Imagine, if you will, a world without Kelso (1957), Northern Dancer (1961), Sunday Silence (1986) or Frankel (2008) — all of whom trace back directly to Mahmoud. 

Of course, the overwhelming presence of Mahmoud in the pedigrees of thoroughbreds worldwide is linked to his most potent descendent: Northern Dancer. But without Mahmoud, there could never have been a Northern Dancer. And although the matter of analyzing the gene cocktail that produces a thoroughbred remains a mysterious affair, what Mahmoud contributed to his progeny — and their descendants — had the kind of impact that tells us it was significant.  

Yet Mahmoud’s story is punctuated by the dawn of a modern, mechanistic sensibility: his inconsistency on the turf made him suspect, as did his colour — in the 1930′s the thoroughbred community were still spooked by a grey horse, believing that this “off” colour indicated a lack of stamina. His size and bloodlines were called into question repeatedly when his performances fell short. And after his greatest victory on the turf, the feeling was that he’d stolen the win from far better horses or that he was lucky in running against a weak field.

Dismissed by the experts of his day, H.H. the Aga Khan III’s little grey champion “went viral” long before the concept swept the twenty-first century…..in the breeding shed.  

MAHMOUD with C.V. Whitney in 1944.

MAHMOUD with C.V. Whitney in 1944.

Let’s face it: we’re in a hurry to have champions. Perhaps it was always thus. But now we have a vast social media that allows us to transmit our desire and frustration minute-by-minute. That same media has also altered our sense of time: specifically whether it’s moving fast enough to suit us. The other thing about time as we know it is its persistent connection to productivity through a history of industry that gave us the prevalent metaphor of the last century: the machine. Even the mighty Secretariat, who was so much more, inherited our associations between perfection and mechanics, as in the phrase that defines his astounding victory at Belmont: “Secretariat is widening now…he’s moving like a tremendous machine.”

SECRETARIAT with Ronnie Turcotte in a work over "big sandy" before the colt's run in the Belmont Stakes. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

SECRETARIAT with Ronnie Turcotte in a work over “big sandy” before the colt’s run in the Belmont Stakes. Bob Ehalt was there and struggled to find a way to describe what he’d seen. Finally he came up with his own imagery for an amazing colt who  “…ran a hole in the wind.” Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

But the thing about machines is that they’re not alive, despite the fact that they might seem to be, and that is why they are consistent, economical and flawless (at least most of the time) in a production line.

Horses march to a different rhythm. In the case of the thoroughbred, progress (i.e. success) isn’t automatically connected with the passage of time and even when it appears to be, it’s often flawed. And, as we’ve learned over and over again, great thoroughbreds don’t reproduce themselves with the kind of speed and consistency that our modern sensibilities expect.

The story of Mahmoud sounds a cautionary note about this kind of thinking, since by today’s standards the pony-sized grey would have very likely known a similar fate to that of the brilliant Smarty Jones, whose inability to turn straw into gold in the first few years of his breeding career still echoes loud in the minds of those of us who think he has phenomenal stallion potential. (Smarty’s potential has already borne fruit, notably in the star Japanese fillies Keiai Gerbera [2006] and Better Life [2008], as well as a dozen other very good individuals who have raced in the Northern Hemisphere.)

SMARTY JONES pictured in Uruguay. A thoroughbred with the heart of a true champion, SMARTY failed to reproduce himself quickly enough for an impatient industry.

SMARTY JONES pictured in Uruguay. A thoroughbred with the heart of a true champion, SMARTY failed to reproduce himself quickly enough for an impatient American market. But he may yet have the last laugh, as his current progeny record indicates.

Champion BETTER LIFE earned over a million dollars racing in Japan, where she defeated colts as well as fillies and built an enormous fan base.

Champion BETTER LIFE earned over a million dollars racing in Japan, where she defeated colts as well as fillies and built an enormous fan base.

Shown here as a broodmare, multi-millionaire KEIAI GERBERA is in foal to Deep Impact for a 2014 foal.

Shown here as a broodmare, multi-millionaire KEIAI GERBERA is in foal to Deep Impact for 2014.

The breeding acumen of H.H. The Aga Khan III was remarkable. Although he started out in life as a man of modest means, the Aga proved to be a shrewd businessman, as well as a very progressive religious leader of his people. And when his wealth allowed him to purchase the best bloodstock, the Aga solicited the help of the equally brilliant George Lambton*, younger brother of the Earl of Durham. It was this alliance that would bring Mahmoud into the world.

1930 — Blenheim wins Epsom Derby (with sound)

A son of Blenheim II, Mahmoud’s dam was Mah Mahal (1928), a daughter of the incomparable Mumtaz Mahal (1921), who had been purchased as a yearling by Lambton in 1922 for the Aga’s stables. The arrival of the filly who would come to be known by the British racing public as “The Flying Filly” would have an enormous impact on the Aga’s breeding fortunes, as well as on the evolution of the modern thoroughbred. All of her offspring were very good, but it was through her daughters that Mumtaz Mahal assured her legacy. They accounted for the champion Abernant (1946), the great sire Nasrullah(1940) whose contribution to the American thoroughbred was arguably as vast as that of his grandam, the champion Bashir (1937) who raced in India and Migoli (1944), winner of the Arc and sire of the American champion, Gallant Man (1954). And scores of brilliant thoroughbreds issued from these: among them, the European champion, Petite Etoile(1956), Bold Ruler (1954) and his greatest son, Secretariat (1970), as well as a granddaughter who is still considered the Queen of American racing, Ruffian (1972).

Too, the legacy of Mumtaz Mahal would gradually teach a skeptical racing public that there was nothing inferior about grey thoroughbreds.

The Aga Khan's BLENHEIM, sire of MAHMOUD.

The Aga Khan’s BLENHEIM II, sire of MAHMOUD and Triple Crown winner, WHIRLAWAY (1938), as well as JET PILOT (1944) and champion filly A GLEAM (1949). BLENHEIM II was also the BM sire of a bevy of champions, including PONDER (1946), HILL GAIL (1949) and KAUAI KING (1963).



Mumtaz Mahal was a daughter of one of the finest thoroughbreds ever bred, The Tetrarch (1911). Like Mahmoud, the presence of The Tetrarch in the pedigrees of thoroughbreds all over the world today remains significant, particularly given that he only raced as a two year-old before being retired to stud, where he was plagued by fertility problems. 

The brilliant MUMTAZ MAHAL was dubbed "The Flying Filly" by British racegoers. Painting by Lionel Edwards.

The brilliant MUMTAZ MAHAL was dubbed “The Flying Filly” by British racegoers. Painting by Lionel Edwards.

THE TETRARCH was selected one of the best thoroughbreds of the last century, even though he only raced for a single season. Ridiculed for his markings ("chubari spots"), THE TETRARCH would have the last laugh by becoming a prepotent sire and BM sire.

THE TETRARCH was selected one of the best thoroughbreds of the last century, even though he only raced for a single season. Ridiculed for his markings (“chubari spots”), THE TETRARCH would have the last laugh by becoming a prepotent sire and BM sire.

Mahmoud’s BM sire was Gainsborough (1921), winner of the British Triple Crown and sire of another individual who would change the face of thoroughbred breeding forever, Hyperion (1930). Mah Mahal’s first born had indeed been the issue of the best on both sides of his pedigree, a practice the Aga considered axiomatic in the making of a champion.


The handsome GAINSBOROUGH, winner of the British Triple Crown and grandsire of MAHMOUD. GAINSBOROUGH is also — famously — the sire of HYPERION (1930).

Mah Mahal’s tiny grey colt had a lovely Arabian look about him, but given his size as a yearling, he was deemed too small and sent off to auction at Deauville in France. When the colt failed to reach his reserve, the Aga decided to keep him. As a breeder, His Highness was without sentiment. Any animal out of his stables who appeared ill-equipped to build a legacy was discharged to the sales. Nor was he moved to keep horses who proved their worth if he received a suitable offer of purchase; the result was that several of his champions found their way to America’s shores.

Although he doubted that Mah Mahal’s first born would ever amount to much, the Aga was disinclined to give the colt away for less than he was worth. So Mahmoud was sent off to Newmarket to be trained by Frank Butters, in the hopes that he would be decent on the turf, if not brilliant. An Austrian by birth, Butters settled in England where he became a leading trainer first for Lord Derby and then for the Aga. Butters enjoyed a fabulous career, his very best horses being Fairway (sire of Fair Trial among others),  Beam (winner of the 1927 Oaks), Bahram (English Triple Crown winner) and Migoli (winner of the 1948 Arc).

FRANK BUTTERS trained no less than 15 classic winners for clients like Lord Derby and HH the Aga Khan III.

FRANK BUTTERS trained no less than 15 classic winners for clients like Lord Derby and HH the Aga Khan III.

MAHMOUD goes to work with two other more promising colts in the Aga's stable, BALA HISSAR and TAJ IKBAR. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

MAHMOUD goes to work with two other more promising colts in the Aga’s stable, BALA HISSAR (1933) and TAJ AKBAR (1933). Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Little Mahmoud’s first start at two was considered void when the majority of the field failed to notice a false start and ran the full course anyway. His next start was in the Norfolk Stakes, where he finished third. He then went on to win his next three starts, which made the press sit up and take notice of the diminutive grey who seemed to skim over the ground as he moved to the front of the field. Mahmoud may have been compact, but he was incredibly light on his feet, allowing him to jettison away when hitting his top speed. (Interestingly, his descendant Northern Dancer would run in exactly the same fashion.) Confirmed as the best two year-old of the season, Mahmoud’s final start came in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. In 1935, the race was considered the most prestigious for juveniles, so when Mahmoud only managed to finish third, beaten over two lengths by Abjer (1933) and Dorothy Paget’s Wyndham (1933), his stamina was called into question. No-one cared that he’d rallied to finish well after getting off to a disastrous start. The thinking was that the Aga’s plucky colt wouldn’t stay the distance, for either the Derby or the 2000 Guineas.


A close-up of MAHMOUD on his way to post. In this shot, next to his even tinier groom, the colt looks much bigger than his 15.3 h. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The legendary Charlie Smirke had been in the saddle when Mahmoud lost the Middle Park Stakes. Smirke had been the Aga’s second string jockey until a racing injury that same year forced Freddy Fox to step down as the stables’  premier rider. Smirke was then promoted to head jockey, much to the irritation of trainer Butters, who, according to various sources, found the outspoken, happy-go-lucky Smirke an irritation. So it was that Mahmoud’s three year-old campaign was punctuated by the disgruntled, though brilliant, trainer’s attempts to keep Smirke off the colts he deemed the best, namely Bala Hissar and Taj Akbar. Butters’ preference was for another legend-in-the-making, Gordon Richards, considered by Smirke to be his foremost rival in the hunt for racing laurels.

TAJ AKBAR shown here

TAJ AKBAR shown here with SIR GORDON RICHARDS in the saddle was one of the 1936 Derby favourites. He is shown here following his win in the Chester Vase. (A pity that the press couldn’t get his name quite right!) A fine colt in his own right, TAJ AKBAR would beat the American Triple Crown winner, OMAHA, in the Princess of Wales Stakes in July 1936 at Newmarket. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

For the 2000 Guineas, Smirke chose to ride Bala Hissar. His choice may have been based on the fact that his previous ride on the two year-old Mahmoud — who was also entered — had been less than satisfactory, or that the little grey had only managed a fifth place in a previous race, the first of his three year-old season. Steve Donoghue, the top jockey of the first two decades of the twentieth century and now a fifty-one year-old veteran, was engaged to ride Mahmoud. Donoghue was the most beloved of jockeys, following in the footsteps of Fred Archer, and he remains today the only jockey to win the British Triple Crown twice, first on Pommern(1912) in 1915 and then on Gay Crusader (1914) two years later.

As it was to turn out, Smirke and Bala Hissar managed little. But Mahmoud, under the guidance of a master jockey, lost by only a short head to Lord Astor’s Pay Up (1933), a colt who had drawn a post on the far outside of the field and who had entered the Guineas as a true “dark horse.” However, Mahmoud had lost ground getting out of a packed group of horses during the race and in Donoghue’s mind it was this that accounted for his colt’s narrow defeat.

MAHMOUD_2000 GUINEAS program_$(KGrHqFHJE4FJC0l!E,ZBSUiVJv,B!~~60_12

Lord Astor's PAY UP, the winner of the 1936 Two Thousand Guineas. Photo and copyright The Baltimore Sun.

Lord Astor’s PAY UP, the winner of the 1936 Two Thousand Guineas. Photo and copyright The Baltimore Sun.

Mahmoud’s valiant run in the Guineas did little to enhance his reputation in either the Aga’s stable or among race goers. The British press abounded with articles disclaiming the colt’s breeding, since to carry two speedballs  – The Tetrarch and Mumtaz Mahal — in his family suggested speed over stamina, while his sire, Blenheim II, had been slow to find his form at three despite his Derby win. And then there was the matter of his coat colour: only two other greys, the colt Gustavus(1818) and the filly, Tagalie (1909), had ever won a Derby. Little thought was given to the fact that grey thoroughbreds were a minority, making their chances of getting the same number of serious Derby horses statistically impossible.

It was Frank Butters who won the “jockey wars” for the Derby, placing Gordon Richards in the saddle on the fancied Taj Akbar, with Smirke relegated to the Aga’s “third stringer,” Mahmoud.

The gorgeous TAGALIE and her filly foal MABELLA pictured here in 1915. As a filly, TAGALIE had won both the Epsom Derby and

The gorgeous TAGALIE and her filly foal MABELLA pictured here in 1915. As a filly, TAGALIE had won both the Epsom Derby and the 1000 Guineas, both in 1912.

Derby day was colourless and cold, with a very hard turf surface that would finish Pay Up, who came home lame and caused Lord Astor to withdraw a colt that many considered the best of his generation, Rhodes Scholar (1933). But as it turned out, the course was a gift for Mahmoud. Charlie Smirke, who had said with bravado that he would win and beat arch-rival Richards on Taj Akbar (who finished second) was in tears because, it seemed, no-one had believed in his abilities either. Here’s what the winning jockey had to say:

“…There is only one way to tell you the story of my second Derby victory., and that is from the very beginning — from the time when I had my choice of mounts. I was not asked to ride Taj Akbar and perhaps that was lucky for me. But between the Aga Khan’s two other horses, Mahmoud and Bala Hissar, there was never any doubt. I told Mr. Butters, the trainer, ‘I want to ride Mahmoud; I don’t think the other has a chance.’ And how I laughed when people kept on saying ‘Mahmoud cannot stay.’ I knew he could and Steve Donoghue…settled the matter. ‘Charlie,’ Steve said to me, ‘ You’ll just about win the Derby’ and he told me how he would ride him. When Steve tells you things like that and how he would ride at Epsom, a wise jockey listens.”

Of course, that was only part of the story. The rest was that the ground suited Mahmoud so much that he only really needed a jockey coming into the home straight. And when Smirke asked him, the little grey colt answered.

MAHMOUD and Charlie Smirke going down to the post.

MAHMOUD and Charlie Smirke going down to the post.

The win, Smirke looking back to be certain he's really crossing the finish all alone.

The win, Smirke looking back to be certain he’s really crossing the finish all alone.

His HH the Aga Khan III shows his delight as he leads his Derby winner in. TAJ AKBAR had come in second.

HH the Aga Khan III shows his delight as he leads his Derby winner in. TAJ AKBAR had come in second.

Here’s footage of Mahmoud’s Derby (with sound). Just follow the link and CLICK on “CLICK 1 of 1″:


Another film clip, this one showing the Aga Khan meeting Mahmoud after the win. Just click on 44592 in the red box on the site:


Other than the Aga and his team, the response to Mahmoud’s Derby win was really rather negative. Having read for weeks before the big day that the little colt would never stay the distance, both punters and racing fans, not to mention the great British turf writers of the day, were horrified to see Mahmoud charge up, leaving the likes of Taj Akbar, Bala Hissar, Pay Up and the American colt, Boswell, in his slipstream. Not only did he win, but Mahmoud’s time was the fastest in the history of the race. It is a record that will likely stand forever, given the difference in the surface at Epsom from 1936 to the present. Others disputed (and still do today) whether it was the horse or the turf that accounted for the record time:

” … Prior to Mahmoud’s Epsom success, there had been a generally held opinion that the grey thoroughbred did not, and even could not, possess sufficient stamina to win races beyond a mile…The supposition was founded less on biological or genetic grounds than on the fact that grey horses simply did not win Derbys…The author has no intention, at this point, to make out a case, either way, for the grey…as a stayer or non-stayer. He is nevertheless entitled to express a personal opinion regarding Mahmoud, which is that he was lucky to have had unusually firm ground over which to race, and that he might never have won had the going been soft, or even yielding.” (The Derby Stakes: A Complete History From 1900-1953 by Vincent Orchard)

Alfred James Munnings gorgeous painting, "SADDLING MAHMOUD FOR THE DERBY," was turned into a British stamp in 1936 after the colt's Derby win.

MUNNINGS’ gorgeous painting, “SADDLING MAHMOUD FOR THE DERBY,” was turned into a British stamp in 1936 after the colt’s Derby win.

Mahmoud’s next appearance was in the St. James Palace Stakes, where he met up with a colt named Rhodes Scholar for the first time. Rhodes Scholar was a son of Pharos and the influential Lord Astor was considered by many to own THE colt of the season, Mahmoud aside. The Aga’s plucky pony was beaten a good five lengths by Lord Astor’s beautifully bred colt. Some blamed the defeat on Mahmoud’s not having had time to recover from the Derby, but they were a minority. The prevalent view was the one reflected below:


RHODES SCHOLAR being led in by Lord Astor

After the St. James Palace, Mahmoud was found to have cracked heels and was given a rest until the fall, when he reappeared for a final time in the St. Leger. Entered were Rhodes Scholar and William Woodford’s Boswell, together with a field of at least ten other horses. According to the Evening Post, Mahmoud was one of the favourites. However, although he produced his run in the final stretch it was too little too late and the Derby winner finished third behind Boswell, who won it, and another colt named Fearless Fox (1933). The much touted Rhodes Scholar was never a factor.

MAHMOUD comes at the leader, BOSWELL, close to the finish of the St. Leger. However it was the Woodward colt who got home first.

MAHMOUD comes at the leaders, BOSWELL and FEARLESS FOX, close to the finish of the St. Leger. However it was the Woodward colt who got home first, followed by FEARLESS FOX. In the final start of his career, MAHMOUD finished third. Although he came out of the race with four cracked heels, it was the opinion of Frank Butters that the distance had been the real obstacle.

