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As any parent, grandparent, teacher or librarian will tell you, helping a child to become a reader for life starts when they are young. But it’s not just about introducing books an adult thinks a child might like. It’s about following the child’s interests, because when a child discovers a book that speaks to them in the most intimate way, there will be no turning back. This article is dedicated to my friend, librarian J.D.

The very first Pointe Claire library, built in the late 19th century.

The very first Pointe Claire library, built in the late 19th century.

Shortly before I retired from education, my team and I travelled around the province of Quebec to offer seminars to practising teachers on a number of topics. Arguably one of our absolute favourite sessions was the one we animated on early literacy. The reason it was our favourite had a good deal to do with what happened as we began laying out our ideas for the session.

After a good deal of talking — always the beginning stage of any production process for us — we fell into a conversation about the books we had loved as children. As each of us shared our memories, we began to see that literacy is deeply embedded in an individual’s “reading landscape,” beginning with their earliest experiences with books. Anything, in fact, that an individual associates with discovering the pleasures of reading is part of an individual’s reading landscape, from best-loved books to bookmarks to places or events where books were borrowed, bought or received as gifts.

We each set out to uncover, and write about, our own reading landscapes. (The idea was to mount our stories on a blog that teachers we were meeting could access prior to the literacy seminar, which we actually did and the teachers just loved this. In fact, it sent many of them off in search of their own reading landscapes.)

Retrieving my own reading landscape was not unlike an archeological dig — there were layers and layers, going back through my life to some of my earliest memories. Which, in turn, led to the little library in Pointe Claire where I discovered C.W. Anderson for the very first time. I knew about Marguerite Henry and had read many of her books, beginning with Misty of Chincoteague. But these books had been gifts to a younger me, the one too small to ride her bicycle to our local library and choose books for herself.

Christmas was filled with horse books....

The librarian at our teeny-tiny Pointe Claire library sat me down in front of a shelf of books by C.W. Anderson.

I will always love Marguerite Henry and I own those books by her that I loved best. (Ditto for the work of Walter Farley, of Black Stallion fame, who also wrote a lovely book about Man O’ War.) But the author who set my heart on fire was C.W. Anderson. “CWA” met me where I lived — right at the corner of Horses + Art.

Cover of the CW ANDERSON portfolio of lithographs of the same name.

Cover of the CW ANDERSON portfolio of the same name.

 

FAIR PLAY, sire of MAN O' WAR by C.W. Anderson

FAIR PLAY, sire of MAN O’ WAR by C.W. Anderson.

 

In his novel, States of Emergency, author Andre Brink writes “…love forces us to go down into our own archeology.”  As I revisited the moment I had first discovered the books of Anderson, I just knew that I had to do what that little girl didn’t really have the skill to do: research everything there was to know about C.W. Anderson and get busy collecting a number of his books and portfolios of prints, using my child-memory as a guide.

An early discovery was that CWA wasn’t only an author-illustrator of books about horses and ponies. In fact, his earliest works were a bawdy set of cartoons, produced on a regular basis for the New Yorker and Ballyhoo magazines in the 1920’s and 30’s. In addition, his art appeared on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post and Youth’s Companion. This period culminated in 1935 in the publication of a distinctly adult book entitled, “And So To Bed.”

 

Anderson's cover for The Saturday Evening Post (October 4, 1924)

Anderson’s cover for The Saturday Evening Post (October 4, 1924)

 

"And So To Bed' preceded Anderson's arrival on the scene as arguably one of the best equine artists of the last century.

“And So To Bed’ preceded Anderson’s arrival on the scene as one of the supreme equine artists of the last century.

 

A graduate of the prestigious Chicago School of Art, CWA lived in Greenwich Village after the close of WW1. For a few years prior to his move to New York City, Anderson taught school in Chicago. But teaching was not his primary ambition. It was from Greenwich Village that he broke into publishing with his cartoons and art, both of which showed an artist with a sharp, spicy sense of humour. Other interests included music: CWA was a very good violinist but not good enough to make it a career.

Probably late in the 1930’s, CWA moved to Mason, New Hampshire, where he lived until his death in 1970. The permanent move to Mason from New York City happened very gradually, precipitated by CWA meeting Madeleine Paltenghi in the late 1920’s during his New York days. Madeleine was a poet and an aspiring author of children’s books, and it was with her that Anderson developed the Billy and Blaze series, she doing at least some of the writing or editing, and he concerning himself with the illustrations. The books themselves make no mention of Madeleine Paltenghi, which is rather curious. But it may also have been deliberate: CWA was an established name in publishing by this time whereas Madeleine was not. The first Billy and Blaze was published in 1936, gaining instant appeal. It was CWA’s first venture into the world of horses.

BILLY AND BLAZE, 1936.

BILLY AND BLAZE, 1936.

Shortly before or after the publication of the first Billy and Blaze book, CWA was living full-time in Mason, NH, first alone in a studio he had had built just down the road from the house where Madeleine lived with her young son, Charles Emil. The two married in 1944 and their collaboration as artist and writer continued until Madeleine’s death from mitral stenosis, a condition caused by the narrowing of the mitral valve of the heart. During the last days of her life, CWA wrote her a poem each morning that he would take up to Madeleine with her breakfast. These became known as the “Orange Juice poems,” according to his stepson, Charles Emil Ruckstuhl. There are forty-one of them, the last being written on the day Madeleine died.

Another early collaboration between CWA and Madeleine Paltenghi was Honey On A Raft.

Another early collaboration between CWA and Madeleine Paltenghi was Honey On A Raft.

 

Silverpoint featured poems by Madeleine and silverpoint drawings by CWA.

Silverpoint featured poems by Madeleine and silverpoint drawings by CWA.

Madeleine was not only CWA’s partner and best friend, she also shared with her husband a love of horses. During their marriage, the couple owned a number of horses: Peter, Wise Bug, Suzie, Howdy and Bobcat. The latter, a beautiful chestnut, became the subject of one of CWA’s books, published in 1965. Two later books, A Pony For Linda and Linda and The Indians were created for his granddaughter, Linda Ruckstahl.

 

Bobcat, published in 1965, was about one of CWA's horses.

Bobcat, published in 1965, was about one of CWA’s horses. It seems clear that he and the chestnut shared a deep bond.

 

Illustration from A Pony For Linda, written for CWA's granddaughter

Illustration from A Pony For Linda, written for CWA’s granddaughter and published in 1951.

 

Although it is unclear how CWA made his transition to equine art — and it may have been as simple as the huge success of Billy and Blaze –— one thing that is clear is that he followed the stories of great thoroughbreds through the press and was particularly passionate about Man O’ War and his progeny. His accounts re-fashion news-worthy prose from any number of sources into highly readable, entertaining narratives. The accuracy in CWA’s books about thoroughbreds is an absolute boon for a researcher today, since the “inside stories” of so many great thoroughbreds are all but lost. CWA may have thought he was giving his equine subjects the kind of immortality that print endows, but he was also writing himself into an invaluable source of thoroughbred racing history and culture. Too, there were clearly no severe copyright restrictions during the time that CWA was creating his beautiful and expressive illustrations: many can be traced right back to press photographs that appeared in newspapers and magazines of the day.

An original press photo of COUNT FLEET at work. Photo and copyright The Chicago Tribune.

An original press photo of COUNT FLEET at work. Photo and copyright The Chicago Tribune.

 

CWA's lithograph of COUNT FLEET.

CWA’s lithograph of COUNT FLEET.

 

L.S. Sutcliffe's magnificent photo of EQUIPOISE

L.S. Sutcliffe’s magnificent photo of EQUIPOISE

 

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

EQUIPOISE in a head study by CWA.

 

Battleship, in his menacing black hood, is in the lead and goes on to win the 1938 Grand National. An original photograph from my collection that inspired the article on Battleship published in September 2012 on THE VAULT.

Battleship, in his menacing black hood (furthest from front) is in the lead as the son of Man O’ War goes on to win the 1938 Grand National at Aintree. An original photograph that inspired the article on Battleship published in September 2012 here on THE VAULT.

 

CWA's illustration of BATTLESHIP.

CWA’s illustration of BATTLESHIP on his way to becoming the first American owned and bred horse to win the Grand National at Aintree.

 

CWA’s stories of great thoroughbreds of the past were supplemented by illustrations as magnificent as any photograph. The book illustrations were actually produced using a traditional lithograph process and it was a slow, painstaking process. The word lithograph comes from the Ancient Greek, litho meaning “stone” and graphein meaning “to write.”  The traditional process uses an image drawn with oil, fat, or wax onto the surface of a smooth, level lithographic limestone plate. The stone was treated with a mixture of acid and gum arabic, etching the portions of the stone that were not protected by the grease-based image. When the stone was subsequently moistened, these etched areas retained water; an oil-based ink could then be applied and would be repelled by the water, sticking only to the original drawing. The ink would finally be transferred to a blank paper sheet, producing a printed page.

This traditional technique is still used in some fine art printmaking applications today, but the more popular process is to capture the original in a photograph and then use the photo-image to print. Many of the prints of the late Richard Stone Reeves were produced from photographs of his original oil paintings, as is the case with the work of the majority of contemporary equine artists. In the case of CWA, his illustrations began life as original drawings, often done in pen and ink, that were then copied by hand to become lithographs. In his portfolios of lithographs, the process is laid out in detail. The portfolios were published beginning in 1952 and the last one appeared in 1968. Each portfolio contained about 8-12 single lithographs. Today, C.W. Anderson single lithographs can be found on sites like Ebay or Etsy, but, sadly, whole portfolios are becoming increasingly scarce.

