The Crafting of the “Little Mike” Chapeau for Old Friends

For the eighth consecutive year, Old Friends and MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® are teaming up for our “Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby” hat auction series that benefits the retired racehorses of Dream Chase Farm.

This month we are featuring the “Little Mike” chapeau. This one-of-a-kind couture Derby hat created by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® honors 2012 Breeders Cup Turf and Arlington Million winner, Little Mike, who retired to Old Friends in 2016.

littlemike-equisportphotos-3crop-web-med Jockey Chris Landeros and his wife Shelby modeling the “Little Mike” hat at Old Friends.[/caption]

Named after owner Carlo Vaccarezza’s son, Little Mike was sired by Spanish Steps out of the mare Hay June whom Vaccarezza had rescued from the kill pen. To learn more about this great Florida-bred gelding who was bred by  Carlo Vaccarezza, owned by his wife Priscilla and trained for most of his career by Dale Romans, please visit the Little Mike webpage.

littlemike-laurabattles-10-framed-web-medWhen I asked Beth Shannon, volunteer at Old Friends, her impression of Little Mike she responded, “Little Mike is also an exceptionally kind horse. It took him all of fifteen minutes to figure out exactly what tours were all about. He gets along as easily with his new paddock mate Interwin as he does with people. His color isn’t flashy. He’s just a medium bay horse. But he’s got the look of the athlete he is. Of course, he was by far the best longer distance turf male in America in 2012, the year he won the Arlington Million and Breeders’ Cup Turf.”

littlemike-laurabattles-1-framed-web-medAnd she added, “ The only thing Little Mike isn’t, is little. He’s good sized and nicely proportioned. What’s not to love about such a sweet horse?”

littlemike-laurabattles-8-framed-web-medClearly, a very special hat was needed to honor this new retiree of Old Friends. The resulting hat design showcases Little Mike’s stunning bay coat, his familiar racing silk colors of black with orange stripes, and his kind spirit and athleticism.

To begin the design process I went online and watched videos of Little Mike’s wins on the track, and soon I had the background information that I needed.

littlemike-hat-process1-web-medNext, a sketch of the hat was made, fabrics were chosen and the creative process was underway!

littlemike-hat-process2-web-medThe foundation of the “Little Mike” hat was fashioned as a flat oval brim design created out of black dupioni silk.

littlemike-hat-f-web-medThe edge of the brim was trimmed with a unique ruffled brim edge which allows light to pass through the sheer fabric. Created out of a single layer of black silk organza, the resulting look is one of smooth elegance befitting this great Thoroughbred athlete.

littlemike-hat-process3-web-medAs a finishing touch, a fancy braiding of warm mocha chocolate was top stitched where the silk and organza layers meet the brim edge.

littlemike-hat-process4-web-medCarlo Vaccarezza’s distinctive black with orange stripe racing silks provided the basic color palette for the trimmings of this stunning Derby hat.

The centerpiece is comprised of a single medium rose curl created in swirling layers of coral orange shantung and organza. A shimmering espresso button accents the center, a clear reflection of Little Mike’s soft brown eyes.

littlemike-hat-process5-web-medThe rose was beautifully framed with a medley of leaves fashioned out of black silk organza.

littlemike-hat-process6-web-medMocha brown hat veiling was set behind the rose curl and leaves to offer a contrasting flourish with a touch of wispy elegance.

Ten slender black, chocolate brown and chocolate brown silk organza “feathers” were then gracefully shaped to help balance the trim design.

littlemike-hat-process7-web-medA layered sash, created out of black satin lined with coral orange shantung, was created to encircle the crown of the hat.

littlemike-hat-process8-web-medFor the finishing touch, a large black pebble button was hand stitched to the back of the hat.

littlemike-hat-process9-web-medFinally, the lining was created from a swirling black brocade to coordinate with the trims.

littlemike-hat-process10-web-medThe finished “Little Mike” hat design measures over 24 inches across inclusive of the ruffled organza brim layer.

