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Archive for January, 2015

As the National Hunt season overseas builds to its apex, the Cheltenham Festival, we thought it might be fun to tell readers everywhere about Blockade (1927), a chestnut son of the great Man O’ War who participated in America’s most prestigious National Hunt races and was, from 1938-1940, an absolute superstar.

BLOCKADE shown well in the clear in his first

1938: BLOCKADE shown well in the clear in his first of three consecutive wins in the gruelling 4 mile/ 22 jump Maryland Hunt Cup. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

This is the story of a little horse with a heart as huge as that of his far more famous relative, Battleship.

But because his National Hunt career in the USA overlapped that of Battleship, who won the Grand National at Aintree in 1938, Blockade — whose career took place exclusively in North America — had to settle for second-best. In addition, as famously protested by John Hervey, aka “Salvator” in American Race Horses 1937 and again in the 1938 publication of the same name, National Hunt racing was in serious decline in the USA, with seemingly no will to save it on the part of those who patronized the sport.

But in 1938, when Blockade took the Maryland Hunt Cup in record-shattering time, he still had a lot to do to get himself noticed. That year his sire, the beloved Man O’ War, celebrated his twenty-first birthday — complete with cake and a live radio telecast of the event, moderated by the legendary Clem McCarthy.

The year before, another son of Man O’ War, War Admiral, had won the American Triple Crown; and Battleship famously took the 1938 Grand National at Aintree for owner Marion DuPont. But THE event of the year was unquestionably the Seabiscuit-War Admiral Match Race — a son and grandson of Big Red battling it out in a race for the ages. Here’s Clem McCarthy’s call:

It was no wonder, then, that Blockade was hardly in the forefront of public attention in 1938 despite an accomplishment that would have wowed National Hunt devotees throughout the United Kingdom. In fact, even though Battleship’s Grand National was a romantic tale of the grandest proportion, it could be argued that Blockade’s Maryland Hunt Cup victory was by far the more impressive…..

Blockade was born at Faraway Farm in 1927. His dam, Rock Emerald (1915), was a daughter of Trap Rock (1908), son of the great British champion, Rock Sand (1900). Rock Emerald’s colt was a chestnut with a small white blaze in the centre of his forehead. Like other famous Man O’ War progeny, Blockade was small, standing just over 15 hands at maturity. There is precious little on the colt’s early years, but he was sold by Sam Riddle as a yearling or two year-old, started running on the flat, showed little promise and was described as “unruly,” was gelded and then changed hands several times, as well as careers. An attempt was made to train him for show jumping and he was also tried as a hunter, but both of these initiatives fell flat.

It was at this point that Blockade was purchased by Mrs. E Read Beard and sent to the stable of Maryland horseman, Janon Fisher Jr., with the idea of training him for National Hunt racing.

"He jumps big," trainer Janon Fisher said of BLOCKADE.

“He jumps big,” trainer Janon Fisher Jr. said of BLOCKADE — and this is what he meant.

Blockade was what is called “washy” — very highly strung and inclined to sweat up, “leaving his race in the paddock.” The gelding was also bothered by a weak ankle, a problem that had plagued Blockade from the start of his flat racing career and was not uncommon among Man O’ War progeny. Scapa Flow (1924), one of the best runners ever produced by Man O’ War, was similarly troubled and after breaking down in his three year-old season, was destroyed; Battleship was another who had issues with his legs, ankles and feet.

Another great American horse who competed in the Grand National in 1928, BILLY BARTON was also inclined to be "washy." This, however, never dampened his brilliance: despite falling at the last fence, BILLY came home second to TIPPERARY TIM at Aintree. They were the only two horses to finish the course that year.

Another great American horse who competed in the Grand National in 1928, BILLY BARTON was also inclined to be “washy.” This, however, never dampened his brilliance: despite falling at the last fence, BILLY came home second to TIPPERARY TIM at Aintree. They were the only two horses to finish the course that year.

Blockade couldn’t have done any better than falling into the hands of Janon Fisher Jr.

A graduate of Princeton, Fisher founded the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and served as VP, Treasurer and Director of the Maryland Jockey Club. He was also Master of the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club for five years and Secretary of the American Trainers Association for thirty, working closely alongside the legendary Preston Burch to improve track conditions for horses and the people of the backstretch. A veteran of WW1, Fisher had started breeding horses in 1929 and by the time Blockade came along, he was also training them.

Fisher determined to build up Blockade’s fitness with regular hunting over the hills and dales of Maryland’s National Hunt country. The first winter the gelding spent with Fisher he was routinely taken out and over hunt jumps and by the spring, Blockade was still highly strung but less so than he had been when he’d first come to Fisher. In 1937 the gelding began to learn his new job, starting in five timber races, none of which he won. But Fisher had to have been pleased with the little gelding’s effort, because Blockade’s training continued into 1938 where the hours and hours of practice would all come together in a dramatic fashion.

