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Where to start is a reasonable question, faced with the numbers of champion thoroughbreds racing in Australia (AUS) and/or New Zealand (NZ) in this time frame. And, by 1960, still another number of great individuals emerge. More, in fact, than in the preceding years.

Today, through the auspices of the mass media, including the online publication of rare documents, it is possible to begin to appreciate a true history of the development of the thoroughbred worldwide. “True” in the sense of achieving a macrocosmic view, beyond the borders and boundaries that we perhaps know best.

(Please note that the classification of thoroughbreds by decade has been determined by their foaling date, e.g. a horse born in 1939 actually raced in the 1940′s.)

ARCHER (1856) was the first thoroughbred to win the Melbourne Cup.

ARCHER (1856) was the first thoroughbred to win the Melbourne Cup in 1861. He then went on to win it again in 1862. The only other horse to accomplish this was PETER PAN (1929). This record stood intact for over 100 years until it was over-turned by the incomparable mare MAKYBE DIVA (1999), who won the Melbourne Cup for a record three consecutive years, from 2003-2005.

 

The twentieth century saw the rise and consolidation of both the sport and the industry. Breeding farms like the historic AUS Widden Stud — the home of individuals like Sir Hercules and his brilliant son, The Barb,as well as the mighty Heroic and his champion son, Ajax — first acquired by John Lee in 1843 and subsequently by the Thompson family, moved powerfully into the new century with a fleet of strong, consistent horses. And other important figures in thoroughbred racing stood in the wings, among them notable AUS trainers like Harry Telford, Fred Davis and HOF James Scobie, as well as Jack Holt and TJ Smith, HOF and father of Gai Waterhouse. In NZ, owner-breeders like Georger Gatonby Stead, Henry Redwood and Sir George Clifford had already made their mark and would continue to do so. Still another owner-breeder, George Currie, would have an influence that continues to the present day, through the descendants of his Koatanui Lodge mare, Eulogy (1911). And trainers like the brilliant Dick Mason and Maurice McCarton would bring their country’s racing acumen to the forefront.

Early in the game breeders in both AUS + NZ settled upon the axiom that it was the mare that was going to make the difference in terms of the quality of individuals a stallion produced. As far back as the 1890′s, breeders were selecting mares with champion bloodlines and, at least initially, seem far less concerned about their racing performance than their sire line. A clear example of this practice is seen in the NZ thoroughbred mare and HOF, Eulogy:

Eulogy’s offspring also underscore the dedication of breeders to producing strong, hardy individuals. Accordingly, the allegiance to sound British bloodstock would continue until the arrival on the scene of Star Kingdom (1946), an Irish thoroughbred who, as a sire, would give Australasia its first flotilla of home-bred thoroughbred champions. As well, the principle of running horses often over challenging courses of up to 3 miles continued, with the result that many champion thoroughbreds who raced in the first six decades of the century ran 50 times or more before their retirement.

1900 – 1929: Signs of Greatness

Arguably, Desert Gold (1914), together with the gelding, Gloaming (1915), and the colt, Eurythmic (1916), were the superstars of this period — as their Hall Of Fame status indicates.

Remembered as the First Lady of the NZ turf, the racing career of Desert Gold was brilliant. She was the first NZ thoroughbred to chalk up a record of 19 consecutive wins while racing against colts, as well as fillies, in both NZ and AUS. Desert Gold ran during the dark days of WWI and her courage lifted the hearts of her racing public. She brought people to the track to forget their worries — and to see a Queen of the Turf.

As Desert Gold’s career was ebbing that of another champion was on the rise: Gloaming.

GLOAMING was destined to become one of the greatest AUS + NZ thoroughbreds of the twentieth century.

GLOAMING was destined to become one of the greatest AUS + NZ thoroughbreds of the twentieth century.

Bred in AUS by E.E.D. Clarke, Gloaming was by the Melton Stud stallion, The Welkin (1904) out of Light (1907), who carried the important bloodlines of British thoroughbreds like Bend Or (1877) and Stockwell (1849) in her pedigree. When he went to auction, Gloaming had only just recovered from strangles and the result was that he went to NZ’s George Stead for under $500 USD, to be trained by one of NZ’s greatest trainers, Richard (Dick) Mason. In many ways, the story of the champion gelding is also Mason’s story. And the two shared a bond reminiscent of Will Harbut and the American thoroughbred legend, Man O’ War. Gloaming would tie Desert Gold’s record of 19 consecutive wins and raced until his retirement, at nine years of age. So emphatic was his race record, that Gloaming was inducted into both the AUS and NZ Hall Of Fame.

Eurythmic was by the British stallion, Eudorus (1906), who was imported to AUS sometime before 1914, and out of the mare, Bob Cherry (1910). His sire descended from Hampton (1872) and St. Simon (1881); his dam from the AUS sire, Wallace (1892), a son of the mighty Carbine (1885). So it stood to reason that the Eudorus-Bob Cherry colt would win at both sprint and longer distances, which he did. When Eurythmic retired, he was regarded as the greatest AUS stakes winner of the time, having surpassed Carbine in stakes victories.

EURYTHMIC would overturn the stakes-winning record of the mighty CARBINE, from whom he descended.

EURYTHMIC would overturn the stakes-winning record of the mighty CARBINE, from whom he descended.

Bred by Noel Thompson at the Yarraman Stud in New South Wales, Eurythmic won 7 of 8 starts at three; then under a new trainer, Jack Holt, the colt scorched the turf at four. In October he won the Caulfield Stakes, the Caulfield Cup (defeating a huge field) and the Melbourne Stakes, his 11th consecutive victory. The following week Eurythmic suffered his only defeat as a four year-old when he ran fourth to Poitrel in the Melbourne Cup. The colt then won his next eight races: the CB Fisher Plate (defeating Poitrel), the Essendon Stakes, the VRC Governor’s Plate and the King’s Plate, as well as the AJC Autumn Stakes, the Sydney Cup (carrying 134 lbs.)) and the Cumberland Stakes. He finished the season with a tally of 12 wins from 13 starts. Racing until the age of 7, Eurythmic ended his career with a record of 47- 31-6-4 and the extraordinary earnings of 36,891 (APS) — at a time when a house in AUS typically cost about 200 (APS).

Eurythmic stood at stud for only two seasons before a heart attack ended the life of one of the brightest of stars of the AUS turf.

 

1929 -1939: Legends

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It wasn’t long before AUS + NZ racing saw the birth of individuals who would become thoroughbred legends in their own time, of which Phar Lap arguably became the most famous. For more on the fabulous “Red Terror” who was, in reality, so gentle that a child could ride him, see THE VAULT’S article on Phar Lap, which also includes rare video footage, here: http://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/bribes-threats-bullets-phar-laps-melbourne-cup-1930/

But Phar Lap was by no means alone, although it must be said that the love and devotion he inspired is rare and it is this that has given Tommy Woodcock’s best boy eternal life.

CHATHAM at work. Although he was beaten by PHAR LAP once, the handsome bay would defeat the champions PETER PAN and ROGILLA before his retirement.

CHATHAM at work. Although he was beaten by PHAR LAP once, the handsome bay would defeat the champions PETER PAN and ROGILLA before his retirement. Photo and copyright, THE SUN, Sydney AUS

Although he never enjoyed anything even remotely close to the feelings evoked by Phar Lap, Chatham (1928) was a superstar. Bred by Percy Miller at his Kia Ora Stud in New South Wales, AUS, Chatham was by the Melbourne Cup winner, Windbag (1921). His dam, Myosotis (1919) was an excellent broodmare and a granddaughter of the British Triple Crown winner, Flying Fox (1896). Racing from 1931-1934 for trainers Ike Foulsham and Fred Williams, the handsome bay colt became one of AUS greatest milers, winning 12 of his 21 starts — lightly raced, by AUS + NZ standards. Chatham was a “whistler: ” as a result of a severe throat infection as a colt, he made a distinct, audible whistle when he ran. Chatham did have a lot to “whistle” about: he won the Epsom Handicap twice, the W.J. Cox Plate twice and the Craven Plate three times during his career on the turf. So accomplished was Angus Blair’s colt that he was inducted into the Australian Hall of Fame in 2005.

Australia's "blond bombshell," the incomparable PETER PAN deserves to be considered as great as PHAR LAP.

Australia’s “blond bombshell,” the incomparable PETER PAN deserves to be considered as PHAR LAP’s successor. Indeed, PETER PAN’S trainer believed his colt could beat the “Red Terror” although the two never met.

The incomparable Peter Pan (1929) and the champion gelding, Rogilla (1927) were also contemporaries of Phar Lap.

