Star of Night
Star of Night was up late to defeat Bridging the Gap in the December 2020 My Sister Pearl. Photo by Coady Photography.

Inside the spacious, reconfigured barns of The Barns at Maple Valley, LLC in Shenandoah Junction on May 23, which turned out to be one of the warmest days of the month, the West Virginia-bred champions of 2020 were announced. Many of them had a common thread.

Among the primary group of winners announced at the West Virginia Thoroughbred Breeders Association dinner were six horses sired by Fiber Sonde, who took home champion stallion for 2020, while his owner, John McKee, was named top breeder. Fiber Sonde, who stands for a modest $1,000 at McKee’s Beau Ridge Farm, has been the dominant force among West Virginia stallions for most of a decade with runners that have thrived in local events from one-turn sprints to three-turn routes.

“He’s been a blessing for us,” McKee said. “Every year for probably the last 10 years he’s been able to cover 75-80 mares. One year he had 94. He’s been the main reason we have been doing well the last 10 years. I breed most of my mares to him, although most of them not every year. People always ask me when I am going to raise his stud fee, but there’s no real reason to do that.”

McKee homebreds Shutupn’kissme and Youthinkthatsfunny were selected as champion WV-bred two-year-old filly and male, respectively, while his top trainee, Bridging the Gap, was named top West Virginia-sired but not -bred runner courtesy of her two stakes wins, including the $125,000 Cavada Breeders’ Classic.

The late Dr. Feelgood, also a son of Fiber Sonde, was posthumously voted champion older male and champion sprinter. He had a spotless 2020, winning all five of his starts, including two stakes.

One of the few champions not sired by Fiber Sonde was Star of Night, a daughter of Creative Cause who proved to be the dominant local three-year-old filly and then later upended Cavada champion Bridging the Gap in the My Sister Pearl Stakes to secure her status as West Virginia-bred horse of the year.

She edged the late Dr. Feelgood for the title in voting among a panel of neutral observers with no ties to the WVTBA board. Star of Night, bred by Heinz Steinmann and campaigned by his Huntertown Farm LLC, won six of seven starts in 2020 and scored in all three of her stakes tries.

“She had a tremendous year last year,” Runco said. “I thought she deserved both awards. I am happy for the Steinmanns. They have been clients of mine for a long time, and they like to breed and race their own horses and they have had a lot of success doing that. Star of Night was definitely really good last year and I’m hoping that she’s even better this year.”

Star of Night is back in training and has since fired bullet workouts for Runco on May 7 and May 14 after a pair of solid works in April. Most recently she breezed three furlongs in 36 4/5 seconds June 1.

If all goes to plan, Star of Night will likely renew her budding rivalry with Bridging the Gap this summer and fall in the Sadie Hawkins and the Cavada, where she is also bound to encounter Anna’s Bandit. A WV-bred daughter of Great Notion trained by John (Jerry) Robb of Little Bold John fame, Anna’s Bandit is also back in training and eyeing both stakes this year after being named champion mare of 2020.

Fancy Concho, another son of Fiber Sonde trained by Tim Grams and a homebred for him and his wife Judy Grams, was named champion state-bred three-year-old male one year after another Grams trainee, Loving Touch, shared the honor with Hero’s Man. Fancy Concho won five of nine starts in 2020 – he was second in the other four — and he sealed the sophomore title by capturing the West Virginia Lottery Breeders’ Classic.

On the same day on which Anna’s Bandit was honored as champion older WV-bred filly or mare – she shared the award with Late Night Pow Wow in 2019 – her half-sister by Mosler, Bandits Warrior, darted to a 2 1/2-length victory in a maiden special weight dash at Pimlico for Robb and owner-breeder No Guts No Glory Farm by getting the 4 1/2-furlongs in 52.59.

“I expected her to win [first time out],” Robb said of Bandits Warrior. “She’s always been quick away from the gate. Anna’s Bandit likes to sit and wait and most times she makes me nervous. When they come from off the pace like Anna’s Bandit does, sometimes they encounter trouble they can’t overcome. But she’s back in training and I would like to come back here with her this summer for the stakes.”