As a homebred for Peter Vegso, best known as the publisher who launched the inspirational Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Lord Miles ought to have a heartwarming story. And he does! 

His ancestress in the direct female line was born with no eyes; yet with loving care, she became an influential producer. If not for a providential twist of fate that rerouted Lord Miles’s own dam (mother) to a different stallion, he wouldn’t exist. And if he’d been the type to sell better at auction, he’d never have given Vegso his first Kentucky Derby (G1) runner.

Lord Miles is the latest top performer descended from the blind Begum, his sixth dam (i.e., his great-granddam’s great-granddam). From the first crop of Alydar, famed for his archrivalry with 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, Begum was bred by the late Alice Chandler at her Mill Ridge Farm. The filly would have had great potential on the racetrack, since three of her half-siblings were already stakes winners, including Grade 3 heroine Old Goat. 

But as soon as Begum was born on April 4, 1981, it was obvious that a racing career was impossible. The chestnut foal’s eye sockets had nubs where her eyes should have been. Even more concerning, however, was what kind of life she might have at all. Could a totally blind foal thrive?

Chandler wanted to do everything possible to help the baby make it. The Mill Ridge team devised ingenious accommodations, and Begum responded. Her amazing story is recounted in the video below, as well as by Alicia Wincze Hughes (in the Blood-Horse on Dec. 25, 2016) and by pedigree expert Frank Mitchell (Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog of April 17).

Begum rewarded the kindness by turning out to be a stellar broodmare. She produced three stakes performers – stakes winners Songlines and Binalong, both multiple graded stakes-placed, as well as the British stakes-placed Badawi. Even Begum’s unraced daughters became noted producers themselves; one, Rajmata, is now the ancestress of 2022 Canadian Horse of the Year Moira.

Lord Miles descends from Songlines, Begum’s first foal. Sired by Mill Ridge stallion Diesis, who had been a champion two-year-old in England, Songlines raced exclusively on turf. She won a pair of stakes at the track now known as Parx, but perhaps more significantly, she placed in the 1989 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G2) at Keeneland and the Diana H. (G2) at Saratoga.

Songlines’s daughter Sunset Service, by Deputy Minister, extended the legacy. Sunset Service is responsible for stakes winners Vespers and Database (themselves the dams of Grade 1 heroes Hymn Book and Data Link, respectively), and another clutch of performers through an unraced daughter, Twilight Service.

Vegso entered into the family by purchasing Twilight Service for $105,000 as a two-year-old in training at OBS March in 2004. The co-founder and president of Florida-based publisher Health Communications Inc., Vegso has campaigned such accomplished homebreds as $2.9 million-earner Go Between, $1.7 million-earner Silver Tree, multiple Grade 1 winner Splendid Blended, and millionaire Unrivaled Belle, who was bred and raced in partnership with Gary Seidler. Unrivaled Belle scored her signature win in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) over Blind Luck and Havre de Grace.

Twilight Service’s sire, Horse Chestnut, was one of the all-time greats in South Africa. Conqueror of his homeland’s Triple Crown in 1999, he was exported to the United States with high hopes. Horse Chestnut delivered with an outstanding debut in the 2000 Broward H. (G3) at Gulfstream Park, romping by 5 1/2 lengths to whet the appetite for what he could accomplish here. Unfortunately, that remains a what-if, as Horse Chestnut was subsequently injured and retired.

Although Twilight Service did not make it to the races, she would serve as a valuable addition to the Vegso broodmare band. Her leading runner, Citizen Advocate, won or placed in eight stakes for other connections (White Hall Lane Farm and trainer David Vivian). Another daughter of Twilight Service, Come a Callin, had also shown talent early on, but didn’t fulfill it on the racetrack for Vegso.

Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Come a Callin broke her maiden as a juvenile at the marquee Saratoga meeting. She promptly advanced to the Jessamine (G2) on the Keeneland turf, but didn’t factor in seventh. Come a Callin went totally off form afterward, failing to hit the board while descending through the claiming ranks. 

As a broodmare, however, Come a Callin has been far more successful. She’s produced champion Caledonia Road, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner who was sold as a yearling; Vegso’s multiple Grade 3 hero Officiating, currently training toward his seasonal reappearance; and Lady Esme, the dam of Lord Miles.

Lady Esme, by the A.P. Indy stallion Majestic Warrior, was named after a proper English lady – the aunt of Vegso’s Yorkshire-born wife, Anne.
“She loved horses, loved animals, loved racing particularly,” Vegso said of Aunt Esme, an assiduous follower of the British racing scene who lived well into her 90s.
The equine Lady Esme wasn’t able to pay tribute to her namesake as a racehorse, as she never ran. But like her own dam, she is making up for it through her offspring.
Lord Miles is her first foal. Fittingly, he’s named after Esme’s husband, whose last name was Miles. Yet he didn’t come into the world according to the original plan.
Lady Esme, based at Vegso’s Florida farm, was booked to a Kentucky stallion. She was accordingly sent to Robbie and Susie Lyons’s Hartwell Farm, which at that time hosted Vegso’s mares during their Bluegrass sojourn.
As a maiden filly preparing for her first visit to the breeding shed, however, Lady Esme took longer than envisioned to get ready for the mating. By the time she was ready, she could no longer get to the originally-scheduled suitor.
Vegso’s team had to figure out alternatives on the fly, and Curlin was recommended. The Hall of Famer made a lot of sense, not only as an outstanding sire, but as a good physical match for Lady Esme.
“She’s a very good-looking mare, well made,” Robbie Lyons said. “She certainly suited Curlin, and added a lot of quality.”
The one cause for pause was the price – Curlin was standing for an advertised fee of $175,000 in 2019. Vegso decided that Lady Esme was worth the expense.
“Mr. Vegso was game to put the money up,” Lyons said.