Following the St. Leger, Mahmoud was retired to his owner’s Egerton Stud in Newmarket, from where, in 1939, he bred the champion fillies Majideh and Donatella II. Majideh went on to become the dam of the champion Irish filly, Masaka (1945) and even more famously, of Gallant Man, whose pedigree was rife with the influence of Mumtaz Mahal on top and bottom. Donatella II became the dam of Frederico Tesio’s Italian champion, Daumier (1948), who won the 1951 Derby Italiano, the Gran Premio del Jockey Club Italiano, the Gran Criterium and the 1951 St. Leger Italiano. As a sire, Daumier got champions in Italy and the USA. But it was in America that Mahmoud would make a lasting impact, although he was lucky to arrive there in one piece.

GALLANT MAN dam_majideh

With the outbreak of WWII, the Aga saw fit to accept a bid of $84,000 from an American consortium, headed by Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, for the purchase of Mahmoud. The year was 1940. However, when the stallion showed up dockside to be boarded for his transatlantic voyage, the captain refused to take him, on the grounds that the required documentation was incomplete. The ship was subsequently torpedoed in the Atlantic. However, the ship that carried the stallion to Whitney’s stud farm in Kentucky managed the crossing without incident.

By 1946, Mahmoud had made it to the top of the North American sires list and in 1957, he headed the broodmare sire list, even though trainers like Max Hirsch had initially criticized Whitney for purchasing a stallion whose bloodline he thought would never fit with the Whitney broodmares. But Whitney’s plans were sound, since the Mahmoud genotype was found to work extremely well with, among others, mares who descended from Fair Play. Mahmoud’s progeny tended to be precocious and sound. As importantly, they won on dirt or turf. As success followed success, American breeders reconsidered their early response to Mahmoud’s potential, since the best of his progeny demonstrated both stamina and speed.

MAHMOUD pictured shortly after his Epsom Derby win.

MAHMOUD pictured shortly after his Epsom Derby win.

Breeders soon flocked to MAHMOUD. Here's a shot of champion GALLORETTE with her MAHMOUD filly, GALLAMOUD. The filly went to Ireland where her son, WHITE GLOVES, was a champion.

Breeders soon flocked to MAHMOUD. Here’s a shot of champion GALLORETTE (1942) with her MAHMOUD filly, GALLAMOUD (1952). The filly went to Ireland where her son, WHITE GLOVES2 (1963) won the Irish St. Leger as well as three other Irish stakes.

Although Mahmoud produced seventy stakes winners, including First Flight (1944), Oil Capitol (1947), Cohoes (1954), The Axe II (1958) and Vulcan’s Forge (1945), it was as a BM sire that he stamped the modern thoroughbred.

Most prominent –and their names can’t help but dazzle — was Almahmoud (1945), one of the greatest matriarchs of all time and dam of the brilliant Cosmah (1953), who produced Halo (1969) the sire of Sunday Silence as well as Queen Sucree, the dam of Cannonade; the Blue Hen mare Natalma (1957), produced the most dominant sire of the second-half of the twentieth century in Northern Dancer (1961), as well as the brilliant HOF inductee Tosmah (1961). Grey Flight (1945), the dam of 9 stakes winners and the foundation mare of family 5-f who produced What A Pleasure (1965), Bold Princess (1960) and 1963 broodmare of the year Misty Morn (1952) was still another famous daughter of Mahmoud. But the list of Mahmoud’s influential daughters doesn’t end here by any means. Three others who made a huge impact were: Boudoir II (1948) the dam of Your Host, who sired the mighty Kelso (1957), as well as Flower Bed (1948), a Blue Hen mare whose daughter, Flower Bowl (1952), was the dam of Graustark (1963), His Majesty (1968) and the incomparable Bowl of Flowers (1958); Mahmoudess (1942), whose accomplished son Promised Land (1954) was the dam grandsire of champion Spectacular Bid (1976) and the BM sire of Skip Trial (1982) who, in turn, sired the fabulous Skip Away (1993) ; and Polamia (1955), the dam of Grey Dawn II (1962) – the only horse to ever beat the mighty Sea-Bird II (1962) — who became the leading BM sire of 1990 and BM sire of 125 stakes winners during his career at stud.

PROMISED LAND by Palestinian (1946) ex. Mahmoudess on track. His bloodlines would descend to the great SUNDAY SILENCE'S dam.

PROMISED LAND by Palestinian (1946) ex. Mahmoudess on track. His bloodlines would flow into the champions SPECTACULAR BID and SKIP AWAY.

On September 8, 1962, Mahmoud died at the age of twenty-nine. He was buried in the equine cemetery on C. V. Whitney’s farm, which is now part of Gainesway.

Upon his death, a touching statement was issued and reprinted in the Thoroughbred Record (later to become the Thoroughbred Times):

“Mahmoud was very much an individual and he seemed to delight in being one. One of his idiosyncrasies was that he refused to be ridden across the Elkhorn Creek bridge though he was willing to go when led. Those of us who have grown fonder of Mahmoud with each of the passing years will miss him more than words can express…He knew human affection but he did not exploit it. He was never too preoccupied to walk to his paddock fence to receive a pat. He was kind and gentle, uncomplicated; any living thing was allowed in Mahmoud’s paddock.” (Whitney Farm personnel, as recorded in The Thoroughbred Record, on the death of French-bred Epsom Derby winner Mahmoud)

By the time MAHMOUD died, his coat had turned from grey to white, as is the case with all grey thoroughbreds.

By the time MAHMOUD died, his coat had turned from grey to white.

Because of the enormous genetic influence of his daughters, today Mahmoud is represented in the pedigrees of some very powerful mares, including Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Havre de Grace, Black Caviar, Kind (dam of Frankel), Balance, Winter Memories, Zarkava, Royal Delta and Danedream.  And of the top ten colts on the Derby trail presently (Steve Haskin’s Derby Dozen for March 10, 2014) all carry at least a single Mahmoud influence.

Of course, the little grey stallion who got so little respect during his racing career cannot have a direct influence on either the speed or stamina of his descendants today, as he rests too far removed in most of their pedigrees. But rest assured that Mahmoud, as one of their greatest ancestors, certainly whispers in their blood.

Kelso, the 1964 Aqueduct Handicap:

Sunday Silence, Japan’s supreme sire, in the 1989 Breeders Cup Classic:

“Skippy” — the great Skip Away — winning the 1997 Breeders Cup Classic under jockey, Mike Smith:

Frankel in the Queen Anne Stakes, June 2012

Black Caviar: 25-win compilation

On the 2014 Derby Trail: California Chrome (who carries a double dose of Mumtaz Mahal, with both Nasrullah and Mahmoud in his female family) wins the San Felipe


* The Honourable George Lambton had been a jockey and competed in the Grand National before moving on to become a leading trainer in England in 1906, 1911 and 1912. He won the Derby and the St. Leger with Hyperion. His book, Men and Horses I Have Known, published in 1924 remains a racing classic.

For those interested in reading more about The Tetrarch, his daughter Mumtaz Mahal and the history of greys in thoroughbred racing, please see an early post here on THE VAULT about Black Tie Affair: http://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/black-tie-affair-for-michael-blowen/


Baerlein, Richard. Shergar and the Aga Khan’s Thoroughbred Empire. London: Michael Joseph, 1984.

McLean, Ken. Designing Speed In The Racehorse. Russel Meerdink Company: 2006

Mortimer, Roger and Peter Willett. More Great Racehorses Of The World. London: Michael Joseph, 1982.

Orchard, Vincent. The Derby Stakes: A Complete History From 1900-1955. London: Hutchinson, 1954.

Steve Haskin’s Derby Dozen (March 10, 2014)

Tesio, Frederico. Breeding The Race Horse. London: J. Allen and Company, 1958

Willett, Peter. The Classic Racehorse. London: Stanley Paul, 1981.

Reines-de-Course: Almahmoud @www.reines-de- course

Horse-Canada: Broodmare Power In Pedigrees @ horse-canada.com

On The Turf: Short Story: Charlie Smirke (February 12, 2009) at ontheturf.blogspot.ca

The Evening Post, “Third Grey To Win” (May 28, 1935)

“Another Champion? Aga Khan’s Champagne” (October 10, 1936)

“The Two Thousand: Pay Up’s Narrow Win” (May 26, 1936)

“The Derby Winner: Breeding of Mahmoud” (May 30, 1936)

“Mahmoud’s Last Season” (July 3, 1936)

“Surprise Result: St. Leger Stakes” (October 7, 1936)

— “The Small Horses Best” (July 14, 1936)

The Straits Times, “Mahmoud’s Jockey Tells How He Won The Derby” (June 5, 1936)


NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.


The beautiful EQUIPOISE in a study by C.W. Anderson, who captures both his kind eye and steely head.

The beautiful EQUIPOISE in a study by C.W. Anderson, who captures both his kind, inquisitive eye and wide, intelligent brow.

Every once in awhile, a stellar group of juveniles appear on the scene at exactly the same time and this was the case in America in 1930. Although they spent much of their time beating each other, victory over peers of such excellence reinforced just how good each of these thoroughbreds truly was. When it was all said and done, it was Harry Payne and C.V. Whitney’s dark chestnut colt, Equipoise, who wrote himself into legend. Which is not to say that each of his competitors were not equally worthy of stardom. Jamestown, Twenty Grand, Mate, Don Leon, Vander Pool, Epithet, Tambour, Sweep All, Happy Scot, Polydorus and the wonderful filly, Baba Kenny, were all champions. But the racing gods can be fickle: of Equipoise’s challengers, only Jamestown, Twenty Grand and Mate are remembered today and two — Jamestown and Twenty Grand — are HOF inductees. Dubbed “The Big Four” by the Chicago Tribune when they lit up the two year-old ranks of 1930, Equipoise, Jamestown, Mate and Twenty Grand met and clashed a number of times, delighting racing fans, many of whom felt compelled to pledge their allegiance to one of the “Fab Four.”

Even famed correspondent John Hervey, who wrote under the pen name “Salvator,” got into the act. His choice was Equipoise.

MATE (1928) was a son of PRINCE PAL.

MATE (1928) was a homebred of of Alfred C. Bostwick Jr., whose grandfather was a founding partner of Standard Oil. Winner of the 1931 Preakness, MATE raced in both the USA and England before his retirement. He is best known for his son, ELKRIDGE, a HOF inductee who was the American Champion Steeplechase Horse in 1942 and 1946.

Joseph P. Widener's JAMESTOWN, shown here at stud

George D. Widener Jr’s JAMESTOWN, shown here at stud. He shared American Champion Two Year-Old of 1930 honours with EQUIPOISE. As a sire, he is best known for his son, JOHNSTOWN (1936), winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in 1939 and HOF inductee.

TWENTY GRAND is led in by his owner, Mrs. Payne Whitney, after winning the 1931 Belmont Stakes. The colt also won the Kentucky Derby that year.

TWENTY GRAND is led in by his owner, Mrs. Payne Whitney of Greentree Stables, (H.P. Whitney’s sister-in-law), after winning the 1931 Belmont Stakes. The champion colt also won the Kentucky Derby that year, together with most of the key American stakes races. Photo and copyright, S. Lug for International Newsreel.

But the world in which the “Big Four” ran was a troubled one, devastated by economic depression and climactic disaster. People were shaken to their very roots by circumstances beyond their control. And then along came “The Chocolate Soldier”: in his Eaton-blue mask with its chocolate piping, Equipoise quickly forged a reputation for refusing to go down without a fight. He was, quite simply, the epitome of the will not only to survive, but to thrive.

A dark chestnut colt was born in the spring of 1928 to the mare Swinging (1922), a daughter of Broomstick (1901) and granddaughter of the mighty Ben Brush (1893). Bred by Harry Payne Whitney, who died before his homebred became one of America’s favourite thoroughbreds, the colt was given the name Equipoise. The name was apt. Even as a foal, anyone could see how perfect he was and he appeared to have a temperament to match. Following the death of his father, Equipoise became C.V. aka “Sonny” Whitney’s first superstar.

EQUIPOISE'S grandsire, PETER PAN, shown here as a colt racing in the colours of James R. Keene. Acquired by C.W. Whitney in 1915, PETER PAN proved himself to be a potent sire and BM sire. (Note: America's PETER PAN was a son of the great DOMINO and should not be confused with the Australian champion of the same name.)

EQUIPOISE’S grandsire, PETER PAN, shown here as a colt racing in the colours of James R. Keene. Acquired by C.W. Whitney in 1915, PETER PAN proved himself to be a potent sire and BM sire. (Note: America’s PETER PAN was a son of the great DOMINO and should not be confused with the Australian champion of the same name.)

The Whitneys are one of America’s most famous thoroughbred horse racing dynasties and played a huge role in the making of the American thoroughbred. The family is represented today by C.V. Whitney’s last wife, Marylou Whitney, who has continued to breed thoroughbreds along the lines that have distinguished the Whitneys as both breeders and owners.

The breeding of Equipoise provides insight into the knowledge that H.P. Whitney exercised in arriving at a champion horse.

Equipoise’s sire, Pennant (1911) was a direct descendent of the great Domino (1891). Equipoise’s grandsire, Peter Pan (1904) — not to be confused with the Peter Pan (1929) of Australian fame — was a son of Commando (1898) and, through his female family, Peter Pan also carried the bloodlines of the brilliant British mare, Beeswing (1833) as well as the legendary Eclipse (1764). America’s Peter Pan was a brilliant runner, starting 17 times and distinguishing himself with wins in the Hopeful, the Brooklyn Derby and the Belmont Stakes. Of his win in the 1907 Brighton Handicap, before a crowd of 40,000, the New York Telegraph wrote that Peter Pan “accomplished a task that completely overshadowed any previous 3-year-old performance in turf history.”

Whitney acquired Peter Pan in 1915 and as a sire, he was pure gold. Among his progeny are the exceptional sire, Black Toney (1911), as well as the champion fillies Puss In Boots (1913), Vexatious (1916) and Prudery (1918). Peter Pan was also a BM sire of champions, including the Preakness winner Bostonian (1924), Whiskery (1924) winner of the Kentucky Derby and Champion Three Year Old Colt of 1927, Victorian (1925) who won the Preakness and the filly, Top Flight (1929) who was Champion Two Year Old and Three Year Old Filly and a HOF inductee. Along with Equipoise, Peter Pan was also the grandsire of the ill-fated Black Gold (1921) and of champions Brokers Tip (1930) and Bimelech (1937), a son of La Troienne (1926) who won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and is also a HOF inductee. Bimelech sired Better Self (1945) and is the sire of Never Bend (1960) grandam. Nevert Bend, in turn, sired the British champion, Mill Reef (1968), winner of the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The handsome PENNANT may not have been PETER PAN'S best son but he was a solid campaigner and useful sire.

The handsome PENNANT may not have been PETER PAN’S best son but he was a solid campaigner and useful sire. EQUIPOISE was PENNANT’S most successful runner.

Next to this kind of brilliance, Equipoise’s sire, Pennant, might seem pretty ordinary. But although he was lightly raced, the handsome chestnut never finished out of the money. Equipoise was his best son, but Pennant also sired the champions Bunting (1919), Crystal Pennant (1924), Dauber (1935) who won the 1938 Preakness, Jolly Roger (1922) a Champion Steeplechaser and HOF inductee, as well as that hardy campaigner, The Chief (1935), who made 101 starts before his retirement.

A conformation shot of EQUIPOISE reveals equine perfection, from the fine head through the deep chest and powerful hindquarters. One of his many famous descendants, BUCKPASSER, was blessed with the same almost perfect conformation.

A conformation shot of EQUIPOISE reveals equine perfection, from the fine head through the deep chest and powerful hindquarters. One of his many famous descendants, BUCKPASSER, was blessed with the same flawless conformation.

It is fair to assume that hopes of the Whitney Stable were high for this beautifully-bred colt. But being both breeders and owners, they knew that superb bloodlines and great looks don’t necessarily add up to a champion. Happily, the youngster showed promise, winning his first two starts impressively. But in his third start, Equipoise ran into the more seasoned Vander Pool and came home third. (Vander Pool, owned by Mrs. W.P. Allen, chalked up fifteen straight victories from his maiden win in 1930 into 1931. Ending his two year-old season as a undefeated favourite for the 1931 Kentucky Derby, Vander Pool was injured and never hit the Triple Crown trail. His fifteen straight wins tied the record set by Colin in 1907-1908.)

Next came the Pimlico Nursery Stakes, in which the dark chestnut colt was partnered by the legendary Sonny Workman for the first time. It didn’t go well: Equipoise reared up at the start, pitching Workman. In the Youthful, Workman and Equipoise came home first by five lengths, but the colt was DQ’d for muscling his way to the front and the win went to Vander Pool instead. According to C.W. Anderson in his book, The Smashers, (Equipoise’s)  “zest for battle” was strong “…if he couldn’t find racing room, he made it.” This tendency would not change and the Youthful wasn’t the only race Whitney’s champ lost through disqualification. Workman, a champion rider and HOF jockey who would be Equipoise’s steady partner throughout his career, was quick to learn how to handle the assertive colt and the initial contest between them was forged into a fabulous partnership by the end of Equipoise’s first season.

EQUIPOISE and Sonny Workman head to the start.

EQUIPOISE aka “The Chocolate Soldier” and Sonny Workman head to the start. (Photo carries photographer’s signature, i.e. copyright. It may be Coglianese “the elder,” who took many photos of Equipoise.)

Equipoise’s next victories came in the Keene Memorial and Juvenile Stakes, beating another very good two year-old in Happy Scot. In the Keene, the colt showed he could handle the slop, running to a two length win at Belmont. Then, in the National Stallion Stakes, ” The Chocolate Soldier,” as he was dubbed by press and fans (on the basis of his dark coat) beat Polydorus and the filly Baba Kenny by six. Carrying 130 lbs. to Polydorus’ 115 in the Great American, Equipoise wired the field and crossed the finish line two lengths ahead of his rival.

Equipoise then met up with Jamestown at Saratoga in the summer of his juvenile season. Trained to a “razor’s edge” by trainer A. Jack Joyner, Jamestown built up such a lead in the Saratoga Special over the Whitney colt that Equipoise just couldn’t catch him, although he did beat Sun Meadow by eight lengths, to finish second. Carrying 132 lbs. to Mate’s 119, Equipoise lost by a head in the Champagne. The following week, The Chocolate Soldier went into battle again, facing both Mate and Jamestown in the Futurity, where each horse carried 130 lbs. In a furious stretch duel, Jamestown prevailed by a head over Equipoise. Mate finished another three lengths back.