As a physical remembrance of Little Mike, several strands of his tail hair were braided and woven into the trim of the hat, creating a unique, one-of-a-kind Derby chapeau that captures Little Mike not only in spirit but in substance as well.

littlemike-hat-process12-blogThe purpose of this amazing millinery delight is to honor the life of Little Mike and all of the horses who, thanks to the generosity of those who support their aftercare, now graze in the warm sunshine of Dream Chase Farm for the rest of their lives.

littlemike-laurabattles-11-framed-medSoon the hat was on its way to Old Friends for the grand photo shoot with our models. And from all that I have heard,  they had one heck of a good time!

littlemike-equisportphotos-2crop-web-medFor a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the photo shoot, please visit the video footage provided by EquiSport Photos.

We want to extend a big thank you to jockey Chris Landeros and his lovely wife, Shelby, who were splendid models for the “Little Mike” chapeau as well as to Matt and Wendy Wooley of EquiSport Photos who worked their photographic magic once again. The dress that Bella Rose Clothing Boutique, Lexington, Kentucky furnished for Shelby matched the chapeau beautifully. Our thanks to all of you!

The “Little Mike” auction hat is now up for bid on EBay and bidding ends February 11th at 8 PM EST.

Please also enjoy this slideshow of the “Little Mike” chapeau and the horse who inspired it. For more information about the “Little Mike” Chapeau please visit the Little Mike hat webpage. To read more about Little Mike, the horse, please visit the Little Mike webpage.


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We’d also like to mention an exciting new social media campaign that we are introducing for Season 8 called, “Friends of Old Friends”.

A number of Thoroughbred horse farms and racing organizations across the country were invited to join in the effort by helping us share the Hats Off auction publicity through their own social media channels. We hope that these wonderful Friends of Old Friends will enable us to expand the audience for “Hats Off to the Horses” as well as to generate greater concern for all horses everywhere.

The following is our “Friends of Old Friends” poster for sharing our second auction hat, inspired by  Little Mike.

We extend a big thank you to all of the Friends of Old Friends that are participating and sharing the word about Hats Off to the Horses!

oldfriends-friendsofoldfriends-february2017-littlemikeposter2-web-medThank you for visiting Hats and Horses, and here’s to our best auction season yet!



































California Star Inspires “Hats Off to the Horses” Creation

The sixth hat up for bid in our “Hats Off to the Horses” auction series for Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement in Kentucky honors the Kentucky-bred multiple stakes winner, millionaire and California racing star, Rail Trip.

Blog-RailTrip-LauraBattles1-Framed-MedRail Trip was definitely a California star. No one at Hollywood Park on July 11, 2009 will ever forget Rail Trip’s win in the TVG/Betfair Hollywood Gold Cup (G1). Rail Trip was retired by his owner, Samantha Siegel of Jay Em Ess Stable, to Old Friends of Kentucky in January 2014.

Rail Trip was chosen to be our March horse for “Hats Off to the Horses”. We were so pleased to have Rosie Napravnik model the “Rail Trip” hat at Old Friends with her husband, Joe Sharp.


When I asked Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends, what his impression was of his new retiree he stated, “Rail Trip is, well, a real trip. His sparkling racing career is a mirror of his great, supportive owner, Samantha Siegel. He’s a great companion for another Sally hat inspiration, Catlaunch.”

Beth Shannon, a volunteer at Old Friends, states, “Rail Trip? He really is a trip! He’s bright, active, young, and a total prima donna. He’s just a medium bay, but he’s gorgeous–so refined, so Thoroughbred-y. He’s friendly, curious, confident, a bit bossy, but a very nice horse. He’s a great favorite on the farm, and a favorite of photographer Laura Battles who we tease because she takes about 10 photos of “Tripper” for every 1 she takes of any other horse!”

A very special chapeau was needed to honor this beloved California star and celebrate his new life at Old Friends.

My research for creating the hat began with reviews of Rail Trip’s victories, his pedigree and his racing connections.