 

Portfolios by CWA look like this. Each portfolio has an illustrated booklet, as well as an identification sheet and the lithographs themselves.

Portfolios by CWA look like this. Each portfolio has an illustrated portfolio cover and contains an illustrated booklet, an identification chart and the lithographs themselves.

 

Elements of a CWA portfolio of lithographs.

Elements of a CWA portfolio of lithographs. The identification chart is in the foreground.

 

The cover of one of CWA's portfolios, All Thoroughbreds.

The cover of one of CWA’s portfolios, All Thoroughbreds depicting the head of the legendary Man O’ War.

 

CWA actually studied the anatomy of the horse (as did the great George Stubbs before him) and some of his anatomical sketches can be found in a few of his books, notably “Sketchbook” and “Thoroughbred.” The illustrations pre- and post these anatomy lessons are very different: specifically, they show a smooth transition from cartoonist to representational equine artist. During his career, CWA published over thirty-five books about horses, six or seven portfolios of equine art and also accepted an unrecorded number of private commissions. He taught school in Mason off and on and was a judge, certified by the American Horse Show Association, of hunters and jumpers. And, in at least one source consulted in the writing of this article for THE VAULT, CWA is depicted as “a beloved citizen of Mason.”

GALLANT FOX (1939) as he appears in Black, Bay and Chestnut betrays some of the cartoonist's hand....

GALLANT FOX (1939) as he appears in Black, Bay and Chestnut betrays some of the cartoonist’s hand….

 

...whereas SHUVEE with her first foal bespeaks a more experienced representational hand.

…whereas SHUVEE with her first foal bespeaks a full transition to representational art.

 

A youth theatre in Wilton, NH called “Andy’s Summer Playhouse” was founded in 1971, a year after the death of Mason’s beloved “Andy” as family and friends called him. First located in the Mason Town Hall, “Andy’s” relocated to Wilton about a decade later.

From their website (http://www.andyssummerplayhouse.org/history/) :

...Named for CW Anderson, our namesake, and the inspiration his artwork gave to our original 10 seasons at Mason Town Hall. Anderson’s framed artwork surrounded the room where kids fostered 
the initial legacy of Andy’s, which continues in 2016.

...Andy’s Summer Playhouse grew out of the dream of two teachers in the Mascenic Regional School, Margaret Sawyer and William Williams, to keep alive, during the summer of 1971, a theater 
experience that had occurred at their high school that spring. The Playhouse found its first home in Mason, New Hampshire. Here the enthusiasm of its founders drew the support of several arearesidents who offered not only financial assistance, but the generous gift of their talent. Most notable among these is Elizabeth Orton Jones, illustrator, author and playwright, whose 
contribution through the years has been of vital importance to the artistic growth of the playhouse.

“Andy” was a beloved summer resident of Mason, internationally known as C.W. Anderson., a jovial outreaching man who loved young people. He wrote and illustrated stories about horses and 
children, many of which have a Mason background with pictures of local boys and girls. In the world of art, he was known for his meticulously beautiful renderings of animals and people, and 
in the world of youth, for his untiring interest and faith in new generations.

“I know well that only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young,” said the poet Walter del a Mare. Andy believed that implicitly, and lived it too. Thus it was 
only fitting that the new venture should strive to honor his memory.

And so it does today.

CWA_ANDY'S SUMMER PLAYHOUSE_andys

 

When I want to revisit the day that I first discovered him at our local library, I take one of CWA’s books down from the bookcase in my bedroom, settle into a comfy spot, and slowly open the cover. Sometimes I read the narratives, other times I lose myself in the illustrations. A Filly For Joan, the book I received for Christmas when I was about ten and still have, as well as books I have collected that I remember bringing home from the library all those years ago, cast a kind of spell over me. It’s rather hard to explain, but it feels as though the younger me is completely present and actively reading the book to me. Things like finding a favourite illustration almost unconsciously and then being flooded with liquid sunshine all over, or hearing myself recite a sentence or a phrase before I’ve even read it, happen regularly. It’s a “back-in-time” experience unlike any other I’ve known. Perhaps, I often think, this is what Albert Einstein’s curve of time-space feels like. (Members of my team who, like me, were also digging into their reading landscapes and went on to hunt down the books of their childhood reported similar phenomena when they held a book they had cherished in their hands and opened its pages.)

A Filly For Joan was a Christmas present about the same time that I first discovered CWA. It remains a beloved text in my reading landscape.

A Filly For Joan was a Christmas present from my parents at roughly the same period as my first discovery of CWA. It holds pride of place in my own library today.

If I go to my CWA library for research, none of younger me tags along. She probably finds it too tedious. Researching isn’t really about imagining, or the delicious discovery that a book can really speak to you, even though it sparks ideas and draws connections between apparently disparate information. Research is more like a treasure hunt, in that sense. Ridiculously exciting but not the same genre of discovery as a little girl lying in bed at night and imagining herself right in a story.

However, younger me and adult me treasure this: we both know the way to the corner of Horses + Art.

 

After my mother died about 2 years ago, we needed to clear out her house. I found that she had kept many of my early drawings. This one, of a girl riding her horse, was done when I was about 10-12 years old.

My mother kept many of my early drawings, something I only discovered after her death. This one, of a girl riding her horse, was done when I was about 10-12 years old. Looking at it for the first time, I knew its “archeology” : it was most definitely inspired by “A Filly For Joan.”

 

Thank you, Mr. Anderson, for opening a world to me.

Thank you, Mr. Anderson, for opening a world to me.

 

 Sources

Ruckstuhl, Charles Emil. Andy As I Knew Him. Published by AuthorHouse: 2004. (ISBN 1-4184-2670-9)

Some Mason Biographies. http://home.earthlink.net/~georgeo/mason_biographies.htm

Andy’s Summer Playhouse website: http://www.andyssummerplayhouse.org/info

Smith Center For The Arts website: http://thesmith.org/support-us/lights-camera-auction/fair-play/

L.S. has been a faithful reader of THE VAULT since we started up, five years ago, in 2011. 

So it was that when she contacted me to say that she was planning to make her first visit to OLD FRIENDS in Kentucky, I was quick to send back my enthusiastic response. And I made a request, “If you can, please give ‘my boy’ Tinner’s Way a carrot and tell him that his friend Abigail loves him.” (I had made my first visit to OLD FRIENDS just last September, where Tinner and I established one of those connections that is impossible to forget. He actually called out to me as we were leaving and, honestly, if I could have done it, I would have stayed there with him forever.)

A few weeks back, I heard from L.S. who wanted me to know that she was back and had some photos from her visit that she wanted to share with myself and all of you.

So it is with the greatest pleasure that I ask you to welcome THE VAULT’S first Guest Editor and her beautiful narrative of a first visit to a very, very special place. 

OLD FRIENDS_45512D77C8D029CE900C2FD7F787F9EE

I’ve had an interest in horse racing dating back probably to 1972, when my aunt suggested we watch the Kentucky Derby and bet on the results with nickels. I saw Riva Ridge win, and I was hooked on horse racing from that point on. I rooted for Sham in 1973, disappointed at his inability to overcome Secretariat’s greatness, and hoped one day I could visit my favourite thoroughbred, wherever he was. I continued to follow horse racing through my teens, less later on as I raised my children and was involved in other family-related activities, but I still tried to at least watch the Triple Crown races each year.

In the spring of 2016 we were blessed with our first grandchild, a girl. I was planning a road trip to Chicago to visit with her, and while doing research for interesting attractions along the way and back I came across the Old Friends website. After reading about Old Friends, I realized that, aside from seeing my sweet baby girl in Chicago, I wanted most to visit this rescue and retirement home for thoroughbred horses in Georgetown, Kentucky. Visitors to Old Friends must register for a tour, so I emailed the organization, and was informed that there were two tours a day, at ten and three. I knew the morning tour was not possible due to our traveling schedule, so on the day of our departure, I pushed to get us on the road out of Chicago by 6:00am, so that we could make it to Georgetown in time for the 3:00pm tour!

We arrived in Georgetown, checked in at the hotel, and off I went to see the horses at Old Friends, especially Silver Charm. I made it to the farm by the time the tour was about to start, loaded down with only two cameras, one bottle of water, and sporting a large-brimmed floppy hat. A small group was gathered to the side of the main office building, waiting for the tour to start. I checked with the desk personnel and yes: my name was still on the tour list! I hurried over to join the group, which consisted of a nice mix of younger and older visitors.

Our tour guide was Tom, a soft-spoken older gentleman toting a bucket of chopped up carrots. Before we started down the slope towards the horses, he outlined some rules, including not getting too close to the horses. One young visitor asked if the horses would bite, and Tom said “all horses will bite”. Tom encouraged questions, even those from the younger children, and spoke fondly of the horses that were residents at Old Friends. I asked Tom about Abigail’s friend, Michael, and was told he was around, we might see him. My follow-up question was about seeing Tinners Way, so I could give him an extra carrot for Abigail. Tom informed me that Tinners Way was not on that day’s tour, he was in a paddock farther than we were going to go. Oh well.

And then, away we started, walking down a graveled driveway toward the barns and paddocks situated on the rolling hills behind Old Friends’ main entrance.

