Archive for May, 2011

As we await the 2011 Belmont Stakes, THE VAULT shares a personal story of a thoroughbred who will never be forgotten and a Belmont Stakes that held a magic that would last a lifetime…..

There will only ever be one Belmont Stakes for me, a performance by which all other Belmont Stakes’ winners will be measured. For although there have been and will continue to be great thoroughbred champions, Secretariat surpassed all of that on June 9, 1973. In some ways his Belmont run was surreal. Even if one were watching it live — as I was — the big red colt carried us into another dimension. A place where horses are the messengers of the gods and, like Pegasus, fly between the lands of the mortal and immortal.

On that Saturday in June, sitting in front of our television console, my mother and I came to our feet as Secretariat turned for home, our eyes brimming with tears. It may sound odd to say it, but I don’t remember thinking at all about the Triple Crown as Big Red II came down the stretch with a stride that made it seem as though he was skimming the ground. What I thought, instead, was that this was a moment so powerful and so extraordinarily beautiful that it would stay with me forever.

Thirty-eight years later, I can say that it did.

Now in 1973, for the young’uns out there, we all knew that what appeared on a screen was fleeting. There were no computers, no video or DVD or Blu-ray, no chance that we would ever see a televised event like Secretariat’s Belmont again. And this meant, in turn, that we watched the screen differently than we do today. In the years prior to the coming of new media, the human mind recorded these kinds of events and — as I was to discover — stored them in our memories with a remarkable degree of accuracy.

To keep the memory of Secretariat alive, I bought Raymond Woolfe’s magnificent book, “Secretariat,” in 1975. I was in a downtown Montreal bookstore called “Classics,” a place where I spent many hours browsing through the bookshelves. I can still remember spotting“Secretariat” on the display stand, leafing through it quickly and then rushing to the cashier to buy it and take it home. Filled with Woolfe’s extraordinary images of Secretariat from babyhood to retirement, I sat for many long, pleasurable hours with my treasure, reading the narrative and lingering over the photos. Of course, remarkable as Woolfe’s photos truly are of Secretariat and his connections, no single photograph, except the famous one by Bob Coglianese of Secretariat nearing the wire, really could capture the feelings that coursed through me on that day. And even the Coglianese fell short.

By the 1990’s the new media had transformed communication and the way we store screen events in our memory and in our lives. My son, for example, would watch his favourite movies over and over again, a habit I have still not really embraced, possibly because the lesson of the fleeting image which characterized fully half of my adult life remains too strong. In other words, I belong to a generation for whom the vast majority find re-watching something that you remember perfectly well a curious activity.

But there are a few films in my own collection that I do, in fact, re-watch. The first among them is “The Life & Times of Secretariat: An American Racing Legend.”  I still remember the day my son introduced me to eBay. He said, “This place is AMAZING!”  I was sceptical. He persevered. “Just tell me one thing — anything — that you really love and I’ll show you.” And what came out of my mouth? Secretariat! He typed in the name and up on the screen came PAGES of Secretariat ephemera. I was stunned. He scrolled down the lists and we came to a VHS about the champion, entitled,  “The Life & Times of Secretariat: An American Racing Legend.”  I joined eBay within 10 minutes, bid on it and won it, and sent off my payment to the seller.

The day my cassette arrived, I opened its cellophane wrap with trembling fingers and slid it into the VCR. In a matter of seconds, there he was: my SpiritHorse….the big red colt who had accompanied me for the last 20 + years and who had become a part of me, a place in my life that felt like home. Watching Secretariat’s Belmont was a lesson in the lore of the human heart — I had forgotten nothing. It was just as I had re-memoried it for two decades or more.

I watch this documentary repeatedly because Secretariat speaks to me so profoundly. Whenever my team and I found our backs to the wall, I would tell them about Secretariat and what it means in life to run your very own race. So it was natural for them to weave Secretariat into my retirement from education a year ago, by playing the short film I made myself that commemorates Secretariat in my life and that I am sharing with you today for the very first time.

I composed the film using footage from the many compositions on YouTube and it took me a number of weeks to do. The hardest was the written script because for the first time, I needed to articulate why Secretariat means so much to me. The audience for the film was my retirement guests, most of whom knew nothing about horses or horse racing or thoroughbred champions. And the early footage of Secretariat on the track, wearing number 1A, was mostly taken from his Kentucky Derby post parade.

Of course, there are other thoroughbreds I loved before and after Secretariat and, in a very real sense, I love them all. But Secretariat’s Belmont punctuates my life by connecting me back to the little girl and the young woman who loved thoroughbreds with an unrivalled passion, making him a sacred artefact in my personal landscape.

