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Here at THE VAULT, we’re thinking about the fillies and colts who tend to fly “under the radar” as Oaks and Derby day draw near. After all, our sport would be awfully dull if the favourites always won.

 Along the trail to the first Saturday in May, thoroughbred experts are busy vetting their instincts and know-how to come up with a likely winner. There are all kind of statistics to pour over: past performances, pedigrees, sire records, profiles of trainers and jockeys. And, when the posts are drawn, there will be debates about the impact of starting positions on performance.

Of course, all of this cogitating is what makes horse racing exciting.

With the inevitable focus on favourites, it’s easy to forget that every one of the colts or fillies entered in the Oaks or the Derby are there because they’ve earned it. Collectively, these 3 year-olds rank in the top 1% of all thoroughbreds born in the same year. They are athletes trained to perfection, cared for down to the last detail and, more often than not, loved by their handlers, owners and fans. 

As they parade before the stands on their way to the starting gate, we celebrate their accomplishments and the stories that brought them to Churchill Downs. In those opening moments before the field is set on its way, each filly and colt moves in a shining light of possibility. 

And, for the true racing fan, that’s what it’s really all about.

(NOTE: This article is based on the leader board (@ http://www.kentuckyderby.comfor the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby as of April 22, 2013)

There have been some stunning Derby upsets: Exterminator, who won in 1918, and Dark Star, who defeated Native Dancer in 1953, to name two of the most famous. Others include Donerail (won in 1913), Bold Venture (won in 1936) and, more recently, Thunder Gulch (1995).  And without question we must add the brilliant fillies Regret, Genuine Risk and Winning Colors who raced into history as members of an elite triad:

The Kentucky Oaks, inaugurated in 1875, has a no less prestigious history. Marking the start of Derby weekend, it is still seen as a bit of a “light weight” in comparison to the main event. But there are moments when the fillies deliver a champion so moving and so talented, that they manage to dwarf the colts.

……She stepped onto the track at Churchill Downs undefeated and, accordingly, the favourite in that year’s Kentucky Oaks. Her performance on that day was absolutely mind-boggling. Although Rachel Alexandra was neither a long shot nor an underdog, her resounding victory reminded everyone that great horses aren’t the sole domain of breeders like Coolmore, or trainers with enormous stables.

The place she won in our hearts on that day stands in memory as definitively as Secretariat’s Belmont, or Zenyatta’s triumph in the 2009 Breeders Cup Classic.

Kentucky Oaks 2013

Like the Derby, the Oaks has also known its fair share of upsets. The hugest (at 47-1) was Lemons Forever in 2006, who routed the favourite, Balance. But other fillies who flew under the radar until they came across the finish line ahead of the field include: Heavenly Cause (defeating De La Rose, Wayward Lass and the favourite, Truly Bound, in 1981), Seaside Attraction (who beat the undefeated Go For Wand in 1990), Luv Me Luv Me Not (1992), and Farda Amiga (who defeated Take Charge Lady and Habibti in 2002).  For all the statistics and analysis, nothing can dull the prospect of that pesky spirit of racing who, every so often, blesses a thoroughbred that was “under the radar.” Here are a few fillies that just might surprise us all.

 1. ROSE TO GOLD (Friends Lake ex. Saucy [Tabasco Cat])

Rose To Gold with jockey Calvin Borel. Photo and copyright, Steve McQueen.

Rose To Gold with jockey Calvin Borel. Photo and copyright, Steve Queen.

The chestnut daughter of Friends Lake is not exactly a long shot for the Oaks, having won 5 of 7 starts since her maiden at 2 and carrying second-highest points in the field.

However, Rose To Gold comes out of a lesser-known stable and is trained by Sal Santoro, who is hardly a household name. Her sire is useful if not brilliant, having yet to produce a superstar in his 6 foal crops to date. Then again, breeders can be fickle and in an environment where stallions like Smarty Jones get little respect, it’s tough to blame a sire for getting more modest winners. Rose To Gold’s pedigree also boasts the likes of A.P. Indy, together with Kentucky Derby winners Spend A Buck, Seattle Slew and Secretariat on top. Her dam, Saucy (Tabasco Cat ex. Sierra Madre by Mr. Prospector) has produced 6 foals to date, of which Rose To Gold is by far the most distinguished.

The question about Rose To Gold centres on the fields she’s taken on, or “Who did she beat?” She comes to the Kentucky Oaks out of Grade 3 stakes company, suggesting that stepping up to take on the likes of Dreaming of Julia will require that she’s at her absolute fittest. And it will be the filly’s first start at 1 1/4 miles. However, Rose To Gold has already romped in the slop to win the Fantasy Stakes and assuming that Calvin Borel — her steady jockey to date — gets the nod to ride her in the Oaks, we can count on her getting a very strategic ride.

2. SILSITA (Macho Uno ex. Naturally Wild [Wild Again])

The ravishing Silsita.

The ravishing Silsita.

Macho Uno’s elegant daughter, Silsita, has won 2 of her 4 starts and only ever been out of the money once. Her most recent win came in the Bourbonette, which she took in a head bob, although at the finish she looked as though she could easily go further than the mile. And, in prevailing to win the Bourbonette over a very determined Marathonlady, she showed that toughness that we associate with her grandsire, Holy Bull.

Although the best she has beaten is Pure Fun, and Flashforward proved too much for her in her second start on January 3, Silsita remains a “work in progress,” improving steadily over her last 2 races. Trained by the accomplished Todd Pletcher, we should assume that Silsita’s entry in the Oaks speaks loud about what he thinks of this filly. Silsita’s dam, a daughter of the great producer, Wild Again, made 33 starts, retiring with a record of 6-9-6 and earnings of $293,134 USD. The filly is Naturally Wild’s third foal to date and all have been modestly successful.

Holy Bull’s granddaughter may be poised to make the finest effort of her career on May 3.

3. SEANEEN GIRL (Spring At Last ex. Afternoon Krystal [Afternoon Deelites])

Spring At Last hails from the line of Deputy Minister and his dam,

Spring At Last hails from the sire line of Deputy Minister and his dam, Winter’s Gone, is 4 X 3 to both Ribot and Flower Bowl, through the spectacular brothers His Majesty and Graustark.

Winstar’s Spring At Last retired a black-type winner and millionaire: among his wins, the Godolphin Mile in the UAE, where he met up with international competition. His first crop are 3 year-olds this year and, if first crops mean anything in terms of a trend, his forte appears to lie with fillies. Spring In The Air and Spring Venture rank 1 and 2 as his most successful progeny, with Seaneen Girl in the number 3 slot. One can only hope that Spring At Last has transmitted some of Ribot’s invincibility to his young daughter:

Racing at 2, Seaneen Girl finished her juvenile season with a win at Churchill Downs in the Golden Rod Stakes.

Seaneen Girl winning the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November 2012.

Seaneen Girl winning the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November 2012.

Having made 7 starts in her career, winning 2 and finishing in the money another 3 times, this filly is honest and has performed consistently as a 3 year-old. She may have been beaten previously by Flashy Gray and Unlimited Budget, but Seaneen Girl has a very canny trainer in Bernie Flint, who has chalked up a sizeable number of winners and been the leading training at several different race tracks, including Churchill Downs.

Even though Seaneen Girl is stepping up in class to take on some serious talent, there is no doubt that she will try her best to run them down. The fractions in her last 2 races compare nicely against the recent performances of favourites like I Dream Of Julia.With a pedigree that includes names like Dynaformer, Waquoit, Graustark (4 X4), Roberto, Princequillo and Secretariat, Seaneen Girl has enough blue blood to do battle with the very best.

KENTUCKY DERBY 2013

1. LINES OF BATTLE (War Front ex. Black Speck [Arch])

Make no mistake about it: Lines of Battle is a very fine specimen who, if he shows up for the Derby, arrives at Churchill Downs with the second-highest earnings in the field. His last race was a win in the UAE Derby (above) and he carries a decidedly American — and deep — pedigree. War Front is proving a very good sire and the colt’s dam, Black Speck, is a half-sister to Dynaformer and she has already produced other black-type winners.

The magnificent Lines of Battle at work prior to winning the UAE Derby.

The magnificent Lines of Battle at work prior to winning the UAE Derby.

The key factor mitigating against his being a resounding Derby favourite is that it remains unclear whether or not his connections have been able to de-code the requirements to win the Kentucky Derby. Aidan O’Brien has certainly been knocking at the Derby door, and no-one would contest his brilliance. However, Coolmore’s Derby entrants consistently arrive close to Derby day and this means their colts have had little time to acclimatize to the change of scene and the deep Churchill track. Lines of Battle will find himself in the same situation as previous Coolmore entrants, although he does have a dirt pedigree, something that many of the other O’Brien trainees have lacked. The impeccably bred son of War Front will get 2 works over the track prior to the Derby, but it should be noted that several of the hottest contenders have been at Churchill for several weeks.

In terms of running style, Lines of Battle tends to be a closer and, in a race where stalkers and closers have the decided advantage, he may indeed give Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien a much-covetted crown.

2. ITSMYLUCKYDAY (Lawyer Ron ex. Viva La Slew [Doneraile Court])

Although there are stamina questions about the mile and 1/4 being the best fit for this colt, it’s impossible not to love the honest Itsmyluckyday. He’s got all the bling that made us love his daddy, Lawyer Ron. He’s also chalked up a lot of running experience under trainer Eddie Plesa Jr’s tutelage: Itsmyluckyday makes his 11th start on the first Saturday in May.

Itsmyluckyday pictured after his win at Gulfstream.

Itsmyluckyday pictured after his second place finish to Orb in the Florida Derby.

In the Florida Derby, the colt was well-beaten by Orb, but he also chalked up a second defeat of Shanghai Bobby and Frac Daddy in as many starts. Itsmyluckyday always gives 100% +. And he’s a stalker, another advantage in a Derby where there are no speed horses. But this colt has speed when he needs it: he ran the Gulfstream Park Derby in 1:09 flat in his first start of 2013 (below). In a word, Itsmyluckyday was brilliant in that race, although the competition was not up to the standards of his subsequent Holy Bull win.

But this determined colt is coming along very nicely and he may just do his daddy proud come Derby day!

3. WILL TAKE CHARGE (Unbridled’s Song ex. Take Charge Lady [Dehere])

Aside from the important fact that this colt has done everything right coming up to the Derby, his dam was a superstar who had the kind of heart that makes falling in love with thoroughbreds easy. Will Take Charge is her second offspring, after Take Charge Indy, to show his mettle on the track.

Here is Take Charge Lady battling it out with HOTY Azeri in the 2003 Apple Blossom:

The white-faced Will Take Charge is a big colt, still growing into himself, but he’s willing, rates off the pace nicely and comes with a cavalry charge at the end, as befits his name. If there is reticence about his chances, it might be that he has never gone over a mile and 1/16. But his win in the Rebel was breathtaking and in this, his final pre-Derby prep, Will Take Charge out-duelled his talented stablemate, Oxbow, in a manner that was reminiscent of his dam’s battle with Azeri:

And last, but hardly least, Will Take Charge is trained by HOF trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.

Need we say more? The combination of legendary Lukas and Will Take Charge's heart and pedigree may very well land them in the Winner's Circle on May 4.

Need we say more? The legendary D. Wayne Lukas is tied for most Triple Crown victories with the late, incomparable Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

My grandfather, Carl Leroi Boynton Wheeler, was born at the end of the nineteenth century with what my family called “the horse gene” deep in his blood. As a little girl, I sometimes bugged him to tell me “horse stories.” There were four thoroughbred colts my grandfather cherished: Man O’ War, Gallant Fox (“The Fox”), Count Fleet (“The Count”) and Citation. They garnered his love and respect until the last days of his life. Whereas Man O’ War was incomparable, “The Fox,” “The Count” and Citation were the benchmark against which all other thoroughbreds — including Canada’s hero, Northern Dancer — were measured. 

As we move closer to the 2013 Triple Crown races, THE VAULT joins in the excitement with this weave of Grandpa Wheeler’s reckonings, together with other credible sources of the time, to tell the story of the unlikely colt who brought joy to North America in a time of fear and uncertainty. 

Gallant Fox, shown here in a rare portrait without the famous Belair stable blinkers! Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Gallant Fox, shown here in a rare portrait without the famous Belair stable blinkers! That white around one eye (“wall eye”) was said to intimidate other horses — one of those popular beliefs of the day that has never really been proven. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Sir Gallahad III raced in France, where he was brilliant, and shortly after going to stud, was sold to a partnership of William Woodward, A.B. Hancock.

The Fox’s sire, Sir Gallahad III, raced in France where he was brilliant. Shortly after going to stud, Sir Gallahad III was sold to the American partnership of William Woodward Sr., A.B. Hancock, Robert A. Fairburn and Marshall Field III. The stallion stood mainly at Woodward’s famous Belair Stud and at Hancock’s Claiborne. He is best remembered as the sire of three Kentucky Derby winners (Gallant Fox, Gallahadion and Hoop Jr.), as well as one Triple Crown winner (Gallant Fox).

The broodmare Marguerite was a Blue Hen, but her partner was only Sir Gallahad III

The broodmare Marguerite (shown here with Gallant Fox as a colt) was a great granddaughter of Domino, through Celt, a son of Commando. A Blue Hen, she was bred twice to Wrack and produced the champion, Peetee-Wrack. Other than Wrack, her only other matches were to Sir Gallahad III. As Hancock put it, “If you’re trying to strike oil, you drill in the same field where it’s been struck before.” The “first strike”was Gallant Fox. Although Marguerite never produced another like him, sons Fighting Fox and Foxbrough won races on both sides of the Atlantic. Her daughter, Marguery, is the tail-ancestress of modern-day champions Generous (Caerleon), Imagine (Sadler’s Wells) and Albertus Maximus (Albert the Great).

