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This will be one of the top stories in the UK racing world this year. About a horse with a heart murmur and the team that brought him back to Cheltenham — two years later.

The eye of a champion. Photo and copyright, THE GUARDIAN. Photographer:Tom Jenkins.

The eye of a champion. Photo and copyright, THE GUARDIAN. Photographer:Tom Jenkins.

If you loved Lassie, or My Friend Flicka, or Black Beauty, or The Black Stallion then you already can sense what this story’s all about. Except that it really happened. One of those cases where truth trumps fiction by a mile.

This was the scene in 2013, when one of the best horses ever was pulled up.

This was the scene in 2013 at Kempton, when one of the best horses to ever race in the British National Hunt was pulled up.

Sprinter Sacre was THE STAR of the British National Hunt from his debut in 2011 until he was pulled up by jockey Barry Geraghty at Kempton in December of 2013, half-way through the Desert Orchid Chase. The race had been billed as a showdown between the undefeated Sprinter Sacre, who had raced to victory 10 consecutive times, and another star of the chase, Sire de Grugy. Geraghty probably saved Sprinter’s life that day, because the early diagnosis was “something to do with the heart.” No-one wanted to believe it: a brilliant horse, fondly nicknamed “The Black Aeroplane,” might be finished.

The cardiac problem had, quite literally, come out of nowhere. There were no warning signs of any kind. Brilliant trainer, Nicky Henderson, would have known if something was wrong with a horse who was the Frankel of chasers. As for Sprinter’s fans around the world, one could almost hear the silence, heavy as a stone, as the great horse was led off the course.

It was this Sprinter that all were expecting to see at Kempton that day. The superstar who had most recently won the 2013 Queen Mother Chase at Cheltenham:

 

 

 

Barry Geraghty after SPRINTER'S 2013 win at Cheltenham:

Champion jockey,Barry Geraghty, after SPRINTER’S 2013 win at Cheltenham: “I’ve ridden some brilliant horses over the years, but it’s the ease and grace [with which] he does it that sets him apart.”

When the tests were all in, the diagnosis was an irregular heartbeat. Sprinter Sacre was put on the equine equivalent of complete bed rest. As suddenly as he had burst onto the scene in 2011, he was gone.

Trainer Henderson would refer to the next two years as “a wilderness,” stressing that Sprinter’s full recovery — if such was even possible — was to be “very, very hard on everyone involved.” Because, initially, it was thought he might be back to his winning ways within about three months, in time for Cheltenham 2014, the biggest event on the National Hunt calendar. The equivalent of the Breeders Cup or Champions Day or the Dubai Carnival for hurdlers and chasers. To win at Cheltenham is to be anointed a Champion of Champions. There’s just nothing quite like it. But there was no Cheltenham 2014 in the cards for “The Sprinter,” as the stable calls him..

SPRINTER SACRE with his groom and best friend, Sarwah Mohammed.

SPRINTER SACRE with his groom and best friend, Sarwah Mohammed.

 

SPRINTER SACRE with his "best girl," Hannah Maria Ryan.

SPRINTER SACRE with his “best girl,” Hannah Maria Ryan.

And so it was that two long years of hoping and praying began. Team Sprinter was formidable, including owners Raymond and Caroline Mould, equine cardiologist Celia Marr, groom Sarwah Mohammed, exercise riders Nico de Boinville and Hannah Maria Ryan, Henderson’s amazing Seven Barrows stable staff and — last but not least — the trainer himself. However, two years off for a National Hunt horse is long, since most don’t even begin their careers until the age of four or five. And The Sprinter was “on a roll” in his seventh year, often one of the best years for jumping horses. In April of 2013 he had become the first horse since the mighty Istabraq to win at all three major jumping festivals (Punchestown, Aintree and Cheltenham) and was on his way to the third highest Timeform rating ever, behind the jumping gods Arkle and Flyingbolt.

By the time The Sprinter made it back, he would be an older horse who’d been out of action for over 24 months. In how many countries do nine or ten year-old thoroughbreds still run — and win? (Note to the reader: National Hunt horses must be thoroughbreds, with the exception of the Selle Francais, who are permitted because the origin of the breed goes back to the thoroughbred. Sprinter Sacre, classified as a Selle Francais by some, is the son of thoroughbred sire, Network, and a grandson of the great Monsun. National Hunt horses typically compete until the age of ten and/or until they show that they are no longer competitive. Hurricane Fly, for example, raced until he was eleven.)

Some trainers might not have been bothered to even try. But Nicky Henderson isn’t “some” trainer. With champions like See You Then, Remittance Man, Punjabi, Binocular, Caracciola and Bob’s Worth on his CV, the Eaton graduate is considered one of the top National Hunt trainers. But the horse who had stolen hearts and raced off-the-charts for two undefeated years was, in Henderson’s view and, indeed, in the eyes of all who worked with him, set apart from all before him. Trying to bring The Sprinter back to form just wasn’t an option. But all agreed that the horse came first. Nothing new there: Nicky Henderson’s horses always come first.

 

SPRINTER with trainer, Nicky Henderson. Nicky is no stranger to great horses, having trained the likes of

“THE SPRINTER” with trainer, Nicky Henderson. Nicky is no stranger to great horses, having trained the likes of See You Then, Long Run, Caracciola, Bob’s Worth and Simonsig. But The Sprinter holds a very special place in his heart.

Team Sprinter must have been glad to be part of a community as they worked shoulder-to-shoulder, all the time knowing that if Sprinter wasn’t going to be safe running (i.e. in perfect health and condition), then retirement was the only recourse. And each day over twenty-four months, they had to find the courage to believe that he could come back, that he would come back. To say that the mission of bringing The Sprinter back was tricky would be an understatement of huge proportions, as Henderson indicated in February 2014:

By late in 2014, the horse’s cardiac problems had been ruled a thing of the past. But he still didn’t seem quite himself. Pivotal was young Nico de Boinville, The Sprinter’s regular exercise rider, who had a kind of special bond of his own with the 17h gelding. It was Nico who rode The Sprinter on his works, and Nico who told Henderson, “… I can’t put my finger on it, but he’s not quite right. There’s something missing.” So they soldiered on, hoping to see a glimmer of The Sprinter of old.

 

Nico and SPRINTER head out for a gallop. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

Nico and THE SPRINTER head out for a gallop. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

 

On the gallops. Nico and SPRINTER SACRE. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

A pause on the gallops. Nico and SPRINTER SACRE. Photo and copyright, Toby Connors.

There were long sojourns with Nico and Hannah over the Lambourn downs, loving hands and loving words and, at last, there he was: back with the team that loved him. His first start was in January 2015 and this was how it ended:

The headlines read “Dodging Bullets Destroys Sprinter Sacre,” but that wasn’t true. Barry Geraghty stated that the horse had tired, which made a good deal of sense after not racing for two years. Nicky Henderson was quick to point out that, as a nine year-old, The Sprinter may not be the “same horse” but he had run a blinder despite his age. Next came another two races: at Cheltenham in the 2015 Queen Mother’s Chase, a tired Sprinter Sacre was pulled up. Then, at Sandown in April, he finished second to Special Tiara with Nico de Boinville riding him for the first time. As The Sprinter’s exercise rider from the very beginning, Nico was a natural partner for the horse and, although the move was precipitated by Barry Geraghty signing on as first rider for owner JP McManus, Nico had ridden himself into the spotlight as the jockey of the 2015 Hero of Cheltenham, Coneygree, in March.

Coneygree ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase on Gold Cup Day during the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse, England, Friday March 13, 2015. (AP Photo/PA, David Davies) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE

CONEYGREE and Nico de Boinville after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase on Gold Cup Day, Friday March 13, 2015. (AP Photo/PA, David Davies)

At this point, Henderson remained optimistic and Nico reported that The Sprinter had felt most like himself since 2013 during the Sandown run. But it would also be fair to say that the jury was still out on the horse’s future and his passionate fans were beginning to suspect that his best days were behind him and mourned his demise with statements on Facebook like, “Poor boy….he’s just not the horse he used to be. Retire him, please!”

And then “…the real Sprinter Sacre” showed up, on November 15, 2015, with Nico again in the irons:

As he said, Henderson found the win “overwhelming” and was quick to note that, for the first time, The Sprinter “took” Nico to the win. Next came a re-match with his old nemesis, the wonderful Sire de Grugy, in the 2015 version of the same race — the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton — where the champion had been pulled up in 2013:

Granted, he didn’t put miles between himself and Sire Grugy to win, as The Sprinter of old might well have done. Nicky Henderson was of a mind that the Desert Orchid performance had been better, but what happened at Kempton was that The Sprinter fought back, every inch of the way, to defeat a champion chaser in Sire de Grugy. And that told the trainer that heart and courage were igniting his big gelding’s spirit.

" I can dream, can't I?" Nicky Henderson and THE SPRINTER early in 2016.

” I can dream, can’t I?” Nicky Henderson and THE SPRINTER early in 2016.

The Sprinter had weathered his 2015 season well and after consultation with the Moulds, Nico and others in his inner circle, Henderson determined to aim the big horse for Cheltenham 2016 and The Queen Mother Chase. Now, The Sprinter is a racing icon and beloved by his whole team, but he’s not a “love bug” as far as personality goes. Rather, he’s a curmudgeon….not exactly Mr. Grump, but close. So, when he started to show aggression on a regime of slower gallops, someone who knew him less well might have just chalked it up to temperament. But Nico and Henderson knew better: The Sprinter was saying that he wanted a race and wanted it badly. As the trainer pointed out, “Horses know when they’re stars and they know where they belong…in the winner’s enclosure, right at the top of the heap.”

As Racing UK reported at the end of the 2015 season, quoting Henderson:

“He is not what he was two years ago but we are creeping up there,” Henderson added. “They are two very good performances so far this year. He has done a lot of slow work, rather than fast work. It has been different. We put in a new deep sand canter and he did a lot of work in there. He does not do a lot of galloping.”

Despite one reported pre-Cheltenham work where The Sprinter looked spectacular, Henderson remained cautiously optimistic about his ten year-old champion:

March 16, 2016: the field was set for the Cheltenham Queen Mother Chase. The Sprinter was one of three ten year-olds entered, the others being Sire de Grugy and Felix Yonger. All the others were eight year-olds, including impressive jumpers like Dodging Bullets, Somersby and Un de Sceaux. Nor did The Sprinter go off as the favourite, although he clearly was THE ONE that people were there to see. Could their fallen hero triumph, joining the only horse to ever stage such a comeback: the great Moscow Flyer, who had won the Queen Mother Chase at Cheltenham in 2005 as a ten year-old?