I offer it to THE VAULT readers in the spirit of all those who have let at least one great horse flow into their lives. Because, as you know, our lives are so much richer when we walk our individual paths with an equine spirit to guide and protect us.

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As part of our celebration of the 2011 Triple Crown of horse racing, THE VAULT takes a look back to recent and not-so-recent Preakness winners of the past. 

The Preakness will be televised by NBC this coming Saturday. Be sure to tune in to cheer on your favourite and to let NBC know that we appreciate their coverage of the Triple Crown! 

Every Preakness is exciting, possibly because the middle leg of the Triple Crown challenge holds its own enigma. Horses racing in the Preakness face a smaller field of 14 and a shorter race, making the “rules of the game” different from either the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont Stakes. More recently, the Preakness has also come to feature comparatively fresh horses — colts who bypassed the Derby for one reason or another, including the simple fact that their earnings weren’t high enough to make the Derby starter list. Another comparatively recent influence is the fact that many colts on the Triple Crown trail today are very lightly raced, making it more difficult to know their real potential, even if they are going into the starting gate as a Kentucky Derby winner.

Winning the Preakness involves a range of race strategies, a potpourri of thoroughbred abilities and a fair measure of good fortune. Colts who are closers have won, as well as one filly who took the lead early on and never relinquished it. Sometimes even a potentially dreadful traffic accident isn’t enough to deter a brave and determined thoroughbred. Read on and watch six very different Preakness winners, each of whom brought their own strengths to Pimlico on Preakness day. If nothing else, these six vignettes serve as a reminder that nothing is ever completely certain on race day. Except the anticipation that courses through the veins of horse and human alike — and the belief in the power of the mighty thoroughbred.

Preakness 2009: RACHEL ALEXANDRA

Rachel Alexandra walks back to the winner's circle to collect her black-eyed susans with a delighted Calvin Borel and Scott Blasi

The incomparable Rachel Alexandra took the Preakness in style in 2009, just two weeks after her outstanding win in the Kentucky Oaks. Starting from the extreme outside in post 13, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro took the lead just passing the first quarter. Turning it on in the final turn, Rachel Alexandra blazed home ahead of Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, to the screams, tears and shouts of her many fans. In winning the 2009 Preakness, Rachel became the first filly since 1924 to prove that in horse racing, sometimes it’s better to “run like a girl!”

Preakness 2004: SMARTY JONES

Smarty Jones in the winner's enclosure at Pimlico with his ecstatic connections.

The Chapmans knew that they had a very special colt on their hands when the tough little chestnut recovered from a near-fatal injury to carry their colours through a string of victories, the Kentucky Derby included. And by the time the champion stepped into post position 7 in the Pimlico starting gate, he had garnered fans around the world. Electricity was in the air. All sensed the coming of a possible Triple Crown winner — the first since Affirmed, in 1978. Stuart Elliott, a hard-working jockey who had not known much notoriety before Smarty, believed in his tough little horse. And on that Saturday in late May, his faith was rewarded with a class not seen since. Stalking Lion Heart down the back stretch, Smarty took the lead at the final turn and never really looked back. He won by 11 1/2 lengths going away — the largest margin of victory in the history of the Preakness.

Preakness 2005: AFLEET ALEX

Scrappy T. bolts on the final turn, forcing Afleet Alex to his knees.

Afleet Alex was pretty much the colt to beat going into the 2005 Kentucky Derby. But, as luck would have it, he was denied by a valiant and talented son of Holy Bull named Giacomo. Going into the Preakness, there were still many, many fans in Afleet Alex’s corner. By the finish of the race, their faith seemed somewhat of an anti-climax.

Under young jockey, Jeremy Rose, who was also riding in his first Preakness, the handsome bay colt got off to a clean start. Running in 10th position along the back, Afleet Alex seemed blocked in by horses until his young jockey found a way through the pack to bring him running into the final turn. And then it happened. Scrappy T. lugged in on Afleet Alex after being hit by Ramon Dominguez, sending the bay colt almost to his knees. But in a feat of pure heart and strength, Afleet Alex rose from the dirt to fly like Pegasus into the lead and under the wire first. In fact, the champion won going away. Jeremy Rose would later say of his colt, “He protected me. He saved my life.” No-one who witnessed the 2005 Preakness will ever doubt the depth of heart and the talent of Afleet Alex.

Preakness 1979: SPECTACULAR BID

Sports Illustrated said it all after The Bid's Kentucky Derby win -- but the Preakness was yet to come.

