I am sending you my warmest wishes for a holiday season filled with light, laughter, love and the company of friends.

Thank you for your ongoing support and encouragement. THE VAULT is written for you and it’s brought such joy into my life in so many ways. I have missed researching and writing more than I can say…..

I am improving each week — no longer acute bursitis, now more an issue of flexibility — but still not able to spend much time online.

I’m hoping to get back to writing in the New Year, possibly as early as January, with articles on WINX, ENABLE and some great fillies and colts of the past.

Until then, may your Christmas be “Merry & Bright” and the coming New Year be filled with promise,




Friday, October 20

Dear Reader:

It seems that I have a case of acute bursitis in the shoulder of my typing/keyboard hand and I really can’t spend more than 10 minutes at a time on my computer.

So it is going to be difficult to post further articles until I can at least manage the pain.

But as soon as I can manage (‘ hoping in another 3 weeks or so), THE VAULT will be back with new articles on the superstars of today and yesterday.

Abigail Anderson



Here’s MISS VAULT: I saw this on EBAY a few years back and just had to have it!!!!

Penny Chenery, the owner of The Meadow and of thoroughbred champions, Riva Ridge and Secretariat, died on September 16, 2017 at the age of 95. And for many, Penny’s death was like losing a part of their own personal history.


Penny gives Ronnie a hug in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle, as Lucien, Eddie and Secretariat look on. Their big red horse had just won the Kentucky Derby.

When I lived my personal Secretariat story, live television was an extension of what was really happening in the “now.” We watched intently — whether The Beatles on Ed Sullivan or the Triple Crown races — and committed each and every detail to memory. Because, as in life, the only way to re-visit those moments was through significant images, sounds and words stored in the mind. It was in this world that Penny Chenery Tweedy opened her arms to welcome a nation of sports people and racing fans into the life and times of her Triple Crown winner, Secretariat, and the Meadow Stable Team.

Without the social media platforms we can access today, helping strangers to feel close to a champion who happened to be a horse was quite an accomplishment. But Penny did it by overcoming the distance, in both literal and figurative terms — talking with fans as she signed autographs, composing descriptions that jumped off a page, opening up before the cameras that followed her everywhere she went, and reaching out with a repertoire of expressions and gestures that signaled personal contact.

Every fan of Secretariat and of Penny’s beloved Riva Ridge has their own personal narrative of how and when and why they found their way into Penny’s embrace. This is mine.

Penny with RIVA RIDGE and her team following RIVA’s Belmont Stakes win. She would later say, “Secretariat belonged to the world, but Riva belonged to me.” Photo and copyright, Tony Leonard.

Like so many, Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes was so powerful as to become a life memory for me. Even without the replays I can access today, I could close my eyes and see my family and I in front of the television screen, hear Chick Anderson’s call, see again the tears my mother and I shed as the big red colt in the checkered blinkers came down the final stretch. If you were a Canadian, it was doubly powerful. Because the tiny figure astride Secretariat was Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte, and somewhere up there in the stands was Canadian trainer, Lucien Laurin. During a lull in the post-race coverage, my mother fiercely declared what all five of us were thinking, “Well, that’ll show everyone what Canadians can do!”


Every Canadian horse racing fan knew Ronnie Turcotte. Born in Drummond, New Brunswick, Turcotte was a French-Canadian who grew up in a family where the spoken language was French. There is a large francophone community in New Brunswick, some of whom have their roots in Quebec, as does Ronnie, who was born there. In the pre-social media world, Turcotte first came to prominence via his association with Northern Dancer, whom he had ridden in his maiden win and again at Woodbine when The Dancer was retired. In fact, it was with E.P. Taylor’s Windfields Farm that the 18 year-old was first taken on as a stable boy and hot walker. Turcotte rose to apprentice jockey and eventually started working for fellow Canadian trainer, Lucien Laurin, at his stable in Maryland.

Ronnie on NORTHERN DANCER following the colt’s maiden win. At this time, Ronnie was an apprentice jockey. When The Dancer was retired, it was Ronnie who rode him out for the final time.

Laurin’s career in horse racing began in 1929, as a jockey at Blue Bonnets in Montreal. After riding 161 race winners and battling with constant weight problems, Laurin began working as a trainer in New England in 1962, a job that would span 45 years and take him to the pinnacle of horse racing success. While working for two different stables, Laurin enjoyed a long and successful association with owner Reginald K. Webster, for whom he trained many good horses, including Quill, the 1958 American Champion 2 Year-Old Filly, and Amberoid, winner of the 1966 Wood Memorial and Belmont Stakes. However, for the majority of Canadians, Lucien Laurin’s name will always be associated with memories of Riva Ridge and Secretariat.

Penny and trainer, Lucien Laurin.

Penny and her Triple Crown colt were a distinctly Canadian affair for many of us who lived north of the forty-ninth parallel, and the pride this engendered was almost as huge as Secretariat’s fame. (Canadians are always proud when they garner attention from the USA, chiefly because, despite its geographical size, Canada has a much smaller population. In 1973, there were about twenty-two and a half million of us, in comparison to a little more than two hundred and eleven million in the USA.) So it was that when it was announced that Secretariat would run his last race in Canada, I was overwhelmed at Penny Chenery’s generosity. It was a great honour for Canadian racing fans and for Lucien Laurin and Ron Turcotte, Penny’s decision would never be forgotten.

Sports commentators were quick to remind the Canadian public that Man O’ War had also run his last race in Canada in 1920, when he took on (American) Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, to win The Kenilworth Park Gold Cup. The comparison was not lost on me. I often imagined that the big red horse of 1973 was a reincarnation of Man O’ War, to whom he seemed to bear an unmistakable resemblance. These imaginings were prompted by an awareness that, in witnessing the Secretariat narrative, I was in fact participating in a living history as great as those who saw Man O’ War run.


Ronnie’s last ride on SECRETARIAT came in an early morning workout over the Woodbine turf course. Photo and copyright, Ken Burns.

In October, when the Canadian International is run at Woodbine in Toronto, Canada,  I was training to be a teacher at McGill University. But this didn’t stop me ripping into newspapers from Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere, looking to see if there was any new “Secretariat coverage.” By today’s standards, the press was less than scanty: very few photos, some short reports. It was a cold, bleak month in Eastern Canada and it suddenly became even darker when I learned that Ronnie Turcotte would not get to ride Secretariat in his final race. In my eyes, Secretariat and Ronnie were one. It was finally my chance to celebrate Ronnie and the great Secretariat right here, on Canadian soil, and some dude in New York City had taken that opportunity away from me. And from Ronnie.

It was a cruel, heartless decision.


Penny and Lucien had to work fast to replace Ronnie and their choice, a personal friend of Penny’s, was the accomplished Eddie Maple. In 2009, when he was inducted into the American Racing Hall of Fame, Eddie was asked which race made him the most proud. He answered, “Secretariat, in the Canadian International.” But at the time, Maple was overwhelmed by the responsibility of pilotting a thoroughbred legend in his final race and the expectations of Secretariat’s team, his fans and everyone else who counted themselves citizens of Secretariat Nation that he would, of course, win. In the days following his suspension, Ronnie and Maple formed a bond, with the former teaching the latter everything he needed to know about Secretariat.


In the meantime, Woodbine was getting ready for a moment in thoroughbred history. Programs were being printed and, breaking with tradition, special tickets were printed featuring “Big red” on their face:




October 28, 1973 was circled in bright blue on my student agenda. Cameras, crew and sports journalists were crowding into Woodbine and the bistros and hotels of Toronto. The atmosphere crackled, even among the usually laid-back residents at the track.

Secretariat and Eddie Maple had their work cut out for them, as some very good colts were running against them, chief among them Kennedy Road, a five year-old son of Victoria Park who had won the Hollywood Gold Cup and was trained by the brilliant HOF Charlie Whittingham. Whittingham had not accompanied the horse to Woodbine; instead, it was trainer Jim Bentley who handled the colt when he came home to Canada. Kennedy Road had won the Queen’s Plate in 1971 and, although irrascible in temperament, he was a champion and a champion would ride him in the International: Avelino Gomez. The legendary Sandy Hawley was pilotting Presidial, another very solid runner. Big Spruce (out of grass sire, Herbager) who had won the Marlboro Cup and Fabe Count, winner of the Jockey Club Cup, were two other horses given a chance against Secretariat. Robyn Smith, then a rising star among female jockeys and much later, the wife of Fred Astaire, was a fan favourite and booked to partner Triangular, a grandson of Princequillo who was not considered a threat.


Jockey Robyn Smith rode TRIANGULAR in the International. She would later become the wife of Fred Astaire, whom she met when riding for Alfred Vanderbilt. The two were inseparable until Astaire’s death.


The weather continued to be an issue, particularly the rain, and it was not a certainty that Secretariat would start at all, although that information got lost in the build-up to October 28th. The International wasn’t Secretariat’s first run over turf; he had won the Man O’ War at Belmont impressively — and beaten Big Spruce and Triangular, as well as a very gutsy Tentam:


“Some people may not believe me,” jockey Ron Turcotte reflected, a few years after Secretariat’s retirement,”but I always thought he was an even better horse on grass than dirt.” Lucien Laurin was of the same opinion and was confident the colt would manage a wet surface. The decision was made to run.

On race day, it was cold and damp. Dark clouds formed ominously over Woodbine, turning its lush landscape into something that evoked gloom rather than glory. It might not have been the toughest test of her champion’s abilities, but as Penny would point out, “The easiest race on paper is the one I find we lose…so I have to worry.”

As Secretariat appeared in the tunnel and stepped onto the track, I held my breath and tried to staunch the pain of saying goodbye. In 1973, when a thoroughbred retired, he or she seemed to disappear: this was an ending, not just a final race in a brilliant campaign. (Of course, thanks to social media, I didn’t entirely lose the connection. But in 1973, there was no way to predict the internet.)

