EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an exclusive chapter excerpt from local author JoAnn Guidry’s recently published book, Winner’s Circle: The Legacy of the Florida Thoroughbred Industry.
The limited-edition book chronicles the history of Ocala’s thoroughbred industry through the stories of the 12 Florida-bred racehorses currently in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and two possible future inductees. Included in the book is a chapter about Ocala Stud, which was established in 1956 and is the oldest active Florida thoroughbred operation. There also are chapters on the Florida Breeders of the Year (1989-2021) as well as the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (FTBOA) and The Florida Horse magazine.
Winner’s Circle can be purchased at the headquarters of the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership at 310 SE Third St., Ocala (352) 629-8051 and FTBOA at 801 SW 60th Ave., Ocala (352) 629-2160. Hardbacks are $20 plus tax and softbacks are $14 plus tax. Winner’s Circle is also available to check out from the Marion County Public Library System.
Big, bold and beautiful, Fred Hooper’s Susan’s Girl made everyone take notice when she stepped onto the racetrack. Standing 16.1 hands and weighing just shy of 1,200 pounds, the red bay runner had a striking blaze and four white socks. And she was a stone-cold racehorse.
In five seasons of racing, Susan’s Girl made a remarkable 63 starts, notching 29 wins, 14 seconds and 11 thirds to earn $1,251,668. Of those 29 wins, 24 were stakes wins, including 12 graded with eight Grade I victories. In the latter category, she won the Spinster Stakes (1973 and 1975) and Delaware Handicap twice (1973 and 1975). She also won the Beldame Stakes twice; in 1972 prior to the graded stakes races system and again in 1975 when it was a Grade I.
An excellent shipper, Susan’s Girl ran at racetracks on both coasts and in between. She won from 6 furlongs to 10 furlongs, on dirt and on grass. And Susan’s Girl had seven different trainers in her career: Ross Fenstermaker, T.W. Kelly, Chuck Parke, John Russell, Robert Smith, J. L. Newman and J.E. Picou. She won at least one stakes for each of her trainers. Russell trained Susan’s Girl during her 1972 and 1973 championship seasons while Fenstermaker saddled her for her 1975 championship season.
Susan’s Girl was bred by Fred W. Hooper Jr. and named after his wife, Susan. Hooper Jr. reportedly sold Susan’s Girl to his father for $25,000 and half of her earnings as a 2-year-old.
Fred Hooper Sr., the son of a hardscrabble Georgia farmer, had moved to the Palatka, Florida, area after World War I. There he tried his hand at farming potatoes and cabbage, going into debt. He then became a barber before going into road construction, eventually becoming the biggest contractor in the Southeast. He later bought thousands of acres of farmland in Alabama, raising shorthorn cattle there and at his Palatka farm. It was around that time that he bought his first racehorses, running them in match races.
In 1943, Hooper bought a *Sir Gallahad III yearling colt for $10,200 at the Keeneland sale. Named Hoop Jr., the colt won the 1945 Kentucky Derby and Hooper was officially in the Thoroughbred business. After initially basing his Thoroughbred operation in Alabama, Hooper moved to Ocala full time and established Hooper Farms in 1966. It was there that Susan’s Girl, by Quadrangle out of Quaze, by *Quibu, was foaled in 1969.
Despite being such a big filly, Susan’s Girl bypassed the gawky stage and developed quickly into a serious racehorse. As a juvenile in 1971, she made 13 starts, notching five wins and five seconds to earn $150,484. She posted victories in the Signature Stakes and Villager Stakes, both at Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania. Susan’s Girl was second to Dresden Doll in the Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct, as well as runner-up to Numbered Account in both the Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park and Gardenia Stakes at Garden State Park. Numbered Account took home the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly. But Susan’s Girl was just getting warmed up and her accolades were coming in bunches.
As a 3-year-old filly, Susan’s Girl roared into 1972, winning six consecutive stakes races at three different distances and at three different tracks. Trained by John W. Russell, she opened up the season with a trio of wins at Santa Anita: Pasadena Stakes (6 furlongs in 1:08.60), Santa Ynez Stakes (7 furlongs in 1:21.80) and Santa Susana Stakes (8 1/2 furlongs in 1:43).
Shipped to Churchill Downs, Susan’s Girl didn’t miss a stride. There, she captured the La Troienne Stakes and the Kentucky Oaks. Next stop was Aqueduct, where Hooper’s color-bearer added a victory in the Acorn Stakes to make it six stakes win in a row.
Susan’s Girl posted seconds in the Mother Goose Stakes and Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park before shipping back west to Hollywood Park. There she was second in the Princess Stakes and third in the Hollywood Oaks. Then it was back across the country to Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania, where she found the winner’s circle in the Cotillion Handicap.