The place went potty. The stands shuddered and shook. Trainer and jockey cried. Twitter exploded with cries of joy. Trainers like the eminent Willie Mullins showered praise on Henderson and Team Sprinter. Horses just don’t do what Sprinter Sacre had just done and everyone knew it.

The Kiss: Nico and SPRINTER SACRE in the winner's enclosure, Cheltenham 2016.

The Kiss: Nico and SPRINTER SACRE in the winner’s enclosure, Cheltenham 2016.

So thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Mould, Nicky Henderson, Nico de Boinville, Sarwah Mohammed, Hannah Maria Ryan, Barry Geraghty and the staff at Seven Barrows for taking us to Dreamworld on the back of your fabulous, fabulous horse:

 

 

BONUS FEATURE

For a look at Sprinter Sacre’s career from 2011-2013, including videos:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/hes-better-than-frankel-sprinter-sacre/

 

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

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Dedicated to the Kunz family and Susan Watt, Executive Director of Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, with love. Special thanks to Monica Mohr, Steve Leonard and Wayne at the BLM, Canon City CO for their support and kindness. To my dear friend, Jim Pettyjohn: Without your partnership in this endeavour it could all have ended in a dull whisper. 

 

 

LADY'S SECRET with BEAR WITNESS as a colt foal. Photo and copyright Steve Haskin. Used with permission of Steve Haskin.

LADY’S SECRET with BEAR WITNESS as a colt foal, with Joan and Amanda Haskin and the Glenney family. Photo and copyright Steve Haskin. Used with the written permission of Steve Haskin.

 

BEAR WITNESS (SKIP AWAY X LADY'S SECRET) at auction in 2015.

BEAR WITNESS (SKIP AWAY X LADY’S SECRET) at auction in 2015.

I don’t remember how I came across the news that a young couple had pulled an emaciated gelding out of a horse sale and determined that he was the son of Skip Away and Lady’s Secret.

Foaled on April 9, 2000, the colt who carried the bloodlines of Secretariat, his champion daughter and the incomparable Skip Away, came into the world at John and Kim Glenney’s farm. It was clear from his iron-metal coat that he would be a grey. But what he wouldn’t turn out to be was a racehorse. He made 16 starts and a little less that five thousand dollars (USD) before his owners, caring and good people who would eventually get out of the thoroughbred business because of what they saw happening to horses like Bear, gave the gelding to a woman who trained show jumpers. In an article published online by The Dodo, John Glenney pointed out that when it was obvious that a thoroughbred wasn’t going to run, they were given away to trusted individuals to find new careers. Potential owners were interviewed by the Glenneys to assure that the horse in question was going to the best possible home.

Bear already suffered from a condition known as EPM, and had received costly treatment throughout his time with the Glenneys. Given his medical issues, it was critical that he be given to someone who would continue his treatment.Despite all of this good intention and despite the fact that the Glenneys were nothing if not “Type A” in researching where their horses were going, “Bear” slipped through the cracks. (Having done some horse rescue myself, I need to add that the numbers of times I talked to caring, responsible owners who thought their horses had been adopted into loving homes was legion.)

It seems likely that Bear’s second owner was legitimate, but over the time he goes off the radar, changing hands numerous times until he ended up at a horse auction in Tennessee.

 

Not only was BEAR WITNESS starving, he was also covered in cuts and abrasions.

Not only was BEAR WITNESS starving, he was also covered in cuts and abrasions.

 

The young couple who saw him just couldn’t turn away. So home he came with John and Jessie Kunz.

“…It took a month for Kunz to gain the horse’s trust. ‘I couldn’t even touch his face he was so terrified,’ she said.

‘He had a big, bloody open wound on his back leg,’ Kunz said. ‘He hadn’t been fed in a month and his hooves had not been maintained — they had not been cleaned out, shoes checked, kept moist. He could barely stand or walk.’

Originally from Germany, Kunz says she had never been to a horse and tack auction, where various farm animals and gear are sold, in Tennessee before. What she saw there horrified her. Bear was covered in rain rot, a bacterial infection of the skin that causes scabbing and hair loss, from head to tail. ‘He was down from 1,400 to 500 pounds,’ Kunz said. ‘People were shocked at the cruelty. I just couldn’t stand it. I went to [Bear’s owner at the time]. He took $250 and I took Bear home.’

A month after being moved to Kunz’s care, Bear slowly started gaining weight and trusting people again.” (reprinted from THE DODO, https://www.thedodo.com/bear-witness-horse-abuse-1571398906.html)

But despite all their love and care, Bear couldn’t be saved. He fell in his paddock in October and was unable to get up. The decision was made to have him humanely euthanized. Bear Witness was 15 years old.

 

BEAR WITNESS with Jessie.

BEAR WITNESS with Jessie.

 

Learning that Bear had been put down was shattering news for the many who flocked to his FB page daily. It came as a shock that a son of the mighty Skip Away and the brilliant Lady’s Secret would be entitled to anything less than a life of care and respect, because we all want to believe that our society takes care of the horses that we love.

But John and Jessie Kunz knew better, and their grief was visceral.

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In mythology, the horse stands proud. In almost every culture throughout history, horses are bestowed with greatness, honour and gifts. The Celts and Native Americans believed that horses travelled between this world and the next, carrying souls to their final resting place.

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EPONA, or RHIANNON, depicted in Celtic jewelry.

Blame it on my Celtic ancestry: when a death touches me, I always long for a horse to carry that soul into its future.

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My Facebook home page is always crowded with horse rescue postings, messages from lobby groups like the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, and the work of brilliant photographers associated with different horse breeds all over the world.

It was there that I first saw her face and it stopped me in my tracks.

As in, “Drop everything, be still and just look at me.”

 

 

First encounter.....and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

“Drop everything, be still, and just look at me.”

 

A bay mustang mare in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) online auction, she had been captured in the Antelope Hills of Wyoming in 2011, when she was only a yearling. She was exquisite. The expression in her eyes reached out to me, travelling across the internet as though there was no medium dividing us. Even with a red rope hanging around her neck (she was officially # 9579), her dignity refused to be diminished. Despite coming to a place where she could only see the wild hills from behind the rails of her small paddock, she knew she was meant to be free — and so there was sorrow in those deep, dark eyes too.

 

She could see the hills that were forbidden....

She could see the wild hills through the paddock rails…..

As many of you know, the mustang is in terrible, terrible trouble in Canada and the United States. In the former, a handful still exist on the Prairies but they are under constant threat of being rounded up; in the latter, the BLM has been charged with the unenviable task of “gathering” wild horses all over the country as their habitat becomes increasingly overtaken by cattle ranchers. As the argument goes, since America’s mustangs were protected under federal law, they have done too well, i.e. there are too many of them. So one solution has been to gather them up and try to sell them off at online and real-time auctions. Despite a veritable city of activists and lobby groups, some mustang herds have been reduced to less that 60 individuals and others have been wiped out altogether. These “gatherings” of mustangs takes no account of genetics, making it quite likely that some important bloodlines are being removed permanently, increasing the risk of inbreeding inferior animals.

 

wild horse, Antelope Hills Herd Area, Wyoming, roundup, stallion, mares, foal, helicopter

Antelope Hills Herd, Wyoming, 2011: This was “my” mare’s herd and how they were “gathered.” She is quite possibly in the photo — a yearling filly, running for her life. Used with the permission of Carol Walker.

 

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Antelope Hills Herd, Wyoming, 2011: Part of the herd in the containment chutes. Used with the permission of Carol Walker.

 

The mustang came to North America long before the arrival of the Spaniards, crossing the Bering straight into a new world. These “dawn horses,” as they were called, roamed free along with the American camel, sabre-toothed tiger and the wooly mammoth. The native American horse is the only animal that survives from this world.

The American mustang began as a "dawn horse" during pre-history, living on the plains with the American camel, wooly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers.

The American mustang began as a “dawn horse” during pre-history, living on the plains with the American camel, wooly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers.

In the face of # 9579 I saw not only dignity and sorrow, but the palimpsest of a being older than time, whose journey to me had taken place over thousands of years.

 

#9579 running in her paddock.

#9579 running in her paddock @ the BLM.

 

The plight of this mare — one of so many posted on the BLM online auction site — haunted me.

But before I could intervene, I needed to find a home for her and someone who could bid on her once I had secured a place for her to live. (Canadians are prevented from online bidding, for reasons I never looked into.) So, working with my friend, John Pettyjohn, I began to search for mustang rescues within proximity of the mare’s location. Which, in turn, led to Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

As I learned more about Black Hills, I knew that this was where I wanted “my” mustang mare to live. In fact, Black Hills is where I wanted to live!

The stories below, written by founder Dayton Hyde about two of Black Hills’ personalities told me more about the spirit of Black Hills than any “fact-based” documentary ever could:

And then there was Dayton’s story of Medicine Hattie:

But I learned that there was another treasure at Black Hills: Susan Watt, the Executive Director and driving force behind her partner, Dayton Hyde’s, dream. Without Susan’s vision, expertise and skill, Black Hills today might have looked very different. But under her guidance, the Sanctuary thrives as well — or better — than most non-profits. And a good thing too. Because if there’s one thing she can count on, it’s the calls Susan gets every day about horses needing rescue. So when I called, she wasn’t surprised to hear my request.

 

Executive Director SUSAN WATT, who brings vision and strategic planning to Dayton Hyde's dream.

Executive Director SUSAN WATT, who brings vision and strategic planning to Dayton Hyde’s dream.

Having worked for a number of non-profits during my career, I understood “the basics” they all share, the central one being the constant search for funding. I suspect that Susan was relieved to find that Jim and I were prepared to sponsor our mare, once we had purchased her. And so this amazing woman from South Dakota and two people she had never met, one from Montreal and the other from Portland, began to plot the adoption and return to freedom of mare #9579.

And then there were two: #8869, a mare of the same age also gathered from the same herd, turns out to be #9979's best friend.

And then there were two: #8869, a mare of the same age, gathered from the Divide Basin herd in Wyoming, turns out to be #9579’s best friend.

Jim and I sent more money than was needed to secure # 9579 and Susan suggested we look into whether or not the mare had a best friend. Sure enough, she did. It was another bay mare, with a bit of white on her hind leg, who had been captured the same year from the Divide Basin herd of Wyoming. So we bought her as well.