“There he goes! There he GOES!” stands in my memory alongside “he is moving like a tremendous machine…” Three little words — the tears that flowed when I heard them the first time — and the way my heart pounded when a Canadian flag of carnations was draped over Secretariat’s withers, just as though the whole of Canada enveloped him.

Secretariat is my big red colt and it was Penny who made it possible for me to feel this way.

“THERE HE GOES! THERE HE GOES!” Secretariat winning the Canadian International, October 28, 1973.


Out of the gloom on that grey day he came, rolling like a bright red thundercloud.


Wearing our flag: Eddie Sweat leads his champion into the winner’s circle and hearts burst open from Halifax to the Northwest Territories to Victoria. Photo and copyright: Michael Burns


Margaret Mead’s daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, has observed that a life is a creation composed of the fabric of our daily selves and the improvisation necessary to keep on going, no matter what. In an early book, Composing A Life, Bateson studied the lives of five different women and summed up her findings in the following way: “…Today, the materials and skills from which a life is composed are no longer clear. It is no longer possible to follow the paths of previous generations…We see achievement as purposeful and monolithic, like the sculpting of a massive tree trunk that has first to be brought from the forest and then shaped by long labor to assert the artist’s vision, rather than something crafted from odds and ends, like a patchwork quilt, and lovingly used to warm different nights and bodies.”

The quilt Penny Chenery wove was a masterpiece.

Thank you, Penny, for reaching out to me and taking me on the ride of your life.


Penny and her big red colt.





Tom Durkin interviews Penny (2014):


Penny on the 40th Anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown:


Penny, Ronnie & Lucien talk SECRETARIAT:







“Big Red’s Last Race,” produced by the Ontario Jockey Club. (It’s my favourite portrait of Secretariat, Penny, Ronnie, Lucien, Eddie, Charlie {misnamed in the preceding clip as “George Davis”} and pony, Billy Silver. It’s real and filled with warmth and appreciation, a faithful Canadian rendition of the meaning Secretariat’s last race held for me. AA)

The Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame: Kennedy Road, Eddie Maple



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.



The influence of Holy Bull in Caravaggio’s bloodlines presents an exciting prospect. Coolmore’s gifted three year-old has already flashed brilliance on the turf. But this is just the beginning. 


The magnificent CARAVAGGIO and Davey Leigh, his lad. Photo and copyright, David Betts. Used with the permission of David Betts.



Bred by Pelican Farm, Holy Bull was a son of Tartan Farms’ Great Above, and the mare, Sharon Brown. Great Above was a useful stallion with a 71.2% strike rate from a total crop of 617 named foals. The stallion’s best progeny was Holy Bull; he was also the BM sire of the great Housebuster. Great Above’s dam, Ta Wee, was a two-time champion American sprinter and arguably one of the greatest distaffers of all time:

It was from his dam, Sharon Brown, that Holy Bull got his grey coat. The mare’s sire, Al Hattab, was a homozygous grey. Al Hattab was campaigned by Rachel Carpenter, Holy Bull’s first owner, and he won the Hutcheson and the Fountain of Youth in 1969. A direct descendant of The Tetrarch, Al Hattab (pictured below) carried Mumtaz Mahal 4X4 in his pedigree and held a distinct resemblance to Mahmoud.


The first time I saw Holy Bull race — in the Florida Derby — was enough to make him my (Kentucky) Derby favourite. It was a moving race to watch and that courageous heart seemed to jump out at you, even when it was mediated by a television screen.

Here he is winning the Florida Derby (#5), under a hand ride by Mike Smith. Dave Johnson calls the race:

“The Bull,” as he was affectionately dubbed, just rose above every other colt that season on the Derby Trail. And he didn’t appear to have a track preference — the Bull won short or long, on tracks from fast to sloppy. And, unlike many famous American thoroughbreds, his reputation had little to do with his performance in the prestigious Kentucky Derby:

Much to the perplexity of Hall of Fame trainer, Warren A. “Jimmy” Croll and Smith, their brilliant colt was a complete flop on the most important day of his young life. For those watching, Holy Bull’s loss was the kind of upset that the mind refuses to process.

Post-race, both Croll and Smith indicated that The Bull seemed not quite himself: he was sluggish and never really fired. According to multiple-award winning journalist, Steve Haskin, Croll would say until the day he died that someone had “gotten” to his colt, i.e. tampered with him in some way, likely with drugs.

Although this was never proven, the remainder of The Bull’s 1994 campaign was nothing if not brilliant. He took eight of ten Grade 1 races that year, to be awarded Eclipses for Champion Three Year-Old (Colt) and Horse of the Year. The legendary Daily Racing Form blazed the headline “Bullmania Sweeps The Nation” as Holy Bull’s 3 year-old campaign came to a close.

The Bull’s owner and trainer had inherited the colt from one of his longtime clients, Rachel Carpenter. Upon her death, the 73 year-old Croll became Holy Bull’s new owner.  Jimmy Croll had an eye for promising thoroughbreds: twenty years before The Bull came into his life, he had picked out two bay colts, Royal and Regal, a colt he took to the Kentucky Derby the year that Secretariat ran — and Mr. Prospector. As North American readers will know, Mr. Prospector turned out to be arguably the most important stallion in the history of American breeding.¹

Below, Jimmy Croll holding his two three year-olds, Royal And Regal and, in the foreground, Mr. Prospector.


ROYAL AND REGAL, Jimmy Croll, and in the foreground, MR. PROSPECTOR. In THE VAULT’S private collection. Photo and copyright: Associated Press/AP

In the 1994 Donn Handicap where he was pitted against another champion, Cigar, Holy Bull was pulled up suddenly by jockey Mike Smith. Here is how Kathleen Jones, writing in “Thoroughbred Champions: For the Fans of the Horse in Racing” described the scene:

“…Like man walking on the moon, we remember precisely where we were and what we were doing at the time. I recall the lump in my throat watching the iron horse coasting to a halt on the backstretch. The audible collective gasp of those packing the grandstand, the terror in the jockey’s eyes, the trembling voice of his trainer, and the tears of his groom are part of most people’s last image of this noble athlete. Agonizing hours passed as we waited for positive news and finally it came. Holy Bull would survive.”²

The positive news was that The Bull had strained ligaments and a bowed tendon, but even though ligaments and tendons heal, Croll made the painful decision to retire him. Mike Smith cancelled his other riding commitments, calling the moment “devastating” and adding, “I feel the life has come out of me.” And then his eyes filled with tears. Jimmy Croll was no less affected: “It’s over, it’s over. I said the day he retired would be the saddest day in my life. It happened a lot sooner than I expected.”³–¹


“It’s over, it’s over…” HOLY BULL and his owner, HOF trainer Jimmy Croll. Photo and copyright: NYT

Days later, leading his bandaged colt out of his stall on the backstretch for the last time, Croll added, “If he wasn’t Holy Bull, I’d bring him back to the races next year…I’m sorry we couldn’t finish the year with him. He would have gone out in a blaze of glory. He has courage and class. I’m going to miss him. Everybody’s going to miss him.”³–²

Retired to Jonabell Farm in Kentucky (later to become Darley) where he lived until the age of twenty-six, Holy Bull was never forgotten by his connections and his legions of fans, who proudly posted photos of him from their visits to Darley right up until this year, when the beloved HOF Champion died. The sire of BC winner, Macho Uno, and Giacomo, the winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby, as well as Flashy Bull, the winner of the Stephen Foster Handicap, it is to his daughters that The Bull has passed his legacy. Grade/Group One winners Judy The Beauty (out of Holy Blitz), Caravaggio (out of Mekko Hokte), Munnings (out of La Comete), Cairo Prince (out of Holy Bubbette) and most recently Holy Helena (out of Holy Grace), are so far the best. As of this writing, Holy Bull’s BM count stands at 50 winners and rising.

On his death on June 7, 2017, tributes sprung up all over social media. Here’s one that highlights Holy Bull’s greatest moments and features people who knew and loved him best, including Jimmy Croll, Mike Smith and legendary race commentator, Tom Durkin:



MEKKO HOKTE with her Pharoah foal_5d65dcbd7d53aff1d41291005a970ae1

CARAVAGGIO’S dam, MEKKO HOKTE (Holy Bull), with her 2017 American Pharoah colt foal. The mare also had a filly, a full sibling to CARAVAGGIO, in 2016.

The flat racing season is in full bloom in the UK and part of what makes it an exciting year is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Caravaggio. Like his BM sire at the same age, the handsome grey is charismatic, courageous and has earned himself no shortage of admirers.

Here is the two year-old Caravaggio winning the G1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes:

From the 2014 crop of the late Scat Daddy (Johannesburg), Caravaggio was a superstar in 2016 and has continued to develop into a powerful and talented sprinter in his three year-old campaign. Ballydoyle’s champion three year-old may indeed be his father’s son in some ways, but in others he is without question the work of his champion BM sire. For starters, the overall resemblance in the conformation of Caravaggio and Holy Bull is striking:

HOLY BULL_EBAY postcard_$_57



CARAVAGGIO pictured winning the G1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes in 2016.

There is no question that Caravaggio’s pedigree is a gift to the Coolmore broodmares, providing a potential outcross to the Danehill/Sadler’s Wells sire line. But with 3 X 5 to Mr. Prospector and a generous dose of both Intentionally and The Axe in his female family in the fifth generation, there are also other tantalizing influences in his bloodline. Intentionally, aka the “Black Bullet,” sired Ta Wee and In Reality, both important names in American thoroughbred history. The former was one of the greatest American sprinters of all time, herself a daughter of Aspidistra, one of Florida’s most influential broodmares, who is also the dam of the incomparable Dr. Fager. Too, the European champions Known Fact and son, Warning, descend from Intentionality’s sire line.