In training method, C. W. Anderson compared Fisher to the equally unorthodox Hirsch Jacobs. Writing about Blockade in his book, Twenty Gallant Horses, Anderson says:

“Fischer never bothered to school Blockade over fences. ‘He’s a natural jumper and he knows his business. All he needs is a lot of galloping to get fit. It’s no use to school him over small fences. He has no respect for them and gets careless.Give him big, solid fences and a real pace. Then try to catch him.’ “

"Then try to catch him" BLOCKADE leaves the field far, far behind in the Maryland Hunt Cup.

“Then try to catch him” BLOCKADE leaves the field far, far behind in the Maryland Hunt Cup.

In April of 1938, with the lush scent of spring in the air, Blockade went down to the start of the Maryland Hunt Cup, run over a distance of 4 miles with 22 jumps along the way. His jockey, J. Fred Colwill, came from a family of seven and was about to graduate from the ranks of amateur to celebrated jockey, thanks to the little chestnut prancing under his 150-lb. frame.

The Maryland Hunt Cup is a steeplechase. In America, there are two types of steeplechase: hurdle and timber. Whereas the hurdle steeplechase is jumped over plastic and steel fences, as well as brush jumps of up to 52 inches in height, timber racing is conducted over solid and immovable wooden rail fences that, in the most extreme case, may reach five feet. The distance of a timber steeplechase is also longer than that of a hurdle, ranging from three to four miles (6 km). Timber jumps require horses to jump in an arc, in deference to the unyielding nature of the rail fences. An important factor in success at timber racing is for the horse to land in stride, so that it can carry its speed forward on the flat part of the race course.

Tight shot of BLOCKADE clearing a rail fence.

Tight shot of BLOCKADE clearing the last rail fence in the American Grand National in 1939, which he won. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Here’s C. W. Anderson’s account of Blockade’s win:

“…He went off in front and stayed there. The pace was terrific for such difficult fences, but it suited him. Blockade jumped big, much bigger than most horses. Those who took off head and head with him usually went down. He was cut on the pattern of his great sire: he did things in a grand way. His only mistake in this race was at the seventeenth fence…Blockade failed [to judge its breadth] by a foot and took out the top rail completely…[after which] Blockade drove on to a brilliant victory.”

And “brilliant” it was. Blockade and his jockey covered the 4 miles in a record 8:44 — a time that stood for 22 years. It was the little gelding’s first win for Janon Fisher Jr.

BLOCKADE and jockey J. Fred Colvill clearing one of the rail fences.

BLOCKADE and jockey J. Fred Colwill clearing one of the rail fences. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Coming home, BLOCKADE and Colvill are all alone.

Coming home, BLOCKADE and Colwill are all alone. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Close-up of BLOCKADE and Colvill just after crossing the finish.

Close-up of BLOCKADE and Colwill just after crossing the finish.

BLOCKADE meets his appreciative fans.

BLOCKADE meets appreciative fans.

 Finally, a horse who had failed at everything he had tried came up a winner. It may well have been Man o’ War’s best birthday present of all.

MAN O' WAR celebrates his twenty-first birthday with a cake. He is flanked by his beloved Will Harbut and radio sportscaster, the legendary Clem McCarthy.

MAN O’ WAR celebrates his twenty-first birthday with a cake. He is flanked by his beloved Will Harbut and radio sportscaster, the legendary Clem McCarthy.

Blockade’s stupendous career continued. In 1939 and 1940, he won the Maryland Hunt Cup again. To win it once was outstanding. To win it three times was unprecedented. (Ironically, the next horse to do it, Mountain Dew, was out of a mare who was a daughter of War Admiral, bred by Janon Fisher Jr. and ridden by Fisher’s son. Mountain Dew and the great Jay Trump ran against one another in the Cup, placing first and second in alternate years. However, the year after Mountain Dew’s retirement, Jay Trump also completed “the triple.”)

Blockade’s 1939 win — in which the gutsy gelding edged out a superstar in Coq Bruyere — went down as the most exciting horse race of the season. As the Miami News of April 29, 1939 reported it:

“…Four miles over the toughest timber course in the country and the chestnut beat the gray by a bob or two of his silken head. It was by far the most thrilling race in this country in many years and the oldest Maryland inhabitant had to go back a long time to find something to parallel this 46th running…But there never has been one to match this throat-catching struggle of Coq Bruyere, John Strawbridge’s pet, which won everything else last year, to catch the front-running 1938 winner, on top from drop of flag to judges’ eye.”

BLOCKADE leads the field in a dramatic win in 1939.

“…on top from drop of flag to judges’ eye” — BLOCKADE leads the field in the dramatic 1939 Maryland Hunt Cup. COQ BRUYERE is the second gray in the frame.

BLOCKADE leads COQ BRUYERE to the finish.

BLOCKADE leads COQ BRUYERE to the finish.

The third win gave the 11 year-old Blockade’s owner, Mrs. E. Read Beard, permanent possession of the Gold Challenge Cup, donated to the Maryland Hunt Club in 1913 by Rose Whistler. In 1939, Blockade also won the Maryland Grand National, a race which — like the Maryland Hunt Cup — is still run today under its new name, “The Breeders Cup Grand National Steeplechase.”