This story is about a great thoroughbred, but not one in the tradition of Seattle Slew, Affirmed or the immortal Secretariat.

This colt was a dreamer….always more interested in the world around him than he was in racing. Like Hyperion, he hated to be in training unless there was another horse to chase and catch. And once he’d moved on by the other horse, our subject was inclined to slow to a languid canter, while his eyes hunted the landscape for something really interesting. Fortunately, he had a kind nature and so would do what was asked of him on the track….most of the time.

Exciting as horse racing may be for humans, the life of a typical race horse, then as now, is filled with structure and routine. Not terribly interesting for a colt who, in another life, was almost certainly an explorer or a poet or even a philosopher.

As those who knew him best would expect, even after winning the Preakness, our boy (blinkers and all) is scouring the spectators for something far more interesting than their smiles or applause. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

As those who knew him best would expect, even after winning the Preakness, our boy (blinkers and all) is scouring the environment for something more interesting than the smiles of his fan club. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Marguerite’s boy was a big, handsome colt with a wide, white blaze that ran from his forehead to curl around each nostril, a “wall eye” and four white coronets. Of the eye, it would be said that it gave him a fierce, wild look that put paid to any horse who dared to draw up beside him.

Named Gallant Fox, the colt foal was born on March 23, 1927 and was quick to show his intelligence and the kind of curiosity that goes with it. By the time he hit the track in his 3 year-old season, Gallant Fox was walking into a world of shattered dreams. It was 1930 and North America needed something that transcended a faltering economy and lives lost to the cruelty of the unforeseen.

His bloodlines were impeccable. His sire, Sir Gallahad III was by Teddy (Ajax) out of Plucky Liege (Spearmint), one of the most important broodmares of the 20th century. Plucky Liege (1912) boasted the prepotent St Simon as her broodmare sire, as well as three crosses to another influential stallion, Stockwell. Other than Sir Gallahad III (one of America’s most influential sires), Plucky Liege also produced Bull Dog (sire of the brilliant Bull Lea), Derby winner Bois Roussel (broodmare sire of champion filly, Petite Etoile) and Admiral Drake (leading sire in France in 1955).

Bull Dog was another American foundation sire, produced by Plucky Liege.

Bull Dog was another American foundation sire produced by Plucky Liege.

Gallant Fox’s dam, Marguerite, was a direct descendant of Domino through her sire, Celt. As well, illustrious names filled her pedigree:  Bend Or (Derby and St. James Palace Stakes, Epsom Gold Cup), Doncaster (Epsom Derby, Ascot Gold Cup), St. Simon (champion sire and undefeated in 10 starts in the UK) and Lexington (leading American sire 16 times).

St. Simon was said to have perfect confirmation, a seemingly indefatigable fighting spirit and an exceedingly high-strung temperament.

St. Simon was said to have perfect confirmation, a seemingly indefatigable fighting spirit and an exceedingly high-strung temperament.

The legendary Domino line was responsible for Gallant Fox's dam, Marguerite, who was a direct descendant.

The legendary Domino line was responsible for Gallant Fox’s dam, Marguerite, who was a direct descendant.

Sculptor Gwen Reardon's figure of the stallion, Lexington, adorns Kentucky's Horse Park.

Sculptor Gwen Reardon’s figure of the stallion, Lexington, adorns Kentucky’s Horse Park.

There was no question that powerful blood ran in the veins of Marguerite’s curious son.

As a juvenile, Gallant Fox aka “The Fox of Belair,”or simply”The Fox,” was sent to one of America’s greatest trainers, James Edward (“Sunny Jim”) Fitzsimmons. “Mr. Fitz,” as he was fondly called, had come up through the ranks the hard way, beginning as a stablehand at the age of 10. He knew his thoroughbreds inside-out by the time The Fox arrived in his stable. Mr. Fitz was one of those trainers who was most himself around the barn with his horses. Gallant Fox, he was quick to discover, only trained his best in the company of another horse. Left on his own, the youngster was happier to watch the world go by and this meant, in turn, that he was never keen to be interrupted in order to head out to the track. The Fox wasn’t really a fractious colt, but like so many great thoroughbreds he didn’t like to be pushed around. You couldn’t dominate him — you had to partner up with him. So, Mr. Fitz selected a training trick that seemed to suit them both: the relay race. It involved a number of colts, each of whom took The Fox on at a different point around the track. The colt responded mightily to the challenge, refusing to be headed by another horse.

It was a good thing that Mr. Fitz was running a large stable, because not one of his other horses could keep up with The Fox all the way around the track.

Gallant Fox was more interested in everything going on around him than he was in racing. Although Sunny Jim never doubted his courage, intelligence or ability, it took some doing to train him for competition.

Gallant Fox was more interested in everything going on around him than he was in racing. Although Mr. Fitz never doubted his courage, intelligence or ability, it took some doing to train him. Shown here at trackside, just checking out the action, The Fox is so intent that he poses all alone for the camera — barely moving a muscle.

Trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons (foreground) pictured with his 1939 Derby winner, Johnstown. "Mr. Fitz" dominated American horse racing's "Golden Age." He trained two Triple Crown winners (Gallant Fox and Omaha), as well as winning the Derby 3 times, the Preakness 4 times and the Belmont, 6 times. Other notables trained by Mr. Fitz include Bold Ruler, Nashua and Granville. All told, the trainer sent out 155 stakes-winning horses who captured 470 stakes races.

HOF trainer, “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons (foreground) pictured with his 1939 Kentucky Derby winner, Johnstown. “Mr. Fitz” dominated American horse racing’s “Golden Age.” He trained two Triple Crown winners (Gallant Fox and Omaha) and won the Derby three times, the Preakness four times and the Belmont, six times. Other notables trained by Mr. Fitz included Dark Secret, Bold Ruler, Nashua and Granville. All told, the trainer sent out 155 stakes winners to capture 470 stakes races during his career. As well as training for Woodward’s Belair Stud, Mr. Fitz also trained many champions who ran in the colours of the Phipps’ family.

In his 2 year-old campaign, Gallant Fox continued to be calm, friendly….and insatiably curious.

In the second start of his career, the colt was left at the starting gate — looking at an airplane in the sky overhead. He did, eventually, get going but it was too late to finish in the money — the only time in his career that he wouldn’t.

It was in the Flash Stakes, on his third try, that The Fox broke his maiden, although the second-placed Caruso would beat him four days later. In his fifth start, the Futurity Trial, the Woodward colt seemed to get the hang of it and he put in a good effort, almost catching the winner, Polygamous, at the wire. Next came the Futurity itself, where the 2 year-old star of the 1929 racing season, Whichone, hooked up with The Fox for the first time.

Artist Art Krentz's sketch of champion, Whichone, done in 1929.

Artist Art Krentz’s sketch of champion, Whichone, done in 1929.

As it turned out, The Fox couldn’t quite catch Whichone. But he gave it his best shot, ending up in a tie for second place which he lost by a nose, to place third. The Fox’s last start of the season was in the Junior Champion Stakes at Aqueduct, which he won going away. Whichone captured Champion 2 year-old honours that year, but Gallant Fox was on the radar as “one to watch” in 1930. His flip-flop juvenile season didn’t faze either his owner or his trainer: like many in their day, neither William Woodward Sr. nor Mr. Fitz saw a colt’s 2 year-old season as a more than a dress rehearsal for what lay ahead.

The Fox at three was stronger and more experienced. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

The Fox at three was stronger and more experienced. Of the colt, Grandpa Wheeler said, “He could look a bit like a plough horse but he was a blue-blood through and through. He got the Triple with his ears pricked forward.” Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

As youngsters do, Gallant Fox grew into his 3 year-old year a stronger, more experienced horse. He was joined by jockey Earl Sande, who had been persuaded to come out of retirement to ride him. Sande had been a champion jockey in his day, riding horses like Zev, Flying Ebony and the great Man O’ War (once) to victory. Damon Runyon had even penned him a poem, “There Never Was A Guy So Handy As Sande.” Retiring in 1927, Sande decided to try his hand at training, but his wife died that same year and the champion jockey fell apart. Overweight and almost penniless, Sande headed back to what he knew best, only managing a single win in the 1929 season.

In the meantime, Mr. Fitz was working hard with The Fox to get him to focus on racing rather than sightseeing. He positioned him in the stable so that the 3 year-old could watch all the action and when Mr. Fitz was talking to someone, he’d often acknowledge the colt by reiterating, “Isn’t that so, Mister?” And The Fox would nod his head in agreement. The trainer also indicated to Woodward that it would be ideal if they could land a single jockey for the colt’s 3 year-old season. It was his feeling that The Fox would do his best in the hands of an experienced rider, one who would form a real relationship with him and learn to handle his strengths and quirks.

Mr. Fitz and The Fox.

“Isn’t that so, Mister?” Mr. Fitz and The Fox.

The colt didn’t have a mean bone in his body. But he was a character and although Mr. Fitz had managed to improve his attitude and work ethic, The Fox still had his moments. For one thing, the coppery bay with the wild eye had a tendency to dawdle once he got on the lead: if there was nothing in front of him, The Fox just couldn’t see the point of knocking himself out. It was equally tricky to get him to rate just off the pace. Too, he was quite capable of coming to a sudden halt if something of interest caught his attention, blinkers or no. Heeding Mr. Fitz’s advice, Woodward, acting on the recommendations of his trainer as well as that of Doc Pardee, manager of the Biltmore Stable in Arizona, approached Earl Sande.

Gallant Fox with Earl Sande in 1930. The two would form a partnership as legendary as that of Ron Turcotte and Secretariat.

Gallant Fox with Earl Sande in 1930. The two would form a partnership as legendary as that of Ron Turcotte and Secretariat.

It was, as they say, “a match made in heaven.” Not only did Sande ride Gallant Fox into thoroughbred legend, he also groomed and worked him. Sande taught the colt to play guessing games, hiding treats behind his back. And they seemed to be in a constant conversation that often ended with the colt butting Sande out of his stall. Best of all, Sande adored Marguerite’s handsome son and the colt revelled in his attentions. It was fun when Sande was around and Mr. Fitz began to notice that The Fox’s attitude was improving, largely because he wanted to please his new buddy. For the first time, in a consistent way, Mr. Fitz saw his colt show a competitive edge when training with other horses.

Earl Sande wasn’t one to use his whip unnecessarily. He had quiet hands and a patient way of working with his young horse. The combination of Mr. Fitz’s wisdom and Sande’s quiet confidence in The Fox framed what was to be an absolutely brilliant 3 year-old campaign.

The Fox’s season began with the Wood Memorial, where he met up with the dashing Crack Brigade, owned by Thomas Cassidy. Despite getting a less-than-ideal trip, Gallant Fox beat Crack Brigade by 4 lengths. Next, it was on to the Preakness, which in that year was run before the Kentucky Derby at a distance of 1 3/16 (the same distance as today).

The Fox and Earl Sande after winning the Wood Memorial.

The Fox and Earl Sande after winning the Wood Memorial. As Sande had told the press, “As long as there is a horse in front of The Fox, you can ride him backwards. He’ll use his competitive spirit to find a way to win.” Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The Fox would again take on Crack Brigade, as well a really lovely filly named Snowflake, who came home third. Snowflake, owned by Walter J. Salmon, would end her 3 year-old campaign taking champion co-honours with the more famous Alcibiades, owned by Hal Price Headley. She was that good.

Here’s an excerpt from turf writer and CBS (radio) broadcaster Bryan Fields’ report of the race that appeared in the New York Times:

BALTIMORE, Md., May 9    

William Woodward won his first Preakness and Earl Sande rode his first Preakness winner when Gallant Fox captured Maryland’s greatest turf classic before 40,000 persons at Pimlico today.

The son of Sir Gallahad III and Marguerite came from next to last position at the half-mile mark to the heels of Thomas Cassidy’s pace-making Crack Brigade at the mile. Three-sixteenths further, the end of the race, and Gallant Fox was the winner by three-quarters of a length and had earned $51, 925. The time was 2.00.35. 

… The snapping of pictures at the finish and a talk over the radio took considerable time and quite obscured the quiet stroll in from the infield of a smiling , middle-aged figure. It was Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, trainer of the winner. Asked if he ever was worried when Gallant Fox ‘s prospects looked so poor, he said: ” No, he’s a fine colt and when he got close to the leaders I knew it was all over. But that Crack Brigade is a nice horse too.”

Gallant Fox comes home in The Preakness, ears pricked forward. Crack Brigade is at the rail. The Fox won it in the second quickest time ever recorded.

Gallant Fox comes home in The Preakness, ears pricked forward. The Fox won it in the second quickest time ever recorded. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Next up was the Kentucky Derby. Other runners included second-place finisher in The Preakness, Crack Brigade, as well as the filly Alcibiades and Tannery, the “pride of the Bluegrass” and the colt thought to be the best hope of defeating The Preakness winner. Gallant Knight and Ned O. rounded out the favourites the field of fourteen.

The day was rainy and grey, but this didn’t deter the fans, who began rushing in at 7 a.m. when the gates opened. By race time, an estimated 60,000 had assembled. Among the spectators, the most distinguished was undoubtedly England’s Lord Derby, who was housed in a glass pagoda near the finish line with William Woodward and other luminaries of American racing.

In the winner's circle, wearing the famous wreath of roses. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

In the winner’s circle, wearing the famous wreath of roses. Gallant Fox had come home to win the Derby in the pouring rain, with Earl Sande’s gentle hands encouraging him on. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Gallant Fox swung into the top of the stretch at Churchill Downs today, running free in the van [vanguard] of the Kentucky Derby field, while a quarter of a mile away in a glass-enclosed pagoda near the finish line a big-shouldered man dropped a pair of binoculars from his eyes with a throaty exclamation, ‘ Great stuff! I’m glad!’ 