This all happened in November 2015. It would take until March 2016 for the best friends to set foot on the vast reaches of the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota.

 

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Once we had “our girls” and had secured the best home in the world for them, Jim and I decided that they should be named in honour of Bear Witness.

We named the first mare Maya Littlebear and asked John and Jessie Kunz to name her BFF. The name they chose was Felicitas Witness aka “Tassy.”

MAYA LITTLEBEAR (foreground) and FELICITAS WITNESS (bay mare in background, looking into the camera) shown together @ the BLM in Canon City, Colorado. They arrived at Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary on March 10, 2016.

MAYA LITTLEBEAR (foreground) and FELICITAS WITNESS (bay mare in background, looking into the camera) shown together @ the BLM in Canon City, Colorado. They arrived at Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary on March 10, 2016.

Maya and Tassy: carry Bear into your future and anoint him with your joy. You are his eagle feathers.

(“Prairie Lark Gets Her Eagle Feather” filmed at Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary)

 

BONUS FEATURE

Take a tour of the amazing Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary on their website or (below) on video: http://www.wildmustangs.com

Videos:

BLACK HILLS WILD HORSE SANCTUARY: THE MISSION

FREE TO RUN: AN AFTERNOON AT BLACK HILLS WILD HORSE SANCTUARY

 

 

REFERENCES

Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary

http://www.wildmustangs.com

“What Happens To Racehorses Who Never Win?” at The Dodo: https://www.thedodo.com/bear-witness-horse-abuse-1571398906.html

Wild Hoofbeats: Carol Walker

http://www.wildhoofbeats.com

Bureau of Land Management, Canon City, Colorado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out who our great trainers of today would pick, if they were asked the same question?

 

James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons. The most prestigious American thoroughbred trainer of them all. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons. The most prestigious American thoroughbred trainer of them all. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

 

James aka “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons (also known as “Mr Fitz”) sits right at the top of distinguished American thoroughbred trainers. He began his career as a stable boy, working his way up to jockey. When his weight put an end to riding, Sunny Jim began to train thoroughbreds, saddling his first winner, Agnes D., on August 7, 1900 at Brighton Beach. As time moved on, his star shone brighter than any: two Triple Crown winners in Gallant Fox and son, Omaha, together with a slew of great colts and fillies, including Hard Tack, Granville, Faireno, Seabiscuit (before Charles Howard owned him), Fighting Fox (Gallant Fox’s full brother), Vagrancy, Johnstown, Bold Ruler, Nashua and Misty Morn. Sunny Jim’s horses won both the Jockey Gold Cup and Wood Memorial seven times; the Kentucky Derby three times; the Preakness four times; and the Belmont six times. His long association with William Woodward’s Belair Stud and the Phipps’ Wheatley Stables meant that some very fine horses came under his care and management. He was U.S. Champion trainer by earnings five times from 1930 until 1955. A beloved figure in the world of thoroughbred racing, Sunny Jim was noted for his gentleness and warmth, although he brooked no nonsense from any who worked for him. And he knew thoroughbreds inside-out.

Sunny Jim’s last great thoroughbred was Nashua, and the exploits of the colt in the 1950’s thrust both he and his trainer back into the spotlight. In 1957, word was out about another potential star in the 82 year-old Fitzsimmons’ stable: a son of Nasrullah named Bold Ruler.

NASHUA with Sunny Jim, who adored his less-than straightforward charge. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

NASHUA with Sunny Jim, who adored his less-than straightforward champion. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

BOLD RULER, with Eddie Arcaro up, defeats GENERAL DUKE in the 1957 Flamingo Stakes.

BOLD RULER, with Eddie Arcaro up, defeats GENERAL DUKE in the 1957 Flamingo Stakes. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

 

On February 23, 1957, journalist Frank Ortell, writing for the New York World Telegram, published this feature article. He had asked the great trainer which thoroughbreds he would place in his own fantasy stable or, which thoroughbreds were the greatest of all time. Here, as it was published, is Sunny Jim’s reply. (Photographs added by THE VAULT.)

Standouts In All Divisions: Exterminator and Man 0′ War Among His “All-Time Choices”

Frank Ortell, Staff Reporter

Miami, Feb. 23 (1957): Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who got his first racetrack job the day Grover Cleveland was inaugurated, looks back on his 82 years with undoubtedly the richest over lit capacity for thoroughbred appraisal of any living man.

Sunny Jim, still one of the top conditioners of America who even now is preparing Bold Ruler here at Hialeah for next Saturday’s Flamingo, today gives this newspaper’s readers the benefit of his Panoramic background in a unique venture. He’s picking the finest horses he has known in each division, in short a “dream stable.’

It is typical of the breadth of Jim’s vision that, of the 19 fillies’ and colts he has singled out, no more than three were trained by him-Nashua, Gallant Fox and Misty Morn.

 

Weight-Carrying ‘Essential’

Jim, stoop·shouldered but erectly forthright in opinion, started off with his top vote among the handicap racers.

“Exterminator is my best there,” he reported. “A handicap horse must carry weight at a variety of distances and he must be as strong at two miles as at six furlongs. That was Exterminator: He ran as often as called on — I think he

started 100 times –and track conditions meant little to him.”

C.C. Cook's great shot of EXTERMINATOR, whom he once described as "the beautiful and the glorious." Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

“EXTERMINATOR is my best there.” Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

Jim recalled that Exterminator, a gelding, had been purchased by Willis Sharpe Kilmer for $15,000 from J. C. Milam mainly as a work horse for the speedy Sun Briar. When Sun Briar couldn’t go in the 1918 Kentucky Derby, Exterminator

won under Willie Frapp, later named as Upset’s jockey in Man 0′. War’s only defeat.

Fitz’ supporting choices in the same division were Kingston, from the 1880s, and Roseben. At the turn of the century the handicappers just couldn’t find enough weight to stop Roseben in the shorter races.

ROSEBEN aka The Big Train.

ROSEBEN aka The Big Train joined EXTERMINATOR and KINGSTON as Sunny Jim’s top Handicap Horses.

For fillies in the handicap category, he nominated Beldame, leased by August Belmont to Newton Bennington (Belmont preferred not to race her himself) and the more recent Gallorette. “I’d like to add Lady Amelia,” he continued. “George Odom, a great trainer and a great jockey in his time, tells me that Lady Amelia could pack 130 pounds and run away from them. She did it at Gravesend. She also beat Roseben at Hot Springs.”

BELDAME was one of Sunny Jim's Handicap Fillies.

BELDAME was one of Sunny Jim’s Handicap Fillies.

Fitz’ Dream Stable

This is the “dream stable” selected by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons from all the horses in his ken.

TWO YEAR-OLD COLTS: Colin, Sysonby, Citation

TWO YEAR-OLD FILLIES: Top Flight, Regret

THREE YEAR-OLD COLTS: Man O War, Nashua, Count Fleet, Gallant Fox

THREE YEAR-OLD FILLIES: Artful, Twilight Tear, Misty Morn

HANDICAP HORSES: Exterminator, Kingston, Roseben

HANDICAP FILLIES: Beldame, Imp, Gallorette, Lady Amelia

 

Count Fleet for Speed

It is Jim’s opinion — and many others — that Man O’ War was the best three year-old of all time. “After him,” he said, ”I’d like to have Nashua and Count Fleet. Nashua was as sound as one could ask and and was willing to run any time.

Count Fleet had plenty of speed.”  Here he asked for inclusion of a fourth three-year·old. ‘” I want to save a stall for Gallant Fox,” he said. “He was the best three-year-old I had until Nashua came along.”

The Great One, Man O' War, shown working over the Saratoga track.

Man O’ War was “…the best three year-old of all time.”

 

COUNT FLEET (shown here with owners the Hertzes).

COUNT FLEET (shown here with owners the Hertzes) “…had plenty of speed.”

 

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.

“I want to save a stall for Gallant Fox.” Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

For his three year-old fillies, our expert chose Artful, Twilight Tear and Misty Morn. Artful, remembered by all old-timers was owned by W. C. Whitney and trained by John Rodgers. Strangely, she was no success as a broodmare. Her

“best” was a mediocrity named Sam Slick, who was five before he won at Bowie.

"Artful was the fastest horse I ever saw."

“ARTFUL was one of the speediest horses I ever saw.”

 

MISTY MORN, a daughter of Princequillo, was in the Fitz stable at the same period as Nashua. She was an exceptional filly. As a broodmare, she was the dam of BOLD LAD and SUCCESSOR, both sired by BOLD RULER.

MISTY MORN, a daughter of Princequillo, was an exceptional filly trained by Sunny Jim. As a broodmare, she was the dam of Bold Lad and Successor, both sired by Bold Ruler, and both two year-old champions in their respective years.

 

“Artful was one of the speediest horses I ever saw,” he recalled. “Twilight Tear was like a machine …. Misty Morn came strongest in the fall, because she could come up to a distance better than most.”

 

TWILIGHT TEAR "...was a machine." She is shown here winning the Acorn. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

TWILIGHT TEAR “…was like a machine.” She is shown here winning the Acorn. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

For his prize two-year colts, Fitz  picked  Sysonby and Colin, two fabled names out of the past. Both were owned by James R. Keene, one of the turf’s most noted patrons. It was his recollection, fortified by the records, that Sysonby lost

only once in 15 starts and that Colin never lost in 15. In a small purse era, Sysonby earned $184,438, Colin $181,610. Sysonby died of blood poisoning.. His skeleton may be seen in New York’s Museum of Natural History. Colin suf-

fered from chronic unsoundness and, when shipped to England, broke down in a workout. He never was raced there . ”Jim Rowe used to tell me, ‘the proudest thing in my life was that I trained Colin’,” Jim pointed out. For his modern two

year-old colt he added Citation. “One of the best young horses of all time,” he summed up Citation.

SYSONBY

SYSONBY figures as one of Sunny Jim’s prize two year-olds, together with COLIN and CITATION. The latter he described as “…One of the best young horses of all time.”

The two year-old fillies: “I’d take two from the same stable, Top Flight and Regret (C. V. Whitney). They could run with anything that was sent against them and were game enough to run as many times in a year as a trainer would want.”

 

TOP FLIGHT, shown here with her Man O' War foal, joins

TOP FLIGHT, shown here with her Man O’ War foal.