By now, Mrs. Read’s gelding had become a legend in his own time. His victories made headlines across the country, and his groom, Walter Tyndall, was fond of saying, “Blockade? He’s diseased with speed.”

The 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup. BLOCKADE is shown in the foreground.

The 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup: BLOCKADE is shown in the foreground. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

BLOCKADE and Colvill in the 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup, running behind the blinkered horse.

BLOCKADE and Colwill in the 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup, running slightly behind the blinkered horse.

 

In 1941, the 12 year-old Blockade took the year off to recover from a tendon injury. Although remaining in Fisher’s stable, Blockade had been sold again, to a Mr. Charles Ewing Tuttle, Fred Colwill’s father-in-law. The sale took place in the same year (1941) that Colwill married Tuttle’s daughter, making it possible that Blockade was a gift to a new son-in-law.

BLOCKADE leads at the 11th jump in his 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup win.

BLOCKADE (outside) leads at the 11th jump in his 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup win.

1942 got off to a sorry start when jockey Colwill made a mistake on course, forcing horse and rider to watch as Winton, owned by Stuart Janney, galloped to victory in the 1942 Maryland Hunt Cup. The decision was made to start Blockade in the prestigious Virginia Gold Cup a week later.

Blockade went down at the seventeenth fence. As described by William Myzk in his book, “The History and Origins of the Virginia Gold Cup” :

“The crowd was hushed, waiting for word that their hero had only been knocked out, but no word came. The great Blockade had jumped his last fence and run his last race. A saddened audience went slowly home, knowing that they had witnessed the passing of one of the gamest sons of the great Man O’ War.”

C.W. An derision's lithograph of BLOCKADE and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

C.W. Anderson’s lithograph of BLOCKADE and the Maryland Hunt Cup he retired, after winning it for three consecutive years. Those familiar with Anderson’s work will recognize the author-illustrator’s tribute to Blockade: he has given him an even greater likeness to Man O’ War than the gelding had in real life.

 

 

BONUS FEATURE:

Ride The Maryland Hunt Cup with a jockey and his horse, Twill Do. This is rather long (19 minutes) but even watching part of it gives a sense of what it took — and takes — to win the Maryland Hunt Cup three times in a row. And perhaps, as you watch, you will take a moment to remember a great little horse whose heart was as deep as the 4-mile course and whose courage dwarfed its 22 fences. (NOTE: I have watched the footage before posting it. One horse goes down and there are two refusals but no-one is hurt.)

Related articles on THE VAULT:

(BATTLESHIP) https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/battleship-the-pony-who-conquered-aintree/

REFERENCES

Anderson, C.W. Twenty Gallant Horses (ISBN-10: 0027055302; ISBN-13: 978-0027055306)

Winants, Peter. Steeplechasing: A Complete History of the Sport in North America  (ISBN – 10: 1461708222; ISBN – 13: 9781461708223)

: 100 Years of the Maryland Hunt Cup (http://www.equiery.com/archives/Steeplechase/100YearsHuntCup.html)

McCausland, Christianna. Maryland Steeplechasing (ISBN-10: 0738542008;ISBN-13: 978-0738542003)

Myzk, William. The History and Origins of the Virginia Gold Cup (Virginia: The Piedmont Press)

NY: The Sagamore Press. American Race Horses 1938

The Miami News (April 30, 1939) “Blockade Wins In Close Race Maryland Hunt” 

Chicago Tribune (April 28, 1940) “Blockade Wins Steeplechase And Hunt Cup”

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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SEABISCUIT with Marcella Howard. Photo and copyright, Chicago Tribune

SEABISCUIT shares a moment with (Mrs.) Marcella Howard. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

I have often wondered what our knowledge about horse racing would be like without the images of C.C. Cook, “Skeets” Meadors, Bert Clark Thayer, Bert Morgan, Tony Leonard, Bob and Adam Coglianese, Lydia Williams (LAW), Patricia McQueen, Barbara Livingston and L.S. Sutcliffe, or of Canada’s Michael Burns, Australia’s Bronwyn Healy and the UK’s Edward Whitaker, to name but a few of those whose lens’ are central to the construction of racing history.

Can you imagine taking this to the track? Photojournalist Jessie Tarbox and her camera, circa 1900.

Can you imagine taking this to the track? Photojournalist Jessie Tarbox and her camera, circa 1900.

Before I retired from a career in education, I spent a good deal of time researching the visual image and discovered, among other things, that photographs play the important socio-cultural role of holding memories in place. And perhaps because the visual image can be a “closed” representational system — and here I mean the photographic image in particular — it is adept at recording aspects of our social, cultural and universal histories in a way that all can understand. By “freezing” time in this way, photographs give us purchase on something as precious: the construction of a social and cultural history of just about everything.

If there were no images of the horses that we have loved and lost or the people and events that marked the progression of racing on the flat or over jumps from its rough beginnings to today, our collective memory would be rendered null and void. The role of the work of professional track photographers worldwide (from the famous to the fledgling) is that of a cultural ethnologist — people who record the workings of a culture so that others, outside of it, can come to understand what makes it tick. Track photographers take us into the culture of horses and people, evoking a world few of us will ever experience as intimately.