It was Lord Derby of England turning to William Woodward , owner of the horse, which stands alone tonight as the champion 3 year-old in America.

Sixty thousand persons massed at the track were still roaring themselves hoarse for Gallant Fox or one or more of the fourteen thoroughbreds behind him when Lord Derby made his remark to Mr. Woodward. The race was far from over, but Lord Derby’s ancestors have been racing horses for centuries and he had seen the best in the Derby field challenge Gallant Fox only to be beaten off in the backstretch and on the bend…He knew the race was over and said so. Perhaps ten seconds later the big bay colt swept passed the little glass house to the finish line…

… Gallant Fox and Sande saluted the stewards, were drawn into the tiny protected oblong of greensward next to Lord Derby’s pagoda and Mr. Woodward stepped out into the rain. Without a topcoat, he strode across the lawn and grasped Sande’s hand and congratulated him on riding his third Derby winner, the first jockey to do this since Isaac Murphy in the previous century.

Then he caressed Gallant Fox, undefeated this year…Photographers by tens scaled the fence and in three minutes Mr. Woodward and Sande were surrounded…” (Bryan Field, The New York Times)

There were other “firsts” attached to the Derby win. It was the first Derby where the horses started from an electronic starting gate. And Gallant Fox became the first thoroughbred in the twentieth century to annex both The Preakness and The Kentucky Derby, in that order. (Sir Barton had won the first Triple Crown in 1919, but the order of Derby and Preakness were reversed. Too, The Preakness was 1 1/8 miles in 1919.)

All seemed as it should be for Gallant Fox’s Belmont, until — just two days before the race — Earl Sande was involved in a horrendous car crash with fellow jockey, Harry Gross. Sande got away with cuts to his hands and face, so it was a bandaged Earl Sande who rode “The Fox of Belair” — the latest monicker picked up by the Woodward colt — onto Big Sandy on Belmont Stakes day.

Rain was lashing down in thick, grey sheets. And back to contest the Belmont was The Fox’s nemesis, Whichone, still considered by many to be the best 3 year-old in the country. But the red-hooded Fox strode past the stands to the start with his typical nonchalence, Sande sitting quietly, the reins slackened over the colt’s withers.

The first fractions were slow, but The Fox was on the lead and held it throughout. Each time another horse tried to get close to him, Sande let out the reins a notch and The Fox was off again. There was no speed duel between Whichone and Gallant Fox, as had been anticipated. Instead, The Belmont became a procession, with a champion in the lead. William Woodward’s colt crossed the finish line 4 lengths ahead of Whichone, going away. The Fox had won the “triple crown” under a hand ride and his victory marked the christening of the term “Triple Crown” to describe a winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

The running of the Belmont Stakes of 1930. Gallant Fox is just getting ready to leave Whichone behind in the stretch in this shot. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The running of the 1930 Belmont Stakes. Gallant Fox is just getting ready to leave the Whitney’s Whichone behind in the stretch. The Fox’s win set a Belmont Stakes track record. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

William Woodward leads in his Triple Crown winner. The Fox got a little fractious in the winner's circle even though his owner managed to hang onto him until Mr. Fitz arrived to take charge. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

William Woodward leads in his Triple Crown winner. Gallant Fox got a little fractious in the winner’s circle, even though his proud owner managed to hang on to him until Mr. Fitz arrived. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

For a re-cap of Gallant Fox’s Triple Crown, enjoy this great piece of old newsreel footage. (Some highlights include The Fox and Sande breaking through the barrier at the start of the Preakness — twice! And there is also some superb footage of Alcibiades and Snowflake (white blaze) coming up to get third in the Preakness. In the Belmont footage, the blur is rain!!!!)

Following his Triple Crown, Gallant Fox went on to take the Dwyer and to win a hard-fought battle with Gallant Knight in the Arlington Classic. The latter endeared him to fans and turf writers alike, and he began to be compared to the great Man O’ War. The New York Times’ Bryan Field made the following observation: “Gallant Fox is a horse of individuality and magnetism, and thus far has behaved in the opposite manner to the tempestuous Man o’ War, who was a devil to break and a big, raw colt to handle and train as a two-year-old. He gives the impression of unusual grace and distinction and his symmetry and harmony have attracted thousands of admirers, as did Man o’ War’s effervescent temperament.”  

In the Lawrence Realization, the colt met up with the brilliant Questionnaire, who had only lost once — to Gallant Fox in the Belmont, where he finished third. It was a match-up that showed the greatness of the nation’s second Triple Crown winner. Trailing at the start of the race, Gallant Fox and Questionnaire went eyeball-to-eyeball in a driving finish, with Belair’s red-hooded super horse crossing the finish first by a head. The Fox also annexed the Saratoga Cup and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, in which only one other horse stepped up to race him. He was declared the 1930 Horse of the Year or, as many preferred to say, the “Horse of the Century.”

Questionnaire, shown here at stud, gave Gallant Fox one of the toughest challenges of his career.

Questionnaire, shown at stud, handed Gallant Fox one of the toughest challenges on the track.

The biggest upset of The Fox’s career came in the Travers (1930) when he and Whichone duelled each other from the start, enabling a rank outsider, Jim Dandy, to leave them both behind — by some 8 lengths. In the silent footage below, you get a sense of what transpired. (NOTE: Clearer at thumbnail size than on a full screen.)

Gallant Fox was retired to Claiborne Farm after his Gold Cup win when he came up with a fever and cough. His all-too-brief appearance on the stage was always recollected with a certain melancholy by my grandfather, who stressed that the champion was “just starting to show his real mettle” late in his 3 year-old season.

At stud, Gallant Fox produced a third Triple Crown winner in his very first crop, at the age of 5: Omaha. He also sired Flares, a full brother to Omaha, who won the Ascot Gold Cup, as well as the 1936 Horse of the Year, Granville. He was a moderately successful sire; his full brother, Fighting Fox, was less successful as a runner but more consistent in the breeding shed. Still, Gallant Fox remains the only Triple Crown winner to sire a Triple Crown winner and that only adds to his cachet.

Gallant Fox's full brother, Fighting Fox. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Gallant Fox’s full brother, Fighting Fox. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

" He was a meteor who swept across the sky of racing in 1930."

” He swept like a meteor across the racing sky of 1930.”

When he died in 1954 Gallant Fox was laid to rest at Claiborne, where he had first come into the world.

His epitaph reads, “He swept like a meteor across the racing sky of 1930″ — a fitting tribute to a thoroughbred whose dignity, determination and capacity to dream illuminated the darkness of the Great Depression.

The Cheltenham Festival kicks off this coming week, beginning on Tuesday, March 12. It’s a 4-day celebration of the very best of the season, and the horses arrive carrying the hopes and dreams of owners, trainers, jockeys and passionate fans. 

This handbook of some of the most hotly-contested races is aimed primarily at those who are less familiar with this oldest of thoroughbred racing venues. 

At the conclusion is the full 4-day race schedule, complete with race cards and profiles of individual horses. As for non-UK enthusiasts’ chances of watching Cheltenham live we can only suggest that you run a search on your computer to locate possible free live streaming. Failing that, both the http://www.racingpost.com (click on the television tab or go to its Cheltenham site) or http://www.atthraces.com will post replays probably less than 24 hours after the most popular races are run. 

As with our previous article, THE VAULT again thanks the generosity of Toby Connors in allowing us to use more of his fabulous photos. (Please note that they are all copyright-protected). 

In conclusion, THE VAULT expresses its hope that every one of the courageous horses and jockeys competing at this year’s Festival come home safe and sound. 

ZARKANDAR. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Zarkandar, trained by the great Paul Nicholls, is the current favourite to win the Champion Hurdle. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

FESTIVAL RACES: A PRIMER

As was noted in our previous post about the champion hurdler, Sprinter Sacre, the official title of the Cheltenham Festival is the National Hunt Meeting. Originating in 1860, the Festival is held in March, close to the time of the Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree.  The Cheltenham Festival is the most prestigious National Hunt meet of the year. It is here that all but the Grand National horses come out  – and so many of them are absolute stars, as is the case this year.

The zenith of the Festival is the Grade 1 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase. Run at a distance of 3m 2f 110y on the closing day, March 15, it can be compared to the most elite races for thoroughbreds run on the flat. Except that the horses themselves can be thoroughbreds or thoroughbred-derived breeds, like the Selle Francais. (In National Hunt racing, only the Grand National Steeplechase is reserved strictly for thoroughbreds.) Famous jumpers to have won the Gold Cup include the greatest of them all, Golden Miller. Born in 1927, the bay gelding made 55 starts and won 29 times. He took the Gold Cup on 5 consecutive occasions, between 1932-1936. And, as if that weren’t enough, in 1934 he won the British Grand National and the Gold Cup — the only horse to have ever accomplished this feat in a single season. Owned latterly by the Honorable Dorothy Paget, Golden Miller died in 1957, leaving a National Hunt record still unequalled today.

The amazing Golden Miller, shown here, not only won the Cheltenham Golden Cup for 5 consecutive years, but is the only horse to have won the British and Irish Grand Nationals, as well as the Gold Cup, in the same year -- 1934.

The amazing Golden Miller, shown here, not only won the Cheltenham Golden Cup for 5 consecutive years, but is the only horse to have won the British and Irish Grand Nationals, as well as the Gold Cup, in the same year — 1934.

Other great horses have won over a period of 2-3 consecutive years: the Vincent O’Brien-trained Cottage Rake (3 times, from 1948-1950), the beloved Arkle (3 times, from 1964-1966), Raymond R. Guest’s L’Escargot (twice, in 1970 and again in 1971) and most recently the champion, Best Mate (3 times, from 2002-2004). Other noteworthy winners, each of whom was well-loved by his racing public, include Desert Orchid, Kauto Star (twice in 3 years) and his stablemate, Denman, as well as The Dikler, Dawn Run, Imperial Call and Master Oats. The 2011 winner, Paul Nicholls’ Long Run, will compete again in this year’s Gold Cup.

Golden Miller’s 1935 Gold Cup victory:

The fabulous Kauto Star leads his buddy, Denman, and the champion Neptune Collanges (grey) home in the 2007 Gold Cup:

 

SHINING STARS

MARCH 12

The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy (G1): Simonsig (10) and Overturn (9) expected to do battle.

DISTANCE: 2m

According to jockey Barry Geraghty, his boss’ Simonsig is the only jumper he knows who might overhaul another champion of the Henderson stable: Sprinter Sacre. No worries this season, though, as Simonsig hasn’t been put to the test. The favourite in the Arkle, the gorgeous grey is expected to be challenged by Donald McCain’s talented Overturn.

Simonsig and trainer, Nicky Henderson.

Simonsig and trainer, Nicky Henderson. The grey has won 4 of his last 5 starts and has only ever lost once throughout his career. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Horse Racing - StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle - Newcastle Racecourse

Overturn, a son of the great Barathea (Sadler’s Wells), hasn’t had as unblemished a record as Simonsig, but he has won his previous 3 starts this season.

 

The Stan James Champion Challenge Hurdle Trophy (G1) : Hurricane Fly (7), Zarkandar (10), Rock On Ruby (9), Grandouet (6) and Binocular (2)

DISTANCE: 2m110y

One of the best is Rock On Ruby. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

One of the best is Rock On Ruby. Trainer Harry Fry’s 8 year-old has won 2 of 4 starts this season and will run in blinkers for the first time in the Champion Challenge Hurdle. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Don't be fooled by that pretty face. W.P. Mullins' superstar has won 16 of 19 starts over hurdles. The son of Montjeu goes into the race as the favourite.

Don’t be fooled by that pretty face. W.P. Mullins’ superstar, Hurricane Fly, has won 16 of 19 starts over hurdles. The son of Montjeu goes into the race as the favourite. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

This race promises to be a thriller, with the current favourite, Hurricane Fly, taking on a number of champion horses. Unless he’s hugely unlucky, there’s no reason that Hurricane Fly shouldn’t dominate again, even though the punters are very keen on the second choice favourite, Zarkandar.

Nicky Henderson's Binocular (green) races with Hurricane Fly (royal blue).

Nicky Henderson’s Binocular (green) races against Hurricane Fly (royal blue). A very decent jumper, Binocular has been beaten more than once by Hurricane Fly and Rock On Ruby. But come race day, he can be counted on to try his best. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Could he be the spoiler? Zarkandar has won his last 3 starts.

Could he be the spoiler? Zarkandar has won his last 3 starts. By Azamour ex. Zarkasha (Kahyasi) he’s got all the pedigree he needs to win. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

The OLGB Mares’ Hurdle (G2): Featuring the incomparable Quevega (5)

DISTANCE: 2m4f

This is one impressive lady! Champion Quevega goes to post. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

This is one impressive lady! Champion Quevega goes to post. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Her sire, Robin Des Champs (FR) was himself a very fine jumper, so you could say it’s in her blood. But even then. Quevega, a 9 year-old, has won her last 6 starts and has a lifetime record of 20-13-0-4. Trained by the noted W P Mullins and ridden to each of those victories by the accomplished Ruby Walsh, the last time out Quevega vanquished Voler La Vedette, who isn’t back in this particular race to take her on again. If she wins the OLGB Mares’ Hurdle, it will be for the 5th consecutive year, equalling the record of Golden Miller in the Gold Cup.

How fabulous is this great mare? Just take a look:

NOTE: As we go to press, Quevega has also been entered in the Ladbroke’s World Champion Hurdle, but trainer WP “Willie” Mullins has indicated he favours this race for his champion mare.

MARCH 13

The Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase (G1): Sprinter Sacre (8), Sizing Europe (6), Finian’s Rainbow (2), Sanctuaire (5)

The handsome Sanctuaire goes down to the start.