 

REGRET

REGRET, who, with Top Flight, “…could run with anything that was sent against them.” Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

1)“Welcome to Fitzsimmonsville” — a delightful and historical site devoted to Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

http://www.fitzbook.com

2) Swaps & Nashua (video): 

3)  Bold Ruler runs in the Trenton Handicap for top honours (video):

4) Gallant Fox — rare footage (video) 

5) Twilight Tear wins the Arlington Classic (video)

http://www.gettyimages.ca/detail/video/the-arlington-classic-is-run-at-washington-park-race-news-footage/504412273

 

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

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Using history as a guide, if I was shopping for a potential champion, I’d be looking for an “ugly duckling.”

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr.

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr. The colt was royally bred, but so tiny that E.P. Taylor failed to sell him as a yearling. In fact, potential buyers laughed when he was paraded out with the other yearlings!

Of course, none of the thoroughbreds discussed in this article were ugly. Not literally. But metaphorically, there was something about each one of them that hearkens back to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale: they seemed to be ugly ducklings but what no-one saw at the time was that they were not ducklings at all. Some weren’t good-looking enough. Others took too much time to come into their own. And still others were waiting for a special someone to come along, someone who looked into their eyes and saw who they really were.

The individuals whose stories appear here are only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” — VAULT readers will certainly be able to name many others who fall into this category.

And it all adds up to this: If there’s any “secret” to finding yourself another Frankel or American Pharoah or Black Caviar or Treve, it has to do with looking “under the feathers.”

“UGLY DUCKLINGS” #1: TOO UGLY TO EVER BE A CHAMPION

Perhaps we can’t help it. Horses are beautiful animals and thoroughbreds can be exquisite. And no matter how often horse folk remind us that beauty and talent don’t necessarily go hand in hand, it’s all too easy to ignore when you’ve got a plain bay standing next to a magnificent chestnut…….

 

KINCSEM (filly, 1874-1887)

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

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters. But it was painted in hindsight, when the world already had learned that she was incomparable, making one doubt its absolute accuracy.

She may well have been the greatest thoroughbred of them all, winning 54 times in as many starts on two different continents. Kincsem took on all comers and was so devastatingly good that she also ran in 6 walkovers when no-one would run against her.

But at her birth, she was declared by her owner-breeder, Ernest Von Blaskovich, to be the ugliest foal that he had ever seen — and most agreed with him. When Von Blaskovich offered the majority of that year’s crop of foals to Baron Orczy, the latter purchased all but two — and one of the rejects was Kincsem.

Here is one fairly accurate description of a thoroughbred that was so brilliant she actually paused to graze before taking off after the others, only to win going away:

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

As a broodmare, Kincsem was pretty decent, although she never duplicated herself. But through one of her daughters, she comes down to us today in the bloodlines of Coolmore’s fine colt, Camelot. In her native Hungary, Kincsem is a national hero and a film based on her life (although it appears that the mare isn’t its central protagonist) is due for release in 2016.

For more on this remarkable thoroughbred:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/kincsem-the-mystery-and-majesty-of-an-immortal/

And on the film:

http://www.euronews.com/2015/10/06/multi-million-dollar-hungarian-movie-hopes-to-compete-with-hollywood/

 

IMP (filly, 1894-1909)

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

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

 

She was the 1899 HOTY and twice won the honours for Champion Handicap Mare (1899 & 1900). She had her own theme song (below): “My Coal Black Lady.” And she was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1965.

But when she came into the world, the tiny daughter of Fondling (1886) by the stallion, Wagner (1882) was looked upon poorly by her owner-breeder because she wasn’t pretty and her conformation showed not the slightest hint of promise. But her owner-breeder, D.R. Harness of Chillicothe, Ohio kept her anyway, perhaps because the fact she was bred in the purple overrode his misgivings. Her ancestry included direct descent from the Darley Arabian, Eclipse and Lexington.

Imp raced an unthinkable number of times: 171. But she won 62 times, with 35 seconds and 29 thirds and raced more against the boys than those of her own sex. She set track records from 1 3/4 to 1 1/16.

By the time she was retired, at the age of eight, she was a national figure.

For more about Imp:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/my-coal-black-lady/

 

PHAR LAP (gelding, 1926 – 1932)

“Bobby” as he was called by those closest to him, arrived in the stable of trainer Harry Telford looking like a very, very sorry excuse for a racehorse. Which, in turn, precipitated the first crisis in Phar Lap’s biography, unbeknownst to the scrawny, dishevelled colt who had been born in New Zealand and was a son of the promising sire, Night Raid. Trainer Telford had bought Bobby for owner, David J. Davis, who rushed over excitedly to see his latest acquisition. After a moment of silence, Davis went ballistic. The compromise was that Bobby would be leased to Telford for a period of three years, the trainer covering all costs and the owner getting one third of the colt’s earnings. Assuming he could run.

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

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

The rest, as they say, is history: Bobby aka The Red Terror aka Phar Lap (meaning “lightning/bolt of lightning/lights up the sky” in the Thai language) was a champion. His great heart, together with his victories, moved Australia and New Zealand — and the racing world– to fall in love. And, in 2016, we are still in love with him:

Bobby’s risky run @ The Melbourne Cup in 1930 should have been a movie:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/bribes-threats-bullets-phar-laps-melbourne-cup-1930/

 

WAR ADMIRAL ( colt, 1934-1959)

“Sons of Man O’ War ought to look different,” Mr. Riddle decided, as he looked at Brushup’s new foal. It was a bay colt with no real pizzazz to it …. and it was tiny. Riddle found it impossible to hope for much from the little fellow, who much-resembled his dam. And Brushup had been hopeless as a runner, pretty as she was. Riddle tried, in vain, to hand the colt over to his partner, Walter Jeffords Sr., but when Jeffords refused, it was decided that Brushup’s boy would stay in the Riddle stable until he showed what, if anything, he had as a runner.

War Admiral [2006 Calendar, Nov]

 

By the time he was a three year-old, Riddle had learned that even though The Admiral was the size of a pony (15.2h) he did, indeed, carry his sire’s blood.

And that blood would show in not only in War Admiral’s Triple Crown, but also in the breeding shed. As a sire, his contribution to the breed was as definitive as was the impact of sons and daughters like Busanda, Busher, Bee Mac, Searching, War Jeep and Blue Peter on the sport itself. War Admiral led the general sire list in 1945, the 2 year-old sire list in 1948 and the broodmare sire list in 1962 and again in 1964.

Although The Admiral’s sons were not influential as sires, both Busanda and Searching made a huge impact. Their descendants include the likes of Swaps, Buckpasser, Numbered Account, Iron Liege, Hoist the Flag, Gun Bow, Striking and Crafty Admiral, as well as two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Other descendants of note from the War Admiral line include Dr. Fager, Alysheba, Cigar and, most recently, Zenyatta.

To this day, breeders point with pride to War Admiral in the lineage of their thoroughbreds. What the name connotes is timeless, synonymous with the very essence of the thoroughbred.

For more on War Admiral:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/war-admiral-the-little-horse-who-could-and-did-for-john-shirreffs/

 

ZENYATTA (filly, 2004)

As the tale is now famously told, the yearling daughter of Street Cry did not look her best in the sales ring as a yearling, due largely to a case of ringworm. But David Ingordo could see beyond all that. And Ann Moss has recounted how she and the filly seemed to “just click” at first meeting at Keeneland, just as though Zenyatta had chosen her.

When the hammer fell, the filly had been acquired by the Mosses. But she was not their only purchase that year and shortly after their yearlings arrived at Mayberry Farm, they received a call from Jeanne Mayberry. Jeanne had this to say,”Either you bought yourselves some very slow yearlings or else that Street Cry filly is very, very good. Because when they’re out together running, she leaves them all behind as though they aren’t even moving.”

Prophetic words.

But fast as Zenny was, it took time and patience to “get her right,” as the Mosses’ Racing Manager, Dottie Ingordo Sherriffs, has said. But when trainer, John Sherriffs, did get her right, the result was the birth of an American racing legend:

Retired with a record of 19 wins and 1 second place in 20 starts, Zenyatta’s fans have not diminished in the slightest. At this writing, Zenyatta is the only filly/mare to have ever won two different Breeders’ Cup races and the only filly/mare to ever have won the BC Classic.

 

“UGLY DUCKLINGS” #2: STANDING IN THE SHADOWS

In any institution, whether a school or a sport like horse racing, it works out a lot better if everyone develops in the same, linear way. Couple that with our love affair with speed — intelligence being linked to quickness and, in the case of thoroughbreds, ability with running fast enough to win, preferably at two — and you have the “cracks” through which genius and greatness all-too-frequently slip ……..

 

EXTERMINATOR (gelding, 1915 -1945)

 

 

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

The story of “Old Bones” is famous. He’s as legendary a figure in American thoroughbred racing as Man O’ War — and some say he was the best of them all. High praise for a big, coarse gelding who was bought as a rabbity for a flashy colt named Sun Briar, the hope of  Willis Sharpe Kilmer for the 1918 Kentucky Derby.

The man who first saw under the surface of the lanky chestnut with the deep, dark eyes was trainer Henry McDaniel. It was he who studied Bones and Sun Briar as they worked, noting the intelligence of the former at dealing with his moody running mate. And when Sun Briar couldn’t run in the Derby — and after considerable lobbying by McDaniel and Colonel Matt Winn, the President of Churchill Downs — Kilmer agreed to let the ugliest of his horses run instead. And so it was that Exterminator stepped on to a muddy track and transformed, in three minutes, from an ugly duckling to a Swan King.

To read more about Exterminator: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/a-collectors-mystery-exterminator-and-bob-dorman/

 

DISCOVERY (colt, 1931- 1958)

 

Discovery, a brilliant runner and outstanding broodmare sire, won Horse of the Year in 1935 over Omaha. Discovery appears 4X5X4 in Ruffian's pedigree.

DISCOVERY on the track. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

The son of Display had a brilliant, dazzling chestnut coat and lots of chrome. Born at Walter J. Salmon’s Mereworth Farm and owned by Adolphe Pons, the colt was impressively bred and ran head-first into the accompanying expectations. Predictably, he disappointed, winning only 2 of 13 starts as a two year-old.

At three he appeared again, looking fit enough. However, among the 3 year-olds that year was a colt named Cavalcade, who had already beaten Discovery the year before. In the Derby, Discovery chased Cavalcade home; in the Preakness, he finished third to High Quest and Cavalcade.

But Discovery was just getting going. He went on that same year to win the Brooklyn and Whitney Handicaps, and then set a world record time for 1 3/16 miles in the Rhode Island Handicap.

