Greyhound was the King of the Trotters. And Rosalind was the Queen. In 1939, they appeared together, poised to overturn a world record…..



Greyhound is to harness racing what Man O’ War is to thoroughbred racing. He is, quite simply, the stuff of legend. His record of 1:55:1 for the mile in 1938 stood until 1969, when it was broken by Nevele Pride. Of course, records are made to be broken. And Greyhound — the first “Grey Ghost” of horse racing — had more records than most, including a record he broke trotting a mile under saddle.

GREYHOUND'S sire, GUY ABBEY, pictured at Calumet Farm after the dispersal of Henry Knight's Almahurst bloodstock.

GREYHOUND’S sire, GUY ABBEY (2:06 3/4), pictured at Calumet Farm after the dispersal of Henry Knight’s Almahurst bloodstock.

GREYHOUND stands in the foreground of George Ford Morris' print of his dam, ELIZABETH, and grandam,

GREYHOUND stands in the foreground of George Ford Morris’ print, near his dam, ELIZABETH, and grandam, ZOMBREWER (2:04 1/4)


The colt foal was bred at Henry Knight’s famous Almahurst Farm and came into the world in 1932. At the time, his sire, Guy Abbey, had not attained leading stallion status and his dam, Elizabeth, had no exceptional progeny to her credit. The little fellow was grey — a colour no thoroughbred or standardbred breeder was happy to see. A superstitious discomfort with grey horses of almost any breed was alive and well in the 1930’s. And there was an irony to that, as concerned the standardbred. The “founding father” of the standardbred horse was Messenger (1780), a grey thoroughbred imported into the USA just after the American Revolution. The standardbred was developed in America, as was the American Saddlebred and the Tennessee Walking Horse — and all these breeds trace back to Messenger, who was their foundation sire. Messenger may have been grey ( and was probably exported because of it) but he stands as the most important sire ever to arrive on America’s shores.

A portrait of MESSENGER by George Ford Morris

A portrait of MESSENGER by George Ford Morris


By the time he appeared as a yearling at auction, Greyhound had been gelded and given his name. He sold for $900 USD to Colonel E.J. Baker of St. Charles, Illinois. Greyhound’s sale price appears to indicate that breeder Knight hadn’t tagged him as brimming with potential. But fate can be cruel: Knight parted with the crowning achievement of his breeding career for a ridiculously low price, even by Depression standards. At the time, a pair of Hackney ponies would have cost more than did the gunmetal grey son of Guy Abbey and Elizabeth. But if Fate had dealt Henry Knight a cruel blow, it took the opposite aspect for Greyhound. He was about to join a powerful triumvirate of men who would appreciate him every step of the way.

As the young colt was being readied for his 2 year-old campaign by trainer-driver Sep Palin and handler, Jimmy Wingfield, a royally-bred bay filly had made her way into the world.

ROSALIND, shown here with her dam, became the star of one of Marguerite Henry's most beautiful books, BORN TO TROT.

ROSALIND, shown here with her dam, became the subject of one of Marguerite Henry’s most beautiful books, BORN TO TROT.


The filly was named Rosalind and given to her owner’s critically-ill son, Gibson White, by his soft-spoken, brilliant father, Ben. Ben had tuberculosis and was in isolation in a hospital for patients with the “White Plague.”  The disease was still a threat worldwide and Gibson aka “Gib” was in grave danger. Ben White determined to rally his son’s mind and spirit by giving him the filly and the job of overseeing her from weaning to the track. Right from the start, Rosalind was a father-son affair, since it was Ben who would train her.

Below is a short video of a hospital for tuberculosis patients in the UK in the 1930’s.

Ben White was to harness racing what Mohammed Ali is to boxing. A Canadian by birth, Benjamin Franklin White had begun his training with the master, Edward “Pop” Geers at C.J. Hamlin’s Village Farm in East Aurora, N.Y. at the age of twenty. When Geers resigned in 1903, White, who had risen to become his assistant took over training duties. As his reputation grew, he trained first for Seymour Knox and then took over training duties at Pastime Farm. When the farm dissolved circa 1918, White started training for one of the former owners, Frank Ellis. Although the height of his training career came in the 1920’s, White continued to drive into the 1940’s. The number of champions who learned their lessons under White’s calm, steady tutelage was astounding:

“World champions and exceptional colts developed by Ben White, if expounded upon at any length could easily fill a volume, and such a book would be a harness horse’s counterpart of a Who’s Who. If their effects and impact upon modern day breeding and pedigrees of present day horses were considered, it would again fill another book. Starting with the world champion trotting stallion, Lee Axworthy, and the world champion filly, Volga, which came under his wing when he started training the Pastime string, the parade of champions which bore the stamp of Ben White’s training ability was a long one. Some of the better known ones include: Rosalind, Alma Lee, Lee Axworthy, Jane Revere, Volga E. (Volga), The Abbe, Mrs. McElwyn, Aileen Guy, Sumatra, Ruth M. Chenault, Main McElwyn, Isola’s Worthy, Mary Reynolds, Kashmir, Media, Twilight Song, Long Key, His Excellency, The Ambassador, Charm, Station Belle, and Deana.” (from The Daily Reporter, September 5, 1958) Add to this list White’s fourth Hambletonian winner, Volo Song.


A gorgeous photo from 1933 of BEN WHITE and the trotter SPENCER McELWYN.

A gorgeous photo from 1933 of BEN WHITE and the trotter SPENCER McELWYN.

ROSALIND'S sire, SCOTLAND, at 2 years with BEN WHITE.

ROSALIND’S sire, SCOTLAND (1:59 1/4), at 2 years with BEN WHITE.

It is no small feat training a harness horse, whether trotter or pacer, let alone training four Hambletonian and seven Kentucky Futurity winners, which Ben White accomplished over forty plus years. (For those less familiar with harness racing, winning the Hambletonian is the equivalent of winning the Kentucky Derby or the BC Classic in North American thoroughbred racing.) But Ben White was a gifted trainer (and, as it turned out, no slouch as a breeder either). What makes the task of a standardbred arguably more demanding than that of a thoroughbred is the simple fact that they can never leave the trot or the pace and break into a dazzling run down the stretch. In that sense, from the horse’s point of view, s/he is always in second gear. And that also means s/he needs to constantly override the instinct to run past another standardbred in order to win. There are, however, gears within the trot or the pace itself, and it is these different gears that lead colts and fillies into the winner’s circle. Here’s a look at 2014 superstar Sebastian K. (wearing #1) smashing the world record for a mile:

The royally-bred Rosalind was a daughter of Scotland out of the champion mare, Alma Lee (2:04 3/4). As Ben began training the filly, he was conscious that he was really training a member of his own family. Ben had bred her and trained (as well as driven) her parents, her grandam (Jane Revere) and her great grandam (Volga E.). It had been thirty years from Volga E. to Rosalind — more than a third of Ben’s adult life — to arrive at the moment when Rosalind first stepped onto the track. As years pulsed through the reins, memories took Ben back — and hope took him forward.

GREYHOUND and SEP PALIN on the track at Goshen, NY, where the Hambletonian is run.

GREYHOUND and SEP PALIN on the track at Goshen, NY, where the Hambletonian is run.

As Rosalind was being conditioned to begin her 2 year-old juvenile season, Greyhound was launching his bid to win the Hambletonian. The steel-grey colt had already captured the imagination of the racing public as a 2 year-old, but in 1935 he was on a winning rampage that would continue, unabated, until a loss a in 1936. It would be the last time he was defeated in a race, although he did lose heats in races that he won. (Note: Harness races are run in one of two ways: a single dash or three heats, usually over a mile distance. In the case of a three-heat stakes race like the Hambletonian, the winner must win two — or all — of the three heats to win. For this reason, a harness horse’s race record includes wins/losses by heats, as well as by races run.)

Greyhound was a big, gangling colt at three. He stood 16.2 h and because of his size, usually got off to a slow start. Whereas the colt had been a bit ditzy at two, by his three year-old campaign Greyhound had figured it all out. Sep Palin seldom even raised his whip. All he had to do was send the message that it was time to move and off went the “Grey Ghost” with a surge of power and a beauty that was as spell-binding as it was devastating. Although Greyhound didn’t start as the favourite on Hambletonian day, before a crowd of some 40,000 the colt trotted the first mile heat in 2:02¼, setting a new record in the last half. Greyhound then ran the second heat in 2:02¾. Taken together, his time over the first two heats made the 1935 Hambletonian the fastest ever run. Greyhound was also the first gelding to win it — and the only grey.

The sheer beauty of GREYHOUND.

The sheer beauty and power of GREYHOUND made him unforgettable.

GREYHOUND gets a kiss from SEP PALIN following his victory in the 1935 Hambletonian.

GREYHOUND gets a kiss from SEP PALIN following their Hambletonian win.


As Greyhound was busy etching his name into the pantheon of the (harness) racing gods, Rosalind and Ben White stepped onto the track for the first time. Whether it was the love she had known or the royal bloodlines she carried or both, the stately filly proved herself brilliant. Rosalind started ten times that year, winning six. And she took two-year-old champion decisively, with a brilliant win in the Junior Kentucky Futurity in a time of 2:03. As if all this was not enough — standardbreds being as numerous as thoroughbreds at the time, making the chances of coming across one so brilliant rare — Gib’s recovery was as sure, as emphatic, as his wonderful filly’s victories on the track.



As a three year-old, Rosalind kept on, winning seven of eight starts. Goshen, NY and The Hambletonian loomed, and the Whites’ champion filly arrived with the fanfare deserving of a Queen. Gib, now out of hospital, had travelled with Ben and Rosalind to Goshen to witness his filly’s “run at history.”

Held held high, Rosalind ambled to the start as Gib and a packed grandstand held their breath.

In the end “ …it was strictly a case of Rosalind first, and the rest nowhere, as Ben White moved his son’s filly right to the top and held sway thereafter, the best mile in 2:01¾, a stake mark. Gib White smilingly joined his father in the winner’s circle with the crowd wildly cheering the popular victory.” (from The Hambletonian Society archives)

ROSALIND the 1936 Hambletonian with BEN WHITE at the reins. In the photo, you can see the crowd's reaction as the Whites' champion filly nears the wire.

ROSALIND wins the 1936 Hambletonian, BEN WHITE at the reins. In the photo, you can see the reaction of the more than 25,000 as the Whites’ champion filly nears the wire. For GIB WHITE, who was also there, the joy was indescribable.

ROSALIND with owner, GIBSON WHITE. There seemed to be no question that Gib's love for his filly was central to his recovery from tuberculosis.

ROSALIND with owner, GIBSON WHITE. There seemed to be no question that Gib’s love for his filly was central to his recovery from tuberculosis, a life-threatening disease.


Ben White took the honours for the second time in his career. His first win had come with another filly, Mary Reynolds, in 1933. But in winning with Rosalind, he became the first person to breed, train and pilot a Hambletonian winner. Below is a silent film of Ben winning with Mary Reynolds after her chief rival, Brown Berry, stumbled in the stretch to finish eleventh in the third heat. (Mary Reynolds’ had already taken the first heat; Brown Berry won the second heat.)

Greyhound and Rosalind continued to ratchet up victory after victory. It was evident to all that there was another throne in the court of harness racing and it belonged to Queen Rosalind. The filly’s career best of 1:56 3/4 was only a hare short of Greyhound’s 1:55:1 for the mile — unheard of at a time when fillies under harness typically posted career bests of two minutes.

The "gift filly" -- ROSALIND and BEN WHITE.

The “gift filly” — ROSALIND and BEN WHITE.


In 1939, at the Indianapolis State Fair, the two were harnessed in tandem to try to lower the existing team record — their own. Earlier, the pair had trotted to a time of 1:59 in Syracuse, NY. Before Syracuse, neither Greyhound nor Rosalind had ever been driven in tandem before, making it doubly complex to handle them under the pressure of breaking the existing record, held by the great Uhlan and Leurs Forrest, who had trotted a mile in 2:03 1/4 in 1912. Neither the White nor the Baker camps doubted that they could do it. The question was: By how much? The other matter was to decide who would drive them; in the end, it was Sep Palin. Why Palin and not White is unclear, although it must be said that both teams were comfortable with the decision and accolades came their way for the classy manner in which this aspect was handled.

The King and Queen of harness racing.

The King and Queen of harness racing.



ROSALIND and GREYHOUND trot to a world record for a team at the Indiana State Fair. Photo and copyright, Indiana Library.

Spectators throng the stands and photographers line the track as ROSALIND and GREYHOUND trot to a world record at the 1939 Indianapolis State Fair. Photo and copyright, Indiana Library.