071116 Old Friends 02

“…walking down a graveled driveway towards the barns and paddocks…” Photo and copyright, L.S.

Our first stop was next to a paddock that held a beautiful golden chestnut, identified by a sign as Genuine Reward. His name was familiar, and just as I thought, he was the offspring of the incomparable Genuine Risk, the winner of the 1980 Kentucky Derby, and only the second filly to win in the history of the race. She had difficulties bringing any of her pregnancies to full term, and Tom informed us that this son of hers, Genuine Reward, was one of the only two offspring who survived to adulthood. I did ask who his sire was, and Tom took out his phone to look it up: the well-known Rahy. Genuine Reward never raced, but even at his age, twenty-three, he is a beautiful horse, and looks very similar to his mother. I was enchanted, and one of the first visitors to offer him a carrot, provided from Tom’s bucket.

GENUINE REWARD. Photo and copyright L.S.

GENUINE REWARD “… one of only two offspring who survived to adulthood.” Photo and copyright L.S.

Across the lane from Genuine Reward was Sarava, a Belmont Stakes winner, and spoiler for War Emblem’s Triple Crown bid in 2002. He is a very nice looking dark horse, in more ways than one!

SARAVA

SARAVA “…spoiler for War Emblem’s Triple Crown.” Photo and copyright, L.S.

We continued down the road, visiting with Game on Dude, who would not allow his paddock-mate, Cat launch, to eat any carrots! We had to walk down the path a little further in order to feed Catlaunch, as he kept back from the fence while Game on Dude was monopolizing our attention. Both were also very good-looking thoroughbreds, and I noticed that Game on Dude appeared to have more of an Arabian “dish” look to his face.

GAME ON DUDE

GAME ON DUDE “…who would not allow his paddock-mate, CATLAUNCH, to eat any carrots!” Photo and copyright, L.S.

Across the pathway we met and fed Amazombie, and his paddock-mate, Rapid Redux. Most of the horses we saw at Old Friends had halters with engraved name plates; some halters also included career highlights of the horse included on the plates.

AMAZOMBIE

“Across the pathway we met and fed AMAZOMBIE…” Photo and copyright, L.S.

 

RAPID REDUX

“…and his paddock-mate RAPID REDUX.” Photo and copyright, L.S.

We were not allowed to get close to another Kentucky Derby winner, War Emblem, as he was in a “time out” paddock, with a double fence between the visitors and this retiree. Tom explained that, after years of racing and being used in breeding, War Emblem did not have the best disposition, and was separated for his own good, and the safety of others.

"We were not allowed to get close to WAR EMBLEM

“We were not allowed to get close to WAR EMBLEM… (because he) did not have the best disposition.” Photo and copyright, L.S.

At this point of the tour we were joined by a gentleman who had ridden down to our location using a golf cart. I’d been asked by Abigail to say hi to “Michael” for her, and when I discovered this gentleman was Michael, I passed on her greeting, and he replied favorably of Abigail. I also mentioned that she had asked me to feed Tinners Way an extra carrot “for her”, and I was disappointed that that particular thoroughbred was not on that day’s tour. At this point, Michael offered to take me in the cart up the road to where Tinners Way was housed, and I readily, and eagerly accepted his offer! I did grab a couple carrots from Tom’s bucket before getting in Michael’s cart.

Michael

” At this point, Michael offered to take me in the cart up the road to where Tinners Way was housed…” Photo of Michael Blowen and “Tinner” and copyright, L.S.

We rode up the hill, past a barn, and to a paddock in which a chestnut horse was standing, with a mesh covering over his eyes, and so I met Tinners Way, son of the great Secretariat! It was obvious that this horse was special to Michael, and he talked at some length about the horse, and how Old Friends was started. I was able to give Tinners Way two carrots, and I seem to recall being bold enough to touch his velvety nose. After a few minutes spent with the elderly racehorse, we climbed back into Michael’s golf cart, and talked about Forego and Forli and some other famous horses before I was dropped off with the tour group.

I'M CHARISMATIC

I’M CHARISMATIC and ARSON SQUAD. Photo and copyright, L.S.

 

DANTHEBLUEGRASSMAN

DANTHEBLUEGRASSMAN “…seemed to be more interested in cribbing the railing than eating carrots!” Photo and copyright, L.S.

I was glad to see I’d not missed much of the tour, as they were just finishing up visiting with I’m Charismatic, Arson Squad, and across from them, Danthebluegrassman, who seemed to be more interested in cribbing the railing than eating carrots! I took a couple quick pictures, then hastened to catch up to the tour, which was making its way around and down the final turn, toward a very special horse.

That special horse was Silver Charm, the champion that I really wanted to see, and even at his advanced age, he still looked great, though much more white than in his racing days. Tom had imparted a little biography with each of the horses we’d visited, but I don’t recall much about this horse, as I was soaking in just seeing this champion in the flesh. I do recall feeding him at least one carrot, and I might have stroked his nose lightly, I can’t recall for sure. I guess I was rather star-struck!

SILVER CHARM

SILVER CHARM: “I guess I was rather star-struck!” Photo and copyright, L.S.

Across from Silver Charm’s area was the horse graveyard, with markers for all the horses that had been residents of Old Friends at the time of their death. While many of the horses had names I was not familiar with, I knew by the markers whose progeny they were. I was very sorry to have missed being able to visit Gulch, Fraise, and Kiri’s Clown, the last who was the son of Foolish Pleasure, one of my favorite Derby winners.

The final thoroughbred on the tour was Alphabet Soup. I am not totally sure, but I think this guy is one of Tom’s favorites, just by how he talked about him. For an elderly, sway-backed horse, Alphabet Soup had a lot of charisma. The kids gravitated to him, and he was fed several carrots. One of my pictures shows “the look of eagles” in this old-timer.

ALPHABET SOUP

ALPHABET SOUP and Tom. Photo and copyright, L.S.

 

ALPHABET SOUP

ALPHABET SOUP “…had a lot of charisma.” Shown here with Tom, one of Old Friends’ tour guides. Photo and copyright, L.S.

But Alphabet Soup was not the last of our equine tour, as Little Silver Charm awaited us and our attentions. A tiny pony, he had been saved from slaughter many years ago by Michael, the Old Friends founder, and named after Michael’s favorite race horse, Silver Charm. How could Michael know then that eventually Little Silver Charm would be pastured close to his namesake, the original Silver Charm?

"Two Charms" -- LITTLESILVERCHARM and SILVER CHARM with Michael Blowen, the founder of Old Friends. Photo and copyright, Liz Read for THE VAULT

“Two Charms” — LITTLE SILVER CHARM and (BIG) SILVER CHARM with Michael Blowen, the founder of Old Friends. Photo and copyright, Liz Read for THE VAULT

With this last stop, our tour was over, and we headed up the slope toward the main office. However, I noticed a gravestone, all by itself in a small paddock, with the infamous name “Noor” engraved across its front. I caught up with Tom, and asked him about this particular stone. The story of Noor’s stone was then related to those of us remaining from the tour: many of the farms where famous racehorses were buried were being bought for development. Apparently, one of the original employees of the farm where Noor was buried recalled the location of the burial plot, and after getting permission, the remains of Noor were exhumed, and reburied at Old Friends. For those of you not familiar with Noor, he was the son of Nashrulla, and was owned and raced by the same man who raced Seabiscuit, Charles S. Howard.

NOOR'S GRAVE_a27821b25dc6e687af31113b8eb00abf

It was a very gratifying, satisfying visit, and I plan to visit again as time allows. Since I have a grandbaby in Chicago, it might not be too long before I walk the fields and roads of Old Friends again.

071116 Old Friends 01

View of part of Old Friends. Photo and copyright, L.S.

 

ALPHABET SOUP. Photo and copyright, L.S.

ALPHABET SOUP. Photo and copyright, L.S.

 

Inspired by a pair of exceedingly rare photographs and the opening of Saratoga — a place of magic, history and imagining — comes this tale of two great fillies.

MOTHER GOOSE wind-up toy by Marx from the 1920's.

MOTHER GOOSE wind-up toy by Marx from the 1920’s.

 

Most American readers know the association between the nursery rhymes of Mother Goose and the thoroughbred of the same name, after whom The Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park is named. Once part of the triad of races that formed the American Triple Crown for fillies, The Mother Goose Stakes were removed from the Triple in 2010, but carries on as an important Grade 1 stakes for 3 year-old fillies. That part of the Mother Goose story is easy. Trying to get a look at H.P. Whitney’s champion filly or even a true sense of her racing career is quite another matter, even though she did everything right on the track and in the breeding shed. In fact, in the latter case, she made a very direct contribution to a thoroughbred dynasty.

The daughter of French import Chicle (1913), Spearmint’s (1903) best son who was also notoriously bad-tempered, Mother Goose was born in 1922, a Whitney homebred. Her dam, Flying Witch, from the Ben Brush sire line, was also the producer of a very fine full brother to Mother Goose, Whichone (1927). He raced against Gallant Fox, whom he managed to beat as a 2 year-old in the 1929 Belmont Futurity, while annexing a number of prestigious races, notably the Champagne, the Withers and the Whitney before breaking down after a dual in the stretch with Jim Dandy and Gallant Fox in the Travers. {If Whichone’s name sounds familiar it might be because of his two best sons: the gelding Whichee (1934), who had the misfortune to race against Seabiscuit and Kayak II, but who was a good runner in his own right, and Bourbon King(1935) a tough campaigner who won the Remsen Stakes.}

CHICLE, the sire of MOTHER GOOSE.