After the Futurity, Jamestown was put away for the rest of the season. But Equipoise’s connections continued his campaign. The two year-old cruised to a five length win over Don Leon in the Eastern Shore Handicap before meeting up with still another fabulous juvenile, Twenty Grand. In the Jr. Champion Stakes at Aqueduct, with the Whitney colt carrying an extra 11 lbs, Twenty Grand prevailed by a length.

TWENTY GRAND beats EQUIPOISE in the Jr. Champion Stakes at Aqueduct. Photo and copyright: The Chicago Tribune.

TWENTY GRAND beats EQUIPOISE in the Jr. Champion Stakes at Aqueduct. Photo and copyright: The Chicago Tribune.

In their next meeting — the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes — Twenty Grand and The Chocolate Soldier had the crowd on their feet as they battled, head-to-head, to the wire. Twenty Grand won, but the two had set a track record of 1:36 — the fastest ever run by a two year-old over eight furlongs. H.P. Whitney died ten days later, and Equipoise became the first thoroughbred to race in C.V. Whitney’s name.

The Chocolate Soldier's performance in the Pimlico Futurity, together with his record at two, would see him share co-honours, with JAMESTOWN, as Champion Two Year-Old Colt of 1930. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The Chocolate Soldier’s performance in the Pimlico Futurity, together with his record at two, would see him share co-honours, with JAMESTOWN, as Champion Two Year-Old Colt of 1930. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The Pimlico Futurity was a match of the titans, with Twenty Grand, Mate and Equipoise facing off against each other at the equal weight of 130 lbs.  It was a battle called “The Most Spectacular Race Of The Decade” by the Baltimore Sun. And Equipoise won it in a way that not only established him as a champion, but as a colt with the heart of one. The track was muddy and at the start, Equipoise and Sonny Workman broke sideways, effectively hustling both of them back so that it looked as though the pair had been left at the post. Righting the colt, jockey Workman took off after the field. Twenty Grand and Mate got into a feverish duel down the stretch and so intense was their struggle that no-one saw the hooded Equipoise charging at the leaders. In a dazzling display, The Chocolate Soldier won by half a length. Not only was his win incredible, but Equipoise had scored barefoot, having lost his two front shoes somewhere along the way. He had righted a bad trip and won on a muddy track without the benefit of the kind of grip those discarded shoes would have afforded him.

Mud-spattered EQUIPOISE and Sonny Workman head to the winner's circle at Belmont after the "Chocolate Soldier's" win in the

A mud-spattered EQUIPOISE and Sonny Workman head to the winner’s circle at Pimlico  after the “Chocolate Soldier’s” dazzling win in the Pimlico Futurity against TWENTY GRAND and MATE. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The loss of his shoes hinted at a problem that would plague Equipoise throughout the rest of his career: he had thin, shelly feet. And they would plague him even as a three year-old. After three lacklustre performances, including the Preakness, it was discovered that Equipoise had sustained a three-quarter crack and he was retired for the rest of the season. His old rival, Twenty Grand, would win the coveted Kentucky Derby, as well as the Belmont, and had an absolutely brilliant season, annexing just about every major stakes race in the country.As a result, Twenty Grand was crowned Champion Three Year-Old Colt and 1931 Horse Of The Year. (Another of Equipoise’s rivals, Mate, won the Preakness, denying Twenty Grand the Triple Crown.)

The gorgeous TWENTY GRAND with his roses, after winning the 1931 Kentucky Derby.

The gorgeous TWENTY GRAND with his roses, after winning the 1931 Kentucky Derby.

Were it 2014 rather than 1931, the infirm Equipoise would likely have been retired. Happily, retiring a colt with such potential, as long as he was fit, was neither the ethos of the time nor the sensibility of Sonny Whitney. And a good thing, too, since The Chocolate Soldier’s campaign as a four year-old was nothing short of spectacular.

EQUIPOISE sets off for a work, wearing the Whitney colours on his blinkers. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

EQUIPOISE sets off for a work, wearing the Whitney colours on his blinkers. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Possibly taken the same day as the photo above, EQUIPOISE gets a rubdown after a work. This photo is dated 1932. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Possibly taken the same day as the photo above, EQUIPOISE gets a rubdown after a work. This photo is dated 1932. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Right from the start, the concern was keeping the colt injury-free, since his feet were a constant problem, not unlike the great Northern Dancer, who ran throughout his career on a quarter-crack. But the four year-old had filled out and was otherwise a stronger horse and it didn’t take long before he showed the nation that the old Equipoise was back. In fact, he made his first four wins look so easy that it was hard to believe he was running on delicate feet, taking six in as many starts, including the prestigious Toboggan Handicap, as well as the Metropolitan.

In his seventh start, the Delavan Handicap in Chicago, The Chocolate Soldier met up with a rival of old, the brilliant Jamestown. In fact, the Delavan had been especially designed for the two of them. C. W. Anderson’s account brings the drama of their meeting to life:

“…The weights were 128 for Equipoise and 118 for Jamestown. The track was at its best, and Jamestown shot away from the barrier as if to make a runaway race of it, but he could not open up more than a length or two. The pace became faster as they neared the far turn and still Workman had not asked Equipoise for his best. Not until they were in the stretch did he call on him, and the effect was startling. Already it seemed that they were running at an unbelievable pace, but Equipoise flew past Jamestown in a dozen strides and came to the finish three lengths in front. The time, 1:34 2/5, was a new world’s record. That an ovation greeted the dark chestnut as he came back to the scales is putting it mildly. He was a horse that was more than a horse. He had personality and people felt it. Always a perfect gentleman he was as calm and unconcerned in the winner’s circle as if he had been out for an exercise gallop. Jamestown showed distress from his terrific effort, but Equipoise had evidently not been fully extended.”

His world record-breaking time of 1:34 2/5 for the mile stood as an Arlington track record for twenty-six years and as a world record for twenty. And when Equipoise’s record came to an end, it was a faster track and not a faster horse that did it, according to Anderson.

THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER gets his own byline.

In 1932, THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER is right back in the news following his record breaking win in the Delavan Handicap.

In his next two starts, the Stars & Stripes Handicap and the Arlington Gold Cup, Equipoise beat the champion filly, Tred Avon (1928), the hardy Dr. Freeland (1926), Gusto(1929) and another rival during his two year-old season, Mate, in the Gold Cup. Then, carrying a 134 lbs. to the 111 of the winner, Plucky Play (1927), the colt was beaten by a short head, breaking a winning streak that had seen him 9 for 9.

Next stop was Saratoga, where The Chocolate Soldier annexed the Wilson and Whitney Stakes. These were both weight for age races, giving Equipoise a break from the bone-crushing weights of the handicap division. The Havre de Grace Handicap under 128 lbs. was his next victory. Burdened by weight, Equipoise lost his final two starts of 1932. But his earnings for 1932 stood at a staggering $107,375 USD — the equivalent of $1,819,915.25 today. More than enough for him to be declared Champion Handicap Horse and Horse of the Year. 

EQUIPOISE was the star of the Handicap Division for three straight years from 1933-1935, winning Horse of the Year each time. Shown here with his lad. Date unknown but likely post-1932. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

EQUIPOISE won Champion Handicap Horse for three straight years, from 1932-1934. So spectacular was he that The Chocolate Soldier was also awarded Horse of the Year in 1932 and again in 1933. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

As C.W. Anderson notes about horses racing in the handicap division in the early part of the last century, ” For three years, Equipoise was at the top of the handicap division, where the reward for a victory is always more weight. Two- and three-year olds may finish a season undefeated, but that is absolutely impossible for a handicap star. There is a limit to what he can carry, but there is no limit to what the handicappers can put on him. He may be the best horse on the track by twenty lengths and still win less than half his races. This was the road Equipoise had to travel…”

…And, in 1933, Equipoise not only travelled, he positively triumphed.

Winning the Philadelphia, Metropolitan, Suburban and the Arlington handicaps in succession, carrying as much as 135 lbs., it seemed impossible to believe that the chocolate beauty could be conquered, either by the handicappers or chronic foot issues. At this point in his career, the hoof that had sustained the quarter-crack had frequently to be pared down so severely that it was almost to the extent of growing a new hoof. Other researchers who have written about Equipoise claim that he never ran 100% sound. But by the time 1933 had come to a close, the Whitney champ had run up a 7-race winning streak, a feat rarely accomplished by any horse in the Handicap Division. One marvels at his courage and determination, but it’s easy to see why Equipoise was a racing hero of the Depression — and why his mere presence on the track evoked a sense of hopeful anticipation.

No matter how much weight they put on him, EQUIPOISE re-enacted this scene over and over again. Here he is, coming home under his regular rider, the great SONNY WORKMAN. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

No matter how much weight they put on him, EQUIPOISE re-enacted this scene over and over again. Here he is, coming home under his regular rider, the great SONNY WORKMAN. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The last two years of his racing career saw the burden of being a high weight in the handicap ranks start to tell on The Chocolate Soldier. The quarter-crack was becoming harder and harder to patch up and the Whitney Stable became even more diligent in monitoring his overall condition. But Equipoise loved to race because he lived to dominate his opposition on the track, in spite of his easy going temperament off it. And his fans…..the stands continued to shake each and every time he appeared. But soldiers soldier on, and at six Equipoise won the Philadelphia and Dixie Handicaps, before running in the Metropolitan. It was a tragic race. Chase Me (1929), an undefeated former hunter, much beloved in Maryland, went down while leading the pack home and was euthanized on the track. Equipoise came home first, but was disqualified for banging into Mr. Khayyam (1930).

Mr. KHAYYAM, a son of OMAR KHAYYAM, depicted by Frederick Voss in 1937.

Mr. KHAYYAM, a son of OMAR KHAYYAM, depicted by renowned equine artist, Frederick Voss, in 1937.

In the Suburban Handicap Equipoise carried 134 pounds, and although he came to the wire in a blaze, beating War Glory (1930) by ten lengths, it wasn’t enough to stop Ladysman (1930) from edging him out by a nose. After running third in the Narragansett Invitational, Equipoise beat Mr. Khayyam in the Whitney Trophy Handicap. It was enough to earn him a third consecutive Champion Handicap Horse award. At the age of seven, Equipoise ran only three times and all were on the West Coast, beating his old rival Twenty Grand in the Oakwood Handicap, only to again be disqualified for bumping.

Here’s rare footage of Equipoise winning the Whitney Trophy (Gold) Cup in 1934. It was found for us by a VAULT reader, Lorelei! (Just CLICK on the link below. Then, on the site, click on the number 57983 in the red box. You can also make the clip full-screen. Just look for the 2-way arrows at the bottom.)


EQUIPOISE at seven in California, where he was training to run in the Santa Anita Handicap. Burdened with 130 lbs., he finished unplaced and was retired to stud shortly thereafter.

EQUIPOISE at seven in 1935, pictured in California, where he was training to run in the Santa Anita Handicap. Burdened with 130 lbs., he finished unplaced and was retired to stud shortly thereafter.

The Chocolate Soldier ended his career with twenty-nine wins (plus ten seconds and four thirds) in fifty-one starts, and earnings of $338,610 USD.

Sadly, his stud career was short: by 1938, Equipoise was gone. However, out of only four foal crops, the stallion produced the 1942 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner, Shut Out (1939), helping to make him America’s leading sire that year. Happily, Equipoise’s story doesn’t end there: he is also the BM sire of Triple Crown winner, Assault (1943), and through a daughter, Alpoise (1937), he is represented in the third generation of the great Tom Fool (1949), who would go on to sire Tim Tam (1955) and Buckpasser (1963).

"Here is a living harmony in horseflesh; an embodiment of rhythm and modulation, of point and counterpoint, that sang to the eye and made music in the heart..." (famed turf writer John Hervey, aka Salvator, writing about Equipoise)

“Here is a living harmony in horseflesh; an embodiment of rhythm and modulation, of point and counterpoint, that sang to the eye and made music in the heart…” (John Hervey, aka Salvator, describing EQUIPOISE) Photo shows EQUIPOISE working over an unknown track. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.


EQUIPOISE shown here in a stunning portrait by photographer Sutcliffe. Source: EBAY

EQUIPOISE shown here in a stunning portrait by photographer L.S. Sutcliffe. (Source: EBAY auction)

EQUIPOISE'S passing was noted in all the major race publications.

EQUIPOISE’S passing was noted in all the major race publications.

The handsome SHUT OUT as he was depicted in 1943 in the Daily Racing Form.

The handsome SHUT OUT as he was depicted in 1943 in the Daily Racing Form.

EQUIPOISE was the BM sire of Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT, pictured here with his handler.

EQUIPOISE was the BM sire of Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT, pictured here with his handler.

Buckpasser, pictured here in 1966 with trainer   was thought by equine artist Richard Stone Reeves to be the most perfect thoroughbred he had ever seen. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Buckpasser, pictured here in 1966 with trainer Eddie Neloy was thought by equine artist Richard Stone Reeves to be the most perfect thoroughbred he had ever seen. Certainly his bloodlines were golden: not only did he count EQUIPOISE in his pedigree but his dam was the great BUSANDA (1947), a daughter of WAR ADMIRAL (1934). Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Another descendent of EQUIPOISE was the Kentucky Derby winner, TIM TAM, shown here at work. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Another descendent of EQUIPOISE was the Kentucky Derby winner, TIM TAM, shown here at work. TIM TAM went on to win the Preakness before he fractured a sesamoid in the Belmont. Amazingly, the colt finished in second place, showing all the courage of EQUIPOISE and earning the title of Champion Three Year Old colt in 1958. As a sire, TIM TAM would go on to sire the champion filly, TOSMAH (1961), as well as the dam of KNOWN FACT(1977)  and TENTAM (1969), TAMERETT (1962).  Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.


Anderson, C.W. The Smashers. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952.

EQUIPOISE in The Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame @ http://www.spiletta.com/UTHOF/index.html

“Horses In Arlington’s Hall of Fame” in The Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1989

NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.

NOTE TO READERSHIP: THE VAULT will be taking several weeks off. I just hate not writing new articles but have a family member who is critically ill. I’ll get back to THE VAULT as soon as I can with a bunch of new writing, but for now, it’s difficult to give you a precise date. However, once I’m back you’ll be notified on your Facebook, Twitter or other accounts. Thanks for your understanding, Abigail Anderson (February 4, 2014)


The tiny chestnut foal could hardly have known that he was born into a story, would be named after a national treasure and would grow into a legend. But that is exactly the story of Giant’s Causeway.

MARIAH'S STORM (1991), the dam of GIANT'S CAUSEWAY had already gained notoriety for her recovery from a fracture to her front left cannon bone in 1993 that should have ended her career.

MARIAH’S STORM (1991), the dam of GIANT’S CAUSEWAY had already gained notoriety for her recovery from a fracture to her front left cannon bone in 1993 that should have ended her career. But the daughter of RAHY healed to race again and did not disappoint, winning the Arlington Heights Oaks and the Arlington Matron Handicap. She then went on to defeat champion SERENA’S SONG in the 1995 Turfway Park Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Stakes.

GIANT'S CAUSEWAY'S sire was the prepotent STORM CAT, who counted in his pedigree the grandsires NORTHERN DANCER and SECRETARIAT.

GIANT’S CAUSEWAY’S sire is the prepotent STORM CAT (1983), who counted in his pedigree the grandsires NORTHERN DANCER(1961) and SECRETARIAT (1970).

GIANT'S CAUSEWAY gets a bath as his young trainer, Aidan O'Brien (back to camera) helps out. The gorgeous colt stands out as one of the greatest that O'Brien ever trained.

GIANT’S CAUSEWAY gets a bath as his young trainer, Aidan O’Brien (back to camera) helps out. The gorgeous colt would go on to become a stunningly handsome stallion, but in O’Brien’s mind and in the hearts of his devoted following he is less remembered for his beauty and more for his racing heart. He remains one of the best horses to ever grace the UK turf. Photo & copyright: HorsePhotos.

Bred by Bill Peters and campaigned in the name of his Thunderhead Farms, Mariah’s Storm wove herself a story of guts, courage and heart. Breaking down in the Alcibiades with a fracture to her left front cannon bone in 1993, the filly’s racing career would have ended had it not been for the faith of owner Peters and her trainer, Don Von Hemel. It was decided that she would be rehabilitated, but even after the fracture healed, the question remained: Would the filly ever race again? Starting back in 1994, Mariah’s Storm showed the racing public what she was made of, winning the Arlington Heights Oaks, the Arlington Matron and defeating the great mare Serena’s Song in the Turfway Park Budweiser Breeders Cup Stakes in 1995.

Although she faded to finish ninth in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (won by over a dozen lengths by the impressive Inside Information with jockey Mike Smith in the irons), Mariah’s Storm retired with a career record of 16-10-2-1 and earnings of $724,895 USD. She had done enough to inspire a movie (“Dreamer”) and to get the attention of savvy horsemen beyond the shores of North America. So it was that in 1996, at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, Mariah’s Storm was sold, in foal to Storm Cat, to Coolmore’s John Magnier for 2.6 million USD.

The foal she was carrying was imprinted with the genetic data of Northern Dancer (1961), Secretariat (1970), Blushing Groom (1974) and Roberto (1969), as well as Halo (1969), Hail To Reason (1958), Nasrullah (1940), Nashua (1942), Bold Ruler (1954) and an important son of Man O’ War, War Relic (1958). Further, the Storm Cat-Mariah’s Storm mating called upon the known affinity between the Northern Dancer and Blushing Groom sire lines.

It was fair to expect great things from this yet unborn descendant of some of the greatest thoroughbreds of the last century. But, as history has shown, great genes don’t always beget great horses.

WAR RELIC (inside) shown beating FOXBROUGH in the The chestnut son of MAN O' WAR was thought to be his best son at stud.

WAR RELIC (inside) shown beating FOXBROUGH in the 1941 Massachusetts Handicap. The chestnut son of MAN O’ WAR, whose temper was so fierce he killed a groom, also carries the distinction of being the most influential sire of all of BIG RED’S sons. His remains lie next to those of WAR ADMIRAL and MAN O’ WAR in the Kentucky Horse Park. WAR RELIC appears on the bottom of MARIAH’S STORM’S pedigree in the fifth generation.

NORTHERN DANCER, depicted here in a stamp released in 2012 by Canada Post.

NORTHERN DANCER, depicted here in a stamp released in 2012 by Canada Post.

BLUSHING GROOM, whose sire lines work well with NORTHERN DANCER.

BLUSHING GROOM, whose sire lines work well with NORTHERN DANCER.

As Aidan O’Brien tells it (in Pacemaker, July 2001), the Storm Cat-Mariah’s Storm colt was already the talk of Ashford Stud (Coolmore America) long before he arrived at Ballydoyle.