The handsome Sanctuaire goes down to the start.Paul Nicholls’ champion has won 4 of his last 6 starts. The bad news? The 2 he lost were to Sprinter Sacre… Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

 

As was suggested in our last post here on THE VAULT, the Queen Mum is Sprinter Sacre’s to lose. Even though his enthusiastic running style leaves his trainer’s insides in ruins, Nicky Henderson is not willing to tinker with it on March 13th.

The horses Henderson’s superstar is poised to take on aren’t chopped liver either. The fabulous Sizing Europe has earned the right to be the bettors’ second choice: he’s only lost once since December 2011 and has earned over 800,000 BPS. But his single defeat did come at the hands of Finian’s Rainbow, another Henderson trainee who ranks as third pick. Mail de Bievre, the fourth choice of the betting public, was 5th and 4th in his last two races; his last win was in 2010.

Sizing Europe has already earned over 800,000 BPS. He's a real champion and finds himself in strong company in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Sizing Europe has already earned over 800,000 BPS. He’s a real champion and finds himself in strong company in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Sprinter Sacre looking to bring his fans to their feet once again. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Sprinter Sacre looking to bring his fans to their feet once again. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

The Wetherby’s Champion Bumper (G1)

 DISTANCE: 2m110y

What’s most exciting about this race has little to do with winners or losers. Trainer Aidan O’Brien has returned to Cheltenham for the first time since his mighty Istabraq (Sadler’s Wells ex. Betty’s Secret by Secretariat) was pulled up in 2002 in the Champion’s Hurdle and subsequently retired. This time, the horse in question is a son of Arc winner Dylan Thomas, Shield by name. The colt is a youngster by National Hunt standards at the age of 4 and has only 2 starts under his belt, even though he won one of them. Owned by O’Brien’s wife, Anne Marie, herself a canny breeder who runs her own farm and stable, Shield will be ridden by none other than Joseph O’Brien. It should be a real family affair and Aidan, who made his reputation as a Jumps trainer before going to Coolmore seems delighted to rekindle the excitement of Festival days.

Istabraq, the horse that moved a nation and who still ranks as one of the top 5 most popular Irish personalities today. To read more about this grandson of American legend, Secretariat, see THE VAULT's piece on Istabraq entitled "Secretariat's Heart..."

Istabraq, the horse that moved a nation and who still ranks as one of the top 5 most popular Irish personalities today. To read more about this grandson of American legend, Secretariat, see THE VAULT’s piece on Istabraq entitled “Secretariat’s Heart…”

...and the new kid in O'Brien's life, Shield.

…and the new kid in O’Brien’s life, Shield.

MARCH 14

The Ryanair Chase (G1): Cue Card (3), First Lieutenant (5), Riverside Theatre (9), Alberta’s Run(1) 

(NOTE: As we go to press, both Sizing Europe and Finian’s Rainbow are also listed for this event, but that may change by March 12)

DISTANCE: 2m5f

Cue Card

Cue Card has a lifetime record of 15-8-4-0 going into the Ryanair. The 7 year-old gelding arrives with a devoted fan following which he richly deserves. He’s “simply magnificent” and many would consider him next in line after Sprinter Sacre. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

 

Viewers are in for a treat on the second to last day of the Festival, as the scintillating Cue Card struts his stuff in the Ryanair Chase. Below, Cue Card is shown here winning the Sportingbet Haldon Gold Cup Chase in 2012 by an absolutely remarkable distance. He has been every bit as solid in 2013:

March 15

BETFRED CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP CHASE: Bob’s Worth, Sir Des Champs, First Lieutenant and Long Run

DISTANCE: 3m2f110y

Bob's Worth stands as the current favourite in the Gold Cup (as of 08-03-2013). Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Bob’s Worth (leading here by a whisker) stands as the current favourite in the Gold Cup (as of 08-03-2013). Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Champion Long Run won the Gold Cup in 2011. He will do his very best to win a second time on March 15, the last day of the Festival.

Champion Long Run won the Gold Cup in 2011. He will do his very best to win a second time on March 15, the last day of the Festival. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

As was noted above, the Gold Cup is the crowning glory of the Cheltenham Festival, although it is not the last race on the card that day. And it is, as the British would say, a “very testing” race of over 3 miles. A “chase” is short for “steeplechase” and that means the highest and most complex array of jumps. Nicky Henderson’s Bob’s Worth is the current favourite given his power, stride and care over jumps of this magnitude. Nicky Henderson is also running the great Long Run — meaning that he’s got 2 of the strongest contenders. Here’s a look at the key horses in this, the most prestigious and storied race of the Cheltenham Festival:

One of the young "upstarts" in the Gold Cup field is jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, the son of Long Run's owner.

One of the young “upstarts” in the Gold Cup field is jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, the son of Long Run’s owner.

SCHEDULE OF RACES + RACE CARDS

Just CLICK on any of the list of races below to go to the race card. You can also click on a horse’s name to go to an individual race record. (Courtesy of the UK’s RACING POST)

NOTE: All entries listed were accurate as of March 8, 2013.

CHELTENHAM – Tue 12 March

1:30 William Hill Supreme Novices´ Hurdle Grade 1 2m110y CH4
2:05 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase Grade 1 2m CH4
2:40 JLT Specialty Handicap Chase Grade 3 3m110y CH4
3:20 Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy Grade 1 2m110y CH4
4:00 Glenfarclas Handicap Chase (A Cross Country Chase) 3m7f CH4
4:40 OLBG Mares´ Hurdle (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares´ Hurdle) Grade 2 2m4f RUK
5:15 Rewards4Racing Novices´ Handicap Chase (Listed Race) 2m4f110y RUK
Final declarations will be available 48hrs in advance

CHELTENHAM – Wed 13 March

View all these cards on one page

1:30 John Oaksey National Hunt Chase (Amateur Riders´ Novices´ Chase ) 4m CH4
2:05 Neptune Investment Management Novices´ Hurdle (Registered Baring Bingham Novices´ Hurdle) Grade 1 2m5f CH4
2:40 RSA Chase (Grade 1) 3m110y CH4
3:20 Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase Grade 1 2m CH4
4:00 Coral Cup (A Handicap Hurdle) Grade 3 2m5f CH4
4:40 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Grade 3 2m110y RUK
5:15 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (A Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race) Grade 1 2m110y RUK
Entries for all Wednesday’s races will be available 5 days in advance

CHELTENHAM – Thu 14 March

View all these cards on one page

1:30 Jewson Novices´ Chase (Registered As The Golden Miller Novices´ Chase) Grade 2 2m4f
2:05 Pertemps Final (A Handicap Hurdle) (Listed Race) 3m
2:40 Ryanair Chase (Registered As The Festival Trophy Chase) Grade 1 2m5f
3:20 Ladbrokes World Hurdle Grade 1 3m
4:00 Byrne Group Plate (A Handicap Chase) Grade 3 2m5f
4:40 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Amateur Riders) 3m1f110y
Entries for all Thursday’s races will be available 5 days in advance

CHELTENHAM – Fri 15 March

View all these cards on one page

1:33 JCB Triumph Hurdle Grade 1 2m1f
2:08 Vincent O´Brien County Handicap Hurdle Grade 3 2m1f
2:43 Albert Bartlett Novices´ Hurdle (Registered As The Spa Novices´ Hurdle Race) Grade 1 3m
3:23 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase Grade 1 3m2f110y
4:03 CGA Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup 3m2f110y
4:43 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys´ Handicap Hurdle 2m4f110y
5:18 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup (Handicap) Grade 3 2m110y
Entries for all Friday’s races will be available 5 days in advance

On January 27, 2013, J.A. McGrath of Britain’s The Daily Telegraph proclaimed:

Without running the slightest risk of getting carried away, Sprinter Sacre, the winner of his seventh consecutive race over fences in Saturday’s Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham, has emerged as another racing superstar. He is the business. He threatens to take the mantle from Frankel as the sport’s chief equine promoter, and Henderson, his trainer, is doing his best to cope with the inevitable pressures that come with it.”

The kid causing the commotion: Sprinter Sacre

The kid causing the commotion: Sprinter Sacre and his best friend, Sarwah Mohammed. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Well, this really is quite the claim for a UK journalist to make. And, to be fair, Sprinter Sacre is a Selle Francais and not a thoroughbred. Be that as it may, the darling of National Hunt racing in the UK is being hailed as better than other chasers as well — that is to say, better than the likes of Red Rum, Desert Orchid and Istabraq. His star has yet to be set in the firmament of the greats, but if he stays on course (and “if” is, indeed, the longest word in the English language) he has an excellent chance of ending up there. No question, though, that what Sprinter Sacre has done to date marks him as one of the truly great jumpers in National Hunt history. Deep through the heart, with a determination to win that hardly needs asking.

As many of you know, this is the season of National Hunt racing across the pond and there is no question that the Brits love their jumpers. In fact, the Cheltenham Festival for 2013 is kicking off shortly  and it generates a good deal of anticipation, since it’s like a Breeders Cup for jumpers. The horses of the National Hunt are arguably the greatest of all equine athletes, covering distances of 2 – 4.5 miles over the rolling courses of Sandown, Kempton, Newbury, Doncaster, Cheltenham or the fabled Aintree. The hurdles or fences set in their path can be anywhere from over 3.5 ft. for the hurdlers, to 4.5 ft. and over for the chasers.

In the UK, many thoroughbreds that start out on the flat are switched to the National Hunt if they meet with little success at the former. The brilliant Istabraq, a son of Sadler’s Wells and grandson of Secretariat, is a well-known example. (The story of Istabraq appears in an earlier posting on THE VAULT @ http://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/secretariats-heart-the-story-of-istabraq/)  In addition, illustrious thoroughbreds who favour distance, such as the 4-time Gold Cup winner, Yeats, go to stud to produce National Hunt rather than flat runners.

Sprinter Sacre may well be the next British superstar in the making, but we won’t hear much about him in the North American, European or Southern Hemisphere racing publications, because National Hunt horses and their community are caught up in a kind of modern-day class struggle.When I asked a British friend of mine about the differing attitudes toward the National Hunt and the flat, she responded that the former was really a “sport of the people,” while the latter was still considered the pastime of the rich. Translation:the National Hunt carries a lower social status, even though its following is greater than that of flat racing in the UK.

Class differences aside, even a casual knowledge about the National Hunt reveals that its fans are as ardent, its trainers and jockeys as skilled, and the horses as spectacular as any running in the Epsom Derby. And Sprinter Sacre, the latest in a stunning array of courageous and athletic individuals, is proof of the pudding.

A very special thanks to Toby Connors, who shares his passion for racing on the flat and over the jumps by composing photos that capture the drama and speak to the heart. Through his lens, the power and beauty of the National Hunt or Royal Ascot, the Lambourn gallops or people behind the scenes who are so important to the horses, unfold in a series of absolutely stunning visual narratives. THE VAULT is privileged to have his collaboration in telling the story of a truly great hero of the turf.

(NOTE: A brief explanation of different National Hunt jump races appears at the end of this article for those interested.)

 

Sprinter Sacre shown here in the walking ring with his lad and best friend, Sarwah Mohammed.

The gorgeous Sprinter Sacre. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

As was noted above, Sprinter Sacre is a Selle Francais. Through an intensive and aggressive breeding program, the French created the Selle Francais by selectively crossing their sturdy native horses with Thoroughbred stallions. Judicious introduction of the French AngloArab and French Trotter has added brilliance, agility and energy to the breed. The epitome of what a sport horse should be — intelligent, athletic and strong, with good bone and muscle — together with the Selle Francais’ lovely disposition makes them ideal in a show ring, as well as on a National Hunt course. (The North American Selle Francais Horse Association, Inc. {NASFHA} was authorized in early 1990 by the French National Stud and keeps a registry of Selle Francais horses bred in France but born in North America.)

Although bred in France, Sprinter Sacre was raised and trained in England at the Seven Barrows stable of legendary National Hunt trainer, Nicky Henderson, near Lambourn, Berkshire. Henderson’s father, John, was one of the founders of the Racecourse Holdings Trust (now called the Jockey Club Racecourses) and, before that, distinguished himself as an Aide-De-Camp of Field Marshall Montgomery.  Son Nicky learned his craft at the side of the incomparable Fred Winter; the late trainer, who died in 2004, is the only man to have won the Grand National, the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup as both a jockey and a trainer. Now 62, Henderson began training in 1978 and has distinguished himself with horses like See You Then and Remittance Man, an array of Champion Trainer awards, a record 5 wins in the Champion’s Hurdle and the best winning record of any current active trainer at the Cheltenham Festival. Current stars of the Henderson stable (other than Sprinter Sacre) are Long Run, Bob’s Worth, Simonsig and Binocular. Henderson also trains a number of good, honest horses who might never make the headlines, even though they go to work with the same willingness and courage as their more famous stablemates. No matter if you’re the fabulous Long Run or a chestnut no-one’s ever heard of before — at Seven Barrows, all are appreciated and loved.

Henderson and Long Run, a superstar in his own right. Timeform rated him 184 in 2011, making Long Run the best chaser in training that year. The gelding has won the Gold Cup twice in 3 years, as well as the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Henderson and Long Run. A superstar in his own right, Timeform rated Long Run at 184 in 2011, making him the highest rated jumps horse in training that year. The gelding has won the Gold Cup, as well as the King George at Kempton twice in three years. 

So what’s all the excitement about this Sprinter Sacre fellow?