Spectacular Bid came along in the final year of a time that has since been described as “the decade of champions.” And it was. The 1970’s saw three Triple Crown winners and a score of other amazingly talented thoroughbreds, including the British Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky. Among this kind of talent, Spectacular Bid stood tall. Affectionately nicknamed “The Bid,” the grey son of Bold Bidder went into the Kentucky Derby as an odds-on favourite with a crowd that had learned to recognize a champion when they saw one. Predictably, Bid took the Derby with ease and went on to score in the Preakness in an even easier-looking victory.

He seemed a cinch for the Triple Crown but lost the Belmont Stakes to a relative unknown named Coastal. It was later discovered that a safety pin had become lodged in his front foot, leading to inflammation in the laminae. The loss did little to deter Spectacular Bid’s supporters and the great horse would go on to win again and again. Retired to Claiborne Farm, the Bud Delp trained champion would later be painted there by Richard Stone Reeves, in company with Secretariat and Nijinsky. The painting was aptly named “Three Kings.”

Preakness 1974: LITTLE CURRENT

A portrait of a champion: Little Current.

Little Current was a small chestnut colt who ran like the wind. The son of the great Sea-Bird II, acclaimed by many as the greatest thoroughbred of the last century, was another Triple Crown contender who would lose the Kentucky Derby, only to return with convincing wins in the Preakness and the Belmont. The game little horse arguably never got the respect he deserved, largely because his meagre 2 wins at 3 made him seem rather mediocre, at best. Little Current finished 5th in the Derby to Cannonade, after what could be modestly described as a “troubled trip.” In fact, following the events of the 1974 Derby, the decision was taken to limit the field to 20, beginning in 1975.There are still those today who believe that Little Current was hampered from becoming another Triple Crown champion by that overcrowded Derby field.

Whatever the cause, Little Current showed a winning form on Preakness day 1974 that left spectators gasping. Breaking from the inside post position 2, the colt trailed the field at first; when he began to move up, Little Current found himself confronted by a wall of horseflesh. Then, at the 3/16 pole, a small opening appeared and Little Current’s jockey, Miguel Rivera, shot him through. Moving up even with the leaders at the eighth pole, Little Current was all-the-world his daddy’s son as he moved to the lead to win by 7 lengths in the third fastest time ever recorded — one fifth off Secretariat’s Preakness, the year before.

Little Current coming home in the Preakness and looking just like his daddy, Sea-Bird II, in full flight!

The quick-footed little chestnut would go on to take the Belmont Stakes in authoritative fashion, silencing a veritable legion of critics. The Belmont footage appears below since there seems to be no video footage of Little Current’s Preakness victory available.

What a great “little current” he truly was!

Preakness 1973: SECRETARIAT

The famous "leap" that signalled Secretariat's desire to put himself into contention early on in the Preakness.

There’s little new under the sun that can be said about the beloved Secretariat that our readers don’t already know. But in terms of his Preakness run, there were a few notable facts. The first was that it was in the Preakness that Secretariat decided to go up with the leaders right at the start — a brand new tactic for the mighty son of Bold Ruler! He told his young jockey, Ron Turcotte, that he was ready to go to the lead in the famous “leap” he made passing the stands for the first time. As well, the big red colt won his Preakness in a hand-ride: he only seemed to need to be asked to keep his decided lead over the gallant Sham. Last, the recorded Preakness time lead to a dispute between track officials at Pimlico and the Daily Racing Form: the latter finding that Secretariat had, indeed, shattered the existing track record. However, the Preakness officials refused to change the time, despite a track enquiry where the DRF showed footage that clearly demonstrated they were wrong.

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Our 2011 Kentucky Derby champion: Animal Kingdom. Photo protected by copyright.

It takes a lot more than good looks to win the Triple Crown, but the exciting Animal Kingdom (2008) not only boasts a wonderful trainer of the British school, but a pedigree that is dappled with outstanding individuals.  This look at our newest Kentucky Derby winner concentrates on his sire and a handful of champions who feature in his pedigree over the first 5 generations.

Whereas the British Triple Crown is run over grass on courses not strictly flat, at distances from 1 mile to 1 mile 6 furlongs, the American Triple is run on dirt on flat courses, at distances of 1 3/16 miles to 1 1/2 miles. In other words, what a classic horse is asked to show in either contest is stamina, speed and heart, or a willingness to go on. Arguably, the British, Australian and European thoroughbred is more likely to be bred for distance than the North American thoroughbred at this point in time. (In both Canada and the USA the market tends to favour early precocity and a quicker profit, hence the popularity of the Storm Cats, many of whom displayed exactly these qualities.)

