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Archive for January, 2020

This is a female family with one incredible knockout punch. They descend from The Byerly Turk sire line — and the influence of their strain on important sire lines and female families can be traced right up to today.

Pictured in the background, THE BYERLY TURK. In the foreground, an aristocratic, possibility The Sultan, of the Ottoman Empire.

Female families traditionally receive less credit than sire lines in terms of their contribution to the makeup of an individual. This bias initially stemmed from the fact that a mare has only a limited breeding life, compared to a stallion, and therefore exercises less influence. However, the mare contributes a full 50% to the DNA of any offspring, and so is hardly marginal in shaping the breed and moving it forward. The other popular theory is that ancestors of any one individual have less and less influence the further back they appear in its pedigree. Clearly, from a genetic stance, an ancestor in the 15 generation has had its genetic contribution diluted over time. Be that as it may, any pedigree is a carefully woven series of genetic markers and without that far-removed ancestor, the individual would not be quite the same.

Also worth noting: we are aware that Bruce Lowe’s Thoroughbred Families (1895) is a theory that has undergone substantial revision due to more recent research. We are using his system here chiefly to trace the chronology of the progeny and descendants of the Agnes family.

 

THE BYERLY TURK

The Byerly Turk was one of the three foundation sires of the thoroughbred breed. The other two are, of course, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian, the latter famously featured in Marguerite Henry’s “King of the Wind.”

Captain Byerly’s Turk stallion was first a noble and courageous war horse during the time of the Ottoman Empire. One current theory states that at the seige of Buda in Hungary in 1688, Captain Robert Byerly of the Sixth Dragoon Guards relieved a captured Turkish officer of his handsome brown/black Turk stallion. Other theories claim that the stallion was captured in Vienna. Either way, he became known as the Byerly Turk because his owner became Captain Byerly. They were litterly thousands of Turk horses bred at this time. Extant records show that Turkish breeders, called “timars” (landowners, a privilege that had to be granted by the Sultan of the empire) had, as a collectivity, so many thousands of Turk horses that exact numbers could not be estimated. Turk horses weren’t bred to make money; rather, they were bred out of national pride and duty to the empire — quite simply, it was a timar’s duty to help preserve the Turk bloodline.

The best of the Turk horses, who were described as strong, powerful and highly intelligent, were co-opted into the Turkish Sultan’s enormous calvalry, where they would take their chances on the battlefield before they were retired to stud, going back to their owners.

Thought to be a reasonably accurate portrait of THE BYERLY TURK, though painted after his death, the stallion is pictured here with his groom. The grooms of Turk stallions were indentured to them from the moment of their birth until the end of their days.

After the approximately 8 year-old Byerly Turk became Captain Byerly’s war horse, it is documented that they participated in battles in Ireland during King William’s War and at the Battle of Boyne in July 1690. During his time in Ireland, there is an account of the stallion at a race meeting at Down Royal in Northern Ireland, at which he reputedly won the top prize, the Silver Bell. That the Byerly Turk and his owner were seconded into the ranks of the Queen Dowager’s Cuirassiers (later to become the 6th Dragoon Guards) tells us that the Byerly stallion was no fine-boned specimen but, rather, a big-bodied type, possibly standing as tall as 16h. We can make this assumption with some confidence, since the horses inducted into this regiment had to be either black or bay, and of “substantial” size and substance.

For those interested in reading more about THE BYERLY TURK, I recommend this book by Jeremy James. Although controversial because of competing theories about THE BYERLY TURK, it is beautifully written and what is imagined is firmly based in a credible historical context. (The only other book on the stallion, titled “The Byerly Turk” by K.M. Haralambos is very good, but very dry, and concentrates on tracing the stallion’s descendants/sire line.)

When he was retired to stud, The Byerly Turk stood at the Byerly estates in County Durham and then in Yorkshire. He reportedly covered very few “well-bred” mares for reasons that remain unclear, making his influence on the development of the thoroughbred somewhat remarkable. His best sons were Basto and Jigg. A descendant of Jiggs, Highflyer (1774), exercised as important an influence as Eclipse (1764) on the evolution of the thoroughbred.

HIGHFLYER (Herod X Rachel by Blank by the Godolphin Arabian). Owned by Richard Tattersall of Tattersall’s fame, as a stallion HIGHFLYER earned more than Tattersall made selling bloodstock. In 1790, the stallion had 109 winners and his stud fee peaked to 50 gns., a handsome sum in the day.

Initially, the influence of The Byerly Turk sire line flourished, but by 2020 it seems inevitable that it is on the verge of extinction: today, over 90% of thoroughbred stallions worldwide descend from the Darley Arabian sire line.

THE AGNES FAMILY: BEGINNINGS

The “Agnes family,” dating back to the birth of matriarch Agnes in 1844, were shining examples of the influence of The Byerly Turk sire line in earlier days.

The celebrated JOHN OSBORNE JR., a famous English jockey of the 1800s.

There appear to be no portraits of Agnes, which is a shame, but she does have a colourful story all her own.

In 1844, one John Howe Osborne, the father of a popular jockey of the day, “Honest John” Osborne Jr. (whose riding career lasted some 46 years and who then went on to become a trainer of repute) attended the races at Shrewsbury, where he purchased a mare with a filly foal at her side for 14 sovereigns. The mare was named Annette, and her filly foal was Agnes. As the founder of the Agnes family, Agnes is considered to be the matriarch of the most important family in ther British Stud book, according to E.M. Humphnis in her biography, The Life of Fred Archer.

The mighty BIRDCATCHER.