TA WEE_2650643_origIn Reality was an excellent sire who would have rated as an above-average runner had he been born in another year: Damascus and Dr., Fager, his contemporaries, rather bumped him off centre stage. Through In Reality, the sire line of the legendary Man O’ War continues through his progeny and their descendants. Sons Relaunch, With Anticipation and the only horse to have ever won the Breeders’ Cup Classic twice in a row, Tiznow, are the best progeny of In Reality.

IN REALITY_6fefb45e7a33e6d2cea3fda391032cce

The handsome IN REALITY carried on the sire line of MAN O’ WAR. He appears in CARAVAGGIO’S female family in the 4th generation. Of note is the conformation, especially the head, passed on to HOLY BULL and to CARAVAGGIO.

by David Betts_13886484_10206464806931037_7882653896451692570_n

Through his female family, CARAVAGGIO carries some distinctive features of IN REALITY. Photo and copyright, David Betts. Used with the permission of David Betts.

Not a stretch to see why the decision was made to campaign Caravaggio as a sprinter, market preferences apart. His pedigree abounds with them, top and bottom. But Holy Bull won dominantly at distances over a mile, making it exciting to see whether or not Caravaggio carries this trait and expresses it to at least some of his offspring once he retires.

In the meantime, Caravaggio launched his three year-old season in May at Naas, after a layoff of ten months to heal an injured muscle in his ribcage. Colts coming off such a lengthly break often need a race just to get themselves back into the game:

Aidan O’Brien was well pleased with Caravaggio’s win, letting it be known that the colt would train on as a sprinter,“He’s showed nothing to say he wouldn’t get a mile. We worked him seven furlongs and the petrol gauge never shifted, but I was afraid that he was so quick that it would be the wrong thing to do. We could train him for a mile and go back, but we didn’t want to lose the brilliance.” (QIPCO British Champions Series website)

Appearing at Royal Ascot in June in the Commonwealth Cup, Caravaggio reared up in the stalls just before the start, making his win from mid-pack even more remarkable. It made for a thrilling race, what with Ryan Moore’s tactics as he brilliantly managed Caravaggio and Harry Angel vying for the lead:

But in the Darley July Cup, Caravaggio appeared not to really fire, breaking decidedly flat-footed from the stalls after again rearing up. For a sprinter, a clean break is all and without it, Caravaggio’s chances were compromised right from the start. The colt made an effort to catch the eventual winner Harry Angel near the line, but it was too little too late.

It was his first defeat of his career.

READIES for 3 YO campaign_C777qY8XUAA-D0g.jpg-large

CARAVAGGIO at work at Ballydoyle in 2017. NAAS Racecourse photo.

Prior to the July Cup, the plan was to ship Caravaggio to Australia for the the 10 million (AUS) Everest at Randwick in October, the world’s richest turf race. The Maurice de Gheest on August 6 at Deauville — in which Caravaggio has been entered with a string of other Ballydoyle colts — may be a real possibility, but at this writing has yet to be confirmed. Depending on how the colt fares in the Maurice de Gheest, a decision will be made about shipping him to Australia and, possibly, to California for the BC Mile.

It only adds to the drama of the sport that Caravaggio lost the July Cup. For trainer O’Brien and Coolmore, losing is as much a part of racing as winning; it’s the mental strength and ability of their champion colts and fillies that count most.

“It was one of those days, they are only flesh and blood and we’ll look forward to him the next day,” O’Brien reflected, following Caravaggio’s loss.

Newmarket_July 2017_20374219_10155493105214242_5940887425068674360_n

CARAVAGGIO being cooled down after the Darley July Cup.

There is nothing to indicate that Caravaggio hasn’t trained on into his three year-old season: if anything, he’s a stronger and more confident colt. The acting up in the stalls will be addressed at Ballydoyle and once that’s corrected, he should be back to his best form in a sport that abounds with talented sprinters worldwide. To take the crown, Caravaggio will need to be the best of them and, as his connections know, that is no small feat.

If Caravaggio has indeed been kissed by an American legend, he won’t disappoint. In fact, he should fly over any turf under any conditions, powered by a grandsire whose heart never quit:



“Here he is … the immortal Holy Bull” Retired from stallion duties, Holy Bull parades at Darley in July 2012 for his many fans:

Darley’s stallion promo for Holy Bull:



¹ Haskin, Steve. The Blood Horse (online): Farewell To A Friend: RIP Holy Bull. June 8, 2017.

² Jones, Kathleen. “At Home With Holy Bull” in Thoroughbred Champions: For the Fans of the Horse in Racing, March 1996, Vol.3, No.2

³–¹ Durst, Joseph. Horse Racing: “Holy Bull Is Retired After Injury To Leg.” The New York Times, February 12, 1995.

³–² Durso, Joseph. Thoroughbred Racing: “Well Wishes For A Retiree In Barn 3.” The New York Times, February 13, 1995.

Aidan O’Brien Fan Site: http://www.aidanobrienfansite.com

Betts, David. Photography: https://www.facebook.com/davidbettsphotos/?fref=ts

Hunter, Avalyn. American Classic Pedigrees. http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com

A special thank you to Tom Durkin, for giving me a title for this article; to David Betts, for permission to feature a few of his fabulous photos; to Paul Rhodes of the Aidan O’Brien Fan Site for his support. 

*************************************************************************************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.



By the end of 2017 Royal Ascot, Scat Daddy was back in the news. With four winners over five days, he was the top sire at Ascot. Some of us weren’t surprised. 

The great Mick Kinane gives JOHANNESBURG a well-deserved pat after the 2 year-old’s win the the 2001 BC Juvenile.


As in education, the thoroughbred sport and industry owes its sensibility to the metaphor of the machine, that which produces and reproduces a perfect product. But this mechanistic process and the lexicon that frames it take little account of what real development looks like.

In “machine dreams,” an individual with genuine ability is expected to develop along an established continuum, reaching their apex at an appropriate, pre-established moment. In thirty-six years in education, I had few students that arrived at their very best exactly before their final evaluation was issued, and I doubt that thoroughbreds are any different. Development does not proceed along a linear path; rather, it is iterative, moving forward and circling back, only to move forward again.


So it is that neither Johannesburg nor his son, Scat Daddy conform to expectations that accrue to a smooth, linear and machine-like development. The former was a brilliant two year-old who never rose to the same heights as a three year-old. Scat Daddy was a promising colt whose career was cut short in his second season and who then, as a consequence, joined the ranks of young sires who need much support to make any mark at all in the sales ring. Thanks largely to the positive reception both got in South America, their careers as stallions were able to flourish.


The daughter of HYPERION is the grandam of NORTHERN DANCER. Source: France Galop

The science of breeding itself is fraught with imponderables in which success often takes decades. Prince Khalid Abdullah cultivated his stock for thirty-five years before the arrival of Frankel. Galileo’s story began when a pregnant mare, Lady Angela, a daughter of Hyperion, stepped off a steamer in Toronto, Canada. Her foal, Nearctic, would sire Northern Dancer. Tapit took three generations to arrive on the scene and even then, having only managed two stakes wins before his retirement and an “up and down” three year-old campaign, could well have been ignored by breeders.

Scan any pedigree and it emerges with startling clarity: how the genes of their ancestors cross and inter-lace like the most exquisite of tapestries in the making of a thoroughbred. It would appear that the breed owes far more to the process of iterative development than it does to the mathematics of Euclid.



In the 2001 Breeders Cup, the juvenile that sparked the most interest was Coolmore’s Johannesburg, a son of Hennessy (Storm Cat) out of Myth (Ogygian).

Johannesburg came to North America a champion two year-old, undefeated in six starts, with wins in the UK and Europe:

In 2001, what the Storm Cats shared on either side of the Atlantic was blazing speed, suggesting a strong sprinter profile. Johannesburg’s sire, Hennessy, had only raced at two and therefore had no three year-old form, even though he was considered the best of Storm Cat’s sons at stud at the time.

The colt’s dam, Island Kitty, a daughter of Hawaii, certainly came from a stamina background.

Hawaii, bred in South Africa, was purchased by Charles Engelhardt of Nijinsky fame after a championship season in South Africa and raced to stardom in the USA, winning the United Nations H., Man O’ War S. (NTR), Stars And Stripes H., Sunrise H., and the Bernard Baruch H. as a five year-old. He stood at Claiborne Farm upon his retirement.

As a broodmare, Island Kitty not only produced Hennessy, but got Shy Tom (Blushing Groom) an earner of over 800,000 USD who became a very successful sire in Argentina, plus two very good fillies in Pearl City (Carson City) and Wild Kitty (Bold Bidder).

ISLAND KITTY with her BFF TERLINGUA in the background. Photo and copyright (I believe) Audrey Crosby McLellan.


HAWAII, beautifully depicted by the late Richard Stone Reeves.


HENNESSY_Lynn Kryston_

HENNESSY during his racing career. Photo and copyright Lisa Kryston.

Bringing their undefeated juvenile to a Breeders Cup was a smart strategic move on the part of the Coolmore “lads” and a means of enhancing Johannesburg’s future as a stallion prospect. But the gamble was huge: the colt had only ever raced at 6f on the turf and would now be asked to take on 8.5f on the dirt at Belmont. It was the test of a champion.

In brilliant style, Johannesburg handed O’Brien and Coolmore their first Breeders Cup Juvenile win, showing that he could stay the distance — and win under conditions that were brand new to him.

Even though Tiznow would come back to win an unprecedented second Breeders Cup Classic in 2001 and in so doing, help to heal the hearts of America in the year of 9-11, for many it was Johannesburg’s win that stood out as the race of BC 2001.

