>Thoroughbreds can fall “off the radar” for any number of reasons, some of which we cannot change and others which we can correct by working together as a community. This article is dedicated to the ordinary, hard-working thoroughbreds of today and yesteryear. They run their hearts out on the track but never attain the heights of an Uncle Mo or a Ruffian. In the breeding shed, they were a disappointment. But winner or loser, a horse is a living being — and they depend on us to take care of them.
My urge to collect thoroughbred photos derived from television, an environment that turned individuals like Secretariat, Ruffian and Northern Dancer into overnight celebrities. Until recently, what appeared on television was fleeting, so to recapture and hold those memories in place, it seemed natural to turn to photographs. From the very beginning, I found myself drawn to the craft of a photograph almost more than to its subject. The result was that even though I started out intending to find photos of specific — and usually famous — horses, I found myself drawn into the world of images instead.
It is the photos between 1900 – 1950 that I most treasure; and it has been particularly satisfying to learn the identities and stories of the thoroughbreds from this period, horses who always tried their best but never became “superstars.” To secure a place in thoroughbred history a horse must distinguish itself from its contemporaries, whether on the track and/or in the breeding shed. The thoroughbreds in some of my favorite photos accomplished neither of these feats, making them that much easier to forget.
|Over The Top, pictured in 1937|
One good look at this handsome fellow and one is struck by his physical resemblance to his sire, a connection evident in his conformation and in the faraway look in his eyes. Over The Top (1934) was a son of Man O’ War (1917). His dam, Cresta (1920) was by Whisk Broom (1907) ex. Cresson (1916) a female descendant of the great Persimmon (1893). The year is 1937. Other than the date, there are no other details on the back of the photo other than his name, stamped in black.
For the first three years of his life, Over The Top was owned by Samuel Riddle and trained by George Conway in company with the mighty War Admiral, who was born the same year. Like all of Big Red’s offspring, the leggy red colt was slow to develop, hitting his peak at 3 and 4 years of age, respectively. Shortly before the 1937 Preakness he was purchased from Riddle by Mrs. William H. Furst of Chicago for an undisclosed amount. As a 3 year-old, Over The Top finished 3rd to War Admiral and Court Scandal (1934) in the Chesapeake Stakes, a performance that earned him black type status. In an issue of the Daily Racing Form (DRF) from the same year, a pre-Preakness work between Over The Top and War Admiral gets the following notation, “… Over The Top had no difficulty keeping pace with War Admiral.” Despite the inference, the colt ran poorly in the Preakness. Later in the year, Over The Top scored a win in the Riverdale Purse at Washington Park, coming from behind at a fast clip and withstanding the late charge of a colt called Military (1934), a son of St. Germans (1921) who was good enough to have finished second in the Santa Anita Derby that same year. Over the next two years there are reports of Over The Top’s works, together with charts in which his name appears in a number of allowance races in the category “also ran.” By 1938 the colt had a new owner — A. M. Koewler of California. No extant records of the sale could be located in the DRF archives or elsewhere.
There are two remaining bits of information about Over The Top before he goes off the radar. The first, that he had developed a “sulky attitude” in the final year he raced (1939); the second, this time in 1940, that he had covered the good mare, Lady Bowman (1932). She was a daughter of Carlaris (1923) a son of the great stallion, Phalaris (1913). Her dam, Necklace (1921) was a granddaughter of Commando (1898). At the time of his retirement, Over The Top’s race record was 34-5-3-2, with earnings of $5,675 USD. He retired with more respectable earnings than the figure would seem to suggest, since $1 USD in 1939 is roughly equivalent to $15. 42 USD today. Over The Top died at the age of six in 1940. No further details concerning his death could be located.
He was an average race horse who was a disappointment given his royal lineage, even though by the time Over The Top was foaled Man O’ War’s best years at stud were over. One assumes that his premature death was due to either accident or injury, since there was apparently an intention to breed him. Perhaps his owners were aware that there are thoroughbreds — many, in fact — that make important contributions to the breed through succeeding generations, but that’s mere speculation. In any case, a stallion with a spotty track performance would have been unlikely to attract top mares.
With the help of the American Stud Book, Volume 18, the very wonderful “Lucy” of Pedigree Query was able to locate the foal that resulted from the 1940 mating of Over The Top to Lady Bowman. The colt was named Over Lad (1941), a gelding. He made 53 starts, won 5, placed in 7 and showed in 5, earning $4, 487 USD. According to Lucy, there was also an indication in the stud book that Over The Top had sired a few other foals. However, as none were champions (otherwise, we’d know about them) it would take months to track them all down, assuming that archives such as those of the DRF are complete. And such is often not the case. So the narrative of Over The Top’s life ends here, a case of going off the radar forever.