But his finest years were at four and five. In 1935, the colt won 11 of 19 starts, carrying an average of 131 lbs., gaining him the nickname “The Iron Horse.” Retrospectively named 1935 Horse of the Year (over Triple Crown winner, Omaha) and throughout 1936, Discovery’s winning ways continued. Of his Whitney win, the New York Times wrote that the chestnut ran “…the most decisive victory to be scored in a big American stake in many years.”

DISCOVERY was named Horse of the Year for 1935. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

DISCOVERY was named Horse of the Year for 1935. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

As a sire, it was Discovery’s daughters who gave him purchase on immortality, producing the great Native Dancer, Bold Ruler and Bed O’ Roses.

 

SEABISCUIT (colt, 1933-1947)

Rejected outright as a colt foal because of his size and conformation, the little son of Hard Tack languished as a runner until he hooked up with trainer Tom Smith, who could see right through the disguise. In Smith’s hands, “The Biscuit” blossomed into a horse with fire in his blood. It was the Depression Era: a good time for a hero to come along. Especially one who had once been “not good enough,” through no fault of his own. He battled back from defeat. He battled back from injury. And he taught America how to look a setback straight in the eye — and vanquish it.

Enjoy this rare footage of The Biscuit at work and play:

 

RED RUM (gelding, 1965- 1995)

 

 

RED RUM at work on the beach. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun

RED RUM at work on the sands of Southport, England. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun

 

“Beloved”  is probably the first response when someone speaks his name. Or “Immortal.” Something like that.

In its long, distinguished history the National Hunt has known many great horses, but none who rose to the standard of Red Rum. He was, quite simply, the greatest steeplechaser who ever lived.

By the time Donald “Ginger” McCain got his hands on the bay gelding, he had won a few one-mile races over the flat before being passed from one training yard to another. The horse who had descended from the great St. Simon, and whose name originated from the last three letters of his dam (Mared) and sire (Quorum) was never going to amount to much, running in cheap races with modest purses.

GINGER McCAIN WITH RED RUM PICTURED AT HIS STABLES BEHIND SECOND HAND CAR SHOWROOM. SOUTHPORT 1975. pic by George Selwyn,119 Torriano Ave,London NW5 2RX.T:+44 (0)207 267 6929 M: 07967 030722 email: george@georgeselwyn.co.uk Vat no:3308110 05

Ginger McCain with RED RUM, pictured at his stables behind his used car dealership in Southport, 1975. Photo and copyright, George Selwyn.

The first thing that McCain set out to do was to rehabilitate the gelding, who suffered from the incurable disease, pedal osteitis, a disease of the pedal bone. (This was discovered after the trainer paid a goodly sum for “Rummy” on behalf of owner, Noel le Mare.) The “cure” was swimming and long works on the beaches of Southport. And it worked miracles. Red Rum blossomed into a tough, rugged individual. (It should be noted that Ginger adored Rummy and the horse was never put at-risk in any of his races, unlike the situation when he was running on the flat.)

The result was not one, but three, wins in the Aintree Grand National, arguably the greatest test of any horse’s courage and stamina in the world. His first win came at a time when the Grand National was flirting with extinction. It needed a hero and it got one, in the form of a thoroughbred once-destined to run on the flat until he could run no more, and a used car salesman who “also” trained National Hunt horses — and saw something quite different in his Champion’s eye:

 

JOHN HENRY (gelding, 1975-2007)

“For the first two years of his life, John Henry had been peddled like a cheap wristwatch.” (Steve Haskin, in John Henry in the Thoroughbred Legends series)

JOHN HENRY at work.

JOHN HENRY at work.

To say he was “difficult” doesn’t even come close: for what ever reason, John had a nasty disposition, despite his workmanlike performances on the track. It would take trainers (and there were many) like Phil Amato and Ron McNally to work their way around temperament issues to gain the gelding’s trust before the John Henry we now know and admire emerged.

In his 3 year-old season, there were glimmers of ability. But from 1980 to his final win, at the ripe old age of nine, John Henry turned out to be the stuff of greatness. And not only was it his “arrival” as a turf star: John’s rags-to-riches story captivated fans who even today, almost nine years after his death, still revere his memory. Indeed, for many, John Henry is one of a pantheon of superstars, right up there with Exterminator, Man O’ War, Secretariat, Ruffian and American Pharoah.

By the time he was retired to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, John had twice won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year (1981, 1984), with 39 wins in 83 starts and earnings of over six million dollars USD. His 1981 election as Horse of the Year was unanimous and at the time, unprecedented for a nominee to receive all votes cast. In addition, John was inducted into the American Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1990.

 

ISTABRAQ (gelding, 1992)

Unlike John Henry (above), whose bloodlines were blue collar, Istabraq came from a royal line: a son of Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) whose dam, Betty’s Secret, was a daughter of Secretariat. Owned by E.P. Taylor, the Canadian thoroughbred breeder and owner of Northern Dancer, Betty’s Secret was sent to Ireland in 1987 to be bred to some of Northern Dancer’s British sons. Taylor died two years later and the mare, in foal to Sadler’s Wells was purchased by Hamdan Al Maktoum.

The foal she was carrying was Istabraq.

ISTABRAQ as a foal with his dam, Betty's Secret (Secretariat).

ISTABRAQ as a foal with his dam, Betty’s Secret (Secretariat).

The colt foal seemed to understand from the very beginning that he was “someone special.” And indeed he was destined to be — but it took time.

The colt’s name was Sindhi for “brocade” but the weave of him proved inferior on the flat, where he managed only 2 wins. His jockey, the great Willie Carson, described the youngster as a “slow learner” who “…also lacked speed and was not at home on fast ground…I came to the conclusion that the reason he was struggling was because he had no speed. In fact, he was one-paced…”

As a three year-old, he developed foot problems. He was, in fact, flat-footed, making shoeing him a problem. When Istabraq refused to quicken in his last race as a three year-old, despite Carson’s aggressive ride, Sheikh Hamdan let trainer John Gosden know that it was enough: Istabraq was to be sold.

John Durkan started his career as a jockey.

John Durkan started his career as a jockey before becoming an assistant trainer to the great John Gosden.

When John Durkan, Gosden’s assistant trainer, heard that Istabraq would be listed in the 1995 Tattersall’s sale he resolved to acquire him. He saw possibilities for Istabraq, but not on the flat — as a hurdler. Having informed Gosden that he would be leaving to go out on his own, Durkan began searching for a possible buyer for Istabraq and found one in J. P. McManus, a wealthy Irishman who had made a fortune as a gambler. Following the sale at Tattersall’s, McManus shipped Istabraq back to Ireland with the understanding that the colt would be trained by Durkan. In his young trainer, Istabraq had found someone who believed in him.

“He is no soft flat horse. He is the sort who does not get going until he’s in a battle. He has more guts than class and that’s what you need, ” Durkan told McManus, “He will win next year’s Sun Alliance Hurdle.” Prophetic words.

"No soft

“He is no soft flat horse…” Durkan counselled J. P. McManus. And you see it here, in the power as ISTABRAQ launches, even though he’s a good distance from the hurdle.

But the young Durkan would soon be beset with tragedy, although not before watching his beloved gelding take ten hurdle races in a row from 1996-1997. Durkan was battling cancer and was shipped to Sloane Kettering Hospital in New York City; Aidan O’Brien took over training duties. By 1998, John was dying and moved home to Ireland, succumbing on the night of January 21, 1998.

Charlie Swan wore a black armband in John’s memory on the day of Istabraq’s first start in 1998, the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle. The gelding, who was now 6 years old, was a national hero and thousands turned out to watch him begin his 6 year-old season in grand style at Leopardstown:

And then this gallant thoroughbred just went on and on and on, beginning with a win two months later at Cheltenham in what would be the first of three wins in the Champion Hurdle:

Retired in 2002, Istabraq is now in the fourteenth year of a happy retirement at his owner, J.P. McManus’ Martinstown Stud. There, the horse who was voted in 2009 the favourite of the last 25 years by the Irish people, hangs out with his BFF, Risk of Thunder, and continues to greet fans who visit from all over the world:

For more about Istabraq, one of Secretariat’s greatest descendants: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/secretariats-heart-the-story-of-istabraq/

 

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

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Together,we saved over 20 horses from going to slaughter in Canada or Mexico in 2015. And every donation counted in this effort because no donation is too small. Hale, Trendy Cielo, Maya Littlebear, Felicitas Witness and 16 others, including two mares and their foals, thank you.

Please consider making a donation to a worthy cause so that we can help more rescue efforts in 2016.

Thank you.

https://www.gofundme.com/8d2cher4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most thoroughbred folk know about the great Exterminator. But who on earth is Bob Dorman?

 

I have been a collector since I was a little girl.

It started with rocks and model horses. There was a brief flirtation along the way with old quilts. And then about twenty-five years ago, I went back to thoroughbreds and horses, in the form of original photographs and press photographs. I began with photos of Secretariat and Terlingua, his daughter by Crimson Saint and dam of Storm Cat, then expanded to include Northern Dancer and his descendants. Then I branched out to North American thoroughbred champions.

I’ve been lucky: I got into the market before prices for original press photographs went through the roof. And along the way, I not only satisfied a passion for photography but also learned about thoroughbred racing history and the photographers who recorded it, men like C.C. Cook, L.S. Sutcliffe, Bert Thayer and “Skeets” Meadors, to name but a few.

C.C. Cook's great shot of EXTERMINATOR, whom he once described as "the beautiful and the glorious." Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

C.C. Cook’s great shot of EXTERMINATOR, whom he once described as “the beautiful and the glorious.” Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

Sometimes I get lucky, finding a “gem” that is not only a great addition to my collection but also provokes me to question, and to research its provenance.

A few days ago, during a woeful hockey game, I turned on my cell phone and was trawling through EBAY when I came upon this photo (below), for the unlikely sum of $24.99 USD (Buy It Now):

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Robert Paine Dorman.

As a collector (of anything) you need to learn pretty fast how to recognize what’s rare and what’s fake. Marked up as it was, the photo was nevertheless stamped 1922 on the back and carried Exterminator’s name, neatly typed, in one corner. This was no fake. Photos of Exterminator are excessively rare, for reasons that simply may have to do with the state of photography of the day. Accordingly, an Exterminator photo can go as high as $500.00 USD in an EBAY auction. I had purchased from this seller over the years, one of a handful of enterprising people who have bought the photo archives of newspapers like the Chicago Tribune or The Baltimore Sun and are selling them on various sites on social media.