Peter Pan was hailed as “another Phar Lap” during a brilliant career which saw him take the prestigious Melbourne Cup not once, but twice. A “horse of a different colour” to be sure, Peter Pan sported a flaxen mane and tail, making him even more enigmatic. The colt’s finest performance was his run in the 1934 Melbourne Cup, carrying a staggering 138 lbs. over a soggy track to take AUS most prestigious race for the second time, joining Archer, the only other horse to have accomplished this feat.

(For those wanting to learn more about this great thoroughbred, take a look at Jessica Owers’ book, Peter Pan. Unlike so many thoroughbred biographies that we have read, Owers’ Peter Pan is a lively, entertaining read and the text also includes rare photos of the champion. Peter Pan is also available on Kindle.)

PETER PAN wins his second Melbourne Cup in 1934, carrying a bone crushing 138 lbs.

PETER PAN wins his second Melbourne Cup in 1934, carrying a bone crushing 138 lbs.

 

Rogilla, Chatham and Peter Pan chased each other on the turf for highest honours throughout their careers. But even in the company of champions, Rogilla was no slouch. The gelding took home victories in the King’s, Caulfield, Sydney and AJC Cups, as well as the W. S. Cox, Randwick, AJC and AJC Autumn Plates, among 18 stakes races that he won. Rogilla descended from Carbine and was the first of many AUS champions from the British sire line of Hurry On (1913). Affectionately known as the “Coalfields Champion,” the gutsy gelding made 73 starts, winning 26.

The white-faced ROGILLA (rail) shown here as he narrowly defeats PETER PAN.

The white-faced ROGILLA (rail) shown here as he narrowly defeats PETER PAN in the 1934 King’s Cup.

 

One of the next stars on the horizon was AJAX (1934), another “looker” who would dominant racing in the 1930′s as one of the best sprinter-milers of his day. Bred at the famous Widden Stud, the home of great stallions like his sire, Heroic (1921) and enough champions to take up a full 23 pages in Douglas M. Barrie’s excellent book, Valley of Champions, Ajax would have still another distinction in North America: he was acquired as a stallion prospect at age 14 by Bing Crosby and Lin Howard for their Bing-Lin Stud in California. Ajax’s export to the USA would spark a mini-trend over the next decade as interest in the thoroughbred “down under” began to travel across the Pacific and around the world.

A star of the turf in the 1930's, AJAX is shown here greeting his fans.

A star of the turf in the 1930′s, AJAX is shown here greeting his fans.

 

Trained by Frank Musgrove, Ajax was ridden to 30 of his 36 stakes victories by AUS HOF jockey, Harold Badger. Ajax made 46 starts and was only ever out of the money once, winning 36 before his retirement, at age 6, in 1940. His victories included the Newmarket Handicap, the Futurity Stakes (three times), the Caulfield Guineas and W.S. Cox Plate, the Underwood Stakes (three times), the AJC All-Aged Stakes (three times), the AJC Cropper Stakes (three times) and the Melbourne Stakes (twice).

In the spring of 1937, Ajax began an 18-race winning streak in the kind of races that are Group-classified today, in six of which he smashed either race or course records. And he kept on going, the goal being to equal or surpass the 19-race winning streak first set by the filly, Desert Gold, followed by Gloaming. Sadly, this was not to be. In what should have been his 19th straight win, Ajax was beaten by a 33-1 outsider, Spear Chief (1934) and finished second.

 

AJAX kept the bettors and fans coming to the track: he was simply too good to miss. Photo and copyright Racing Victoria.

AJAX kept the bettors and fans coming to the track: he was simply too good to miss. Photo and copyright Racing Victoria.

Even a champ needs to stay fit: AJAX at swim.

Even a champ needs to stay fit: AJAX enjoying a saltwater treatment at St. Kilda’s.

 

Ajax began his stud career in AUS before leaving for the USA.  An AUS-born son, Magnificent (1942), won the AJC Derby and the VRC Victoria Derby, and numerous other progeny were also stakes winners. In the USA, he sired a few decent horses in Avracado ($71,813), Trebor Yug ($19,420) and A. Jaxson ($11,444) but was nowhere near as successful a sire there as he had been in AUS. Ajax was inducted into the AUS Hall Of Fame in 2004.

As the 1930′s came to a close, still another fine colt Kindergarten (1937) came running. Although his deeds never really spread far and wide, there are many in NZ who still believe he was as good as — or better than — the mighty Phar Lap. Without question, he was the best NZ-bred thoroughbred to grace the turf in his own country and in 2006, Kindergarten was inducted into the New Zealand Racing HOF :

 

NEXT TIME: A look at the 1940′s “down under” and a superstar whose name is still spoken in hushed tones today, so great was his legacy.

REGARDING COPYRIGHT: 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.

 

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Just as I was getting ready to post the second part of my Australian and New Zealand thoroughbred article, the news came that Lammtarra had died. And the presses ground to a halt, here, and right around the world. The internet was alive with photos, dedications and memories. The racing world stopped betting, debating, reporting and analyzing, to mourn.

Unless you were following international racing in 1994-1995, Lammtarra is only a name to you, if that. It has become in vogue to talk about great thoroughbreds using metaphors like the one of a comet flashing through the firmament. But what Lammtarra represented was something more curious, something inexplicable, something even those who knew him best seemed at a loss to capture.

Lammtarra was a symbol — and symbols, by definition, are always greater than whatever they stand for. Symbols, like metaphors, are part of a secret and universal grammar. Each man, woman and child, wherever they are, understands this secret way of saying. And of thinking. Since a symbol, like a metaphor, is there to take the mind to higher ground.

Although we like to clarify them by saying that X is a “symbol of” something or other, the greatest symbols just are. 

And Lammtarra just is  — and will forever be.

For Laura Thompson, in her brilliant book, Quest For Greatness: A Celebration of Lammtarra and the Racing Season (ISBN: 0 7181 4159 8) – the kind of book that sets the standard for what a book about a thoroughbred and the sport itself should be — Lammtarra was the embodiment of greatness:

” … At the heart of flat racing, there is an almost painful dialectical pull: between the enduring memory of a horse, and the ephemerality from which that memory proceeds. This dialectic is of the essence, and stronger than in any other sport. In Lammtarra, it found its perfect expression. Never was a sporting career so etiolated and so resonant: it was as thin and fine as one of the horse’s own limbs.” (p. 4)

True to the landscape of symbol, listing the handsome chestnut’s endowments and accomplishments only dwarf the individual from which they flowed. Lammtarra was brilliant on the turf, coming back from an illness that almost killed him to start his 3 year-old season with the Derby, where he set a turf record that stood for 15 years (until Workforce took it down in 2010). In a short career of 4 starts/4 wins, including the 1995 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Stakes at Ascot and the Arc in the same year, Lammtarra did the impossible.

But merely saying it falls pitifully short of the mark. The video record of the 1995 Derby is a treasure, not the least for its obvious disregard of the Godolphin entry, and understandably so. After all, Lammtarra was making only the second start in his life as a racehorse, the first of which had been over a year before:

Walter Swinburn, who rode him to victory, remembers that after they crossed the finish line, Lammtarra wanted to keep running, just as he’d done in his first win as a two year-old. Today, Swinburn places Lammtarra in the triumvirate of thoroughbreds that he considers the best he ever rode. The other two are Shergar (1978) and the lesser-known, though gifted, Zilzal (1986).

Placing Frankie Dettori in the saddle for the last two races of his colt’s career, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was very likely as shocked as the rest of the European and British racing community to see what Lammtarra had in store. Only the incomparable Mill Reef (1968) had ever pulled off this triple in a single season. But, unlike Paul Mellon’s champion, Lammtarra was still learning the game:

And then he was gone.

Sent to the breeding shed, Lammtarra stood only one season at his owner’s Dalham Hall Stud before he was sold, for 30 million dollars, to take up stud duties in Japan. There, too, he failed to get anything even close to his own brilliance. In August 2006, upon learning that Arrow Stud was planning to sell Lammtarra to Korean interests, HH Sheikh Mohammed bought his champion back, and the stallion ended his days in the lush paddocks of Dalham Hall Stud near Newmarket. Even in retirement, Lammtarra had frequent visits from horse people of all kinds and when the Dalham Hall stallions were on parade, he was proudly brought out as well. It was eminently clear that HH Sheikh Mohammed and the Dalham Hall staff who cared for him would honour Lammtarra as the champion he was until the end of his days.

URBAN SEA, herself a winner of the Arc and the dam of GALILEO, SEA THE STARS, MY TYPHOON and BLACK SAM BELLAMY among other champion progeny with her 1997 filly foal by LAMMTARRA who was named MELIKAH. Owned by Darley, MELIKAH MELIKAH is the dam of champion MASTERSTROKE. Like many of LAMMTARRA'S daughters, who are sought after, MELIKAH brings her sire's brilliance to her offspring.