Agnes’ second foal was a filly, Miss Agnes (1850), by the famous British sire Birdcatcher (1833), also known as Irish Birdcatcher for his routing of others at The Curragh during his years on the turf. Through his son, The Baron, Birdcatcher was the grandsire to the great stallion, Stockwell, and his brother, Rataplan.

“…Several of Birdcatcher’s sons proved effective stallions. First and foremost was The Baron, who sired the brothers Stockwell and Rataplan out of the great mare Pocahontos, and who became a classic sire in France as well. It’s through Stockwell that Birdcatcher’s sireline comes to the forefront in the breed today through Doncaster, Phalaris, Teddy, Native Dancer, and Nearco. The grey-coated Chanticleer sired St. Leger winner Sunbeam … [another son] Oxford sired Sterling and Nuneham. Both Mickey Free and Knight of St. George were sent to America and met with some success there.”  (Thoroughbred Heritage Portraits)

THE BARON (1842), sire of STOCKWELL, an important sire.

 

POCAHONTOS (1837) pictured with her bay colt, STOCKWELL (1849). The mare is considered one of the most important foundation mares in the UK. (NOTE: Not to be confused with the American mare of the same name.)

 

One of the most important thoroughbred sires ever, the handsome STOCKWELL.

Miss Agnes began a dynasty all her own.

Through her daughter, Frivolity (b.1867/Macaroni X Miss Agnes), Miss Agnes became the great grandam of one of the top broodmares of the last century, Plucky Liege (1912/Spearmint X Concertina).

PLUCKY LIEGE, a daughter of SPEARMINT X CONCERTINA, the great grandaughter of MISS AGNES.

Plucky Liege produced eleven champions, including a winner of the Epsom Derby, Bois Roussel (1935) when she was twenty-three years old. She was also the dam of Admiral Drake, Bull Dog and Sir Gallahad III. So important was Plucky Liege, largely through a daughter, Marguerite de Valois and sons Bull Dog and Sir Gallahad III, that it is difficult to find a major runner today who doesn’t carry a strain of Plucky Liege in its pedigree.

Bois Roussel: The 1938 Epsom Derby:

 

In 1863, Osborne sold Miss Agnes, together with her filly foal by The Cure, Little Agnes (b. 1856), to Sir Tatton Sykes, who was in the process of building his legendary stud at Sledgmere.

Like her dam, Little Agnes was to have a long reach established principally through twop daughters.

WILD DAYRELL (1852) and the Earl of Craven. He won the Derby in 1855. WILD DAYRELL was the sire of WILD AGNES. Interestingly,this is one of the earliest photographs of a thoroughbred ever taken.

 

Here’s how Little Agnes’ influence played out in simplified form:

Daughters of Little Agnes and their get:

1) Wild Agnes (b. 1852/Wild Dayrell X Little Agnes)

A) her daughter, Fair Agnes (b.1853/Voltigeur X Wild Agnes): Ancestress of the important sire Desmond (1896), a son of St. Simon. Desmond’s daughter, Molly Desmond, out of champion Pretty Polly, appears in the 5th generation of Northern Dancer’s pedigree. It is through Molly Desmond that we come to Lady Angela, the dam of Nearctic, sire of Northern Dancer. 

The handsome DESMOND (1896), a son of St. Simon.

Champion of the turf and British heroine, PRETTY POLLY by Alfred Charles Havell.

MOLLY DESMOND (1914/ Desmond X Pretty Polly), great grandam of LADY ANGELA, who was the dam of NEARCTIC, the sire of NORTHERN DANCER. Photo courtesy of Thoroughbred Heritage online.

 

The young LADY ANGELA (1944). The daughter of HYPERION was imported to Canada by E.P. Taylor. And the rest, as they say, is history.

NORTHERN DANCER: In the beginning…

 

A-i) Wild Aggie(b. 1870/ Wild Dayrell X Fair Agnes) produced Dolly Agnes (1883), ancestress of: Sulamani; the important sire Green Dancer; Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Solemia; Authorized, Derby champion and sire of 2-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll; champion 2,000 Guineas winner, Makfi; champion filly November Snow and Kentucky Derby winner, Strike The Gold.

The handsome GREEN DANCER (1972) was one of NIJINSKY’S many successful sons at stud.

TIGER ROLL: His second Aintree Grand National win

 

A-i/1) Frivolous (b. 1875/ Friponnier X Wild Aggie): ancestress of champions including Epsom Derby winner Slip Anchor (1982); the Wildenstein’s Star Lift (1984); Stacelita (2006); Salomia (2009); Buena Vista (2006); and Manhattan Cafe (1998).

SLIP ANCHOR & Steve Cauthen: The 1985 Epsom Derby:

The superb STACELITA now makes her home in Japan, where she has already produced the champion SOUL STIRRING, a daughter of FRANKELfor owner Teruya Yoshida.

 

2) Another daughter of Little Agnes, Bonnie Agnes (b. 1875/ Blair Athol X Little Agnes) is the ancestress of Zabeel, Detroit, Carnegie and Herbager.

DETROIT’S 1980 Arc win:

Again put to The Cure, Miss Agnes produced another filly and a full sister to Little Agnes, Polly Agnes, in 1865. The filly was small and delicate, and owner Sir Tatton Sykes, it is variously reported, took an extreme dislike to her. Sykes accordingly offerred Polly Agnes to his stud groom, John Snarry. Snarry held a far more positive view of the filly, took her and sent her on to his son at The Newstead Stud, in Malton, North Yorkshire. Clearly, Snarry Sr. was a fine judge of bloodstock, because Polly Agnes was to become the most famous of all of the Agnes family descendants. Snarry’s Newstead Stud may have been modest, but it was about to become one of the most prestigious breeding establishments in Great Britain through Polly Agnes.