Lady Esme’s bay colt was born at Hartwell on March 30, 2020, and early indications were positive.
“He had a lot of quality – a very nice foal, but otherwise unremarkable,” Lyons summed up.
In this sense, “unremarkable” is good, because anything terribly memorable is likely to mean trouble.
Mother and baby remained at their Bluegrass lodgings until Lady Esme was bred again and safely back in foal. Then they were shipped home to Ocala, where Lord Miles grew up and filled out.
As a Curlin colt, bred on the emerging cross with A.P. Indy, and related to a juvenile champion in Caledonia Road, Lord Miles would have had a nice catalog page. The possibility of putting him through a sale was discussed, but Vegso was advised that he was a bit too flabby for a discriminating marketplace.
“He was a chunky little guy,” Vegso said, adding he was told that buyers were “not going to be too interested.”
Thus Lord Miles remained on the farm and was home-schooled, as it were, by Phil Gleaves. At that time serving as the pre-trainer for the Vegso horses, the English expat compiled a 36-year career as a trainer on the racetrack. His resume as an all-around horseman goes back even further.
Gleaves is often remembered from his time as an assistant to the late Hall of Famer Woody Stephens, and exercise rider for such celebrities as Danzig; 1984 Derby and Belmont (G1) champion Swale; juvenile phenom Devil’s Bag; and Smarten, an ancestor of Curlin. 
Not long after going out as a trainer in his own right, Gleaves made his first Kentucky Derby appearance at the age of just 28 with Wise Times, who punched his ticket in the 1986 Lexington (G3). Wise Times went on to sweep the Travers (G1), Haskell (G1), and Super Derby (G1).
Among the last group of Vegso yearlings that Gleaves tutored, Lord Miles was “straightforward, no idiosyncrasies.” Indeed, he did well enough to warrant entering him in a two-year-olds in training sale.
“He was pretty forward in his training, for a Curlin,” Gleaves said, alluding to his progeny’s propensity to improve with age. “He had breezed well at the farm.”
So Lord Miles was sent to consignor Niall Brennan to finalize his preparations for the OBS April Sale. When Brennan put him through his paces, though, he didn’t go quite fast enough for what that particular market demands.
“He trained well, though not ‘lights out,’” Gleaves revealed. “He didn’t go exceptionally fast.”
But it’s the gaudy clocking, over a furlong or two, that the scouts want, beyond the physical make-up of the juvenile.
“If you don’t breeze super-fast,” Gleaves noted, “you don’t get the price at the sale.”
Acting upon guidance about what Lord Miles was likely to bring if he went through the auction, Vegso opted to keep the colt and race him himself.
“Kudos to Niall,” Gleaves said, “for telling us honestly what price to expect.”
Lord Miles briefly returned home to Gleaves before joining trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. at Palm Meadows. Posting his first work for Joseph on July 30, he began to get sharper over time. 

Joseph finally unveiled the colt at Gulfstream Park on Nov. 19, and Lord Miles dominated a six-furlong maiden with a powerful rally from off the pace. Up to a mile for the Mucho Macho Man S. on New Year’s Day, he closed for an eye-catching third, beaten all of three-quarters of a length. That effort made Lord Miles one of the top contenders for the Holy Bull (G3), but he regressed to sixth while experimenting with blinkers.

Lord Miles next tried the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and finished a one-paced fifth. Yet the loss gave new rider Paco Lopez insight into the colt, and he used that intelligence to spring the upset in the Wood Memorial (G2). Overlooked at 59-1, Lord Miles prevailed over favored Hit Show in a three-way photo.
The Vegso family was overjoyed as they watched the race from Ocala, where daughter Melinda and son-in-law Christian Blonshine are actively involved in the farm. Anne lost her voice cheering for the sentimentally-named colt.
“My wife was just ecstatic,” Vegso said. “We went crazy down the stretch.”

The enthusiasm is percolating through successive generations, and the whole clan will be on the scene at Churchill Downs to root for Lord Miles. Surely they will be thinking of Aunt Esme, on a Kentucky Derby Day that’s also Coronation Day for King Charles III.

The exultant moment never would have happened in the alternate universe where Lady Esme doesn’t visit Curlin, or Begum doesn’t survive. If Lord Miles didn’t have extra baby fat, or if he worked out faster, other connections might have been living the Derby dream.
But everything worked together to bring Lord Miles and the Vegso family to the Run for the Roses.
“It was meant to be,” Lyons said. “You never know.”

Photo credits:

Lord Miles as a foal with Lady Esme courtesy of Hartwell Farm

Lord Miles suited up to work at Gulfstream Park by Ryan Thompson/Coglianese Photos