Blog-RailTrip-Process1-Web.MedSketches were made and swatches were collected for a design that would showcase Rail Trip’s golden bay coloring, his captivating personality and Jay Em Ess’s racing silk colors of bright green and blue.

Blog-RailTrip-Process6-Web.MedIn keeping with the spirit of the Jay Em Ess stable’s curvaceous “JMS” script lettering on their distinctive green and blue silks, I found the perfect sun-kissed apple green organza with a swirling bright green embroidery pattern which I laid over green taffeta.

Blog-RailTrip-Process3-Web.MedTo capture Rail Trip’s playful personality,  I chose an asymmetrical shape for the foundation of the “Rail Trip” hat.

I found a chocolate brown dupioni silk for the underbrim that creates a vibrant, colorful effect when the wearer’s face is upturned.

Blog-RailTripHat4-Web.MedFor the trim centerpiece I began with a single medium sized rose curl which I created out of soft apple green organza. A delicate wisp of chocolate veiling and a tiny royal blue button accent the rose center.

Blog-RailTrip-Process7-Web.MedI then crafted a series of bright blue organza “loops” to frame the rose, creating a kind of free form, colorful Marguerite.

Blog-RailTrip-Process8-Web.MedA medley of “variegated” spring and apple green organza leaves complete the floral design.

The setting for this innovative floral creation is a large bow that I made out of chocolate taffeta. Four medium length tails, created in the same fabric, add a bit of dimension and elegance to the bow as they gently frame the wearer’s face. Blog-RailTripHat10-Web.MedFor a final touch to the centerpiece, five long, curvaceous “feathers” were created out of chocolate, black and deep blue organza and set behind the floral centerpiece to add dimension and a bit of playfulness to the overall design. Of all the trim elements, these playful feathers seem to most reflect Rail Trip’s buoyant and confident star personality.

Blog-RailTrip-Process10-Web.MedA chocolate taffeta sash, folded in layers, encircles the crown of the hat; a large green button adorns the back.

Blog-RailTrip-Process11-Web.MedI found the perfect rich royal blue swirling brocade for the lining as one more colorful reference to the Jay Em Ess racing silks.

Blog-RailTrip-Process12-Web.MedThe finished “Rail Trip” design measures approximately 24 inches across, inclusive of the trims.

Blog-RailTripHat1-Web.MedAs a physical remembrance of Rail Trip, several strands of the gelding’s tail hair were braided and woven into the trim of the hat, creating a unique, one-of-a-kind Derby chapeau that captures Rail Trip not only in spirit but in substance as well.

Following a final inspection of the hat top to bottom here in our MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® studio…

Blog-RailTrip-Process13-Web.LgThe “Rail Trip” chapeau was off and running to Old Friends for the big photo shoot with Rosie and Joe!

For a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Rail Trip photo shoot at Old Friends, check out the video footage below so generously provided by EquiSport Photos.

We want to extend a big thank you to Rosie Napravnik and her husband, trainer Joe Sharp who have been super models for our auction hats this season and to Matt and Wendy Wooley of EquiSport Photos who worked their video/photographic magic once again. The gorgeous blue dress that Bella Rose Clothing Boutique, Lexington, Kentucky furnished for Rosie matched the “Rail Trip” hat beautifully. Our thanks to everyone.

The “Rail Trip” auction hat is up for bid from March 1st through the 11th at this Rail Trip  EBay link; bidding ends March 11th at 9 PM EST due to the time change.

Please also enjoy this slideshow of the “Rail Trip” chapeau and the horse who inspired its creation.

For more information, please visit the Rail Trip hat webpage and also the Rail Trip horse webpage at

Thank you for visiting Hats and Horses, and Hats Off to Rail Trip!!


Hats Off to Shea and Julien Leparoux – An Interview

“Hats Off to the Horses” has kicked off the New Year in style with a fourth hat up for bid that honors Ohio-bred millionaire and 3-time Ohio Horse of the Year, Catlaunch. “Hats Off” is an annual Derby hat fundraiser that features six one-of-a-kind couture Derby hats created by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® to benefit the retired racehorses of Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement in Kentucky.