” ‘…Before he set foot in the yard, a lot of people were talking about him,’ O’Brien related. ‘Anyone who saw him as a yearling said he had great presence from the start. He had a lovely physique, and when we started to get to know him it was obvious that he had a temperament to match. He looked well, he walked well, and we were fairly sure he was going to be a real racehorse.’ “

"A very special horse," said Aidan O'Brien of GIANT'S CAUSEWAY after he broke his maiden at first asking in  1999. Above, shown winning the Prix Salamandre at Longchamps with Mick Kinane riding that same year.

“A very special horse,” said Aidan O’Brien of GIANT’S CAUSEWAY after he broke his maiden at first asking in 1999. Above, shown winning the Prix de la Salamandre (G1) at Longchamps that same year in what would be the final race of his 2 year-old season.

The handsome colt with the crooked blaze needed a name and the one chosen for him was Giant’s Causeway. So it was that before he had even set foot on the turf, the youngster had the distinction of carrying on his solid shoulders another story, this one pertaining to one of Ireland’s greatest legends. The site of Finn McCool’s great feat remains a place of mystery and magic, warmed by the ghosts of a well-remembered past. While it continues to fascinate all who see it, on the global stage The Giant’s Causeway has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

As he would throughout his racing career, Giant’s Causeway did honour to his bloodlines, his dam’s grit and the country that had embraced him. In his juvenile season, the colt raced three times, capping off the year with an easy win in the 1999 Prix de la Salamandre (G1) at Longchamps, France. The ground was soft that day, but Ballydoyle’s colt made all the running under the skilled guidance of master jockey, Mick Kinane.

The colt ended the year a Group One winner and, if the Master of Ballydoyle was concerned about him at all, it was that his juvenile season had been perhaps a bit too easy. “… I felt that if he was going to be ready for the Guineas he was going to have to learn things in a hurry at the start of the season. In the spring he worked regularly with the Gimcrack winner Mull of Kintyre and they were both so good that we could hardly believe it. ” As the colt had had no experience being among horses having done all the running in his three starts as a 2 year-old, O’Brien started him at three in the Gladness Stakes, where he would meet horses of all ages for the first time. Said O’Brien, ” The Gladness can be a tough race for three year-olds…Physically, he had always been very mature but mentally he hadn’t really been tested. I told Michael Kinane to drop him in, educate him and hope that he would be good enough.”

Giant’s Causeway was indeed “good enough,” beating an experienced Tarry Flynn (1994) as well as John Oxx’s Namid (1996), who would go on to take the Prix  l’Abbaye later in the season.

GIANT'S CAUSEWAY as a three year-old, with Mick Kinane up.

GIANT’S CAUSEWAY as a three year-old, with Mick Kinane up. Photo & copyright The Racing Post.

In his next two starts, the 2000 Guineas and the Irish 2000 Guineas, Giant’s Causeway battled all the way but ended up second to King’s Best (1997) and Bachir (1997), respectively. The losses took nothing away from him in O’Brien’s eyes. The colt had shown courage and talent even in defeat. As well, the trainer had learned that Giant’s Causeway was determined and fiercely competitive, if inclined to ease up once he had passed all of the other horses in the field, a factor that had played against him in his two defeats. Next up was the St. James’s Palace Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot 2000. A new millennium had dawned and the chestnut-red colt was going to make it his own. He had matured and learned a good deal from three tough races when he and Kinane stepped into the starting gate at Royal Ascot:

He may have won it by a nose, but Giant’s Causeway stamped himself as Mariah’s Storm’s son, showing a tenacity that became a signature. In winning the St. James’s Palace he had beaten some excellent colts in Bachir and Medicean (1997). And he had won off a slower pace than he liked. Although it was tempting to give the colt the summer off, O’Brien felt that he could step up the pace of Giant’s Causeway’s campaign by entering him in the Coral-Eclipse (G1) a mere eleven days later. The changes in the three year-old from just before and after the St. James’s Palace made it an interesting risk to take. Giant’s Causeway had come into his own just before his appearance at Royal Ascot and came out of it well into himself and in great form.

With veteran jockey George Duffield in the saddle, he went to the post in the Coral-Eclipse. Also entered were champions Sakhee (1997), Fantastic Light (1996), Shiva (1995) and Kalanisi (1996).

Aidan O’Brien’s take on the drama of the finish was that once Giant’s Causeway had gotten to the front, he idled a little, waiting for Kalanisi to get up to him. But whether by a length or a whisker, his game colt had gotten the job done. It was this race that would earn the Ballydoyle colt an enduring nickname, “The Iron Horse,” since Giant’s Causeway became only the second horse –and the first since Coronach(1923) in 1926 — to capture both the Coral-Eclipse and the St. James’s Palace Stakes in the same year.  In winning the Coral-Eclipse he had beaten a future winner of the 2001 Prix du l’Arc de Triomphe (Sakhee), the 2000 European Champion Horse and Champion Turf Male in the USA (Kalanisi), the 2000 & 2001 UK Horse of the World (Fantastic Light) and the winner of the Tattersall’s Gold Cup and 1999 European Champion Mare (Shiva).

Duking it out with KALANSI  at the wire.

Duking it out with KALANSI
at the wire. Photo & copyright, The Racing Post.

A delighted George Duffield rides in the Coral-Eclipse winner, GIANT'S CAUSEWAY, after the colt's gutsy win over KALANISI. The only other horse to have won the St. James's Palace and Coral-Eclipse in the same year was CORONACH, in 1926.

A delighted George Duffield rides in the Coral-Eclipse winner, GIANT’S CAUSEWAY, after the colt’s gutsy win over KALANISI. The only other horse to ever have won the St. James’s Palace and Coral-Eclipse in the same year was CORONACH, in 1926. Credit: Pacemaker.

As if this weren’t enough, the Iron Horse went on — and on — annexing the Irish Champion Stakes (G1), the Sussex Stakes (G1) and the Juddmonte International (G1) in rapid succession, vanquishing older champions like the German Group 1 winner, Greek Dance (1995), Juddmonte’s champion, Dansili (1996), and the valiant Kalanisi along the way.

Giant’s Causeway ran himself into the hearts of Irish and English racing fans, showing the steely determination and heart of a champion who showed up each and every time. By the time he arrived for the Breeders Cup Classic he was a national hero who had chalked up five successive Group 1′s in a single racing season (matching the record held by UK Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky II) and completed a Group 1 double that had only been accomplished once before in the history of UK horse racing. He was a new face to most North Americans but the colt and his entourage were followed enthusiastically by the press as Ireland’s national treasure readied for his final start. The HOF American trainer D. Wayne Lukas was on hand to support the Ballydoyle team and doubtless felt proud for another reason: Giant’s Causeway was the progeny of Storm Cat, who was owned by Lukas’ friend and mentor, William T. Young of Overbrook Farm. And Storm Cat was, in turn, the best son of the filly who had launched Lukas’ career: Terlingua (1976) aka “The Secretariat Filly.”

Followed by a hoard of media, GIANT'S CAUSEWAY makes his way to the track accompanied by Aidan O'Brien and American HOF trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.

Followed by a hoard of media, GIANT’S CAUSEWAY makes his way to the track at Churchill Downs, accompanied by the Master of Ballydoyle, Aidan O’Brien and American HOF trainer, D. Wayne Lukas. The two trainers would begin an enduring friendship at the Breeders Cup.

Giant’s Causeway was coming to Churchill Downs off a long, hard and brilliant campaign: in twelve career starts (nine of them in his three year-old season), he had won nine and placed in three.

Getting to the Breeders Cup meant that the champion colt had to endure lengthly air travel followed by quarantine. And he would race on dirt for the first (and only) time in his life. The field was a strong one, featuring the Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus (1997), Lemon Drop Kid (1996), Albert The Great (1997), Captain Steve (1997) and a California invader named Tiznow (1997).  If any of this worried the Ballydoyle team they didn’t show it. And when it was all over, an elated Aidan O’Brien would say, “The Breeders Cup Classic was always the plan for him. He had nothing left to prove in Europe and we wanted to see exactly what his limits were. I was very apprehensive about how he would get on, but in the end he really covered himself in glory. “

Retired to stud in 2001,Giant’s Causeway ended his career with a record of 13-9-4-0 and earnings of 2,031,426 BPS.

Not surprisingly, his stud career has been as successful as his career on the turf. Standing his first year at Coolmore Ireland and his second season at Coolmore Australia, The Iron Horse came to rest in the country of his birth for his third season at stud and has never left. In a dozen or so years, the flashy chestnut who never seems to take a bad photograph has sired enough winners to earn him USA Champion Sire rankings in 2009, 2010 and again in 2012. Granted, his book is large and he continues to attract very fine mares, making his chances of showing himself a superior sire greater. But the fact remains that his progeny have won on dirt, synthetic and turf in six different countries and on four continents, at distances from 5 – 14 furlongs. Giant’s Causeway may also be on his way to garnering “Sire of Sires” status, given the success of sons like Shamardal (2002) , Footstepsinthesand (2002), Frost Giant (2003) and First Samurai (2003) already, with other promising progeny like Eskendereya (2007) and Canada’s Mike Fox (2004) in the wings. As a broodmare sire, Giant’s Causeway has also been successful, much in the pattern of his sire and grandsires. Recent examples are millionaires Evening Jewel (Jewel of the Night, 2002) and Planteur (Plante Rare, 2002).

The late Tony Leonard's profile of ARAGORN.

The late Tony Leonard’s profile of ARAGORN. Photo and copyright, the estate of Tony Leonard.

The gorgeous ESKENDEREYA who many thought would be a powerful Triple Crown contender before injury abruptly ended his career.

The gorgeous ESKENDEREYA who many thought would be a powerful Triple Crown contender before injury abruptly ended his career.

Steve Roman’s data indicates that Giant’s Causeway is indeed a pre-potent sire of Classic stamina which would indicate, in turn, that he passes on little of the Storm Cat line’s tendency to produce speedy, short distance juveniles who frequently are unable to show the same form at three. The Classic influence clearly owes more to the Blushing Groom/Nasrullah sire line that was passed down to him by the plucky Mariah’s Storm. All of which would explain why, at the age of seventeen, Giant’s Causeway owns the reputation of being Storm Cat’s best producing son, even though Storm Cat may well have had little to do with it.

Does he ever take a lousy photo? GIANT'S CAUSEWAY posing at Ashford.

Does he ever take a lousy photo? GIANT’S CAUSEWAY posing at Ashford.

the Richard Hills' trained GHANAATI shown here winning the 1000 Guineas.

The Richard Hills’ trained GHANAATI shown here winning the 1000 Guineas.

MAID'S CAUSEWAY was an early champion of her then-juvenile sire.

MAID’S CAUSEWAY (inside) was an early champion of her then-juvenile sire.

Ireland’s Iron Horse has a veritable stable of champions to his credit. Other than those mentioned, the list includes millionaires Aragorn (2002), Cowboy Cal (2005), Eishin Apollon (2007), Fed Biz (2009), Creative Cause (2009), Giant Oak (2006), Irish Mission (2009), Heatseeker (2003), My Typhoon (2004) and Red Giant (2004). Sons who won at the Grade/Group 1 level with Classic designation: Intense Focus (2006), Footstepsinthesand, Rite of Passage (2004), Our Giant (2003), Heatseeker, First Samurai, Eskendereya, Red Giant, Shamardal, Frost Giant (2003) and Aragorn. Daughters who won at the Grade/Group 1 level with Classic designation: Internallyflawless (2006), Swift Temper (2004), Juste Momente (2003), Maid’s Causeway (2002), My Typhoon (2004), Ghanaati (2006) and Carriage Trail (2003). Other very good progeny include Await The Dawn (2007), Bowman’s Causeway (2008), Caroline Thomas (2010), Imagining2 (2008), Sunshine For Life (2004), Viscount Nelson (2007) and Winning Cause (2010).

Fan favourite, MY TYPHOON, a half-sister to GALILEO was out of the Blue Hen, URBAN SEA, herself a winner of the Prix du l'Arc de Triomphe

Fan favourite, MY TYPHOON, a half-sister to GALILEO was out of the champion and Blue Hen mare, URBAN SEA, who had won the Prix du l’Arc de Triomphe in 1993.

Although, in these fickle times, Giant’s Causeway is no longer considered a “hot” sire, he blasted into 2013 to top the Sire’s List with 12 GSW’s, the most spectacular of which was arguably the champion filly, Dalkala (2009), winner of the prestigious Prix de l’Opera in 2013.

The stallion has opened 2014 with a victory by the champion mare, Naples Bay, a half-sister to Medaglia d’Oro, in the Marshua’s RiverStakes (G3) at Gulfstream, in what was likely her final start.


So the thrilling narrative of a great racehorse and an astoundingly good sire continues. Surely Finn McCool is rejoicing at an equine who has built a causeway that girths the world.

At Ashford Stud, 2014.

At Ashford Stud, 2012.


The Blood-Horse magazine: Stallion Register; MarketWatch (May 27, 2011); article on Naples Bay by Myra Lewyn (January 4, 2014)

Pacemaker magazine, January 2001

Chef-de-race: Giant’s Causeway (September 18, 2010)

The Racing Post (UK): Giant’s Causeway/Record by Race Type

NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission. Please contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns.

Imagine a filly you can throw anything at ….. and she comes home in the money 126 times.  

IMP, aka THE COAL BLACK LADY, pictured as a juvenile in the Turf and Sport Digest.

IMP, aka THE COAL BLACK LADY, pictured as a juvenile in the 1955 Turf and Sport Digest.

In his seminal book “Racing In America: 1866-1921,” W.S. Vosburgh confers pride of place to three of the greatest fillies to ever race in North America: the bay dynamo, Miss Woodford (1880), the diminutive great-grandaughter of Stockwell, Firenze (usually spelled “Firenzi” in racing texts of the day) who was born in 1884, and the pride of the Buckeye State, Imp (1894). Vosburgh wasn’t noted for handing out compliments blithely. He served as a track official, as well as establishing himself as an authority on thoroughbred conformation and bloodlines. Vosburgh’s assertion that Miss Woodford, Firenze and Imp swept all before them is not to be taken lightly, since he was committed to the development of the American thoroughbred and noted for his shrewd analysis of the champions of the day.

Little FIRENZE (FIRENZI) earned $100,000 before her retirement. Racing in the years following MISS WOODFORD'S retirement, FIRENZE was without question one of the greatest fillies of the nineteenth century in America.

Little FIRENZE (FIRENZI) earned $100,000 during her career. Racing in the years following MISS WOODFORD’S retirement, FIRENZE was without question one of the greatest fillies of the nineteenth century in America.

Imp was bred and owned by D.R. Harness of Chillicothe, Ohio, a horseman distinguished by the victory of his General Duke (1865) in the 1868 Belmont Stakes, a success story of the then McConnell-Harness Stable in which he was part owner. Imp was an ungainly foal, but in spite of this Harness kept her, perhaps because she was bred in the purple. A direct descendant of both the Darley Arabian and Eclipse, Imp’s sire was the British stallion Wagner (1882), a grandson of Prince Charlie (1869), who traced his roots back to Blair Athol (1861). Prince Charlie’s best progeny was undoubtedly Salvator (1886), although Exterminator(1915) also traced back to him on the distaff side. Imp’s dam, Fondling (1886) who only raced once before sustaining a career-ending injury was a Harness homebred. The mare traced back to Lexington (1850) through her granddam, Kitty Heron (1875), who was by another Harness champion, Chillicothe (1867).The black filly with the white star on her brow was Fondling’s first foal.

Harness turned Imp over to trainer Charles E. Brossman, another Ohio native, even though he doubted that she had any real talent. Imp had an eccentric personality — going to work, she appeared indifferent. Once urged to breeze, her leggy, developing body took time to gather and organize itself. And when she ran, Imp kept her head low to the ground, loping along in a seemingly half-conscious state. Had he known about the idol of Hungarian racing, KINCSEM (1874), Harness might have seen Imp’s odd sensibility and running style as a precursor of greatness.

It was said that KINCSEM ran low to the ground, as she is pictured here and kept her head down until she hit the finish, ears whirling like egg-beaters.

It was said that KINCSEM also ran low to the ground, as pictured here, keeping her head down until she hit the finish, ears whirling like egg-beaters.

IMP descended from the great British thoroughbred, BLAIR ATHOL, who won the Epsom Derby on his very first appearance on the turf. He followed that up with a win in the St. Leger.

IMP descended from the great British thoroughbred, BLAIR ATHOL, who won the Epsom Derby on his very first appearance on the turf. He followed that up with a win in the St. Leger.

It was probably just as well that there weren’t high expectations for Imp, since her juvenile season gave no hint of what was to come. The filly did, however, manage to win 4 of her 11 starts.

The three year-old Imp was a stronger, fitter filly who had filled out enough to persuade her trainer to step up her racing schedule: between April 1 -November 15 she went to the post 50 times, averaging 3 starts about every two weeks. In her final race of the year, the rich Lakeside Handicap, Imp won by 15 lengths. Throughout 1897, she had run in everything from sprints to longer courses, her best performances being 1:13 1/4 (6f) and 1:26 3/4 (in a dash @ 7/8). Even though she carried enough weight that an impost of 90 lbs. was considered “a feather,” Imp was in the money 35 times, winning 14.

Following a brief rest, Imp returned in 1898 looking so superb that she was described as “…one of the fanciest pieces of horseflesh ever seen” and “the Ohio mare with the black satin coat.” Trainer Brossman, who split all winnings with owner Harness, had mapped out an even more arduous campaign for his four year-old star. And Imp obliged, winning her first 4 starts over distances of 5 1/2f  to 1 mile 50 yards. Carrying imposts as high as 119 lbs., she nevertheless set a track record going the mile and fifty. Brossman, described by Vosburgh as “a man of talent and education, who brought her [Imp] through a campaign that reflected the greatest credit to him” was beginning to wonder whether the West could offer his mare the kind of competition that builds a thoroughbred’s stamina.

IMP in 1898, going to post at Hawthorne Race Track.

IMP in 1898, going to post at Hawthorne Race Track in Chicago. The filly had blossomed into a beauty and her solid, sensible conformation only made her appearance on the track even more sensational. Courtesy of the Ross County Historical Society.

Sure enough, in less than two months, Imp had captured 10 of 11 starts. At this point, she had run out of any serious opposition, prompting Brossman to bring her to New York where, for the very first time (in the New York Times) she was hailed as “The Queen of the West.” The aim was for The Queen to capture The Suburban, which carried the exceedingly rich purse of $10,000. Handicapped by 102 lbs., plus another 4 for a recent victory at Sheepshead Bay, Imp went to the post. A sixteenth of a mile from the wire, it appeared that she would win it. But just as suddenly, the great black body began to tire and she finished sixth, even though she was only beaten by less than 4 lengths.