CHICLE, the sire of MOTHER GOOSE.

 

MOTHER GOOSE the broodmare shows a very kind eye, despite her bad-tempered sire.

MOTHER GOOSE the broodmare shows a very kind eye, despite her bad-tempered sire. This is one of the very few images of her.

 

The fact that Mother Goose had a Grade 1 stakes named after her can be taken as proof that she was a filly who sparked the hopes, dreams and imagination of racegoers in the 1920’s, when the sport in North America was relatively new. Her most impressive victory came at two, when she beat the boys in the 1924 Belmont Futurity, most notably Marshall Field III’s sabino chestnut Stimulus(1922), a great grandson of Domino (1891) and winner of the 1925 Pimlico Futurity. In retirement, Stimulus proved a useful sire, producing the champions Beaugay (1943) and Stir Up (1941), as well as a small army of other good runners. {Summer Tan (1952), Nantallah (1953), Decidedly (1959), Sword Dancer (1956), Dust Commander (1967) and Slew O’ Gold (1980) are all direct descendants of Stimulus.}

STIMULUS after his win in the 1925 Belmont Futurity.

STIMULUS after his win in the 1925 Belmont Futurity.

I knew that Mother Goose’s rout of the boys in 1924 was her biggest moment on the track, enough to award her champion 2 year-old filly honours that year. But like any good researcher, I wanted to know more.

And then it happened.

A few weeks back, on a day (to quote Thornton Wilder) “when the dogs were sticking to the sidewalk” in the heat, I was cruising around on the internet and spied an old racing photo at auction that had a peculiar heading: “1924 Press Photo Harry Payne on Mother Goose at Belmont Futurity race in NY.”  Could it be…….?

And there she was:

MOTHER GOOSE (on the rail) shown winning the 1924 Belmont Futurity.

MOTHER GOOSE (on the rail) shown winning the 1924 Belmont Futurity. STIMULUS is in blinkers nearest to the camera. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

 

And as if that weren’t enough, the press photo included the press release on the back, clear as a bell. Like a message in a bottle, I learned more about Mother Goose the runner than I had been able to uncover in decades of searching.

 

The press release was as clear as a bell, describing the courage of the juvenile MOTHER GOOSE in battling on right to the wire. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

The press release was as clear as a bell, describing the courage of the juvenile MOTHER GOOSE in battling on right to the wire. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

Of course, I bought the photo — for the unbelievable price of $14.99 USD. (I do feel badly for the merchant but, like people who run bookstores knowing little about authors, the company is one of several who have bought up the newspaper archives of papers like The Chicago Tribune, knowing little about famous thoroughbreds.)

Mother Goose didn’t stop at the Futurity. She also won the Fashion Stakes and came second and third respectively in the Astoria and Rosedale Stakes that same year. After her debut, the filly seems to disappear from the record books. But as a broodmare, she left a lasting mark as the grandam of Almamoud (1947), one of the greatest ancestresses in American thoroughbred history who was the grandam of Natalma (1957), who produced Northern Dancer (1961).

And isn’t it lovely to know that each time you look at a descendant of Northern Dancer (Natalma) or Halo (whose dam, Cosmah, is a daughter of Almamoud) or Sunday Silence (son of Halo) you are beckoning the spirit of Mother Goose?

SUNDAY SILENCE with the great Charlie Whittingham.

SUNDAY SILENCE shares a silence with the wonderful Charlie Whittingham.

 

Since the explosion of online auction centres like EBAY, these kinds of finds have become rare for me. But there was another purchase I made some time ago that is as precious to me as this photo of Mother Goose. It was of another champion filly and matriarch: Alcibiades. And the circumstances that led me to her were remarkably similar.

Alcibiades’ career on the track and in the breeding shed are perhaps better known than the exploits of Mother Goose. Like her predecessor, Alcibiades has a Grade 1 stakes for 3 year-old fillies named after her and now sponsored by Darley as part of the Breeders Cup Challenge series.

Hal Prince Headley’s great filly was a homebred, born in 1927. Named after a soldier and statesman of Ancient Greece (for which Headley took more than a little abuse because the filly’s dam was called Regal Roman), Alcibiades was a descendant of the incomparable Domino (1891) through her sire, Supremus (1922). Her dam, Regal Roman (1921), a daughter of Roi Herode (1904), arrived in the USA from Great Britain in 1923. Alcibiades was her best progeny.

Her major win at two was in the 1929 Debutante; in 1930, Alcibiades captured the Kentucky Oaks and the Arlington Oaks. One lesser known incident in her three year-old season was that she also ran against Gallant Fox in the 1930 Kentucky Derby, setting blazing fractions on the lead before fading to finish tenth. It was easy to forgive her: the Oaks and Derby were only two weeks apart and the Oaks, which Alcibiades won, was the second of the two. So after this effort in the Derby, one must conclude that the daughter of Supremus was one courageous filly, with a heart as big as her ability, to come back to take the Oaks:

 

After winning the highest award in the land at two and again at three, Alcibiades was retired with a bowed a tendon to take up breeding duties at the Headleys Beaumont Farm. Her last race pitched her against older horses in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, where she ran beautifully to finish third to Wallace Kilmer’s champion, Sun Beau (1925). As serious a competitor as Alcibiades had been on the track, it was as a broodmare that she endowed the American thoroughbred with her most enduring gift. From her brilliant son, Menow (1935), in a direct line of descent, came two jewels of American racing: Tom Fool (1949) and his son, Buckpasser (1963). From her daughter by Man O’ War, Salaminia (1937), descended the Epsom Derby winner, Sir Ivor (1965), the first American-bred to win it since 1954. And Sir Ivor, as many will know, went on to become the ancestor of some very important thoroughbreds, among them Shareef Dancer (1980), Green Desert (1983), Zabeel (1986) and his son, Octagonal (1992), as well as the recently retired Encosta de Lago (1993).

 

Alcibiades' son, MENOW, the sire of TOM FOOL and grandsire of BUCKPASSER.

Alcibiades’ son, MENOW, the sire of TOM FOOL and grandsire of BUCKPASSER. Photo and copyright Acme.

 

SIR IVOR ridden by Lester Piggott goes down to the start.

SIR IVOR, ridden by Lester Piggott and trained by Vincent O’Brien, goes down to the start.

 

ENCOSTA DE LAGO, who descends from ALCIBIADES through a daughter, SALAMINIA, is a recently retired champion Australian sire. Photograph published in the Herald Sun (Australia).

ENCOSTA DE LAGO, who descends from ALCIBIADES through her daughter, SALAMINIA, is a recently retired champion Australian sire. Photograph published in the Herald Sun (Australia).

I stumbled across her photo on a popular auction site and again, the listing was curious: “Alcibiades and her jockey ready to race, 1930.” Assuming that I would be unlikely to find an actual photo of the beloved American filly, I was shocked to find that the image was, indeed, Alcibiades. Unlike the Mother Goose photo, the press release — normally tacked onto the back — was missing and the context around the filly gives little clue as to where the photo was taken. So it’s impossible to say what race this was, except that she was a 3 year-old in 1930. It’s clearly post-race, given the froth in Alcibiades’ mouth. And her jockey sure looks happy, so this is possibly after her win in either the Kentucky Oaks or the Arlington Oaks. But that’s pure guesswork.

In any case, we see her lovely face and soft, dark eye, and note the powerful shoulder and hindquarters of a champion.

 

ALCIBIADES as a three year-old.

ALCIBIADES as a three year-old.

 

Finding these two photographs is like opening a time capsule, or slipping through a wormhole to a time over eighty years ago. It’s as though two photographers in the early part of the last century chose to record two fillies in the hope not only that their images would feature in a prominent newspaper but also that they were capturing something significant, since images always signify something to the person who captures them.  Even if they are two hard-working individuals with an assignment, it was each of them who decided the angle, the lighting, the moment to press the button. They could not have known how important Mother Goose and Alcibiades would be for the breed or even what each filly would contribute to thoroughbred history. But framing each photograph is the hope that they just might be witnessing history-in-the-making. By opening the doors of a living present to those of us who stood like shadows in their futures, two people we will never know have, with two great fillies, reached out to us and in so doing, overcome the limitations of time.

Surely it is this, as much as the subjects themselves, that makes these photographs so precious.

 

Sources

Hunter, Avalyn. American Classic Pedigrees website:http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com

Bowen, Edward L. Matriarchs. KY: The Blood-Horse, 1999.

Mitchell, Frank. Racehorse Breeding Theories. Wisconsin: The Russel Meerdink Company Ltd., 2004

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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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It’s early days yet. But the mighty Frankel has already bested the record of first non-stakes winners in their first crop of both his sire, Galileo, and of one of Europe’s most consistent sires, Sea The Stars.

 

 

Of the 130 mares booked to Frankel in 2013, the first eight have hit the turf running, with seven winning on debut. The eighth, Last Kingdom, finished second in his first start. Two of the eight, Cunco and Queen Kindly, earned black type based on their performances at Royal Ascot, where they both finished third in two different stakes races. And all of this has sent the British press into the same tizzy of delight as they evinced during Frankel’s racing career.