It started in December of 2011, when Henderson moved the gelding from hurdles to make his chase debut at Doncaster, under jockey David Bass:

Sprinter Sacre won by 24 lengths. Henderson was happy but far from impressed: he thought his 4 year-old was too good looking and knew he lacked the fitness of a champion chaser. As do many chasers, Sprinter Sacre had been started over hurdles first, before moving into the chasing ranks as a novice. In the hurdling ranks, he’d been good but not overly impressive, having literally “run out of gas” in his final start over the hurdles at Cheltenham. However, going into 2011-2012, legendary jockey A.P. McCoy suggested to Henderson that the youngster — most National Hunt horses are considered young at 5 — should have his breathing corrected.

The transformation in Sprinter Sacre after he had had “his wind done” was stunning, suggesting that he had tired in his last hurdle race the year before precisely because he couldn’t get enough “oxy-fuel” into his lungs to carry on.

Here is Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle Trophy Chase at Cheltenham in March 2012. With the brilliant Barry Geraghty in the irons, the gelding had already won the Wayward Lad Novices Chase at Kempton by 16 lengths, in a performance the Daily Telegraph described as “thrilling” and “spectacular.” Following which, Sprinter Sacre took the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. Less than a month later, the pair started in the Arkle Trophy Chase on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.  Named after the great National Hunt champion of the 1960′s, the distance is slightly over 2 miles, featuring 12 jumps of 4.5 ft. or greater.

The accolades were instantaneous:

“Sprinter Sacre was often referred to as “the hype horse” during the buildup to this week’s Festival but his astonishing performance in winning the Arkle Trophy suggested that, if anything, his ability has been understated. He coasted around this most demanding of racecourses to score by seven lengths and become the 40th Festival winner for his trainer, Nicky Henderson, equalling the record.

As in his previous runs over fences, Sprinter Sacre never appeared less than entirely comfortable. This was his greatest test so far but victory was on the cards from the moment his main rival, Al Ferof, made a hash of the fourth-last.

From that point, the crowd cheered at every fence that Sprinter Sacre cleared, large numbers of them having clearly backed him at odds-on. There might have been a moment’s anxiety as Cue Card got within a couple of lengths at the final fence but the winner pulled clear within seconds of being asked to quicken by his jockey, Barry Geraghty.” (Chris Cook, The Guardian)

After the Arkle victory and a really good rub-down. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

After the Arkle victory came a really good rub-down. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

The champ doing his thing over jumps that would easily intimidate the faint of heart.

The champ doing his thing over jumps that would easily intimidate the faint of heart.

The champion, as his trainer saw it, was beginning to look like he had an embarrassment of riches — gorgeous, uber-talented, game and loving the attention that comes with winning. In fact, Henderson was thinking his glamour boy was keen to leave the competition in the dust because he was busier courting the cheers and applause of his fans.

Getting the job done: Sprinter Sacre and Barry Geraghty sprint away from a jump. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Getting the job done: Sprinter Sacre and Barry Geraghty sprint away from a jump. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

But his jockey knew better: the horse was stronger now and knew the game plan. And if anyone should know a jumper’s potential, it would be the 33 year-old Barry Geraghty. The National Hunt began in Ireland and the Irish-born Geraghty carries the tradition in his veins. Prior to becoming Henderson’s first jockey in 2008, he had been crowned Irish Champion Jump Jockey (2000), had won the Grand National (in 2003, on Monty’s Pass). In 2009 Geraghty became the first jockey ever to win both the Grand National and the 4 most prestigious races at Cheltenham (Champions Hurdle, Champions Chase, Stayers Hurdle and the Gold Cup). Geraghty also piloted the mighty Moscow Flyer and the much-loved Kicking King to victory prior to becoming Henderson’s lead rider. So it is that when he talks about a horse as “scary good” or as “The Special One,” or confides “…(he’s) frighteningly good…one of the best I ever sat on,” everyone takes notice. And that is how Geraghty describes Sprinter Sacre.

The fabulous Moscow Flyer

The fabulous Moscow Flyer and Geraghty captured a number of hurdle and chase events, notably the Queen Mother Champion Chase (2003,2005), The Arkle Challenge Trophy (2002) and the Tingle Creek Chase (2003, 2004).

When you watch him race, the deceptive thing about Sprinter Sacre is that he makes an endurance test look like a walk in the park.

Never mind Gangnam Style. This is Frankel Style….and his fans are eating it up.

Apprentice jockey, Nico de Boinville, is Sprinter Sacre's regular exercise rider. " "I've been riding Sprinter Sacre since he was a baby, we've pretty much grown up together and I know him very well," he says. "I honestly don't think you're going to get a horse who's going to serve it up to him this season, that will only happen when [his novice-chasing stablemate] Simonsig turns up..." Photo and copyright, Tim Ireland/PA

Apprentice jockey, Nico de Boinville, is Sprinter Sacre’s regular exercise rider. “I’ve been riding Sprinter Sacre since he was a baby, we’ve pretty much grown up together and I know him very well,” he says. “I honestly don’t think you’re going to get a horse who’s going to serve it up to him this season, that will only happen when [his novice-chasing stablemate] Simonsig turns up…” Photo and copyright, Tim Ireland/PA

The beautiful Simonsig, a grey thoroughbred, is the same age as Sprinter Sacre. Under Henderson and Gareghty's tutelage, he has won

The fellow who’ll “serve it up to him”? The gorgeous grey, Simonsig, has won 9 of his 11 starts. Shown here with Geraghty in the irons, he’s another Henderson superstar. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

A month later, Sprinter Sacre started in the Grade One Maghull Novices Chase at Aintree at a distance of 2 miles. This would be his final race of the 2011-2012 season, closing out the year with 5 wins in as many starts.

The 2012-2013 season marks the point at which the comparisons between Sprinter Sacre and Frankel begin. We need to remember, of course, that with the closing of the flat racing season in Great Britain the National Hunt season takes over from roughly November until March, the Cheltenham Festival being the highlight for hurdlers and chasers. Henderson’s superstar would have had the whole of the flat racing season of 2012 to gear up – and Sprinter Sacre came back into training even bigger, and stronger, than he had been in the latter half of 2012.

The fitness level of the gelding owed much to the famous Lambourn gallops, the subject of infinite numbers of equine artists and narratives. It was the National Hunt trainers who first adopted the method of conditioning their horses over the hills and dales of Ireland and England, an approach adapted to training the thoroughbred flat runner by the likes of Vincent O’Brien, Aidan O’Brien and Sir Henry Cecil. It is in this natural environment that the endurance of a horse is both tested and developed.

Sprinter Sacre, with Nico aboard, leads the Henderson string on a gallop. This kind of work was the testing ground for some of the greats of the flat in the UK too, notably Nijinsky and Frankel. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Sprinter Sacre, with Nico de Boinville aboard, leads one Henderson string on a gallop. This kind of work was the testing ground for some of the greats of the flat in the UK as well, notably Nijinsky and Frankel. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

The exercise is also meant to be pleasurable. Here, Nico and Sprinter take a time-out to breathe in the morning air.

The gallops are also meant to be pleasurable. Here, Nico and Sprinter come off the pace to appreciate the sounds and smells of the morning. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

The Frankel comparison may have been aided by the fact that “Sprinter,” as he’s called in the barn, is as enthusiastic to get on with the job as was Sir Henry Cecil’s “Usain Colt.” But, unlike Frankel, the gelding tends to gear up before a race to the point where Henderson has now outfitted him with ear plugs in an effort to encourage him to focus on the race, rather than other distractions. Below are Henderson’s thoughts and reflections as he and his champ readied for the 2012-2013 jumps season. Of particular interest are the trainer’s concerns about the impact of the weather on race conditions, which would turn out to be timely.

Frankel’s final bow was fresh in the hearts and minds of racing fans when Sprinter lined up with the competition at Sandown in the Tingle Creek Chase on December 8, 2012. Some had wondered aloud, as Henderson indicated, whether or not the champion had really beaten a horse of consequence in 2011-2012. But at Tingle Creek, the bay beauty was up against the Paul Nichols-trained Sanctuaire, winner of his previous 3 chases, including the Celebration Chase and ridden by the incomparable Ruby Walsh. (Be sure to stick around for the commentary following the race for important details regarding the win.)

The winning margin was 15 lengths, hard held by an otherwise motionless Geraghty.

Referring to Tingle Creek as a “demolition job” here’s how Charlie Brooks of the Daily Telegraph begins:

“Frankel was extraordinary. He came along pretty soon after Sea The Stars, who wasn’t too shoddy. And anyone who saw Desert Orchid or Kauto Star winning the King George witnessed unbelievable performances. Then there was Istrabraq and I’m trying not to include Red Rum, because he was a mere handicapper. After Saturday’s Tingle Creek at Sandown, we now we have Sprinter Sacre, and I have a feeling he’s better than all of the above and I seriously doubt that anyone who was lucky to have been at the Esher track will disagree with me.”

Just after winning the Tingle Creek, the champ gets a pat from exercise rider, Nico

Just after winning the Tingle Creek, the champ gets a pat from exercise rider, Nico. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Sanctuaire had given it his all in the Tingle Creek, setting blistering fractions most of the way.

Sanctuaire had given it his all in the Tingle Creek, setting blistering fractions most of the way.

Next up was the Victor Chandler Chase, to be held on January 19 at Ascot. However, the course conditions proved so horrendous that it was postponed by a week and moved to Cheltenham. Even at its new locale, the conditions were far from ideal. Henderson was anxious enough to confess to the press “I was taking fits” and after it was all over, Barry Geraghty stated that he wouldn’t like to take Sprinter over ground any worse. In the field were Sanctuaire (Ruby Walsh) and Kumbeshwar, who had finished second to Sprinter Sacre in the Tingle Creek.

This time, the winning margin was only a length shy of the previous win. But over this kind of testing ground, 14 lengths represent something more like 25. And the win was also Sprinter’s seventh in a row, making him a perfect 7 for 7 over jumps, and boosting his record to 11 wins out of 13 starts under jumping rules. If all goes well at Henderson’s Seven Barrows stable — and there is no reason to think that it won’t — Sprinter Sacre’s final start in 2012-2013 will be in March in the Grade 1 Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

As the turf announcer for the Victor Chandler exclaimed: ” The Queen Mother Champion Chase will be at his mercy.”

All together now: Sprinter Sacre with his lad, jockey Barry Geraghty and trainer Nicky Henderson after winning the Chandler.

All together now: Sprinter Sacre with his lad, Sarwah Mohammed, jockey Barry Geraghty and trainer Nicky Henderson after winning the Victor Chandler. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Portrait of a champion. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Portrait of a champion. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

(NOTE ON NATIONAL HUNT RACING:  Originating in Ireland in the 18th century, each type of National Hunt race has its own particular features. An average hurdle race, for example, involves a minimum of 8 hurdles over 3.5 feet high and is run over a distance of at least 2 miles. The chase involves horses jumping fences of 4.5 feet minimum and courses that range from 2 – 4.5 miles. The steeplechase is restricted to thoroughbreds that have a hunter certificate; the most famous steeplechase in Britain is the Grand National. Thoroughbreds that hurdle, chase or steeplechase need to have an aptitude for jumping. But since National Hunt racing demands that horses both jump and run over longer distances than is usual on a flat course, a National Hunt horse needs to be particularly courageous and tough, as well as blessed with endurance.)

 

The last great renaissance of the thoroughbred on a global stage was in the decade of the 1970′s. As we kick off a new year, it’s time to ask: Is another waiting in the wings? 

Frankel spent the holidays reading the thousands of Christmas cards he received from fans around the world. On February 14, he begins his career as a sire. Who says there's no romance in thoroughbred breeding?

Frankel spent the holidays reading the thousands of Christmas cards he received from fans around the world. On February 14, he begins his career as a sire. Who says there’s no romance in thoroughbred breeding?

The title said it all: “Decade of Champions.”

Released in 1980, the beautiful book –now a collector’s item — was produced by noted American equine artist, Richard Stone Reeves, in collaboration with former London Daily Express writer, the erudite Patrick Robinson.The decade to which the book referred was that of the 1970′s and what a decade it had been. In America, three Triple Crown champions: Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. In Great Britain, the first Triple Crown winner in thirty-six years: the mighty Nijinsky. But that was only the beginning.

The great Seattle Slew, 1 of 3 winners of the Triple Crown in the 1970's, pictured here by Richard Stone Reeves in "Decade of Champions."

The great Seattle Slew, 1 of 3 winners of the Triple Crown in the 1970′s, pictured here by Richard Stone Reeves in “Decade of Champions.”

It was as though the racing gods were having a non-stop celebration of all that was mighty and memorable about the thoroughbred. Racing, whether on the dirt, turf, or over hurdles, truly deserved its title as the Sport of Kings –and Queens:  Ruffian, Forego, Spectacular Bid, Alydar, Exceller, Dahlia, Alleged, The Minstrel, Brigadier Gerard, Mill Reef, Vigors, Allez France, Pawneese, Roberto, Waya, Rose Bowl, Dahlia, Shuvee, Cox’s Ridge, Cougar II, Majestic Prince, Youth, Optimistic Gal, Red Rum and L’Escargot, Artaius, Empery, Shirley Heights, Ivanjica. They hailed from all over the world — a parade of champions.

The absolute star of British racing in the last century, the brilliant Brigadier Gerard.

The absolute star of British racing in the last century, the brilliant Brigadier Gerard.

The wonderful Mill Reef and trainer, Ian Balding

Mill Reef and trainer, Ian Balding. Barely taller than a pony, the mighty colt would win the Epsom Derby and the Arc in the same year for owner, Paul Mellon.

Was there a horse with a greater heart than Alydar? In the 1970's, most North Americans would have said, "Absolutely not!"

Was there a horse with a greater heart than Alydar? In the 1970′s, most North Americans would have said, “Absolutely not!”