At Indianapolis, Rosalind and Greyhound were looking to take down their Syracuse record — they were racing against themselves. But those who saw the King and Queen that day were deeply moved. Horseman generally are a crusty bunch, but even they were enchanted by the appearance of the Grey Ghost in harness with the best standardbred mare in the world. They were almost the same height, one blood-bay and one almost white, and they moved together seamlessly, passed the crowded stands, down to the start. It was August and the light was heavily flecked with gold. Their was restrained quiet as the “exhibition” began; two champions, matching one another stride for stride, floated passed the crowd for the first time. It was equine ballet on fast-forward, but so easy did the pair make it look that only the man holding the stopwatch really knew how fast they were moving. Racing against the wind, Rosalind and her handsome King trotted the mile in 1:58 1/4. As Sep Palin pulled them up and turned them back towards the jubilant throng, Rosalind nodded her head before reaching over to gently nibble Greyhound’s neck.

Gib White, watching with his dad, took the footage below. Poor as it is — through no fault of Gib’s — it records an epic moment in the annals of harness racing history.

In her book, The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt writes: ” …And isn’t the whole point of things — beautiful things — that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture in one way or another?”  

Rosalind and Greyhound certainly weren’t “things,” either to those who knew them best or those who grew to love them. But on that day in 1939 when the narratives of the grey, gelded colt who rose to become an icon and the blood bay filly whose brilliance on the track was only exceeded by her capacity to heal interwove, hearts cracked wide open to a beauty larger than many had ever known before.



Greyhound’s complete career record is catalogued below, in the Bonus Feature.

Rosalind retired holding the world’s record for three heats by a trotting mare, giving her a tie in average time with Greyhound at 1:56 for the fastest three heats to the credit of a trotter regardless of sex. As well, Rosalind held the:

World’s record for a third heat (1:59¼) by a trotter

World’s record for a four-year-old trotting mare, with a time of 1:59¼

World’s record for one and one-half miles by a trotter in a race, with a time of 3:12¼

Greyhound and Rosalind led happy lives in retirement. However, Rosalind died suddenly at the age of seventeen and an autopsy showed that she had succumbed to cancer. She left her human family too suddenly, even though she had given Ben and Gib White six foals, all fillies, three of which set champion times as three-year-olds. Although film footage of both Greyhound and Rosalind is scarce, the White’s super filly is commemorated in Marguerite Henry’s terrific book, Born To Trot. 

Although she takes some "artistic license" in the telling, Marguerite Henry's BORN TO TROT is ROSALIND and the White family's story, told with much love and drama.

Although she takes some “artistic license” in the telling, Marguerite Henry’s BORN TO TROT is ROSALIND and the White family’s story, told with much love and drama.

Ben White went on to win the Hambletonian another two times, in 1942 and 1943, with The Ambassador and Volo Song, respectively. Gibson White made a complete recovery and became his dad’s assistant trainer.

Both Greyhound and Rosalind were inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame (in 1958 and 1973, respectively). Ben White was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1958 and the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1977.

On April 23, 2014, the Harness Racing Hall of Fame announced that the stall Greyhound called home for the last 25 years of his life was donated to them: http://www.harnessmuseum.com/images/Grey%20Ghost%94%20Coming%20to%20Goshen.pdf


BONUS FEATURE: Greyhound. (This is a lovely piece for its passion. It’s a little repetitive, but stay with it until the end to see some amazing footage of Greyhound in slow motion.)


The Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame (http://www.harnessmuseum.com/images/Grey%20Ghost%94%20Coming%20to%20Goshen.pdf)

Step and Go Together by B.K. Beckwith

Greyhound 1:55 1/4 by P.W. Moser

The Hambletonian Society (http://www.hambletonian.org/about.html)

Harness Racing – Standardbred Community (http://www.mi-harness.net/publct/hh/rosalind.html)

Various newspaper articles of the day





Every nation has its pantheon of thoroughbred champions. In Australia, Bernborough’s name is one that still carries the power of greatness, even though he raced there over half a century ago. Adding to his legendary performance on the turf was the fact that, through no fault of his own, Bernborough was also an enigma…..

Bernborough: as the Daily Telegraph put it, in a 33-page circular they produced about the champion shortly after his retirement: ” … He is one of those extraordinary horses which turn up every now and then and are remembered for a lifetime.” Praise like this is reserved for only the greatest thoroughbreds, making it remarkable that Bernborough (1939) received this kind of accolade from the Australian press. It wasn’t that he lacked the “extraordinary.” It was more that he only got to the big Australian racecourses when he was  six  — and was retired less than 18 months later. But in that short time, Bernborough started 18 times, chalking up 15 consecutive wins against “all comers.” And it wasn’t just that he won — it was the way he did it. 

EMBOROUGH, the sire of BERNBOROUGH descended from the powerful GALOPIN sire line.

EMBOROUGH (1932), the sire of BERNBOROUGH, descended from the powerful NEWMINSTER (1848) sire line. More importantly, he was a son of GAINSBOROUGH (1915), the sire of HYPERION (1930).

The Sun News tribute to BERNBOROUGH on his retirement ran for 33 pages.

The Daily Telegraph’s tribute to BERNBOROUGH on his retirement ran for 33 pages.

Bernborough was bred in Queensland by Harry Winten at his Rosalie Plains Stud, although Winten died shortly thereafter. Bernborough was by the imported British stallion, Emborough, out of an Australian-bred mare called Bern Maid (1921) who, like the colt’s sire, also hailed from the Newminster sire line. Bern Maid was a very old lady when she and Bernborough were offered at the dispersal of Winten’s bloodstock, where they were bought by one John (“Jack”) Bach, who reputedly described the youngster as “the lousiest thing” he’d ever seen. The year was 1940 and World War Two was in full swing. A month later, Albert Hadwen paid Jack Bach 140 APS for Bernborough and in April 1941, he was shipped to the stables of trainer Bob Mitchell, in Toowoomba, Queensland to learn how to become a racehorse.

Young BERNBOROUGH beginning to learn his job.

Young BERNBOROUGH beginning to learn his job, Billy Nielsen up. He was still no beauty as a juvenile, but in the huge chest and powerful neck there seemed a promise of greatness.

It is impossible to say how tall the “trainee” was at the time of his arrival to Mitchell, although a rare early shot of Bernborough at around the age of two (above) shows an imposing frame. At maturity he stood a full 17.1 h with a girth that measured 72 inches and a galloping stride of 25 feet. (Phar Lap’s girth was 74 inches; his stride also 25 feet.)  In other words, Bernborough was a monster of a horse. But like other “gentle giants” of horse racing history, he was sweet-tempered and so docile that a toddler was safe on his back. He was also bomb-proof. Other distinguishing features were a white diamond in the centre of his brow and a mane that fell naturally on the left, rather than on the right, as would be the case in at least 85% of all horses.

The only marking on his otherwise bay coat was the star right in the centre of BERNBOROUGH'S brow.

The only marking on his otherwise bay coat was the star right in the centre of BERNBOROUGH’S brow.

Bernborough made his first start on February 7, 1942 as a 2 year-old at Toowoomba racecourse. He won when the winner was disqualified for cutting him off as the colt launched what would become a signature late charge. Unimpressed by the victory, Hadwen leased Bernborough to a Mr. J. Roberts. Losing his next start, the colt went on to win his next three handily. Owner Hadwen and trainer Mitchell were delighted, perhaps even more so given Bernborough’s size. Colts as large as 17.1 h will never be able to boast the manoeuvrability of smaller thoroughbreds and for the same reason, may also take longer to develop. But Bernborough not only showed signs of settling into his big frame, he was also able to win at the comparatively short distances of 5-5 1/2 furlongs. Quite a feat for such a big juvenile.

Until the end of his 5 year-old season, Bernborough was confined to Toowoomba racecourses despite his brilliance. From August 1, 1942-July 28, 1945, the big bay would come home 9 times a winner in 14 starts, winning at distances from 6-9 furlongs for owner Hadwen. And Bernborough won carrying top weight even though he was often condemned to race against inferior horses. His running style was electric. Bernborough was a closer — but he showed that he could shut down the field from as far back as twenty-third going into the final stretch. As his reputation grew, spectators would wait for the inevitable charge and roar their approval as the champ cruised home. Below is a link to a Southern Queensland (AUS) page; please scroll half-way down to the screen that shows a horse race, subtitled ” Australian Diary: Australia’s Richest Horse Race” to view remarkable footage of Bernborough’s typical closing style:


This was the sight that electrified race goers in Toowoomba: "BERNBOROUGH first and the rest nowhere" is the phrase that comes to mind.

This was the sight that electrified race goers in Toowoomba. “BERNBOROUGH first and the rest nowhere” is the phrase that comes to mind.

As his reputation grew over his 3, 4 and 5 year-old campaigns, attempts were made to start Bernborough outside Toowoomba, but all failed.

The reason had to do with his original owner, Frank Bach, who was accused by the powers-that-be of swapping two different thoroughbreds, years before Bernborough raced. In January of 1941, Bach was disqualified for life by the Queensland Turf Club (QTC), which meant that any horse he owned would, in turn, be barred from racing outside of Toowoomba. Even when it was shown that Bach no longer owned Bernborough, the vendetta of the QTC continued against the horse, possibly as a way of getting back at him for managing to overturn his disqualification in a subsequent court battle. There seems little doubt that he was guilty, but the evidence was flimsy, leaving the QTC at a decided disadvantage in making their original ruling stick. Going after Bach horses, especially a champion like Bernborough, likely struck them as a perfect way to get revenge. The QTC had the power to bar any horse they wanted from running in Brisbane and the same horse was barred from running on interstate racecourses anywhere in Australia unless sanctioned by them.

So, as Bernborough’s brilliance grew, so did the frustration of being denied the opportunity to run the him against the best horses in places like Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. He was even transported at least twice to Brisbane and Sydney, only to be denied the right to race in the eleventh hour by the QTC and the Australian Jockey Club, respectively.

BERNBOROUGH disembarks from a "float" as these conveyances were called. Outfitted accordingly, floats were used to transport race horses at this time.

BERNBOROUGH disembarks from a “float” as these conveyances were called. Outfitted accordingly, floats were used to transport race horses all over Australia at this time.

Whether Bernborough’s owner Hadwen was moved by financial gain or principle or both, Bernborough appeared in the stables of trainer H.T. Plant of Sydney in 1945, where he was offered for sale. News of the horse’s brilliance had filtered through to the big racing centres and shortly thereafter he was purchased by the flamboyant restauranteur, Azzalin Romano, for a reported 2600 guineas.

Romano, a native of Padua, Italy, arrived in Sydney in 1923 where, four years later, he opened Romano’s restaurant. By the 1940’s, Romano’s was the “place to be seen” in Sydney, catering to the rich and famous. Stars like Maurice Chevalier and Vivien Leigh dined there; during WWII, the future Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, as well as Edgar Rice Burroughs (then a war correspondent), Bob Hope, Gracie Fields and Frank Sinatra frequented Romano’s. Passing into the hands of an influential character like Romano resolved the dilemma of getting Bernborough entered in races beyond Toowoomba for once and for all.

As events in the Pacific theatre of WWII shook the people of Australia and New Zealand, entertainment that distracted became vital. So the arrival of Bernborough at the big racecourses fuelled a surcharge of enthusiasm that rivalled that of Phar Lap. Of course, other great thoroughbreds were racing in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne too.

There was the fabulous mare and Australian HOF, Flight (1940), twice winner of the Cox and Craven Plates, as well as the Mackinnon, Orr, Knox and Colin Stephens Stakes. Flight stood a diminutive 15.2 hands but her girth, a staggering 73.5 inches, was bigger than that of Bernborough’s. Racing fans were dazzled by the talented mare, who would defeat Bernborough as well as the mighty Shannon, another hero of the turf at this time. In fact, one of THE VAULT’S readers has written to say that his grandfather considered Flight the greatest Australian race mare to ever run. Flight might not have gained international attention but she was, without question, one of the greatest Australian thoroughbreds ever.

FLIGHT was one of the greatest mares ever to race in Australia. Although she would succumb to birthing complications in 1953, a daughter produced the champion SKYLINE.

FLIGHT was one of the greatest mares ever to race in Australia. She made 65 starts, with a race record of 24-19-9 and retired at the age of six. Although she would succumb to birthing complications in 1953, her only daughter, FLIGHT’S DAUGHTER (1949), produced the champions SKYLINE (1955) and SKY HIGH (1957).

SHANNON arrives in Brisbane, where he won the 1946 Doomben Cup.

SHANNON in full “travel gear,” circa 1946.