URBAN SEA, herself a winner of the Arc, and the dam of GALILEO, SEA THE STARS, MY TYPHOON and BLACK SAM BELLAMY with her 1997 filly foal by LAMMTARRA who was named MELIKAH. Owned by Darley, MELIKAH is the dam of champion MASTERSTROKE, who is now at stud in France. Like many of LAMMTARRA’S daughters, who are sought after, MELIKAH is playing an important role in keeping LAMMTARRA’S memory alive. Photo and copyright, seathestars.com

 

Although his breeding career was unsuccessful, Lammtarra’s daughters and their progeny are still prized, given his exceptional bloodlines. Here is Lammtarra’s grandson, Masterstroke (2009), running third behind the winner, Solemia, in the 2012 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, beating the likes of the 2012 Derby winner, Camelot (2009), and superstar, St. Nicholas Abbey (2007) to the wire.

Lammtarra means “invisible” in Arabic. It seems a strange name to give a colt of such royal lineage. But the name certainly carries a very ancient wisdom about what can be known versus what lies beyond. And in Lammtarra, that wisdom found an eternal home.

 

 

” … you are whatever a moon has always meant
 and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody

knows 
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the

bud
 and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows 
higher than soul can hope

or mind can hide) 
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart) “

 

(from “i carry your heart” by e.e. cummings)

 

This article is respectfully dedicated to HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and to the the staff of Dalham Hall Stud.

 

Since THE VAULT first published, it has been my goal to research and write about the development of the thoroughbred and the sport in Australia and New Zealand. While the story of Phar Lap is universal and the exploits of the incomparable Black Caviar and So You Think turned world attention to thoroughbreds from “down under,” these contemporary champions are only the most recent in a star-studded history. In fact, Australia and New Zealand have produced absolutely brilliant individuals that could hold their own in the company of great thoroughbreds anywhere and the history of how these stars came to be is rich and fascinating. As well, uncovering some of this history has only reinforced my sense of how intermingled the families of thoroughbreds are worldwide and how these connections have brought us the individuals who light up the turf from Great Britain to the USA to India to Japan today.

This, then, is the first of a series on thoroughbreds from Australia and New Zealand and begins, quite properly, with a thumbnail history of the origins of the sport. 

(NOTE: Being Canadian and having few contacts in either Australia or New Zealand, it has been very difficult trying to discern what books to buy that would give me a good history of the Australian and New Zealand thoroughbred, including significant people as well as thoroughbred champions. Any suggestions from VAULT readers would be deeply appreciated!) 

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BACKGROUND

The horse wasn’t indigenous to Australia, but with the arrival of British colonists it quickly became an essential component of settling the “new” land (i.e. “new” to the settlers, that is).

As is the case worldwide, the Australian and New Zealand (AUS + NZ) thoroughbred owes its origins to Great Britain, where the breed originated. However, AUS + NZ have a history of close collaboration in the development of their thoroughbred horse, much like that of England and Ireland. Although often lumped together for this reason, AUS + NZ are, of course, different cultures with different histories, even though Australians have embraced New Zealand-bred champions as their own. To this day, prestigious trainers like Bart Cummings (So You Think, Kingston Rule, Saintly and countless other great individuals) visit the New Zealand bloodstock sales looking for future stars — and they are seldom disappointed.

There are, of course, differences in the breed and the sport itself in AUS+ NZ that make comparison with other countries difficult, if not impossible. In the Southern Hemisphere (SH), a thoroughbred’s birthdate is August 1, not January 1 as it is in the Northern Hemisphere (NH). In other words, in any given year, a NH thoroughbred is more than half a year older than a SH thoroughbred. The best way to compare individuals has always been to race them against each other, but SH horses have historically done poorly when shifted to NH climes, and vice versa. There have been a few exceptions, of course, but they are too few and far between to aid in any serious comparison. Even Black Caviar seemed at a distinct disadvantage at Royal Ascot; the same might be said of So You Think, a great champion in his native Australia who adjusted rather poorly to his new digs at Ballydoyle.

Another unique feature of AUS + NZ racing is that geldings are invited to run in classic races. And a good thing, too, since a number of AUS+ NZ’s greatest thoroughbreds have been geldings, among them the mighty Phar Lap, who was bred and born in New Zealand and became one of Australia’s best-loved thoroughbreds during the Depression era.

SO YOU THINK, a two-time winner of the Cox Plate,  was equine royalty in Australia before he was shifted from trainer Bart Cummings to Ballydoyle in Ireland. Despite his victories in Great Britain, can we say that we really saw the true So You Think?

SO YOU THINK, a two-time winner of the Cox Plate, was equine royalty in Australia before he was shifted from trainer Bart Cummings to Ballydoyle in Ireland. Despite his victories in Great Britain, can we say that we really saw the true So You Think?

From the beginning, the primary goal in breeding thoroughbreds in AUS + NZ was to get individuals who combined strength and endurance. If they also had speed, that was a bonus. None of this was made easy in the 1800′s by a steady influx of British governors who either countenanced or reviled horse racing, banning it when the latter was true. Despite the interruptions caused by racing bans, classic races were set up in AUS over distances of 1.5 -3+ M as a means of culling out horses who didn’t meet the breeding criteria. In 2014, with the advent of a market demanding speed and precocity, many races have been pruned down to shorter distances, although the greatest of the classic races, notably the Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Caulfield Cups, the AJC and VJC Derbies and AJC Oaks, are still contested at distances from 1.5-2+ M. (And just as there are those who despair at the change in thoroughbred tastes in North America, Great Britain and elsewhere, so the trend has been decried in AUS + NZ.)

SKYLINE typifies the "look" of the AUS + NZ thoroughbred which focuses on solid and sensible.

Champion SKYLINE (1955) typified the “look” of the AUS + NZ thoroughbred which focuses on “solid and sensible.” However, with the recent appetite for speed, we are inclined to wonder if that “look” with its emphasis on stamina is undergoing a qualitative shift.

 

BEGINNINGS: AUSTRALIA

The first recorded instance of a thoroughbred to land in Australia (AUS), Rockingham (1790), arrived on a ship from the Cape of Good Hope in 1799.  His sire is not known for certain, but he is believed to be a son of another Rockingham (1781), a talented thoroughbred who raced in England. Precise details about the earliest thoroughbred imports are skewed by the fact that the earliest individuals in AUS linked to the development of the thoroughbred were either Arabians or mixed with Arabian blood, and this may well have been the case with Rockingham (1790). However, in 1802 the thoroughbred stallion Northumberland (nd) was imported directly from England, arriving in the company of Hector, an Arabian stallion. This would appear to indicate that the mix of different breeds — particularly that of the Arabian or “Persian” horse — was still popular amongst AUS breeders at this time and did, in fact, play a pivotal role in establishing the AUS + NZ thoroughbred breed. The first Thoroughbred mare of proven origin, Manto (1822), arrived in Sydney, AUS in 1825. The Godolphin Arabian appears in Manto’s fifth generation and her pedigree is spotted with the names of prominent early thoroughbreds, such as Woodpecker (1773), Diomed (1777), Herod (1758), Matchem (1748) and Marske (1760).

This painting of HECTOR is an indication of the accuracy of the record of his arrival to AUS in 1830. The travel companions were also known as OLD HECTOR and OLD NORTHUMBERLAND.

This painting of HECTOR is an indication of the significance  of his arrival to AUS in 1830. The travel companions were also known as OLD HECTOR and OLD NORTHUMBERLAND respectively, making the tracing of their influence even more complex.

 

By 1840 the Australian Racing Committee was formed, re-named the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) in 1842. In keeping with their mission to nurture the development of a unique AUS thoroughbred, one known for strength and stamina, the AJC inaugurated and organized a program of Classic races, the chief among them the VJC Derby (AUS oldest derby), the AJC Derby and the Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Caulfield Cups. All of the races accepted into the Classic program were at distances of 1.5 miles or better.  Other states and jurisdictions in Australia developed their own racing clubs in the 19th century, including Victoria, which inaugurated its own Victoria Jockey Club in 1864, as well as Queensland, Southern and Western Australia and the island of Tasmania. By 1883, 192 racing clubs were registered with the AJC.

Under the influence of horseman like Captain Henry John Rous, Australian breeders became increasingly convinced that it was through importing British bloodstock that they would achieve a fine thoroughbred of their own and interest in Arabian bloodstock fell sharply. Rous was a British Naval Officer who came from a horse racing family that had great influence in British racing circles and was destined to become, according to Peter Willett, “the third great dictator of the British turf.” In fact, it was Rous who came up with the “weight for age” handicapping. During his visits to Western Australia in 1827-1828, Rous made connections with thoroughbred breeders and was responsible for importing the stallion, Rous’ Emigrant (1822). Another leader in the field, Charles Smith, established Bungarribee Stud at Doonside, New South Wales in 1830. The stud boasted only English-bred horses and it was Smith who gave Australia its first important homebred, Sir Hercules, who was foaled in 1843. Sir Hercules’ sons Cossack (1847), Yattendon (1861) and The Barb (1863) won the St. Leger and AJC Derby, respectively, as well as other classic races. Today many Australian thoroughbreds can still be traced back to Sir Hercules.