Back at Belmont Park, Susan’s Girl was triumphant in the Gazelle Handicap and Beldame Stakes. The latter field was stocked with the best 3-year-old fillies in the country. Besides Susan’s Girl, there was Summer Guest, Chou Croute, Numbered Account and Typecast. Susan’s Girl rallied on the rail, jumped over a piece of paper near the finish line and won by a length over Summer Guest, with Chou Croute third. Winning time for the nine furlongs was 1:47 2/5.
On the season, Susan’s Girl made 13 starts, posting nine wins, all stakes wins, two seconds and two thirds to bank $352,678. She had made three starts in May at three different tracks, two starts in June at two different tracks, two starts in July at two different tracks and two starts in September, both at Belmont Park. In a remarkable feat at the latter, Susan’s Girl won the Gazelle Handicap on September 2 and then the Beldame Stakes on September 9. Not surprisingly, Susan’s Girl collected the 1972 Eclipse Award as the champion 3-year-old filly.
ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON
In 1973, the graded stakes race system was in effect and Susan’s Girl wasted little time in racking up graded stakes wins. Still under John Russell’s tutelage, she opened the season again at Santa Anita Park and shone brightly as ever. Carrying 127 pounds, she bested Convenience in both the Santa Maria Handicap (G2) and Santa Margarita Invitation Handicap (G1). Stretched out to 10 furlongs proved to be not a problem for Susan’s Girl, winning the Santa Barbara Handicap (G1) while carrying 129 pounds.
Shipped back to the East Coast, Charles Parke took over training Susan’s Girl in the fall after Russell resigned to condition the Phipps family’s stable. The change of trainer made no matter to Susan’s Girl. She would win carrying 127 pounds in the Susquehanna Handicap (G2) at Liberty Bell, Delaware Handicap (G1) at Delaware Park and Spinster Stakes (G1) at Keeneland. In the Delaware Handicap, she covered 10 furlongs in 2:00.60 while beating Summer Guest.
In 14 starts, Susan’s Girl scored six wins, all graded including four Grade 1’s, two seconds and three thirds to earn $340,496. She won a well-earned 1973 Eclipse Award as champion older mare.
The 1974 season was a strange one for Susan’s Girl. She finished second in the Santa Monica Handicap (G2) and third in the San Pasqual Handicap (G2) at Santa Anita. In the latter, she was beaten by Tri Jet, another Hooper Florida-bred multiple-graded stakes winner from the same 1969 crop. Susan’s Girl also came out of the San Pasqual Handicap (February 2, 1974) with chips in her left foreleg. But Hooper wasn’t ready to retire his big mare; he wanted her to become the first distaff runner in North America to win $1 million. Dr. Robert Copelan removed three chips from Susan’s Girl’s foreleg and she was sent back to Hooper Farm to recuperate. Reportedly, every day for two months, Susan’s Girl was vanned to an equine swimming facility south of Ocala in Lake Weir. Nine months later, she was ready to return to the racetrack.
And Susan’s Girl being Susan’s Girl, her return was remarkable. After not having raced since February, she won the Falls City Handicap (G3) at a mile on November 9 at Churchill Downs. Susan’s Girl closed out the season with two wins, including a graded tally, one second and two thirds to bank $46,059.
ALL HAIL THE QUEEN
As a 6-year-old mare in 1975, Susan’s Girl was as amazing as ever. She won the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 2 and then the Long Beach Handicap (G2) on the turf at Hollywood Park on April 26. On July 28, she captured the Matchmaker Handicap (G1) at Delaware Park, setting a track record of 1:54.20 for the 9.5 furlongs.
Then for a little icing on the cake of her stellar career, Susan’s Girl won her second Delaware Handicap (G1) at Delaware Park on August 10, her second Beldame Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on September 20 and her second Spinster Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on October 25.
At season’s end, Susan’s Girl had made 17 starts, chalked up seven wins, five being graded wins with four being Grade I’s, four seconds and four thirds. She earned $361,951 and boosted her career bankroll to $1,251,668, giving Hooper his wish of having the first distaff millionaire in North America. Susan’s Girl picked up her third Eclipse Award, being named the 1975 champion older mare. And Hooper collected his own Eclipse Award as Outstanding Breeder. In 1976, Susan’s Girl was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
As a broodmare, Susan’s Girl produced Florida-bred Grade I stakes winner Copelan, by Tri Jet. Named after the equine surgeon who had removed Susan’s Girl’s chips, Copelan won the 1982 Champagne Stakes (G1), Futurity Stakes (G1), Hopeful Stakes (G1) and earned $594,278. Copelan was also a leading Florida stallion, siring 35 stakes winners.
Susan’s Girl died at Hooper Farms on October 18, 1988, at the age of 19. OS