Another champion, albeit one who never met up with Bernborough, was Shannon (1941). A remarkable thoroughbred described by author Jessica Owers as “peerless,” he was also the fastest horse that Johnny Longden — who had ridden Count Fleet — had ever sat astride. Racing to brilliance in Australia, Shannon was imported to the USA  after being bought by Harry Curland. Unlike Ajax, who had also been acquired by American interests, Shannon was bought to race in America, where he became Shannon II. For a summary of this great thoroughbred’s career (who is the subject of Jessica Owers’ latest book) please click on this link: https://www.thoroughbredracing.com/articles/shannon-horse-time-forgot

Now in training at Randwick with H.T. “Harry” Plant, Bernborough’s racing debut was hotly anticipated: could the “TOOWOOMBA TORNADO” really be as good as his record showed racing against Australia’s finest?

BERNBOROUGH shown winning the Spring Handicap at Toowoomba in 1944, shortly before he began to develop foot problems and before his sale to Romano in 1945.

BERNBOROUGH shown winning the Spring Handicap at Toowoomba in 1944, shortly before he began to develop foot problems, and before his sale to Romano in 1945.

In 1945, before shipping to Harry Plant’s stables where he was purchased by Azzalin Romano, Bernborough had been upset when another horse heading to the Toowoomba track behind him had kicked a tin barrier. The champion bolted and fell, injuring a fetlock and sustaining some lameness in one shoulder. Accordingly, he was put away for a bit until his injuries had healed, but when Bernborough returned to competition, carrying crushing weights of between 132-148 lbs., he didn’t seem to have the same sparkle. After a third loss, the 5 year-old came up lame again. Bernborough’s hooves were checked; it was decided that he had soft corns and he was re-shod. However, after only one win and one place in seven starts, Hadwen (who still owned him at this time) switched the big bay to the stables of Ernie Peck. There it was discovered that Bernborough have two in-growing corns in both hooves. Once his hooves were trimmed back and he had time to heal, Bernborough was quick to return to form. On June 30, 1945, he carried 148 lbs, raced twice and won both. These wins were his last appearance in Toowoomba.



In the hands of Harry Plant, the consummate horseman-turned-trainer, Bernborough was readied for the campaign that would transform him into a thoroughbred legend. Like all the greatest of trainers, Plant could “read” his horses and he was intent on doing the best by them and for them. During his time with Bernborough, Plant — who had planned to buy him from Hadwen himself but was outbid by Romano — was instrumental in keeping Romano from over-extending Bernborough … most of the time. A chief concern of the trainer’s was the amount of weight that the champion was assigned; Bernborough was the kind of individual who always tried his best, and a thoroughbred burdened with crushing, “dead” weight, who would perform to his maximum regardless, courted the real possibility of a heart attack or a fatal breakdown. At a time when the sport was harsh on thoroughbreds, Plant was a rare example of a man who understood and respected them.

The “bush champ” ran fourth in his first race for owner Romano and then kicked off a succession of 15 consecutive victories on racecourses in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane against top thoroughbreds like the aforementioned Flight (who was beaten a head by Bernborough in the 1946 Chipping Norton Stakes and lost to him another three times), the Sydney and AJC Plate winner, Craigie (1940) and the AJC Derby and Sires Produce Stakes winner, Magnificent (1942). Accolades rained down from horsemen and journalists alike, while fans made the big, dark horse, whose finishing style left them speechless and whose courage lifted their hearts, a turf hero.

BERNBOROUGH (outside) roars passed MAGNIFICENT

BERNBOROUGH (outside) roars passed MAGNIFICENT to win the Warwick Stakes at Randwick. Photo and copyright, Sun News, Australia


In fact, Australian race goers in the big race centres took to the “Toowoomb Tornado” from his very first victory for the Plant-Romano connections, where he unleashed a withering drive in the 1 mile 19 yds. Villiers at Randwick to finish just slightly off the track record. Jockey Mulley had trouble pulling him up and decided to let Bernborough run on before putting on the brakes. As though he knew the roar from the grandstand was for him, on his way back to the winner’s circle Bernborough stopped in front of the grandstand and acknowledged the cheers with a bow.

Of course, even a great horse doesn’t win all on his own. Together with the ministrations of his trainer, Bernborough also had the services of the 101 lb. jockey, Athol George Mulley. Mulley was noted for being a great horseman, as well as for his vivid personality. Although accused by various and anon for his occasional poor judgement when riding Bernborough, he won his first of two Sydney Jockey Premierships in 1945-1946 for his important contribution to the horse’s consecutive winning streak. His behaviour prior to the Chipping Norton Stakes captured some of what made Mulley tick: for days prior to the running, he received substantial bribes, as well as a number of threatening phone calls, but refused to bend to those who wanted Bernborough to lose. (As it turned out, the horse could have lost without all this underworld action, since the brilliant Flight refused to be headed and the two horses hit the wire in a dead heat with Bernborough prevailing by a short head.)

BERNBOROUGH (in the lead) takes a turn with other thoroughbreds on the track at Randwick.

BERNBOROUGH (in the lead) takes a turn with other thoroughbreds on the track at Randwick.

Mulley and his big horse quickly became an indomitable pair. Mulley believed that Bernborough had his own game plan before a race and he may have, although the formula, with rare exceptions, followed pretty much the same formula: break slowly and relax near the back of the pack, hit second gear and move up to the leaders and then roar home. And it worked — 15 times in a row. Bernborough was clocked in one race covering the final 4 furlongs in 46 records — not since 1921 had an Australian thoroughbred run faster.

Photo and copyright,

Photo and copyright, Sun News, Australia

If you’d asked Harry Plant to name Bernborough’s best race, he would have picked the Doomben Cup, run at just under 11 furlongs on June 8, 1946, when the horse was seven years-old. The handicappers had assigned “Bernie” (as he was called by his owner, trainer and stable lads) the crushing weight of 151 lbs. but Romano, swollen with delight at his horse’s repeated victories, couldn’t think of pulling out of such a prestigious race. Romano wasn’t a cruel man, but he was a wheeler-dealer and knew little about thoroughbreds, relying on Plant to guide him. But despite advice to the contrary, Plant lost this round. The trainer was heard to say to his big, courageous horse as Bernborough was saddled, ” You wouldn’t run if I owned you, old fella.”

BERNBOROUGH with trainer Harry Plant.

BERNBOROUGH with trainer Harry Plant.


Trailing the field by 14 lengths, Bernborough began to pick up speed with urging from Mulley at about the 5 furlong mark. It was a large field and there was a lot of crowding, causing Bernborough to clip heels with the filly Tea Cake and almost go down in the process. Mulley righted his mount, only to have Bernie run into by another horse, who was beginning to falter, 4 furlongs from the wire. Mulley shot for the rail, mindful of the weight Bernborough was carrying and hoping to save him ground at the finish, but quickly found himself locked in by Scobie Breasley on Tea Cake. Jim Duncan swung Craigie to the outside of Tea Cake, hoping to close any gaps that Bernborough might get through. The only way out was to pull Bernie up and to get around the other horses to the extreme outside. Going five-wide, the mighty horse overtook the leaders, to win by a length going away. The time of 2:14 3/4 was a new track record — and the horse was going easy. It was, as Trevor Denman famously called when the great  Zenyatta crossed the wire to win the 2009 BC Classic, a “simply un-bee-lievable” performance.

BERNBOROUGH DOOMBEN_article22241938-3-001


BERNBOROUGH (white headband) shown winning the 1946 Doomben Cup.

BERNBOROUGH (in characteristic white browband) shown winning the 1946 Doomben Cup.


The inevitable, given the weights, Bernborough’s popularity and Romano’s largely ignorant enthusiasm, happened on November 2, 1946 in the LKS MacKinnon Stakes as Bernborough challenged for the lead. It was the only time that the superb mare, Flight, would beat him home. Under jockey Bill Briscoe (Mulley having been taken off Bernie when the horse failed to place in the 1946 Caulfield Cup) Bernborough was drawing close to Flight when his foreleg seemed to crumple under him: he had fractured the sesamoid in his right foreleg. Briscoe reported that he heard what sounded like a gun shot and quickly dismounted, fearing that the horse had actually been shot.

The injury proved non-lifethreatening, but it would be weeks before Bernborough was out of danger. In fact, many thought that their turf hero had been euthanized, until the news came that he was safe in trainer Plant’s care. During the whole time his leg was being bandaged up, Bernie laid his head on Harry Plant’s shoulder and whickered his distress. The trainer was so moved that he spent that first night with Bernie in the barn.

In the footage below, Bernborough’s breakdown is caught, as well as the reaction of his fans and some rare footage of Flight crossing the finish line. It speaks loud of the esteem in which Bernborough was held and the uncertainty as to whether or not he would survive his injuries. (Note: Unlike some coverage of breakdowns, this footage is respectful. There are no close-ups of the actual breakdown itself. No need to worry about being confronted with something distasteful, even though it seems a very sad ending for a “wonder horse,” as the reporter’s tone reflects.)

Full recovery would depend on Bernborough not doing any further damage to himself. Being a sensible and calm individual, the champion helped those caring for him by doing everything in his power to expedite a full recovery. It was reported that he would walk on three legs, as though he knew that he needed to keep his foreleg safe, stand on all-fours a bit and then carefully lie down. Plant and Bernie’s lads hovered close and owner Romano brought his champ assorted treats. A month after the accident, the veterinarians attending him declared that Bernborough had made incredible progress. He was finally out of danger, but the mighty Bernborough would never race again.

BERNBOROUGH being led into the van after his breakdown. In the photo, you can see the swelling in his foreleg.

BERNBOROUGH being led into the van after his breakdown. In the photo, you can see the swelling in the injured foreleg.

The news of Bernborough’s breakdown went viral (by standards of the day!) and in the USA, the reaction was mixed. There had been rumours that Romano was going to ship the horse to the USA to take on Citation and other American champions. After only recently sustaining the blow of having Phar Lap die on its shores, some turf writers expressed relief that Bernborough had broken down at home and not in America. However, not long after Bernborough’s recovery was assured, Azzalin Romano arrived in California, armed with film reels of Bernie’s victories, seeking to sell him to American breeders. A deal was secured with movie mogul Louis B. Mayer who then contacted Leslie Coombs II to stand Bernborough at Spendthrift in Kentucky. Mayer bought the stallion for the equivalent of $310,000 USD — an astronomical price in those days that eclipsed the record amount that had been paid for the stallion Tracery by $51,000 USD.

The news hit Australians very, very hard. When Bernborough left Melbourne in early February of 1947, two hundred well-wishers gathered. In Sydney, a police guard was needed to keep ardent fans from crowding the stallion and nicking hair from his tail as a keepsake. Bernborough travelled to America with his usual relaxed attitude, arriving at Spendthrift in the company of the stud farm manager, Louis Doherty, who had met the ship in San Francisco. There Bernborough and Harry Plant, who had accompanied him on the voyage across the Pacific, said their final goodbyes. They would never see one another again.

There was, however, another Aussie to arrive at Spendthrift — the great Shannon.

BERNBOROUGH "meets" SHANNON II at Spendthrift.

BERNBOROUGH (in barn) “greets” SHANNON II at Spendthrift.

In America, Bernborough did very well as a stallion, with progeny being sold and sent all over the world. Among his best were Hook Money (1951), winner of the 1955 Ayr Gold Cup, Berseem, who set a 6-furlong track record at Santa Anita, Brush Burn (1949), winner of 15 races, Parading Lady (1949), winner of the Acorn and the Vosburgh (against the colts), Bernburgoo (1953) who defeated Round Table (1954) in the Warren Wright Memorial Stakes and Bernwood (1948), who set a one-mile track record at Washington Park. All in all, the stallion had 21 stakes winners that are known (records from countries like Peru, the West Indies, Mexico and Panama being scarce). As well, Bernborough was the BM sire of the great Jay Trump (1957), who won the Grand National in 1965; and Getting Closer (1978), a great-great grandson, won the Doomben Ten Thousand/Rothman’s Hundred Thousand in 1984.

JAY TRUMP is led in after winning the Grand National at Aintree.

JAY TRUMP is led in after winning the 1965 Grand National at Aintree.


The gorgeous HOOK MONEY, a champion son of BERNBOROUGH


Below is rare footage of another son of Bernborough, the champion First Aid (1950), winning the 1955 Whitney at The Spa (please note there is no sound):

Bernborough lived until 1960, when he died of a heart attack in his paddock as Clem Brooks cradled the great horse’s head in his arms.

Bernborough was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2001.

Sometime after the publication of Jessica Owers’ book about Shannon, Spendthrift Farm erected two brass plaques to honour both Bernborough and Shannon II.

BERNBOROUGH at stud at Spendthrift in Lexington, Kentucky.

BERNBOROUGH at stud at Spendthrift in Lexington, Kentucky.