However disappointed he may have been, Brossman was quick to start her again and the track officials were as nimble: Imp ran carrying 135 lbs. in a race she very likely could not win since, to quote one observer, “…she found the burden too troublesome.” Imp’s trainer was sufficiently enraged by her impost to ship his entire stable to Chicago. Once there, the Queen of the West continued to race: in her two final starts of the year — run back-to-back in November — Imp carried 125 lbs. to place and then bounced back the very next day to take the Lakeside Handicap in what the chart noted as “…a common canter by 6 lengths.”  At the close of her 4 year-old season, Imp had started 35 times, winning 21, with 6 seconds and 3 thirds. She was given a rest while Brossman plotted her 1899 campaign, the crowning jewel of which was to be a win in the rich Suburban.

Imp seemed to find it tough going at the start of her 5 year-old season: it took her seven attempts before she found her way into the winners circle, four weeks before the Suburban Handicap. Running under the highest weight and giving 17-35 lbs. to her competition, she nevertheless won a 9f. race at Morris Park by a length going away. Were she running today, Imp probably wouldn’t even have been started in the Suburban, but Brossman not only started her, he ran her five more times at Gravesend before she appeared on the track at Sheepshead Bay to make her second attempt at a race that had never been won by a filly or mare before.

IMP with her groom, TOM TANDY. Although precious little is known about either Tom or his relationship with the champion, it would seem that he was her greatest admirer and very likely her one close friend. Photo and copyright, Ohio Historical Society.

IMP with her groom, TOM TANDY. Although precious little is known about either Tom or his relationship with the champion, it would seem that he was her greatest admirer and very likely her one close friend. Courtesy of the Ross County Historical Society.

Her groom, Tom Tandy, never doubted that she would win and was her greatest fan. Tom knew his big black mare better than anyone and the kind look in Imp’s eye whenever Tom is near speaks louder than words. He was the man who washed her down, hot-walked her, fed her and travelled with her from track to track. His life was a hard one but Imp must have brightened it with the kind of glow a man carries when he’s loved a champion thoroughbred. The little we know about Tom comes, once again, from W.S. Vosburgh whose shrewd eye missed very little when it came to horses and the people around them. It was the groom’s habit to stand close to the rail when Imp ran and, as the field streamed by, he would shout to her jockey, ” Let her sleep! Don’t wake her up!” — a reference to Imp’s deceptive, somnolent racing style that nevertheless allowed her to pick off the competition and get home well ahead of most of the field. W.S. Vosburgh goes on to say that as Imp became a racing idol, Tom Tandy was sought out by racegoers, punters and sports writers alike. (NOTE: In fact, Vosburgh never referred to Imp’s groom by name, although the New York Times [December 23, 1900] names Tom Tandy as Imp’s “rubber” and associates him directly with the call to “Let her sleep,” adding that Tom’s view was that Imp did her best running when “sleeping.” The same article goes on to say that when Imp heard Tom calling out the familiar phrase she quickened and usually won. In another account of the great mare’s career, her groom’s name is given as Heber. This kind of confusion isn’t unusual when we look into the past. It is possible that Heber and Tom Tandy were both close companions of Imp. It’s also possible that the source of the Heber account was mistaken. What we do know is that Tom Tandy is the groom most pictured with Imp.)

The cast of the 1899 Suburban was the cream of the East: Bannockburn (1895), Warrenton (1895), Previous (1895), Black Candle (1895) and the great Banastar (1895), who had already defeated the Queen of the West twice that year, in the Toboggan and the Metropolitan Handicap, respectively. Happily for her connections, Imp was given an impost of only 114 lbs. which was fortuitous given the events of that day.

image_603x817_from_0,0_to_6355,8604 2

A sketch of BANASTAR, who was one of the best 3 year-olds of 1899, after his win in the Brooklyn Handicap.

Nash Turner, who would jockey Imp in her 1899 Suburban run cut a dashing figure.

NASH TURNER, who would jockey IMP in her 1899 Suburban run, cut a dashing figure.

The track was a hub of activity well before the Suburban was run and would, in fact, break attendance records. Although many of the racing elite were in absentia, the crowd swelled and betting reached an almost hysterical peak before the horses paraded onto the track. Imp ambled out, the handsome Nash Turner on her back, her black coat gleaming. She cut a stately figure in spite of her habitual look of being half-asleep. Those seeing her for the first time might very well have wondered what all the fuss was about, but what they didn’t realize was that when the sleepy lady was awoken she made her competition look as though they were swimming in treacle.

At the starting point, things went amuck as W.C. Whitney’s George Keene (1895) threw a fit that had an onerous effect on the champion colt, Banastar. The filly Briar Sweet (1895) added to the chaos. It took eight tries before the field was sent on its way, a delay of almost 45 minutes. Between starts, Turner opted to rest one leg on a fence post, thus lightening Imp’s burden significantly.

At the break, Banastar was left at the post and once off, bolted sharply, ruining his chances of winning. His jockey, Maher, pulled out his whip and began beating the colt over the head so savagely that he would be fined $200 and banned for 10 days by the track officials for abusing his mount. (Whitney’s George Keene was banned for the whole race meeting, on the grounds that his trainer had “…failed to teach him to break properly, as other horses were taught to do.”)

Incredibly, two of the triad of trouble-makers — Briar Sweet and George Keene —  led at the mile turn, with Imp and the colt Filligrane in stalking position right behind them. At this point, Turner saw that he needed to move Imp off the rail, and digging his heels into her they moved to the outside and at the leaders. Imp, with Nash flapping the reins and working her furiously, was ahead at the final turn when Bannockburn came calling. But, as it was described in the New York Times, “…Imp…seemed to have the wings of the wind to help her busy feet along.” The Queen of the West “…came on with a marvellously easy stride that ate up space rapidly and acting as though she could go a couple of miles further, should that be necessary” Imp turned for home, 2 lengths in the lead.

Turner’s eyes were riveted on the finish line. Just as Imp reached it, there was a loud crash: spectators in the infield had torn down the fence and were pouring onto the track. Even though the first three horses were across the finish, a wall of oncoming horses bore down on fans streaming towards the winner. There was much screaming and blowing of whistles but, miraculously, neither person nor horse was injured.

IMP'S Suburban Win as reported in the San Francisco Call.

IMP’S Suburban win as reported in the San Francisco call.

Imp had not only won the Suburban, she also became the first filly/mare to do so AND she ran the fastest 10f in the stakes’ history, cruising across the finish in a time of 2:05 4/5. Harness, Brossman, Tom Tandy and other Ohioans present fairly ripped out their lungs cheering her into the winner’s circle to the tune of “My Coal Black Lady,” played by Lander’s uniformed band. (NOTE: Different accounts differ as to when “My Coal Black Lady” was first played. The New York Times reported that Turner was lifted up on the shoulders of the crowd to the tune of “All Hail The Chief.” Presumably, Lander’s band could have played both tunes that day. Regardless, it is around this time that Imp and the song that was to become her theme are first associated.)

After the Suburban, Imp would often be called “The Coal Black Lady” and her theme song accompanied her into the winner’s circle every race thereafter. Below is an old music box playing “My Coal Black Lady” as it sounded in the late 1800′s.

Although she struggled in two of her next three starts following the Suburban, by June of 1899 Imp was back in form. Remaining in the East, the Coal Black Lady gave Landers and his band lots of opportunity to play her song. In 14 starts, Imp won 8. Her brilliance flashed again in the Brighton Handicap, where, giving weight to champion colts Ethelbert (1896) and Bangle (1895), she came home in 2:05 2/3, smashing still another stakes record. Imp and her connections were now racing royalty and the handsome mare had groupies who followed her from track to track. Newspapers swelled with stories, gossip and rumours about Imp and her entourage, at times to their despair. Brossman came in for much criticism over the fact that he seemed to pick second-rate jockeys to ride the mare, to which he retorted, “I pick jockeys who will ride Imp exactly as I tell them.”

But Imp wasn’t quite finished with her 5 year-old campaign. In what was the best racing season of her career, she won the Ocean Handicap with ease and, carrying 128 lbs., went on to annex the Turf Handicap. One of her final races was the Double Event, involving two races at 10f and 12f, respectively, run at Gravesend over a span of a few days. Since its beginnings in 1886, only three horses — Kingston (1884), Lamplighter (1889) and Ben Brush (1893) — had managed to win it, all champion colts. In 1899, Imp became the fourth  – and the first filly/mare — to win the Double, under the guidance of jockey Pete Clay. She concluded her 5 year-old season by winning the Islip and with that win, completed a year of racing that had put paid to the very best thoroughbreds racing in New York state with a consistency that was stunning, earning her Horse of the Year.

Another shot of IMP, date unknown.

Another shot of IMP, date unknown.

It would be fair to say that Imp’s 6 year-old season was a roller coaster ride. The black mare with the whimsical personality and heart of a lioness was no longer a girl — and she had already gone to the start an astonishing 122 times.  Her 1900 season began with a string of defeats, in part as a result of carrying weights as high as 133 lbs. and of meeting colts and fillies that were half her age. There were other times when she was absolutely brilliant — at Aqueduct where, having given the advantage to the superstar Jean Beraud (1896), easily the best colt that season, Imp pushed him so hard that he only managed to beat her by a whisker. And in her return  to run in the Brighton Handicap, she set a sizzling pace, losing to Ethelbert by the tip of her nose.

ETHELBERT edging out IMP (who had led most of the way) in the 1900 Brighton Cup. This depiction of the mare's running style owes more to accuracy than artistry. IMP did, in fact, run very low to the ground.

ETHELBERT edging out IMP (who had led most of the way) in the 1900 Brighton Cup. This depiction of the mare’s running style owes more to accuracy than artistry. IMP did, in fact, run very low to the ground.

That year, Imp smouldered in the Advance Stakes, which she won by 30 lengths, setting a new American and world track record going 1 3/4 miles. The final win of her career came in the Mahopac Handicap, although she continued on, always valiantly, facing whatever conditions were thrown at her. The press began to refer to her as “The Old Mare” and pressure was put on trainer and owner to retire her.

By the time she was led off the track for good in 1901, this amazing mare had started 171 times with a career record of 62 wins, 35 seconds and 29 thirds and earnings of $70,119 (approx.). It was hard, hard work for total earnings that, by 1951, were six times less than for a winner of just one race of the calibre of the Suburban Handicap. Today it seems even more unreal.

Imp set records over 1 1/16, 1 1/4, 1 1/2 and 1 3/4 miles and defeated the most important colts of her era. But her most important contribution was undoubtedly to the sport itself, which she made thrilling for punters and fans alike, race after race.

In 1965 Imp was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.

IMP pictured outside the

IMP pictured outside the Pioneer Bowling Alleys, likely taken in 1899. Courtesy of the Ross County Historical Society.


Below, a golden oldie of the running of the Gravesend Cup (Brooklyn Handicap) at Sheepshead Bay in 1904, won by The Picket (1900). Note how long it takes the track officials to line the horses up…..and we wonder if the cameraman was buried under the dust as the horses rushed by. It sure looks that way! Imp had been retired by then, but the footage still gives viewers a look at Sheepshead Bay as it was when The Coal Black Lady raced there:


Vosburgh, W.S. Racing In America: 1866-1921. NY: The Jockey Club.

O’Keefe, John. The Queen of the West in Turf and Sport Digest, 1952.

Duke, Jacqueline, ed. Women of the Year. Lexington, Kentucky: Blood-Horse Publications, 2004.

Archives of the New York Times, and the San Francisco call (Library of Congress)

A very special thank you to the staff of the Ross County Historical Society for permission to include photographs of Imp from their collection in this article.

Phar Lap was another of the bright stars in my grandfather’s pantheon of “thoroughbred immortals.” Even in the small town in rural Quebec, Canada, where my grandparents lived, horsemen knew about the mighty Phar Lap whose exploits they watched on newsreels in the town’s movie house. “He must have been just a gorgeous beast,” Grandpa would say in a hushed, reverent tone. “But the Depression was no time to be a horse, ” he added, “Nope. It was a dirty time and they did brilliant to keep Phar Lap out of harm’s way for as long as they did.”  Grandpa’s pantheon was tiny. But here was an exceptional individual who led the life of a working-class hero. The big red gelding who generally cantered home, winning 37 of his 51 starts over a span of three years, was also as gentle as the toddlers who rode, bridleless, on his broad back. 

And of all the narratives that punctuated an incredible life, the story of getting Phar Lap to the 1930 Melbourne Cup has to be the most dramatic. 

Phar Lap with the man who was closest to him and his best friend, Tommy Woodcock.

PHAR LAP with the man who was closest to him —  his best friend, Tommy Woodcock.

Phar Lap might well have died before he ever captured the 1930 Melbourne Cup, had it not been for the quick-wittednessa of a team that included trainer Harry Telford and the big red horse’s strapper, or groom, Tom Woodcock.

The Great Depression hit Australia in 1929, a year before the stock market crashed in the USA. Its effects on Australian society were devastating: in 1929, unemployment was already at 10% and at its peak, in 1932, it was at almost 32%. What jobs there were for the working and middle classes were of short duration, especially in cities like Melbourne. And as is often the case when whole nations are ravaged, the suffering was cloaked by an ominous silence. As one survivor recounted:

People were forced into all sorts of tricks and expediencies to survive, all sorts of shabby and humiliating compromises. In thousands and thousands of homes fathers deserted the family and went on the track (to become itinerant workers), or perhaps took to drink. Grown sons sat in the kitchen day after day, playing cards, studying the horses [betting on horse racing] and trying to scrounge enough for a threepenny bet, or engaged in petty crime, mothers cohabited with male boarders who were in work and who might support the family, daughters attempted some amateur prostitution and children were in trouble with the police.

(Lowenstein, Wendy. Weevils in the Flour: an oral record of the 1930s depression in Australia , 20th anniversary edition, Scribe, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia, p.2, 1998.)

This was Phar Lap’s world, where shadows of uncertainty and the desperation of the disenfranchised were the soundtrack of daily life. One escape from despair was horse racing, where men with little chance of finding a job would drop whatever they could find into betting, making that part of the industry a ripe landscape for the unscrupulous. And a horse who seemed to always win was going to evoke both public elation and private rage.

A big, red horse who brought hope to so many, PHAR LAP stirred up more dangerous emotions too. Shown here at the finish of a race in 1930. Photo and copyright: John Fairfax (for The Sydney Herald).

A big, red horse who brought hope to so many, PHAR LAP stirred up more dangerous emotions as well. Shown here at the finish of a race in 1930. Photo and copyright: John Fairfax (for The Sydney Herald).

An ugly, scrawny yearling from New Zealand who arrived at the Telford Stable with seemingly little promise had blossomed into a handsome and powerful “Champion of the People” by 1930. Phar Lap’s sire, Night Raid (1918) carried the blood of the great British stallions Bend Or (1877) and Spearmint (1903); his dam, Entreaty (1920) was a New Zealand-bred who descended from the mighty St. Simon (1881) and Isonomy (1875). Night Raid was bred in the UK and sold off first to J. McGuigan for 120 BPS, then to Australian P. Keith, followed by Sydney horseman A. P. Wade, before ending up in the stable of A. P. Roberts, a New Zealand owner-breeder. Lacklustre as he was asa a racehorse, Night Raid proved a very successful sire.



ENTREATY with a full sibling to PHAR LAP at her side.

ENTREATY with a full sibling to PHAR LAP at her side.

The handsome NIGHTMARCH was another excellent son of NIGHT RAID, defeating PHAR LAP in the 1929 Melbourne Cup.

Another excellent son of NIGHT RAID was the handsome NIGHTMARCH, who defeated PHAR LAP in the 1929 Melbourne Cup.

Poor Harry Telford! His despair at seeing the Night Raid colt was without end, for he was the one who had persuaded the millionaire, David J. Davis, to buy him. When Davis saw the colt, he blew up; when he had calmed down enough to think clearly, Davis decided to lease Phar Lap to Telford for three years. Telford would pay for the colt’s maintenance as well as entry fees and Davis would get one third of any earnings the Night Raid colt might amass. Before he turned two, Phar Lap was gelded, the thinking at the time being that as a huge, backward juvenile, the procedure would enhance his development. He was given the name PHAR LAP, derived from a Thai dialect (far lap), meaning “lightening” or “bolt of lightening” or “light from the sky.” Telford dropped the “f” in favour of the “ph” to meet registration requirements.



Harry Telford was a caring trainer but a tough one and he believed that horses benefitted from long, hard works. He set about preparing the lanky Phar Lap using this method, one that prevailed throughout the gelding’s career. Into the youngster’s life came Tommy Woodcock, who cared for “Bobby,” as Phar Lap was called, as well as several other thoroughbreds in the Telford stable. However, Phar Lap became so enamoured of his young strapper that Tommy was soon assigned to the colt full-time.

Phar Lap was Tommy’s horse in every sense of the word. Central as Tommy was to his world, Bobby developed the habit of chewing up Woodcock’s shirts and jackets. To get around this, his young groom taught him a number of games that always ended with a lump of sugar. And Phar Lap’s sweet tooth turned out to be as enormous as his size and as constant as his performance on the turf. Without Tommy’s love, loyalty and friendship it is impossible to say that Phar Lap would have developed into the champion he became, since horses who aren’t happy within themselves seldom realize their potential.

PHAR LAP with Tommy, ears pricked, undoubtedly thinking about the lumps of sugar his friend always carried in his pockets.

PHAR LAP with Tommy, ears pricked, undoubtedly thinking about the lumps of sugar his friend always carried in his pockets.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these figures! Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these measurements of the 3 year-old champion. Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

Phar Lap’s two year-old season was unremarkable, except for the laughter that accompanied the big, gawky gelding when he appeared on a race track. Like most babies, Bobby at first had no idea what he was supposed to do. Add to that the very real difficulty of co-ordinating those long, long legs and one can almost imagine him running awkwardly along well behind the pack. He did, however, conclude his first season by breaking his maiden with a win in the 6f Rosehill Maiden Juvenile Handicap in April 1929.

Finally figuring it out: PHAR LAP breaks his maiden at the end of his very first racing season in 1929.

Finally figuring it out: PHAR LAP wins the AJC Craven Plate under jockey W. Duncan on October 9, 1929. Photo and copyright, John Fairfax (Fairfax Photos), Australia.