Naturally, I bought the photograph and I’m still flushed with delight about defining a photo of Exterminator at a price I can afford. Just before I bought it, I examined the back of the photo again:

Back of the 1922 photo of EXTERMINATOR.

Back of the 1922 photo (shown above) of EXTERMINATOR.

 

There, neatly stamped in the centre was the following: “Photo by/Bob Dorman/Newspaper Enterprise Ass.”

This is one of the best-known shots of EXTERMINATOR, with C. Fairbrother up.

This is one of the best-known shots of EXTERMINATOR, with C. Fairbrother up.

After collecting, researching, reading and writing for over two decades I’ve learned a great deal about press photographs in general, thoroughbred photographs in particular and the photographers who took them. I knew the photo I had just scored at a ridiculous price was rare because I’ve never seen it anywhere before.

Exterminator is an American thoroughbred legend. The gelding raced 99 times and did one exhibition run before his retirement, winning the Kentucky Derby and thoroughly surprising his owner, horseman Willis Sharp Kilmer. Kilmer had purchased “The Goat” (as he sometimes called him) as a three year-old, on the advice of his trainer, Henry McDaniel.

But it was the fancy Sun Briar on whom Kilmer placed his hopes for the 1918 Kentucky Derby. McDaniel and the big, leggy gelding soon developed a relationship based largely on Old Bones’ intelligence and the trainer’s skill at noticing it. Exterminator was a hard-working colt who seemed to know that his job was to get Sun Briar ready for Derby honours. According to some reports, “Old Shang” (his stable name) was intelligent enough to cope with Sun Briar’s mood swings and knew exactly what to do to get his workmate to put in a really good run.

EXTERMINATOR and SUN BRIAR work at Saratoga in 1918.

EXTERMINATOR (outside) and SUN BRIAR work at Saratoga in 1918, after the former’s win in the Kentucky Derby. Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

 

But when Sun Briar was scratched, and after some powerful convincing by Churchill Downs’ President, Colonel Matt Winn, Kilmer finally agreed to enter Exterminator in the Derby as a replacement. The result was a decisive win by a colt his owner didn’t much like. (The silent footage below shows Exterminator winning the 1918 Derby and is the only live footage of this superb champion.)

After his Derby victory, the chestnut was to race until he was nine, taking HOTY in 1922. His victories at eight and nine were probably unprecedented and many would say that Exterminator was the greatest of them all — including Man O’ War. By the time he had retired, this courageous and gritty campaigner had amassed thousands of fans and even today, all these decades later, there are many of us who still adore him.

EXTERMINATOR and his best buddy, PEANUTS, lead horses to the post at Pimlico for the Exterminator Handicap.

EXTERMINATOR and his best buddy, PEANUTS, lead horses to the post at Pimlico for the Exterminator Handicap. Date unknown. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

I am one of those who loves Exterminator. C.C. Cook’s beautiful shot of him hangs above my bed, where his great heart dusts my dreams.

Images of Exterminator tend to be restricted to a few of the greatest equine photographers of the day, making it natural to be intrigued by this new photo I had just acquired by a photographer whose name meant nothing to me.

“Who was Bob Dorman?” I wondered — and what was his connection to Exterminator?

The search was on.

ROBERT PAINE DORMAN. Passport photo.

ROBERT PAINE DORMAN. Passport photo.

As it turns out, Robert “Bob” Paine Dorman was not only a very fine photographer, but he was a “Battle Photographer Extraordinaire,” according to Benjamin David “Stookie” Allen, a cartoonist best-known for his nationally syndicated series, “Mugsey.” Allen also created the cartoon series “Men of Daring” and “Women of Daring” for Argosy magazine and it is within its pages, on January 19, 1935, that the cartoonist portrayed the career of Robert Paine (spelled “Payne” in the issue) Dorman.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1885, Dorman’s obituary describes him as “a news photographer, 73,[who] had a varied career, covering the Mexican Revolution led by Pancho Villa, the Dempsey-Gibbons fight in 1923 and the first round the world flight of a U.S. Air Corps squadron in 1924.” As it turns out, this is a rather tame description of Dorman’s career.

According to “Skookie” Allen, in 1911 at twenty-six years of age, Dorman “…armed with a camera” set out for Mexico and what he imagined as the excitement of the Mexican Revolution. There, he joined the army of Francisco I. Madero as a Private. He earned no salary in this role, and so became a self-dubbed “unofficial” war correspondent and “sidelines” photographer. One assumes “sidelines” means exactly what it says: accompanying the Mexican revolutionaries into battle and trying not to get yourself killed in the process. But, maybe not…..because Dorman took part in at least two battles (Casa Grande and El Valle) and a number of minor skirmishes with “gun and camera in-hand,” according to Skookie Allen. Dorman may have known and partnered with another American photographer, Otis A. Aultman, who was also there recording the revolution.

Robert Dorman photo from The Mexican Revolution. Published in "The Wind That Swept Mexico" by Anita Brenner. Copyright The Estate of Robert Dorman.

Robert P. Dorman photo, taken during the Mexican Revolution. Published in “The Wind That Swept Mexico” by Anita Brenner. Copyright The Estate of Robert Paine Dorman.

 

Robert Paine Dorman photo taken during the Mexican Revolution. Copyright The Estate of Robert Paine Dorman.

Another Dorman photo taken during the Mexican Revolution. Also published in Anita Brenner’s book, “The Wind That Swept Mexico.” Copyright The Estate of Robert Paine Dorman.

 

Allen continues, “Because of his expert battle photographs, his first-hand reports to American papers, his fighting ability and his sage military advice to Madero, the Federals placed a large reward on his head. He taught Madero the trick of curling up rails …thus hampering the movement of Federal troops.”

By 1915, Dorman had risen to Colonel in Pancho Villa’s forces. He was, reputedly, one of “the few gringos that Villa ever trusted.” Once again, Dorman took gun and camera into combat, fighting in the battles of Tierra Blanca, Ojinaga, Monterey, Torreon, Leon and Zacarecas. While serving with Villa, “Don Roberto” (as he became known) photographed and reported scores of executions. One of these was carried out by “El Carnicero” (“The Butcher”) purely for Dorman’s benefit, since the executioner so respected El Roberto’s skills as a fighter he wanted to demonstrate his own ability to obliterate the enemy.

Fierri (The Butcher) in black with Pancho Villa. Possibly taken by Dorman, but source unknown.

Fierri (El Carnicero:The Butcher) in black with Pancho Villa. Possibly taken by Dorman, but source unknown.

By 1923 Dorman had moved on, this time to another bloody conflict in Honduras. He clearly had returned to the USA before the Honduras spate, however, since the photo of Exterminator was taken in 1922.

The story of Dorman’s coverage of the first world-flight by the U.S. Air Corps (1924) is colourful, although it doesn’t quite compare with being a Colonel in Pancho Villa’s army.

The Air Corps had landed in Labrador at the end of their mission, and Dorman, then employed by ACME Newspictures, needed to get his glass slides and negatives to New York City as fast as he could manage it if he wanted to be the first to scoop the story.

As his plane was flying over Manhattan’s East River, the photographer threw his slides and negatives overboard. Waiting in a boat on the river was another ACME photographer of merit, Frank Merta, who recovered the bag. The slides had smashed to bits on impact, but the negatives were intact. So Robert Dorman’s images went to press well-ahead of any of the legion of photo journalists who had covered the event.

One of Robert P. Dorman's shots of the first world-flight by the U.S. Air Corps.

One of Robert P. Dorman’s shots of the first world-flight by the U.S. Air Corps. Taken in Labrador, the shot shows the remaining planes coming in for a landing with dignitaries in the foreground, readying to greet them. Copyright UPI.

 

Robert Dorman also got the call to cover the Dempsey-Gibbons fight in Shelby,

Dorman also got the call to cover the Dempsey-Gibbons fight in Shelby, Montana in 1923.

 

Did Robert Dorman take these photos? Very possibly, but no photographer was named in the article.

Did Robert P. Dorman take these photos? Very possibly, but no photographer was named in the article.

 

In 1951 when Dorman retired, he had become the General Manager of ACME Newspictures. Throughout his career, he had somehow found time to marry Mary McConnell and they had two children, Dorothy and Robert G., both of whom are now deceased.

EXTERMINATOR (hi)

EXTERMINATOR meets visitors and enjoys a favourite snack. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

My research still can’t account for how Robert P. Dorman and Exterminator crossed paths in 1922, although it’s a fair bet that the former was assigned to get a picture of the Horse of the Year.

When the photographer came calling on this particular day almost a century ago, I’m guessing that the big chestnut knew he was among equals. You can see it in his eye.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

 

 

BONUS FEATURE

Did you know that on April 26, 2016……there’s a new book about Exterminator?

http://www.amazon.com/Here-Comes-Exterminator-Longshot-American/dp/1250065690/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1452200865&sr=1-1&keywords=9781250065698

REFERENCES

Allen, Benjamin David “Skookie,” Men of Daring: Robert Payne Dorman, in Argosy magazine, January 15, 1935

Faber, John. Great News Photos and the Stories Behind Them. Dover Publications, 2nd Revised Edition, 1978

 

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

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Together,we saved over 20 horses from going to slaughter in Canada or Mexico in 2015. And every donation counted in this effort because no donation is too small. Hale, Trendy Cielo, Maya Littlebear, Felicitas Witness and 16 others, including two mares and their foals, thank you.

Please consider making a donation to a worthy cause so that we can help more rescue efforts in 2016.

Thank you.

https://www.gofundme.com/8d2cher4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sending each of you who have supported THE VAULT over the years with commentary, donations, questions and insights my very warmest wishes this holiday season. To those who have sent donations for horse rescue: we have saved over 20 horses from going to slaughter in Canada or Mexico in 2015. And every one of your donations counted in this effort because no donation is too small. As well, my portrait of American Pharoah helped to raise funds for our very worthy cause. Hale, Trendy Cielo, Maya Littlebear, Felicitas Witness and 16 others, including two mares and their foals, thank you. And I thank you from the heart. Abigail Anderson, Montreal, Canada

https://www.gofundme.com/8d2cher4

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Ireland has her Galileo, but almost a decade before he came along, A.P. Indy was born. His courage on the track dazzled us. And his contribution to the development of the North American thoroughbred has been beyond brilliant.

This article is dedicated to one of A.P.’s greatest fans, Sue F., and to Louise H. and the wonderful folks at Lane’s End. And, of course, to The Great One himself.

 

1989: A baby A.P. Indy at Lane's End.