The great TONY LEONARD (back to camera) captures a moment for all time: GENUINE RISK being led in after her win in the Kentucky Derby.

The great TONY LEONARD (back to camera) captures a moment for all time: GENUINE RISK being led in after her win in the Kentucky Derby. Photograph and copyright The Chicago Tribune.

This image (below) brought me up sharply when I first saw it. C.C. Cook has captured an entire narrative in what seems, at first glance, a straightforward depiction of a thoroughbred coming on to the track. From the deserted and vast contours of the track that frame man and beast we are given to understand that both are about to confront the very essence of the game. But there is more — Cook has embodied the moment with a suggestion of anticipation, of infinite possibility, since the race itself lies ahead, in the future.

GOSHAWK walks onto the track. Taken in 1923 by the incomparable C.C.Cook.

GOSHAWK walks onto the track, with a young jockey whose last name is Keogh in the irons. Taken in 1923 by the incomparable C.C.Cook.

Goshawk (1920) is beautifully turned out, perhaps by the man walking beside him. His bandages are neat, his tail and mane braided, and his coat gleams. The son of Whisk Broom (1907) was bred by Harry Payne Whitney and sold, before this photograph was taken, to Gifford A. Cochran for the tidy sum of $50,000 USD. In the privately published “The Thoroughbred Stud of H.P. Whitney Esq.” (1928), Whitney describes the colt thus: “Goshawk was a colt of extreme speed and of stakes class.” As a two year-old, the Carol Shilling-trained Goshawk won the Saratoga Special and the Great American Stakes; at three, he won the Quickstep Handicap and ran second to the 1923 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year, Zev, in the Pimlico Fall Serial #1. Other than these few facts, little else is known of him.

But though Goshawk’s story remains obscure, Cook has given the colt immortality by setting his image in the landscape of his time.

Who knew? MAN O' WAR and Will Harbut in what seems to be an ad campaign for Dodge! Photo and copyright, the digital library of the University of Kentucky.

Who knew? MAN O’ WAR and WILL HARBUT in what seems to be an ad campaign for Dodge. Date unknown. Photo and copyright, the Digital Library of the University of Kentucky.

They were children, their bones and hand-eye coordination still developing.  Why weren’t they in school, or within the safety of their families? What brought them to the track? It seems almost unbelievable that children were competing in one of the most dangerous sports of the day — in the Twenties and Thirties, boys of twelve and thirteen were professional jockeys.

Jockey BASIL JAMES.

Jockey BASIL JAMES. In 1936, at the age of 16, James led all American jockeys in winnings. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

BOBBY JONES (centre) and two other unidentified jockeys at trackside in 1926.

BOBBY JONES (centre) and two other unidentified jockeys at trackside in 1926. The son of a thoroughbred owner, Jones led all jockeys in earnings in 1933. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Jockey EARL PORTER with an unidentified woman.

Jockey EARL PORTER with an unidentified woman. Porter was a champion jockey in the 1930’s in the USA. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Jockey IRA HANFORD (rode Bold Venture to win the Kentucky Derby) with Max Hirsch and daughter, Mary Hirsch.

Jockey IRA “Babe” HANFORD, who rode Bold Venture to win the 1935 Kentucky Derby, with Max Hirsch and daughter, Mary Hirsch. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Innumerable track images convey aspects of racing history that are iconic, even though they were often taken before anyone had a sense of why they might matter in the future …..

MAN O' WAR'S sire, FAIR PLAY, is shown here receiving a visit from ELIZABETH KANE.

MAN O’ WAR’S sire, FAIR PLAY, is shown here receiving a visit from Riddle farm manager, ELIZABETH KANE. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

The champion filly, MRS. RUSTOM, shown here in 1934. Bred by the Aga Khan, MRS. RUSTOM was brilliant at two, winning the Gimcrack, Dewhurst and the Ham Stakes.

The champion filly, MRS. RUSTOM, shown here in 1934. Bred by the Aga Khan, MRS. RUSTOM was brilliant at two, winning the Gimcrack, Dewhurst and the Ham Stakes.

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

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

Few remember that NORTHERN DANCER ran most of his life with a debilitating hoof problem. Here, the arrow indicates the troublesome hoof as the colt grazes, circa 1964.

Few remember that NORTHERN DANCER ran most of his life with a debilitating hoof problem. Here, the arrow indicates the troublesome hoof as the colt grazes, circa 1964.

These white thoroughbreds are the first to be caught in a photographer's lens. They are WHITE BEAUTY and her brother,

These white thoroughbreds are among the first to be caught in a photographer’s lens, circa 1966. They are WHITE BEAUTY and her half-brother, WAR COLORS (outside), who was also categorized as a roan.

FERDINAND with WILLIE SHOEMAKER, pre-Derby. Several informal photos of the pair make it clear they loved each other.