Blog-CatlaunchHat3Blog-Catlaunch2-SheaandJulienLeparounx-MattWooleyWe have been delighted this season to have jockey Julien Leparoux and his wife Shea join our “Hats Off” team to model hats for us as we continue with this year’s auction theme, “Rosie Napravnik and Friends”. Shea modeled the “Clever Allemont” chapeau in November, and this month she models the spectacular “Catlaunch” top hat. To read about this month’s auction, please visit the Catlaunch hat webpage.

Julien Leparoux is one of horse racing’s leading riders who earned the 2006 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey. In 2009, Julien became only the second jockey in history to win three Breeders’ Cup races during a single year.

Shea, the daughter of West Coast trainer Mike Mitchel, has spent her entire life around horses and the race track. A professional singer, she loves musical theater and has worked as an entertainer at Disneyland.

I recently got the chance to interview Shea and Julien following their photo shoot at Old Friends for the “Catlaunch” chapeau.

Blog-BallFour-SheaandJulien-2012Sally Faith Steinmann: Shea and Julien, welcome to my Hats and Horses blog. For those who are meeting you two here for the first time, where were you born and where did you grow up? What are your earliest memories of horses?

Julien Leparoux : I was born in Senlis, France and grew up in Chantilly. I grew up riding and competed in show jumping by the age of 11.

Shea Leparoux: I am a southern California native, born in Arcadia at the hospital next to Santa Anita. I grew up watching my older sister compete in show jumping.

Sally: Julien, I read that your dad was a jockey and a trainer. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a jockey? Was there anyone who especially inspired or helped you along the way?

Julien: My dad was a jockey for a short time and an assistant trainer for many years. I had the horse racing bug early on. Jockey might have been my first words as a toddler. I always knew I wanted to be a jockey. But my father wouldn’t let me pursue riding races until I finished school.

Blog-JulienLeparoux-SparklingReview-MattWooleySally: Julien, I understand that you moved to the U.S. from France in 2003, worked as an exercise rider for Patrick Biancone and then had an amazing breakout season as a jockey in 2006. What goals or dreams do you have for the future?

Julien: Working for Patrick Biancone was a great stepping stool for my career, he believed in me and gave me many opportunities. One of my goals is to win the Kentucky Derby.

Sally: Julien, being a jockey means early mornings and a lot of travel; what would be the perfect day to you?

Julien: The perfect day for me would be relaxing at home, watching Paris St. Germain play a game, with my Italian Greyhound, Mozart.

Sally: And I have to ask about Mozart. He is THE cutest little dog and I love your Facebook posts of him. Tell us about him…

Blog-BallFour-SheaJulienMozartShea: Our dog Mozart is 7 years old. He’s one of the coolest dogs. He travels better than most people. He also understands French and English.

Blog-BallFour-SheaLeparoux-Mozart1Sally: Shea, you’ve had a long history with horses as well. Your dad is a West Coast trainer and it sounds like you’ve spent pretty much your whole life around horses and the track. Were you ever involved in your Dad’s training work?

Shea: I grew up in the horse racing world as well. I spent lots of mornings at Hollywood Park where my dad stabled for many years. My father, Mike Mitchell, loved having his daughters at the track, but did not want us to partake in it as a career. He even went as far to make a rule that we were not allowed to date jockeys.

Sally: I understand that you two recently celebrated your second wedding anniversary. I have to ask you, Shea, if your Dad didn’t want you to date jockeys, how did you and Julien ever meet?

Shea: Yes, we just celebrated our second anniversary. We met at a Kentucky Derby a while back. Julien also rode horses for my dad before we ever met. We reconnected, over strange circumstances, when my whole family went to Keeneland. Julien, unfortunately, took a spill at the track. When I found out who the jockey was I sent him a message on social media to make sure he was ok. With that, he immediately responded, and the rest was history. We now live in Kentucky, Florida, and Saratoga throughout the year.