Snarry determined not to race his little filly but to breed her instead. Polly Agnes’ first foal, by Cathedral (b. 1861), a son of the excellent Newminster (b. 1848), was a colt who was named Rural Dean (b. 1869) and he did nothing much. Snarry decided to send Polly Agnes to the important British sire, Macaroni (b. 1860), winner of the Derby Stakes, the Two Thousand Guineas Stakes and the Doncaster Cup. The result was a filly he named Lily Agnes (b. 1861).

The stallion MACARONI (b.1860) during his racing days. Painted by Harry Hall in 1863.

 

LILY AGNES by MACARONI X POLLY AGNES during her racing career.

 

LILY AGNES

From extant paintings, it appears that Lily Agnes held some resemblance to her sire. She may not have been a beauty, but she was the first of three fillies from Macaroni – Polly Agnes matings that would, according to noted sports writer, William Scarth Dixon ( in “In the North Countree — Annals and Anecdotes of Horses, Hound and Herd”)  result in “…some of the finest horses the world has ever seen.”

It seemed that the filly also carried some physical resemblance to her female family. Lily Agnes was described by Scarth Dixon as “…a game looking mare, light of flesh like her grandam but with immense propelling power and famous limbs. She also had the lop ears that are a peculiarity of the family.” Once in training. Lily Agnes’ true measure began to surface. She won all 4 of her starts at 2 with comparative ease; in 1874 she won 7 of 10 starts, winning the Northumberland and Doncaster cups against the colts. But her greatest performance (William Scarth Dixon) came in 1875, when she won the Great Ebor Handicap against some very good colts carrying an impost of some 8lbs.

Once retired, John Snarry sold Lily Agnes to the Duke of Westminster in 1880; she was in foal to Doncaster at the time. Of course, there were great expectations for Lily Agnes as she was, at the time, one of the few great race mares of her age. The Doncaster colt foal was named Rossington (b. 1881) and had moderate success. A full sister, Farewell (b. 1882), won the One Thousand Guineas for the Duke.

LILY AGNES pictured here with ORELIO (b.1894) by Bend d’Or.

But the Duke was not convinced that Doncaster was the right sire for Lily Agnes, selecting instead Bend Or. And from this mating came an individual who is the most important sire of the 19th century — and who was, as well, a brilliant race horse: Ormonde.

ORMONDE

There are countless stories of champions who were underrated or even openly disliked by their owners when they were youngsters, and such is the case with Ormonde. The Duke wasn’t overly impressed with him, but kept him and sent him off to trainer John Porter at Kingsclere Stables.

John Porter was an ambitious man with enough foresight to buy Highclere from his mentor’s, Sir Joseph Hawley, estate. He re-designed Highclere and laid down the Watership Down gallops that are still in use today. Porter also founded Newbury racecourse. (The stable passed to trainer Ian Balding in the second half of the 20th century and is now run by his son, Andrew Balding. Ian trained the fabulous Mill Reef at Kingsclere, as well as Mrs. Penny, the beloved Lochsong, Tagula, and, in total, 2,000 Kingsclere winners before his retirement.)

JOHN PORTER’S Highclere Stables and his residence, Park House. The first photo shows JOHN PORTER. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, January 7, 1899.

John Porter became one of England’s most prestigious trainers. Among his charges were three Triple Crown winners in Ormonde, Common and Flying Fox; Ormonde’s good son, Orme; Oaks winner Geheimness; and that same year, another Derby winner in the filly Shotover, as well as (British) Filly Triple Crown winner, La Fleche. Porter was clearly a terrific trainer, but he also possessed another valuable character trait that more often than not pays off: patience. Such was the case with Ormonde; when the colt arrived at Kingsclere he was a less-than-impressive physical specimen, but under Porter’s care and patience, he not only won the British Triple Crown but retired undefeated.

As a sire, Ormonde had a storied life, travelling from England to Argentina to California then back to England and finally, back to California again. His sire record isn’t great, with few sons and daughters in general, and this was because Ormonde was not a healthy horse. He was a roarer and always had breathing issues, a problem attributed to his dam and the Agnes family. Illness affected him, making him subfertile as well. Given this, his stallion travels in the late 19th/early 20th century seem ill-advised, if remarkable.

However, Ormonde is the great great grandsire of Teddy, through Ajax by Triple Crown champion Flying Fox. French-bred Teddy sired Sir Gallahad III (out of Plucky Liege), La Troienne and Bull Dog (also out of Plucky Liege), changing the face of American breeding forever.

Sir Gallahad III sired the Triple Crown winner, Gallant Fox, Kentucky Derby winners Gallahadion and Hoop Jr., and Preakness winner High Quest. He also sired Roman (sire of champions Hasty Road, Romanita and Broodmare of the Year {American} Pocahontas); Fighting Fox (a full-brother to Gallant Fox, who sired the champions Fighting Step and Crafty Admiral); Insco (sire of champions Unerring and Inscoelda), Hadagal, Black Devil (winner of the Doncaster Cup in the UK), Count Gallahad, Sir Damion, Sir Andrew, Bold Irishman, and Amphitheatre.

GALLANT FOX’S (American) Triple Crown:

Teddy was also a notable BM sire. The best of his daughters was La Troienne, the dam of Bimelech and Black Helen, who is also the grandam of Busher, great grandam of Buckpasser and the ancestress of Numbered Account, Easy Goer and Smarty Jones, among others.

Bull Dog, a full brother to Sir Gallahad III, was the Leading sire in 1943. As a BM sire, he was very effective and was Leading BM sire in 1953, 1954 & 1956. His most influential son was Bull Lea, the sire of Triple Crown winner, Citation.