Another important early influence was Fisherman (1853), a British stallion imported by Hurtle Fisher in 1860 to stand at his stud in Victoria, Maribyrnong .

FISHERMAN (1853) was one of the Foundation Sires of the AUS+ NZ thoroughbred. He is depicted here by the great equine artist, Herring.

FISHERMAN (1853) was one of the Foundation Sires of the AUS+ NZ thoroughbred. He is depicted here by the great equine artist, John Frederick Herring, Sr.

If ever a horse was the incarnation of stamina and strength, it had to be Fisherman who, during his racing career, won 70 races, including 21 wins from 35 starts in a single racing season. Winner of 26 Queen’s Plate trophies and two Ascot Gold Cups, Fisherman on the occasion of his win of the first Gold Cup, was rewarded by being saddled up the very next day to run in the 3+ M Queen’s Plate — which he won stylishly, ears pricked. Fisherman was one of the best British stayers of the nineteenth century and it was little wonder he exercised such a potent influence on the AUS + NZ thoroughbred: in a short 5 seasons before his death, the champion sired 10 stakes winners and his progeny boasted a total of 25 stakes wins.

BEGINNINGS: NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand began to import its earliest thoroughbreds from New South Wales (AUS) in the 1840′s- 1850′s, having been infected by the “racing bug” through the commerce and exchange with its larger Australasian neighbour. What New Zealand brought to the table was a lush, fertile environment for raising horses, in contrast to the markedly small territory that Australia could offer, given its vast reaches of dry, arable land. By 1890, NZ racing had been organized under a central authority when all of its racing clubs were affiliated with the NZ Racing Conference. What began as the influence of one neighbour upon another continues between AUS + NZ to this day, a recent example being M.J. Moran and Piper Farm’s (NZ) superstar, So You Think, who quickly earned the love and respect of Australian racegoers. So You Think is just one of many champions to travel from NZ to AUS, where they earned the love and loyalty of a racing public who would never forget them.

The mare Lucy Banks (1839) is the first British-bred thoroughbred to be imported to New Zealand, although another mare, Moonshine(1853), together with three sons of the excellent British stallion Melbourne (1834) — Incledon(nd), The Peer(1855) and Towtown(1850) — arrived at nearly the same time, between 1857 – 1865 (approx.). What NZ breeders were after was a tough individual with middle distance ability and stamina. Like their AUS neighbours, NZ horsemen subscribed to the theory that thoroughbreds should be run “hard and often” since this seemed the best way to select out those horses that should be bred. In turn, this explained their great interest in the progeny of a British stallion like Melbourne, who sired the British Triple Crown winner West Australian (1850), the St. Leger winner Sir Tatton Sykes (1843) and the peerless winner of both the Epsom Derby and Oaks, the filly Blink Bonny (1854). So, although Melbourne never set foot in NZ, he is one of the important early sires of the AUS + NZ thoroughbred.

Still another sire of great importance to the flourishing of the breed in New Zealand was Traducer (1857), a son of The Libel (1842) who was imported in 1862. Despite his reputedly savage temperament, Traducer got 9 winners of the NZ Derby and another 8 winners of the Canterbury Cup, a weight-for-age race run over a 2.5 M course.

BLINK BONNY: the peerless daughter of MELBOURNE, won both the Epsom Derby and Oaks in 1857.

BLINK BONNY: the peerless daughter of MELBOURNE, won both the Epsom Derby and Oaks in 1857.

The greatest influence among the early imported mares was that of Flora McIvor (1828), an AUS-born daughter of Rous’ Emigrant out of Cornelia (AUS, b. 1825), a daughter of Manto. Brought to New Zealand by Henry Redwood, the “father of the NZ Turf”, the 25 year-old Flora McIvor produced two daughters by Sir Hercules: Io (1855), the ancestress of the important stallion Trenton (1881) and Waimea (1857), the ancestress of Phar Lap’s contemporary, Nightmarch (1925), and the superb filly, Silver Scorn (1929), acknowledged to be one of the best of her sex to ever race in NZ. The following short video celebrates the contribution of Redwood to the NZ thoroughbred industry, while giving viewers a glimpse into the early history of the sport:

The next major event in the development of the breed is the arrival of Musket (1867) in 1878, for it fell to this sire to produce the kind of brilliance that would put New Zealand “on the map” as a place where fine thoroughbreds could be found. Bred by Lord Glascow, Musket was a sturdy bay with a winning heart and he put both to good use, winning at distances up to 3 miles in Great Britain, including the Flying Dutchman H. (10F at York), the Ascot Stakes (2 1/2M at Ascot), Her Majestys Plate at Lincoln (2M), Her Majestys Plate at Shrewsbury (3M), the Seven Cup (2M) and the Alexandra Plate (3M) in which he carried 132lbs.

The amazing MUSKET, who had won at distances up to 3M, would give the NZ thoroughbred a world-class status.

The amazing MUSKET, who had won at distances up to 3M, would give the NZ thoroughbred a world-class status.

As great as were Musket’s gifts on the turf, in the breeding shed he lent his superb genes to sons Trenton (1881) and Martini-Henry (1880). From the latter would descend the 1946 Epsom Derby winner, Nimbus (1943), and the superb Grey Sovereign (1948), twice leading sire in France. The brilliant Trenton excelled at stud, producing 404 winners over 9 seasons; a daughter, Rosaline (1901), became the grandam of the great British sire, Gainsborough (1915).

But Musket’s most superb gift of all came in 1885, when Carbine was foaled.

CARBINE, captured in oil by artist Percy Brinkworth.

CARBINE, captured in oil by artist Percy Brinkworth.

Carbine, aka “Old Jack,” was as loved as Phar Lap (who is a direct descendant) by all who saw him race. He is considered one of the best thoroughbreds ever produced in AUS + NZ to this day. Carbine proved himself a consummate runner, embodying the strength and endurance that AUS + NZ breeders were aiming for in the horses they bred. In 1890 at the Randwick Carnival, the colt proved his mettle, taking five top-class races in eight days over distances ranging from 1 mile to 3 miles. That same year Carbine won the Melbourne Cup, where he faced a field of 39 other horses (today the field is limited to 24). Not only did Carbine win: he set a new race record, even though he was carrying 66 kg (146 lbs.), the most weight ever carried by a Cup winner. It seems unbelievable, does it not, that a 16h horse could carry that much weight over 2 miles and set a track record? That alone speaks loud about who Carbine was. Racing in Australia until he was retired at five, the best son of Musket won 33 times in 43 starts and was unplaced once throughout his career on the turf. He was the first AUS+ NZ champion to win 15 successive races, which he did in his remarkable season as a four/five year-old.

CARBINE depicted on a postcard of the day.

CARBINE depicted on a postcard of the day.

Sent off to the breeding shed, Carbine stood four seasons in Australia before being sold in 1895 to the Duke of Portland, the owner of St. Simon (1881). Shipped to England to the Duke’s stud,Welbeck Abbey, Carbine was installed as the “second” to St. Simon. The champion might not have gotten the choicest mares, but his genes were so potent that he made an indelible mark on the thoroughbred anyway. Even before leaving Australia, Carbine had sired three very good individuals: Wallace (1892), winner of the VATC Caulfield Guineas, the Sydney Cup and Victoria Derby, among others, who would top the Australian sire list in 1915/16; the superb filly, La Carabine (1894), winner of the VRC Australian Cup, the Sydney Cup and two-time winner of the AJC Plate, who went on to be a black-type producer; and Amberite (1894) winner of the Victoria Derby, VATC Caulfield Cup, the AJC Derby, the AJC St. Leger and the AJC Plate. All in all, in his short stud career in Australia, Carbine sired winners of 203 races with combined earnings of 48,624 APS.

CARBINE at stud, probably in the UK, circa 1900.

CARBINE at stud, probably in the UK, circa 1900.

CARBINE'S son WALLACE was his best Australian-born son.

CARBINE’S son WALLACE was his best Australian-born son.

LA CARABINE, brilliant daughter of CARBINE born and bred in Australia.

LA CARABINE, brilliant daughter of CARBINE born and bred in Australia.