JOHANNESBURG the stallion. Conformation shot, JBIS.

Breathtaking as his juvenile campaign had been, resulting in both the Cartier and Eclipse 2001 Two Year-Old Championships, 2002 was not a good year for Johannesburg. Trainer O’Brien would later admit that he may well have pushed the colt too far too fast in 2001: Johannesburg’s three year-old season ended with a second in the Gladness Stakes as his best performance. In the 2002 Kentucky Derby he was unplaced, finishing eighth. It was better than half the rest of the field, but it made a poor impression on those who remembered his brilliance at two and half-expected him to blaze to victory again.

Retired to Ashford Stud in Kentucky, Johannesburg joined Giant’s Causeway as the “British contingent,” the idea being that despite a poor three year-old season, the colt would appeal to American breeders. During this time, he also shuttled to Coolmore Australia, as well as to Argentina.

JOHANNESBURG at Ashford Stud, Kentucky.

However, despite producing Scat Daddy (USA), Teuflesburg (USA), Baroness Thatcher (USA), Sageburg (IRE) and Turffontein (AUS) from his very first crop in 2004, and earning Leading Freshman Sire of 2006 in the USA, the decision was made in 2009 to sell Johannesburg to the Japanese Bloodhorse Breeders Association.

Off he went to Shizunai Stallion Station on the island of Hokkaido where he stands with notables like Cape Blanco, Came Home, Aldebaran, Squirtle Squirt and the more recent acquisitions, Creator and Eskendereya.


HELENA BAY (2006) and one of her foals. Source: Pedigree Query

Red Jazz (USA), Horai Akiko (JPN), Juhaya (ARG) and Once Were Wild (AUS) top the list of Johannesburg’s best later progeny and in 2013 Johannesburg was crowned Japanese Champion Freshman Sire. As a BM sire, he is represented by two very good offspring out of Baroness Thatcher (who now is part of Katsumi Yoshida’s broodmare band) in Hilda (JPN) and Night Baron (JPN). Another daughter, Helena Bay, who raced in Canada, produced Collected (2013), who just ran to a stunning win in the Precisionist Stakes (June 24, 2017):

Still active at the age of eighteen, Johannesburg has become a sire of sires, principally through sons Sageburg (Peace Burg and Si Sage), Turffontein (Fontein Ruby, Lyuba, Fontiton) Teuflesburg (Trinniberg, Nofinancingneeded, ), Marcavelly (Killin Me Smalls, Quidi Vidi) and Scat Daddy.



SCAT DADDY at stud. Photo: Ashford/Coolmore

Based on earnings and stud record, it is Scat Daddy who stands out as his sire’s best son.

Out of the unraced Love Style (Mr. Prospector), Scat Daddy was bred by the Swiss publisher and racing enthusiast Alex Ward. The bay colt came into the world in 2004. He took his name not from the scat of the jazz world, but from his owner, James T. Scatuorchio, a Wall Street banker, for whom he was purchased by trainer Todd Pletcher as a yearling for $250,000 USD.

Inbred 4X2 to Mr. Prospector and 5X4 to Northern Dancer, Scat Daddy was a product of two powerful influences stemming from both his sire line and female family. The incomparable Mr. Prospector was an American sire who knew no equal. American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner, is a direct line descendant and the 32nd American classic winner who descends from Mr. Prospector. And the Northern Dancer influence is well documented.

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The best of the best: MR. PROSPECTOR.

In his two year-old campaign, Scat Daddy broke his maiden at first asking and then went on to win the prestigious Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, where he beat another son of Johannesburg in Teuflesburg. It was an impressive rally for a colt making only his second start, and it caught the attention of Coolmore’s Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, who immediately purchased a share in him.

After running second to Coolmore’s Circular Quay in the Hopeful, Scat Daddy returned to Belmont to take the Champagne Stakes from another very promising two year-old, Nobiz Like Shobiz:

Winning the Sanford and the Champagne are major steps to becoming a serious prospect on the “Triple Crown Trail” that begins with the Kentucky Derby. Scat Daddy wrapped up his juvenile season by finishing second overall on the Experimental Free Handicap to another brilliant two year-old, Street Sense.

Scat Daddy on track

SCAT DADDY during his racing career. Source: internet. No other information available.

With the rest of the Pletcher stable, Scat Daddy went off to winter in Florida. Two races run there that are considered key indicators for three year-old colts on the Triple Crown Trail are the G2 Fountain of Youth and the G1 Florida Derby.

After a third place finish to Nobiz Like Shobiz and Stormello in the Holy Bull Stakes (his first start as a three year-old) Scat Daddy reappeared in the Fountain of Youth:

In the mean time, the Carl Nafzger-trained Street Sense (Street Cry X Bedazzle by Dixieland Band), also wintering in Florida, took the Tampa Bay Derby, defeating another very good colt in Any Given Saturday (Distorted Humor X Weekend in Indy by A.P. Indy). Street Sense had won the Breeders Cup Juvenile at two and the win was also a new track record for the distance.

March also brought another promising three year-old into the limelight. Curlin (Smart Strike X Sherriff’s Deputy by Deputy Minister) was unraced at two, due largely to court battles involving his owners and trainer Ken McPeek. By March 2007, the colt’s new owners were a racing partnership headed by Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Farm. His debut in February as a maiden was an absolute stunner for his connections and his trainer, Steve Asmussen:

Back Curlin came in March to win the Rebel Stakes in Arkansas, before going on to win the Arkansas Derby by 8 lengths a few short weeks later. In the first three races of his career, Curlin had vanquished the field by a combined 28 1/2 lengths.

Back at the Pletcher barn, Scat Daddy was being readied for a start in the G1 Florida Derby, run five weeks before the Kentucky Derby. The son of Johannesburg came through to win decisively, stamping his ticket to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May:

On Kentucky Derby day, Curlin and Street Sense were installed as favourites.. And, besides Scat Daddy, there were other challengers who could well upset the favourites: Hard Spun (Danzig), Nobiz Like Shobiz (Albert The Great), Stormello (Stormy Atlantic), Any Given Saturday, Teuflesburg (Johannesburg), Circular Quay (Thunder Gulch) and Tiago (Pleasant Tap).

Scat Daddy would have his work cut out for him. He broke from post position fourteen in the twenty horse field:

Scat Daddy finished up fourteenth. The fact that the brilliant Curlin only managed to get up for third didn’t help ease the disappointment. Shortly thereafter came the news that, having been bumped and jostled back, Scat Daddy had sustained a tendon injury to his right foreleg during the race.

Tendon injuries can heal, but as it would take at least ninety days, the colt would miss most of the key races that remained in 2007. Scat Daddy was retired to Ashford Stud in Kentucky with a record of 9-5-1-1 and earnings of over one million USD.

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SCAT DADDY at Ashford Stud in Kentucky. Photo: Ashford/Coolmore

Could Ashford have predicted that Scat Daddy’s explosive turn of foot would rate as a footnote to his qualities as a sire?

The young sire didn’t come out blazing with his first crop, as have young stallions like Coolmore’s Uncle Mo, and perhaps because of the parallels to his sire’s career on the track, American breeders were wary. By 2011, when Scat Daddy sat atop the American freshman sire list, his stud fee had plummeted from $30,000 to just $11,000 USD.

Looking to give the son of Johannesburg a decent chance at stud, Coolmore cast its eye around the globe. Australia didn’t seem an option, since Johannesburg’s record there had been dismal, although he had gotten two stakes winners in Turffontein and Once Were Wild.

The decision was made to shuttle Scat Daddy to Chile, to Haras Paso Nevado. It turned out to be fortuitous: so influential did he prove when teamed up with Chilean bloodstock that Scat Daddy topped the Chilean Champion sire list for two consecutive years, from 2013-2015. The “Galileo of Chile” — as he was dubbed by Chilean breeders — made such a splash that in 2012 his full brother, Grand Daddy, was acquired (on loan) to stand at another Chilean breeder, Haras Mocito Guapo. And although Grand Daddy hardly tore up the tracks in the USA, in Chile he is well on his way to becoming a smashing sire, just like his big brother.

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Notable Scat Daddy progeny in Chile include the millionaire Dacita, as well as Cimalta, Southern Cat, Wapi, Solaria, Il Campione and The Dream. In the same week as Royal Ascot 2017, Ruby Love (#17 in white noseband below) gave her sire another Grade One winner when capturing the Clasico Arturo Lyon Pena in Santiago (Chile). Ruby Love remains undefeated in three starts and looks to be another exciting Scat Daddy filly:

In America and Great Britain, Scat Daddy made his first big splash in 2012 with sons Handsome Mike, Daddy Long Legs and Daddy Nose Best and daughter, Lady of Shamrock.

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LADY OF SHAMROCK’S first foal, the filly SILENT WAR (War Front) was a maiden winner in France in June 2017. SILENT WAR is owned by Wertheimer & Frere and trained by the great Freddy Head.

Handsome Mike winning the 2012 Pennsylvania Derby for owner Paul Reddam. Retired with winnings in excess of a million USD, he now stands at stud in Florida:

In 2013, Scat Daddy’s stars of 2012 were joined by No Nay Never, Dice Flavor, Frac Daddy and Solaria.

2014 brought El Kabeir to the table in the USA, while American-bred Acapulco shone at Royal Ascot. A brilliant juvenile, Zayat Stables El Kabeir was a 2015 Kentucky Derby favourite but was withdrawn due to injury. Below, two year-old El Kabeir makes a stunning debut at Saratoga:

As 2014 drew to a close, breeders, owners and racing fans around the globe were beginning to sit up and take notice of Scat Daddy progeny.