All this having been said, we still aren’t “done” with Lily Agnes. The mare had five other matings with Bend Or, one of which produced the filly Ornament (1887). Ornament wasn’t much on the turf, but as a broodmare, she gave the world a jewel in Sceptre (1899), by Persimmon.

Sceptre raced during the same time as champion Pretty Polly, but the two never met on the turf even though they were often compared in the tabloids, in what was a mock rivalry. Sceptre was a champion of great depth and accomplishment, so much so that she deserves her own place on The Vault — and she’ll have that before the year is out. So we won’t detail her astounding turf career here. But whereas her so-called rival, Pretty Polly, led a life of luxury, Sceptre was not so lucky; in addition, she was underrated as a broodmare, failing to produce anything regarded as “important.”

However, as often happens, it can take more than a generation for the blood of a superstar like Sceptre to show itself. And it was her daughter, Maid of the Mist (1906) by Cyllene (1895) who would carry Sceptre into the future through a son, Craig An Eran (b. 1918/Sunstar by Sundridge X Maid of the Mist by Sceptre).

CRAIG EN ARAN as depicted by A.W. Stirling-Brown.

One of the best in England in 1921 at 3, Craig En Aran won the 2000 Guineas, St. James Palace Stakes, the Eclipse Stakes and finished 2nd in the Epsom Derby and 4th in the St. Leger.

At stud he proved successful, if not brilliant. His best son was Admiral Drake (b. 1931/Craig En Aran X Plucky Liege) — and note that “the Admiral” carries two strains of the Agnes family through both his sire and his dam. Admiral Drake sired the Epsom Derby winner, Phil Drake (b.1952/Admiral Drake X Philippa, from the Teddy sire line) but Admiral Drake and his sire, Craig En Aran, are arguably more of interest here because they appear in the 4th and 5th generations, respectively, of Halo ( b. 1969/Hail To Reason X Cosmah), as does Sir Gallahad III (through Plucky Liege).

HALO’S sire, HAIL TO REASON, winning as a 2 year-old at Monmouth Park:

Halo, a great and memorable sire, despite his vicious temperament.

And Halo is, of course, the sire of Sunday Silence (b. 1986/Halo X Wishing Well by Understanding) among other excellent progeny.

And Sunday Silence completely changed the face of Japanese breeding through his daughters and sons, the most prepotent of which was arguably the late Deep Impact (b.2002/ Sunday Silence X Wind In Her Hair by Alzao, Northern Dancer sire line).

1989: Two descendants of the Agnes family, SUNDAY SILENCE and his foe, the mighty EASY GOER, meet again in the Breeders Cup Classic:

The Great One: DEEP IMPACT

 

 

IN CONCLUSION

Believe it or not, this isn’t even a complete record of how “those Agnes girls” shaped the breed worldwide. Truthfully, why this female family hasn’t had its very own book published is surprising. Of course, we can’t say that the strains of this family directly influenced important individuals like Halo or Sunday Silence or Northern Dancer, but we can hold that without the Agnes family these individuals could never have been.

To say that the lop-eared Agnes and her progeny were remarkable is an understatement. Their story stands as one of the most remarkable in thoroughbred history.

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dixon, Scarth William. In The North Countree: Annals And Anecdotes of Horses, Hounds and Herds. Read Books, 2013. Online reference.

Gillies, Scot. Rare Thoroughbred Sire Lines — Ormonde and Teddy and Damascus. Blood-Horse online, December 19, 2018.

Humphris, Edith Mary. The Life of Fred Archer. London: Hutchison, 1923.

Hunter, Avalyn. American Classic Pedigrees. Lanham MD: Blood-Horse Publications, 2003.

James, Jeremy. The Byerly Turk. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2005.

Kingsclere History. Online at Kingsclere website: https://www.kingsclere.com/kingsclere-history/

Thoroughbred Bloodlines. Online site.

Thoroughbred Heritage. Online site.

McGrath, Chris. Byerly Turk Reaching The End Of The Line. In TDN Europe, June 10, 2018.

 

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What a decade it has been! All over the horse racing world, champions emerged to dazzle us and lift our spirits. 

There were so many great thoroughbreds in the second decade of the twenty-first century, from Australia to Japan to the UK, Europe and North America, that I gave up on the idea of attempting to acknowledge each one here. Or to make a list of the “Top Ten” horses or moments of the decade.

When I look back, I’ll remember many, but the individuals that punctuate the passing decade for me are the ones who were more than figures on a screen. They touched me deeply in one way or other, inspiring imaginings as they took up residence somewhere close to my heart. Like a besotted paramour, I awaited each of their exploits with an anticipation so intense it hurt. They made my spirit dance.

So these are my stars of a kingdom filled with stars. I have made no attempt to compare them, because I know that comparisons are pointless; for that reason, they appear in chronological, not hierarchical, order.

To the connections of each of these great thoroughbreds, who so graciously gave of their time so that we could really get to know them, I give thanks. I also note that, the connections of all the thoroughbreds on my list save for one allowed their horses to race into their adult years, when their bodies and minds had matured, rather than pulling them off the public stage as 3 year olds.

In North America we have been conditioned to think that keeping older horses in competition is a risk but, in fact, campaigning babies before they have physically developed is far more dangerous. It was wonderful to be reminded what thoroughbreds at the height of their powers could do.

1) ZENYATTA

(2004, Street Cry X Vertigineux by Kris S.)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Native Dancer, Tom Fool, Nashua, Never Bend, Cosmah, Prince Rose, Hyperion, Mumtaz Mahal, The Tetrarch, Bimelech, Teddy.