 

At Welbeck Abbey, Carbine continued his career as a sire of champions, the arguably most famous among these being the English Derby and Grand Prix de Paris winner, Spearmint (1902). Although of delicate constitution himself, Spearmint became a sire of classic winners. He also turned out to be a brilliant BM sire. Among other Spearmint progeny: the great sire Chicle (1913) who sired America’s Mother Goose (1922) and was the BM sire of Shut Out(1939); the 1920 Epsom Derby winner Spion Kop (1917); Johren (1915), winner of the Belmont Stakes in 1918 and an American HOTY; the 1922 St Leger Stakes winner Royal Lancer(1919); as well as Spike Island (1919), winner of the 1922 Irish Derby; the exceptional filly Fausta (1911), winner of the 1914 Italian Derby and Oaks; and Spelthorne (1922), winner of the 1925 Irish St Leger Stakes.

CARBINE'S best British son was SPEARMINT. Although a fragile runner with poor legs, SPEARMINT'S progeny were noted for their classic lines.

CARBINE’S best British son was SPEARMINT. Although a fragile runner with poor legs, SPEARMINT’S progeny were noted for their classic lines and it was he more than any other Carbine progeny who assured his sire’s place in the development of the thoroughbred.

SPEARMINT'S daughter, PLUCKY LIEGE, exerted an enormous influence on the breed through her sons BULL DOG,

SPEARMINT’S daughter, PLUCKY LIEGE, exerted an enormous influence on the breed through her sons BULL DOG and SIR GALLAHAD III.

NOGARA, granddaughter of SPEARMINT and dam of NEARCO.

NOGARA, granddaughter of SPEARMINT and dam of NEARCO.

 

However, Spearmint’s greatest success as a stallion was through his daughters, of whom the most influential was arguably Plucky Liege (1912), dam of Bull Dog (1927), Sir Gallahad III (1920), Bois Roussel (1935) and Admiral Drake (1931). Seaweed (1916), another daughter, was the dam of multiple stakes winners Hotweed(1926) and Broulette (1928). Yet another daughter, Catnip (1910), was the dam of the great blacktype producer, Nogara (1928), whose son, Nearco (1935), exerted an enormous influence on thoroughbred pedigrees worldwide through his sons, Nearctic (1940) the sire of Northern Dancer (1961), Nasrullah (1940) the founder of a dynasty and sire of Bold Ruler (1954) and Royal Charger(1942), sire of the important stallion Turn-To (1951) and of American champion, Mongo (1959). From Turn-To comes First Landing (1956), sire of Riva Ridge and Sir Gaylord (1959), sire of the British champion miler and good sire, Habitat (1966), as well as the great British champion, Sir Ivor (1965). Another son of Turn-To, Hail To Reason (1958), made the greatest impact of all, through his sons Halo (1969), the sire of Sunday Silence (1986) and Bold Reason (1968), the BM sire of Sadler’s Wells (1981).

NEXT TIME: The series continues with a look at some of the greatest AUS+NZ champion thoroughbreds in the first part of the twentieth century.

 

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Royal Ascot is about to open and in 2014 will host a veritable who’s-who of the British and European turf. An exciting twist for American racing fans is provided by the entry of Rosalind, trained by Kenny McPeek, in either the Ribblesdale Stakes on June 19 or the Coronation Stakes on Friday, June 20.  In addition, Verrazano, now in training with Aidan O’Brien, will be starting in either the Queen Anne (June 17) or the Prince of Wales (June 18) Stakes. 

ROSALIND, trained by Kenny McPeek, is set to make her UK debut in the Coronation Stakes on June 20.

ROSALIND is set to make her UK debut in either the Ribblesdale or the Coronation Stakes. Both of these races are designed for fillies.

Impossible as it is to focus on every horse entered at Royal Ascot, there are several who have become familiar names to racing fans worldwide. Keeping our readership and their needs in mind, we have focused on a few of the star-studded cast who will assemble at Royal Ascot next week. At the time of this writing, the fields were still not quite set and since several of the entries described below remain co-entered in two different races, readers are encouraged to go to the Racing Post site for Royal Ascot to check the racing cards early next week: http://royal-ascot.racingpost.com/horses/cards/

TREVE

Arc winner, Treve, is set to kick off in the Prince of Wales Stakes on Wednesday, June 18 in what will be her first start on British soil. Last seen in neck-to-neck combat with the outstanding Cirrus des Aigles in April at Longchamps in the Prix Ganay (below), which Treve lost by a whisker in her first-ever defeat, trainer Cricket Head-Maarek’s champion seems ready to add another jewel to her crown next week.

As satisfying as it will be for Head-Maarek to see her great mare return to the winner’s circle at Ascot, the Prince of Wales is thought to be a prep race for Treve who’s real objective is likely to be the 1 million purse in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in July, where it is very possible that she will meet up with Derby winner, Australia. From there, if all goes well, Treve will defend her title in the 2015 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. If anyone can get her through this arduous campaign it is Head-Maarek, a trainer of no small merit who hails from the family of Freddie Head, trainer of the brilliant Goldikova. Here is Treve in-training prior to the Prix Ganay, with commentary from the distinguished jockey, Frankie Dettori, who has ridden some of the greatest thoroughbreds of the last twenty years.

The Prince of Wales is shaping up to be a solid race including Aidan O’Brien’s 2013 Epsom Derby winner, Ruler of the World, John Gosden’s globetrotting mare, The Fugue, the William Haggas-trained Mukhadram, second in last year’s Dubai World Cup, and Dank, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, last seen by North America in her record-setting run in the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf in November 2013 (below). (NOTE: Ruler of the World is co-entered in the Hardwicke Stakes, Saturday, June 21st. Check on Monday, June 16 to see where he is going.)

Of particular interest to American racing fans will be the entry of Verrazano, last year’s winner of the Wood Memorial, who is now being trained by Aidan O’Brien. O’Brien reports that he is pleased with Verrazano’s progress to date. The 4 year-old made his first start for O’Brien at Newberry in May, where he finished a very respectable third to champion Olympic Glory in the JLT Lockinge Stakes (below). (NOTE: Verrazano is co-entered in the Queen Anne Stakes which will run on Tuesday, June 17. Verrazano fans should check at on the weekend or Monday, June 16 when the entries should be finalized for June 17.)

SOFT FALLING RAIN & OLYMPIC GLORY

Mike de Kock’s Soft Falling Rain is getting set to take on Olympic Glory in the Queen Anne Stakes, on the first day of racing (June 17th) at Royal Ascot. The last time he tried this on Ascot turf, Soft Falling Rain ran the worst race of his distinguished career, coming in 11th behind the winner (Olympic Glory). But don’t be fooled: Mike de Kock’s champion has only ever finished out of the money twice in his 12 starts, winning 8. A son of Canada’s National Assembly, a champion sire in South Africa who was trained by Vincent O’Brien but never raced due to injury, Soft Falling Rain is a grandson of the prepotent Danzig and Giant’s Causeway is his BM sire. So this 5 year-old is “bred in the purple” and always gives his best. His last start was in March in the Godolphin Mile, where he narrowly lost out to stablemate Variety Club:

Olympic Glory (shown in video above in connection with Verrazano) is another champion who has won very consistently over 13 career starts for trainer, Richard Hannon. A son of Choisir, the first Australian-trained horse to win at Royal Ascot (2003) who became almost as famous for his weird headgear, Olympic Glory carries “the Danehill gene” that never seems to disappoint. Accordingly, the colt has won seven times in France and England, and was seen last year at Royal Ascot winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (below).  Despite coming in 4th at Longchamps to the mighty Cirrus des Aigles, expect Olympic Glory to be well in the mix on opening day.

CHOISIR, the sire of OLYMPIC GLORY, shown here winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2003. A handsome devil, CHOISIR was as memorable for his headgear as he was for his immense talent.

CHOISIR, the sire of OLYMPIC GLORY, shown here winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2003. CHOISIR was as famous for his headgear as he was for his immense talent.

ESTIMATE

Perhaps the most heartwarming moment of last year’s Royal Ascot was the delight of HM The Queen as she greeted her filly, Estimate, in the winner’s enclosure after the Gold Cup.

Estimate was the product of an arrangement involving her dam, Ebaziya, owned by the Aga Khan Studs and HM’s Royal Stud. The latter sent Ebaziya to the super German stallion, Monsun (sire of Novellist, Shirocco and Stacelita, among others) and the result was a beautiful mare who has done her 88 year-old owner-breeder proud. Although lightly raced, the 5 year-old has won 4 of her 8 starts. Given HM’s passion for thoroughbred racing, it would be a thrill to see Estimate defend her title with another win in the 2m 4f Gold Cup on June 19. But she will have to be at her absolute best to vanquish her competition.