"The greatest horse to ever look through a bridle." He may have lost the Triple Crown due to the misfortune of a pin stuck in his foot, but Spectacular Bid was one of the stars of racing in the 1970's. Shown here in his "walkover" at

“The greatest horse to ever look through a bridle.” He may have lost the Triple Crown due to the misfortune of a pin stuck in his foot, but Spectacular Bid was one of the stars of racing in the 1970′s. Shown here in his “walkover” at the Woodward Stakes of 1980.

Between them, they managed to shatter records and turn convention on its ear: two consecutive wins in The Arc (Alleged), three consecutive wins in the Ascot Gold Cup (Bruni), a winner of both the Epsom Derby and The Arc (Mill Reef) and the emergence of the most brilliant miler in the history of British flat racing, (Brigadier Gerard). Below are Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard running in the 2000 Guineas of 1971:

And the fillies! They showed their heels to the colts with staggering consistency. Among their routs of the boys: winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes three times in four years, capturing The Arc four times in seven years, annexing The Washington International twice in three years, as well as earning the prestigious Champion Stakes (UK) four times over a period of six years. Even the coveted Jockey Gold Cup fell to the ladies for two successive years.

San San, a daughter of America's Bald Eagle, as she appears on the cover of The Blood-Horse after her Arc win.

San San, a daughter of America’s Bald Eagle, as she appears on the cover of The Blood-Horse after her Arc win.

The gutsy Three Troikas polishes off the decade by winning the Arc. She joined Allez France, San San and Ivanjica as the last of four "girls" to win it over a span of 7 years.

The gutsy Three Troikas polishes off the decade by winning the Arc. She joined Allez France, San San and Ivanjica as the last of four “girls” to win it over a span of 7 years.

Watch as the brilliant mare, Allez France, defeats the Queen’s Highclere and Comtesse Loire — as well as the colts! — to win the Arc in 1974:

Dominant sires of this renaissance were Northern Dancer and Bold Ruler. But there were others who played roles that altered the racing narrative of the seventies in dramatic fashion,among them the stallions Vaguely Noble (Exceller, Dahlia, Empery), Sea Bird II (Allez France), Nashua (Shuvee), Hoist the Flag (Alleged), Reviewer (Ruffian), the prepotent Never Bend (Mill Reef) and Bold Bidder (Cannonade, Spectacular Bid). As well, broodmares like Somethingroyal (Secretariat), Won’t Tell You (Affirmed), My Charmer (Seattle Slew) and Flaming Page (Nijinsky) brought their bloodlines to bear on the making of thoroughbreds who were to become legendary. Of course, there were surprises — bloodstock who weren’t brilliant producers coming up with stars, notably the stallion Firestreak, sire of Epsom Derby winner Snow Kinight.

Bold Ruler with trainer, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

Bold Ruler with trainer, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. As a sire, he produced Secretariat, Bold Bidder, Waya and What A Pleasure, among others. Bold Ruler was also the great grandsire of Seattle Slew throiugh his grandson, Bold Reasoning.

Dahlia never won the Arc, but Nelson Bunker Hunt's filly won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (defeating the likes of Roberto), the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup, the Man O' War Stakes and the Washington DC International over a space of two years.

Dahlia never won the Arc, but Nelson Bunker Hunt’s filly won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (defeating the likes of Roberto), the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup, the Man O’ War Stakes and the Washington DC International over a space of two years.The daughter of Vaguely Noble was  adored by racing fans worldwide.

Exceller, a son of Vaguely Noble, was also owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt at this time. He deserves to be remembered for the champion he was and not only his tragic fate.

Exceller, a son of Vaguely Noble, was also owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt at this time. He deserves to be remembered for the champion he was and not only his tragic fate.

How good was Exceller? The son of Vaguely Noble was good enough to beat two Triple Crown champions in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Affirmed (Steve Cauthen) was seriously hampered by a loose saddle, but be that as it may, Exceller’s performance was stunning:

Zoom forward to 2013.

Zenyatta, Deep Impact, Frankel, Danedream, Galileo, New Approach, Empire Maker, Black Caviar, Oasis Dream, Redoute’s Choice, Goldikova, Invincible Spirit, Bernardini, Medaglia d’Oro, Igugu, Tapit, Rags to Riches, Fastnet Rock, Rachel Alexandra, Lonhro, Exceed and Excel, Orfevre, Royal Delta, Havre de Grace, King Kamehameha, Gentildonna, Street Cry ……. these are but a few names of elite thoroughbreds who are globally leading the charge to what may, indeed, be a time full of promise on tracks from Hong Kong to Belmont to Longchamps. In truth, the number of established to promising thoroughbreds in both hemispheres who are now in breeding careers is astounding — simply too numerous to mention here. It is inconceivable that these talented individuals will not align in this decade or the next to produce something akin to the thoroughbred renaissance of forty-three years ago.

Does Zenyatta know something about her first born's future? The colt, by leading sire Bernardini, is definitely one to watch in 2015!

Zenyatta with her first born. The colt, by leading sire Bernardini, is definitely one to watch in 2015!(Photo and copyright, Mathea Kelley)

Australia's beautiful Redoute's Choice.

Australia’s beautiful Redoute’s Choice.

The magnificent Deep Impact, working out in his paddock.

The magnificent Deep Impact, working out in his paddock. The son of Sunday Silence is the sire of Japanese Triple Crown winner, Gentildonna as well as a host of other fine individuals.

The stallion Exceed and Excel.

Darley’s Exceed and Excel has most recently sired Excelebration and the Australian champ, Helmet.

Some, like Frankel, Havre de Grace, Goldikova and Danedream are newly-retired and have yet to make any impact at all. In the case of Khalid Abdullah’s superstar, decisions will have to be made about just how much more Northern Dancer blood is desirable in Frankel progeny. (Frankel is inbred to Northern Dancer 3 X 4 (Galileo, Danehill), to Natalma (4 X 5) and to Buckpasser 5 X 5.) As was pointed out in The Blood-Horse (January 2013), if Northern Dancer is to be virtually eliminated in prospective broodmares selected, Frankel will lose out on about 40% of the best potential there is at the moment — a testimonial as to just how sweeping the Galileo and Danehill influences really are in European and Southern Hemisphere thoroughbreds.

Impossible to think that the champion, Rachel Alexandra, won't exercise her own influence on the generations of thoroughbreds to come.

Impossible to think that the champion, Rachel Alexandra, won’t exercise her own influence on the generations of thoroughbreds to come.

Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty, December 2012. As the HOTY and her gorgeous companion prepare for a new career, we are invited to hope for babies like them.

Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty, December 2012. As the HOTY and her gorgeous companion prepare for a new career, we are invited to hope for babies like them.

On the bright side, some 15 American mares have been accepted into Frankel’s first book, among them Oatsee (Unbridled ex. With Every Wish by Lear Fan {Roberto}), Balance (Thunder Gulch ex. Vertigineux by Kris S. {Roberto}) and In Lingerie (Empire Maker ex. Cat Chat by Storm Cat {Storm Bird}). The interest of American breeders in Frankel and the “40% Question” that dogs his pedigree makes one wonder if this isn’t a fabulous opportunity for the North American and Southern Hemisphere breeding industries, since some of their finest boast influences that have already proven successful when mixed with Northern Dancer descendants. For example, the sire Deep Impact — heralded as one of Sunday Silence’s  best — is a product of the Sunday Silence/Northern Dancer cross. Other superstars, like Black Caviar and Japan’s Gentildonna are still racing, although it is likely they will retire in 2013. It has already been suggested that Black Caviar will go to Frankel.

Balance shown here with her A.P. Indy colt, Mr. Besilu (2009) who is still unraced.

Balance shown here with her A.P. Indy colt, Mr. Besilu (2009) who is still unraced.

Oatsee nursing Shackleford.

Oatsee nursing Shackleford.

First progeny of champions Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra and Blind Luck have yet to strut their stuff, but their longterm influence on the American-bred thoroughbred can only be positive. Young sires like Bernardini, Fastnet Rock, Empire Maker and New Approach are producing fine-to-brilliant winners and the more established sires, notably Galileo, King Kamehameha, Deep Impact and Tapit, are showing remarkable consistency in producing champion offspring with both depth and scope. And the broodmares are more than doing their part — individuals like Better Than Honour, Helsinge, Kind and Vertigineux immediately come to mind.

Bernardini in the Southern Hemisphere at Darley Australia in 2011.

Bernardini in the Southern Hemisphere at Darley Australia in 2011. (Photo and copyright, Bronwen Healy.)

King Kamehameha, a son of Kingmambo, has been visited by mares like Stardom Bound, who recently produced a colt by this up-and-coming Japanese sire.

King Kamehameha, a son of Kingmambo, has been visited by mares like Stardom Bound, who recently produced a colt by this up-and-coming Japanese sire.

Zenyatta's second foal is sired by Tapit, shown above.

Zenyatta’s second foal is sired by the handsome Tapit, shown above. The Gainesway stallion is off to a very impressive start at stud.

Darley's Shamardal, a son of Giant's Causeway, is a young stallion that has already had success on the track. Together with Footstepsinthesand (Giant's Causeway), he was recently hailed as one of the best young sires of 2012.

Darley’s Shamardal, a son of Giant’s Causeway, is a young stallion that has already had success on the track. Together with Footstepsinthesand (Giant’s Causeway), he was recently hailed as one of the best young sires of 2012.

However, not every champion produces champions. And some of our contemporary thoroughbreds may need more than one generation to exert the kind of influence they will undoubtedly bring to the evolution of the breed.

The foundation for another “decade of champions” (if it hasn’t already begun) appears to be there for the taking.

But it will require that the breeding industry worldwide exerts the kind of patience it took to arrive at a Deep Impact, or a Frankel, or a Galileo, or a Montjeu. Of course, smaller breeding enterprises can’t afford to wait. But those who can need to act on the understanding that no stallion will immediately produce a string champions in his first or second season. It takes time. Recent examples of impatience in the Northern Hemisphere — fed by a market place that is looking for a rapid return on its investment — are the soft reception of brilliant prospects like Smarty Jones and Invasor (a winner of the Triple Crown in his native Uruguay, as well as the 2006 Breeders Cup Classic and the 2007 Dubai World Cup) or the sale of Empire Maker and I’ll Have Another to Japan. There is nothing wrong with enriching the breed — in fact, it is an essential aspect of what has become a global industry. And clearly, the glut of Sunday Silence blood in Japan requires that Japanese breeders look elsewhere for stallions and mares that might work well with Sunday Silence bloodlines.

Three Chimney's Flower Alley has had the kind of patient management one would want for all promising young stallions. ow, as the sire of the champion I'll Have Another, he's finally getting the attention he deserves.

Three Chimney’s Flower Alley has had the kind of patient management one would want for all promising young stallions. ow, as the sire of the champion I’ll Have Another, he’s finally getting the attention he deserves.

The mighty Curlin, who stands at Lane's End, is sure to leave his mark on the thoroughbreds of the 21st century.

The mighty Curlin, who stands at Lane’s End, is sure to leave his mark on the thoroughbreds of the 21st century.

Nor is the practice of introducing different strains of bloodstock a new one: the Aga Khan sold many excellent individuals to outside interests in the 20th century — among them, Mahmoud — and North American racing owes its beginnings to imported stallions from Great Britain and France. But when a stallion is marginalized because his produce are not immediately successful, or because it is thought that he won’t get the time he deserves to prove himself, the foundation for greatness starts to crumble.

No question that we live in a world where the concept of time, and its incumbent impact on our expectations, has speeded up considerably from what it was back in 1901. Nor can the realities of the global marketplace be ignored. But sometimes, in order to go forward, one must agree to go back. And in order for the promise of a Frankel or a Zenyatta and so many other exceptional individuals to come to fruition, leading breeders must do exactly that by exercising the kind of patience, knowledge and wisdom that breeds a champion.

(Below is footage of Smarty Jones’ daughter, the fabulous Better Life, winning the 2012 Longines’ Singapore Gold Cup two months ago. Born in Australia and out of a Sunday Silence mare, Better Life was crowned the Champion Miler of the Southern Hemisphere in 2012.)

NOTE: Computer woes have temporarily halted the publication of new articles. We hope to be up-and-running very soon! Thank you for your understanding. 

 

” I don’t think about her without believing she was one of those magical, lightning strike things.” (the late Tammy Samuel-Balaz, daughter of SamSon Farm founder, Ernest “Ernie” Samuel.)

“… I really don’t even know where to start. I suppose you would have to understand that I fell in love with Dance Smartly back when she was kicking butt against the boys in ’91 and I was a nine-year-old girl who took up riding because I wanted to be her jockey (never mind the fact that I was already bigger than most jockeys at that age). I’ve loved her pretty much all my life, and those years I got to spend with her were amazing. ” (RV, October 2012.)

RV, this one is for you.

It was only her second foal, but the folks at Sam-Son Farm in Ontario, Canada were right to expect big things from Classy N’ Smart. The mare, a daughter of Sam-Son’s No Class (Nodouble ex. Classy Quillo) and the sire, Smarten (Cyane ex. Smartaire), was already a Canadian Hall-of-Fame inductee, having chalked up 5 wins in 9 starts, including the prestigious Canadian Oaks, before she retired.

The year was 1988. And Classy N’ Smart’s filly foal, standing on shaky legs and lurching crab-like towards her dam’s milk, was equine royalty.

No_Class with foal

No Class was most certainly misnamed. She stands as one of the great Blue Hen mares of the last century, producing Sky Classic, Regal Classic, Grey Classic, Always A Classic and Classic Reign, as well as Classy N’ Smart. Shown here with Sky Classic (by Nijinsky II), No Class was one of Ernie Samuel’s foundation mares.

Smarten, pictured here winning the 1979 American Derby at Arlington was the sire of Classy N' Smart and the broodmare sire of Dance Smartly.