Recommended books:

Duncan Stearn’s fabulous book, Bernborough: Australia’s Greatest Racehorse. (ISBN: 9780987090218)

Zeb Armstrong’s e-book, The Bernborough Phenomenon

Jessica Owers’ equally fabulous tale of Bernborough’s contemporary, Shannon: Before Black Caviar, So You Think Or Takeover Target, There Was Shannon (ISBN: 9781742750248)

Where to start is a reasonable question, faced with the numbers of champion thoroughbreds racing in Australia (AUS) and/or New Zealand (NZ) in this time frame. And, by 1960, still another number of great individuals emerge. More, in fact, than in the preceding years.

Today, through the auspices of the mass media, including the online publication of rare documents, it is possible to begin to appreciate a true history of the development of the thoroughbred worldwide. “True” in the sense of achieving a macrocosmic view, beyond the borders and boundaries that we perhaps know best.

(Please note that the classification of thoroughbreds by decade has been determined by their foaling date, e.g. a horse born in 1939 actually raced in the 1940’s.)

ARCHER (1856) was the first thoroughbred to win the Melbourne Cup.

ARCHER (1856) was the first thoroughbred to win the Melbourne Cup in 1861. He then went on to win it again in 1862. The only other horse to accomplish this was PETER PAN (1929). This record stood intact for over 100 years until it was over-turned by the incomparable mare MAKYBE DIVA (1999), who won the Melbourne Cup for a record three consecutive years, from 2003-2005.


The twentieth century saw the rise and consolidation of both the sport and the industry. Breeding farms like the historic AUS Widden Stud — the home of individuals like Sir Hercules and his brilliant son, The Barb,as well as the mighty Heroic and his champion son, Ajax — first acquired by John Lee in 1843 and subsequently by the Thompson family, moved powerfully into the new century with a fleet of strong, consistent horses. And other important figures in thoroughbred racing stood in the wings, among them notable AUS trainers like Harry Telford, Fred Davis and HOF James Scobie, as well as Jack Holt and TJ Smith, HOF and father of Gai Waterhouse. In NZ, owner-breeders like Georger Gatonby Stead, Henry Redwood and Sir George Clifford had already made their mark and would continue to do so. Still another owner-breeder, George Currie, would have an influence that continues to the present day, through the descendants of his Koatanui Lodge mare, Eulogy (1911). And trainers like the brilliant Dick Mason and Maurice McCarton would bring their country’s racing acumen to the forefront.

Early in the game breeders in both AUS + NZ settled upon the axiom that it was the mare that was going to make the difference in terms of the quality of individuals a stallion produced. As far back as the 1890’s, breeders were selecting mares with champion bloodlines and, at least initially, seem far less concerned about their racing performance than their sire line. A clear example of this practice is seen in the NZ thoroughbred mare and HOF, Eulogy:

Eulogy’s offspring also underscore the dedication of breeders to producing strong, hardy individuals. Accordingly, the allegiance to sound British bloodstock would continue until the arrival on the scene of Star Kingdom (1946), an Irish thoroughbred who, as a sire, would give Australasia its first flotilla of home-bred thoroughbred champions. As well, the principle of running horses often over challenging courses of up to 3 miles continued, with the result that many champion thoroughbreds who raced in the first six decades of the century ran 50 times or more before their retirement.

1900 – 1929: Signs of Greatness

Arguably, Desert Gold (1914), together with the gelding, Gloaming (1915), and the colt, Eurythmic (1916), were the superstars of this period — as their Hall Of Fame status indicates.

Remembered as the First Lady of the NZ turf, the racing career of Desert Gold was brilliant. She was the first NZ thoroughbred to chalk up a record of 19 consecutive wins while racing against colts, as well as fillies, in both NZ and AUS. Desert Gold ran during the dark days of WWI and her courage lifted the hearts of her racing public. She brought people to the track to forget their worries — and to see a Queen of the Turf.

As Desert Gold’s career was ebbing that of another champion was on the rise: Gloaming.

GLOAMING was destined to become one of the greatest AUS + NZ thoroughbreds of the twentieth century.

GLOAMING was destined to become one of the greatest AUS + NZ thoroughbreds of the twentieth century.

Bred in AUS by E.E.D. Clarke, Gloaming was by the Melton Stud stallion, The Welkin (1904) out of Light (1907), who carried the important bloodlines of British thoroughbreds like Bend Or (1877) and Stockwell (1849) in her pedigree. When he went to auction, Gloaming had only just recovered from strangles and the result was that he went to NZ’s George Stead for under $500 USD, to be trained by one of NZ’s greatest trainers, Richard (Dick) Mason. In many ways, the story of the champion gelding is also Mason’s story. And the two shared a bond reminiscent of Will Harbut and the American thoroughbred legend, Man O’ War. Gloaming would tie Desert Gold’s record of 19 consecutive wins and raced until his retirement, at nine years of age. So emphatic was his race record, that Gloaming was inducted into both the AUS and NZ Hall Of Fame.

Eurythmic was by the British stallion, Eudorus (1906), who was imported to AUS sometime before 1914, and out of the mare, Bob Cherry (1910). His sire descended from Hampton (1872) and St. Simon (1881); his dam from the AUS sire, Wallace (1892), a son of the mighty Carbine (1885). So it stood to reason that the Eudorus-Bob Cherry colt would win at both sprint and longer distances, which he did. When Eurythmic retired, he was regarded as the greatest AUS stakes winner of the time, having surpassed Carbine in stakes victories.

EURYTHMIC would overturn the stakes-winning record of the mighty CARBINE, from whom he descended.

EURYTHMIC would overturn the stakes-winning record of the mighty CARBINE, from whom he descended.

Bred by Noel Thompson at the Yarraman Stud in New South Wales, Eurythmic won 7 of 8 starts at three; then under a new trainer, Jack Holt, the colt scorched the turf at four. In October he won the Caulfield Stakes, the Caulfield Cup (defeating a huge field) and the Melbourne Stakes, his 11th consecutive victory. The following week Eurythmic suffered his only defeat as a four year-old when he ran fourth to Poitrel in the Melbourne Cup. The colt then won his next eight races: the CB Fisher Plate (defeating Poitrel), the Essendon Stakes, the VRC Governor’s Plate and the King’s Plate, as well as the AJC Autumn Stakes, the Sydney Cup (carrying 134 lbs.)) and the Cumberland Stakes. He finished the season with a tally of 12 wins from 13 starts. Racing until the age of 7, Eurythmic ended his career with a record of 47- 31-6-4 and the extraordinary earnings of 36,891 (APS) — at a time when a house in AUS typically cost about 200 (APS).

Eurythmic stood at stud for only two seasons before a heart attack ended the life of one of the brightest of stars of the AUS turf.


1929 -1939: Legends


It wasn’t long before AUS + NZ racing saw the birth of individuals who would become thoroughbred legends in their own time, of which Phar Lap arguably became the most famous. For more on the fabulous “Red Terror” who was, in reality, so gentle that a child could ride him, see THE VAULT’S article on Phar Lap, which also includes rare video footage, here: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/bribes-threats-bullets-phar-laps-melbourne-cup-1930/

But Phar Lap was by no means alone, although it must be said that the love and devotion he inspired is rare and it is this that has given Tommy Woodcock’s best boy eternal life.

CHATHAM at work. Although he was beaten by PHAR LAP once, the handsome bay would defeat the champions PETER PAN and ROGILLA before his retirement.

CHATHAM at work. Although he was beaten by PHAR LAP once, the handsome bay would defeat the champions PETER PAN and ROGILLA before his retirement. Photo and copyright, THE SUN, Sydney AUS

Although he never enjoyed anything even remotely close to the feelings evoked by Phar Lap, Chatham (1928) was a superstar. Bred by Percy Miller at his Kia Ora Stud in New South Wales, AUS, Chatham was by the Melbourne Cup winner, Windbag (1921). His dam, Myosotis (1919) was an excellent broodmare and a granddaughter of the British Triple Crown winner, Flying Fox (1896). Racing from 1931-1934 for trainers Ike Foulsham and Fred Williams, the handsome bay colt became one of AUS greatest milers, winning 12 of his 21 starts — lightly raced, by AUS + NZ standards. Chatham was a “whistler: ” as a result of a severe throat infection as a colt, he made a distinct, audible whistle when he ran. Chatham did have a lot to “whistle” about: he won the Epsom Handicap twice, the W.J. Cox Plate twice and the Craven Plate three times during his career on the turf. So accomplished was Angus Blair’s colt that he was inducted into the Australian Hall of Fame in 2005.

Australia's "blond bombshell," the incomparable PETER PAN deserves to be considered as great as PHAR LAP.

Australia’s “blond bombshell,” the incomparable PETER PAN deserves to be considered as PHAR LAP’s successor. Indeed, PETER PAN’S trainer believed his colt could beat the “Red Terror” although the two never met.

The incomparable Peter Pan (1929) and the champion gelding, Rogilla (1927) were also contemporaries of Phar Lap.

Peter Pan was hailed as “another Phar Lap” during a brilliant career which saw him take the prestigious Melbourne Cup not once, but twice. A “horse of a different colour” to be sure, Peter Pan sported a flaxen mane and tail, making him even more enigmatic. The colt’s finest performance was his run in the 1934 Melbourne Cup, carrying a staggering 138 lbs. over a soggy track to take AUS most prestigious race for the second time, joining Archer, the only other horse to have accomplished this feat.

(For those wanting to learn more about this great thoroughbred, take a look at Jessica Owers’ book, Peter Pan. Unlike so many thoroughbred biographies that we have read, Owers’ Peter Pan is a lively, entertaining read and the text also includes rare photos of the champion. Peter Pan is also available on Kindle.)

PETER PAN wins his second Melbourne Cup in 1934, carrying a bone crushing 138 lbs.

PETER PAN wins his second Melbourne Cup in 1934, carrying a bone crushing 138 lbs.


Rogilla, Chatham and Peter Pan chased each other on the turf for highest honours throughout their careers. But even in the company of champions, Rogilla was no slouch. The gelding took home victories in the King’s, Caulfield, Sydney and AJC Cups, as well as the W. S. Cox, Randwick, AJC and AJC Autumn Plates, among 18 stakes races that he won. Rogilla descended from Carbine and was the first of many AUS champions from the British sire line of Hurry On (1913). Affectionately known as the “Coalfields Champion,” the gutsy gelding made 73 starts, winning 26.

The white-faced ROGILLA (rail) shown here as he narrowly defeats PETER PAN.

The white-faced ROGILLA (rail) shown here as he narrowly defeats PETER PAN in the 1934 King’s Cup.


One of the next stars on the horizon was AJAX (1934), another “looker” who would dominant racing in the 1930’s as one of the best sprinter-milers of his day. Bred at the famous Widden Stud, the home of great stallions like his sire, Heroic (1921) and enough champions to take up a full 23 pages in Douglas M. Barrie’s excellent book, Valley of Champions, Ajax would have still another distinction in North America: he was acquired as a stallion prospect at age 14 by Bing Crosby and Lin Howard for their Bing-Lin Stud in California. Ajax’s export to the USA would spark a mini-trend over the next decade as interest in the thoroughbred “down under” began to travel across the Pacific and around the world.

A star of the turf in the 1930's, AJAX is shown here greeting his fans.

A star of the turf in the 1930’s, AJAX is shown here greeting his fans.


Trained by Frank Musgrove, Ajax was ridden to 30 of his 36 stakes victories by AUS HOF jockey, Harold Badger. Ajax made 46 starts and was only ever out of the money once, winning 36 before his retirement, at age 6, in 1940. His victories included the Newmarket Handicap, the Futurity Stakes (three times), the Caulfield Guineas and W.S. Cox Plate, the Underwood Stakes (three times), the AJC All-Aged Stakes (three times), the AJC Cropper Stakes (three times) and the Melbourne Stakes (twice).

In the spring of 1937, Ajax began an 18-race winning streak in the kind of races that are Group-classified today, in six of which he smashed either race or course records. And he kept on going, the goal being to equal or surpass the 19-race winning streak first set by the filly, Desert Gold, followed by Gloaming. Sadly, this was not to be. In what should have been his 19th straight win, Ajax was beaten by a 33-1 outsider, Spear Chief (1934) and finished second.


AJAX kept the bettors and fans coming to the track: he was simply too good to miss. Photo and copyright Racing Victoria.

AJAX kept the bettors and fans coming to the track: he was simply too good to miss. Photo and copyright Racing Victoria.

Even a champ needs to stay fit: AJAX at swim.

Even a champ needs to stay fit: AJAX enjoying a saltwater treatment at St. Kilda’s.


Ajax began his stud career in AUS before leaving for the USA.  An AUS-born son, Magnificent (1942), won the AJC Derby and the VRC Victoria Derby, and numerous other progeny were also stakes winners. In the USA, he sired a few decent horses in Avracado ($71,813), Trebor Yug ($19,420) and A. Jaxson ($11,444) but was nowhere near as successful a sire there as he had been in AUS. Ajax was inducted into the AUS Hall Of Fame in 2004.