It’s a fair guess that Aidan O’Brien’s Leading Light will push Estimate to the limit if he can get the distance. Successful at Navan in May, the son of Montjeu has only lost twice in 8 starts. Out of the Gone West mare, Dance Parade, Leading Light was the brilliant winner of the St. Leger last year as a 3 year-old, and at Royal Ascot 2013 showed true grit in winning the Queen’s Vase.

A sentimental favourite is the hardy Simenon, whose problem won’t be the distance. Rather, it will be his age. At seven, with 38 starts under his belt, Simenon may be getting past his best but he’s one of the most honest horses in the race. Too, there is Richard Baldwin’s Whiplash Willie, who ran a very decent third at Sandown last time out to the favourite, Brown Panther.

CERTIFY

Certify was brilliant as a juvenile at 2 and as a 3 year-old, but her career was cut in half by the drug scandal that beset Godolphin’s trainer, Mahmood Al Zarooni in 2013. Certify returned in 2014 where she won her first race, followed by a fourth at Meydan in what was her first ever defeat. Her story is a heart-breaker because the daughter of Elusive Quality is Frankel-esque in her abilities and bringing her back to form after an enforced break of 469 days is a challenge of epic proportions. Switched to trainer Charlie Appleby, Certify is listed to run against fillies and mares in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes on Wednesday, June 18. One can only hope to see her regain the brilliance of her 2012 season. Either way, she is a superstar gracing the turf of champions. Here is Certify winning the Shadwell Fillies Mile in 2012, followed by her win in the Cape Verdi at Meydan in January 2014:

 

BROWN PANTHER

Another serious contender for the Gold Cup will be Ted Dascombe’s Brown Panther, a son of Shirocco and grandson of Monsun. As of this writing, Brown Panther has won his last two races decisively and with 20 starts and 9 wins under his belt, appears to be peaking at just the right moment. The Dascombe-trained 6 year-old is currently listed as the favourite going in to Royal Ascot week, given that his last win came at the Gold Cup distance over a soggy track at Sandown. Although it has taken him some time to get there, Brown Panther deserves the attention he’s getting.

Bred by his owner, Michael Owen, a British and international soccer (football in the UK) star who now does football commentary for the British media, Brown Panther represents the zenith of his owner’s career in horse racing. And he’s come along very nicely under Ted Dascombe’s patient tutelage, since his male family have a tendency to come into their own rather slowly by today’s standards and Dascombe understands this.

As footage of his most recent win at Sandown was not available, here is Brown Panther (turquoise shirt) winning the Artemis Goodwood Cup at Glorious Goodwood a year ago, where he beat the likes of Colour Vision soundly.  By all accounts, he’s an even better distance runner this year.

ROSALIND

America’s Rosalind will have her work cut out for her, making her first start on grass at Royal Ascot in either the Ribblesdale (June 19) or the Coronation Stakes (June 20). Either way, she will be in heady company, including a contingent from Ballydoyle that includes Wonderfully, John Gosden’s Criteria, Roger Varian’s excellent Sea The Stars filly, Anipa, Godolphin’s Ihtimal, John Oxx’s talented filly My Titania (another by Sea The Stars), Andre Fabre’s Miss France, together with lightly-raced fillies like Wonderstruck, Dermot Weld’s Edelmira or William Haggas’ Cape Cross filly, Token of Love.

Still, Rosalind will have a huge fan following from America, where she is a favourite and they will be rooting for her all the way. The daughter of Broken Vow whose BM sire is Theatrical has several excellent grass runners in her pedigree, including Britain’s last Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky II, as well as Sassafras and Nureyev, who was born and raced in France where he got Champion 3 year-old honours. Her owners, Landaluce Educe Stables and trainer, Kenny McPeek have little reason to doubt either her quality or her determination. Having only finished out of the money twice in 8 starts, Rosalind is shown here in a gutsy win over Room Service in April at Keeneland:

WAR COMMAND, KINGMAN & NIGHT OF THUNDER

It would be fair to say that next to the emotion of HM’s Estimate taking the Gold Cup, last year’s Royal Ascot was punctuated by the thrill of 2 year-old War Command’s victory. As his white-blazed faced streaked across the finish line his sire’s (War Front) reputation grew even more in the minds of British and European thoroughbred owners and breeders. They had to be asking themselves, “Have we got another Northern Dancer on the rise?” since The Dancer really made his legacy through the loyalty of Coolmore-Ballydoyle, specifically Vincent O’Brien, to his progeny. Most of whom proved to be brilliant. Cross-entered in both the prestigious St. James Palace Stakes (June 17) and the Diamond Jubilee (June 21), Coolmore-Ballydoyle will be dreaming of a performance that repeats War Command’s brilliance of almost a year ago:

However, a little-publicized truth (according to Ballydoyle) is that the “War Fronts can be quite lazy” and War Command pulled that card in his most recent outing in May at Newmarket, where he finished a dismal 9th in the 2000 Guineas, failing to pick up the pace when it counted most. If he does this again at Royal Ascot, he’ll likely be pummelled by either the brilliant Night of Thunder or Kingman.

Night of Thunder, a 3 year-old son of Dubawi, is trained by the eminent Richard Hannon. Having won 3 of his 4 lifetime starts, the colt has never been out of the money. More importantly, Night of Thunder is this year’s winner of the Quipco 2000 Guineas, taking it despite hanging out very far as he and jockey Keiron Fallon came to the finish. But he beat War Command, the subsequent Derby winner, Australia, as well as a very good colt in Kingman despite what could have been a disastrous error:

Kingman and Night of Thunder have been challenging each other throughout the season. While Juddmonte’s Kingman lost to his rival in the Quipco 2000 Guineas, he went on to subsequently take the Irish 2000 Guineas in devastating fashion. The son of Invincible Spirit has only ever lost once in his 5 lifetime starts. Accordingly, Prince Khalid Abdullah and trainer John Gosden’s champion has been accorded the status of favourite to take the St. James Palace next week:

SOME PROMINENT AMERICAN SIRES REPRESENTED AT ASCOT 2014 

The War Fronts make up a small army, with newcomers War Envoy and The Great War running in the prestigious Coventry Stakes for 2 year-olds on June 17; Guerre and Due Diligence running on the same day in the King’s Stand; Giovanni Boldini joining War Command in the St. James Palace Stakes; and a filly, Peace and War is running for  Sheikh Suhaim Al Thani/QRL/M Al Kubaisi in the Queen Mary Stakes  (June 18).

Elusive Quality is represented in the St. James Palace Stakes (June 17) by Michaelmas who runs for Ballydoyle; Great White Eagle in the Jersey Stakes for Ballydoyle (June 18); Elusive Guest for John Guest Racing runs in the Jersey Stakes (June 18); and the fabulous mare Certify is due to run in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes (June 18) for Godolphin.

Big Brown is represented by the very good colt, Darwin, who runs in the King’s Stand (June 17) for Ballydoyle.

Bluegrass Cat is represented by Biting Bullets who runs for Mrs. Joanna Hughes in another 2 year-old race, the Windsor Castle Stakes (June 17).

Quality Road has a 2 year-old colt, Hootenanny, running in the Windsor Castle Stakes in the colours of Tabor, Magnier and Smith (June 17).

Street Cry has Street Force running in the Jersey Stakes (June 18) for Saeed Mañana.

Dynaformer is represented by Somewhat who runs in the colours of  Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum in the King Edward VII Stakes (June 20).

NOTE TO MY READERS: I have recently had a death in my family and this, together with the natural excitement about this year’s American Triple Crown and flat racing overseas accounts for the lapse between VAULT articles. But I will be back soon with more stories of great horses from around the world. Thank you for your understanding.

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It’s Derby time again here in North America and that familiar buzz is in the air. Everyone is busy choosing their favourite. But the best colt or filly doesn’t always win. Sometimes, the outcome depends on the Racing Gods who, as we all know, can turn the best laid plans on their ear. 

DEGAS' sculpture of a thoroughbred walking seemed a fitting opening to this article.

“Thoroughbred Horse Walking” by EDGAR DEGAS. From the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

1929: BLUE LARKSPUR VS CLYDE VAN DUSEN When it was all over, racing mogul Colonel Edward R. Bradley, who owned the favourite, Blue Larkspur, described the winner as “…the worst horse to win the Derby in twenty years.” If the winner, Clyde Van Dusen, had anything at all going for him it was that he was a son of the American racing legend, Man O’ War. The other thing he had going for him on that rainy and sloppy first Saturday in May were his caulk shoes, which enabled him to get some traction on the slippery Churchill Downs track. Clyde was described as a “mere pony of a horse with a weedy frame” and was bred by New York businessman Herbert Gardner. Somewhere early in his career, the colt became a gelding and was named by Gardner after his trainer, Clyde Van Dusen, who was a former jockey. Although he was the seventh gelding in fifty-five years to win the Kentucky Derby, it would be another seventy-four before the beloved Funny Cide would do it again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9flaRIstGXk#t=16 Blue Larkspur, on the other hand, was crowned HOTY in 1929 and he deserved it. The son of Black Servant and grandson of Black Toney was a really honest colt who almost always did his best. But his best was beyond him on Derby day, when the track played muddy and deep, and the assistant trainer (Herbert J “Derby Dick” Thompson, Bradley’s HOF trainer having succumbed to an attack of appendicitis) failed to shoe him properly for the track conditions. Blue Larkspur did brilliantly to manage fourth place and to come home in one piece.