Smarten, pictured here winning the 1979 American Derby at Arlington was the sire of Classy N’ Smart and the broodmare sire of Dance Smartly.

Classy N' Smart (Smarten ex. No Class) was very good on the track but brilliant in the breeding shed.

Classy N’ Smart (Smarten ex. No Class) was very good on the track but brilliant in the breeding shed. She produced sire extraordinaire, Smart Strike , as well as champions Strike Smartly and Full of Wonder. But Dance Smartly remains her crowning achievement.

Special as she was, Classy N’ Smart only accounted for half of the newborn’s royal lineage. The other half came to her via Claiborne Farm’s brilliant Danzig. A son of Northern Dancer, Danzig’s racing career was short-circuited by injury. But as a stallion he was pure gold. His sons and daughters were infamous for their talent and, other than Dance Smartly, he gave the world a goodly number of international superstars. Among the most distinguished of his millionaire progeny were Chief’s Crown, Versailles Treaty, Agnes World, Lure, Hard Spun, Polish Navy, Dispute and Danzig Connection. Danzig also sired the much-loved Dayjur, as well as Brahms, Belong To Me and Anabaa, sire of Goldikova. But it was his pre-potent son, Danehill, who would become one of the most influential sires of the late twentieth century.

Below is rare footage of Danzig’s brief racing career. The tape’s a bit worn, but a treat to watch nevertheless.

Classy N’ Smart’s bay filly would join a roster of SamSon champions. The farm took its name from its founder, Ernest “Ernie” Samuel, whose history with thoroughbreds had begun initially with show jumpers. His proudest moment came in 1968, when Canadian Club won Canada’a very first equestrian Gold Medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. Canadian Club’s rider, the gifted Jim Day, would continue to ride Samuel-owned jumpers as part of Canada’s Olympic Team until 1976, when he retired. Shortly thereafter, Samuel hired him to be SamSon’s private racing trainer.

1968-equestrian-team-7800

Jim Day at the 1968 Mexico Olympics aboard the white-faced Canadian Club. A champion thoroughbred jumper, Canadian Club was retired to Sam-Son Farm in 1972, where he lived out his life surrounded by those who truly appreciated him.

Well before it became fashionable, Ernie Samuel focused his own breeding program on building an impressive broodmare band, believing that the mare played a key role in the breeding equation . His first purchase was No Class, together with another broodmare prospect, Loudrangle (Quadrangle ex. Lady Known As Lou {Nearctic}). Together, these two established the foundation of Sam-Son’s breeding program. Nor did Samuel stint on stallions, sending his broodmares to only the very best, among them Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer and Danzig.

Classy N’ Smart’s filly was named Dance Smartly, a nod to her grandsire and her broodmare sire, although her distinctive white facial mark quickly earned her the nickname “Daisy” around the farm. Associated with spring and renewal, it was fitting that the leggy filly be re-named after the promise of the daisy.

Other than an outstanding pedigree, Dance Smartly didn’t particularly distinguish herself to trainer Day until she was nearing her first start. Then, as he recalls, jockey Brian Swatuk returned from working the youngster to declare, “This might be the best horse I’ve ever sat on in my entire life.”

Day took note.

A month later, on July 7, 1990, Dance Smartly won her maiden at Woodbine by 3 1/2 lengths. Following a win on the grass in the Natalma Stakes, Dance Smartly and Wilderness Song, another exceptional Sam-Son filly, were sent to Belmont to run in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Racing in blinkers in her first year, Dance Smartly showed great potential and she was honest -- the filly gave her best each and every time.

Racing in blinkers in her first year, Dance Smartly showed that she had royal blood. She never gave up, even when the odds were stacked against her.

But disaster struck when Dance Smartly (outfitted in blinkers) and Wilderness Song were allowed to get into a speed dual that gutted both of them.  Day’s instructions were to allow Wilderness Song to get to the front first, with Dance Smartly rating just off the pace until the final stretch run. Coming down to the wire, her head tilted towards the grandstand, Dance Smartly marshalled every ounce of strength she had left.

Watching from the owners’ box as their filly battled on, the Samuels and Jim Day knew what they were seeing: the birth of a champion.

The BC effort was more than enough to earn Dance Smartly the Canadian Sovereign Award that year for Champion 2 year-old filly.

In 1991, as a three-year old, SamSon’s royally-bred filly started 8 times, on 2 different surfaces and in two different countries and emerged victorious every time.

Within a period of eight months, Dance Smartly won the Canadian Oaks, the Canadian Triple Crown (as in the USA, open to both sexes), the Molson Millions and the Breeders Cup Distaff (now the BC Ladies Classic). In so doing, she would vanquish fillies and colts alike, including her solid stablemate, Wilderness Song. Others who fell victim included the American and Canadian champion colts, Fly So Free and Rainbows For Life, Versailles Treaty and Queena, winner of the Maskette, Spinster and Ruffian Stakes (and the future dam of Brahms), as well as Brought To Mind and General Meeting, a son of the great Seattle Slew who would prove to be one of California’s top sires.

Wilderness Song was a brilliant filly who had the misfortune of being born in the same year as her stable companion, Dance Smartly. Nevertheless, she retired a millionaire and was inducted into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame in 2008.

Wilderness Song was a brilliant filly who had the misfortune of being born in the same year as her stable companion, Dance Smartly. Nevertheless, she retired a millionaire and was inducted into the Canadian Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 2008.

SamSon's champion colt, Rainbows For Life, shown here as a stallion. "Rainbows" was champion 2 year-old of 1990, and champion older male as well as grass horse in 1992. Sold to the Czech Republic, he was a champion sire in 1999, 2004-2006. Wilderness Song died this year (2012).

SamSon’s champion colt, Rainbows For Life, shown here as a stallion. “Rainbows” was champion 2 year-old of 1990, and champion older male as well as grass horse in 1992. Sold to the Czech Republic, he was a champion sire in 1999, 2004-2006. He died this year (2012).

By the end of the year, Dance Smartly had become a legend in her own time: the first (and only) filly to ever win the Canadian Triple Crown, the first Canadian-bred to ever win a Breeders Cup race, recipient of both the Sovereign and Eclipse Awards for Champion 3 year-old filly in 1991, as well as a second Sovereign Award for 1991 Horse of the Year and the all-time leading money-winner (filly or mare) worldwide. Largely because of her performance, supplemented by those of Wilderness Song and Rainbows For Life, Sam-Son Farm took home both an Eclipse and Sovereign Award for Outstanding Owner (1991).

The familiar gold and red of Sam-Son was to become a hallmark of the 1991 racing season. The now unblinkered Dance Smartly, Pat Day in the irons, was easily the racing partnership of the year.

The familiar yellow and red of Sam-Son Farm was to become a hallmark of the 1991 North American racing season. The now unblinkered Dance Smartly with Pat Day in the irons were the racing partnership of 1991.

Daisy’s win in the Canadian Oaks marked the arrival of Pat Day. The American jockey, famous for piloting champions like Easy Goer, Summer Squall, Unbridled,  Lady’s Secret and Sam-Son’s Sky Classic, handled Dance Smartly with patience and poise. Horse and jockey seemed to communicate seamlessly.

The “Day boys” (although not related) got along famously. And the connection that Pat Day established between himself and Dance Smartly was fundamental, since, unlike some horses, Daisy wasn’t particularly interactive with her human handlers. Those who knew her best insisted that, right from the beginning, the filly “knew who she was,” pointing out that special horses are frequently aloof. They seem to come from somewhere between the horizon and the heavens, where they frequently fix their gaze in what has been dubbed “the look of eagles.” They listen to the music of the spheres.

Dance Smartly had "the look of eagles," just like Man O' War and Hyperion who occur in her pedigree. Photo and copyright The Blood-Horse.

Dance Smartly strikes”the look of eagles”pose, just like two of her most illustrious ancestors, Man O’ War and Hyperion. Photo and copyright The Blood-Horse.

The big filly with the resplendent, dappled coat was easy to handle and gentle by nature. Only on the track did she transform from SamSon’s sweetheart into a fire-breathing, equine monster. Despite her habit of leaping out of the gate as though she was a sprinter, Day could do anything with her. The filly relaxed beautifully, allowing her to channel that strength and determination into a burst of lightening speed when asked. Pat Day could feel her readiness through the reins, ears pricked, waiting for him to push the button. And when he did, the champion eased away from the rest of the field in long, fluid strides.

Looks can be deceiving. Daisy seemed to do it all so easily that only the fractions told the real story. That, and the devastation she left in her wake: Dance Smartly’s  Triple Crown triumph comprised a combined winning margin of 18 lengths.

Before being entered in the first leg of the Triple, the Queen’s Plate, Dance Smartly had never taken on the boys before. She was joined by SamSon’s Wilderness Song and Rainbows For Life. Watch as the SamSon fillies come home first and second:

Unlike its American counterpart, the Canadian Triple Crown was run over two different surfaces — dirt and grass — until 2006, when Woodbine’s main dirt track was converted to polytrack. The Canadian Triple is comprised of three races: the 1 1/4 mile Queen’s Plate (dirt), the 1 3/16 Prince of Wales Stakes (on the dirt at Fort Erie) and, finally, on the grass at Woodbine for the 1 1/2 mile Breeders’ Stakes.  Inaugurated in 1959, there have been 7 horses to win the Canadian Triple to date, among them New Providence (1959), Canebora (1963), With Approval (1989) and the ill-fated Izvestia (1990).

The flow of Dance Smartly and Pat Day coming to the wire was a combination of fire (hers) and ice (his).

The flow of Dance Smartly and Pat Day coming to the wire was a combination of fire (hers) and ice (his).

Here she is on tape, accompanied by delighted Canadian voices, winning the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, The Prince of Wales Stakes:

The last leg, the Breeders’ Stakes, is run in August on the grass track at Woodbine. The day dawned warm and slightly humid. The turf was labelled good.

Next up was the Molson Millions. a short few weeks after her Triple Crown sweep. Despite the fact that it came only a few short weeks after her Triple Crown campaign, Dance Smartly’s win was breathtaking.  (The race is highlighted at the very beginning of the article, above).

Wearing the Molson's Millions victory wreath, Dance Smartly and Pat Day are led into the winner's circle at Woodbine.

Wearing the Molson’s Millions victory wreath, Dance Smartly and Pat Day are led into the winner’s circle at Woodbine by a proud Ernie Samuel.

The Breeders’ Cup Distaff was now a little over six weeks away. Shortly after their arrival in Kentucky, Daisy’s exercise rider returned from a work to say that something didn’t feel right: the filly was favouring a front foot. It would take almost three weeks to treat it, during which time Wilderness Song, under Pat Day, gave Sam-Son its first international victory when she took the Spinster.

Dance Smartly was being hand-walked until shortly before the Distaff, when she was given one strong workout. And although her connections were delighted with it, they also knew that one work offered little guarantee that their champion was back to her best form. By all accounts, Daisy was a filly recovering from an injury and nearing the end of a long, tiring campaign when she walked into the Breeders’ Cup starting gate at Churchill Downs:

She was, indeed, the undisputed Queen of North American racing. The late Tammy Samuel-Balaz was to say that the experience of accompanying Dance Smartly throughout her 1991 campaign was “A magical time.” One can only imagine what the exploits of his homebred champion meant to Ernie Samuel. Other SamSon champions would follow: Sky Classic, Chief Bearhart, Smart Strike, Ruling Angel, Quiet Resolve and  Soaring Free. Between 1984-2004, SamSon Farm would see eight of their horses crowned Canadian Horse of the Year.

But one thing was certain on that autumn day in 1991: Dance Smartly had stolen hearts as no other before her, taking her family and fans on a journey to the pinnacle of thoroughbred racing. It was hard to take it all in as it was happening, in the same way that history eludes those living it. But there were images: Dance Smartly turning her head towards the grandstand as she devoured the home stretch, as if to say, “Okay people –watch this!” ….the red and gold silks, stealing up on the outside of the competition …..the characteristic bowing of her head as she was led into the winner’s circle….the wide, intelligent forehead and the warmth in her deep, dark eyes.

Would she? Could she? Following her Triple Crown sweep, Dance Smartly's connections were aiming for the 1991 Breeders Cup. But intervening was the temptation of the Molson Millions at Woodbine....

Canada’s Queen of Hearts.

Dance Smartly returned at four, running exclusively on the grass and winning the Canadian Maturity in mixed company. However, unknown to her racing public, Daisy had been fighting a pulled suspensory ligament injury to her right foreleg. Following a third place finish in the Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington, Ernie Samuel announced her retirement.

She had done enough. In 17 starts, Dance Smartly was never worse than third, retiring with 12 wins, 2 places, 3 shows and earnings of $3,263, 835.00.

Coming home to win the 1991 BC Distaff.

Coming home to one of the world’s most famous finish lines at Churchill Downs in the 1991 BC Distaff.

Racing accolades would follow: in 1995, Dance Smartly was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame; in 2003, she was inducted into the American National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, joining a pantheon of North American champions.

In retirement: Dance Smartly and her BFF, Rainbows Classic, at SamSon Farm.

In retirement: Dance Smartly (right) and another broodmare (chestnut) at SamSon Farm.

Incredibly, as a broodmare Dance Smartly was as successful as she’d been on the track. Although Ernie Samuel died of cancer in 2000, only a short time before one of Dance Smartly’s foals took the Queen’s Plate, Daisy did him proud throughout her life.

Daisy with one of her last foals, the filly Dance To The Sea.

Daisy with her last foal — a baby she just adored — the filly, Dance To The Sea. Nicknamed “Diva” the filly was most like her dam in personality of all of Daisy’s foals. The two continued to exchange fond greetings well after Diva had been weaned.

Diva peeks out at the camera from behind her dam. Sired by Gone West, Diva has produced two foals of her own to date. Her latest is Tizgone, by Tiznow, born in 2010.

