Abigail Anderson launched THE VAULT in February 2011 with an article she wrote that was published by The Blood-Horse’s Steve Haskin on Hangin’ With Haskin. Since then, articles on topics ranging from Secretariat’s greatest son, Istabraq, to the exploits of a hard-working horse from the 1940’s named Molasses Bill, to the power of mitochondrial DNA on the progeny of Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta and Rags To Riches, to visits with the lovely Black Caviar, aka Nelly, have been published. THE VAULT now boasts a readership of over 70,000 worldwide. Most recently, an article entitled “Frankel: It Takes a Team To Raise A Champion” was selected as Best of the Blogs on the Paulick Report.
I fell in love with horses as a little girl and this love was nurtured initially by books supplied by my parents, grandparents and the librarian at our local Pointe Claire library. Author-illustrator C. W. Anderson and Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, as well as his book about Man O’ War were particular favourites. In the 1950’s, television abounded with animal shows and “Fury,” the coal-black mustang who loved and protected his boy, Joey, stole my heart. Hours were spent with friends “playing Fury”….. or Roy Rogers (I was always Trigger).
It was from my grandfather, Carl L. B. Wheeler, that I learned about the thoroughbred. He was a passionate disciple of thoroughbred racing and a horseman who owned one of the first standardbred mares in the province of Quebec. Even though he followed their careers on the radio, Grandpa could recount stories about Man O’ War, War Admiral, Gallant Fox, Stymie and his particular favorites, Count Fleet and Citation, as though he’d owned them. When he spoke, it was as though they were standing right in front of me. It was our habit to watch the Kentucky Derby together, a tradition we maintained until our last Kentucky Derby in 1964, when Canada’s little hero, Northern Dancer, won. I can still remember Grandpa, his eyes brimming with tears, exclaiming “And to think … he’s only just a pony!”
We keep our own life stories coherent by carrying our past forward in time, a little like the way elephants carry the bones of their ancestors with them when they move to a new place. I’m no different. It was important for me to keep the flame of horses, and thoroughbreds in particular, burning bright within.
Part of keeping the faith has been extensive research into thoroughbred bloodlines, the British descendants of the Northern Dancer and the history of thoroughbred racing worldwide. In particular, I search out the stories of the so-called “little people” — the Will Harbuts, Eddie Sweats and, more recently, the Dee Deacons who are pivotal to the lives of the thoroughbreds they care for. The role of genetics in improving the breed is a more recent preoccupation, one that allows me to pursue my interest in a growing body of research that looks at the influence of the dam in shaping a thoroughbreds stamina and speed potential.
The written word and the visual image have long-occupied centre stage in my life. It’s one of those examples of synchronicity that these seemingly unrelated areas have found their expression in THE VAULT. Many of the photographs that appear on these pages come from my own extensive collection. And the narratives told on THE VAULT are often inspired by these same photographs.
At a time when horse racing is struggling to keep its footing in a quickening world, it is timely to promote its exciting — and often dramatic — history. We can protect the things we love when we celebrate their magic and mystery, as well as their contributions to the world of today.
The sport of horse racing offers a veritable cornucopia of riches in this regard. What, indeed, does a horse race personify if not the triumph of hope and courage over seemingly unbeatable odds? And the bearer of that message, who has come down to us over the last 300 years, is a majestic creature whose slender legs carry a heart that beats a rhythm to the soul and whose broad brow, it is said, houses the spirit of the divine.
This is the mission of THE VAULT — to tell the stories of horses great and forgotten, on whose hooves and hearts we galloped into today.
Please note that all articles appearing on THE VAULT are protected by copyright. Permission to copy them, in whole or in part, must be obtained in writing from the author, Abigail Anderson.