FERDINAND with WILLIE SHOEMAKER, pre-Derby. Several informal photos of the pair make it clear they loved each other.

1973: GUNSYND, the "GOONIWINDI GREY" was only ever defeated once in starts of over one mile. He was then -- and remains -- beloved.

1973: GUNSYND, aka the “GOONDIWINDI GREY” was only ever defeated once in starts over one mile. He was then — and remains — beloved by Australian racing fans.

Lord Derby's stud, showing four outstanding stallions out for their daily walk with their lads: ALCYDION,

Lord Derby’s stud, showing four outstanding stallions out for their daily walk with their lads: ALYCIDON, NEVER SAY DIE, HYPERION and RIBOT.

1966: The injured ARKLE visits with his owner, Anne Grosvenor, the Duchess of Westminster. Three years later, succumbing to severe arthritis, ARKLE was gone.

1966: The injured ARKLE visits with his owner, Anne Grosvenor, the Duchess of Westminster. Three years later, succumbing to severe arthritis, ARKLE was gone.

BATTLESHIP and another son of MAN O'WAR, WAR VESSEL, depart for England aboard ship where the former would win the Grand National at Aintree.

BATTLESHIP and another son of MAN O’WAR, WAR VESSEL, depart for England aboard ship. BATTLESHIP was on a journey that saw him win the Grand National at Aintree,inscribing his name into a pantheon of champions.

Australia's legend, PETER PAN, shown here reading the morning paper.

Australia’s racing legend, PETER PAN, shown here reading the morning paper.

RUFFIAN being led in by owner Stuart Janney after her win in the last of American racing's Triple Crown For Fillies.

RUFFIAN being led in by owner Stuart Janney after she completes American racing’s Triple Crown For Fillies. Photo and copyright, NYRA.

 

Other images capture thoroughbreds, trainers and handlers interacting at work and play.

Canadian Michael Burns' fine shot of SECRETARIAT and Ronnie Turcotte working at Woodbine, in Toronto, before the colt's final race.

Canadian Michael Burns’ fine shot of SECRETARIAT and Ronnie Turcotte working at Woodbine, in Toronto, before the colt’s final race. Moments later, Turcotte would be set down, denying him one last ride on the colt he loved. Photo and copyright, MICHAEL BURNS.

The great ALYDAR with trainer, John Veitch.

The great ALYDAR with trainer, John Veitch, who makes no secret of his high regard for a colt who never gave up.

SUNDAY SILENCE and Charlie Whittingham.

SUNDAY SILENCE and HOF trainer Charlie Whittingham share a secret. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

GREYHOUND with his Dalmatian dog.

GREYHOUND with his Dalmatian dog.

SYSONBY at Saratoga in 1904 takes a time-out to graze and watch the action on the backstretch.

SYSONBY at Saratoga in 1904 takes a time-out to graze and watch the action on the backstretch.

"SUNNY JIM" FITZSIMMONS trains youngsters at the starting gate before it went high-tech.

“SUNNY JIM” FITZSIMMONS trains youngsters at the starting gate before it went high-tech. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

The gallant SWAPS meeting fans after a work out.

The gallant SWAPS meeting fans after a work out. Could this be a young Art Sherman in the saddle, trainer of 2015 HOTY CALIFORNIA CHROME? Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

IMPERATRICE (centre), grandam of SECRETARIAT,

IMPERATRICE (centre), grandam of SECRETARIAT, wins the Fall High Weight Handicap at Belmont in 1942. Note her uncanny resemblance to Secretariat’s daughter, TERLINGUA, born over thirty years later. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Minutes after his birth, baby IRON LEIGE and his dam,

Minutes after his birth, baby IRON LIEGE and his dam, IRON MAIDEN (daughter of WAR ADMIRAL). IRON LIEGE grew up to win the 1957 Kentucky Derby.

 

The romance of the turf gives these old photographs a patina all their own…..

Celebrated photographer and author, BERT CLARK THAYER, appears to be studying his subject's interest in his camera.

1940’s: Celebrated photographer and author, BERT CLARK THAYER, appears to be studying his subject’s interest in his camera.

COLONEL MATT WINN pictured in 1937.

COLONEL MATT WINN pictured in 1937. In 1902, when Churchill Downs in Kentucky was in serious financial difficulty, Winn formed a syndicate of investors to save it. A brilliant marketing manager, it was Winn who convinced Harry Payne Whitney to bring REGRET to Churchill for the Kentucky Derby, which she won.

1927: Lord Durham leads in his Epsom Oaks winner, BEAM, who broke the existing track record.

1927: Lord Durham leads in his Epsom Oaks winner, BEAM, who also broke the existing track record.

Two members of an American racing dynasty, FOXHALL AND JAMES KEENE at the races. KEENELAND is named after this distinguished American family.

Two members of an American racing dynasty, FOXHALL AND JAMES KEENE at the races.

OGDEN PHIPPS leads in Withers winner, WHITE COCKADE. The Phipps family remains prominent in American racing today.

OGDEN PHIPPS leads in Withers winner, WHITE COCKADE. The Phipps family remains prominent in American racing today.