Diva (by Gone West) peeks out at the camera. To date, Diva has produced two foals of her own. The filly Tizgone (Tiznow) was born in 2010.

Of Dance Smartly’s first 5 foals, two — Scatter The Gold and Dancethruthedawn — won back-to-back Queen’s Plates in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Millionaire Dancethruthedawn’s three year-old campaign culminated with a Sovereign Award for Champion 3 year-old filly (2001). Another Sovereign was awarded to Dance Smartly for Broodmare of the Year — the third generation of Samson broodmares to win it.

Dance Brightly (Mr. Prospector) was Dance Smartly's first foal. He stands at stud in Chile.

Dance Brightly (Mr. Prospector) was Dance Smartly’s first foal. He stands at stud in Chile and has produced winners. Photo and copyright, A. C. Crosby

Scatter The Gold at the Arrow Stud Open House in Japan 2 years ago. He has since been sold to a stud farm in Russia.

Scatter The Gold (Mr. Prospector) at the Arrow Stud Open House in Japan 2 years ago. He has since been sold to a stud farm in Russia.

Dancethruthedawn is a broodmare at SamSon Farm in Ontario. Personal photo.

Millionaire champion Dancethruthedawn (Mr. Prospector) is now a member of the SamSon broodmare band.

Another daughter, Dancethruthestorm (Thunder Gulch) had her first foal, a Giant's Causeway filly in 2008.

Another daughter, Dancethruthestorm (Thunder Gulch) had her first foal, a Giant’s Causeway filly, in 2008. Named Grand Style(4), she broke her maiden at first asking and was retired. In 2012, she produced a colt, Twirlinggrandstyle (Twirling Candy).

Although her best offspring in terms of earnings was Dancethruthedawn (1998), Daisy’s sons Dance Brightly (1995), Dance To Destiny (1999) and Dance With Ravens (2002) have all proven to be very consistent sires. Another two, Dancethruthestorm and Dance To The Sea never raced and are members of SamSon’s broodmare band.

The gorgeous Dance With Ravens, who stands at Northview Stallion Station.

The gorgeous Dance With Ravens (A.P. Indy), who stands at Northview Stallion Station. Photo and copyright, Alison Janevic.

Dance To Destiny (Mr. Prospector) never finished out of the money and proved a very decent sire. He stood at SamSon, but was sold to Saudi Arabia in 2011.

Dance To Destiny (Mr. Prospector) never finished out of the money and proved a very decent sire. He stood at SamSon, but was sold to Saudi Arabia in 2011.

In her new life as a mare on the farm where she was raised, Daisy loved to play games — providing her human playmate had treats. Favourites were “find the mint” and follow-the-leader. She was attentive, patient and kind with her foals. The old stifle injury continued to bother her and became degenerative as she grew older, giving her a “gimpy” walk and forcing her to put more pressure on her one good foreleg. SamSon placed her with another handicapped mare, Rainbow Classic, who became Daisy’s BFF.

Dance Smartly always kept her shape, no matter how many foals she had. Here she is in Kentucky, having visited Thunder Gulch. Photo and copyright, The Blood-Horse.

Dance Smartly always kept her shape –and her dapples — no matter how many foals she had. Here she is in Kentucky in 2003, dancing in her paddock. Photo and copyright, The Blood-Horse.

The staff at SamSon loved Dance Smartly. Regal and aloof though she could be, Daisy had a special human friend with whom she was affectionate. RV had loved Daisy since she was a girl and now, with the mare’s velvety muzzle in her lap, a long-cherished dream had come true.

In her paddock at SamSon.

In her paddock at SamSon, Daisy sports her winter coat.

Beloved.

“She had a lot of class…She had a lot of presence. There wasn’t a mean bone in her body…Everybody loved her.” (Dave Whitford, quoted in THE GLOBE AND MAIL, August 22, 2007)

On August 18 or 19, 2007, Daisy was found laying down in her paddock. She could not get up. The SamSon personnel gathered around her, encouraging her to try. It took extraordinary effort. But once standing, it was clear why the mare had spent so long on the ground: she had broken at least one bone in her already handicapped foreleg. In the end there was only one humane avenue open. Dance Smartly was only 19 years old.

Under the Globe & Mail’s headline, “Beloved Dance Smartly Put To Rest,” farm manager Dave Whitford told readers, “We do have a nice grave for her right out in front of the office, a very special place for her…..We’ll be trying to make that area as nice as possible in the coming months.”

Between the lines of final tributes, in the spaces between paragraphs and in what those who were interviewed left unsaid, the void was  articulated. Canadian racing had lost its Queen. SamSon, its beloved Daisy.

Memory, like love, makes its home on the threshold of eternity. For those of us who loved her, that is where Dance Smartly lives.

 

Saying goodbye to our Queen was painful, but her spirit lives on through her daughters and sons.

 
The famous photographer, C.C. Cook aka "Cookie" sent Christmas cards using one of his photos to clients and friends.

The renowned C.C. Cook aka “Cookie’” sent this Christmas card of Citation and Eddie Arcaro in 1948.

THE VAULT wishes its many readers all the very best of the holiday season. It has been a year of wonderful happenings: connecting with Australia’s primary equine photographer, Bronwen Healy (“When The Image Speaks,” “Just Call Me Nelly” & “From Down Under With Love”) and author, Dorothy Ours (“Battleship: The Pony Who Conquered Aintree”); reading all of your wonder-full comments and personal stories; meeting Mrs. Judith Mappin, daughter of E.P. Taylor, to exchange stories about Northern Dancer and some of his progeny; and being selected by The Paulick Report for “Best Blog” for our article on the fabulous Frankel and his connections (“It Takes A Team”). 

I want to thank each one of our readers for their continued support. It means the world to me because you are my inspiration. 

The great American educator, Maxine Greene, said: “We are born human beings, but we need to learn how to be human.” Love is a huge part of that process, breaking down individual isolation to open a world of possibilities. 

One common experience that VAULT readers share is their love of horses. Loving a Frankel, or a Rachel, or a Zenyatta, a Black Caviar, an Igugu or a Man O’ War is a passionate affair. We humans give our hearts away.  Or else, find that they’ve been stolen by a magnificent beast that manages to reach out to us across space and time to say, “Go ahead — love me.” And when we answer, we find that we are delighted, moved, inspired……and, somehow, more fully human. 

So please join me in a photo essay that celebrates the power of love and the magic of the inter-species affair.

Northern Dancer was many things to many people, but one thing he wasn't was bell-behaved. Remarkably, he formed a deep attachment to Winifred Taylor, wife of the Dancer's owner-breeder, E.P. Taylor. He terrorized just about everyone, but when the Dancer heard Mrs. Taylor's footsteps he whinnied a "Hello" and became a gentle, docile pony.

Northern Dancer was many things to many people, but one thing he wasn’t was well-behaved. Remarkably, he formed a deep attachment to Winifred Taylor, wife of the Dancer’s owner-breeder, E.P. Taylor. The little guy terrorized just about everyone, but when the Dancer heard Mrs. Taylor’s footsteps he whinnied a “Hello” and transformed into a gentle, sweet pony.

Ferdinand with jockey, Bill Shoemaker. The two enjoyed a close and warm relationship.

Ferdinand with jockey, Bill Shoemaker. The Shoe loved the handsome, gentle colt and Ferdinand returned the feeling.

The champion, Determine,  who sired Kentucky Derby winner, Decidedly, with his friend, the collie

Determine, the first grey to win the Kentucky Derby, went on to sire another grey Kentucky Derby winner, Decidedly. He is shown here as a 3 year-old, giving some love to his stables’ mascot, Roxey.

British jockey, Lester Piggott, an icon in his own country fulfilled a life's ambition when he got to meet the mighty Kelso.

A legend greets two more: British jockey, Lester Piggott, already an icon in his own country, fulfilled a life’s ambition when he got to meet the mighty Kelso. Giving the champ some sugar is Leslie Combs, one of America’s top thoroughbred breeders.

The legendary trainer, King T. Leatherbuy, gets a smooch from one of his horses.

The legendary trainer, King T. Leatherbuy, gets a smooch from one of his horses. The King’s been in the business for a long time, but the passion that drives him has never diminished.

Kentucky Derby winner, Gallahadion, and his best buddy.

Kentucky Derby winner, Gallahadion, and his best buddy. Although it has only been recently that the men and women who care for the thoroughbred have been acknowledged, they nevertheless leave us a legacy of unconditional love.

Hickstead and Eric Lamaze were, together with Big Ben and Ian Millar, Canada's most distinguished equestrian partnerships.

Hickstead and Eric Lamaze were (together with Big Ben and Ian Millar) Canada’s most distinguished equestrian partnership. Eric had battled personal issues; Hickstead was a colt who no-one seemed able to ride. But when they found one other, two lives were changed forever.

The incomparable Count Fleet, shown here in a tender moment with his lad.

The incomparable Count Fleet, shown here in a tender moment with his regular exercise rider, Frank Kiniry. The Count had just won the Kentucky Derby, but seemed to wax nostalgic as he prepared to leave for Pimlico and the second leg of America’s Triple Crown.

The magnificent Red Rum and the man he loved best, trainer Ginger McCain.

The extraordinary Red Rum (who won the Grand National an unprecedented 3 times) and the man he loved best, trainer Ginger McCain. Until his death in 2011, Ginger left flowers on Red Rum’s grave every year. Man and horse shared such a strong bond that it was virtually impossible to think of one without the other.

Flash the German Shepherd was Valdina rebel's regular hot-walker.

Flash, the German Shepherd, was Valdina Rebel’s regular hotwalker. The dog arrived at his friend’s stall each morning with halter and lead in his mouth, then waited for Rebel to be tacked up for their morning walk.

California legend Silky Sullivan gives a young fan a buss.

California legend Silky Sullivan meets a young fan and rewards him with a kiss. Silky was a thoroughbred legend — a quirky character who won the affection of thousands of fans.

Trainer extraordinaire Woody Stephens poses with one of his champions, Creme Fraiche.

Trainer extraordinaire Woody Stephens poses with one of his champions, Creme Fraiche. Note the melting expression in the colt’s eyes as he leans toward Woody.

Reckless, the pride of the Marines during the Korean War, was a Korean thoroughbred. Fearless and loyal, little Reckless was beloved by her troop -- who shipped her back to the USA, according her the title of Private Reckless.

Reckless, the pride of the Marines during the Korean War, was a Korean thoroughbred. Fearless and loyal, little Reckless was beloved by her troop — who shipped her back to the USA when peace was declared, according her the title of Sgt. Reckless.

Although they were overshadowed by the great Frankel, jockey William Buick never conceded that Nathaniel was anything but a superstar. Nathaniel remains the only horse to have gotten near enough to Frankel to make a real race of it.

Although they were overshadowed by the great Frankel, jockey William Buick never conceded that Nathaniel was anything but a champion. Nathaniel remains the only horse to have gotten near enough to Frankel to make a real race out of it. Buick adored his handsome colt and will miss him in 2013. (Nathaniel was retired in 2012. The son of Galileo stands at Newsells Park Stud in Hertfordshire.)

Stymie was The People's Horse from the very start of his long career. The gorgeous chestnut brought in fans by the thousands when he raced.

Stymie was The People’s Horse from the very beginning. The gorgeous chestnut brought in fans by the thousands wherever he appeared. Pictured here with one of his biggest fans, trainer Hirsch Jacobs.

Greyhound stands under mistletoe held by Vernor ("Dooley") Putnam and his wife, Leona. The greatest trotter of all time turns 33 on New Year's day.

Greyhound stands under mistletoe held by Vernor (“Dooley”) Putnam and his wife, Leona. The greatest trotter of all time turns 33 on New Year’s day.

Dr. Fager and trainer, John Nerud. Said Nerud of "the Doc," I never gave a damn who rode him. He was such an amazing horse..."

Dr. Fager and trainer, John Nerud. Said Nerud of the Doc, ” I never gave a damn who rode him. He was such an amazing horse…”

Calvin Borel with Rachel Alexandra at Stonestreet in the summer of 2012. The photo says it all.....

Calvin Borel with Rachel Alexandra at Stonestreet in the summer of 2012. The photo says it all.

Ann Moss with her Zenny, Mother's Day 2011. When asked where she would like to retire Zenyatta, Ann replied, " I'd like her to stay in my backyard." Now at Lane's End, Ann and Jerry Moss visit Zenny and her firstborn regularly.

Ann Moss with her Zenny, Mother’s Day 2011. When asked where she would like to retire Zenyatta, Ann replied, ” I’d like her to stay in my backyard.” Now at Lane’s End, Ann and Jerry Moss visit Zenny regularly and were in attendance when she gave birth to a colt by Bernardini in March 2012.

Australia's Bronwen Healy and the pony she adores, Nelly aka Black Caviar.

Australia’s Bronwen Healy and the pony she adores, Nelly, aka Black Caviar. Bronwen’s first great love, the fabulous mare, Sunline, succumbed to laminitis on May 1, 2009. Nelly helped Bronwen to deal with the loss and has since become Healy’s “best girl.”

Frankel and his very best friend, Sandeep (Sandy) Gauvaram.

Frankel and his very best friend, Sandeep (Sandy) Gauravaram. The life of a race horse is very controlled, repetitive and for many, boring. Frankel was having none of that. He insisted on being housed where the action was at trainer Cecil’s stables. And he loved his time with Sandy.

Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty, December 2012. As the HOTY and her gorgeous companion prepare for a new career, it would seem that they're becoming BFF's!!!

Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty, December 2012. As the HOTY and her gorgeous companion prepare for a new career, it appears that they’re already forming a friendship. Broodmare friendships are powerful and, if it works out given breeding cycles and so forth, enduring.
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