A son of Leroidesanimaux (2000), who was bred and born in Brazil and the competent German-bred mare, Dalicia (2001), Animal Kingdom has a decidedly non-North American bloodline in his first 5 generations, with the exception of a 4X4 to Lyphard (1989) a son of Northern Dancer (1961). Even there, Lyphard ran in France before he was retired, which certainly doesn’t change his bloodline or its impact on Animal Kingdom, except to say that Lyphard was a proven European turf champion. In fact, with a few exceptions, the greatest Northern Dancers were all British or European champions, bred to go a distance. And, as we have seen with Animal Kingdom to date, he is very good indeed on turf — and possibly just as good, or better, on dirt.

The 2011 Kentucky Derby:

Animal Kingdom’s sire, affectionately known as “Leroy” to his many, many fans began his racing career in Brazil. Purchased by TNT Stud, Leroy was shipped to California as a 3 year-old, to the stable of the great Bobby Frankel, where he raced until 2005. Leroy’s racing career was distinguished by an Eclipse Award for American Champion Male Turf horse in 2005, two track records (Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap in 2004 and the Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga in 2005) and a landmark victory in the 2005 Atto Mile (Woodbine) of 7 3/4 lengths — the largest margin of victory ever — while carrying the highest weight of any thoroughbred in the race’s history. In the first of two ironies in this article, John Velazquez was aboard Leroy on that day. The recorded footage says it all:

No doubt about it: Leroy was an outstanding miler. But he also had enough heart to go on forever, as he did in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile, where he finished a game second despite sore feet and improper shoes from a post position on the extreme outside.

An outstanding turf horse, “Leroy” was the kind of thoroughbred that attracted a strong following, from sports writers to racing fan. Photo protected by copyright.

Trained by the great Bobby Frankel, Leroidesanimaux also boasted an outstanding pedigree. Like Invasor, “Leroy” is a son of Candy Stripes, a sire of champions. Photo protected by copyright.

Candy Stripes (1982) is the grandsire of Animal Kingdom. He raced — unimpressively — in France before being retired to stand in Argentina, where he was twice a Champion sire. Candy Stripes’ most famous son is the incomparable Invasor (2002), a Uruguayan Triple Crown winner and American Horse of the Year who took the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic and the 2007 Dubai World Cup. Candy Stripes is also the broodmare sire of Candy Ride (1999), the champion mare, Different (1992), a grade 1 winner in both Argentina and the USA, who retired with earnings of over 1 million USD and Lundy’s Liability (2000) still another millionaire offspring. As has been said, thoroughbred horse racing is blissfully unpredictable and Candy Stripes is a case in point. A mediocre athlete who turned out to be a brilliant sire!

The beautiful Candy Stripes. Photo protected by copyright.

Candy Stripes’ son, Candy Ride. Photo protected by copyright.

One of the greatest thoroughbreds ever — the mighty Invasor. Photo protected by copyright.

Argentinian champion and millionaire, Lundy’s Liability. Photo protected by copyright.

On Animal Kingdom’s bottom line, there are also some outstanding individuals. First among these is undoubtedly his broodmare sire, Acatenango, a German thoroughbred legend. Winner of the German Derby (GER-Gr.1), the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (FR-Gr.1), the Grosser Preis von Berlin (GER-Gr.1), the Union-Rennen (GER-Gr.2), the Grosser Hertie-Preis (GER-Gr.2), the Grosser Hansa-Preis (GER-G2) and the Gerling Preis (GER-G3), which he won twice, Acatenango was a class act on the turf. In this link, although the commentary is in German, you can watch the great horse win the German Derby:

He was voted German Horse of the Year no less than 3 times and was a champion sire for four years, between 1993-1999. An individual with a largely open pedigree over 5 generations, Acatenango shows only one instance of inbreeding over 5 generations, to the great Hyperion. Animal Kingdom’s broodmare sire certainly brings a champion’s profile to his grandson, further influencing the speed-stamina balance in our Kentucky Derby winner’s pedigree.

A German thoroughbred legend, the amazing Acatenango. Photo protected by copyright.

Clearly, Acatenango is a strong, complementary influence on the conformation and ability of Animal Kingdom. Photo protected by copyright.

Animal Kingdom’s dam, Dalicia, is also a granddaughter of the magnificent Dancing Brave (1983) through her dam, Dynamis (1991). In Great Britain, Dancing Brave is the stuff of legends. His image has been immortalized in paintings, websites and books. A beautiful dark brown colt with a majestic head and an intelligent look, Dancing Brave delighted British racing fans throughout his career. His best race was certainly the 1986 Arc de Triomphe (see link below) where — in still another ironic twist  — he defeated Acatenango. Here’s that race, with a German voiceover, but otherwise excellent coverage:

As a runner, the colt was noted for his honesty and his great heart. Upon his untimely death of a heart attack at the young age of 16 years, Geoff Lawson, assistant-trainer to Guy Harwood who trained Dancing Brave, described the son of Lyphard as “extra, extra special”, adding: “He was a brilliant animal with a superb temperament-the sort of horse who made going to work in the mornings something special for everyone in the yard.”