Trainer GINGER McCAIN walking his champion, RED RUM. Ginger faithfully visited "Rummy" until the end of his days.

Trainer GINGER McCAIN walking his champion, RED RUM. Ginger faithfully visited “Rummy” until the end of his days.

WILLIAM WOODWARD at the track. The Woodward is named after him.

WILLIAM WOODWARD at the track. The Woodward is named after him.

1950: A dramatic shot of fillies rounding Tottenham Corner in the Epsom Oaks that same year. ASMENA was the winner.

1950: A dramatic shot of fillies rounding Tottenham Corner in the Epsom Oaks that same year. ASMENA was the winner. Photo and copyright, REUTERS.

1930: Horses go to the post in the Massachusetts Handicap, won by MENOW. Triple Crown winner WAR ADMIRAL is also in here somewhere.

1930: Horses go to the post in the Massachusetts Handicap, won by MENOW. Triple Crown winner WAR ADMIRAL is also in here somewhere.

Although women were either forbidden or else given restricted access to the track in 1925, Laura Walters found an innovative way to show her enthusiasm.

Although women were either forbidden or else given restricted access to the track in 1925, Laura Walters found an innovative way to show her enthusiasm.

1927: Mrs. John D. Hertz, who would later race Triple Crown winner COUNT FLEET, is shown here congratulating Chick Lang who guided her champion filly, ANITA PEABODY, to another win.

1927: Mrs. John D. Hertz, who would later race Triple Crown winner COUNT FLEET, is shown here congratulating Chick Lang who guided her champion filly, ANITA PEABODY, to another win.

Australian superstar TULLOCH, trained by TJ Smith, coming right at you.

HOF and Australian superstar, TULLOCH, trained by the great Tommy J. Smith, Gai Waterhouse’s father. TULLOCH is rated with the likes of champions PHAR LAP, CARBINE and BERNBOROUGH.

 

As newspapers and magazines worldwide go digital, their press photographs are turning up at auction, where some go for as much as $400 – $500 USD. And it’s not public libraries that are buying them but private collectors, thereby making them basically inaccessible to the rest of us.

We wonder if this dispersal might have sad consequences for those studying the thoroughbred and its history in the future. Perhaps it’s a generational “thing” to wonder if every photograph is being digitalized — as opposed to someone guessing what ought to be saved. Or to question the logic behind dispersals of this nature, as in: Why is there nothing to compel newspapers to turn their photo archives over to an institution like the Keeneland Library, that already holds the work of several important track photographers?

But perhaps that’s not state-of-the-art thinking in 2015.

The champion BILLY BARTON arrives from America to run in the Grand National. Only he and the winner, TIPPERARY TIM, would finish the race that year.

The champion BILLY BARTON arrives from America to run in the 1928 Grand National at Aintree. Never an easy horse to handle, brilliant BILLY is looking like he’ll kick up a fuss. On race day, only BILLY and the winner, TIPPERARY TIM, would cross the finish line. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

This may look like a typical shot, but it isn't. It shows the three gaits used by trotters and pacers all in the same frame.

This may look like a typical shot, but it isn’t. It shows the three gaits used by trotters and pacers — all in the same frame. Now imagine capturing this image in the 1940’s.

1941: SEABISCUIT leaves the track for the very last time.

1941: SEABISCUIT leaves the track for the very last time. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

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Twitter and Facebook are already in a flutter at the prospect of these famous babies making their first start. And, because we’re human, we’re inclined to think that this anticipation — which feels like a chronic twitch deep in the equine lover’s soul — is absolutely unique.

COZMIC ONE, the first born out of champion Zenyatta, shown working out at Santa Anita under his regular exercise rider, Kevlyn            . Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

COZMIC ONE, the first born out of champion Zenyatta, shown working out at Santa Anita under his regular exercise rider, veteran Kevlan Henry. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

Except that it isn’t.

Down through the years, the arrival of the first progeny of great thoroughbreds has been greeted with the same kind of feeling. Today, however, the Frankels and Rachels and Nellys and Zenyattas are public figures — and that means we can witness every detail of the development of their sons and daughters as though we were actually right there. Now that really is unique.

Even though televised coverage made Native Dancer a public hero, social media today allows fans, punters and journalists worldwide a degree of involvement with thoroughbreds that is immediate and unprecedented. In the case of two of America’s great mares, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, a devoted community have followed Jess’s Dream (2011) aka Taco and Cozmic One (2011) aka Coz from their first steps right up to their training towards a first start. In the UK, many are following the progress of baby Frankels, born in 2014 to mares like Danedream and More Joyous, while in Australia, Black Caviar’s first born is now six months old and already has her own “Nelly groupies.”.

RACHEL ALEXANDRA'S first born, JESS'S DREAM (on outside) is also working towards a first start which is likely to come in Florida.

RACHEL ALEXANDRA’S first born, JESS’S DREAM (on outside) is also working towards a first start which is likely to come in Florida.