As the 1930’s came to a close, still another fine colt Kindergarten (1937) came running. Although his deeds never really spread far and wide, there are many in NZ who still believe he was as good as — or better than — the mighty Phar Lap. Without question, he was the best NZ-bred thoroughbred to grace the turf in his own country and in 2006, Kindergarten was inducted into the New Zealand Racing HOF :


NEXT TIME: A look at the 1940’s “down under” and a superstar whose name is still spoken in hushed tones today, so great was his legacy.

REGARDING COPYRIGHT: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. 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.




Just as I was getting ready to post the second part of my Australian and New Zealand thoroughbred article, the news came that Lammtarra had died. And the presses ground to a halt, here, and right around the world. The internet was alive with photos, dedications and memories. The racing world stopped betting, debating, reporting and analyzing, to mourn.

Unless you were following international racing in 1994-1995, Lammtarra is only a name to you, if that. It has become in vogue to talk about great thoroughbreds using metaphors like the one of a comet flashing through the firmament. But what Lammtarra represented was something more curious, something inexplicable, something even those who knew him best seemed at a loss to capture.

Lammtarra was a symbol — and symbols, by definition, are always greater than whatever they stand for. Symbols, like metaphors, are part of a secret and universal grammar. Each man, woman and child, wherever they are, understands this secret way of saying. And of thinking. Since a symbol, like a metaphor, is there to take the mind to higher ground.

Although we like to clarify them by saying that X is a “symbol of” something or other, the greatest symbols just are. 

And Lammtarra just is  — and will forever be.

For Laura Thompson, in her brilliant book, Quest For Greatness: A Celebration of Lammtarra and the Racing Season (ISBN: 0 7181 4159 8) — the kind of book that sets the standard for what a book about a thoroughbred and the sport itself should be — Lammtarra was the embodiment of greatness:

” … At the heart of flat racing, there is an almost painful dialectical pull: between the enduring memory of a horse, and the ephemerality from which that memory proceeds. This dialectic is of the essence, and stronger than in any other sport. In Lammtarra, it found its perfect expression. Never was a sporting career so etiolated and so resonant: it was as thin and fine as one of the horse’s own limbs.” (p. 4)

True to the landscape of symbol, listing the handsome chestnut’s endowments and accomplishments only dwarf the individual from which they flowed. Lammtarra was brilliant on the turf, coming back from an illness that almost killed him to start his 3 year-old season with the Derby, where he set a turf record that stood for 15 years (until Workforce took it down in 2010). In a short career of 4 starts/4 wins, including the 1995 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Stakes at Ascot and the Arc in the same year, Lammtarra did the impossible.

But merely saying it falls pitifully short of the mark. The video record of the 1995 Derby is a treasure, not the least for its obvious disregard of the Godolphin entry, and understandably so. After all, Lammtarra was making only the second start in his life as a racehorse, the first of which had been over a year before:

Walter Swinburn, who rode him to victory, remembers that after they crossed the finish line, Lammtarra wanted to keep running, just as he’d done in his first win as a two year-old. Today, Swinburn places Lammtarra in the triumvirate of thoroughbreds that he considers the best he ever rode. The other two are Shergar (1978) and the lesser-known, though gifted, Zilzal (1986).

Placing Frankie Dettori in the saddle for the last two races of his colt’s career, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was very likely as shocked as the rest of the European and British racing community to see what Lammtarra had in store. Only the incomparable Mill Reef (1968) had ever pulled off this triple in a single season. But, unlike Paul Mellon’s champion, Lammtarra was still learning the game:

And then he was gone.

Sent to the breeding shed, Lammtarra stood only one season at his owner’s Dalham Hall Stud before he was sold, for 30 million dollars, to take up stud duties in Japan. There, too, he failed to get anything even close to his own brilliance. In August 2006, upon learning that Arrow Stud was planning to sell Lammtarra to Korean interests, HH Sheikh Mohammed bought his champion back, and the stallion ended his days in the lush paddocks of Dalham Hall Stud near Newmarket. Even in retirement, Lammtarra had frequent visits from horse people of all kinds and when the Dalham Hall stallions were on parade, he was proudly brought out as well. It was eminently clear that HH Sheikh Mohammed and the Dalham Hall staff who cared for him would honour Lammtarra as the champion he was until the end of his days.

URBAN SEA, herself a winner of the Arc and the dam of GALILEO, SEA THE STARS, MY TYPHOON and BLACK SAM BELLAMY among other champion progeny with her 1997 filly foal by LAMMTARRA who was named MELIKAH. Owned by Darley, MELIKAH MELIKAH is the dam of champion MASTERSTROKE. Like many of LAMMTARRA'S daughters, who are sought after, MELIKAH brings her sire's brilliance to her offspring.

URBAN SEA, herself a winner of the Arc, and the dam of GALILEO, SEA THE STARS, MY TYPHOON and BLACK SAM BELLAMY with her 1997 filly foal by LAMMTARRA who was named MELIKAH. Owned by Darley, MELIKAH is the dam of champion MASTERSTROKE, who is now at stud in France. Like many of LAMMTARRA’S daughters, who are sought after, MELIKAH is playing an important role in keeping LAMMTARRA’S memory alive. Photo and copyright, seathestars.com


Although his breeding career was unsuccessful, Lammtarra’s daughters and their progeny are still prized, given his exceptional bloodlines. Here is Lammtarra’s grandson, Masterstroke (2009), running third behind the winner, Solemia, in the 2012 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, beating the likes of the 2012 Derby winner, Camelot (2009), and superstar, St. Nicholas Abbey (2007) to the wire.

Lammtarra means “invisible” in Arabic. It seems a strange name to give a colt of such royal lineage. But the name certainly carries a very ancient wisdom about what can be known versus what lies beyond. And in Lammtarra, that wisdom found an eternal home.



” … you are whatever a moon has always meant
 and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the

 and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows 
higher than soul can hope

or mind can hide) 
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart) “


(from “i carry your heart” by e.e. cummings)


This article is respectfully dedicated to HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and to the the staff of Dalham Hall Stud.


Since THE VAULT first published, it has been my goal to research and write about the development of the thoroughbred and the sport in Australia and New Zealand. While the story of Phar Lap is universal and the exploits of the incomparable Black Caviar and So You Think turned world attention to thoroughbreds from “down under,” these contemporary champions are only the most recent in a star-studded history. In fact, Australia and New Zealand have produced absolutely brilliant individuals that could hold their own in the company of great thoroughbreds anywhere and the history of how these stars came to be is rich and fascinating. As well, uncovering some of this history has only reinforced my sense of how intermingled the families of thoroughbreds are worldwide and how these connections have brought us the individuals who light up the turf from Great Britain to the USA to India to Japan today.

This, then, is the first of a series on thoroughbreds from Australia and New Zealand and begins, quite properly, with a thumbnail history of the origins of the sport. 

(NOTE: Being Canadian and having few contacts in either Australia or New Zealand, it has been very difficult trying to discern what books to buy that would give me a good history of the Australian and New Zealand thoroughbred, including significant people as well as thoroughbred champions. Any suggestions from VAULT readers would be deeply appreciated!) 




The horse wasn’t indigenous to Australia, but with the arrival of British colonists it quickly became an essential component of settling the “new” land (i.e. “new” to the settlers, that is).

As is the case worldwide, the Australian and New Zealand (AUS + NZ) thoroughbred owes its origins to Great Britain, where the breed originated. However, AUS + NZ have a history of close collaboration in the development of their thoroughbred horse, much like that of England and Ireland. Although often lumped together for this reason, AUS + NZ are, of course, different cultures with different histories, even though Australians have embraced New Zealand-bred champions as their own. To this day, prestigious trainers like Bart Cummings (So You Think, Kingston Rule, Saintly and countless other great individuals) visit the New Zealand bloodstock sales looking for future stars — and they are seldom disappointed.

There are, of course, differences in the breed and the sport itself in AUS+ NZ that make comparison with other countries difficult, if not impossible. In the Southern Hemisphere (SH), a thoroughbred’s birthdate is August 1, not January 1 as it is in the Northern Hemisphere (NH). In other words, in any given year, a NH thoroughbred is more than half a year older than a SH thoroughbred. The best way to compare individuals has always been to race them against each other, but SH horses have historically done poorly when shifted to NH climes, and vice versa. There have been a few exceptions, of course, but they are too few and far between to aid in any serious comparison. Even Black Caviar seemed at a distinct disadvantage at Royal Ascot; the same might be said of So You Think, a great champion in his native Australia who adjusted rather poorly to his new digs at Ballydoyle.

Another unique feature of AUS + NZ racing is that geldings are invited to run in classic races. And a good thing, too, since a number of AUS+ NZ’s greatest thoroughbreds have been geldings, among them the mighty Phar Lap, who was bred and born in New Zealand and became one of Australia’s best-loved thoroughbreds during the Depression era.

SO YOU THINK, a two-time winner of the Cox Plate,  was equine royalty in Australia before he was shifted from trainer Bart Cummings to Ballydoyle in Ireland. Despite his victories in Great Britain, can we say that we really saw the true So You Think?

SO YOU THINK, a two-time winner of the Cox Plate, was equine royalty in Australia before he was shifted from trainer Bart Cummings to Ballydoyle in Ireland. Despite his victories in Great Britain, can we say that we really saw the true So You Think?

From the beginning, the primary goal in breeding thoroughbreds in AUS + NZ was to get individuals who combined strength and endurance. If they also had speed, that was a bonus. None of this was made easy in the 1800’s by a steady influx of British governors who either countenanced or reviled horse racing, banning it when the latter was true. Despite the interruptions caused by racing bans, classic races were set up in AUS over distances of 1.5 -3+ M as a means of culling out horses who didn’t meet the breeding criteria. In 2014, with the advent of a market demanding speed and precocity, many races have been pruned down to shorter distances, although the greatest of the classic races, notably the Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Caulfield Cups, the AJC and VJC Derbies and AJC Oaks, are still contested at distances from 1.5-2+ M. (And just as there are those who despair at the change in thoroughbred tastes in North America, Great Britain and elsewhere, so the trend has been decried in AUS + NZ.)

SKYLINE typifies the "look" of the AUS + NZ thoroughbred which focuses on solid and sensible.

Champion SKYLINE (1955) typified the “look” of the AUS + NZ thoroughbred which focuses on “solid and sensible.” However, with the recent appetite for speed, we are inclined to wonder if that “look” with its emphasis on stamina is undergoing a qualitative shift.



The first recorded instance of a thoroughbred to land in Australia (AUS), Rockingham (1790), arrived on a ship from the Cape of Good Hope in 1799.  His sire is not known for certain, but he is believed to be a son of another Rockingham (1781), a talented thoroughbred who raced in England. Precise details about the earliest thoroughbred imports are skewed by the fact that the earliest individuals in AUS linked to the development of the thoroughbred were either Arabians or mixed with Arabian blood, and this may well have been the case with Rockingham (1790). However, in 1802 the thoroughbred stallion Northumberland (nd) was imported directly from England, arriving in the company of Hector, an Arabian stallion. This would appear to indicate that the mix of different breeds — particularly that of the Arabian or “Persian” horse — was still popular amongst AUS breeders at this time and did, in fact, play a pivotal role in establishing the AUS + NZ thoroughbred breed. The first Thoroughbred mare of proven origin, Manto (1822), arrived in Sydney, AUS in 1825. The Godolphin Arabian appears in Manto’s fifth generation and her pedigree is spotted with the names of prominent early thoroughbreds, such as Woodpecker (1773), Diomed (1777), Herod (1758), Matchem (1748) and Marske (1760).

This painting of HECTOR is an indication of the accuracy of the record of his arrival to AUS in 1830. The travel companions were also known as OLD HECTOR and OLD NORTHUMBERLAND.

This painting of HECTOR is an indication of the significance  of his arrival to AUS in 1830. The travel companions were also known as OLD HECTOR and OLD NORTHUMBERLAND respectively, making the tracing of their influence even more complex.


By 1840 the Australian Racing Committee was formed, re-named the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) in 1842. In keeping with their mission to nurture the development of a unique AUS thoroughbred, one known for strength and stamina, the AJC inaugurated and organized a program of Classic races, the chief among them the VJC Derby (AUS oldest derby), the AJC Derby and the Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Caulfield Cups. All of the races accepted into the Classic program were at distances of 1.5 miles or better.  Other states and jurisdictions in Australia developed their own racing clubs in the 19th century, including Victoria, which inaugurated its own Victoria Jockey Club in 1864, as well as Queensland, Southern and Western Australia and the island of Tasmania. By 1883, 192 racing clubs were registered with the AJC.