The exquisite Dancing Brave — a champion in the ranks of Nijinsky, Sea-Bird II and Mill Reef. Photo and copyright, The Racing Post, England.

A truly remarkable feature of Animal Kingdom’s bloodline is the number of thoroughbreds represented who were known for their willingness and a calm, business-like disposition. It would appear that our 2011 Kentucky Derby winner has this kind of character in spades and we find this an important quality in a possible Triple Crown winner. Two of the most recent Triple Crown champions — Secretariat and Affirmed — were just this way throughout their campaign, solid thoroughbreds who seemed to take all the hoopla in stride, while continuing to learn and develop between the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom’s trainer, is very well-respected on both sides of the Atlantic. Born into a horse racing family, Motion was exposed to the British turf by his father and other family connections before coming to the United States. Although he arrived in the USA as a teenager, British horse racing had made an important impact on him at a comparatively early age. His attitude is that of most great teachers (as well as trainers like his mentor, Jonathon Sheppard): you take the horse from where he’s at to as far as he wants to go. You don’t push: you wait for the horse to tell you what happens next. Add to this a background from a country where horses are galloped over hills and dales in a weirdly unassuming way, as trainers watch their development with a keen, quiet eye and plot their racing careers, and you have a fair idea of the sensibility that governs Animal Kingdom’s racing family.

Our Kentucky Derby winner has a hard campaign ahead of him, no question. But we’re betting on one thing for certain: no matter how he finishes, Animal Kingdom will give both the Preakness and the Belmont his very best shot.

It’s in his blood and in his brave heart: he is, after all, the son and grandson of champions.

Wearing the roses, Animal Kingdom and his delighted jockey. Photo protected by copyright.




“THE ANIMAL KINGDOM STORY” by Darley, where Animal Kingdom stands since his retirement:

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AUGUST 14, 2015
Dear VAULT reader: As you know, THE VAULT published its very first article in 2011 and now enjoys a readership of over 280,000 worldwide. I cannot thank you all enough for your support and enthusiasm.
THE VAULT is a non-profit endeavour written out of love for the horses and the sport.
I felt it was time to find a way to give ‘payback,’ to use my efforts as a means of making a permanent contribution to the welfare of horses. Accordingly, I inaugurated a fund, in the name of THE VAULT, which will collect monies to be contributed towards organisations who specialize in horse rescue.
THE VAULT will feature the link below from this time on. Every few months I will post the monies that have been collected.
I thank you all for taking part in this endeavour. No donation is too small — every penny will help.
Thank you.


On the first Saturday in May, it is fitting that our thoughts should return to Barbaro, a colt who epitomizes the spirit of the Kentucky Derby. Buried at Churchill Downs, the champion’s final resting place is commemorated by a sculpture that captures Barbaro in full flight, legs above the ground, coming home to win the 132rd running of the Kentucky Derby. It is here, amid the history and the roses, the hats and the horses, that Barbaro runs forever. 

Portrait of Barbaro taken by equine photographer Lydia A. Williams (LAW). Copyright Lydia A. Williams. To see a gallery of LAW’s photography, please visit her website at http://www.theshedrow.com/gallery/index.php

As far back in time as the earliest recorded data and artefacts, the Celts worshipped the horse goddess, Epona. Her exact history is somewhat clouded by the invasions of Gauls and Romans, who destroyed everything in their wake. But what is clear is the fact that her essence survived, coming down to the Celts (the Irish, Scots and Welsh) and to the English in their traditional love of the horse. Epona is a goddess of fertility and renewal; it is she who also carries the spirits of the dead into the afterlife.  Statues and engravings of Epona have been found in Great Britain, France and Italy, evoking a time when people formed deep, organic attachments to the Earth and to the horse. In the Irish Book of Kells the horse abounds …. images of Epona, she who would protect not only the warrior, but also the crops, livestock and people of Ireland. And certainly the Irish needed protection. Ireland faced cultural extinction a number of times — at the hands of the English most recently — and particularly during these times of threat and danger, it was Epona who represented Irish culture and was a source of hope, belief and endurance. The equine goddess dwelt both upon the Earth and beyond, hence her divine nature.