It was the final year of the great Zenyatta’s racing career and as 2010 opened, she stood a Titan — undefeated in 12 starts, 2008 BC Ladies Classic and 2009 BC Classic winner, and about to garner her second Eclipse Award, as older female. In the latter case, fans were deeply disappointed by her loss of Horse of the Year for 2009, given that she was the first filly/mare to ever win the 2009 BC Classic and to ever win two different BC races. Instead, the title went to another remarkable filly, Rachel Alexandra, who was also winding down an incredible career. Rachel had won the Preakness, together with the Kentucky Oaks, Haskell and the Woodward against older males in 2009, and was as beloved by racing fans as Zenyatta.

By 2010, we all knew Zenyatta, our “Dancing Queen,” intimately. They were family.  We knew her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss and the other members of “Team Z” — trainer John Shirreffs, grooms Mario Espinoza and Carmen Zamona, exercise rider Steve Willard, jockey Mike Smith. We knew that Zenny loved her Guinness. A darling of the press, a star of 60 Minutes and the centre piece of her own website and “Zenyatta’s Diary,” written by the Moss’ racing manager, Dottie Ingordo Shirreffs, Zenyatta was the flagship of racing for millions of fans worldwide.

She contued her winning ways, chalking up 19 wins before the 2010 BC Classic, where she would bid to win it for a second time, a feat only accomplished once before, by the incomparable Tiznow.

Zenyatta arrived in Kentucky on Nov 2, 2010 for her BC run and the world was there to greet her:

I wanted her to do it. She was one of the most exceptional mares in North American racing history and putting colts to the sword felt like a fitting way to close out a brilliant career.

But when it came, in the night at Churchill Downs, victory was not to be. Lagging behind the field for too long, then caught wide on the turn coming home, Zenyatta still ran what was arguably the most impressive race of her career, even though she crossed the finish line a head short.

The 2010 BC Classic was the only loss of a 20-race career in which 13 of her wins came in G1’s.

To say the loss was a heartbreaker to all, from Team Z to fans a continent or more away, is an understatement. But I will always recall the words of an Australian turf writer a few days later, who wrote “…While it stands as her only loss, you know nothing about thoroughbred racing if that’s all you take away from her defeat. Zenyatta did things most thoroughbreds can’t do — coming from over 20 lengths from the leaders and travelling at over 60 mph in her drive to the wire, to lose by a diminishing head. Most of us will never see anything that even comes close to that ever again. This is one absolutely incredible thoroughbred — and that’s what I hope you will remember about her final race.”

Zenyatta was retired in December of 2010. Arriving at Keeneland from California with her whole team, she was greeted by hundreds of people who stood out in the freezing cold to welcome her to Kentucky.

In January 2011, Zenyatta was awarded the 2010 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.

 

2) FRANKEL

(2008, Galileo X Kind by Danehill)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Danzig, Northern Dancer, Nearco, Native Dancer, Buckpasser, Ribot, War Admiral, Man O’ War, Blue Larkspur, La Troienne, Bend Or, Commando, Domino.

Frankel started his career with a win that marked him as a “promising” juvenile, on a wet afternoon at Newmarket, crossing the finish line with Nathaniel, another Galileo colt, at his throat latch.

Named after the incomparable American trainer, Bobby Frankel, who had trained for Prince Khgalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte in the United States, Frankel was by Galileo out of the Prince’s Danehill mare, Kind. And even though his maiden win was in no way remarkable, we had all learned to “watch the Galileos.” I was intrigued by both Nathaniel and Frankel and resolved to keep an eye on both.

The British racing community is less inclined to “go over the top” about a horse than many other racing communities around the world, but by the end of 2011, it was pretty much impossible NOT to keep your eye on Frankel and his jockey, young Tom Queally. And even seasoned racing commentators struggled to find words to represent the history they knew they were living.

As for Frankel — he just kept going on and on.

 

After watching thoroughbreds for over 50 years, I knew I was a witness to an extraordinary individual, one who had been the product of 35 years of breeding by the Prince — as well as quite literally centuries in the making. Whereas the mysteries of breeding the ultimate thoroughbred have managed to elude even the most exacting scientific inquiry, what remains clear is that the evolution of the breed is not the work of any one person, but rather the combined efforts of breeders down through the centuries, together with the genetic contribution of many fine sires and dams. In Frankel, history and lineage had found its truest expression.

I often find myself wondering what it must have been like to experience Eclipse, or The Tetrarch, or Pretty Polly, or Man O’ War in their time, to have been one of the spectators, to have acxtually seen them in the flesh.

Frankel felt exactly like that kind of experience to me. I would be one who could say, “I was there.”

But running alongside Frankel’s unequivocal reign on the turf was another story, one that made each victory bittersweet: his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, was dying. The irony was cruel, that one of Great Britain’s greatest trainers should come upon his crowning achievement in his last years. However, as Sir Henry would acknowledge shortly before his death, “I had to be there for Frankel” and there he was, in every sense of the word, right up to Frankel’s very last race.

The story that was Sir Henry and his brilliant colt, together with all the emotion, came together on the Knavesmire at York in the 2012 Juddmonte International:

The lovely thing about a horse race is that it shows us how to live in the moment.

When you are watching the career of one of the most remarkable thoroughbreds of all time, it is indeed a blessing to live each and every moment fully.

 

3) BLACK CAVIAR

(2006, by Bel Esprit X Helsinge by Desert Sun)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Nijinsky, Northern Dancer, Vain, Nasrullah, Hyperion, Hurry On, Scapa Flow, Gainsborough, Ajax, Isonomy, Doncaster.