Then, on December 14, 2015, tragedy struck: as he was led out of his paddock at Ashford, Scat Daddy dropped dead of an apparent heart attack. He was only eleven years old.


SCAT DADDY at Ashford in Kentucky. His premature death at the age of eleven shocked and saddened his owners together with breeders and thoroughbred enthusiasts around the world.

Through 2016 and 2017, the deep significance of Scat Daddy’s loss has become painfully apparent. His progeny were making their mark around the world, but it was on the big stage of Royal Ascot 2016 that two of his offspring dazzled.

Looking for all the world like his sire, Coolmore’s Caravaggio showed a speedy turn of foot to win the Coventry Stakes. But the race that sparked the most chatter was Lady Aurelia’s Queen Mary win  — and not only because she was an American-bred. Since Frankel, there had not been such a dominant performance by any two year-old at Royal Ascot:

If Royal Ascot 2016 was a credit to Scat Daddy, 2017 was an absolute triumph.

He ended the Ascot meet with more winners than any other stallion: Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup, Lady Aurelia in the  King’s Stand, Con Te Partiro in the  Sandringham and Sioux Nation in the Norfolk.

Trained by Wesley Ward and under the brilliant American jockey, John Velazquez, Lady Aurelia returned to the site of her juvenile victory to take the King’s Stand in breathtaking style. (Lady Aurelia #18 in the black & green silks):

Coolmore’s undefeated Caravaggio was a brilliant winner of the Commonwealth Cup. For those mourning the recent loss of his American BM sire, Holy Bull, who had died on June 8, Caravaggio’s victory was particularly poignant:

In Japan, on the last day of Ascot 2017, Scat Daddy landed his 9th winner from 12 starters in that country when two year-old Derma Kaseki (ex Tashawak by Night Shift) won at Hakodate in a thriller of a finish. About the same time, Inflexibility placed in both the Oaks and the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in Canada for trainer Chad Brown. And early in July, Seahenge broke his maiden at Naas (IRE) for Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore.

DALI(2) by David Betts_.JPG.opt898x598o0,0s898x598

Coolmore has a number of Scat Daddy colts and two year-old DALI is one of them. His BM sire is CAPE CROSS, sire of SEA THE STARS. DALI has made three starts, winning once. There will be more to come from this beautifully bred Scat Daddy. Photo and copyright, David Betts. Used with the permission of David Betts.


There is only one more crop of Scat Daddy foals to come and you can bet that the ones that come up at the sales will be the subject of fierce bidding, with big names like Coolmore and high-profile Japanese breeders leading the charge.There will be no replacing him, but with fine to brilliant progeny around the globe, Scat Daddy will undoubtedly remain an influence on the breed.

And this is how I choose to remember the dark bay colt I so loved: in his wake, echoes take on colour, heart, bone and sinew.

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Bonus Feature:

With jockey Victor Espinoza at Ashford in Kentucky where he visits Scat Daddy:


France Sire visits Giant’s Causeway and Scat Daddy at Ashford (in French voiceover but English is still discernible):



A special thank you to photographer David Betts for permission to use his photos (https://www.facebook.com/davidbettsphotos/) and to Paul Rhodes of http://www.aidanobrienfansite.com for his kindness in contacting David on my behalf.

Hunter,Avalyn.Scat Daddy.American Classic Pedigrees


Vlcek, Miloslav. Hennessey And His Line.On Black Type Pedigree


The Racing Post for stud records of Johannesburg and Scat Daddy.


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Imagine, if you will, the world of thoroughbred racing without sires like Northern Dancer, Sunday Silence, Halo, Mr. Prospector, Seattle Slew or their descendants: Sadler’s Wells, A.P. Indy, Galileo, Tapit, Sebring, Deep Impact, Medaglia d’Oro, Snitzel, Dubawi, King Kamehameha,  or the late Street Cry…………. 

Named the top two year-old of the last century (John Randall and Tony Morris in ” A Century of Champions”) The Tetrarch ran only as a juvenile and proved a shy, disinterested stud, siring only 130 foals before retiring to become a pleasure horse.

Remarkably, his influence is such that The Tetrarch appears in the pedigrees of most modern thoroughbreds worldwide, making him a huge influence on the breed. Each entry in the 2017 Kentucky Derby carried The Tetrarch in his pedigree. And you can bet that the winners at Royal Ascot 2017 have a 95% or better chance of carrying The Tetrarch in their pedigrees too.

The Tetrarch might well have been the very best there ever was. 


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THE TETRARCH displays his famous chubari, or Tetrarch, spots. In the early decades of the last century, these markings were so strange that they sometimes inspired fear among the superstitious. Shown here as a two year-old.


Of course, The Tetrarch did not rise to legendary status on his own. He was an unruly individual and it took three other equally tough, Irish characters — the renowned trainer Henry “Atty” Persse, stable lad Dick McCormick and the legendary jockey, Steve Donaghue — to get him right.

But before Atty, Dick or Steve laid eyes on him, The Tetrarch began life as the offspring of a stallion described as a “plodder,” who had been purchased by one Edward Kennedy of Straffon Stud in County Kildare, Ireland. Kennedy was a rich cattle owner who developed a taste for thoroughbreds and was determined to revive the Herod male line in Great Britain. This determination may well have stemmed from the fact that Herod was a direct descendant of the Byerly Turk, who, with his owner, Captain Robert Byerly of the Sixth Dragoon Guards, had spent time in Ireland in the late seventeenth century. In 1690, records show that the “Byerly charger” won a flat race, the Silver Bell,  on Down Royal in Northern Ireland.

The BYERLY TURK, one of three sire lines to which all thoroughbreds can be traced.



HEROD, together with MATCHEM and ECLIPSE, is a foundation sire of the thoroughbred breed. HEROD was a direct descendant of the BYERLY TURK.

Herod (originally King Herod, 1758-1780) is one of three foundation stallions from which the thoroughbred descends. Like the better-known Eclipse, Herod was also bred by Prince William, The Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George II.

Herod is the foundation sire who represents the Byerly Turk sire line and he was a fine racehorse who began his career as a five year-old, the usual age that thoroughbreds started their racing careers in the eighteenth century. He raced until he was eight, winning at a preferred distance of four miles in several races at Newmarket. But it was really as a sire that Herod would make his lasting contribution to the sport. Although he sits very far back in The Tetrarch’s pedigree, Rouge Rose, a direct descendant of Herod appears in the colt’s pedigree on both top and bottom.

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Always on the lookout for a Herod descendant, Edward Kennedy finally found a horse that caught his eye at Doncaster in 1909, where the French-bred Roi Herode finished in second place in the Doncaster Cup. This race was arguably Roi Herode’s absolutely best lifetime performance and Kennedy bought him, intending to race the five year-old for at least another year before sending him to the breeding shed. But, as luck would have it, Roi Herode broke down shortly thereafter.

The breeding season was almost over, so Kennedy bred him to one of his own mares, Vahren, a granddaughter of the great Bend Or, another Herod descendant. But Kennedy’s expectations regarding the union were likely moderate. Vahren had produced two decent fillies before The Tetrarch, but neither could have been considered brilliant.


VAHREN, by the 2000 Guineas winner BONA VISTA (BEND OR) was lightly raced, winning only three minor races before retirement.

The Tetrarch came into the world on April 22, 1911 as a chestnut with dark spots. It is an irony in the narrative of so many great thoroughbreds that they are often dismissed at birth by their breeders for any number of reasons, including their lack of beauty. And The Tetrarch was no different: not particularly appealing as a youngster, his “coarse looks” were only exacerbated by the changes in his coat. Already huge for his age at six months, the emergence of a peculiar grey coat made him look distinctly odd, so much so that this was all anyone really seemed to notice about him. The youngster’s coat featured huge Chubari (later renamed “Tetrarch”) spots that gave an overall appearance described best by Steve Donaghue:  “…he was a sort of elephant grey with big splotches of lime colour, looking as though someone had splashed him all over with handfuls of wet lime…” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 138)

Little surprise, then, when a fellow horseman advised Kennedy to geld the yearling and train him for the chase, rather than send him to the sales at Doncaster.

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THE TETRARCH as he may have looked during his racing career.

But Edward Kennedy had his mind made up and off the colt went to auction, where he was promptly purchased by Henry Seymour aka “Atty” Persse. Of course, Kennedy had a pretty good idea that the hammer would fall to the trainer. Atty had conditioned both Roi Herode for Kennedy, as well as the colt’s half-sister, Nicola, and the trainer liked the family. The colt was, as Atty saw, well-made with a broad, intelligent head and looked like a 3 year-old. However, Atty wasn’t the only bidder impressed by the Roi Herode-Vahren colt and he had to go to 1300 guineas to secure him. But, as was usual for the trainer, Atty planned to sell The Tetrarch on at a higher price, thus making a profit, albeit a small one, given the handsome sum he had originally paid. Before the year was out, Atty had sold The Tetrarch to his cousin, Major Dermot McAlmont. He made no profit on the transaction.

Atty was forty-three years old when he first laid eyes on The Tetrarch. The Persse family of County Galway were large in number and wealthy. They had interests in everything from real estate to local governance to high culture. The fifth of ten children, Atty was brought up like an aristocrat, graduating from Oxford with an M.A. before turning his heel on England and heading off to America to ride steeplechasers with the Meadowbrook Hounds. Returning to his homeland, Atty continued to build a reputation over courses in Great Britain and Europe until debilitating injuries put an end to his riding career.



In 1902, he began training horses in a yard near Dublin and by 1906 he had set himself up on the downs at Chattis Hill near Stockbridge in Hampshire, England. Atty already had a reputation for excellence well before The Tetrarch came along, but his relationship with his employees has been variously described as cruel, bloody-minded, mean and dictatorial.

