Greene “never dreamed something like” Luna Belle
Deborah Greene cracks up at the idea that she always knew that she’d own racehorses.
“Heck, no,” said the accountant who co-bred and co-owns Luna Belle, second choice on the morning line for Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan (G2). “I’m conservative with my money.”
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Greene’s laugh is fulsome, in the “generous and abundant” sense of the word, and frequent. It cascades over a phone line, and it’s infectious; in the presence of so much mirth and merriment, it’s impossible to not join in.
Heading into this weekend of Maryland racing, Greene and trainer Hamilton Smith have a lot to be happy about. With Greene’s father, the late Fred Greene Jr., the duo bred Luna Belle (Great Notion), the last foal Greene saw before his death in 2020.
The Maryland-bred filly is out of the Mojave Moon mare Heavenly Moon, who was also trained by Smith.
Smith met Greene’s father in the 70s, when the latter had horses with trainer Steward Mitchell at Bowie. When one of Greene’s filly flat-out refused to go over the newly-constructed bridge across the road to the track, Mitchell suggested that Greene send her to Laurel to train with Smith.
“Dad said that Ham must be some horseman, if Steward would send a horse to him,” Deborah recalled.
Though that filly never did make it to the races (because of injury, not because of her strong will), it established the relationship that would result in Smith becoming Greene’s trainer after Mitchell died in 1999.
And in 2008, the ownership trio of Greene, Greene, and Smith débuted when Deborah purchased a partnership share in Debbie Sue (Citidancer), a seven-year-old Virginia-bred mare that her father had named after her and who was already a multiple stakes winner.
“He knew I like the horses so much, and he said, ‘I kind of want you to buy half of this horse. I think it will be good for you,’” she related. “I was kind of like, ‘Ummmm…$18,000 is a lot of money!’”
Debbie Sue retired later that year with earnings of $400,000 and a record of 34-7-8-5. Now, the first horse that Deborah owned with her father has produced the last foal that he saw.
Growing up, she wanted to join her father’s home-building business, establishing a venture that she fancifully imagined “Fred Greene and Daughter.” While that never happened, part of the dream came true when they became partners in breeding and owning.
“I learned so much from him about business,” she said. “I learned to run our horse business with a lot of care and feeling for what’s best for the horse, even as it still has to be run as a business.”
Lately, business has been good for Greene and Greene, thanks to Luna Belle.
The bay filly is undefeated in four starts this year, and her winning streak stretches to five, including a win in the Maryland Juvenile Fillies Championship Stakes at Laurel last December. That win capped a decent, though hardly remarkable, two-year-old season for Luna Belle.
“Her first two races were on the turf down at Colonial Downs,” said Smith, “and they weren’t that impressive. When we put her on the dirt, she won pretty easy in 1:09 and change, which is pretty doggone good for a two-year-old filly. We knew then that she was something.”
She ran off with her rider during the post parade in her next race, finishing third, and she was fourth, beaten a length and a head as the favorite, in the Maryland Million Lassie Stakes in October.
“She was making a big run down the lane, and she got cut off pretty good,” said Smith. “She pretty much stopped outside the sixteenth pole, regrouped, and got beat a length. She was the best that day and she should have won with clear sailing.”
The filly arrived at Pimlico this week, the first time she’s been on a track other than Laurel or Colonial Downs, and on Friday she’ll be running in front of a much bigger crowd than she’s seen before. Smith is unconcerned.
“She’s one of the smartest horses I’ve ever trained,” he said, “and she takes everything in stride. You never know how they’ll react in a new atmosphere, but the way she’s acted so far, I think she’ll handle it. She was out on the track at Pimlico Wednesday morning, and there were people all over the place, tents in the infield, and she acted the way she always does.”
“She’s a sweetheart now,” said Greene. “When she was younger, she was very docile, not friendly, not unfriendly. Now she’s come into her own: she’s sweet, she lets you love on her, and she loves cookies. Ham has these horse cookies, and she starts nickering or hollering for them. Sheldon Russell brought his young daughter to see her and Luna Belle just let the little girl love on her.”
While Luna Belle may be easy with the increased attention she’s gotten, having a popular, accomplished racehorse has been something of an adjustment for Greene.
“I honestly don’t know what to say,” she said, with another eruption of that laugh. “I’m not used to the attention. Dad was always the one who got all the attention, and I was just there with him. People weren’t rude to me, but they talked to him, not me.”
“I never dreamed that anything like this could happen,” she went on. “I dreamed about having a good allowance horse. I never expected to have a graded stakes hose because I wasn’t ever going to put that kind of money into buying horses.
“Dad always said that there’s nothing like it when your horse comes across the finish line first, whether it’s a stake race or a claiming race. The excitement and the thrill are still there.”
After one race, he got so excited that he jumped over the fence on the apron to get on to the track—then couldn’t figure out how to get back because he didn’t remember jumping the four-foot fence to begin with.
His daughter has yet to violate any security rules in her excitement, but she definitely inherited her father’s exuberance, effusively hollering and screaming during races.
“I jump up and down and run towards the finish line,” she said, laughing (of course). “Ham says that there’s no telling where I’m going to be when the race is over.”
Might be time to reinforce those fences…