1989: A baby A.P. INDY at Lane’s End.

 

A.P. INDY tops Keeneland summer sale, August 4, 1990. Billed as a brother to the great SUMMER SQUALL, A.P. was purchased by

A.P. INDY tops Keeneland summer sale, August 4, 1990. Billed as a half-brother to the great SUMMER SQUALL, A.P. was purchased by Tomonori Tsurumaki for 2.9 million.

 

The bay colt was breeding royalty: the son of Triple Crown winner and prepotent sire, Seattle Slew, and Weekend Surprise, a daughter of Secretariat who had already produced the champion Summer Squall. Named A.P. Indy after his owner’s Formula One-style racetrack in Southern Japan, the ridgeling went to HOF trainer Neil Drysdale following his highly publicized purchase by BBA Ireland on behalf of Japanese businessman, Tomonori Tsurumaki, who was also a lover of the arts and had spent $51.3 million the year before on a painting by Picasso, Les Noces de Pierrette.

As we all know, perfect bloodlines aren’t always rewarded. But in the case of A.P. Indy, the genes — and a touch of fairy dust — all came together to bless a perfect thoroughbred.

And I followed his progress, as did thousands of horse racing fans, from cradle right up to today. During his racing career, with the exception of wins in the 1992 Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, both of which were televised in Canada, and in the absence of social media as we know it today, it was Blood-Horse magazine that kept me in the loop. And I’m amazed I didn’t rip at least one cover right off as I tore into each new issue, looking for news about my beloved “A.P.”

Santa Anita Derby (1992):

But the A.P. Indy Express was de-railed on its way to Kentucky. A blind quarter crack in his left front foot was announced the morning of the Derby. I, of course, didn’t know this until later in the day. There I was, all keyed up with snacks and Chardonnay, waiting to see “my boy” in real time right in front of me on my television set for the very first time.

I was devastated — and that’s all I remember about the 1992 Kentucky Derby (won by the gutsy Lil E Tee). That, and the thought that A.P.’s hoof issue was like another thoroughbred champion I adored: Northern Dancer.

Drysdale called in the farrier, who rebuilt the hoof wall, and a mere three weeks later, A.P. won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont in devastating fashion.

And then it was off to the Belmont Stakes, where the gritty colt put in a workmanlike performance that left me in a teary heap, because I knew what I was looking at. Seeing him “in the flesh” was the height of my year in 1992. But the heart that carried him home was a heart so deep, so strong, that it blazed across the television screen.

Picasso was a genius of a painter but he was also a tough, resolute personality. He was, after all, the man who painted Guernica at a time when he could have been assassinated for even saying the name of a town devastated by the Germans during the Spanish Civil War. And throughout WWII, Picasso let it be known how he felt about intimidation, retiring to his Paris studio to paint and cast sculptures in bronze, despite the fact that bronze casting had been outlawed by the Germans (who had taken over Paris). The great man had died in 1973.

Woman On Horse by PICASSO. Although he was deeply devoted to the bull, Picasso featured horses in many of his paintings throughout his career. One sculpture, "Little Horse" is in the collection of

Woman On Horse. Although he was deeply devoted to the bull as a subject, Picasso featured horses in many of his paintings throughout his career. One sculpture, “Little Horse” is in the collection of MoMA.

According to his accomplished trainer, A.P. was as strong-willed as Picasso: “…he had his own mind. But once he got the hang of things…he was exceptional.”

If Vaslav Nijinsky had, indeed, returned as a horse (the incomparable Nijinsky II), then as far as I was concerned, Picasso had returned to win the Belmont Stakes:

The Belmont victory was followed by a poor showing at Woodbine in the Molson Export Million and a disastrous run in the Jockey Gold Cup, where A.P. fell to his knees and ripped the shoe off his front foot coming out of the gate. As trainer Drysdale was to note after the race, “There wasn’t much foot left…”

So the colt you see finishing third here is also showing you what that heart inside him was really all about. (Analysis of A.P. Indy’s fall and the result comes after the race footage.) :

Again, a front hoof was rebuilt with acrylics and again, a mere three weeks later, A.P. made his start in the 1992 BC Classic. And again, that great heart and determined mind shone through:

Following this, his final start, the champion colt — beloved by a nation of sportsman and racing fans — was retired to stand at Lane’s End, where he was bred and born, after being crowned the 1992 Horse of the Year and Champion 3 year-old colt. One of the big questions was whether A.P. was fertile, since the undescended testicle that had plagued him as a 2 year-old had been surgically removed that same year. Happily, not only was he fertile but he went on to become one of the greatest American sires ever, while providing an important alternative to the dominance of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector sire lines for breeders. A.P. hails from the Nasrullah sire line and since 1984, when Seattle Slew crowned the leading sire list, only A.P. Indy and his grandson, Tapit, have represented Nasrullah at the top of the heap. Significant because the Nasrullah sire once dominated American breeding. From 1955-1984, either Nasrullah or one of his male-line descendants led the sire lists a total of 18 times.

BOLD RULER, the sire of the incomparable SECRETARIAT, was the son of NASRULLAH. BOLD RULER is represented in A.P. INDY'S pedigree on both the top and the bottom.

BOLD RULER, the sire of the incomparable SECRETARIAT, was the son of NASRULLAH. BOLD RULER is represented in A.P. INDY’S pedigree on both the top and the bottom.

And top the heap A.P. Indy most certainly did, whether colts or fillies. Here are a few of the most prominent of his sons and daughters: Belmont Stakes winner, Rags To Riches, millionaires Mineshaft, Bernardini and Aptitude, and the outstanding Steven Got Even, Marchfield, Friends Lake, Got Lucky, Hotep, Symboli Indy, Golden Missile and Girolamo. BC winner Eldaafer, a gelding son, resides — with his goats — at Old Friends in Kentucky. Pulpit was arguably A.P.’s best son to date at stud and was, sadly, gone far, far too soon. However, Pulpit’s son,Tapit, is proving an absolute monster as a sire and has been the leading American-based sire by gross earnings for the last three years.

TAPIT, a grandson of A.P. INDY, has been the leading American-based sire for the last 3 years.

TAPIT, a grandson of A.P. INDY, has been the leading American-based sire for the last 3 years.

Most recently, the millionaire-earner Honor Code, who hails from A.P. Indy’s final crop, has been retired to stand at Lane’s End.

Here is Honor Code winning the 2015 Metropolitan Handicap. His style — reminiscent of the great Zenyatta — was to come from behind and he accomplished some astounding feats despite it. The way he ran is A.P. Indy all over again, in terms of the look of him on the track. This is a very, very nice colt and it will be so exciting to see how he does as a sire.

HONOR CODE shortly after arriving at Lane's End, posing in front of the statue of his sire, A.P. INDY.

HONOR CODE shortly after arriving at Lane’s End, posing in front of the statue of his sire, A.P. INDY.

 

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"PONY!" I exclaimed, trying to hold back my tears. "Here you are. I've loved you forever."

“PONY!” I exclaimed, trying to hold back my tears. “Here you are. I’ve loved you forever.” Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

Here I was, about to meet one of my greatest loves of all time: A.P. Indy. And as I walked toward him, I had what my friend, photographer and artist, Liz Read, has since described as ” a complete meltdown.”

It was early summer and my very first visit to Kentucky. Liz and I were privileged to be welcomed at Lane’s End (LE) and given a private tour by the lovely and knowledgeable Louise Hatfield, the Executive Assistant to Farm Manager, Mike Cline. Louise is a soft-spoken horsewoman who rode thoroughbreds at Newmarket and she knows her LE thoroughbreds down to the last detail.

Lane’s End is a place staffed by people who truly love what they do. And that was evident from the expression of Louise, Stallion Manager Billy Sellers and groom attendant, Antonio Villalobo, as I tearfully approached A.P.

 

Louise, Antonio and "my boy" share in my delight of A.P. INDY. Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

Louise and Antonio share in my delight at finding myself a few feet away from the great A.P. INDY. Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

As I drew closer, A.P. watched me out of the corner of one eye. It was a kind, relaxed eye. Gleaming in the early summer light, he waited patiently for me to come closer while I struggled to comprehend what was actually happening. Of course, I was equipped with LE peppermints and Louise had assured me that “A.P. does love his mints.”

"A.P. does love his mints" Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

“A.P. does love his mints” Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

I was around horses as a youngster and had learned that you don’t just rush up to strange horses and pat their noses. Horses tolerate that, but they don’t like it. So, with Louise close by and Antonio at his head, I chatted with A.P. and then proffered the much-adored peppermints. I don’t know how long we stood there before I actually placed my hand on his proud head. A.P. is one of those individuals who talks to you in a horse’s way of talking — making eye contact for long moments, ears forward and head drawing ever closer. I could feel his warmth right down in my solar plexus. I knew when to pat, when to kiss, following the stallion’s lead.

First touches. Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

First touches. Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

 

THE KISS. The making of a lifetime memory. Photo protected by copyright. Used by permission of Liz Read.

THE KISS. The making of a memory that will live inside me forever. Photo protected by copyright. Used by permission of Liz Read.

As I kissed him, A.P. studied me with a kind and understanding eye, as though he somehow knew how much I loved him. His face, warmed by the sun, smelled like honey.

Horses learn what they are taught and the people of LE treat all of their thoroughbreds with great kindness and respect and, if possible (because not every horse will encourage it) with affection. It was eminently clear that A.P.’s relationship with those who knew him best was deep and abiding. I saw it in the trust with which he greeted me, a total stranger.

As we chatted, I told A.P. all the reasons why I loved him and how I had followed his career from birth to track to breeding shed. I thanked him for his sons and daughters, and for his grand babies too. I told him he had the bravest heart (after his run on a battered hoof in the Jockey Gold Cup) and that I had loved his daddy, his dam and his grandaddy, Secretariat.

 

How do I love thee? Oh let me count the ways! Photo is copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

How do I love thee? Oh let me count the ways! Photo is copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

A.P. chomped thoughtfully on his peppermints, giving me the impression he was indeed taking it all in. A strikingly expressive individual, A.P. showed a full range of feeling as we quietly interacted. This is an “old soul” who bespeaks first meetings between horse and humankind, Arabian forefathers and an ancient wisdom.

A.P. surrounded by love. Photo is copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

A.P. surrounded by love. Photo is copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

Finally, it was time for A.P. to enjoy a romp in his paddock and off he went with Antonio, Liz Read and her camera in hot pursuit. I remained outside the barn with Louise. Together we watched him prance at the gate and, once released, he was off. Louise turned to Billy Sellers, “Just look at him. He looks like a colt.”