It is easy to forget that Frankel represented over 40 years of breeding by his owner, HRH Prince Khalid Abdullah, making him a “jewel in the crown” like no other. Too, as we have indicated in previous articles about Frankel, the colt demanded the skill of the incomparable Sir Henry Cecil, of work-rider Shane Fetherstonhaugh and jockey, Tom Queally, to get his exuberance under control in a manner that didn’t quench his spirit and allowed him to dominate on the turf. In the early stages it was hard work, and the colt didn’t make his two year-old debut until mid-August of 2010 where he was shadowed home by the brilliant Nathaniel who, of all the Frankel challengers in his 14 starts, remains the colt who got closest to him.

 

Like everything else in his life, Frankel’s stud career has been meticulously planned. It was anticipated that 100 mares would be accepted from outside breeders, including Japan and America, and in all cases, preference was given to Group 1 winners and/or producers of Group 1 winners. (The remaining 30 would come from Juddmonte bloodstock.)

Said general manager of Banstead Manor Stud, Philip Mitchell, shortly after the champion’s retirement:

“We’d always try and keep a restriction on the number of mares he covers … This is an exclusive horse and we want to keep him exclusive.

“If someone is spending that level of nomination fee [£125,000] to use Frankel, you don’t want to get to a situation where you find a large number of his progeny being sold. By keeping him to 130, we won’t be flooding the market. Juddmonte are owner-breeders and we’ll aim to get the right balance between owner-breeders and commercial breeders.”

“… We have certain mares that whatever we send them to, they produce the business … For instance, Clepysydra is one of those mares. The stallion could be the best in the world but I feel it’s hugely important to get the right calibre of mare.

“It’s still early days for us [Juddmonte] with the matings for next year but Frankel will be getting first pick. We want to give Frankel every opportunity at stud and we’ll be supporting him as much as possible. But it is very difficult – we’re spoiled at the moment because we’ve also got Dansili and Oasis Dream and we can’t ignore them. It’ll be a balance.” (Racing Post, November 23, 2013)

FRANKEL and OASIS DREAM at Banstead Manor.

FRANKEL and OASIS DREAM at Banstead Manor.

As trainer John Gosden said of a recent Frankel winner, Seven Heavens, “He has a positive attitude on life and he likes to get on with things. He is a strong-willed horse and is like his father in that way. I think he (Frankel) will probably pass that on to his offspring.” (Sky Sports, July 8, 2016)

Bred by Cheveley Stud, Seven Heavens was a rare Juddmonte purchase at Tattersalls October Yearling Sale last year.  “Rare” because Juddmonte is a huge breeding enterprise all on its own, making the purchase worth noting. Seven Heavens is beautifully bred: his dam, Heaven Sent (2003), a daughter of Pivotal (1993), was a dual winner of the Dahlia Stakes. And Pivotal is a world-class leading sire, with 100 stakes winners to date, including Farhh (2008) and Excellent Art (2004).

 

SEVEN HEAVENS as a yearling in 2015. Photo and copyright, Tattersalls.

SEVEN HEAVENS as a yearling in 2015. Photo and copyright, Tattersalls.

Watching Seven Heavens’ debut was the kind of thing that makes you believe time and space really is curved: the youngster looks so much like Frankel and, unlike his other winning progeny to date, Seven Heavens shows that “pumping” action in his fore that we so associate with Frankel’s distinctive running style. Add to that the parallels in performance between Seven Heavens’ maiden race and that of Frankel’s own debut (above), and the picture is complete.

Video of Seven Heavens’ win, with the beautifully-bred Lockheed (Exceed and Excel/BM sire Motivator) chasing him home. (Please advance the video to 2:46 to see the whole race without the preamble, or click on the link under the video that just offers the race itself.)

 

 

http://www.tdn.premiumtv.co.uk/streaming/watch/RacingUKFlashVOD/partnerId_166/videoFileId_15587411/clipId_2612660/index.html

Said his jockey, Robert Havlin, after the win:

“He’s a nice horse … They didn’t go very quick early on, and following Tom (Marquand on Monoshka) he was struggling after three and a half furlongs and couldn’t take me any further, so literally from the two-pole to the line he had to do it all on his own.

“He’s never been off the bridle in his life before, so it was a big ask, and he just got a little bit lonely and just started to drift to the left a little. I was impressed with him.

“I’ve ridden two Frankels now and they’ve both wanted to get on with things at home, but come raceday they are as good as gold.”

SEVEN HEAVENS strides clear of the fast-closing to win on debut.

SEVEN HEAVENS strides clear of the fast-closing LOCKHEED to win on debut.

 

1337000717if-Frankel-Nmkt-10

An unmistakeable likeness: FRANKEL takes a rehearsal run at Newmarket before his final start.

Seven Heavens isn’t the only first crop Frankel that makes you blink: Cunco and Majoris, to a lesser extent, both have the “Frankel look” about them. Another son, Frankuus, is a grey and his two daughters to race, Queen Kindly and Fair Eva, are both chestnuts. But the whole of this select group seem to have Frankel’s precocity, indicating that at least some of this first crop may have been similarly stamped by their famous sire. Too, as was the case with Team Frankel, will it take patience, together with skill, to harness the inclination of these first few (as well as those to come) to “get on with things” without dampening their love of the race?

Cunco (named after a city in Chile and owned by Don Alberto Corp. Ltd.), Frankel’s firstborn son was also the very first Frankel to hit the turf, winning nicely at Newbury on May 13, ridden by Richard Havlin. Needless to say, there was keen interest among Frankel followers and much praise for his debut effort. Cunco also treated spectators to some of his sire’s spunk, rearing up in the saddling enclosure on his second start at Ascot. Since his May win, Cunco has started twice, coming in third (at Ascot) and fourth, respectively.

Baby CUNCO with his dam, Chrysanthemum.

Baby CUNCO with his dam, Chrysanthemum.

Blink: CUNCO as a yearling looks the picture of his sire.

Blink: CUNCO as a yearling looks the picture of his sire.

As of this writing, Queen Kindly is the first Frankel to chalk up 2 wins (in 3 starts), bringing the stallion’s overall strike rate to 8 winners from 14 starters. The filly is also Frankel’s first-born daughter and her dam, Lady of the Desert, by the great Rahy, gives the filly’s story a distinctly American connection.

The lovely QUEEN KINDLY after her debut win.

The lovely QUEEN KINDLY after her debut win at Caterick.

Please click on the link below for a video of Queen Kindly’s second win:

http://www.tdn.premiumtv.co.uk/streaming/watch/RacingUKFlashVOD/partnerId_166/videoFileId_15595124/clipId_2613781/index.html

Nor is Frankel’s talented daughter the only offspring in his first crop with American connections. Waiting in the wings are: Brooklyn Bobby (colt by Balance), In Luxury (filly by In Lingerie/Japan), Aspirer (filly by Nebraska Tornado by Storm Cat/Juddmonte), an unnamed filly by Oatsee, the dam of Shackleford, Elphin (filly by Aspiring Diva by Distant View, dam of Emulous/Juddmonte), Finche (colt by Binche by Woodman, dam of Proviso/Juddmonte), Solo Saxophone (colt by Society Hostess by Seeking The Gold), Mirage Dancer (colt by Heat Haze by Green Desert/Juddmonte), Mi Suerte (colt by Mi Sueno by Pulpit/Japan) and Aljezeera (colt by Dynaforce by Dynaformer).

IN LINGERIE with her FRANKEL baby, IN LUXURY.

IN LINGERIE (Empire Maker) with her FRANKEL baby, IN LUXURY, in Japan where the filly was born.

However, as has been pointed out by the Racing Post’s Tony Morris, with about 100 or more runners to come, Frankel’s record won’t stay anywhere near his initial wins-starters ratio. It will, in fact, substantially decline — unless every Frankel proves a winner and that is, even for this great, great horse, an impossibility. As for the precocity of these first few, one can’t really talk about Frankel’s tendency to breed precocity into his offspring when so few of them have raced to date. Nor does he occupy the top spot for freshman sires, currently occupied by Mayson (a son of Invincible Spirit with 8 winners of 24 runners), since none of Frankel’s eight progeny to run have scored in stakes company. Frankel currently ranks ninth, but look for that to change.

MAJORIS who was very green in his first start nevertheless showed some depth in coming home first.

MAJORIS showed some depth in coming home first in his first start.

 

The grey FRANKUUS shown winning on debut.

The grey FRANKUUS shown winning on debut. He was very green but still had the turn of foot to get the job done.

 

The lovely FAIR EVA won impressively in her first and only race to date.

The lovely FAIR EVA won impressively in her first and only race to date.

Here’s the thing: these early Frankels don’t even represent the best of what he’s got coming, in terms of sons and daughters of champion and/or Blue Hen mares. Together with those listed above in “American connections,” we can add: Nothing But Dreams, the daughter of Arc winner champion, Danedream, who is training in France with Roger Varian; Erdogan, the son of triple G1 winner Dar Re Mi (dam of the impressive So Dar Mi) who is training with the brilliant John Gosden; Mori, the son of the great Midday, training with Sir Michael Stoute; La Figlia, the priciest Frankel to pass through auction, by the dual Guineas champion Finsceal Beo is with William Haggas; and in Japan, there is the daughter of the brilliant Stacelita, Soul Stirring. Consider too: Aurora Gold, the daughter of Juddmonte’s Midsummer, the dam of Midday, who is with John Gosden; Australian champion More Joyous’ unnamed daughter, in training with Gai Waterhouse; the aforementioned Clepsydra’s filly, Amser, who is training with Andre Fabre; champion Alexander Goldrun’s daughter, Gold Rush, training with Jim Bolger; and Dancing Rain’s filly, Rainswept, a Darley purchase, is in the stable of Andre Fabre.