BLUE LARKSPUR was a really handsome horse and this photo shows him to advantage.

BLUE LARKSPUR was a really handsome horse and this photo shows him to advantage.

MYRTLEWOOD, a daughter of BLUE LARKSPUR, during her racing days. She would go on to become a foundation mare of the American thoroughbred horse.

MYRTLEWOOD, a daughter of BLUE LARKSPUR, during her racing days. She would go on to become a foundation mare of the American thoroughbred horse.

And lucky for the American thoroughbred that he did, since as a sire Blue Larkspur had an enormous influence on the development of the breed. His genes passed most effectively to his daughters, among them the foundation mare Myrtlewood, and this allowed Blue Larkspur to top the broodmare sire list from 1944-1960, inclusive. His daughters produced some great, great thoroughbred champions, among them: Twilight Tear, Princess Turia, Bull Page, Durazna, Busanda, Cohoes and War Jeep. Clyde Van Dusen ran 42 times but the 1929 Kentucky Derby was his last major win. In retirement, the gelding was acquired by his trainer for use as a stable pony.

Trainer CLYDE VAN DUSEN with his namesake after the gelding's retirement from racing. CLYDE the horse lived to be 22 years old and was, by all accounts, a favourite of his trainer.

Trainer CLYDE VAN DUSEN with his namesake whom he bought after the gelding’s retirement from racing. CLYDE the horse lived to be 22 years old and was, by all accounts, considered a gem — albeit with a character all his own — by his trainer.

1933: HEAD PLAY VS. BROKERS’ TIP As recently as 1993, the outcome of the 1933 Derby was still being hotly debated. Racing fans will recognize the famous photograph of Head Play and Brokers’ Tip coming to the finish line. The latter, owned by Idle Hour Stock Farm’s powerful Colonel Edward R. Bradley (of Blue Larkspur fame) would be declared the winner. To his dying day, Head Play’s jockey, Herb Fisher, would insist that his colt had actually won and that the decision of the judges had more to do with Bradley’s influence than with an honest assessment of who-was-where at the finish line.

The famous photo of the 1933 Derby finish shows the jockeys fighting it out as BROKERS TIP (blinkers) and HEAD PLKAY come to the finish.

The famous photo of the 1933 Derby finish shows the jockeys fighting it out as BROKERS’ TIP (blinkers) and HEAD PLAY come to the finish.

It was a very different story in the Preakness, where HEAD PLAY came home first under the great Charlie Kurtsinger.

It was a very different story in the Preakness, where HEAD PLAY came home first under the great Charlie Kurtsinger. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Neither colt went into the Derby as a favourite, although Head Play was without question the better prospect of the two. He was a grandson of Fair Play, the sire of Man O’ War, and had won the Hawthorne Juvenile and Cincinnati Trophy as a two year-old, both at a distance of 6f. Head Play also came into the Derby as the winner of the Derby Trial Stakes, run over 8f. An interesting contemporary note about Head Play is that his second owner at the time of the Derby and until his retirement, Mrs. Suzanne Burnett Mason, was the mother of H. Burnett Robinson. After WWII, Robinson hooked up with racing’s Hal Prince Headley and, under Headley’s advice, bought a property that would become Winter Quarter Farm. And Winter Quarter Farm, still under Robinson ownership today, was the place where HOTY Zenyatta, as well as her Blue Hen dam Vertigineux, came into the world. (For more photos of Head Play, as well as Zenyatta’s page, go to the Winter Quarter Farm at this link: http://winterquarterfarm.com/about-us/) The 1933 Derby became infamous for the shoving match that took place just before the finish, between Herb Fisher (on Head Play) and Don Meade (aboard Brokers’ Tip, in the blinkers on the inside). Believe it or not, the drama of the finish added some spice to an otherwise mediocre Derby field and gave horse racing what it desperately needed in America at the height of the Depression: a ton of publicity. For Brokers’ Tip, who was declared the winner, the Derby would stand as the only race he ever won. (Note: There is no voice over on the footage. Head Play is wearing #9 and Brokers’ Tip, in blinkers, is #16) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxBrMrj39uU   1942: ALSAB VS DEVIL DIVER, WITH REGARDS & SHUT OUT If the Derby field of 1933 was considered mediocre, the 1942 field was its polar opposite. Devil Diver and Shut Out were stable mates. Born at the Whitney’s Greentree Stable, Devil Diver was by the Whitney’s British import, St. Germans, whose son Twenty Grand had run himself into American thoroughbred history with wins in the 1931 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.  Shut Out was by an American legend, Equipoise, “The Chocolate Soldier.” Both Whitney colts were also trained by the HOF conditioner, John M. Gaver Sr. During a brilliant career that spanned thirty-seven years, Gaver also trained the champions Capot, Tom Fool, Stage Door Johnny and Stop The Music.

DEVIL DIVER with the legendary EDDIE ARCARO.

DEVIL DIVER gets some loving’ from the legendary EDDIE ARCARO.

Devil Diver had major wins in the Sanford, Hopeful and Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at two and had opened his three year-old season by beating Whirlaway in the Phoenix Handicap. Shut Out was also a fine colt who, although beaten at two by Devil Diver in the Hopeful, would prove a better three year-old than his popular stablemate. But Devil Diver would have his revenge at four: beginning in 1943, the colt would win the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap for three consecutive years. Like many fine horses of his day, Devil Diver won at punishing weights — often more than 130 lbs. But this couldn’t stop him and as a five year-old, his efforts were rewarded by receiving the title of American Champion Older Male Horse. However, that was in his future; the thinking in 1942 was that Devil Diver would continue his winning ways at three. So it was that Eddie Arcaro chose the accomplished two year-old who had defeated Mr. Longtail, America’s latest Triple Crown winner, to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Shut Out got the services of another HOF jockey, Warren Wright.

SHUT OUT at work as a three year-old. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

SHUT OUT at work as a three year-old. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Shut Out’s chief rival as a three year-old was another famous name in American racing annals, Alsab. Taking his name from his owner, Albert Sabeth, the 1941 Champion Two-Year Old Colt, whose grandsire was the great Neddie, would chase Shut Out’s heels through the Derby and Belmont Stakes. Trained by Charles Swenke, Alsab quickly gained a massive fan base and at three, the colt annexed the Withers, American Derby, Lawrence Realization and the New York Handicap. Perhaps most impressively, Alsab defeated Whirlaway in a match race held at Narragansett Park on September 19, 1942: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlNaBhmLW_s Then there was With Regards, another terrific colt, winner of the Arkansas Derby and Myrtlewood Handicap. Owned by Josephine Grimes and trained by her husband, Ted, the son of Jack High was arguable the quirkiest of this distinguished group. It appeared that, among other things, With Regards had a “thing” about getting into the starting gate before mid-afternoon; in fact, retirement was forced upon him at age five for refusing to load two times in a row. By then, the colt had made 63 starts, with a record of 19-14-4 and winnings of just over $87,000 USD.  For the Derby, With Regards got the services of HOF Johnny Longden — in Longden’s future, and only a year down the road, was the next Triple Crown winner, the incomparable Count Fleet.

