on sale and they were partners, owned and ran I’m in Heaven, and she was wonderful. When his racing career ended, dad didn’t want to raise him. Ham was working on him to raise him and I was working on him to raise him, and I guess between the two of us [he was convinced].”
Smith first met Fred Greene in the early 1980s through Mitchell, when they shared a barn in Bowie. Smith’s business relationship grew with Greene once the coaches moved to Laurel.
“Mitch had a horse he had a little problem with and he told Fred Greene he wanted to send it to me. That’s how I got to know Mr. Greene and trained horses for him,” Smith said. “When Steward Mitchell died [Greene] had someone else training his horses for a while and then he asked me if I could take them. He had a few horses here, so I had some, and we’ve been together ever since. He bred most of his own stuff back then and we’re doing fine with them.
As for Luna Belle, Smith said, “We raised her and everything, and she was the last foal Mr. Greene saw before he died. Luna Belle was the last he saw. We kept it and had fun with it. She could run and she was fine and we had great offers for her, but we saw no reason to sell her. We were having fun and we kept her here with us, and you can see what she’s been up to so far. I don’t think I could have sold her and gone out and bought another one that could match what she did for us.
Luna Belle’s style and success has made her a fan favorite, so much so that it has taken relationships by surprise.
“Everyone is so excited. It almost grew like a fan club,” Greene said. “Ham said he got out of his truck on Main Street in Laurel one day and heard this car horn honking. Scared him to death. He kept looking around and it was someone driving a tractor-trailer down Main Street. [They] rolled down the window and started screaming, ‘Luna Belle!’
“His other owners come out and watch their horses and then they want to go see Luna Belle. [Injured champion jockey] Sheldon Russell brought his daughter to meet Luna Belle. Stuff like that,” she added. “My friends and acquaintances are all asking about her and reading about her. It’s surreal to me. Sometimes I think he doesn’t sink in.
Despite all the success and recognition, Greene is very content to know that her father played – and may still play – a role in all of this.
“It was such a great bond I had with my dad in his later years that I’m eternally grateful for. He had [some] good last years,” she said. “Every foal he had, even when he decided to breed Heavenly Moon, he always said he wouldn’t live long enough to see one run. But he’s seen quite a few.
By Phil Janack
Pictures: Maryland Jockey Club/Courtesy Deborah Greene