MIDSUMMER, the dam of MIDDAY and her FRANKEL filly join other mares with their baby FRANKELS at Banstead in 2014.

A FRANKEL troupe: MIDSUMMER, the dam of MIDDAY and her FRANKEL filly join other mares with their baby FRANKELS at Banstead in 2014.

 

DANEDREAM and her 2014 FRANKEL filly. She also has a 2015 FRANKEL colt.

DANEDREAM and her 2014 FRANKEL filly. She also has a 2015 FRANKEL colt.

DAR RE MI'S colt by FRANKEL looks a good deal like his sire.

DAR RE MI’S colt by FRANKEL looks a good deal like his sire.

STACELITA'S filly by FRANKEL as a yearling.

STACELITA’S filly by FRANKEL as a yearling.

MORE JOYOUS with her as yet unnamed FRANKEL filly.

MORE JOYOUS with her as yet unnamed FRANKEL filly.

So, yes, it’s early days.

But this is surely what it’s all about: the courage to dream, the courage to hope ……. that one great thoroughbred will slip the bonds of time to go on and on and on.

 

 

 

Sources

The Racing Post, “Frankel’s Flying Start” by Tony Morris

Juddmonte website: http://www.juddmonte.com/stallions/frankel/default.aspx

 

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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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Bateau was one of the very best of Man O’ War’s daughters when it came to racing, but she risks being forgotten because of one failure that was completely beyond her control. Hers is also a cautionary tale: the same fate often befalls great thoroughbreds today.

George Conway, pictured with Man O' War at Saratoga.

George Conway, pictured with Man O’ War at Saratoga.

Bateau was referred to at least once as “…the Amazon daughter” of Man O’ War (The Barrier-Miner, November 26, 1929) suggesting that she was a large, powerful individual. Thank goodness for The Barrier-Miner paragraph! The super filly of the early part of the last century barely exists in photographs and of the ones here at THE VAULT, it is often tough to judge her height.

Bateau came into the world in 1925. The daughter of the French-import, Escuina (1919), must have been an impressive foal. Her dam had been imported from France by Walter Jeffords, who was married to a niece of Samuel Riddle and who, with Riddle, owned and operated Faraway Farm. Escuina proved a Blue Hen for the Jeffords-Riddle stable, producing the very good Jean Bart as well as Bateau. Too, her daughters were largely excellent producers themselves and this was no accident, since Escuina was bred in the purple, carrying St. Simon(1881) and the exceptional broodmare, Fairy Gold (1896), by Bend Or in her third generation.

Fairy Gold was the dam of Friar Rock (1913) by Rock Sand and Fair Play (1905) by Hastings, the sire of Man O’ War. Imported by August Belmont Jr., Fairy Gold died in 1919 together with her foal by Hourglass(1914) and is buried in an unmarked spot on the grounds of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. But her power in the blood remains unmistakeable and it found expression in Escuina and her daughters.

Fairy_Gold-big

A very blurry image of FAIRY GOLD, from the Thoroughbred Heritage website.

At two, Bateau was put into the hands of trainer Scott P. Harlan. In 1926, just prior to the arrival of Bateau, Harlan had earned $205,681 — an extraordinary sum in those days — and a fair portion of those earnings were thanks to Man O’ War’s offspring, specifically the 2 year-old Scapa Flow, as well as Edith Cavell, whose 3 year-old campaign was nothing short of sensational.

The filly, whose name means “boat” in French — possibly another reference to her size and confirmation — was exquisite. With her deep bay coat, the white star on her face and her intelligent expression, she was undoubtedly the gift of an exquisite mingling of bloods.

Who better to picture the champion than the great C.C. Cook? Here she is in

Who better to picture the champion than the great C.C. Cook? Here she is in 1928 with jockey Kelsay in the irons. Photo and copyright, C.C. Cook/Keeneland.

Back of the photo, signed by C.C. Cook.

Back of the photo, signed by C.C. Cook.

In her first stakes start in 1927, the Schuylerville, Bateau finished second to Pennant (1925), but she beat the Hertz’s Anita Peabody (1925) who would be named Champion two year-old filly of 1927. Anita Peabody’s most famous victory came that same year, when she defeated another Hertz entry, Reigh Count, in the Belmont Futurity. Reigh Count, as our readers will know, sired Triple Crown winner Count Fleet.

ANITA PEABODY, a gift to Mrs. Hertz from her husband, was a spectacular filly in her own right.

ANITA PEABODY, a gift to Mrs. Hertz from her husband, was a spectacular filly in her own right.

Next came the 1927 Fashion Stakes which Bateau won, followed by two thirds in the Matron and Spinaway. Drama punctuated the Pimlico Futurity, where Bateau finished third, when Earl Sande who rode her in that race was accused of slamming violently into the Hertz colt, Reigh Count, costing him the race. Sande’s license was initially suspended, although he was subsequently reinstated and Bateau was DQ’d. Pimlico aside, by the end of her 2 year-old campaign, both Jeffords and Harlan knew they had a very special filly in Bateau. She had her sire’s will to win and his strong mind, and she was courageous.

1928 blossomed for the three year-old, with wins in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Gazelle. In the former, she beat another exceptional filly by Man O’ War in Valkyr (1925), the Champion Handicap Mare of 1928, and the future dam of  champion Vagrancy (1939). Bateau’s performance was sufficient to get her noticed, and she was awarded Co-Champion 3 year-old honours with Easter Stockings (1925), the best of Sir Barton’s daughters.

BATEAU with Frank Coltiletti up in 1928,

BATEAU with Frank Coltiletti up in 1928. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

 

The grey VALKYR as a broodmare was still another impressive daughter of MAN O' WAR.

The grey VALKYR as a broodmare. She was still another impressive daughter of MAN O’ WAR whose sons and daughters were invariably good on the track and in the breeding shed.

Her four year-old season saw some impressive wins for Jeffords’ champion filly. Racing against the boys, Bateau beat the older Display(1923) to win the Whitney in a thrilling finish. (Since 1928, when Black Helen became the first filly to win the Whitney, only five others, including Bateau, have ever won it to the present day. The last was the incomparable Personal Ensign, who won it in 1988.) Bateau then went on to beat the 1928 Preakness winner, Victorian (1925), in the South Maryland Handicap and battled the excellent Petee-Wrack (1925) to victory in the Suburban. This would be Bateau’s last stakes race before her retirement, but it was enough to have her honoured as the Champion Handicap Mare of 1929.

Expectations were high as Man O’ War’s champion daughter headed off to the breeding shed. But after a few tries and much frustration, Bateau was declared barren. Rather than risk losing her on the track, Bateau was given a new job, that of the Jeffords’ hack, or riding horse, and kept in the same stable as other Jeffords’ pleasure horses.

Since it is through their progeny that many great thoroughbreds live on through time, this failure of Bateau’s has seen her relegated to something close to obscurity. Biographical notes about her are thin on detail and surviving narratives almost non-existant.

 

BATEAU with jockey Ambrose up after her win in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.

BATEAU, with jockey Ambrose up, after her win in the 1929 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park. When were the blinkers added? Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

Press reports of Bateau’s exploits are similarly hard to come by, but evidence was found from New South Wales, Australia and England that suggests her reputation was international. Too, the Daily Racing Form wrote a lengthly article on her Suburban win:

 

DAUGHTER OP MAN O’ WAR WINS FAME IN DIG RACE

New York, November 23, 1929

Bateau, a daughter of Man o' War, has achieved fame on'the snow covered Bowie tracie hy winning the South Maryland Handicap of £8000. Repeating the performance of her great sire, Bateau 
finished gamely, winning by a nose. The Amazon daughter of the super-stallion galloped the mile and 110 yards in lm. 46 2-5s. (The Barrier-Miner Newspaper, New South Wales, AUSTRALIA)

EXTRAORDINARY RACE

 

Two Noses and a Head Separate Four Horses in Suburban.

Bateau Wins by a Nose, Petee-Wrack Second by a Nose, Toro Third by a Head.

 

NEW YORK, N. Y., June 1.




With four thoroughbreds fighting it out furiously in one of the greatest finishes ever seen on any race course, Walter M. Jeffords* Bateau dropped her nose down in front of J. R. Macomber's Petee-Wrack, Edward B. McLean's Toro, and Richard T. Wilson's Sunfire to win the old Suburban Handicap, over one mile and a quarter.

Then after the finish there came a claim of foul, lodged against Ambrose, who rode Bateau, and there was some delay before the stewards confirmed the order of the finish. The running had a 
new value of $14,100 to the winner and Bateau finished the distance in 2:03%, making it an excellent performance.

The Suburban renewal was the big event of a holiday card offered by the Westchester Racing Association at Belmont Park today and it attracted a crowd that approached that of Decoration Day.

The claim of foul that was lodged by O'Donnell, who rode Petee-Wrack, was that Ambrose had pushed him out of the way to come through on the inside with Bateau. The Ambrose defense was that he had pushed Petee-Wrack away to avoid being put over the inner rail. In any event, the claim was not allowed.