An early depiction of Epona in bronze, 200-50 BC (IRELAND)

The Folkstone white horse, seen from the air, was made of chalk in the time of the Druids and is associated with Epona

A modern rendering of Epona, a goddess who was thought to transform into a white horse or a female centaur (half-woman, half-horse)

Of course, the Celts were not the only culture to worship the horse, investing them with aspects of the divine. The cultures of Ancient Arabia shared the same sensibility. Here, too, the mighty Arabian as well as the Kipchak, Nogai, Oghuz, Petcheneg, Ferghana, Tekke and Turkoman breeds were thought to be beloved emissaries of the Prophet Mohammed — and were treated as sacred. Raised by herdsmen, broken by herdsmen and then either traded or sold, these horses could count on the herdsman, or “seyiis” who had raised them to remain with them throughout their lives. In fact, it was a horse’s devotion to his seyiis that made him amenable to the warriors or sultans or Princes who would ride him. The seyiis’ role was to take his horse “to meet its destiny,” and in the case of both the Byerly Turk as well as the Darley and Godolphin Arabians, this meant a journey from Arabia to Europe to Great Britain. (Once in Great Britain, the bloodlines of these three great horses produced the thoroughbred. ) In the few rare portraits of the founders of the thoroughbred breed, the mighty stallions are pictured with their seyiis: resplendent in their silk jabots and elaborate turbans, the seyiis’ presence articulates the sacred, mysterious bond between horse, humankind and eternity.

The Byerly Turk, pictured with his seyiis, the man who birthed him, fed and trained him, and accompanied him throughout his life

An Akhal-Tekke horse and his seyiis

George Ford Morris’ beautiful sketch of the Byerly Turk

The Turkman horse of North Khorasan

Barbaro conjured images of the Byerly Turk, together with other ancient breeds like the Akhal-Tekke and the Turkman. An aristocratic-looking individual, Barbaro sported a bay coat that hinted of a reddish sheen, a wide forehead connoting intelligence that bore a distinctive white marking and a deep, dark eye. The face marking was shaped like the speech bubbles that one finds in modern comics, suggesting that Barbaro was on the verge of speaking. Or else, listening to the voices within, to the whispers of a living spirit older than time itself. And his eyes always looked away ….. far,far away …. to a place mere mortals could never perceive.

Barbaro’s deep, dark eyes seemed to look far away to the land of his forefathers. Photo by equine photographer Amber Chaflin; copyright Amber Chaflin. To see a gallery of Amber Chaflin’s photography, please visit her website at http://www.downthestretchphotos.com


Barbaro (2003) was a home bred with a beautiful pedigree: a son of the great sire Dynaformer(1985) out of the Jackson’s mare, La Ville Rouge (1996). Dynaformer needs no introduction. However, it is worth noting that his sire, Roberto (1969), was the product of exaggerated inbreeding — to Nearco (1935), Pharos (1920), Mumtaz Begum (1932), Plucky Liege (1912) and Blue Larkspur (1926). (“Inbreeding” refers to common ancestors in both the sire line and dam’s family within the first 5 generations of a horse’s pedigree.) There is no question that inbreeding is a “fact of life” in the making of the modern thoroughbred, but excessive inbreeding is looked upon with disfavour, since it tends to invite characteristics and limitations that may compromise the ongoing development of the breed. On the other hand, Dynaformer’s dam, Andover Way (1978) was only inbred in her 4th generation (to Hyperion) and the relative openness of her first three generations may have had some effect on diluting an overly strong Roberto influence. Too, Andover Way was a granddaughter of the great Ribot (1952), considered one of a select group of international sires who have exerted a huge influence on the development of the modern thoroughbred.

Barbaro’s sire, Dynaformer, caught in a reflective pose. Photo by Amber Chaflin. Copyright Amber Chaflin.

Ribot, pictured here with the jockey who rode him throughout his racing career, Enrico Camici and his trainer, Ugo Penco, Copyright protected photo.

An historic meeting: Ribot has words with a rather indignant-looking Hyperion (in stall).. Photo taken at Lord Derby’s Woodland Stud. Copyright protected.

By the time he arrived in America to stud duty at John Galbreath’s Darby Dan Farm, Ribot was a European champion of such astonishing proportions that he vied with Sea-Bird II (1962) and Secretariat (1970) for the title of best thoroughbred of the twentieth century. Bred, owned and trained by the eminent Frederico Tesio of Italy, a bloodline expert whose 1958 book, “Breeding the Thoroughbred,” is regarded as a classic, Ribot was likely the fulfillment of Tesio’s lifelong dream. The bay colt was a near-perfect racehorse, although Tesio was dead before Ribot made his first appearance on the Italian turf. Racing on 2 continents and in 3 different countries, on turf ranging from muddy to fast, Ribot was undefeated in 16 starts, including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe,  which he won decisively two years in a row, and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. No question he was a classic horse. But could he become a sire of classic thoroughbreds?