I stayed up deep into the early morning to watch her run and paid for it. But there was simply no better place to be: she was my “whirlwind from down under” and I adored her.

In 2012 in the UK it was all about Frankel — and so a (usually) good-natured, if hard-nosed, rivalry rose up between the devoted on two sides of the world:

I’m never tempted to enter into such rivalries, but I will say that neither Frankel nor Nelly took a backseat as far as power and turn-of-foot were concerned.

“Hear The Angels” …..”The Pride of Australia” ……. “Regal Power Wrapped in an Elegant Machine” …. “And the Legend Lives On,” such were just a few of the calls that greeted the big, dark mare as she crossed the finish in her native land, her polka dot silks rippling on jockey Hugh Bowman, the field toiling behind her. She was the fullest expression her ancestors’ majesty, courage and heart.

If it was the signature shake of the reins and the immense surge of chest and forelegs in answer that I waited for when Frankel ran, in Nelly’s case it was the relentless, driving force of her sweep to victory that made my heart leap up.

Travelling to England in her much-publicized rubber suit to run in the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, Nelly delivered, though not in the style we were accustomed to see.

It was race #17 and never before had the great mare finished in a photo. Looking back, I still see it as a blip on the screen. After all, Nelly had journeyed from halfway around the world to appear at Royal Ascot.

Nelly went on to secure 25 straight victories in as many starts, 15 of which were G1s. It was an absolutely astounding record, by any standard.

So astounding, that as I look back on it, I still find Black Caviar’s brilliance difficult to fully register.

Sometimes it’s like that with the great ones.

 

4) TREVE

(2010, Motivator X Trevise by Anabaa)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Sharpen Up, Secretariat, Northern Dancer, Vaguely Noble, Bahram, Spearmint, Hyperion, Isinglass, Persimmon, St. Simon.

I can’t deny it. By the time Treve came into my life, I was pretty much convinced that I’d already witnessed the best it could get.

Then along came Treve.

I always paid attention to what the Head family was up to; this had been true since Freddy Head’s victories on Miesque grabbed my attention in the late 1980’s. After his retirement from riding, Freddy and his sister, Criquette Head Maarek, embarked on careers in training in France, with Freddy closing out 2009 with his brilliant mare, Goldikova. For her part, Criquette Head Maarek enjoyed popular successes with the likes of Three Troikas, Bering and Anabaa, who would go on to become an important sire and the BM sire of Treve.

Recording her first win (above), Treve looked a juvenile with possibilities. But her victory hardly left the world breathless — the tall, lithe filly was still a work in progress.

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the premier grass race for thoroughbreds in the world and France is its home. There is nothing better, as far as the French racing public is concerned, than to have a French-bred and trained Arc winner.

Champions appear when hearts dream them, and are ready to receive them. And by 2013, Treve, bred by the Head family and trained by Criquette Head-Maarek, was ready to answer those French dreaming hearts.

Coming up to the 2013 Arc, Treve had won the Prix de Diane and the Prix Vermeille, both distinguished races in their own right. The undefeated 3 year-old entered the Arc partnered by Thierry Jarnet, Frankie Dettori having broken his ankle in a fall in England. Among the “big horses” were Japan’s brilliant Orfevre, Coolmore’s Ruler of the World, Intello, and Juddmonte’s Flintshire.

It was a scintillating victory for a youngster, and especially since the Arc traditionally favours more mature thoroughbreds.

Youngster or otherwise, to win the Arc once is considered the pinnacle of any turf horse’s career. But to win it twice? In 2014, when Treve took her second shot at the Arc, only six had won it twice, of which Corrida (1936, 1937) was the only filly.

At first, it didn’t look as though Treve would be ready. Plagued by less-than-perfect feet, it was late in the racing calendar before she was declared a starter. Partnered again by Thierry Jarnet, this time she would face Japan’s quirky but talented Gold Ship, England’s Kingston Hill, second to Australia in the Derby, and Sea The Stars’ champion daughter, Taghrooda, winner of the 2014 Oaks.

Not only did Treve rise to the occassion, but she did it in style. The daughter of Motivator had secured her place in history.

The decision was made to campaign Treve in 2015, with the goal a third tilt at the Arc. Her thousands of fans stepped up as well, even composing a song for her. And as the video portrays, hopes were high for a mare beloved by connections and racing public alike.

In the end, Treve was unplaced behind the winner, England’s magnificent Golden Horn, ridden by Frankie Dettori and trained by John Gosden.

While hopes were dashed, it did little to diminish Treve. The Arc is a gruelling affair, one that asks all from those who run it. And Treve flew home a decisive winner twice in consecutive years.

The filly with the beautiful face and kind eye, who roused the hearts of a nation, accomplished the rarest of a feats — one that legends like Sea Bird, Ribot, Dancing Brave and Nijinsky couldn’t attain.

5) AMERICAN PHAROAH

(2012, Pioneerof The Nile X Littleprincessemma by Yankee Gentleman by Storm Cat)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Secretariat, Fappiano, Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, Brigadier Gerard, tracery, Pretty Polly, Fair Trial, Menow, Mata Hari, Man O’ War.

I can close my eyes and still see myself as a girl, watching Secretariat’s Belmont in complete and utter awe. Then came the finesse of Seattle Slew, followed by the heart-thumping charge of Affirmed to the wire, with the courageous Alydar glued to his throat-latch.

But then came a seemingly endless drought.

I don’t know that I’d given up on seeing another Triple Crown winner during my lifetime, but I sure was discouraged. Year after year, I was glued to Churchill Downs and then Pimlico, wishing for a Triple Crown. But defeats like that of California Chrome and Smarty Jones, and losses like that of the incomparable Barbaro, made dreams of another Triple Crown champion seem unlikely.