Under the influence of horseman like Captain Henry John Rous, Australian breeders became increasingly convinced that it was through importing British bloodstock that they would achieve a fine thoroughbred of their own and interest in Arabian bloodstock fell sharply. Rous was a British Naval Officer who came from a horse racing family that had great influence in British racing circles and was destined to become, according to Peter Willett, “the third great dictator of the British turf.” In fact, it was Rous who came up with the “weight for age” handicapping. During his visits to Western Australia in 1827-1828, Rous made connections with thoroughbred breeders and was responsible for importing the stallion, Rous’ Emigrant (1822). Another leader in the field, Charles Smith, established Bungarribee Stud at Doonside, New South Wales in 1830. The stud boasted only English-bred horses and it was Smith who gave Australia its first important homebred, Sir Hercules, who was foaled in 1843. Sir Hercules’ sons Cossack (1847), Yattendon (1861) and The Barb (1863) won the St. Leger and AJC Derby, respectively, as well as other classic races. Today many Australian thoroughbreds can still be traced back to Sir Hercules.

Another important early influence was Fisherman (1853), a British stallion imported by Hurtle Fisher in 1860 to stand at his stud in Victoria, Maribyrnong .

FISHERMAN (1853) was one of the Foundation Sires of the AUS+ NZ thoroughbred. He is depicted here by the great equine artist, Herring.

FISHERMAN (1853) was one of the Foundation Sires of the AUS+ NZ thoroughbred. He is depicted here by the great equine artist, John Frederick Herring, Sr.

If ever a horse was the incarnation of stamina and strength, it had to be Fisherman who, during his racing career, won 70 races, including 21 wins from 35 starts in a single racing season. Winner of 26 Queen’s Plate trophies and two Ascot Gold Cups, Fisherman on the occasion of his win of the first Gold Cup, was rewarded by being saddled up the very next day to run in the 3+ M Queen’s Plate — which he won stylishly, ears pricked. Fisherman was one of the best British stayers of the nineteenth century and it was little wonder he exercised such a potent influence on the AUS + NZ thoroughbred: in a short 5 seasons before his death, the champion sired 10 stakes winners and his progeny boasted a total of 25 stakes wins.


New Zealand began to import its earliest thoroughbreds from New South Wales (AUS) in the 1840’s- 1850’s, having been infected by the “racing bug” through the commerce and exchange with its larger Australasian neighbour. What New Zealand brought to the table was a lush, fertile environment for raising horses, in contrast to the markedly small territory that Australia could offer, given its vast reaches of dry, arable land. By 1890, NZ racing had been organized under a central authority when all of its racing clubs were affiliated with the NZ Racing Conference. What began as the influence of one neighbour upon another continues between AUS + NZ to this day, a recent example being M.J. Moran and Piper Farm’s (NZ) superstar, So You Think, who quickly earned the love and respect of Australian racegoers. So You Think is just one of many champions to travel from NZ to AUS, where they earned the love and loyalty of a racing public who would never forget them.

The mare Lucy Banks (1839) is the first British-bred thoroughbred to be imported to New Zealand, although another mare, Moonshine(1853), together with three sons of the excellent British stallion Melbourne (1834) — Incledon(nd), The Peer(1855) and Towtown(1850) — arrived at nearly the same time, between 1857 – 1865 (approx.). What NZ breeders were after was a tough individual with middle distance ability and stamina. Like their AUS neighbours, NZ horsemen subscribed to the theory that thoroughbreds should be run “hard and often” since this seemed the best way to select out those horses that should be bred. In turn, this explained their great interest in the progeny of a British stallion like Melbourne, who sired the British Triple Crown winner West Australian (1850), the St. Leger winner Sir Tatton Sykes (1843) and the peerless winner of both the Epsom Derby and Oaks, the filly Blink Bonny (1854). So, although Melbourne never set foot in NZ, he is one of the important early sires of the AUS + NZ thoroughbred.

Still another sire of great importance to the flourishing of the breed in New Zealand was Traducer (1857), a son of The Libel (1842) who was imported in 1862. Despite his reputedly savage temperament, Traducer got 9 winners of the NZ Derby and another 8 winners of the Canterbury Cup, a weight-for-age race run over a 2.5 M course.

BLINK BONNY: the peerless daughter of MELBOURNE, won both the Epsom Derby and Oaks in 1857.

BLINK BONNY: the peerless daughter of MELBOURNE, won both the Epsom Derby and Oaks in 1857.

The greatest influence among the early imported mares was that of Flora McIvor (1828), an AUS-born daughter of Rous’ Emigrant out of Cornelia (AUS, b. 1825), a daughter of Manto. Brought to New Zealand by Henry Redwood, the “father of the NZ Turf”, the 25 year-old Flora McIvor produced two daughters by Sir Hercules: Io (1855), the ancestress of the important stallion Trenton (1881) and Waimea (1857), the ancestress of Phar Lap’s contemporary, Nightmarch (1925), and the superb filly, Silver Scorn (1929), acknowledged to be one of the best of her sex to ever race in NZ. The following short video celebrates the contribution of Redwood to the NZ thoroughbred industry, while giving viewers a glimpse into the early history of the sport:

The next major event in the development of the breed is the arrival of Musket (1867) in 1878, for it fell to this sire to produce the kind of brilliance that would put New Zealand “on the map” as a place where fine thoroughbreds could be found. Bred by Lord Glascow, Musket was a sturdy bay with a winning heart and he put both to good use, winning at distances up to 3 miles in Great Britain, including the Flying Dutchman H. (10F at York), the Ascot Stakes (2 1/2M at Ascot), Her Majestys Plate at Lincoln (2M), Her Majestys Plate at Shrewsbury (3M), the Seven Cup (2M) and the Alexandra Plate (3M) in which he carried 132lbs.

The amazing MUSKET, who had won at distances up to 3M, would give the NZ thoroughbred a world-class status.

The amazing MUSKET, who had won at distances up to 3M, would give the NZ thoroughbred a world-class status.

As great as were Musket’s gifts on the turf, in the breeding shed he lent his superb genes to sons Trenton (1881) and Martini-Henry (1880). From the latter would descend the 1946 Epsom Derby winner, Nimbus (1943), and the superb Grey Sovereign (1948), twice leading sire in France. The brilliant Trenton excelled at stud, producing 404 winners over 9 seasons; a daughter, Rosaline (1901), became the grandam of the great British sire, Gainsborough (1915).

But Musket’s most superb gift of all came in 1885, when Carbine was foaled.

CARBINE, captured in oil by artist Percy Brinkworth.

CARBINE, captured in oil by artist Percy Brinkworth.

Carbine, aka “Old Jack,” was as loved as Phar Lap (who is a direct descendant) by all who saw him race. He is considered one of the best thoroughbreds ever produced in AUS + NZ to this day. Carbine proved himself a consummate runner, embodying the strength and endurance that AUS + NZ breeders were aiming for in the horses they bred. In 1890 at the Randwick Carnival, the colt proved his mettle, taking five top-class races in eight days over distances ranging from 1 mile to 3 miles. That same year Carbine won the Melbourne Cup, where he faced a field of 39 other horses (today the field is limited to 24). Not only did Carbine win: he set a new race record, even though he was carrying 66 kg (146 lbs.), the most weight ever carried by a Cup winner. It seems unbelievable, does it not, that a 16h horse could carry that much weight over 2 miles and set a track record? That alone speaks loud about who Carbine was. Racing in Australia until he was retired at five, the best son of Musket won 33 times in 43 starts and was unplaced once throughout his career on the turf. He was the first AUS+ NZ champion to win 15 successive races, which he did in his remarkable season as a four/five year-old.

CARBINE depicted on a postcard of the day.

CARBINE depicted on a postcard of the day.

Sent off to the breeding shed, Carbine stood four seasons in Australia before being sold in 1895 to the Duke of Portland, the owner of St. Simon (1881). Shipped to England to the Duke’s stud,Welbeck Abbey, Carbine was installed as the “second” to St. Simon. The champion might not have gotten the choicest mares, but his genes were so potent that he made an indelible mark on the thoroughbred anyway. Even before leaving Australia, Carbine had sired three very good individuals: Wallace (1892), winner of the VATC Caulfield Guineas, the Sydney Cup and Victoria Derby, among others, who would top the Australian sire list in 1915/16; the superb filly, La Carabine (1894), winner of the VRC Australian Cup, the Sydney Cup and two-time winner of the AJC Plate, who went on to be a black-type producer; and Amberite (1894) winner of the Victoria Derby, VATC Caulfield Cup, the AJC Derby, the AJC St. Leger and the AJC Plate. All in all, in his short stud career in Australia, Carbine sired winners of 203 races with combined earnings of 48,624 APS.

CARBINE at stud, probably in the UK, circa 1900.

CARBINE at stud, probably in the UK, circa 1900.


WALLACE was the best of Carbine's sons. Painting by Martin Stainforth

WALLACE was the best of Carbine’s sons born in Australia and an important sire there. Painting by Martin Stainforth


LA CARABINE, brilliant daughter of CARBINE born and bred in Australia.

LA CARABINE, brilliant daughter of CARBINE born and bred in Australia.


At Welbeck Abbey, Carbine continued his career as a sire of champions, the arguably most famous among these being the English Derby and Grand Prix de Paris winner, Spearmint (1902). Although of delicate constitution himself, Spearmint became a sire of classic winners. He also turned out to be a brilliant BM sire. Among other Spearmint progeny: the great sire Chicle (1913) who sired America’s Mother Goose (1922) and was the BM sire of Shut Out(1939); the 1920 Epsom Derby winner Spion Kop (1917); Johren (1915), winner of the Belmont Stakes in 1918 and an American HOTY; the 1922 St Leger Stakes winner Royal Lancer(1919); as well as Spike Island (1919), winner of the 1922 Irish Derby; the exceptional filly Fausta (1911), winner of the 1914 Italian Derby and Oaks; and Spelthorne (1922), winner of the 1925 Irish St Leger Stakes.

CARBINE'S best British son was SPEARMINT. Although a fragile runner with poor legs, SPEARMINT'S progeny were noted for their classic lines.

CARBINE’S best British son was SPEARMINT. Although a fragile runner with poor legs, SPEARMINT’S progeny were noted for their classic lines and it was he more than any other Carbine progeny who assured his sire’s place in the development of the thoroughbred.

SPEARMINT'S daughter, PLUCKY LIEGE, exerted an enormous influence on the breed through her sons BULL DOG,

SPEARMINT’S daughter, PLUCKY LIEGE, exerted an enormous influence on the breed through her sons BULL DOG and SIR GALLAHAD III.

NOGARA, granddaughter of SPEARMINT and dam of NEARCO.

NOGARA, granddaughter of SPEARMINT and dam of NEARCO.


However, Spearmint’s greatest success as a stallion was through his daughters, of whom the most influential was arguably Plucky Liege (1912), dam of Bull Dog (1927), Sir Gallahad III (1920), Bois Roussel (1935) and Admiral Drake (1931). Seaweed (1916), another daughter, was the dam of multiple stakes winners Hotweed(1926) and Broulette (1928). Yet another daughter, Catnip (1910), was the dam of the great blacktype producer, Nogara (1928), whose son, Nearco (1935), exerted an enormous influence on thoroughbred pedigrees worldwide through his sons, Nearctic (1940) the sire of Northern Dancer (1961), Nasrullah (1940) the founder of a dynasty and sire of Bold Ruler (1954) and Royal Charger(1942), sire of the important stallion Turn-To (1951) and of American champion, Mongo (1959). From Turn-To comes First Landing (1956), sire of Riva Ridge and Sir Gaylord (1959), sire of the British champion miler and good sire, Habitat (1966), as well as the great British champion, Sir Ivor (1965). Another son of Turn-To, Hail To Reason (1958), made the greatest impact of all, through his sons Halo (1969), the sire of Sunday Silence (1986) and Bold Reason (1968), the BM sire of Sadler’s Wells (1981).

NEXT TIME: The series continues with a look at some of the greatest AUS+NZ champion thoroughbreds in the first part of the twentieth century.


NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. 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.


Royal Ascot is about to open and in 2014 will host a veritable who’s-who of the British and European turf. An exciting twist for American racing fans is provided by the entry of Rosalind, trained by Kenny McPeek, in either the Ribblesdale Stakes on June 19 or the Coronation Stakes on Friday, June 20.  In addition, Verrazano, now in training with Aidan O’Brien, will be starting in either the Queen Anne (June 17) or the Prince of Wales (June 18) Stakes. 

ROSALIND, trained by Kenny McPeek, is set to make her UK debut in the Coronation Stakes on June 20.

ROSALIND is set to make her UK debut in either the Ribblesdale or the Coronation Stakes. Both of these races are designed for fillies.