But the youngster would actually race fifteen times in 1929, his first year on the track, because thoroughbreds in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate their birthdays on August 1, and not in January. So a fairer analysis of Bobby’s 1929 performances would show that from September 14, 1929, the now three year-old went on an absolute tear, chalking up a record of 9-4-1-1 from August to November. The wins came in the AJC Derby and the two-mile AJC Craven’s Plate (in October), as well as the prestigious Victoria Derby in November, where he was piloted for the second time by the legendary James Pike.

Under Pike’s guidance, Phar Lap had become the favourite to take the 1929 Derby. Unfortunately, “Gentle Jim” (as Pike was known) was not available and Bobby Lewis was given the mount. As it turned out, Big Bobby and Jockey Bobby fought with each other through the first quarter of the Cup, with Lewis trying to wrestle Phar Lap back, to rate off the pace. It was too much for the youngster and Nightmarch came home first with Phar Lap settling for third — an extraordinary performance considering how he had worn himself out. As 1929 closed, Phar Lap had started fifteen times with a maximum rest of 26 days between races, discounting a three-month summer lay-off. He had run at distances from 6 f to 2 miles and carried imposts from 91-122 lbs. (AJC Victoria Derby win) — an unheard of amount of weight by today’s standards.

Jim Pike brings PHAR LAP to the winner's circle after their win in the 1929 AJC Derby. Photo and copyright, Racing Museum, Australia

Jim Pike brings PHAR LAP to the winner’s circle after their win in the 1929 AJC Derby. Photo and copyright, Museum Victoria, Australia.

No surprise, then, that when Phar Lap started his 3-4 year-old season in 1930 he had quite the fan following — and the statuesque red gelding did not disappoint. It was to be the year of Bobby and Gentle Jim, for in all but 5 of his 21 starts, Jim Pike was in the irons. It was a year none would forget: racing at distances from 9f to 2 1/4 miles, the big horse won 19 and finished second and third respectively in the other two. Bobby reeled off nine consecutive wins between March and May, and another ten from September 13 – November 8. The maximum time-off between races that year was 14 days; the minimum, 9. Carrying weight of between 109 and 138 lbs., Phar Lap came home running easily. After his death, jockey Pike would say that he’d never even come close to finding the bottom of an animal with whom he, like Tommy Woodcock, shared a spiritual bond.

The great horse carried as much as 138 lbs. weight in his second season on the turf. But it didn't stop PHAR LAP from winning 19 of 21 starts. Photo and copyright, The Herald, Australia

The great horse carried as much as 138 lbs. weight in his second season on the turf. But it didn’t stop PHAR LAP from winning 19 of 21 starts. Shown here with Jim Pike. Photo and copyright, The Sydney Herald, Australia.

As Phar Lap’s second season progressed through a win in the Cox Plate — his sixth in a row at that point in the season — one thing was becoming eminently clear: the betting houses stood to lose a fortune if the “Red Terror’s” winning streak continued.

In the early doubles betting for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, the Phar Lap-Phar Lap double had been heavily backed, as was the Nightmarch-Phar Lap and the Amounis-Phar Lap double.  Telford and Davis had heavily backed the Amounis-Phar Lap ticket, hoping to make a very tidy sum for themselves. Telford had always been secretive about his plans for Phar Lap. Apparently not satisfied with their horse’s substantial earnings to date, Telford, Davis  (and perhaps others) used this same tactic to ferment conditions that would make betting even more favourable for themselves.

As the Caulfield Cup drew near and the war of nerves heightened, several owners, including the shady A. Louisson who owned Nightmarch, withdrew their horses from the race. Five days before the Caulfield Cup, Telford withdrew Phar Lap, provoking rage among those who had determined not to run their horses.

On Caulfield Cup day, Amounis obliged by winning and became Australia’s biggest stakes winner ever at 48,197 AUS pounds — an absolute fortune in 1930.

But Telford, Davis and others who had backed the Amounis-Phar Lap double were equally thrilled, since it seemed impossible that Phar Lap would lose.

AMOUNIS, a champion in his own right was another favoured for the Caulfield Cup.

AMOUNIS, a champion in his own right, was another favoured to win the 1930 Caulfield Cup.

For the bookies — from those legitimate betting enterprises to the ones closely associated with Australia’s underworld, referred to as “illegal starting-price operators”  – the prospect of Phar Lap’s winning the Melbourne Cup spelled disaster. It was estimated that with doubles and straight betting combined, bookmakers would be paying out something in the region of 200,000 AUS pounds should Phar Lap win. The legitimate bookmakers would, albeit begrudgingly, meet their obligations. But the betting underworld was populated with gangsters, gunmen, drug lords and the like — a rough sort, unlikely to pay out such a vast sum.

And this doesn’t even include all the individuals who had lost money betting on a Phar Lap- Phar Lap and/or Nightmarch/Phar Lap double, or disgruntled owners like Louisson, who had pulled perfectly good horses from the Caulfield Cup and headed home penniless.

BOBBY and his best friend, Tommy Woodcock, were front page news no matter where they went or what they were doing.

BOBBY and Tommy were front page news no matter where they went or what they were doing.

BOBBY with Tommy and a young friend. Photo and copyright, Fairfax Photos, Australia

BOBBY in his rugs, with Tommy and a young friend. Children were always welcome to meet and greet the Champ — and especially when he was on holiday! BOBBY was a gentle giant and children were always safe around him. Photo and copyright, John Fairfax (Fairfax Photos) Australia.

At the same time, Phar Lap had woven his way into the hearts of a nation. Everything he did was front page news, from rolling around in the sand to carrying toddlers on his back to going for works with the grey pony who was his constant stable companion. It seemed impossible that anyone would try to take down a horse who had become a national figure.

About a week before the running of the 1930 Melbourne Cup, Tommy Woodcock looked up from attending to Phar Lap to see a friend of trainer Telford and a man “who stood high in my estimation…A person who had entry to Telford’s stables at any time” entering the barn. After a bit of smalltalk, this mystery man (Woodcock never identified him by name) tactfully suggested that, should Phar Lap win the Cup, “… the bookmakers would be calling for the bridle to make the weight.” Tommy laughed off the observation, even though he knew it was a reference to the plight of bookmakers should the big horse win.

Thinking that Woodcock would be easy to convince, the visitor tried again,  “I’ll wager you could get a fortune from some of those who are deep in if you doped Phar Lap before the race.” But Tommy wasn’t paying much attention — he was too busy “dressing” Bobby.

PHAR LAP, with Pike riding the white "pony" who was also the Champ's constant companion, heads out for a work. Photo and copyright, Fairfax Photos, Australia.

PHAR LAP, with Pike riding the grey “pony” who was also the Champ’s constant companion, heads out for a work. Photo and copyright, Fairfax Photos, Australia.

The Melbourne Cup was (and remains) THE race on the Australian calendar and on Cup Day the entire country shuts down. The pressure on anyone who has a Cup horse is already enormous. Added to the pressure assailing Tommy was that he was receiving threatening letters on a daily basis about what might happen to his beloved Bobby if the horse ran. Whether or not the mystery man was behind these threats has never been made clear, but they included spraying Phar Lap with acid and sticking him with needles. Others, of a similar bent, were seen by the young lad as patently ridiculous. But one letter made his blood turn to ice: this one threatened that Phar Lap would be “shot down like a dingo.”  It went on to say that “Phar Lap was used by gamblers unfairly to trick bookmakers and that if {Phar Lap’s} life was valued his name should be struck out of the Cup.”

The mystery man showed up again at Joe Cripps’ stables at Caulfield where Phar Lap was stabled. This time, “…He told me that the Ring would never get over the knock it would receive {if Phar Lap won} at the same time saying he knew of men who would give a heap of money to be relieved of their responsibilities. ‘Tommy, you could set yourself up for life if you listened to them,’ he added.”

The third visit was more straight forward. ” ‘ Tommy, the best I can do for you is four thousand (AUS),’ he said. I looked at him in astonishment. He must have thought that I was disappointed in the offer as he went on to tell me that there were only a couple of bookmakers in it, and four thousand pounds was a lot of money.”

To a young strapper during the Depression era, if not in general, it was indeed a fortune. Grooms and stable folk didn’t earn anything near to what owners, trainers and jockeys made — even when they were rubbing a champion. But Tom Woodcock was an honest youth and he loved Phar Lap. His response to the bribe was swift: he ordered the man off the premises and advised him to not return on threat of bodily harm. Then he called Harry Telford.


The most frightening letter that Woodcock received stated that Phar Lap would be “shot down like a dingo” if he contested the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

First, Tommy told the trainer about the bribe. There was a long silence. Telford replied, “… Phar Lap {will} be lucky if he {sees} the post in the Cup, as more than one person {is} anxious to see him out of the way.” Telford went on to say that he,too, had been offered a bribe: ten thousand (AUS) pounds; Woodcock later heard, from reliable sources, that Jim Pike had also been bribed. But, although all three regularly bet (in fact, Jim Pike ended his years in poverty because of his gambling addiction) none accepted, leading Woodcock to conclude “…Whatever those who tried to engineer the defeat of Phar Lap thought of Telford, Pike or me for refusing to be a party to their scheme, they must at least have realized we were honest men.”

Woodcock then told the trainer about the threat to shoot the horse and a 24-hour guard was put on Phar Lap. As Tommy observed, ” …The only way they could maim him was to shoot him, so close was the guard on him, and it would have to be a shot at long range as little opportunity was afforded anyone of getting close to him.” Tommy moved his bed from near Bobby’s stall right into it. As his fears mounted, Woodcock confessed to be suffering from “imaginitis,” causing him to lie awake most of the night next to the giant gelding and to look as though he had eyes in the back of his head whenever they left the Cripps’ stable for Caulfield race track.

Like many who have trained famous thoroughbreds, Telford’s team habituated the early morning hours, when it was still dark, to work Phar Lap. So it was that on a Saturday that was also the morning of the Derby and the opening day of Melbourne’s Racing Carnival, Tommy on his pony and a hooded Bobby left the stable for Caulfield race track, where they would meet up with Bobby Parker, who had escorted the Cripps’ horses to the track and would, in turn, work Phar Lap.

Another lad who worked for Cripps, as well as a newspaper reporter, noted the car near the track. The reporter noticed that the numbers on its licence plate were scrawled crudely in what looked like chalk. (Cars were still rare in Australia at this time and it was even rarer to find one anywhere near a race track that early in the morning.) Tommy didn’t take note of it because he had taken a different route to the track, since Phar Lap liked to look at everything around him and always appreciated an improvisation to his usual routine.

PHAR LAP (foreground) training with other horses from Telford's stable. Photo and Copyright, Museum of New Zealand.

PHAR LAP (foreground) training with other horses from Telford’s stable. Photo and Copyright, Museum of New Zealand.

After Phar Lap’s breeze, the little band started out for home. It was about 5:20 a.m.

Usually the trio wound their way back at a leisurely pace along Roseberry Grove, but for some (fortuitous) reason, Tommy decided to take an alternate route along Manchester Grove instead. Which meant that they came up behind the car that Parker and the journalist had spotted earlier, instead of in front of it. Tommy saw its whitewashed, chalky plates immediately. The hairs on his head bristled. But he was almost alongside it before he knew something was not right and, as he passed, the occupants buried their heads in their newspapers. (He would subsequently recount that he saw a shotgun barrel peak out of the rear window as they passed by.)

Phar Lap and his pony moved alongside and passed the car, but before they got far enough away Tommy heard its engine start up. Digging his heels into the pony, he hustled around a corner and pushed Phar Lap up against a fence, planting the pony and himself between Bobby and the car. But the Studebaker came careening after them, its horn blaring, making straight for Phar Lap. The gelding became agitated and reared up, turning himself around 360 degrees in the process.

As Tommy tells it, “Lucky for him {Phar Lap} he did so, as the back seat passenger poked out a double-barreled shotgun and fired point blank. The pellets were embedded in the picket fence where Phar Lap had been standing…It was all over in a second. They didn’t stop to fire a second shot. The shooting took place at 5:40 a.m. and with the report of the gun and the honking of the horn it wasn’t long before heads were appearing out of gates and windows.” Woodcock failed to mention that he himself was thrown to the ground by the frightened pony, who was subsequently grabbed by a milkman.

It wasn't long before the shocked nation heard the story.

It wasn’t long before a shocked nation heard the whole story.


Phar Lap had been entered in the Melbourne Stakes as a kind of prep race on November 1, three days before the Cup, and — incredibly — his team decided to go on with it. Two policemen were stationed just feet away from the horse’s stall and remained with him up until the evening of November 1, when a victorious Phar Lap returned to the Cripps’ barn.

Having read the newspaper reports of the shooting, a Mr. H.G. Raymond, of the Victoria Racing Club, stepped forward to offer his property at St. Albans near Geelong as a hiding place for Phar Lap until Cup Day. The offer was jumped at by Telford. At about the same time, jockey Jim Pike went into hiding as well, since if the gunmen couldn’t get to the horse, he judged that he might well be their next victim.

Later that same night, horse, pony and Woodcock were shipped off the Cripps’ premises in the middle of the night. Bags were laid out on the ground to muffle the sound of horse and pony being loaded into the trailer. And before the van moved away, trainer Telford (who, with Cripps, was the only one other than Raymond, Woodcock and Stan Boyden, Telford’s trusted driver, who knew of the plan) handed a gun to both Tommy and Stan.

Fortunately, nothing happened that required either of them to use their weapons. All arrived safely at St. Albans, Bobby being a model passenger, since he was always happy if his beloved Tommy was close by.For the two days leading up to the Cup, Woodcock slept right beside Phar Lap, while another horse, Old Ming, was selected to pose as the champion and duly stabled at Cripps’ Stable. Telford later confided that Old Ming was rather shocked by all the fuss and bother that greeted him, dressed in Phar Lap’s tack of rug and hood, when he went to Caulfield to train.

The morning of the Melbourne Cup, Phar Lap had a short work with some of the St. Albans’ horses before being tacked up and loaded onto the horse trailer at 11 a.m. Arriving at the Flemington track in good time, the trailer entered via the member’s drive. At race time, Phar Lap was escorted to the track by armed guards.

Police accompany PHAR LAP to the start of the Melbourne Cup.

Police and armed guards accompany PHAR LAP to the start of the Melbourne Cup.

A crowd of 72,000 had turned out to see him and Tommy had groomed Phar Lap’s red coat to a burnished, gleaming copper. As Jim Pike sent him down to the start at a canter, a wave of cheers of tsunami proportion accompanied the gelding. It was a small field — not usually the case — likely as much due to the Depression as to Phar Lap’s reputation. But no-one minded. All were there to see the greatest thoroughbred that Australia had ever known win its most prestigious Cup.

Gentle Jim never touched him and carrying the staggering impost of 138 lbs. as though it was nothing, Phar Lap turned into the home stretch and cruised up to the wire, his ears pricked. Hearts that had been so tested by the Depression were swept up in a joyous abandon that shook the grandstand.

But no heart sailed higher than Tommy Woodcock’s. Later that night, feeding Bobby sugar while cradling his head, Tommy told him that he was “the best horse in the whole world.”

Which, of course, he was.

The winnings were 9, 229 pounds (AUS), together with the Gold Cup, worth another 200. Tom Woodcock received ten pounds from Phar Lap’s owners …. as a bonus for taking such good care of Bobby.

The headlines and celebration of the day follow, together with some remarkable footage of Phar Lap.


PHAR LAP comes to the wire, ears pricked, to win the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

PHAR LAP comes to the wire, ears pricked, to win the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

Coming home, Jim Pike hugging his neck. It was Pike's first Melbourne Cup after trying for it 14 times!

Coming home, Jim Pike hugging his neck. It was Pike’s first Melbourne Cup after trying for it fourteen times. And just look at the expression on the faces of those watching their champion — those faces say it all.

PHAR LAP in the news_02lrg

BONUS FEATURE: an absolutely stunning documentary entitled “The Mighty Conquerer” made about PHAR LAP just before his departure for New Zealand and then the USA. Nothing we have ever seen comes closer to its message of love for the mighty Phar Lap.


Carter, I. R. PHAR LAP: the Story Of The Big Horse. Melbourne, Australia:1964.

Woodcock, T. PHAR LAP MEMORIES  serialized in THE MERCURY, Hobart, Tasmania: 1936.

THE ARGUS, Melbourne, Australia 1929-1930.


I have wanted to write about this great thoroughbred since THE VAULT first opened its doors, but the available information about KINCSEM was scarce and, well, boring…..

Then three great finds and one great “horse source” changed everything. The source was the fabulous website, COLIN’S GHOST ( http://colinsghost.org ) which I read with devotion. Its writer recommended a book called “STEP AND GO TOGETHER” by B.K. Beckworth (1967: A. S. Barnes & Co., Inc.), which I promptly hunted down on abebooks.com (international online bookseller who offers just about everything in print @ reasonable prices). “STEP AND GO TOGETHER” is indeed a little treasure, featuring stories by B.K. Beckwith that first appeared in THE CALIFORNIA THOROUGHBRED.  Within its pages, I was delighted to find Kincsem’s story, which Beckwith wove together using German sources, particularly Philipp Alles, a find that hadn’t been accessible to English researchers since Alles’ account of Kincsem had never been translated into English. (In fact, it may only still be available in German today.)  

Another invaluable (book) source proved to be Charles Justice’s “The Greatest Horse Of All: A Controversy Examined” in which I found the information cited here about Kincsem’s race record, annual racing schedules and imposts the great filly carried. 

A less sensational, but essential, discovery was a Hungarian to English translator. KINCSEM is a Hungarian thoroughbred and much is written about her in her native Hungarian. The translator helped me to read sources I otherwise would have found inaccessible. 

Without these resources, the article would have been much less than it became. 



The tale of The Ugly Duckling is a family classic. And the story, of course, is about a swan who was mistaken for a duck and who had to learn that he wasn’t so much an unacceptable duck as he was “a bird of a different colour.” Kincsem’s story is much like the tale of the little cygnet who transformed into a swan. And, as if that’s not enough, Kincsem’s life also features some unique twists on standard heroic myth.

Heroic myths begin with either a confused line of descent or an incident which results in losing one’s parents. In other words, all our heroes/heroines need to be orphaned, in order for them to tell their own stories of courage and resolve. And although Water Nymph’s daughter wasn’t literally orphaned, the dispute over Kincsem’s lineage gives her the kind of muddy beginnings that portend a heroine of mythic proportions.

…The filly was, by all accounts, not much to look at. That was the kind way to say it. Those attending her dam, Water Nymph, despaired: as tiny as she was, the filly foal was downright ugly.