Some speculate that the chronic pain of his jumping injuries may have been largely responsible for this; others, that he was an aristocrat dealing with a dime-a-dozen work force of boys — and treated them accordingly.

His stable lads, most of whom were under fifteen years of age, signed contracts to work for Atty that stipulated what they could and could not do. Working hours were of indeterminate length; sleeping quarters were above the stable, where the boys were locked in overnight; and they entitled to one day off a year. However, there were meals and wages provided, and for boys with neither prospects nor training, this seemed to be enough, even though few lasted for more than a year.

Secrecy was as paramount in Atty’s yard as hard work, mainly because the trainer made a small fortune at betting. A favourite strategy was to place a very good horse that no-one knew anything about in a race where his odds were say, 60-1, and then bet on him/her to win. The resulting income may not have been essential, but Atty really got a kick out of taking the bookmakers to the cleaners.

However, when it came to training thoroughbreds, Atty Persse was arguably a genius. Trainers like Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, the stepfather of the late Sir Henry Cecil, apprenticed under him and considered him comparable to none. (Boyd-Rochfort was Champion British flat racing trainer five times and perhaps most famously, was trainer to George VI, the father of HM Queen Elizabeth II.)

Dick McCormack, one of the lads in Atty’s yard who would rise to the position of head lad and apprentice trainer, attempted to welcome the colt with the funny spots on his arrival, but that proved almost impossible. Given his imposing size, The Tetrarch was so unruly as to be dangerous.

But Dick was one of Atty’s most trusted apprentices and the trainer let him get on with gentling the colt and giving him his early training, begin with lungeing. As The Tetrarch and the boy got to know one another, trust grew. Throughout his brief racing career, Dick was the only other person who could ride The Tetrarch other than jockey and fellow Irishman, Steve Donoghue. According to McCormick’s son, Richard, “My father was one of only two people to ever to ride The Tetrarch…The other one was his racecourse jockey Steve Donoghue who later wrote Dick was the only man able sit on him long enough to stay there. If he hadn’t been around, the horse may well have been cut (gelded) and that would have changed things a lot.” (Excerpt from Colin Greaves’ article in the Irish Examiner, March 2017)


Dick McCormick riding THE TETRARCH. Dick was the only other person to ever ride the colt and knew him best of all.


Even in Dick’s able hands, The Tetrarch had shown something of himself that was rather unique: he essentially trained himself. Jockey Steve Donoghue, who likely heard a recount from Dick McCormick, tells it like this:

“…Even when first in the side-reins, he seemed to know all about it beforehand and to require no teaching, and as for going through the starting-gate, he only saw the tapes once before he ran and won at Newmarket…I always said from the first day I rode him that this was ‘his second time on earth’! He had in my opinion experienced it all before, in everything connected with racing…” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 139)

Atty brought each individual along at their own pace. The Tetrarch was still growing and even when Dick had the colt well in hand, he wasn’t really put into a training regimen, with the result that he was far behind the other two year-olds in the Chattis Hill stable.

As the story is famously told, a day came when Atty asked Dick to saddle up The Tetrarch for a run across the downs with some of the trainer’s other two year-olds.

It was not easy to surprise Atty, but the day of The Tetrarch’s first run sure did.

The colt jumped out with the others and in less than two furlongs, he left them behind in the dust. Atty couldn’t decide if this was a fluke.

tetrarch with ATTY PERSSE and DONOGHUE_

THE TETRARCH, Steve Donoghue up.

So he sent him out again with a very good, seven year-old called Captain Symons whom Atty relied upon to help him cull out really promising youngsters. To make it a fair contest, Atty applied weight-for-age, meaning that The Tetrarch was weighted down with an additional twenty-one lbs. in lead weights. Added to the mix were two other very good horses. In addition, Atty asked jockey Steve Donoghue to ride The Tetrarch for the first time. Off they went and the same thing happened, Steve reporting that the colt almost pulled his arms out of their sockets as he galloped along.

Below, a taste of “the gallops” today. The Tetrarch did his gallops over the grass on the downs near Atty’s stable where there was likely little fencing, as you see here:

The third time out, racing against a very good and speedy four year-old mare, Noramac, Steve thought he heard Atty shouting at him half-way through the trial. As The Tetrarch sailed along, Noramac was nowhere in sight. When jockey and colt returned to the trainer, Donoghue inquired whether or not something was wrong.

To which Atty responded, “Oh, no. I was only shouting to the lad on the mare to tie her onto the grey’s tail!” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 141)

The Tetarch

At two, THE TETRARCH was as big as a four year-old. For this reason, trainer Atty Persse was slow to start his training regime. But it didn’t seem to matter. The colt seemed to know how to do everything without anybody teaching him how to do it.

A rare and lovely silent video of the 1923 Derby at Epsom, won by the great Steve Donoghue and Papyrus. The two would later travel to the USA to race against Zev:

The Tetrarch’s first start came at Newmarket, on April 17, 1913. As might have been expected, Donoghue and the big grey were teased before the race, some asking if The Tetrarch wasn’t actually a much older horse, others referring to him as a “Rocking Horse” because of his unique markings. The pair took it all in good fun.

But when the tape went up, The Tetrarch jumped out, blazing along to take his maiden race by a good four lengths. But it could have been by twenty  — and everyone knew it. Even the other jockeys, riding out after the finish, pronounced The Tetrarch a “wonder-horse.” (Below: The Tetrarch shares a page in The Illustrated London News [1913] with the higly-rated Prince Palatine.)


And so it went all through The Tetrarch’s two year-old season, and the public fell in love with him. One distinguished stakes race after another fell to the “dynamic duo” of British racing: the Coventry, the Champagne, the Woodcote, the Rous Memorial and the National Breeders Produce Stakes.

The last of these saw The Tetrarch’s closest finish — he won it by a neck.

But the reason for that was simple enough to explain and Donoghue did so publicly, in an effort to dispel some of the opinions in the press: The Tetrarch had misjudged the start. The colt was always speedy at the jump out, quick to anticipate when the tape was about to drop. But in the National Breeders Produce Stakes, he moved forward too quickly, forcing Donoghue to pull him back and as he did, the tape went up and the race was on. Leaping forward, The Tetrarch was caught on the shoulder by another horse and nearly toppled forward.

It was a cloudy day and no-one in the stands really saw the start. It was also a holiday, so Sandown Park was packed with people, many of whom had come there to see The Phenom of 1913. Too, it was a valuable race and as the field rushed away from them, Donoghue knew he had to get his colt balanced and then coax him to run.

“Coax” was the operative word: The Tetrarch needed to always be on the lead. He had won every race before this one on the lead because he tended to “sulk” if asked to rate off the pace. By the time that Donoghue had the colt ready to go, the rest of the field was 20 lengths away. By mid-field, the colt had managed to pass two stragglers. With only 100 yards to the finish, The Tetrarch had two lengths to make up. He began a furious charge, with Donoghue urging him on with his hands, to win by a neck.

Many felt it was the best performance of The Tetrarch’s brief career.


Steve Donoghue and “The Spotted Wonder.”

Having ridden many champion thoroughbreds, among them Papyrus, Brown Jack and Captain Cuttle, Steve would always say that The Tetrarch was one of the greatest he ever rode. No small bow from the man who had won six Epsom Derbies, two Epsom Oaks and St. Legers, as well as three 2000 Guineas:

“…He was a magnificent creature — a super-horse. I have never during the whole of my career ridden another horse that gave me the feeling of immense power behind the saddle that The Tetrarch did. The leverage of his hind quarters was so great that as he galloped one was fairly lifted from the saddle. The terrific speed he displayed seem to be all impelled from behind. To be on him was like riding a creature that combined the power of an elephant with the speed of a greyhound. He was, indeed, a ‘wonder-horse.'” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp 139)

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THE TETRARCH winning the Woodcote Stakes, Steve Donoghue up.

The “Spotted Wonder” as he was fondly dubbed enjoyed the popularity of a Zenyatta or a Treve or a Caravaggio. The colt was already in the betting to win most of the three year-old classics, including the Epsom Derby. None expected that the final race of his two year-old season would be his last.

Then, suddenly, it all went terribly wrong.


THE TETRARCH’S two year-old season, captured in photo and drawing.

The Tetrarch had a bad habit of crossing his forelegs — or “plaiting” — when he walked or slowed up after a work or a race. Unable to correct this, Atty Persse had special shoes put on the colt’s forelegs that were shaved back, so that, should he catch himself, The Tetrarch would escape injury. The trainer was quoted as saying that you could “actually hear it” when the colt plaited and that it had been a serious concern since he had first arrived in Persse’s yard.

And it was, indeed, the plaiting that would end The Tetrarch’s career. It first happened shortly after the end of his two year-old campaign. Even pin-firing the foreleg didn’t help, as the colt struck himself again and this time, the injury was career-ending.

In Atty’s view, it was best to retire him and so, with his public jolted from worry to despair about first the silence surrounding their hero’s preparation for his three year-old season and then the announcement of his retirement, the colt was sent back to Ireland, to Thomastown Stud in Kilkenny where he stood his first season in 1915. The following year, The Tetrarch moved to Ballylinch Stud, where he lived until his death in 1935.

The Tetrarch proved an indifferent stud, or a “shy” breeder, siring only 130 foals during his breeding career. Although he never reproduced himself, he got some very good colts and was the leading sire in 1919. One son, Stefan the Great, is a great grandsire in the female family of Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, himself a superb sire and the BM sire of Kelso.