…Little time was lost at the post in the Suburban Handicap and with the exception of Chicatie, which left slowly, the others left in excellent alignment and Petee-Wrack was the one to show theway with Soul of Honor and Sunfire following him closely, while Bateau was also in the front division. Chance Shot began well and was not far back, while, Toro was slower to find his racing 
legs and he was well back.

It was going to the turn out of the back stretch that it became apparent that Chance Shot, the topweight, would not do. There Willie Garner shook him up in an effort to improve his position, 
but the big son of Fair Play did not respond and from that stage of the running he began to drop back well beaten.
Petee-Wrack was still forcing the pace under a slight restraint and Sunfire was close after him on the outside. Soul of Honor ran closely lapped on the Wilson colt, but it was evident he was 
doing his best.

Ambrose still had Bateau close after the leaders and the daughter of Man o' War was racing kindly.

Old Display was holding his position, while Toro was beginning to make up ground on the outside in threatening fashion.

There was a general closing up as the field turned for home and Petee-Wrack was holding resolutely to his lead, but it was a scant one. Sunfire was right with him, while Ambrose had Bateau on the inner rail and the filly had her nose at the saddle of the Macomber colt. Soul of Honor was beginning to tire, while Toro was swooping along outside of him in gallant fashion.

TORO MOVES UP.

Well inside the final sixteenth Soul of Honor was through, but Toro had moved up until he was in the fight to the finish. Bateau was holding her place on the inside, but in remarkably close quarters, with Petee-Wrack almost on top of her. Then it was that the alleged foul was committed when Ambrose, to protect himself and his mount, pushed the colt over to find room.

Right to the end the four battled along and in the last stride Bateau had squeezed through to earn the verdict by a nose, while Petee-Wrack was no further before the fast finishing Toro, and Sunfire a head further back. Then right on the heels of Sunfire came Sortie, which had been forced to race wide all the way.

It was a magnificent renewal of a great race and the first victory for a filly since the victory of Beldame in 1905. (DAILY RACING FORM, June 1, 1929)




 


Author and artist C.W. Anderson can still be counted on today as a faithful ethnographer of racing in the first part of the last century. Anderson was passionate about Man O’ War, recording aspects of his life and legacy with details he undoubtedly took from the newspapers of the day. Including her in his classic book, Big Red, Anderson’s evaluation of Bateau speaks for itself and provides a fitting conclusion to the story of an exceptional filly.

 

BATEAU by CW ANDERSON_

 

 

Sources

Anderson, C.W. Big Red. The Macmillan Company, New York: 1943

Hunter, Avelyn: American Classic Pedigrees (online: http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com) related to Bateau and Valkyr

Daily Racing Form in University of Kentucky Archives, June 1, 1929

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Recently, I was asked by The Chateauguay Valley Historical Society to write an article about my grandfather and his champion mare. It was a pleasure to write but also a very intense experience since, after I’d completed a decent draft my brother, Robert, discovered among my late mother’s papers a bill of sale for Topsy and a short text my mother had written in 1987, in response to a poem I had written about Grandpa and his beloved mare. I knew both of these artefacts existed but had never actually seen them. In particular, my mother’s narrative about her father and Topsy was moving and beautifully rendered, while bringing details of their story to the fore that I had not known.

Her politically incorrect name aside – a “topsy” was the term once used to describe a black woman in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – our Topsy was a Standardbred mare, reputedly one of the first of that breed to show up in the Chateauguay Valley in the 1920s. 

 

TOPSY NICO with Hilda Anderson. Photo taken by my grandfather, Carl L. B. Wheeler at Huntingdon Fair in Quebec in the 1920's/ early 1930's. Building in the background is a carousel where children took rides on wooden ponies.

TOPSY NICO with Hilda Anderson. Photo taken by my grandfather, Carl L. B. Wheeler, at Huntingdon Fair in Huntingdon, Quebec in the early 1930s. Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

 

In our maternal family, the narrative of Topsy Nico had no equal.

My grandfather, Carl Leroy Boynton Wheeler, was born in Barnston, Quebec in the Eastern Townships in 1885, one of two sons of Hiram Nathan Wheeler and Lydia Abigail Melloon. He was a sickly child and even as an adult, was wracked by illness. The effects of illness still showed when, in the 1950s, his brother Harry came from Alberta to visit him. In the photograph commemorating their reunion, Harry towers over his tiny brother, who stood just over five feet tall.

It was a catastrophic event that brought my grandfather, his wife, my grandmother, Myrtle Beatrice (nee Chadsey) and their daughter, my mother, Myrna Carlene, to Huntingdon. After an unsuccessful bid at farming (likely due to Carl’s poor constitution) my grandparents moved into the tiny village of Ways Mills and took over the general store. But sometime between 1921 and 1925, despite the efforts of an untiring bucket brigade, the store burned to the ground. Almost everything the family owned was destroyed.

Grandpa, Gramma and my mother, circa 1920.

Grandpa, Gramma and my mother, circa 1920. Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

 

The General Store, Ways Mills, Quebec. My grandmother has marked with an X the top window where the fire started that burned the store to the ground. (The other two Xs indicate where "Myrna fell down the stairs.")

The General Store, Ways Mills, Quebec. My grandmother has marked with an X the top window where the fire started that burned the store to the ground. (The other two Xs indicate where “Myrna fell down the stairs.”) Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

 

Topsy Nico appeared on the scene shortly before or after the tragedy, in 1925.

The filly was unruly and “no-one could do anything with her,” according to my mother. My grandfather, always a shrewd businessman, acquired her in 1925 with the exchange of a promissory note that was considered legal tender at the time.

Bill of sale for "the

Bill of sale for “the T.E. Gascon mare.” Copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

The bill of sale (above) indicates that the final transfer of ownership “in full for note” took place on February 10, 1926 in Coaticook, Quebec between my grandmother and G.C. Tillotson of the Sale and Exchange Stable for the handsome sum of $33.75 CAD. At this time, Topsy Nico was identified simply as the “T.E. Gascon mare.” It seems likely that it was my grandparents who named her: “Topsy” for her ebony coat colour, and “Nico” possibly from an individual in her lineage, perhaps her sire. The filly may have been given this name by T.E. Gascon if she was registered before she was sold, although no filly of this name appears in the records I have consulted to date.

It may have been that the promissory note, although legal, was arranged on the condition that my grandfather could gentle the filly, since it is doubtful that the Wheeler household could have afforded the luxury of a pretty horse that couldn’t be either ridden or driven. According to an unpublished text written by my mother in 1987:

“[Topsy Nico] was a Standardbred filly with a good bloodline, but her disposition caused the owner to offer her for a very low price. My father’s keen eyes noted her conformity, the bargain price and the challenge she presented. The vision of this delicate man managing the impossible creature was the subject of considerable amusement in the small village of Way’s Mills…”

 My mother goes on to say that “… she [Topsy] prolonged his life … The bond which developed between them was instantaneous. His patience and gentleness, coupled with her love for him, developed into a county legend … In the accomplishment of training her he had proved his manhood and his ability to judge a good horse when he saw one.”

The socio-historical context in which my grandfather bought Topsy is known as the “Golden Age” of horse racing, both here in Canada and in the USA. The pacer Dan Patch had become an American legend during the first decade of the twentieth century, and in 1920 one of the most famous thoroughbreds ever born, Man O’ War, was blazing his own trail to immortality. My grandfather followed the exploits of Dan Patch and Man O’ War on the radio and in the press. He could tell stories about Man O’ War and other great thoroughbreds as though he knew them intimately. Too, his passion for the Standardbred never waned, and especially for the great Greyhound and the filly, Rosalind. Closer to home, Blue Bonnets racetrack, first opened in 1872 in a suburb of Montreal, was well-established as a popular venue for thoroughbred racing. Too, there was Connaught Park (later known as Hippodrome d’Alymer) established in 1913 in Aylmer, Quebec where thoroughbred and harness racing, as well as steeplechase events, were showcased. My grandfather may well have attended events at one or both of these venues.

BLUE BONNETS race track in 1907. Photo and copyright, The McCord Museum, Montreal, CA. Used with the permission of the McCord Museum.

BLUE BONNETS race track in 1907. Photo and copyright, The McCord Museum, Montreal, CA. Used with the permission of the McCord Museum.

The mystique of the horse had incited Carl Wheeler’s imagination throughout his life, making it probable that he took one look at the proud, beautiful filly and knew that Topsy was meant to be his. Was he in the market for a trotter, pacer or thoroughbred of his own? Perhaps. But his choice to show Topsy rather than race her would indicate otherwise. Too, for a man who had just lost a business and most of his family possessions, the cost of maintaining a racehorse would have been unthinkable.

At any rate, after the fire and sometime between 1925 and 1926, my grandfather hitched Topsy Nico to a buggy and drove her to Huntingdon. There, he would find work as a milk inspector for the Elmhurst Dairy and subsequently move his wife and daughter into a house at 184 Chateauguay Street. We know that the Wheeler family had resettled in Huntingdon about this time, since my mother, who was born in 1919, started Grade 1 at Huntingdon Academy and, in keeping with the admittance age of the day, was 6 or 7 years old.

Of the journey from Ways Mills to Huntingdon, my grandfather simply said, “Topsy got there without raising a sweat. We trotted most of the way.” It was a distance of 150 miles: Topsy made the trip in three days.

