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