Impossible as it is to focus on every horse entered at Royal Ascot, there are several who have become familiar names to racing fans worldwide. Keeping our readership and their needs in mind, we have focused on a few of the star-studded cast who will assemble at Royal Ascot next week. At the time of this writing, the fields were still not quite set and since several of the entries described below remain co-entered in two different races, readers are encouraged to go to the Racing Post site for Royal Ascot to check the racing cards early next week: http://royal-ascot.racingpost.com/horses/cards/


Arc winner, Treve, is set to kick off in the Prince of Wales Stakes on Wednesday, June 18 in what will be her first start on British soil. Last seen in neck-to-neck combat with the outstanding Cirrus des Aigles in April at Longchamps in the Prix Ganay (below), which Treve lost by a whisker in her first-ever defeat, trainer Cricket Head-Maarek’s champion seems ready to add another jewel to her crown next week.

As satisfying as it will be for Head-Maarek to see her great mare return to the winner’s circle at Ascot, the Prince of Wales is thought to be a prep race for Treve who’s real objective is likely to be the 1 million purse in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in July, where it is very possible that she will meet up with Derby winner, Australia. From there, if all goes well, Treve will defend her title in the 2015 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. If anyone can get her through this arduous campaign it is Head-Maarek, a trainer of no small merit who hails from the family of Freddie Head, trainer of the brilliant Goldikova. Here is Treve in-training prior to the Prix Ganay, with commentary from the distinguished jockey, Frankie Dettori, who has ridden some of the greatest thoroughbreds of the last twenty years.

The Prince of Wales is shaping up to be a solid race including Aidan O’Brien’s 2013 Epsom Derby winner, Ruler of the World, John Gosden’s globetrotting mare, The Fugue, the William Haggas-trained Mukhadram, second in last year’s Dubai World Cup, and Dank, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, last seen by North America in her record-setting run in the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf in November 2013 (below). (NOTE: Ruler of the World is co-entered in the Hardwicke Stakes, Saturday, June 21st. Check on Monday, June 16 to see where he is going.)

Of particular interest to American racing fans will be the entry of Verrazano, last year’s winner of the Wood Memorial, who is now being trained by Aidan O’Brien. O’Brien reports that he is pleased with Verrazano’s progress to date. The 4 year-old made his first start for O’Brien at Newberry in May, where he finished a very respectable third to champion Olympic Glory in the JLT Lockinge Stakes (below). (NOTE: Verrazano is co-entered in the Queen Anne Stakes which will run on Tuesday, June 17. Verrazano fans should check at on the weekend or Monday, June 16 when the entries should be finalized for June 17.)


Mike de Kock’s Soft Falling Rain is getting set to take on Olympic Glory in the Queen Anne Stakes, on the first day of racing (June 17th) at Royal Ascot. The last time he tried this on Ascot turf, Soft Falling Rain ran the worst race of his distinguished career, coming in 11th behind the winner (Olympic Glory). But don’t be fooled: Mike de Kock’s champion has only ever finished out of the money twice in his 12 starts, winning 8. A son of Canada’s National Assembly, a champion sire in South Africa who was trained by Vincent O’Brien but never raced due to injury, Soft Falling Rain is a grandson of the prepotent Danzig and Giant’s Causeway is his BM sire. So this 5 year-old is “bred in the purple” and always gives his best. His last start was in March in the Godolphin Mile, where he narrowly lost out to stablemate Variety Club:

Olympic Glory (shown in video above in connection with Verrazano) is another champion who has won very consistently over 13 career starts for trainer, Richard Hannon. A son of Choisir, the first Australian-trained horse to win at Royal Ascot (2003) who became almost as famous for his weird headgear, Olympic Glory carries “the Danehill gene” that never seems to disappoint. Accordingly, the colt has won seven times in France and England, and was seen last year at Royal Ascot winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (below).  Despite coming in 4th at Longchamps to the mighty Cirrus des Aigles, expect Olympic Glory to be well in the mix on opening day.

CHOISIR, the sire of OLYMPIC GLORY, shown here winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2003. A handsome devil, CHOISIR was as memorable for his headgear as he was for his immense talent.

CHOISIR, the sire of OLYMPIC GLORY, shown here winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2003. CHOISIR was as famous for his headgear as he was for his immense talent.


Perhaps the most heartwarming moment of last year’s Royal Ascot was the delight of HM The Queen as she greeted her filly, Estimate, in the winner’s enclosure after the Gold Cup.

Estimate was the product of an arrangement involving her dam, Ebaziya, owned by the Aga Khan Studs and HM’s Royal Stud. The latter sent Ebaziya to the super German stallion, Monsun (sire of Novellist, Shirocco and Stacelita, among others) and the result was a beautiful mare who has done her 88 year-old owner-breeder proud. Although lightly raced, the 5 year-old has won 4 of her 8 starts. Given HM’s passion for thoroughbred racing, it would be a thrill to see Estimate defend her title with another win in the 2m 4f Gold Cup on June 19. But she will have to be at her absolute best to vanquish her competition.

It’s a fair guess that Aidan O’Brien’s Leading Light will push Estimate to the limit if he can get the distance. Successful at Navan in May, the son of Montjeu has only lost twice in 8 starts. Out of the Gone West mare, Dance Parade, Leading Light was the brilliant winner of the St. Leger last year as a 3 year-old, and at Royal Ascot 2013 showed true grit in winning the Queen’s Vase.

A sentimental favourite is the hardy Simenon, whose problem won’t be the distance. Rather, it will be his age. At seven, with 38 starts under his belt, Simenon may be getting past his best but he’s one of the most honest horses in the race. Too, there is Richard Baldwin’s Whiplash Willie, who ran a very decent third at Sandown last time out to the favourite, Brown Panther.


Certify was brilliant as a juvenile at 2 and as a 3 year-old, but her career was cut in half by the drug scandal that beset Godolphin’s trainer, Mahmood Al Zarooni in 2013. Certify returned in 2014 where she won her first race, followed by a fourth at Meydan in what was her first ever defeat. Her story is a heart-breaker because the daughter of Elusive Quality is Frankel-esque in her abilities and bringing her back to form after an enforced break of 469 days is a challenge of epic proportions. Switched to trainer Charlie Appleby, Certify is listed to run against fillies and mares in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes on Wednesday, June 18. One can only hope to see her regain the brilliance of her 2012 season. Either way, she is a superstar gracing the turf of champions. Here is Certify winning the Shadwell Fillies Mile in 2012, followed by her win in the Cape Verdi at Meydan in January 2014:



Another serious contender for the Gold Cup will be Ted Dascombe’s Brown Panther, a son of Shirocco and grandson of Monsun. As of this writing, Brown Panther has won his last two races decisively and with 20 starts and 9 wins under his belt, appears to be peaking at just the right moment. The Dascombe-trained 6 year-old is currently listed as the favourite going in to Royal Ascot week, given that his last win came at the Gold Cup distance over a soggy track at Sandown. Although it has taken him some time to get there, Brown Panther deserves the attention he’s getting.

Bred by his owner, Michael Owen, a British and international soccer (football in the UK) star who now does football commentary for the British media, Brown Panther represents the zenith of his owner’s career in horse racing. And he’s come along very nicely under Ted Dascombe’s patient tutelage, since his male family have a tendency to come into their own rather slowly by today’s standards and Dascombe understands this.

As footage of his most recent win at Sandown was not available, here is Brown Panther (turquoise shirt) winning the Artemis Goodwood Cup at Glorious Goodwood a year ago, where he beat the likes of Colour Vision soundly.  By all accounts, he’s an even better distance runner this year.


America’s Rosalind will have her work cut out for her, making her first start on grass at Royal Ascot in either the Ribblesdale (June 19) or the Coronation Stakes (June 20). Either way, she will be in heady company, including a contingent from Ballydoyle that includes Wonderfully, John Gosden’s Criteria, Roger Varian’s excellent Sea The Stars filly, Anipa, Godolphin’s Ihtimal, John Oxx’s talented filly My Titania (another by Sea The Stars), Andre Fabre’s Miss France, together with lightly-raced fillies like Wonderstruck, Dermot Weld’s Edelmira or William Haggas’ Cape Cross filly, Token of Love.

Still, Rosalind will have a huge fan following from America, where she is a favourite and they will be rooting for her all the way. The daughter of Broken Vow whose BM sire is Theatrical has several excellent grass runners in her pedigree, including Britain’s last Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky II, as well as Sassafras and Nureyev, who was born and raced in France where he got Champion 3 year-old honours. Her owners, Landaluce Educe Stables and trainer, Kenny McPeek have little reason to doubt either her quality or her determination. Having only finished out of the money twice in 8 starts, Rosalind is shown here in a gutsy win over Room Service in April at Keeneland:


It would be fair to say that next to the emotion of HM’s Estimate taking the Gold Cup, last year’s Royal Ascot was punctuated by the thrill of 2 year-old War Command’s victory. As his white-blazed faced streaked across the finish line his sire’s (War Front) reputation grew even more in the minds of British and European thoroughbred owners and breeders. They had to be asking themselves, “Have we got another Northern Dancer on the rise?” since The Dancer really made his legacy through the loyalty of Coolmore-Ballydoyle, specifically Vincent O’Brien, to his progeny. Most of whom proved to be brilliant. Cross-entered in both the prestigious St. James Palace Stakes (June 17) and the Diamond Jubilee (June 21), Coolmore-Ballydoyle will be dreaming of a performance that repeats War Command’s brilliance of almost a year ago:

However, a little-publicized truth (according to Ballydoyle) is that the “War Fronts can be quite lazy” and War Command pulled that card in his most recent outing in May at Newmarket, where he finished a dismal 9th in the 2000 Guineas, failing to pick up the pace when it counted most. If he does this again at Royal Ascot, he’ll likely be pummelled by either the brilliant Night of Thunder or Kingman.

Night of Thunder, a 3 year-old son of Dubawi, is trained by the eminent Richard Hannon. Having won 3 of his 4 lifetime starts, the colt has never been out of the money. More importantly, Night of Thunder is this year’s winner of the Quipco 2000 Guineas, taking it despite hanging out very far as he and jockey Keiron Fallon came to the finish. But he beat War Command, the subsequent Derby winner, Australia, as well as a very good colt in Kingman despite what could have been a disastrous error:

Kingman and Night of Thunder have been challenging each other throughout the season. While Juddmonte’s Kingman lost to his rival in the Quipco 2000 Guineas, he went on to subsequently take the Irish 2000 Guineas in devastating fashion. The son of Invincible Spirit has only ever lost once in his 5 lifetime starts. Accordingly, Prince Khalid Abdullah and trainer John Gosden’s champion has been accorded the status of favourite to take the St. James Palace next week:


The War Fronts make up a small army, with newcomers War Envoy and The Great War running in the prestigious Coventry Stakes for 2 year-olds on June 17; Guerre and Due Diligence running on the same day in the King’s Stand; Giovanni Boldini joining War Command in the St. James Palace Stakes; and a filly, Peace and War is running for  Sheikh Suhaim Al Thani/QRL/M Al Kubaisi in the Queen Mary Stakes  (June 18).

Elusive Quality is represented in the St. James Palace Stakes (June 17) by Michaelmas who runs for Ballydoyle; Great White Eagle in the Jersey Stakes for Ballydoyle (June 18); Elusive Guest for John Guest Racing runs in the Jersey Stakes (June 18); and the fabulous mare Certify is due to run in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes (June 18) for Godolphin.

Big Brown is represented by the very good colt, Darwin, who runs in the King’s Stand (June 17) for Ballydoyle.

Bluegrass Cat is represented by Biting Bullets who runs for Mrs. Joanna Hughes in another 2 year-old race, the Windsor Castle Stakes (June 17).

Quality Road has a 2 year-old colt, Hootenanny, running in the Windsor Castle Stakes in the colours of Tabor, Magnier and Smith (June 17).

Street Cry has Street Force running in the Jersey Stakes (June 18) for Saeed Mañana.

Dynaformer is represented by Somewhat who runs in the colours of  Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum in the King Edward VII Stakes (June 20).

NOTE TO MY READERS: I have recently had a death in my family and this, together with the natural excitement about this year’s American Triple Crown and flat racing overseas accounts for the lapse between VAULT articles. But I will be back soon with more stories of great horses from around the world. Thank you for your understanding.



It’s Derby time again here in North America and that familiar buzz is in the air. Everyone is busy choosing their favourite. But the best colt or filly doesn’t always win. Sometimes, the outcome depends on the Racing Gods who, as we all know, can turn the best laid plans on their ear. 

DEGAS' sculpture of a thoroughbred walking seemed a fitting opening to this article.