But his most brilliant offspring was “The Flying Filly,” Mumtaz Mahal, who was purchased by the Aga Khan, to whom is owed the founding of a thoroughbred dynasty through the Mumtaz Mahal’s daughters: Mumtaz Begum (Blenheim) dam of Nasrullah (Nearco); Mah Mahal (Gainsborough) dam of Mahmoud (Blenheim); Mah Iran (Bois Roussel) dam of Migoli who sired Gallant Man and also the dam of Star of Iran and grandam of champion Petite Etoile; and Rustom Mahal (Rustom Pasha) dam of Abernant (Owen Tudor), from whom a number of champions of the British turf descend. In the USA, two other daughters of The Tetrarch, La Dauphine who got champion Anita Peabody(Luke McLuke) and Herodias from whom Prince John and Lamb Chop descend, also made their mark.


The brilliant MUMTAZ MAHAL was dubbed “The Flying Filly” by British racegoers. Painting by Lionel Edwards.

But when we say that thoroughbreds worldwide carry The Tetrarch in their pedigrees, including those running in 2017, we refer principally to the overwhelming influence of Nasrullah and Mahmoud on the breed.

From the Nasrullah sire line comes Grey Sovereign, Bold Ruler (sire of Secretariat, grandsire of Spectacular Bid, great grandsire of Seattle Slew, great great grandsire of A.P. Indy), Nashua (BM sire of Mr. Prospector and Roberto), Nantallah (dam of Moccasin, Thong and Ridan, grandam of Nureyev and great grandam of Sadler’s Wells), Red God (sire of Blushing Groom) and Never Bend (sire of Mill Reef, grandsire of Shirley Heights). From this Tetrarch descendant alone comes any thoroughbred who descends from any of Nasrullah’s sons and their individual sire lines.

From the Mahmoud sire line comes most importantly Northern Dancer, through his dam Natalma, a granddaughter of Mahmoud. Any thoroughbred who descends from Northern Dancer — including names like Nijinsky, Sadler’s Wells, Istabraq, Danehill, Galileo, Yeats, and, of course, the mighty Frankel — would never have come to be without some help from The Tetrarch.

In addition, Cosmah (whose sire Cosmic Bomb was also a Tetrarch descendant) out of Almahmoud, Mahmoud’s daughter, was the dam of Queen Sucree (Ribot), herself the dam of Cannonade. The brilliant HOF Tosmah (Tim Tam) was also a daughter of Cosmah. But Cosmah’s most influential progeny was undoubtedly Halo (Hail To Reason) who is, most importantly for this discussion, the sire of Sunday Silence. In other words, the Japanese thoroughbred champions that descend from Sunday Silence, including the prepotent Deep Impact, owe their existence — at least in part — to The Tetrarch as well.

Simply put, the world of contemporary thoroughbred racing would be impossible to imagine without these champions, all descendants of The Tetrarch.

And, for those who only focus on the first five generations of a champion’s pedigree, consider this: without The Tetrarch’s influence, all of the individuals featured here would never have come into being.

And the list goes on and on and on…………

















The Tetrarch. The Spotted Wonder. AuthorHouseuK, 2014

(Note: Yes, The Tetrarch is the narrator of his own biography and that fact led me to debate on reading the book. But when I decided to buy it, I was pleasantly surprised. Beautifully researched and the “horse’s voice” is never soppy or humanized — it’s simply the vehicle for telling The Tetrarch’s astounding story. Available also on Kindle.)

Mortimer, Roger. Twenty Great Horses of the British Turf. New York: A.S. Barnes & Company, Inc., 1967.

Donoghue, Steve. Just My Story. London: Hutchison & Co. No publication date.

Karen, Frances J. The Tetrarch: The Story Behind The Spotted Wonder. In Trainer Magazine, Issue 50, July-September 2015.

Greaves, Colin. Charles Haughey’s Balidaress. In the Irish Examiner, March 30, 2017 edition. (Note: Provided some insight into the story of Dick McCormick, The Tetrarch’s best friend and the person who knew him best.)


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Each year that the Oaks is run, it brings with it different stories and contexts. And if we have a “filly favourite” running, we learn their stories by heart. Some of these narratives stay with us. Join me as I re-memory the fillies and the Oaks runs over the last sixteen years that remain my favourites to this day.

A Brief History of the Kentucky Oaks

Despite the fact that the history of the Kentucky Oaks is as venerable as its twin, the Kentucky Derby, through much of the latter part of the last century it has been treated as the “second” on the card. Yet it’s fair to say that any filly who runs in the Oaks is as exceptional, in every way, as the colts who will run in the Derby on the first Saturday in May. Like the boys, these fillies are the best of their year and, in some Oaks years, even better than the colts that win the Derby.

The first Kentucky Oaks was run in 1875 and won by a filly named Vinaigrette. Its founder was Colonel Meriwether (aka “Lutie”) Lewis Clark, Jr., the grandson of explorer General William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame. The tempestuous Lutie — who would commit suicide after the stock market crash of 1893 — did much to introduce horse racing to America, also founding the Kentucky Derby and the Louisville Jockey Club, as well as supervising the building of Churchill Downs on land purchased by his mother’s family, the Churchills, after which the track takes its name. In Lutie’s eyes the Oaks and Derby would showcase America’s finest thoroughbreds, just as the Epsom Derby and Oaks did in the United Kingdom.

It was a place built to welcome dreams. And it did just that.

Colonel Meriwether aka “Lutie” Lewis Clark, Jr.


My Favourites: Kentucky Oaks 1990 – 2016

These are the Oaks that most moved me over the last quarter of a century. I have never had much interest in comparing the winners, since each filly ran in different contexts unique to her time and circumstance. But there are two qualities the fillies showcased here share: the racing heart that got them to Churchill Downs in the first place, and the courage to take on their peers no matter the challenge.


1990: SEASIDE ATTRACTION (Seattle Slew ex Kamar, by Key To The Mint)

She was a daughter of Seattle Slew out of a Key To The Mint mare, Kamar, but she was decidedly unlucky to be born in the same year as the incomparable Go For Wand.  An over one million dollar Keeneland purchase by William T. Young of Overbrook Farm, Seaside Attraction was trained by D. Wayne Lukas. In the 1990 Oaks, Seaside Attraction would have her work cut out for her: even the legendary Joe Hirsch (in video below) felt the winner was a foregone conclusion. The track was sloppy, but few felt this would hinder Go For Wand, a “filly for the ages.”

(Note: The videotape runs for 41 minutes, but I started it closer to the actual race itself, even though the whole telecast is a treat to watch.)

Hearts were broken on this day, mine among them.

I wanted to see Go For Wand wear the blanket of pink, but her previous start had almost been a walkover, the Churchill track was tiring, and the sheer number of times she had raced as a three year-old may have, indeed, been her Achilles heel. But this takes nothing away from Seaside Attraction, who ran her heart out. And even through my disappointment, I was reminded of the hopefulness that fills the heart in a race of this calibre. It’s the “secret ingredient” of the sport: the knowledge that nothing is certain once the starting gates fly open.


1994: SARDULA (Storm Cat ex Honor An Offer, by Hoist The Flag)

In 1994, Sardula was Jerry and Ann Moss’ Kentucky Oaks filly. The daughter of Storm Cat, like her grandam Terlingua, had been a hot-blooded two year-old and trainer Brian Mayberry had invested hours and hours into teaching her how to relax. This is another “secret ingredient” of racing: colts and fillies that don’t relax when they run are unlikely to do their best work. Too, the risk of injury is far greater when a thoroughbred is wound up too tight.

A year earlier, at Del Mar, Sardula broke into racing with a 10-length victory. A month after that, she won the Del Mar Debutante by 7 1/2 lengths. In April, after a layoff of almost four months, she won the Santa Paula Stakes at Santa Anita by 8 1/2 lengths. And only a month before the Oaks, at Hollywood Park, Sardula won the Princess by 5 1/2. All very Terlingua-like. Sardula was a speedball and she came into the Oaks a multiple-stakes winner. Regular jockey Eddie Delahoussaye would again be in the irons.

But despite earnings of over $800,000, Sardula didn’t start as the Oaks favourite. That honour went to another outstanding filly: Lakeway.

I was, of course, in Sardula’s camp and principally because of my lifelong love for Terlingua. But Sardula’s courage in battling Lakeway to the wire is something I will never forget. It is the mark of a champion and was to be Sardula’s final legacy. Later that year, the filly was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, a painful bone disease. Despite the efforts of veterinary facilities in Kentucky and California, the magnificent Sardula could not be saved. She is buried in California, on the grounds of the veterinary facility where she was humanely euthanized.


1999: SILVERBULLETDAY (Silver Deputy ex. Rockeby Rose by Tom Rolfe


Like so many Oaks contenders, Silverbulletday had a spectacular fan following before she even stepped onto the track at Churchill Downs. Under Bob Baffert’s guidance and in the skilled hands of Gary Stevens, Silverbulletday had won top honours as the Two Year-old Eclipse Champion filly in 1998. As a juvenile, she had raced on the East and West coasts but seemed to prefer the former to the latter, resulting in her being permanently moved to Churchill Downs. There, she reeled off another three straight wins including the G2 Alcibiades and the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Silverbulletday’s three year-old campaign was as brilliant as her accomplishments at two. She annexed the Ashland, Black-Eyed Susan, Monmouth BC and Fair Grounds Oaks, the Gazelle, Alabama and Davona Dale Stakes, losing out to Beautiful Pleasure in the Beldame. Her achievement resulted in an Eclipse Award that year. She raced at four but was less accomplished, retiring at the end of the season with over three million USD in earnings. In 2009, she was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.

Silverbulletday was a hard-working filly and an honest one. Those who loved her during her racing years loved everything about her, but it was her honesty that won my heart. She always gave everything she had and that determination was breathtaking to witness.



2004: ASHADO (Saint Ballado ex. Goulash, by Mari’s Book)

Ashado: I loved her name and everything about her. She was the first filly in the twenty-first century that I thought of as “My Girl.”