Seventy or more years ago, even though the expectations for the offspring of champions like Man O’ War was probably as great, the general public didn’t have the kind of access to them that we have today. And the down-side of our real-time relationship to these royally-bred babies may well be that our expectations for them are weighty enough to crush an elephant.

Happily, horses are oblivious to tidal waves that arise in virtual space.

The magnificent EBLOUISSANTE, half-sister to champion ZENYATTA is very much her own person, as trainer John Shirreffs understands. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

The magnificent EBLOUISSANTE, a 17h half-sister to champion ZENYATTA is very much her own person, as trainer John Shirreffs understands. Thank goodness for that, because it leaves her fans lots of room to appreciate her for exactly who she is. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

When Great Britain’s lavishly-spotted The Tetrarch (1911) — arguably the best two year-old ever produced in that part of the world — retired, there can be little doubt that his progeny were eagerly anticipated. As a sire, The Tetrarch was able to pass some of his special qualities on, notably to a son, Tetratema (1917), but he principally inscribed himself in breeding history through his Blue Hen daughter, Mumtaz Mahal, the “Flying Filly.” She was “The One” of all of the Tetrarch’s comparatively small number of progeny who most ignited memories of her sire when she appeared on the turf, and the sprightly grey filly had her own fan club because of it. In the breeding shed, Mumtaz Mahal became the ancestress of the sire lines of Nasrullah, Royal Charger, Tudor Minstrel and Mahmoud, making her influence on the breed in the last century one of the most important. The narrative of The Tetrarch and his brilliant daughter is one of those rare cases when a direct offspring caught the genes of a brilliant parent in spades.

THE TETRARCH.

THE TETRARCH

TETRATEMA, pictured here by W.A. Roach, a champion son of THE TETRARCH

TETRATEMA, pictured here by W.A. Roach, a champion son of THE TETRARCH, was best over short distances but he won 5 races in 1919 and the King’s Stand, King George and 2000 Guineas the following year. As a sire he was very good, producing excellent fillies and colts like ROYAL MINSTREL(1925) and FORAY (1934). In their book A Century of Champions, Randall and Morris rated TETRATEMA as the third best 2 year-old of the century, just behind THE TETRARCH and TUDOR MINSTREL.

MUMTAZ MAHAL, his daughter, is one of the most important of all thoroughbred broodmares.

MUMTAZ MAHAL is one of the most important of all thoroughbred broodmares.

On the other hand, it was anything but “in the cards” that one of the world’s greatest thoroughbred sires, Hyperion, as well as his descendant, Canada’s Northern Dancer, would amount to much at stud. For one thing, both were tiny; for another, Hyperion was almost as famous for his laziness as he was for winning the Epsom Derby and Northern Dancer was not only temperamental, but raced his whole career on a split hoof. So they were both, in a sense, “wild cards” from a breeder’s perspective. And while Canada waited to see their “Dancer’s” sons and daughters rekindle the excitement of his Triple Crown campaign, it is unlikely that Hyperion’s get were welcomed with anything near the same enthusiasm. But, as we know today, both stallions had an astounding impact on the breed, passing their “bloodedness” on to generation after generation. Which reminds us that it can take several generations before an individual comes along whose bloodlines scream his/her ancestry: in the case of Northern Dancer, thirty years intervened.

Rare and fascinating footage of Hyperion’s Derby (no sound). Lord Derby’s “pony” wears #9:

NIJINSKY and Lester Piggot just following their win in the 1970 Epsom Derby.

NIJINSKY and Lester Piggot just following their win in the 1970 Epsom Derby. England’s last Triple Crown winner, NIJINSKY made a name for himself overseas and was significant to the rise of his sire, NORTHERN DANCER. Standing at Claiborne Farm, NIJINSKY proved to be an excellent sire and sire-of-sires, through sons like Caerleon. He also distinguished himself as a broodmare sire.

Frankel's BM sire, Sadler's Wells, and his millionaire sons out for a walk at Coolmore Ireland. The grand old man is followed by Galileo, Montjeu and High Chaparral.

SADLER’S WELLS, another son of NORTHERN DANCER, single-handedly changed the face of thoroughbred racing worldwide. The stallion is shown here, followed by his millionaire sons GALILEO, MONTJEU and HIGH CHAPARRAL on a walk at Coolmore, Ireland. Photo and copyright, The Racing Post.

 

Sometimes, it is thoroughbreds who fly “under the radar” that have a huge impact on the sport of racing. A case in point is Bold Venture (1933), one of any number of colts and fillies whose racing career –through no fault of their own — did precious little to recommend them to the racing public and, subsequently, to breeders. The 1936 Kentucky Derby winner, Bold Venture was the son of the British import, St. Germans (1921), the leading sire of 1931 and sire of the great Twenty Grand (1928). Bold Venture’s dam was a granddaughter of Commando (1898). Despite his pedigree, the colt entered the Kentucky Derby without a single stakes win, going off at 20-1 odds and ridden by an apprentice jockey, Ira “Babe” Hanford.

Jockey IRA "BABE" HANFORD with HOF trainer, Max Hirsch and daughter, Mary Hirsch.