Although some accounts of Kincsem’s birth, notably that of Horace Wade, claim that she was bred in Hungary by Prince Esterhazy, it was in fact a Mr. Ernest von Blascovich who owned and bred her. But something went awry when Kincsem was conceived: her dam had been booked to Buccaneer (1857) but as a result of a misunderstanding, she was covered by Cambuscan (1861) instead. By Newminster (1848), whose dam, the incomparable Beeswing (1833), was a heroine of the turf during her racing days, Cambuscan was a respected stallion. He just wasn’t supposed to meet up with Water Nymph.

Water Nymph (or Waternymph), Kincsem’s dam, was either the daughter of an illustrious  mare named Catherina  (according to Philipp Alles, quoted in Beckwith) or  the daughter of The Mermaid (1833) {according to the majority of English pedigree sites}. However, all the sources consulted do agree that Kincsem’s broodmare sire was the British stallion, Cotswold (1853), who was imported to Germany in 1858.

And it was in this haze of happenchance that the liver chestnut filly foal came into the world on March 17, 1874. She was born at the Hungarian National Stud, whose patrons included the leading horsewoman of her day, the Empress Elizabeth of Austria. The best of the best were bred at the Hungarian National Stud; it was the home of Hungarian thoroughbreds destined for immortality.

A steel engraving of KINCSEM. Date unknown.

A steel engraving of KINCSEM. Date unknown.

The humans surveying Water Nymph and her filly foal clearly believed that beauty was a kind of magic talisman. A magic that Kincsem would seem to have been denied. But whether she was as ugly as some reports contend is a matter of debate, like so many other details of her life.

For example, stories are told of de Blascovich selling the colts and fillies born in Kincsem’s year as a lot, to one Baron Orczy. Orczy took all of them except two — and Kincsem was one of the pair he rejected as “too common-looking.” So it was by still another intervention of fate that Kincsem remained under de Blascovich’s ownership at all.

One tale about Kincsem’s early life that appears consistently in almost everything written about her is that she was stolen by gypsies from de Blascovich’s stable when a juvenile-in-training. The stable was shocked to discover that Kincsem was gone. In fact, she was the only horse missing.  She was eventually located by the police in a gypsy camp and when the culprit was asked why he had snatched such a plain-looking horse, he replied: ” Gypsy gold does not chink and glitter. It gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark. This filly may not be as handsome as the others, but she will prove the greatest of them all ” (as recounted by Horace Wade).

Rudolph Valentino in white flannels with a young Horace Wade in 1925. Wade was a child prodigy who went on to author some 800 articles and books on horse racing, He also served as the General Manager at River Downs.

Rudolph Valentino in white flannels with a young Horace Wade in 1925. Wade was a child prodigy who went on to author some 800 articles and books on horse racing, He also served as the General Manager at River Downs.

Kincsem’s name (pronounced ‘kink-chem’) reflects the impact that the gypsy’s prediction had on her owner: in translation, Kincsem means “my treasure,” “my precious one,” “darling.” However moved he might have been by the gypsy’s prophecy, de Blascovich started Kincsem at two in Germany, worried that she might bring shame to his stable and reputation. And you couldn’t really blame him:

” She was as long as a boat and as lean as a hungry leopard … she had a U-neck and mule ears and enough daylight under her sixteen hands to flood a sunset … she had a tail like a badly-used mop … she was lazy, gangly, shiftless … she was a daisy-eating, scenery-loving, sleepy-eyed and slightly pot-bellied hussy …” (Beckwith in “Step And Go Together”)

A popular, though less-than-flattering, painting of Kincsem during her racing years.

A popular, though less-than-flattering, painting of KINCSEM during her racing years. However, as appreciation for her grows, KINCSEM’s representation by artists and sculptors becomes more flattering. See, for example, her portrayal with trainer HESP, which follows.

Kincsem more or less went to post on June 26, 1876: in the absence of anything vaguely resembling a starting gate, the filly wasn’t forced to fly. So she waited awhile. But when Kincsem finally decided to run, it was all over for the rest of the field: she won by 12 lengths. In her second start, she was sent off against a field that included Germany’s best colt, Double Zero (1873). Not that it mattered: Kincsem won by daylight. (Double Zero would go on to win the German Derby that same year.) She ran eight more races, winning them all, and concluded her 2 year-old campaign with 10 wins in 10 different cities in 3 different countries. The average rest between races was slightly more than 14 days and in her debut year, Kincsem won at distances from 4 f. to 8 f.  (Ten would have been considered a reasonable number of races in the late 1800′s; in fact, some of the greats who ran before Kincsem raced as many as 20+ times in their juvenile season. )

KINCSEM, pictured here with her trainer, ROBERT HESP.

KINCSEM, pictured here with her English trainer, ROBERT HESP. HESP served as a huntsman and a member of the Secret Service in Hungary, as well as a trainer of thoroughbreds.

The filly was quickly becoming a Hungarian notable. No-one cared that she wasn’t as dazzling as Eclipse, who figured in her pedigree, as did many other thoroughbred giants. Kincsem seemed to overflow with personality and her antics won her the love and admiration of all who saw her.  The filly put on quite the show for her enamoured Hungarian racing fans in one of her last starts at 2.

Alles’ reports that Kincsem habitually walked to the start looking like “… an old gal with rheumatoid arthritis,” ears flapping and neck bobbing.  On this day, she wasn’t really thinking about racing, as her young jockey, Elijah Madden, a native of Manchester, England who rode her for 42 of her races, would later confess: in fact, she was thinking about grazing. At the start, Kincsem found a succulent plot and began to munch away. After repeated attempts to get her into line, the starter gave up and let the field go. Kincsem just stood there, chewing thoughtfully and watching the other horses recede into the distance. Then, suddenly, she seemed to decide that it was time to move and was off after them. She won with ease — some said with a mouthful of grass still hanging from her lip — and the crowd went wild.

As she was led into the winner’s circle, de Blascovich unwittingly added still another quirk to his already-quirky filly’s repertoire by fastening a bouquet of flowers to Kincsem’s bridle. In all of her subsequent races, Kincsem would refuse to enter the winner’s circle until she had received her customary flowers. Philipp Alles’ (in Beckwith) adds: ” On one occasion de Blascovich forgot them and she refused to be unsaddled until he hurried off to buy some {flowers}”

It was said that KINCSEM ran low to the ground, as she is pictured here and kept her head down until she hit the finish, ears whirling like egg-beaters.

KINCSEM ran low to the ground, as she is pictured here, keeping her head down until she hit the finish, ears whirling like egg-beaters. This manner of running, combined with her long body, effectively cut down on resistance and allowed her to eat up the ground in bounding strides as she accelerated.

Kincsem’s “come from behind” style never really deviated, although she gave a new definition to the term as a result of the mind-boggling advantage she gave her opponents at the start. It’s easy to imagine how she won the hearts of fans across Europe and in the UK when we think about the sheer excitement of watching famous thoroughbreds of today like Secretariat or Zenyatta, who also appeared to favour coming from well off the pace. And, whereas today we would say that thoroughbreds who run this way are always courting potential disaster, covering huge distances to get to the lead never fizzed on Kincsem.

Forty-four races lay before her and Kincsem became a veteran of railroad travels. She seemed to love travelling, watching contentedly from her box as field and town rolled by. Throngs of admirers habitually appeared to greet her and Kincsem acknowledged their affection with a regal dip of her head. Of course, she had her own railway car, which she welcomed with a spirited neigh. But she refused to board it without the company of her two very best friends: a stableboy named Frankie and a cat named Csalogany. In typical mythic tradition, some sources maintain that Frankie was, in fact, Kincsem’s trainer, although extant paintings of the great filly seem to picture Robert Hesp in that role. But there was without question a boy named Frankie with whom Kincsem shared a deep, loving bond and Frankie accompanied her everywhere, caring for her every need. The lad was known to the racing public as “Frankie Kincsem” and when he died, this was the name that appeared on his tombstone.

Csalogany was no less important to the filly than was her human companion. A rather famous anecdote illustrates the point.

When Kincsem disembarked from the ship that had carried her over the English Channel from Dover to France following her victory in the Goodwood Cup, the then-4 year-old filly refused to board her railway car because Csalogany was missing.  Kincsem stood on the pier for 2 hours, feet firmly planted and ears pinned back, making it clear that she wasn’t leaving without her feline friend. Finally the cat emerged, tripping down the gangplank. Kincsem turned her head and muttered a greeting, at which point Csalogany jumped up onto her back. Together, cat, filly and Frankie entered the railway car.

KINCSEM with her cat and trainer, ROBERT HESP.

KINCSEM with Csalogany and trainer, ROBERT HESP. Or is this actually FRANKIE KINCSEM?

The 1878 Goodwood Cup marked Kincsem’s only trip to  England and the only race she ran in the UK. Only two horses were prepared to face her: the 7 year-old Pageant (1871) and Lord Falmouth’s Lady Golightly (1874). Both of these were very good horses. Lady Golightly had won the Nassau and Park Hill Stakes, as well as the Yorkshire Oaks, while Pageant had won the Brighton Cup (1876), the Chester Cup (in 1877 and 1878), and the Doncaster Cup the same year he met up with Kincsem.

KINCSEM's arrival for the Goodwood Cup is reported in the London Daily News.

KINCSEM’s victory in the 1878 Goodwood Cup is reported in the Illustrated London News on August 10, 1878. The drawing depicts a much livelier mare than reports of her appearance as she went down to the start suggest.

As you might imagine, the race was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm. For many, just a chance to see the fabled Kincsem was enough; the press hotly anticipated the meeting between the filly who was undefeated in 36 starts and the mighty Pageant. The build-up was intense and a sobering reminder that it is always the potential defeat of a superstar that oils the sport, giving it a cathartic appeal.

Crossing the English Channel has been the demise of many a seasoned sailor and it was Kincsem’s first — and only — adventure at sea. Predictably, the mare that stepped off the ship at Dover was shaken and sickly-looking. The press seized on this, speculating that Kincsem was doomed even before she set foot on the Goodwood course. Her appearance on the track on August 1, the day of the race, did little to dispel the feeling. Kincsem shuffled to the start, her head hanging so low that her nose seemed to scrape the turf, her neck bobbing crookedly. Thrilled as they were to actually see her, most in the crowd of thousands had no idea that Hungary’s National Treasure always went to the post this way. As usual, she stalled at the start, gazing at the heels of Pageant and Lady Golightly as they sped away. She seemed to be thinking about whether or not the race held any interest for her. Then, in a streak rather resembling a thunderbolt, she was off after the leader.

Kincsem won the 1878 Goodwood Cup by a solid 3 lengths, going away. At first, the crowd was stunned into silence by what they had seen. Then the applause and shouts began, until the roar was deafening. The besotted ran alongside the rail as the filly returned to the winner’s enclosure, getting as close to her as they possibly could. Kincsem, who always seemed to know when a race was over, just as she seemed to calculate how far to let the other horses run before she went after them, pulled herself up and headed back to the place where she would (of course) be presented with a bouquet of flowers by her delighted owner.

It is unclear whether or not His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales was in attendance at Goodwood on the day, but the claim that he attempted to buy Kincsem after her victory may, indeed, be true. According to Philipp Alles, this is indeed the case. But Ernest de Blascovich refused, telling the future king, ” If I sold Kincsem I would not dare return to my native soil.”

The Goodwood Cup race, as depicted in the 1878

The Goodwood Cup race, as depicted in the August 10, 1878 ILLUSTRATED AND DRAMATIC NEWS. The artist took licence with the depiction of the race: there is no evidence that KINCSEM was ever touched by a whip.

Filly, cat, Frankie and the rest of her entourage went on from Goodwood to France, where Kincsem annexed the Grand Prix de Deauville. Her remaining thirteen races in 1878 were run in more familiar settings: Austria (5 times), Hungary (7 times) and Germany once. According to Charles Justice, in his book The Greatest Horse of All, Kincsem had had an average of 13.07 days rest between the 15 starts she made as a 4 year-old, winning 11 of her starts by an average of 2.45 lengths, distancing the field 3 times and cantering home once in a walkover. In the Grosser Preis von Baden, she finished in a dead heat to Prince Giles the First (1874), possibly due to the fact that she carried 137.5 lbs. to his 122. German racing rules stipulated that the two face off against one another again to determine the winner: the second time around, Kincsem dismissed Prince Giles by 5 lengths, going away.  Throughout 1878, the filly would carry an average of 144.9 lbs. — an incredible burden by modern weight-for-age standards. And she had stepped up in distance, winning races from 8f to 20f.

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters.

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters.

Although a consummate traveller at this point, Kincsem was as fussy about certain rituals and traditions as might be expected of a thoroughbred Queen. Other than what’s already been acknowledged, it seems the filly would only eat the food and drink the water from her home, Tapioszentmarton, when she was on the road. At Baden-Baden on one occasion, Kincsem didn’t drink for 2 days because her home water supply had run out. Desperate, someone discovered a well in a town near Baden-Baden where the water had the same earthy taste as the water from the farm. (We’re betting that “somebody” was Frankie.) At any rate, much to everyone’s relief, Kincsem consented to drink it. To this day, that well carries the name “Kincsem’s Well” and is a treasured Baden landmark.

1879 was Kincsem’s final racing year. The mare went undefeated in 12 starts, 3 of which were walkovers, winning at distances from 12f to 18 f. The lowest impost she ran under that year was 136 lbs., with the heaviest 168 lbs., giving her an average of 153.3 lbs. to carry. An unbelievable weight by any standards.

Kincsem ended her career on the turf undefeated, with 54 wins in as many starts, including 3 consecutive wins in the Grosser Preis von Baden and an equal number in the Hungarian Autumn Oaks, which was her final race.

KINCSEM'S retirement was a worldwide event. Here is how it appeared in the St. Paul Daily Globe.

KINCSEM’S retirement was a worldwide event. Here is how it appeared in the St. Paul Daily Globe.

In retirement, Kincsem proved a very successful broodmare, only adding to the legendary status that Europe and particularly her homeland had conferred upon her. She produced 5 foals in all, including the filly Ollyan Nincs (1883), winner of the Hungarian St. Leger and the colt Talpra Magyar (1885) who went on to become a very successful sire. Ironically, both were by Buccaneer, the stallion Kincsem’s dam, Water Nymph, had been booked to (but never saw, going instead to Cambuscan) on the day that Kincsem was conceived. A third offspring, also by Buccaneer, was the filly Budagyongye (1882).

Kincsem's daughter,

Kincsem’s daughter, BUDAGYONGYE, by BUCCANEER, was very influential in assuring KINCSEM a place in modern-day thoroughbred racing. On the turf, she faced colts to win the Deutsches (German) Derby and ran third in the Austrian Derby.

Seventh Bride

SEVENTH BRIDE (1966), who descends from BUDAGYONGYE, won the Princess Royal Stakes at Royal Ascot. One of SEVENTH BRIDE’S daughters, the filly POLYGAMY (1971) won the Epsom Oaks and the Ascot 1000 Guineas.


ONE OVER PARR (1972) was another descendant of BUDAGYONGYE. She won the Chesire and Lancashire Oaks. Her son, TOM SEYMOUR (1980) by GRUNDY (1972) was a multiple stakes winner in Italy.

Kincsem had 2 other foals by the British stallion Doncaster (1870): a colt named Kincs-Or (1886) and her last foal, a filly named Kincs (1887). The former was an impressive stakes winner and American interests were mulling over his purchase from de Blacovich when the 3 year-old was found dead in his stall.

Shortly after the birth of Kincs, Kicsem sufferred a severe bout of colic. Less than a day later, the champion was gone. And like everything else about her life, even her untimely death was marked by the kind of “sign” one expects to find in a fairy tale or myth: Kincsem died in 1887 on March 17, the same day on which she was born. A circle had closed. But if there was an augury in such an odd coincidence, it might well be that, like a circle, the spirit of Kincsem had neither beginning nor end.

Hungary lost more than a great thoroughbred when Kincsem died: they lost a quirky and majestic figure who had raced right into their hearts. In her homeland, her passing was officially mourned for three days. Flags stood at half-mast and the borders of Hungarian newspapers were framed in black. And, as fate would have it (and depending on the source), either trainer Robert Hesp or Frankie, her beloved friend, died 39 days after Kincsem.

As a way of assuaging their grief, Hungarians set about punctuating the life and times of their beloved. Hungary boasts a Kincsem Park, a Kincsem Horse Park, numerous hotels and even a golf resort that carries the champion’s name.  Kincsem’s skeleton is on display in the Hungarian Agricultural Museum.  And statues were erected in her honour, the most famous of which stands in Budapest. As far away as America, Kincsem was remembered: another statue of her stood at the entrance to Keeneland’s walking ring for many years and a smaller bronze statue still inhabits the Chandelier Room of Santa Anita.

KINCSEM'S statue in Budapest. On this day, an admirer had left a token at her feet.

KINCSEM’S statue in Budapest. On this day, an admirer had left a token at her feet.

As befits a legend, Kincsem endures despite the ravages of two world wars. Although she only had five foals, one of whom died at three, the remaining four — one colt and three fillies — produced offspring that guaranteed Kincsem’s legacy.

The majority of Kincsem’s descendants were bred and raced in Europe. Their numbers are large and include exceptional individuals like Seventh Bride, Polygamy, Tom Seymour and One Over Parr (mentioned above), as well as Viglany (1900), Dicso (1906), Tokio (1892), Caplan (1953), Djurdjevka (1937), Morpeth (1903), Vaduva (1955), Sikar (1928), Well Made (1997), Welluna (1996), Wicht (1957), Well Proved (1980), Napfeny (1896), Miczi (1910), Bank (1945) and Waldcanter (1956).


The brilliant TOKIO (1892), a grandson of KINCSEM, was an Austro-Hungarian Triple Crown winner.

the German champion, WICHT

The German champion, WICHT (1957), winner of the Deutches St. Leger, Grosser Preis Von Nodrheim-Westfalen and the Hansa Preis descends from KINCSEM’S daughter, OLLYAN NINCS.

Although America lost out on acquiring Kincsem’s son, Kincs-Or, her bloodlines found their way to these shores through the mare La Pastorale (1955) who was imported to California by a Major Pauley. And while La Pastorale failed to make much impact as a broodmare, Tarfah (2001) an American-born daughter of Kingmambo (1990) traces back to Kincsem’s daughter, Budagyongye, on her tail female. And Tarfah is the dam of the 2012 Epsom Derby winner, Camelot (2009), a colt brilliant enough to inspire hopes of the first British Triple Crown since Nijinsky (1967) in 1970.

It seems fitting that the breath of an Immortal should find its expression in Camelot.