Turned loose in his paddock, A.P. was gone in a flash. Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

Turned loose in his paddock, A.P. was gone in a flash. Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

 

A coltish A.P. INDY turned out in his paddock. Copyrighted photo. Used by permission of Liz Read.

A coltish A.P. INDY. Photo protected by copyright. Used by permission of Liz Read

 

Copyrighted photo. Used by permission of Liz Read.

Photo protected by copyright. Used by permission of Liz Read.

 

This photo was such a hit with Lane's End that it appeared on FB and in the TDN. Photo protected by copyright. Used by permission of Liz Read.

This photo was such a hit with Lane’s End that it appeared on their FB page and in the TDN (below). Photo protected by copyright. Used by  permission of Liz Read.

 

AP by LIZ in TDN_unnamed

 

On that day, back in August 1990, I wonder if Tomonori Tsurumaki knew he was buying Picasso? Probably not. But in this great, great thoroughbred’s career there has been abundant evidence that if Picasso could indeed return to us, A.P. Indy would be a perfect embodiment.

Pablo Picasso. Watering Hole (1906)

Pablo Picasso. Watering Hole (1906)

Some who visit A.P. Indy note the swayed back of a pensioner, but I’ll never remember him that way. What will stay with me is “my boy’s” expressiveness, all wrapped up in a beautiful head, with wide dark eyes that flicker and soften when you speak to him. That, and the scent of honey on a warm day in early summer.

To Louise and the other folks we met that day, I express my eternal gratitude: you made the little girl inside the woman joyous. Coming head-to head with a horse I have loved forever was as overwhelming as it was precious.

And to my darling boy: I send you all my love. You already own my heart — and that’s forever.

 

A.P. Indy

 

 

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

 

 

On November 2, Team Pharoah gave their boy away. 

 

Bob Baffert says goodbye. Photo and copyright, TDN.

Bob Baffert says goodbye. Photo and copyright, TDN.

The great horse stopped twice on his way to the van that would take him to Coolmore-Ashford, where the second chapter of his life begins.

The first time, trainer Bob Baffert could be heard saying, “He doesn’t want to go.”

The second time — which brought tears to my eyes — he looked all around. A long, slow look — at the crimson trees, the roof of the barn, the field stretching beyond. In that moment, I felt American Pharoah saying goodbye to everything that he had ever known.

The Zayat and Baffert families, Jimmy and Dana Barnes, Eduardo Luna, George Alvarez and Smokey the pony now live in another world, a world in which the colt who took them on the ride of their lives is no longer there.

American Pharoah isn’t in the spaces where I knew him either, where I looked for him, where I expect him to be. There is an eerie stillness in my heart. An emptiness where memories glide like chimera.

 

"How many horses would let you do that?" With Ahmed Zayat and Bob Baffert.

“How many horses would let you do that?” (Mr. Zayat) With Ahmed Zayat and Bob Baffert.

 

Today, I want it all back — the joy, the excitement, the anticipation, the thrills.

And the magic.

Most of all, the magic. And I’m not alone on that score.

 

Here’s one fan, “Lady Ruffian’s” tribute:

 

Another, “Winged Saviors Horse Rescue” said, “Made solely as a tribute to an amazing horse and athlete.”

 

The fans: “ordinary folks” — just like me — trying to articulate what it feels like to witness greatness. To see history enfold right before your eyes and know that you were a part of it:

 

And “Team American Pharoah” — so incredibly gracious and kind, sharing their colt with each one of us, even if we could only come close to him over a screen from afar. Within a year of racing triumphs came stories that buoyed the heart, such as Jill Baffert reaching out to 15 year-old Joshua Griffin, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and wanted more than anything else to meet American Pharoah. (http://www.drf.com/news/bafferts-help-dream-become-reality-one-american-pharoah-fan)

On Sunday, the day after the colt’s BC Classic victory, Joshua’s wish came true. As he reached up to pet the great horse, Pharoah lowered his head, shown here near the end of this clip:

I’m kind of surprised at my own reaction to American Pharoah’s retirement. I’ve witnessed three other Triple Crown winners during my lifetime, beginning with Secretariat. Add to that the retirement of Northern Dancer, Nijinsky, Dance Smartly, A.P. Indy, John Henry, Cigar, Kelso and, more recently, Frankel, Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.

In the “old days,” when a horse like Secretariat retired all you got was a 3-minute television clip; then, as a living image, he was gone. There were no video clips or DVD’s, no reports from “down on the farm.” Even the death of the Big Red horse, an icon and a superstar, loved by millions, came out in the newspaper in modest articles, a few lines with a photo.

 

AMERICAN PHAROAH: running from within.

AMERICAN PHAROAH: running from within.

Today, social media allows a sense of immediate contact. In this “context of immediacy,” I have spent many, many hours with Pharoah and his team, listening intently to what Bob Baffert had to say, watching footage of workouts and fan visits, looking at an encyclopedic assembly of photographs, savouring each and every detail about him, from his love of peeled carrots to his “great mind.”

And that mind should not be underestimated. As Aidan O’Brien sees it, a thoroughbred without “mental strength” is “useless.”

For anyone wondering what a “great mind” aka “mental strength” looks like, it finds superb expression in American Pharoah. Even his by-now legendary calm is associated with superior grey cells.

That great mind chooses the softest, gentlest window on the world. Photo and copyright, Casey Phillips. Used with permission.

That great mind chooses the softest, gentlest window on the world. Photo and copyright, Casey Phillips. Used with permission.

But where that mental toughness exploded was at work or in a race. Horsemen talk about hoping their young trainees will “get it.” But you can’t train into an individual what an American Pharoah, or Ruffian, Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Man O’ War or Frankel have. The ones with mental toughness just know they can do it and they accomplish pretty much anything asked of them, no matter how exacting. They’re born that way.

KEEN ICE pulls up alongside AMERICAN PHAROAH in the Travers.

KEEN ICE pulls up alongside AMERICAN PHAROAH in the Travers.

You saw incredible strength of mind in American Pharoah’s run in the Travers, coming back against Frosted and then battling Keen Ice to the wire. Even an exhausted Pharoah refused to give up the will to win.

Bob Baffert also talked about his colt’s “mechanics.” I can’t say I love the word choice — we still struggle to let go of our enchantment with the metaphor of the machine to describe efficiency and productivity — but I knew what Baffert meant. He meant this:

Balance. The perfect syncopation. The flow. The ease with which he seems to do it. The arch in his neck, giving you the impression he’s got a choreographic routine in mind, or a ballet step.

Pharoah, you made me joyous.

When I watched you come down the final stretch at Keeneland, I wept. It was as though a river of human feeling had erupted. There you were, coming home, running from within and for the sheer love of it. Extreme beauty hurts your eyes, shocks your mind and opens your heart……and so I beheld you. Startling. Greater than beautiful. A song in my heart.

 

My all-time favourite image of AMERICAN PHAROAH and Victor Espinoza just after the BC Classic.

My all-time favourite image of AMERICAN PHAROAH and Victor Espinoza just after the BC Classic.

 

Bittersweet, watching Pharoah and his team over the last day before the colt was moved to Coolmore-Ashford and into retirement. But as I watched him with Ahmed and Justin Zayat, Bob and Jill Baffert, Jimmy Barnes, Eduardo and George, the thought that came to mind was this:

 ” The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” (Pablo Picasso)

Thank you, Team Pharoah, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing a colt I love so generously. Your spirits are as great as that of your champion.

And thank you, Pharoah, for the magic you made — and then gave away to us all.

 

At AMERICAN PHAROAH's parade at Churchill Downs.

At AMERICAN PHAROAH’s parade at Churchill Downs.

With Jimmy Barnes, Eduardo Luna and George Alvarez.

With Jimmy Barnes, Eduardo Luna and George Alvarez.

With Bob Baffert at Saratoga

With Bob Baffert at Saratoga.

"SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT" Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco. Used with permission.

“SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT” Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco. Used with permission.

 

With the Baffert family.

With the Baffert family.

 

Last words go to Jim Gath of Cave Creek, Arizona:

 

American_Pharoah_BC_Classic_615_X_400_orig

 

Well, well, my son.

You did it. Yeah, you did.

When you stepped onto the track this afternoon, you not only had the eyes of the world upon you, but you had the hopes & dreams of millions on your back. Sometimes, those hopes & dreams can get a little heavy – too heavy, sometimes. And they can’t be carried a mile-&-a-quarter, especially against competitors that are, quite arguably, some of the finest on earth.

But you knew. You’ve known all along. You haven’t bragged. You haven’t stomped & strutted. You haven’t gotten headstrong. We could see it in your eyes & in your demeanor. You knew that, today, you would not only go out on top – the very top – but you would do it with authority. You would run for the love of motion, for the love of running. For the love of those to whom you mean so much.

You knew that you’d break on top. That you would go to the early lead. That you would toy with the others going down the backside & around the far turn. And you also knew that, coming out of that final turn & heading for home, you would be by yourself. All by yourself. You, running against nothing but history.

You knew that you’d take the others’ hope away.

And, then, like an earth-bound Pegasus, you began to fly. And while the others were straining every muscle in their precious bodies, you simply laughed & stretched your legs & romped your way into that rarified air that is reserved for those who have done what no other ever has.

You looked like you were having the time of your life out there. Hell, son – you didn’t even break a sweat! And seeing you & Victor giggling together, coming back after you’d galloped out – well, son – that was just about the sweetest thing I ever did see.

You are now one of a kind.

The only horse ever to have won the Grand Slam.

I’ll miss seeing you flying down the stretch & across the finish line. I’ll miss seeing you in the Winner’s Circle. I’ll miss seeing the love that surrounds you by everyone you live & work with.

But what I & many others will carry with us is your inspiration.

You’ve inspired us to remain calm & serene. You’ve inspired us to know in our hearts that we can do whatever we put our minds to – if we want it bad enough. You’ve inspired us to see, unequivocally, that actions speak louder than words. That hopes & dreams can be achieved. And you’ve inspired us to see that life is to be embraced & loved & enjoyed.

That’s right, son.

You not only ran like the wind, today.

You carried millions of us along with you.

Yes, you did that.

Yeah, you did.

And, for that, we shall be forever grateful.

 

(Author Jim Gath is a horseman who works at Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary (http://tierramadrehorsesanctuary.org) and whose writing about American Pharoah is as moving as the feeling that drives it.)

 

 

 

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

 

 

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