It had been 37 years — almost 4 decades — since Affirmed defeated Alydar at Belmont when a bay colt from California called American Pharoah hit the Triple Crown trail, mispelled name and all, for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

As a two year-old, Pharoah had them buzzing in California. Even though an injury kept him out of the Breeders Cup in 2014, the juvenile still took the Eclipse Award for outstanding two year-old.

At your own risk do you ever ignore a Baffert runner: the man has the magic and the skill of a great horseman. He can spot a champion-in-the-raw and knows how to condition them properly for the crucible that is the American Triple Crown, a run of three races beginning with the most prestigious, the Kentucky Derby, followed by the Preakness and wrapping up with the Belmont Stakes in New York, over “Big Sandy,” the kind of track so deep and immense that it would dwarf a brontosaurus. There’s barely time for a young horse to catch its breath between the three of them, and each one is run over a different distance, the Belmont being the longest at 1.5 miles (2.4 km) with a long final stretch where many TC hopefuls have been caught — 37 by 2015, to be exact.

Pharoah had a beautiful pedigree — a son of Pioneerof The Nile, himself a son of the mighty Empire Maker (Unbridled X Toussaud by El Gran Senor). His dam, Littleprincessemma (Yankee Gentleman by Storm Cat, a grandson of Secretariat) similarly carried the potential of daughters and grandaughters of Storm Cat, who continues to influence the pedigrees of champions. But pedigree had been no guarantee of Triple Crown success over the decades since 1978.

When I watched the Baffert colt run away from the field over a sloppy track in the Rebel I was impressed….but was I ready to give my hopes and my heart away?

Then came the Arkansas Derby, Pharoah’s last prep before the first Saturday in May in Kentucky. Like the Rebel, the colt’s win seemed effortless, with jockey Victor Espinoza asking him for little and, once again, Pharoah crossed the wire with his ears pricked, as if to say, “So when do I get to really run?”

After this performance, he had me hook, line and sinker. And although it’s easy to have 20/20 vision in hindsight, the Arkansas gave me a glimpse of something unique, although what it was, I knew not. Thinking about it, it seemed to have something to do with his way of going that seemed deceptively slower than it actually was — and effortless, as though the colt could run for days.

By the time Derby day had arrived, Coolmore had already sealed the deal on Pharoah’s breeding rights. I took note of that.

Going into the race, I was most fearful of the gutsy Mubtahiij, and mindful of Carpe Diem and Dortmund, another Baffert entrant. Pharoah started from an outside post position — never ideal in a 20-horse field on a track where the first turn came upon you fast.

I wasn’t a fan of how Espinoza rode him on Derby day, but Pharoah got it done, persevering in the final strides, in spite of being so far from the rail around the turn. Meaning that he’d been asked to make a longer run than the others going in to the final turn and asked to do it early on. I could only respect the colt for his courage, getting up like that as the wire loomed, even though I’d been expecting him to lead the field home by several lengths. (As it turned out, Pharoah had “lost his A game,” according to Baffert, on the walkover to the saddling area when too many people got him riled up. Baffert also reported that Espinoza told him going into the final stretch “…he just didn’t feel the power beneath him.”)

Next up was the Preakness on a rainy day, over the slop. Having watched Pharoah’s Rebel win, I felt he had a decided advantage — rain didn’t faze him one bit. But I was mindful of the colt’s Derby because he hadn’t been quite himself, whatever the reason.

But, as it turned out, the pre-Derby Pharoah was back, taking the second leg of the Triple Crown with ease.

Now the heat was on. Did I dare to dream?

I had a modest “Belmont Party” on the day, with a friend whose dream was as hopeful as my own. By now, I knew Pharoah was special. Really special. But I’d been there before……

I almost choked on a chip, dropped my wine glass, hugged my friend and burst into tears.

It’s still impossible for me to describe all the feelings that rushed through me.

But I do know one thing: American Pharoah crossing the wire in the Belmont was most definitely My Moment of the decade.

6) WINX

(2011, Street Cry X Vegas Showgirl by Al Akbar)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Native Dancer, Cosmah, Halo, Hoist The Flag, Natalma, Hail To Reason, Man O’ War, Ajax, John O’ Gaunt, Pocahontas, Beeswing.

In 2014, Street Cry succumbed to complications of a rare neurological disorder. He was only 16 years old. The loss to Godolphin was immense, made even more tragic by the stallion’s success that seemed only to get better over time. Street Cry’s progeny included the Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, champion Carlton House, the ill-fated Delta Prince, Pride of Dubai, Australian multi-millionaire Trekkings, together with his brilliant daughter, Zenyatta, and many other very good individuals, particularly in Australia.

A short year later, in 2015, noise started coming out of Australia about another Street Cry daughter: Winx.

Owned by the partnership of Magic Bloodstock Racing, R G Treweeke & Mrs D N “Debbie” Kepitis, the four year-old had found her stride in winning fashion in the big leagues. Once again, I started to stay up deep into the Canadian night to check Winx out. But it was soon going to be a pattern for me, fueled by a big brown mare who seemed — no, who was — invincible.

This was one case where statistics actually said it all:

43 starts — 37 wins — 3 places.

4 Cox Plates in successive years.

33 successive wins and 25 Group 1’s.

Finished out of the money only 3 times in a career that spanned 5 years.

As Bob Baffert said, “…She {Winx} always gives you the Hollywood ending.”

The mechanics of her running style might not have been a thing of beauty, but they were devastatingly efficient. And there were shades of Zenyatta — Winx almost always made her run from far off.