All one has to do is imagine the anticipation that will greet the sons and daughters of today’s thoroughbred champions when they first set foot on the track to understand the hope and emotions that followed Man O’ War’s progeny to the races.  

Although Man O’ War’s stud career was strictly supervised — limited to 25 mares a season — leading to severe critiques of Samuel Riddle’s breeding practices, it would appear that much of the criticism is unjustified. The proof lies in statistics like these: Man O’ War’s first crop of two-year-olds won 14 races; and in 1925, with 2 crops and 21 individuals running, Big Red stood fourth on the sire list with winners of 51 races and earnings of $213,933. By 1926, with the arrival of a third crop, Man O’ War crowned the sire list.

Credit for the stallion’s success at stud goes to horsemen like John Madden and bloodlines specialist William Allison, who Riddle consulted regarding Man O’ War’s first book of mares. There is no reason to think that Samuel Riddle did anything but seek the expertise of knowledgeable people throughout Man O’ War’s breeding career. 

Today, even though his name still appears in the pedigrees of some really fine thoroughbreds — and that, largely due to WAR ADMIRAL and WAR RELIC who perpetuated the Fair Play line — the majority of Man O War’s successful sons and daughters have been largely forgotten. There are at least two reasons for this. Depending on the colt in question — such as Mars or Crusader — breeders tended to prefer The Legend himself to even his very good sons. As well, given the modest number of his progeny by today’s standards, the impact of sons and daughters who didn’t accomplish much, if anything, in the breeding shed was particularly severe. 

This article is the first in a series that looks at some of Man O’ War’s best progeny. Subsequent articles in this series will appear throughout 2013-2014. 


By all accounts, American Flag was truly his father’s son. Foaled in Man O’ War’s first crop, American Flag was a chestnut with a faint star on his brow who, according to the accounts of the day, held an uncanny resemblance to Big Red when he was posed and when he was racing.  For those who had seen Man O’ War in action, the delight at American Flag’s exploits was palpable. True, it wasn’t exactly like watching Man O’ War, but in style and talent, American Flag came very, very close.

From his sire's first crop, AMERICAN FLAG was said to be cast in MAN O' War's image.

From his sire’s first crop, AMERICAN FLAG was said to be cast in MAN O’ WAR’S image.

American Flag’s best year on the track came in his 3 year-old season, where he was unbeaten, winning the Withers, Dwyer and Belmont Stakes, among others. Horse of the Year in 1925, American Flag raced once at 4, but after a second-place finish to another son of Man O’ War, Crusader, the colt was retired to stud.

As a sire, American Flag was the most successful of all of Man O’ Wars’ sons until the emergence of War Admiral.  The stallion made a big splash as the sire of the Champion 2 year-old Filly of 1934, Nellie Flag. Nellie’s dam, the outstanding Nellie Morse (1921), had herself been Champion 3 year-old in 1924, after winning The Preakness, Black-Eyed Susan and Pimlico Oaks that same year. So, although American Flag couldn’t take complete credit for Nellie Flag, his daughter carried Man O’ War’s blood over the decades, appearing in the pedigrees of champions Mark -Ye-Well (1949), Forego (1970),  Bold Forbes (1973) and Bet Twice (1984).

Nellie Flag, the royally-bred daughter of American Flag and Nellie Morse.

Nellie Flag, the royally-bred daughter of American Flag and Nellie Morse.

Nellie Flag’s contribution to perpetuating the Fair Play sire line notwithstanding, arguably the most famous of American Flag’s descendants was grandson Raise A Native, whose 2 year-old career ended abruptly due to injury. Raise a Native’s dam, Raise You (1946) was a granddaughter of American Flag and an excellent producer: of 14 foals she had 11 winners, 2 of which were stakes winners. But her most influential progeny was Raise A Native, who sired Mr. Prospector, Alydar, Majestic Prince and Exclusive Native, who, in turn, sired both Affirmed and Genuine Risk.

Florence Nightingale

The gorgeous Florence Nightingale, one of the stars of Man O’ War’s first crop.

The fillies Florence Nightingale and Maid At Arms were the other superstars of Man O’ War’s first crop.

Maid At Arms, whose BM sire was another son of Rock Sand (1900) named Trap Rock (1902) was impeccably bred and sallied that blue blood on the track, winning the Alabama and Pimlico Oaks, as well as the Maryland Handicap against the colts. The filly claimed Champion 3 year-old Filly honours in 1925.  However, unlike American Flag, Maid At Arms had no real impact in the breeding shed.

Florence Nightingale was a tall, elegant filly, the second foal of The Nurse (1911), a great granddaughter of the outstanding Hanover (1884). The Nurse was inbred to Mannie Grey (1874), dam of the legendary Domino (1891), together with St. Simon (1881) and Hampton (1872). So to say that Florence Nightingale was royally-bred would be somewhat of an understatement. Named after a famous figure of the day, the filly would make 34 starts, with a record of 5-2-4 and retired with earnings of $18,650 USD. Her most prestigious win came in the Coaching Club American Oaks of 1925. This win resulted in Florence Nightingale sharing Champion 3 year-old Filly honours with Maid At Arms.  Like Maid At Arms, Florence Nightingale did little in the breeding shed. Of 3 foals, only Florence’s daughter, Knight’s Nurse (1933), after a visit to the British Triple Crown winner, Bahram (1932) who was standing in the USA, produced the colt Bovard (1945,) who retired with earnings of $48,855. However, Bovard appears to have had no progeny.


HAMPTON stood only slightly over 15h and began his turf career as a hurdler. Switched to the flat, he would win the Goodwood Stakes, the Goodwood Cup as well as the Epsom Gold and Doncaster Cups. He was Champion Sire in the UK in 1887 and some his best-known progeny include AYRSHIRE, LADAS, BAY RONALD, MAID MARION and PERDITA II. FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE was inbred to HAMPTON 5 X 5.


The brilliant CRUSADER, shown here in the winner's circle after taking the Ohio Derby. Photo and copyright,

CRUSADER, shown here in the winner’s circle, with EARL SANDE in the irons, after taking the CINCINNATI DERBY, July 24, 1926. DISPLAY ran second and BOOT TO BOOT ran third. Photo and copyright, P & A PHOTOS.

Crusader is actually among the better-known of Man O’ War’s offspring. But neither Mars nor the filly, Edith Cavell, enjoy the same privilege despite the fact that both excelled on the track.

Mars was actually a “brother-in-blood” to Crusader: his dam (like Crusader’s) was also sired by Star Shoot (1898). The British-born Star Shoot was most famous for siring the Triple Crown Winner, Sir Barton; his second best runner was the great Grey Lag, Horse of the Year and champion 3 year-old of 1921. But Star Shoot was a very solid sire in general, topping the sire lists 5 times between 1911-1919 and the BM sire list for 5 consecutive years, from 1924-1929.

The handsome STAR SHOOT, sire of SIR BARTON and GREY LAG.

The handsome STAR SHOOT, sire of SIR BARTON and GREY LAG. Two of his daughters went to Man O’ War, producing MARS and CRUSADER.

Champion GREY LAG

Champion GREY LAG had the unusual marking of white splashes on his belly. As a 3 year-old, GREY LAG posted 8 consecutive wins, including the Belmont Stakes and the Dwyer. Champions whom GREY LAG defeated include EXTERMINATOR, JOHN P. GRIER, MAD HATTER and PRUDERY.

Between them, Crusader and Mars took most of the stakes of their seasons, including the Travers and Saratoga (Mars) and the Belmont, Dwyer, Suburban (twice), Jockey Gold Cup and the Cincinnati Derby (Crusader). Mars, like the more notable War Admiral and Battleship, was the size of a pony at 15.2 h, but he nevertheless scooted to win the Junior Championship Stakes in a new track-record time (1:37). No 2 year-old in America had ever run this fast at a distance of a mile before him. In second place on that day was a name familiar to many: Chance Play, the 1927 Horse of the Year, another son of Fair Play who would go on to become a sire of champions like Psychic Bid (1932), Grand Slam (1933), Pot O’Luck(1942) and Now What (1937).

The ill-tempered DISPLAY was defeated by MARS twice.

The ill-tempered DISPLAY was defeated by MARS twice.

SARAZEN was another colt who saw defeat when he raced against MARS.

Horse of the Year in 1924 and 1925, SARAZEN was another champion who tasted defeat when he raced against MARS in the Dixie Handicap.

But Mars’ prowess didn’t stop there. After running third in the Preakness, fourth in the Withers and without distinction in the Belmont, Mars came home in the Saranac Handicap at Saratoga, carrying 120 lbs. He then won the Travers, defeating fellow 3 year-olds Pompey, Display and his Crusader. At 4, Mars again defeated Display, as well as the fabulous gelding, Sarazen, before retiring with earnings of $128,786 USD. Although a champion, Mars was pretty much ignored at stud and, as any racing enthusiast will tell you, unless you’re a Man O’ War or a Secretariat, immortality lies in progeny. And there were none of any merit from Mars.


CRUSADER, as he appeared in the racing annual, American Race Horses. CRUSADER died in 1940, at the then Rancho Casitas in California, where he was also buried. The property is now under Lake Casitas.

Unlike the diminutive Mars, Crusader was a big, strapping 16 h. chestnut who was reputed to be one of the most beautiful thoroughbreds of his day. Through his dam, Star Fancy, Crusader traced back to the foundation mare, Maggie B. B. (1867), a daughter of Australian (1858) and granddaughter of the very first British Triple Crown winner, West Australian (1850). Originally called Magpie, Maggie B. B.’s name was changed to honour a long-lost love of one of her several owners. Maggie B.B. is an otherwise nondescript name for a mare who made one of the most lasting contributions to the North American thoroughbred. Through her sons Iroquois (1878) and Jaconet (1875), as well as a daughter, Red And Blue (1880), Maggie B. B. exercised important influences on the breed. Red and Blue appears in Crusader’s 5th generation.

Maggie B.B. -- named after her owner's lost love, this plucky lady went on to carve her own name into the very foundation of North American thoroughbred bloodlines. At her death, her current owner James A. Kittson wrote, "...her death is a loss that we can never replace. We will find a place for her under the magnolias." And he did, laying her to rest near another legendary mare, the great Flora Temple.

MAGGIE B.B. — named after her then owner’s lost love, this plucky lady went on to carve her own name into the very foundation of North American thoroughbred bloodlines. At her death, her owner James A. Kittson wrote, “…her death is a loss that we can never replace. We will find a place for her under the magnolias.” And he did, laying Maggie to rest near another legendary mare, FLORA TEMPLE.

Crusader did his important ancestress –as well as his legendary sire — proud.

It was said that he had a sweet disposition but, like Big Red, Crusader also had a tendency to act up at the start. He usually broke slowly and this, combined with his ornery behaviour at the start, cost him several big stakes. But his usual jockey, the great Earl Sande, best known for his Triple Crown mount, Gallant Fox, understood Crusader and the affection was returned. Crusader seemed to want to win for Earl, whose smooth, steady hands buoyed him with self-confidence.

It’s easy to imagine the excitement Crusader brought to the races. Here he was, a gorgeous son of the beloved Man O’ War, seemingly touched by the same magic. Crusader’s stride was exceptional and he convincingly dispatched really good horses like Display, Mars, American Flag, Chance Play, Espino and Sarazen, as well as a pair of incomparable fillies in Princess Doreen and Black Maria. Crusader posted the fastest Dwyer (2:29 3/5) in its history when the race was run at 1 1/2 miles. He ran in the mud and won; in fact, he ran under any conditions and won, often carrying weight as high as 126 lbs. and giving as much as 16 pounds to the horses he beat.

Crusader was a superstar and was voted Champion 3 year-old Colt and Horse of the Year in 1926.


Said Walter S. Vosburgh, then an official handicapper in New York, of the champion:  “Crusader was so emphatically the colt of the year that few will dispute it. As a matter of opinion, he was not as great a colt as his sire, but as a matter of record he was greater, for Man O’ War did not go out of his class. This Crusader did. He boldly went out to race the all -aged class for the Suburban and defeated them…Crusader set the seal to his greatness by winning the (Jockey) Gold Cup.”

Crusader began his stud career at Colonel Phil Chinn’s Himyar Stud, in Kentucky, having been leased to Chinn by Samuel Riddle. He was then leased to the Californian, Walter Hoffman, who moved him to Rancho Casitas in California, where Crusader stood until his death in 1940. Sadly, Crusader had little luck as a stallion. A daughter, Heatherland (1930), is one of the few direct descendants to still appear in contemporary pedigrees.


A propaganda postcard, commemorating the execution of the British nurse, Edith Cavell, at the hands of the Germans during WWI.

The Nurse’s second Man O’ War filly was named after another heroic nurse.

Edith Cavell was an English nurse who worked in Brussels during WWI. She was a nursing teacher, later starting her own nursing school in Belgium. After the war started, and the Germans invaded Belgium, she began to hide Allied soldiers and help them to cross the border into safe territory. The Germans eventually captured the hospital and turned it into a Red Cross hospice, keeping Cavell on as matron. But Edith Cavell had no time for wounded men branded as “the enemy” and she cared for the German soldiers just as she had the Allied soldiers.

Cavell continued to hide English, Belgian, and French soldiers, despite German suspicions. By 1915, she had helped at least 200 soldiers leave enemy territory to return to their units. However, the German secret police discovered what she was doing, and had her arrested.  Edith Cavell was shot before a German firing squad on October 12th, 1915 as a traitor. But, given her heroic exploits, Cavell’s execution lifted her from mortal to saint, inspiring an increase in morale and recruitment within the Allied ranks.

EdithCavell_clearer shot

As is noted in the photo of her above, the filly Edith Cavell beat Crusader in the 1926 Pimlico Cup Handicap. What should be added is that she also established a new track record for 2 1/2 miles, reducing by four fifths of a second the previous record held by none other than the fabulous Exterminator. That same year Edith Cavell also took the Latonia and Coaching Club American Oaks and tied with Black Maria for Champion 3 year-old Filly honours in 1926.

Sadly, the brilliant filly only had one registered foal, by Edward R. Bradley’s champion Bubbling Over (1923). Edith Cavell died in 1937 and was laid to rest at Faraway Farm, near her dam:  (http://www.tbheritage.com/TurfHallmarks/Graves/cem/GraveMattersFaraway.html).


The magnificent SCAPA FLOW.

SCAPA FLOW prancing to the start. Photo and copyright Keeneland-Cook.

Not to be confused with the famous British mare of the same name, Scapa Flow is arguably the least well-known of Man O’ War’s really good offspring today. However, Samuel Riddle revered the colt as the best son Man O’ War ever sired. (Not even War Admiral’s Triple Crown could alter Riddle’s point of view. ) But Scapa Flow had an Achilles heel that was like a time bomb, waiting to explode: from the very beginning, he was plagued by bad ankles. And, as the photo above suggests, those frail ankles needed to carry a very solid frame.

Out of Florence Webber(1916) by Peep O Day(1893), Scapa Flow was another Man O’ War who traced back to Maggie B. B. Owned by Walter M. Jeffords, who was married to a niece of Samuel Riddle and who, with Riddle, owned and operated Faraway Farm, the big beautiful bay colt was put into the hands of trainer Scott P. Harlan. Harlan had already trained Edith Cavell for Jeffords, and would go on to train another exceptional Man O’ War daughter, Bateau (1925) for him as well. Harlan had also trained another Champion 3 year-old Filly for Helen Hay Whitney, Untidy (1920). In 1926, Harlan’s best year, he earned $205,681 — an extraordinary sum in those days — and a fair portion of those earnings were linked to 2 year-old wins by Scapa Flow and Edith Cavell’s extraordinary 3 year-old campaign.

HOF Jockey FRANK COLTILETTI  would pilot SCAPA FLOW to victory during his 2 year-old campaign.

HOF Jockey FRANK COLTILETTI would pilot SCAPA FLOW to victory during the colt’s 2 year-old campaign. Upon his retirement, COLTILETTI would confide that the best horse he ever rode was another son of Man O’ War — MARS.

Bad ankles aside, Scapa Flow not only had the benefit of a great trainer but also the services of HOF jockey, Frank Coltiletti. The darling of the Bronx’s closely-knit Italian community, Coltiletti was born in 1900 and began his career as a 59-lb. 14 year old.  Two years later, at the ripe old age of 16, the young jock rode 115 winners to stand third in the national jockey standings. Coltiletti made his name by turning colts and fillies into champions. Greats like Crusader, Black Maria (1923), Edith Cavell, Broomspun (1918), Mars and Sun Beau (1925) passed through his hands. In an interview that he gave at the time of his retirement, Coltiletti revealed that Mars had been the best horse he ever rode. High praise, coming from a hard-working jockey who had notched up a lifetime record of 14.5 % winners.

The champion BLACK MARIA was piloted by COLTILETTI and shared Champion 3 year-old Filly honours with

The champion filly BLACK MARIA was piloted by COLTILETTI. She shared Champion 3 year-old Filly honours with EDITH CAVELL in 1926.

Scapa Flow’s 1:14 2/5 win in the United States Hotel Stakes at Saratoga in 1926 brought him out of obscurity. With Coltiletti in the irons, the colt charged out of the gate as though launched by a cannon. He would go on to win the Belmont Futurity that same year, as well as placing 2nd and 3rd in the Saratoga Special and Hopeful, respectively.  His spectacular showing as a juvenile earned Scapa Flow Championship 2 year-old Colt honours.

During 1927, the colt appears to have been lightly raced, likely due to sore ankles, although he did win the Bowling Brook Purse. By 1928, however, he was back in action, running 2nd in the Dixie, Harford and Toboggan Handicaps and coming in 3rd in the Metropolitan and the Suburban. On June 17, 1928, Scapa Flow broke down during the running of the Brooklyn Handicap and had to be destroyed. His loss was shattering for both the Jeffords’ family and Samuel Riddle, who had a kind of sixth sense that Scapa Flow was destined to be a superlative sire.

Other talent from the 1924 crop included the colts Broadside, War Eagle and Son O Battle, as well as an exceptional filly named Mix-Up, who started 59 times and closed off her career with a record of 17-11-7. None of these did much at stud, however, making the loss of Scapa Flow even more poignant.

SCAPA FLOW was named after the spot in the Channel Islands where the British Navy was stationed during WW1.

SCAPA FLOW was named after a body of water in the Orkney Islands where the British Grand Fleet was stationed during WW1. Rich in history, the Vikings sailed into Scapa Flow some thousand years ago.


“Man O’ War’s Other Sons” by Betty Moore published in the Thoroughbred Record (January, 1965)

“Man O’ War” by Page Cooper & John L. Treat. NY: Julian Mesner Inc. 1950


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 753 other followers