Ribot being led in after still another decisive victory. Copyright protected.

In his first three crops, Ribot produced l’Arc de Triomphe winners Molvedo (1958) and Prince Royal (1961), as well as Ragusa (1960), winner of the Irish Derby, the St. Leger, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth and the Eclipse Stakes. In America, Ribot produced an astonishing number of exceptional individuals, including Tom Rolfe (1962), Arts and Letters (1966), the outstanding filly, Long Look (1962), who won the Epsom Oaks, the full brothers Ribocco (1964) and Ribero (1965), both of whom won the St. Leger as well as the Irish Derby, and Graustark (1963). Another son, His Majesty (1968), sired Pleasant Colony (1978) who, in turn, sired quality individuals like Behrens (1994), Colonial Affair (1990), the filly Pleasant Stage (1989), Pleasant Tap (1987) and Cormorant (1974), the sire of Go For Gin (1991) and Saratoga Dew (1989). Graustark produced champions like Key To The Mint (1969), Jim French (1968), Prove Out (1969) who was best known as Secretariat’s nemesis and the lovely Tempest Queen (1975). And Ribot’s grandson, Alleged (1974), captured the l’Arc twice, walking in the footsteps of his grandsire.

When we look at the bottom of Barbaro’s pedigree (through his dam La Ville Rouge) we find an open pedigree with no inbreeding in the first 4 generations. This is not to say that La Ville Rouge did not bring an abundance to Barbaro’s bloodline. On her dam’s side, La Reine Rouge (1978), we find the influences of superb horses like Round Table (1954) and Princequillo (1940), as well as Nearctic (1954). Barbaro’s broodmare sire Carson City (1987) is a son of the great Mr. Prospector (1970). Carson City’s dam, Blushing Promise (1982) was the daughter of the talented Summertime Promise (1972), who raced 47 times, winning the Yo Tambien Stakes twice, as well as the Apple Blossom and the Gallorette. Summertime Promise was sired by the incomparable Nijinsky II (1967) out of a daughter of My Babu (1945), Pride’s Promise (1966). Even though Nijinsky II appears only once in the fifth generation of Barbaro’s pedigree, the unmistakable resemblance between Nijinsky, La Ville Rouge and Barbaro is striking.

Ribot’s son, His Majesty, broodmare sire of Dynaformer.

Photographer Tony Leonard’s conformation shot of Carson City, Barbaro’s broodmare sire. Copyright Tony Leonard.

La Ville Rouge, Barbaro’s dam.

Nijinsky II at Claiborne, age 17 (Photo Lesley Sampson. Copyright Lesley Sampson.)

Barbaro at Fair Hill. Photo protected by copyright.

Barbaro and Peter Brette. Photo by Lydia A. Williams (LAW). Copyright Lydia A. Williams(LAW)

Nijinsky at 3, in the yard at Ballydoyle, Ireland.

Nijinsky II was, by all accounts, the British Secretariat — he won the British Triple Crown after a 36-year drought and was worshipped by British racing fans, many of whom were heartbroken when their champion was retired to America. Although he proved an outstanding sire and broodmare sire, Nijinsky’s life came to a premature end, like Secretariat’s, when he developed laminitis. And like Secretariat, Nijinsky II was buried intact at Claiborne Farm, a final tribute to a beloved British champion. To be “touched” by Nijinsky II, as Barbaro so clearly was, seemed a harbinger of greatness. The sons of Nijinsky that received his physical attributes were, without fail, champions. One of his best sons, Golden Fleece ( 1979 ), could easily have been Barbaro’s brother, for in conformation, speed and stamina they were remarkably similar.

As every sports journalist hopes, there were stories of all kinds surrounding the runners in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and Barbaro was no exception. For starters, his trainer Michael Matz — a former Olympic equestrian — had been responsible for saving the lives of three children when a DC -10 plane crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa in July, 1989. The Jacksons, owners of Lael Farm, had bred Barbaro as well as other exceptional thoroughbreds, including Ireland’s superlative George Washington (2003). The Jacksons were also the co-owners of Grandera (1998), winner of the 2002 Prince of Wales Stakes; Grandera’s dam, Bordighera (1998), is also the dam of George Washington and part of the Jackson’s broodmare band. But Barbaro would become the Jacksons first Kentucky Derby winner. Rounding out “Team Barbaro” was the engaging assistant trainer, Peter Brette, a native of Great Britain who had been around thoroughbreds from an early age, had had a successful career as a jockey in Dubai and then had emigrated to America to apprentice as a trainer.