The house at 184 Chateauguay Street is still standing, but when my grandparents lived there it looked rather different. Facing the street it boasted a large balcony covered with ivy on one side and an enclosed sun porch, mostly used in warmer weather, on the other. The exterior was whitewashed shingle crowned by a shiny tin roof. Attached to the house at the back was the Elmhurst Dairy store, where Huntingdon residents came to buy milk, cream, butter and ice cream. And behind the house was a small barn, where my grandfather kept Topsy and the Hackney ponies that he acquired some time later, when my mother was older.

TOPSY NICO standing in front of the Wheeler home on Chateauguay Street in Huntingdon, Quebec CA. Hild Anderson holds the reins. My grandmother is nearest to the camera. Photo taken by my grandfather. Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

TOPSY NICO standing in front of the Wheeler home at 184 Chateauguay Street in Huntingdon, Quebec CA. Hild Anderson holds the reins. My grandmother is nearest to the camera. Photo taken by my grandfather. Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

Once settled in his new home, my grandfather was determined to show his mare in harness and under saddle at the annual fairs in Huntingdon, Valleyfield and Ormstown. He wasn’t a vain man, but my grandfather was unquestionably smitten with his elegant coal black mare and her potential. I wager the horse folk of Huntingdon admired her immensely, and may well have been responsible for putting the idea of showing Topsy at local fairs into his head in the first place. At this time, agricultural fairs were a cornerstone of rural life – a place to look over bloodstock, meet up with neighbours and celebrate the fruits of another year’s labour, be that a fine dairy cow or a beautiful quilt or an exceptional horse.

My grandfather with the family's white Boston Bull Terrier, appropriately named "White Teddy" ("Teddy" after Teddy Roosevelt)

My grandfather with the family’s white Boston Bull Terrier, appropriately named “White Teddy” (“Teddy” after Teddy Roosevelt)

However, before he could show Topsy, my grandfather needed another experienced handler. Now standing at least 16 hands tall, Topsy was beyond the capacities of the Wheeler women. And she was an individual who had “a mind of her own,” according to both my grandparents.

My grandmother knew horses and, despite her tiny stature, was not one to be intimidated by them. But although there are photographs attesting to her relationship with Topsy, the history between the mare and “CLB,” as my grandfather was affectionately called by his friends, made her a whole different horse for a less-experienced handler. “She was wilful,” my grandmother once said, “but she wasn’t mean. Still, I was afraid to drive her … she was so strong. And she was high-spirited.”

My grandmother upon her graduation from McGill University, circa 1906. Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

My grandmother upon her graduation from McGill University, circa 1906. Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

Enter Hilda Anderson, a young woman who lived in Huntingdon at the time and boarded with my grandparents, who stepped in to take over the reins.

Topsy’s appearance at Huntingdon, Valleyfield and Ormstown fairs must have been spectacular. Late in her life, my mother recalled one occasion at Ormstown Fair, when the mare, in harness with my grandfather at the reins, received a standing ovation that went on for more than five minutes. “It was really something,” my mother added. “She was the star of the show everywhere she went. People just loved her. “

In the text she wrote in 1987, my mother described what it felt like to witness Topsy in the show ring:

“She grew into a breathtaking creature of unusual beauty. People stood in the arenas when she entered the show ring, competing against horses from Montreal and Toronto. Her performance was flawless, with her arched neck and high-stepping gait.”

A darling of the local horse show circuit, Topsy’s wins came one after another, in combination (driving and riding), line and pleasure classes. Her performance was a natural extension of her Standardbred blood – her feet were never weighted and her gait was “born into her,” as my grandfather would have said. Topsy was simply dancing out her love for the man who had changed her life.

Of equal significance was the fact that it was through Topsy that CLB gained entry into the small community of horseman in the Valley, and the relationships he forged were to last a lifetime. On at least two occasions, when he was a senior, I went with him to “look at a horse with a few problems,” at the request of its owner. My grandfather also remained active on the executive of Huntingdon Fair until shortly before his death in 1964. All this suggests that the horse folk in the Chateauguay Valley respected his knowledge and experience greatly.

TOPSY NICO and my grandfather, Ormstown Fair in the 1930s.

TOPSY NICO and my grandfather, Ormstown Fair in the 1930s. Photo taken by W.A. Strohmeyer Jr., a professional photographer from the USA who did the rounds of county fairs in New England, Quebec and Ontario at this time. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.A. Strohmeyer Jr. Property of Robert H. Anderson and family.

When the show season was over, Topsy was usually sent “to the country,” to a farm where there were other horses. On one occasion, my grandfather was called and asked to come and collect her, since she had “stolen” a foal from its mother and, as Topsy had no milk for it, the foal’s life was at risk. Said my grandmother, “Your Grandpa had to go get her because no one could get near her. She was guarding her baby, as she saw it.” Topsy had never been bred, but the incident played on my grandfather. Finally, he decided to breed her, although, according to my mother, the mare was “really too old to be put through something like that.”

Topsy gave birth to a colt and the family named him “Happy.” Whether or not this was his registered name (if he was registered at all) is unknown, as is the identity of his sire. Initially, Topsy and her foal were kept in the barn at the back of the house on Chateauguay Street. Before Happy was weaned, my grandfather sent Topsy into a harness class at Huntingdon Fair. It would be the only “wrong turn” he ever took in his career as a horseman.

My mother, who would not have been much more than twelve or thirteen, was at the reins. However, as she told it, Topsy could hear Happy crying and quickly went from restless to determined in her desire to get to her foal, rearing up and overturning the buggy. Fortunately, neither my mother nor the mare was injured, although the latter charged out of the arena dragging my grandfather and the ruins of the buggy behind her.

TRIXIE FLAME, one of my grandfather's Hackney ponies, with my grandfather circa 1936. Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

TRIXIE FLAME, one of my grandfather’s Hackney ponies, with my grandfather circa 1936. Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

This incident heralded Topsy’s retirement from the show ring. “Topsy was never quite right after that,” my mother noted. “She wasn’t the same. She wasn’t even interested in the things Dad did with her. She’d act up. She’d had enough.”

In what must have been a difficult decision for my grandfather to make, Topsy was retired and shipped to a farm where she lived out the rest of her days. At some point, the mare died of an infection after foaling, likely sometime in the 1930s. Whether or not the foal survived and what happened to it is unknown. The fate of her first foal, Happy, is also unknown. This part of the narrative was never discussed, perhaps because it was too painful.

By the time I came along, Topsy had been dead for well over a decade and the days of showing horses had ended for my grandfather. The stalls in the little red barn behind the house on Chateauguay Street were rented out to other horse people in the community and on most weekends, the then-Postmaster of Huntingdon, James O’Hare, could be found grooming the horses. If I pestered him long enough, I could get “Uncle Jim” to tell me more about Topsy.

Grandpa riding TOPSY over the Walker Bridge in Huntingdon in the 1930's. This is my favourite photo of the two of them. Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

Grandpa riding TOPSY over the Walker Bridge in Huntingdon in the 1930’s. This is my favourite photo of the two of them. Photo and copyright, Robert H. Anderson and family.

 

Every story began with “Now, Topsy … there was a horse … she was really something.”

One story had to do with the Walker Bridge. As Uncle Jim told it, “Now Topsy she wasn’t having any of that damn bridge. It has wood planks you know and horses, most don’t like that they move and make a clatter. And there’s your granddad with Topsy all harnessed up and she won’t move.

“And he’s jumping around and yelling and waving the whip at her. Nope. She’s not going to move. So your granddad takes off the harness. You know, the buggy and all. And he takes off his jacket and wraps it around her head so she can’t see. And across the bridge they go. Your granddad and that big mare, she just as quiet as a baby.

But then Carl realizes he can’t just leave her there and go back for the harness and all. So doesn’t he bring her back over again, hitch her up and put his jacket back on. Went up to her, pulled her head down into his chest and spoke to her. Smoothed down her forelock a little, like he always did when he was getting her ready. Then didn’t he get into the buggy and off they went.”

And then Uncle Jim laughed and shook his head. “It was the damndest thing. Across they went like it was nothing. Clickety-clack.”

 

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I wrote this poem in the early 1970’s. It is reproduced here as it appeared in 1973 in GOT POEMS IF YOU WANT ‘EM. (FYI: The spellings and punctuation disruptions are intentional.)

 

Topsy Nico

raven back mare

you are crafted into rooms of memory:

in a picture

framed with ribbons

carl leroy boynton and his tall lean horse

 

Topsy Nico

with sadset eyes

a nose as straight

as crows fly

from Ways Mills to Huntingdon

carl leroy small sicklechild

tripleggy filly whom nobody wanted

 

Carl Leroy in squarehat

pushed grease from his brow

laughed 

when he thought of you

 

(as hoofbeats

down country roads echo

as old leather

dying

 

of cancer

 

Over trophies more rust than silver

stand round legs under sadset eyes

of Topsy who paced from valleyfield home

leather reins sleep

across ravenback

 

Abigail Anderson, Montreal, Canada

 

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SPECIAL NOTE: I hesitated to use Topsy’s name for decades because of its rascist connotation even though it was she who first awoke my love of horses. In my grandparents’  day, terms like “a topsy,” “a darkie” and, of course, “nigger” were in common usage. They would not have associated any of these terms with the history or meanings they hold for us today. In this light, I hope my readers will appreciate my use of our beloved mare’s full name. Thank you, Abigail

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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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