Jockey Ira “Babe” Hanford (on the fence) with HOF trainer, Max Hirsch, and his daughter, Mary Hirsch, who became America’s first registered female trainer.

Underdogs certainly win important races, but the 1936 Kentucky Derby was such a debacle that few were convinced that Bold Venture deserved the honours. When the gates flew open, the favourite, Joseph E. Widener’s Brevity (1933), was knocked to his knees. Another excellent three year-old, Granville (1933), threw his jockey when slammed in a chain reaction involving Bold Venture and another horse. In the end, with Brevity giving full chase, Bold Venture flew under the wire to win.

Trained by the brilliant Max Hirsch, Bold Venture was back to run in the Preakness with HOF George Woolf in the irons, nosing out Granville at the wire to win. The colt was retired at the end of an undefeated 3 year-old season and sent to stud in Kentucky, having been sold to Robert J Kleberg for $40,000 USD. He had little success there and was subsequently moved to Kleberg’s King Ranch, in Texas — where he sired the Triple Crown winner, Assault (1943), and Kentucky Derby winner, Middleground (1947). Bold Venture remains the only Kentucky Derby winner to sire two other Kentucky Derby winners.

Wearing roses: BOLD VENTURE and the young Ira "Babe" Hanford, the youngest jockey to ever win the Kentucky Derby.

Wearing roses: BOLD VENTURE and the young Ira “Babe” Hanford, the youngest jockey to ever win the Kentucky Derby.

Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT.

Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT.

The Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner, MIDDLEGROUND, captured by Brewer.

The 1950 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner and 1951 Horse of the Year, MIDDLEGROUND, captured by the late Allen F. Brewer, equine artist extraordinaire.

 

There’s almost nothing to make the soul of a racing fan soar with hope than watching a horse they love bring babies into the world, fillies and colts filled with all the promise of a golden future.

Goldikova, Danedream, Havre de Grace, More Joyous — and down the road, Gentildonna, Taghrooda and The Fugue — are but a few of the well-loved thoroughbred mares who have embarked on broodmare careers. In the recent past there have been several great broodmares whose young set the flame burning anew, including Toussaud (Empire Maker, Chester House, Decarchy, Honest Lady), Kind (Frankel, Noble Mission, Bullet Train, Joyeuse), Personal Ensign (My Flag, Miner’s Mark, Our Emblem), Dance Smartly (Dancethruthedawn, Scatter the Gold, Dance With Ravens) and Urban Sea (Galileo, Sea The Stars, My Typhoon, Black Sam Bellamy, All Too Beautiful).

Miswaki's lovely and accomplished daughter, Urban Sea

URBAN SEA, Arc winner and Blue Hen, dam of GALILEO, SEA THE STARS, MY TYPHOON, BLACK SAM BELLAMY and ALL TOO BEAUTIFUL. There is absolutely no question that URBAN SEA passed on her greatness to her offspring.

 

PERSONAL ENSIGN with her colt foal, MINER'S MARK. The dam of MY FLAG and grandam of STORMFLAGFLYING and WAR EMBLEM was a champion from track to foaling barn.

PERSONAL ENSIGN with her colt foal, MINER’S MARK, her first born. The dam of MY FLAG and grandam of STORMFLAGFLYING and WAR EMBLEM was a champion from track to foaling barn.

 

Toussaud and her goat. This great mare is Bode's grandam on his tail female.

TOUSSAUD and her goat. The dam of EMPIRE MAKER, CHESTER HOUSE, DECARCHY, HONEST LADY and CHISELLING made a lasting contribution to thoroughbred bloodlines.

 

 

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

DANCE SMARTLY, the only filly to ever win a Triple Crown in mixed company in North America, went on to become a Blue Hen for Sam-Son Farm. Here she is in Kentucky, having visited Thunder Gulch. Photo and copyright, The Blood-Horse.

 

So what does the future hold for royal babies like Cozmic One and Jess’s Dream? Have they inherited the brilliance of their dams? of their sires? of both?

Like human children, these colts and fillies are a one-off. Unique. They’ll train differently and run differently than their parents. They’ll meet different challenges and obstacles along the way as they build their own reputations. Some will be brilliant, others hard-working, and still others, just plain unlucky. Most will bring the heart and courage of their breed to each and every race and most will do their very best to win.

But whatever their destiny, hours and hours of skill, dedication, encouragement and love have brought them to a new beginning.

Let the magic begin!

COZMIC ONE at Santa Anita. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

COZMIC ONE (Bernardini ex. Zenyatta) at Santa Anita. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

 

THE VAULT wishes to thank photographer Jane Wade for the use of some of her outstanding photographs in this article.

BONUS FEATURE

John Shirreffs, trainer of Derby winner Giacomo and HOTY Zenyatta, among others, reflects on the early success of Zenyatta’s half-sister, Eblouissante, in this TVG Special. In so doing, Shirreffs provides insight into just what it takes to get even the most royally-bred thoroughbred to the track and to keep them feeling happy within themselves:

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