Whereas Over The Top’s story ends as a result of both incomplete or lost information and misfortune, a good thoroughbred can go off the radar for any number of arbitrary reasons. As I was to discover in a very direct way about three years ago.
|Chapel of Dreams with her 1993 filly, Erinyes
(Photo courtesy of Patricia McQueen @ http://www.photopm.com )
We all have thoroughbreds that we love and Terlingua (1976), the daughter of Secretariat ex. Crimson Saint (1969) is one of mine. Years ago, I began to collect everything I could find about Terlingua’s racing and breeding history, and soon became a “Terlingua expert.” Of her offspring, I discovered that a daughter, Chapel of Dreams, most resembled her and off I went to find out more.
Chapel of Dreams (1984), a daughter of Northern Dancer (1961) made 24 starts for William P. Young’s Overbrook Farm, earning $643, 912 (USD) by 1988, the year she was retired. Her offspring were unremarkable, with the exception of Seeking The Dream (1995) by Seeking The Gold (1985) and If Angels Sang (1994) by Seattle Slew (1974). However, in the breeding shed another daughter Bridal Tea (1991) by Gulch (1984) got the very fine Postponed (1997) by Summer Squall (1987). Postponed was a good runner, but he has proven himself to be an outstanding sire in the western hemisphere where he now stands at Westbury Stud, in New Zealand.
|Postponed (1997) by Summer Squall ex. Bridal Tea,
Chapel of Dreams’ grandson
In 2008, I discovered that Chapel of Dreams had gone off the radar by reading Barbara Livingston’s piece on Terlingua in her wonderful book, More Old Friends. In discussing Terlingua’s impact on the fortunes of Overbrook Farm, Livingston noted that only a few of her offspring remained at the farm. Chapel of Dreams was not on the list.
A different kind of search was on, one made even more urgent by the fact that Chapel of Dreams was then 24 years old and my preliminary research had shown her to be barren. I tracked her from Overbrook to another prestigious stud farm where my email was answered in the following manner, “If she’s still alive, she’s probably a lawn ornament…” All the while, I kept thinking: “How could a broodmare who won over a half-million dollars, a daughter of Northern Dancer and granddaughter of Secretariat, just go missing?” By then we had all learned about the fate of the brilliant Exceller (1973) and the gentle Ferdinand (1983). Terrible things could happen to any thoroughbred. I determined to forge ahead.
Finally, I was referred to Three Chimneys and boldly sent off an e-mail to Case Clay. He returned my correspondence, stating that an employee had seen Chapel Of Dreams recently and that she looked fine. I wrote back, explaining that given her age and the likelihood that her breeding years were over, I was worried about what the future might hold in store. In response, I received another email saying, “… you and I think alike,” and promising that he would look into it and get back to me. After a subsequent email, telling me that he had offered to buy Chapel of Dreams and retire her to Three Chimneys, the following arrived on August 13, 2008:
I have some fantastic news!! Chapel of Dreams is back at Three Chimneys,
safe and sound, and will be here for the rest of her days in retirement.
She will no longer be bred, but will just enjoy the green grass and
sunshine here in Kentucky. I am so thrilled to have her back with us,
knowing that she will live out her days in dignity.
Just wanted to share the good news.
All the best,
P.S. You are more than welcome to visit her here at the farm any time.
“Doing is the best way of saying,” Augusto Boal, an internationally celebrated teacher and friend, would remind his students. Boal knew from experience that action is the path that leads to justice. I have no doubt that without Mr. Clay’s actions — despite a demanding schedule — Chapel of Dreams would have gone off the radar, lost in the shuffle from one owner to the next. Like Over The Top, Terlingua’s daughter was not a superstar and even though she was no slouch during her racing days, she proved disappointing as a brood mare. In giving an aging mare the right to “… live out her days in dignity,” Case Clay and Three Chimneys offer eloquent testimony about the actions we all need to take on behalf of any thoroughbred that runs the risk of going off the radar, perhaps forever.
Other than the fact that I acted as a kind of ombudsman for Chapel of Dreams, I can take absolutely no credit for this happy ending. And since I was never able to find a way to visit Terlingua when she was alive, helping in a modest way to keep Chapel of Dreams on the radar seemed a fitting way to remember “my best girl.”
|Terlingua nuzzles her new baby, Chapel of Dreams
(Photo by Anne M. Eberhardt, courtesy of The Blood-Horse)
COMING SOON: Who is your favorite Secretariat descendant? Next week’s blog is about one of Secretariat’s most famous progeny — a thoroughbred who, like Big Red, was to become a legend in his own time.