And once again, riches fell from the horse racing gods and I adopted a new family on the other side of the world. There was the charming Peter Tighe, Debbie Keptis in her purples and her “Go Winxy,” the softspoken Chris Waller, the expressive Hugh Bowman and the mare’s “best man,” strapper, Turkish-born Umut Odemislioglu. 

I didn’t care that I spent the day after one of her races in an absolute stupor, since I knew I’d never see another one like her. As a veteran of thoroughbred racing, I’d never witnessed any thoroughbred win 33 races in a row, most of them Group 1’s. And as a North American, sadly used to brilliant colts and fillies retiring at age 3 or 4, I delighted in the statement this mare was making to the racing world — Winx had come into her own at 4 and kept right on going. Had she been a North American thoroughbred, racing over here, the chances of her becoming the mega-star she became would have been zero.

It’s impossible to conclude such an amazing story in a few well-chosen words, so I’ll leave that to those who knew her best, as they were on her very last race, the 2019 G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes:

 

7) ENABLE

(Nathaniel X Concentric by Sadler’s Wells)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Miswaki, Roberto, Icecapade, Mr. Prospector, Forli, Native Dancer, Tantieme, Minoru, Pretty Polly, Hyperion, Persimmon, St. Simon, Newminster, Beeswing.

What a decade it has been for Juddmonte! First there was Frankel, then Arrogate and, as 2019 closed, the prospect of the return of Britain’s Racing Queen, Enable. All homebreds from the stable that campaigned the likes of Dancing Brave, Zafonic, Commander In Chief, Midday and Kingman, among others.

“Have we seen the annointing of the 21st century’s Man O’ War?” called the track commentator at Meydan, as Arrogate came from far off the pace to win the 2017 Dubai World Cup. The colt had already won the 2016 Breeders Cup Classic and the first running of the Pegasus in Florida, before shipping to Dubai and was what horsemen call a “phenom.”

Love has smitten me again, this time in the form of a beautiful filly with a devastating kick and her team, the charismatic Frankie Dettori, masterful John Gosden, Tony Proctor, head travelling lad, and Imran Shahwani, Enable’s head lad and BFF.

Across an ocean she came, charging right into my heart as I watched her rise above all comers over the last 2 years, netting the Epsom, Irish and Yorkshire Oaks (the latter twice in 2017 & 2019), the King George & Queen Elizabeth (twice, in 2017 & 2019), the 2018 Breeders Cup Turf and, most amazing of all, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe twice in successive years (2017 & 2018).

Her performance in 2018, when surgery sidelined her, was particularly impressive, even though this is a filly with a strong, focused mind when it comes to racing. But that doesn’t change what Enable and her team served up in 2018, when she was only about 90% fit: a scintillating win against Magical in the BC Turf and a determined second Arc win against the fabulous, fast-closing Sea of Class. 2018 wasn’t the same as her Arc win in 2017, when Enable led the field home, but this took nothing away from the fact that courage and determination got her to the wire first in a dramatic, heart-pounding finish.

 

In 2019, after taking Cartier honours as the Champion Older Horse of 2018, Enable was back and the goal was a third tilt at the Arc. It was also speculated that this would be her final year on the turf, making each victory leading up to the Arc both sweet and nostalgic. Frankie wept, declaring “…she’s taken me places emotionally I’ve never been to before.” And my eyes filled with tears too, knowing the kind of superstars Frankie has ridden over the decades and realizing that it wasn’t only my spectator emotions that Enable had engaged: she owned Frankie too.

Her 2019 battle with Crystal Ocean in the King George & Queen E. takes highest grades for sheer drama, but I like to think her most dominant performance came a short 4 weeks later, at Ebor in the Yorkshire Oaks, where she and Magical again met up:

Then it was on to the Arc. To be honest, history seemed against her, but as the date approached I was buoyed by Criquette Head-Maarek’s endorsement of Enable, her assuredness that there was no other horse in the field that could touch her for sheer ability. My chief worry was the eventual winner, Waldgeist, because Longchamps was his home turf and he, too, was training well for the legendary Andre Fabre.

Enable had beaten Waldgeist before, but when the turf at Longchamps came up as soggy, I knew “my girl” was at a disadvantage because, as trainer John Gosden would explain, her famous turn of foot would be relatively ineffective. I’m inclined to throw this race out, not because Enable didn’t do her best — she absolutely did — but because the turf conditions were so against her and that, combined with the early speed, took its toll. It’s to Enable’s enormous credit that she finished up in second place. Waldgeist was a worthy winner, although his owner expressed complete shock that anybody, let alone his gallant boy, could actually beat Enable.

I was so saddened that Enable’s final race had ended in defeat — but then came the news that, as long as she was fit and still interested in racing, Enable would return in 2020. I applaud the sportsmanship and generosity of Prince Khalid and his team, and was elated to see Enable again crowned Cartier Horse of the Year, as well as Champion Older Horse.

It will be absolutely wonderful for racing. And as for Frankie — I imagine he’s stocking up on polo mints for his girl.

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) Zenyatta: Love Thing (AnimalsRock4Love)

 

2) American Pharoah: The 2015 Breeders Cup Classic. It was his final start — and he led them home with a flourish, in a new course record.

3) Frankel’s last race

4) The Trainer & The Racehorse, Part Two

 

5) Winx: A tribute

6) WInx : 60 Minutes

7) Enable: “…she’s always been a very proud filly…”

8) ENABLE: 2017 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

 

9) Black Caviar’s Story

10) Treve Feature (At The Races)

11) Treve: 2013 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

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