Sally: I loved the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance’s new promotional video “All About the Horse” in which you do the voice. Tell us about that experience.

Shea: Being apart of the Aftercare Alliance video was fun for me. I was glad I could help out for a good cause. When singing and horse racing combine its a perfect exacta for me.

Sally: Shea, I remember that you sang the National Anthem on a recent Breeders’ Cup weekend and that you have enjoyed a singing career as an entertainer at Disneyland. What was your musical training growing up?

Shea: I never stopped singing as kid. I was in a choir for about eight years and studied with a vocal coach. I also did musical theater, my true passion. I started singing the national anthem at the races at 16. My dad took it upon himself to be my race track anthem agent. My highlights were singing at three different Breeders Cup events. It was awesome to be apart of it. I went on to study theater in college. I got my first performing job at 20. I worked at Hong Kong Disneyland, performing in a musical, as Belle. I then worked for Disney for the next eight years at Paris Disneyland, Disney Cruiseline, and Anaheim Disney.

Sally: I understand that your recent photo shoot at Old Friends for our “Hats Off to the Horses” Derby hat fundraiser wasn’t your first visit to Dream Chase Farm. Can you tell me a little bit about your trip to Old Friends back in April 2012 to visit Ball Four?

Julien: Yes, we visited Old Friends back in 2012 It was Shea’s first time. Visiting Ball Four was the highlight. He was the first horse I ever rode in a race. It was great to see him enjoying retirement at a place that truly cares about the animals. The only thing different about him was his grown out coat and long mane. He was still full of life and tried to take a bite out of me a couple times.

Blog-BallFour-JulienandSheaLeparoux3Blog-BallFour-JulienandShea2-2012Blog-BallFour-JulienLeparoux-Mozart2Sally: Our next hat up on the block for the January auction is the “Catlaunch” chapeau which was one of the hats, Shea, that you modeled at Old Friends. How did the photo shoot go?

Shea: The photo shoot with Catlaunch was fun. He was pretty fresh that day like he wanted to break out of the gate. Julien did a good job of keeping him calm. The best part was when someone played barn animal sounds from an iPhone to get him to perk up and pose. The trick worked!

Blog-Catlaunch1-SheaandJulienLeparounx-MattWooleySally: And did you get a chance to meet Little Silver Charm, spokeshorse extraordinaire for Old Friends, while you were there at Dream Chase farm?

Shea: Little Silver Charm is pretty cute, greeting you when you arrive at the farm, he’s a great spokeshorse.

Little Silver Charm and Michael Blowen photo by
Little Silver Charm and Michael Blowen photo by

Sally: I am sure that people are going to be inspired by your support of Old Friends. Why is it important for us to support these retired Thoroughbred athletes, and do you have any suggestions for how people can get involved and participate in helping the retired racehorses?

Julien and Shea: After seeing first hand the great things that Old Friends does for retired race horses we have tried to help in any way we can. These amazing animals are our livelihood and we owe it to them to take care of them when they are done racing. People can get involved with Old Friends by participating in their fundraisers throughout the year. Another way of participating is through the Hats Off to the Horses auction that we are a part of along with Rosie and her husband Joe. If you take the time to visit the farm in Kentucky or Saratoga, go on the tour of the facility and you’ll see how much they care for these retired stars.

Blog-BallFour-JulienandSheaLeparoux2Sally: Shea and Julien, thanks again for helping us with our Sixth Annual “Hats Off to the Horses” auction series with the “Catlaunch” chapeau. We are really fortunate to have you on board as part of our “Hats Off” team!

Please enjoy this “behind-the-scenes” video from the “Catlaunch” photo shoot with Shea and Julien at Old Friends, a special treat from our friends Matt and Wendy Wooley of EquiSport Photos!


‘Til next time, thanks for visiting me at Hats and Horses!