Ashado didn’t win every race at two, running against some powerful competition in Society Selection and Halfbridled, winner of the 2004 BC Juvenile Fillies. But she never gave up either, even though Todd Pletcher cited “morning laziness” ( the filly was so resistant that trainer Pletcher felt guilty working her at all) and the fact that Ashado got bored on the lead as probable causes for the races she lost. Context in the year a thoroughbred races has a direct impact on how they do. And in 2004, Ashado went up against the likes of Storm Flag Flying, Nebraska Tornado, Madcap Escapade and Stellar Jane. But her wins in the Oaks and BC Distaff that year were gutsy and brilliant, earning her Eclipse Champion Three Year-Old honours.

Ashado raced on at four, winning three G1’s, before her retirement in 2005. In 2014, “My Girl” was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.




2007: RAGS TO RICHES (A.P. Indy ex. Better Than Honour, by Deputy Minister)

How could you ignore Rags? Although arguably not the most cuddly of personalities, Rags To Riches’ courage — some might say “sheer bloody mindedness” — swept all before her, even the mighty Curlin, whom she defeated in the 2007 Belmont Stakes, despite bobbling at the gate. Everything about this filly was bigger than life, from her size to her stride to her determination to win. Those devoted to A.P. Indy saw in this burly, chestnut daughter a fitting testimonial to an outstanding sire nearing the end of his stud career. And, of course, she was all that, defeating the 2006 Eclipse Champion Two Year-Old and BC Juvenile Fillies winner, Dreaming of Anna, in the Kentucky Oaks.


Rags’ defeat of Curlin and Hard Spun in the Belmont Stakes just a few weeks later was a heart-pounding, gut-wrenching battle to the wire that few will ever forget. It was the first time that a filly had won the gruelling classic in over a hundred years.

Following a number of minor injuries, Rags To Riches was retired in 2008 with in excess of one million USD in earnings.

Rags never gave me that “warm and fuzzy” feeling. I didn’t dream of meeting her, or of giving her peppermints as I stroked her head. But she was greatness on four feet, the kind of thoroughbred whose refusal to be headed bespoke a will of iron. It was her weapon and she used it fiercely, like the Warrior Queens of myth and history. Boadicea would have happily ridden her into battle, that’s for certain.




2009: RACHEL ALEXANDRA (Medaglia d’Oro ex. Lotta Kim, by Roar)

It will be impossible for me to ever watch another Kentucky Oaks without carrying Rachel in my heart. Even though she would go on to great heights, culminating with her induction into the American Racing Hall of Fame in 2016, it is the Kentucky Oaks that I still watch, over and over again. With her mane flying, down the home stretch she came — and she owned me, body and soul, from that day forward. That race, at least for me, defined her. Bred by Dolphus Morrison, trained by Hal Wiggins and ridden by Calvin Borel, Rachel’s Oaks was also a victory for small breeding enterprises and successful, hard-working trainers and jockeys who seldom tumble into the spotlight.

It is so hard to know why some fillies go straight to your heart while others, themselves beautiful and brilliant, don’t. But in Rachel’s case, it was the kind of feeling associated with those of us who see in horses something otherworldly, embodying an essence that transports the human spirit. Watching her, I was overwhelmed by the conviction that this is what it must have been like to actually see a Man O’ War or Count Fleet in action. Too, I was reminded of Secretariat’s Belmont, of the exaltation of the soul watching a great thoroughbred running for the sheer love of it.

Watching Rachel cantering home on Oaks day, I was the little girl who played with Breyers and made up stories about them, and who shortened long trips in the car by imagining a beautiful, powerful horse running along beside me, jumping fences and floating over fields high with corn.

Rachel Alexandra took me home.


2010: BLIND LUCK (Pollard’s Vision ex Lucky One by Best of Luck, a son of Broad Brush out of Crowned, by Chief’s Crown)

The anticipation going in to the 2010 Oaks was huge. Two great fillies, Evening Jewel and Blind Luck, were anticipated to face-off in the run for the pink. Blind Luck’s come-from-behind running style was always risky, although she had won the Las Virgennes and the Fantasy by a hair’s breadth and would go on, after the Oaks, to victories of the same genre. Evening Jewel had the more conventional running form, moving into mid-pack and rating just off the pace before striking out for home. Blind Luck went into the Oaks’ the favourite, but I held my breath as the race got underway:

The challenge that Blind Luck and Evening Jewel threw down bespoke magnificence. Two brilliant fillies — one sweeping to the front from the tail of the field — going head to head, as the wire drew ever closer. For anyone unsure as to what “heart of a thoroughbred” looks like, this is it.


2011: PLUM PRETTY (Medaglia d’Oro ex Liszy, be A.P. Indy)

It was a young Martin Garcia and trainer, Bob Baffert, in the spotlight in 2011 when they brought Plum Pretty to the winner’s circle in the Oaks. I tuned in to see Zazu, Daisy Devine and Joyful Victory, and I don’t really remember knowing much about Plum Pretty, even though I was wise enough to respect any filly that Bob Baffert brought to the Oaks. Like so many Medaglia d’Oro’s, she was a striking filly with lots of scope and a fine head. But for all that, what lay within on that first Friday in May was so much more:



Plum’s Oaks might not have conjured the stuff of legend: she hung on to just win it. But the willingness to hang on, to do your very best, is a quality bred into the best thoroughbreds — and this was the signature of Plum Pretty’s 2011 Kentucky Oaks.




2013: PRINCESS OF SYLMAR (Majestic Warrior by A.P. Indy X Storm Dixie by Catienus, a son of Storm Cat)

Dreamers make-up at least 85% of the constituency of horse racing. These are the folks who take risks because they really believe that anything is possible and that dreams can come true.

Princess of Sylmar is a dreamer’s elixir: a filly who lacked a trendy pedigree and throughout most of her early, brilliant career was ignored because of it. Bred in Pennsylvania by Ed Stanco, “The Princess” raced in Stanco’s colours for his King of Prussia stable and was trained by Todd Pletcher.

In her second start at two, The Princess won a race at Penn National by nineteen lengths before moving to Aqueduct, where she won an allowance race by four under jockey, Rajiv Maragh. At this point, the filly was one of those hard-working girls running in small races that nobody much notices.

The filly kicked off 2013 with combined wins of fourteen plus lengths in the Busher and Busanda Stakes under jockey Javier Castellano. Moved up in class in The Gazelle, The Princess went down to defeat to Close Hatches and the loss caught people’s attention, likely resulting in her starting in the Oaks at 38:1 odds.

In a way, it was easy to ignore Princess of Sylmar, since the field included the Two Year-Old Eclipse Champion, Beholder. Too, both Dreaming of Julia and Close Hatches had distinguished themselves as very good fillies.

The start was unkind to Beholder, who fell in the Post Parade, throwing jockey Garrett Gomez. When the race was over, Gomez saluted Beholder for the way she had regained her composure, although he knew that she had quite possibly lost her Oaks at the gate. Dreaming of Julia got smacked at the jump out by Rose To Gold, impeding her chances of winning as well.


But was Princess of Sylmar’s win a fluke, at the expense of Beholder and Dreaming of Julia? It’s possible, but she defined herself in subsequent authoritative wins in the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Alabama and the Beldame, where she beat champion Royal Delta. When she finally met up with Beholder again, in the BC Distaff, The Princess failed to produce the kind of performance we had all come to expect from her. But, then again, she had had a long season by current standards.

Retired at the end of her four year-old season, Princess of Sylmar was sold to Shadai in Japan, where she delivered a colt by super stud Deep Impact in 2016. Princess of Sylmar was reportedly bred back to Deep Impact for 2017.


2016: CATHRYN SOPHIA (Street Boss by Street Cry X Sheave by Mineshaft) 

She was another filly who, though not ignored by the punters, languished in the background, largely because of the hopes tied to Rachel Alexandra’s talented daughter by Bernardini, Rachel’s Valentina. And like so many who tuned in to watch that day, I was practically willing Rachel’s daughter to follow in her dam’s footsteps.

Cathryn Sophia was trained by the great John Servis, who conditioned Smarty Jones, another love of mine. Even though I favoured Rachel’s Valentina, my respect for Servis meant that I always paid attention to his runners and Cathryn Sophia was, indeed, very impressive. But when I read a column that quoted Servis as wondering whether or not his filly would stay the distance, I kind of pushed Cathryn Sophia off my radar. After all, her sire was a sprinter and Sheave, a daughter of Mineshaft (A.P. Indy) had beautiful bloodlines but Cathryn Sophia was her first foal.

Too, it was not as if there weren’t other serious challengers: notably, Land Over Sea, Lewis Bay and Terra Promessa, although the latter’s front-running style made her chances of taking it more risky than those of the other two.

But the Oaks played to Cathryn Sophia’s advantage, and Rachel’s Valentina seemed to have no more to give once the field turned for home. It was a thrilling finish, as the daughter of Street Boss danced away from the rest of the field:

Cathryn Sophia was retired in 2016, after a third place finish to Songbird in the G1 Cotillon. She was bred to Pioneerof the Nile in 2017.

With Cathryn Sophia’s win I was reminded of those fickle racing gods, who never fail to make me doubt myself, while assuring that each Kentucky Oaks is an adventure in its own right.



Thoroughbred racing is more often than not the theatre par excellence of sports. With their rich history and tradition, classic races like the Oaks are punctuated by triumph and loss, and the promise of hope and possibility. The dramatis personae may change from one year to the next, but the tone and message endure.

On Oaks day, these elements help to construct a rare opportunity — that of slipping away from daily cares to take your place in a country of dreams, dreamers and magnificent fillies.


KENTUCKY OAKS 2009: RACHEL and Calvin, coming home.