The handsome WITH REGARDS and trainer, TED GRIMES. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The handsome WITH REGARDS and trainer, TED GRIMES. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Colonel MATT WINN, the President of Churchill Downs, played a huge role in shaping the sport. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Colonel MATT WINN, the President of Churchill Downs, played a huge role in shaping the sport. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The excellence of the 1942 Derby field prompted the hugest turnout since Colonel Matt Winn had taken the post of President of Churchill Downs. As Winn told a reporter from The Tucson Daily Citizen: “Son,” (Winn) said as the bright Kentucky sun outlined the faint stripes in his dark, blue suit, “I’ve been through four wars. I was born in the first year of the Civil War, I have weathered two others and now I’m in my fourth. And the one thing I have learned is that you should never sell America short nor America’s love of sport short. You take this race track. Now, I’m not talking about Saturday’s Derby, because Saturday’s Derby will be the biggest of all. I thought my dream of 100,000 people would come true last year but there were only 95,000. But I know my dream will come true this year because we can’t fill the demands we have had for tickets–from 50 cent tickets to $125 tickets. To me, this Derby is already history. It is the 1943 Derby  I’m planning now. And do you know what I’ll tell you this minute? Son, I’ll promise you the 1943 Derby will be even bigger than this one. Gasoline shortages? Tire scarcities? America can take them in stride. America will come here–and America will go other places–(even) if America is forced to walk.” Alsab went into the Derby as the favourite, with Devil Diver, Shut Out and With Regards getting a fair amount of play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw6r39Rj-QY Despite the fact that Shut Out went on to win the Belmont Stakes, this time with Eddie Arcaro in the saddle, it was Alsab who took the honours as American Champion Three Year-Old Colt that year. Arguably, Alsab’s defeat of the mighty Whirlaway was the clincher, together with the romantic notion of a colt with a rather ordinary pedigree, bought by a rather “average” guy, who goes on to become a champion.   1953: NATIVE DANCER VS DARK STAR Without question, the most famous of losers of the Kentucky Derby has to be the incomparable NATIVE DANCER. The loss would be the only one of his career. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBBvKILL1IM As the story goes, the “Grey Ghost” as he was famously dubbed by the racing public of 1953 had to weave in and out of horses just to get to the lead. And with each manoeuver, the colt lost ground on the leader, the aptly named Dark Star. In the third quarter, Native Dancer ran from the outside in a time of 23 seconds. But close to the final dash, HOF jockey Eric Guerin went back to the rail, only to be blocked again by Dark Star’s jockey, the cunning Henry Moreno. Guerin gave Native Dancer a couple of smacks and the colt fired, losing at the finish by a head. Which is to take nothing away from Dark Star, who ran the race of his life. His time of 2:02 was better than that of champions like Spectacular Bid, Seattle Slew, Ferdinand, Swale, Winning Colours and Alysheba.

DARK STAR wears the roses in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

DARK STAR wears the roses in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

1957: GALLANT MAN VS IRON LIEGE This is the story of a great jockey who made a terrible mistake. It remains the most infamous of all of the “what-went-wrong” Derbies. The jockey in question, Bill Shoemaker, first said that his horse had taken a bad step, until he was remanded by the track stewards. Their verdict was to suspend “The Shoe” for 15 days. In his biography, published many years later, Shoemaker stated that as he crossed the finish line, “I knew I’d made a boo boo.”  Which would be to put it mildly. The horses at the centre of the controversy were the John Nerud-trained Gallant Man and Calumet Farm’s Iron Liege. But it was a prestigious field that went to the post on that cold, grim day, led by the favourite — Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons’ Bold Ruler. In the field was also the great Round Table, trained by Moody Jolley, the father of HOF trainer Leroy Jolley. Iron Liege and his stable mate, Gen. Duke, were both sons of Bull Lea and although the former had the advantage of War Admiral as his BM sire, he was the lighter-regarded of the two Jones-trained colts. However, Gen. Duke was scratched after coming home from the Derby Trial lame, so it was Iron Liege and jockey Bill Hartack who carried Calumet’s banner on Derby day.

IRON LIEGE works, wearing the fashion of the day for horses with sensitive ears.

IRON LIEGE works, wearing the fashion of the day for horses with sensitive ears. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Bold Ruler was well-regarded by racing pundits of the day and his trainer, “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, was a legend — the only conditioner to ever train two Triple Crown winners, Gallant Fox and his son, Omaha. Although he would be more famous as the sire of the mighty Secretariat, as a three year-old Bold Ruler came into the Derby a winner of the Flamingo Stakes (in which he shattered the track record) and of the Wood Memorial.

BOLD RULER (inside) narrowly beats GALLANT MAN (outside) in the 1957 Wood Memorial.

BOLD RULER (inside) narrowly beats GALLANT MAN (outside) in the 1957 Wood Memorial.

BOLD RULER arrives at Churchill Downs to run in the 1937 Kentucky Derby.

BOLD RULER arrives at Churchill Downs.

Travis M. Kerr’s Round Table, trained by William Molter, came into the Derby off a win in the Blue Grass Stakes. A “son” of Claiborne Farm, as was Bold Ruler, the colt had been sold to oilman Kerr by Bull Hancock with the understanding that he would stand at Claiborne after his retirement. Round Table dominated thoroughbred racing in 1958, but as a three year-old he was still a year away from his best form.

ROUND TABLE with trainer, William Molter.

ROUND TABLE with trainer, William Molter.

John Nerud’s Gallant Man was hardly a lightweight and 1957 saw him take some prestigious races, among them the Travers and the Jockey Gold Cup. But the press only seemed to give the Irish-bred son of HRH the Aga Khan’s Arc winner, Migoli, a lukewarm reception until Gallant Man chased Bold Ruler to the finish line in the Wood Memorial, only losing by a whisker. The little bay carried an impressive bloodline, albeit a European one, that he would pass down to two of the greatest American fillies ever: Gallant Bloom and Genuine Risk. These, then, were the best of 1957 Derby field. And as they broke from the starting gate, no-one could possibly have anticipated the outcome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkQ57ANF1KE

Bill Shoemaker inexplicably misses the finish line by standing in the stirrups on GALLANT MAN for a split second, allowing IRON LIEGE to charge through to win.

Bill Shoemaker inexplicably misses the finish line by standing in the stirrups on GALLANT MAN and allowing IRON LIEGE to charge through and win. It was a split second error that changed the course of history.

After the loss, John Nerud gave Gallant Man some time off, skipping the Preakness and entering him in the Belmont Stakes instead. Bold Ruler won the Preakness for Sunny Jim and his connections and was promptly entered in the Belmont. Iron Leige, who ran a game second to Bold Ruler in the Preakness, wasn’t entered in the last leg of the American Triple Crown. Silent footage of Bold Ruler’s Preakness, with the winner being chased to the wire by Iron Leige (#4): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6PuKjzWATs The Belmont Stakes belonged to Gallant Man. With The Shoe back in the saddle, Nerud’s colt ran a monster race, sailing home 8 lengths ahead of the second-placed Inside Tract, with Bold Ruler finishing up third. Gallant Man’s time for the Belmont stood until, ironically, a son of Bold Ruler, the mighty Secretariat, took it down.

GALLANT MAN wins the 1957 Belmont Stakes by 8 lengths, leaving Bold Ruler well behind at the finish.

GALLANT MAN wins the 1957 Belmont Stakes by 8 lengths, leaving Bold Ruler well behind at the finish.

When he heard of Gallant Man’s death, at the age of 34 years at Spendthrift Farm, HOF trainer John Nerud remembered his champion colt with pride, ” When he was sound and good, a horse never lived who could beat him…he had it all — speed and endurance.”  

GALLANT MAN, according to his brilliant trainer, John Nerud, "had it all."

GALLANT MAN, according to his trainer, John Nerud, “had it all.” This kind of praise from such a brilliant horseman is a fitting tribute to a colt who truly embodied what it means to be a thoroughbred champion.

GALLANT BLOOM, a daughter of GALLANT MAN

GALLANT BLOOM, a daughter of GALLANT MAN, was Champion Two and Three Year-Old filly in 1968-69. A winner of 12 races in a row, she was GALLANT MAN’S best daughter. GALLANT BLOOM was inducted into the HOF in 1977.

The Lady Is A Champ: Genuine Risk, winner of the

The Lady Is A Champ: Genuine Risk, winner of the 1980 Kentucky Derby, was only the second filly to ever do so. A beloved filly who will never be forgotten, GENUINE RISK’S BM sire was GALLANT MAN. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

SOURCES

http://www.horseracenation.com. Derby Remix http://www.jockeysite.com. Kentucky Derby: Legendary Losers

Bolus, Jim. Kentucky Derby Stories. Pelican Publishing Company (ISBN: 9781565544659)

Reed, William F. Duking It Out At The Derby in SI Vault (si.com)

Winter Quarter Farm website. About Us (winterquarterfarm.com)

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (www.racingmuseum.org)

Colin’s Ghost. Bold Ruler Wins The Wood Memorial, 1957 (colinsghost.org)

 

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.

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).

MAH MAHAL, dam of MAHMOUD

MAH MAHAL, dam of MAHMOUD

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

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.

MAHMOUD

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″:

http://www.itnsource.com/shotlist//BHC_RTV/1936/05/28/BGX407212133/

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:

http://www.efootage.com/stock-footage/44592/Mahmoud_Wins_The_1936_Epsom_Derby/

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:

EP19360709.2.143.4-a5-331w-c32-812-4091-662-1341

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

ADDITIONAL NOTES

* 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/

SOURCES

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)

http://www.pedigreequery.com

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.)

http://www.efootage.com/stock-footage/57983/Equipoise_Wins_Whitney_Gold_Cup_Race

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.

SOURCES

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.

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