Barbaro works on the track at Churchill Downs. Photo protected by copyright.

The colt’s maiden, run on grass at Delaware Park when he was a 2 year-old, had resulted in him galloping to a 7 -length win. Next came the Laurel Futurity — run on the grass in 2005 — and the big bay took that handily as well. Since Barbaro was a colt who needed time to grow into himself, his next start — and the first under jockey Edgar Prado — was in the Grade III Tropical Park Derby, also run over turf. Barbaro won in a decisive fashion. The colt’s first start on the dirt came in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes. As luck would have it, the track was sloppy on race day, but Barbaro — in only his second start on the dirt — won by 3/4 of a length. Barbaro’s final race before the Kentucky Derby was in the Florida Derby, where he showed stamina and heart to hold off Sharp Humour (2003) and win by 1/2 length.

The buzz that had heralded the undefeated Barbaro’s arrival at Churchill Downs followed him onto the track on Derby day.

A buzz is in the air: Barbaro appears before the media. Photo and copyright, Lydia A. Wilson (LAW)

Piloted by jockey Edgar Prado, Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby with such authority that he appeared to simply gallop away from the rest of the field, winning by a decisive 6 1/2 lengths in what was described by The Blood-Horse’s Ray Paulick as a “Derby romp.” Everything about Barbaro’s short life bespoke the making of an icon and his Derby victory only added to his charisma. Just listen to the voices that heralded the colt’s Derby victory:

” From the time he was born, everyone who has been around him or on his back has said he was special.” (Michael Matz, trainer)

“… I told Michael before his first start this was the best horse I had ever been on. He was pretty backward and immature, especially being an April 29 foal, but he had a great big stride and a beautiful way of moving … He’s gotten to the stage now where there’s always another gear. That’s what makes him special. No one knows how good he really is, because we’ve never gotten to the bottom of him…” (Peter Brette, assistant trainer)

Trainer Michael Matz on Barbaro’s best buddy, Messaging, and assistant trainer Peter Brette riding Barbaro. Photo by Lydia A. Williams (LAW). Copyright by Lydia A. Williams (LAW).

Jockey Edgar Prado was quick to connect Barbaro’s victory (and his own first Derby win) to the magic and mythical traditions surrounding Epona, although it is unlikely that he knew about the Celtic goddess. Dedicating his winning ride to his recently deceased mother, Prado said : “ My mother told me, ‘Dreams come true; don’t ever give up on your dreams.’ “

“Don’t ever give up on your dreams”: Edgar Prado stands in the saddle as Barbaro crosses the finish in the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Photo by Amber Chaflin. Copyright Amber Chaflin.

The bond between Roy and Gretchen Jackson and their accomplished 3 year-old was something special, right from the start. Said Gretchen Jackson, ” For some reason, this horse has given us terrific confidence all along…I don’t know why I was so positive about him winning the Derby except just to look at him and see him, I thought he was going to put in a strong performance.”  After the Derby, Roy Jackson confessed that “The race itself was a little bit like your wedding — a blur.”


The wonder colt having a good roll in his round pen. Photo by Lydia A. Williams (LAW). Copyright LAW.

Green grass, birds singing — quiet times at Fair Hill. Photo & copyright Lydia A. Williams (LAW).

A stroll across the emerald fields at Fair Hill. Photo & copyright Lydia A. Williams (LAW).

Barbaro’s Kentucky Derby was breathtaking to watch. Coming into the home stretch, his coat glowing a blood bay in the fading afternoon light, Barbaro seemed to fly. Time stood still, became meaningless.

Barbaro was one of those horses that makes one believe anything is possible. He was an expression of life that filled the eye with wonder and delight.

Barbaro steps out on the track for the running of the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Photo & copyright, Lydia A. Williams (LAW).

… Without memory and the traditions in which memory finds a home, a life would be a fading moment. As we hold Barbaro close in our hearts and take a moment to re-memory his Kentucky Derby triumph, we give him the wings to carry us home.

Photo & copyright Amber Chaflin.

THE VAULT wishes to thank the kindness and generosity of equine photographers par excellence Lydia A. Williams (LAW) and Amber Chaflin. Their beautiful and evocative images of Barbaro added a dimension to this article that could never be framed in words. You can show your appreciation by visiting LAW at her website,  http://www.theshedrow.com/gallery/index.php  AND Amber Chaflin at her website, http://www.downthestretchphotos.com

THE VAULT also sends its best wishes for a safe and successful trip to all of the horses, owners, trainers and jockeys of the thoroughbreds racing at Churchill Downs this week, including the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby 2011.

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