“Thoroughbred Horse Walking” by EDGAR DEGAS. From the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

1929: BLUE LARKSPUR VS CLYDE VAN DUSEN When it was all over, racing mogul Colonel Edward R. Bradley, who owned the favourite, Blue Larkspur, described the winner as “…the worst horse to win the Derby in twenty years.” If the winner, Clyde Van Dusen, had anything at all going for him it was that he was a son of the American racing legend, Man O’ War. The other thing he had going for him on that rainy and sloppy first Saturday in May were his caulk shoes, which enabled him to get some traction on the slippery Churchill Downs track. Clyde was described as a “mere pony of a horse with a weedy frame” and was bred by New York businessman Herbert Gardner. Somewhere early in his career, the colt became a gelding and was named by Gardner after his trainer, Clyde Van Dusen, who was a former jockey. Although he was the seventh gelding in fifty-five years to win the Kentucky Derby, it would be another seventy-four before the beloved Funny Cide would do it again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9flaRIstGXk#t=16 Blue Larkspur, on the other hand, was crowned HOTY in 1929 and he deserved it. The son of Black Servant and grandson of Black Toney was a really honest colt who almost always did his best. But his best was beyond him on Derby day, when the track played muddy and deep, and the assistant trainer (Herbert J “Derby Dick” Thompson, Bradley’s HOF trainer having succumbed to an attack of appendicitis) failed to shoe him properly for the track conditions. Blue Larkspur did brilliantly to manage fourth place and to come home in one piece.

BLUE LARKSPUR was a really handsome horse and this photo shows him to advantage.

BLUE LARKSPUR was a really handsome horse and this photo shows him to advantage.

MYRTLEWOOD, a daughter of BLUE LARKSPUR, during her racing days. She would go on to become a foundation mare of the American thoroughbred horse.

MYRTLEWOOD, a daughter of BLUE LARKSPUR, during her racing days. She would go on to become a foundation mare of the American thoroughbred horse.

And lucky for the American thoroughbred that he did, since as a sire Blue Larkspur had an enormous influence on the development of the breed. His genes passed most effectively to his daughters, among them the foundation mare Myrtlewood, and this allowed Blue Larkspur to top the broodmare sire list from 1944-1960, inclusive. His daughters produced some great, great thoroughbred champions, among them: Twilight Tear, Princess Turia, Bull Page, Durazna, Busanda, Cohoes and War Jeep. Clyde Van Dusen ran 42 times but the 1929 Kentucky Derby was his last major win. In retirement, the gelding was acquired by his trainer for use as a stable pony.

Trainer CLYDE VAN DUSEN with his namesake after the gelding's retirement from racing. CLYDE the horse lived to be 22 years old and was, by all accounts, a favourite of his trainer.

Trainer CLYDE VAN DUSEN with his namesake whom he bought after the gelding’s retirement from racing. CLYDE the horse lived to be 22 years old and was, by all accounts, considered a gem — albeit with a character all his own — by his trainer.

1933: HEAD PLAY VS. BROKERS’ TIP As recently as 1993, the outcome of the 1933 Derby was still being hotly debated. Racing fans will recognize the famous photograph of Head Play and Brokers’ Tip coming to the finish line. The latter, owned by Idle Hour Stock Farm’s powerful Colonel Edward R. Bradley (of Blue Larkspur fame) would be declared the winner. To his dying day, Head Play’s jockey, Herb Fisher, would insist that his colt had actually won and that the decision of the judges had more to do with Bradley’s influence than with an honest assessment of who-was-where at the finish line.

The famous photo of the 1933 Derby finish shows the jockeys fighting it out as BROKERS TIP (blinkers) and HEAD PLKAY come to the finish.

The famous photo of the 1933 Derby finish shows the jockeys fighting it out as BROKERS’ TIP (blinkers) and HEAD PLAY come to the finish.

It was a very different story in the Preakness, where HEAD PLAY came home first under the great Charlie Kurtsinger.

It was a very different story in the Preakness, where HEAD PLAY came home first under the great Charlie Kurtsinger. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Neither colt went into the Derby as a favourite, although Head Play was without question the better prospect of the two. He was a grandson of Fair Play, the sire of Man O’ War, and had won the Hawthorne Juvenile and Cincinnati Trophy as a two year-old, both at a distance of 6f. Head Play also came into the Derby as the winner of the Derby Trial Stakes, run over 8f. An interesting contemporary note about Head Play is that his second owner at the time of the Derby and until his retirement, Mrs. Suzanne Burnett Mason, was the mother of H. Burnett Robinson. After WWII, Robinson hooked up with racing’s Hal Prince Headley and, under Headley’s advice, bought a property that would become Winter Quarter Farm. And Winter Quarter Farm, still under Robinson ownership today, was the place where HOTY Zenyatta, as well as her Blue Hen dam Vertigineux, came into the world. (For more photos of Head Play, as well as Zenyatta’s page, go to the Winter Quarter Farm at this link: http://winterquarterfarm.com/about-us/) The 1933 Derby became infamous for the shoving match that took place just before the finish, between Herb Fisher (on Head Play) and Don Meade (aboard Brokers’ Tip, in the blinkers on the inside). Believe it or not, the drama of the finish added some spice to an otherwise mediocre Derby field and gave horse racing what it desperately needed in America at the height of the Depression: a ton of publicity. For Brokers’ Tip, who was declared the winner, the Derby would stand as the only race he ever won. (Note: There is no voice over on the footage. Head Play is wearing #9 and Brokers’ Tip, in blinkers, is #16) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxBrMrj39uU   1942: ALSAB VS DEVIL DIVER, WITH REGARDS & SHUT OUT If the Derby field of 1933 was considered mediocre, the 1942 field was its polar opposite. Devil Diver and Shut Out were stable mates. Born at the Whitney’s Greentree Stable, Devil Diver was by the Whitney’s British import, St. Germans, whose son Twenty Grand had run himself into American thoroughbred history with wins in the 1931 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.  Shut Out was by an American legend, Equipoise, “The Chocolate Soldier.” Both Whitney colts were also trained by the HOF conditioner, John M. Gaver Sr. During a brilliant career that spanned thirty-seven years, Gaver also trained the champions Capot, Tom Fool, Stage Door Johnny and Stop The Music.

DEVIL DIVER with the legendary EDDIE ARCARO.

DEVIL DIVER gets some loving’ from the legendary EDDIE ARCARO.

Devil Diver had major wins in the Sanford, Hopeful and Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at two and had opened his three year-old season by beating Whirlaway in the Phoenix Handicap. Shut Out was also a fine colt who, although beaten at two by Devil Diver in the Hopeful, would prove a better three year-old than his popular stablemate. But Devil Diver would have his revenge at four: beginning in 1943, the colt would win the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap for three consecutive years. Like many fine horses of his day, Devil Diver won at punishing weights — often more than 130 lbs. But this couldn’t stop him and as a five year-old, his efforts were rewarded by receiving the title of American Champion Older Male Horse. However, that was in his future; the thinking in 1942 was that Devil Diver would continue his winning ways at three. So it was that Eddie Arcaro chose the accomplished two year-old who had defeated Mr. Longtail, America’s latest Triple Crown winner, to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Shut Out got the services of another HOF jockey, Warren Wright.

SHUT OUT at work as a three year-old. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

SHUT OUT at work as a three year-old. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Shut Out’s chief rival as a three year-old was another famous name in American racing annals, Alsab. Taking his name from his owner, Albert Sabeth, the 1941 Champion Two-Year Old Colt, whose grandsire was the great Neddie, would chase Shut Out’s heels through the Derby and Belmont Stakes. Trained by Charles Swenke, Alsab quickly gained a massive fan base and at three, the colt annexed the Withers, American Derby, Lawrence Realization and the New York Handicap. Perhaps most impressively, Alsab defeated Whirlaway in a match race held at Narragansett Park on September 19, 1942: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlNaBhmLW_s Then there was With Regards, another terrific colt, winner of the Arkansas Derby and Myrtlewood Handicap. Owned by Josephine Grimes and trained by her husband, Ted, the son of Jack High was arguable the quirkiest of this distinguished group. It appeared that, among other things, With Regards had a “thing” about getting into the starting gate before mid-afternoon; in fact, retirement was forced upon him at age five for refusing to load two times in a row. By then, the colt had made 63 starts, with a record of 19-14-4 and winnings of just over $87,000 USD.  For the Derby, With Regards got the services of HOF Johnny Longden — in Longden’s future, and only a year down the road, was the next Triple Crown winner, the incomparable Count Fleet.

The handsome WITH REGARDS and trainer, TED GRIMES. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The handsome WITH REGARDS and trainer, TED GRIMES. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Colonel MATT WINN, the President of Churchill Downs, played a huge role in shaping the sport. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Colonel MATT WINN, the President of Churchill Downs, played a huge role in shaping the sport. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The excellence of the 1942 Derby field prompted the hugest turnout since Colonel Matt Winn had taken the post of President of Churchill Downs. As Winn told a reporter from The Tucson Daily Citizen: “Son,” (Winn) said as the bright Kentucky sun outlined the faint stripes in his dark, blue suit, “I’ve been through four wars. I was born in the first year of the Civil War, I have weathered two others and now I’m in my fourth. And the one thing I have learned is that you should never sell America short nor America’s love of sport short. You take this race track. Now, I’m not talking about Saturday’s Derby, because Saturday’s Derby will be the biggest of all. I thought my dream of 100,000 people would come true last year but there were only 95,000. But I know my dream will come true this year because we can’t fill the demands we have had for tickets–from 50 cent tickets to $125 tickets. To me, this Derby is already history. It is the 1943 Derby  I’m planning now. And do you know what I’ll tell you this minute? Son, I’ll promise you the 1943 Derby will be even bigger than this one. Gasoline shortages? Tire scarcities? America can take them in stride. America will come here–and America will go other places–(even) if America is forced to walk.” Alsab went into the Derby as the favourite, with Devil Diver, Shut Out and With Regards getting a fair amount of play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw6r39Rj-QY Despite the fact that Shut Out went on to win the Belmont Stakes, this time with Eddie Arcaro in the saddle, it was Alsab who took the honours as American Champion Three Year-Old Colt that year. Arguably, Alsab’s defeat of the mighty Whirlaway was the clincher, together with the romantic notion of a colt with a rather ordinary pedigree, bought by a rather “average” guy, who goes on to become a champion.   1953: NATIVE DANCER VS DARK STAR Without question, the most famous of losers of the Kentucky Derby has to be the incomparable NATIVE DANCER. The loss would be the only one of his career. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBBvKILL1IM As the story goes, the “Grey Ghost” as he was famously dubbed by the racing public of 1953 had to weave in and out of horses just to get to the lead. And with each manoeuver, the colt lost ground on the leader, the aptly named Dark Star. In the third quarter, Native Dancer ran from the outside in a time of 23 seconds. But close to the final dash, HOF jockey Eric Guerin went back to the rail, only to be blocked again by Dark Star’s jockey, the cunning Henry Moreno. Guerin gave Native Dancer a couple of smacks and the colt fired, losing at the finish by a head. Which is to take nothing away from Dark Star, who ran the race of his life. His time of 2:02 was better than that of champions like Spectacular Bid, Seattle Slew, Ferdinand, Swale, Winning Colours and Alysheba.

DARK STAR wears the roses in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

DARK STAR wears the roses in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

1957: GALLANT MAN VS IRON LIEGE This is the story of a great jockey who made a terrible mistake. It remains the most infamous of all of the “what-went-wrong” Derbies. The jockey in question, Bill Shoemaker, first said that his horse had taken a bad step, until he was remanded by the track stewards. Their verdict was to suspend “The Shoe” for 15 days. In his biography, published many years later, Shoemaker stated that as he crossed the finish line, “I knew I’d made a boo boo.”  Which would be to put it mildly. The horses at the centre of the controversy were the John Nerud-trained Gallant Man and Calumet Farm’s Iron Liege. But it was a prestigious field that went to the post on that cold, grim day, led by the favourite — Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons’ Bold Ruler. In the field was also the great Round Table, trained by Moody Jolley, the father of HOF trainer Leroy Jolley. Iron Liege and his stable mate, Gen. Duke, were both sons of Bull Lea and although the former had the advantage of War Admiral as his BM sire, he was the lighter-regarded of the two Jones-trained colts. However, Gen. Duke was scratched after coming home from the Derby Trial lame, so it was Iron Liege and jockey Bill Hartack who carried Calumet’s banner on Derby day.

IRON LIEGE works, wearing the fashion of the day for horses with sensitive ears.

IRON LIEGE works, wearing the fashion of the day for horses with sensitive ears. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Bold Ruler was well-regarded by racing pundits of the day and his trainer, “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, was a legend — the only conditioner to ever train two Triple Crown winners, Gallant Fox and his son, Omaha. Although he would be more famous as the sire of the mighty Secretariat, as a three year-old Bold Ruler came into the Derby a winner of the Flamingo Stakes (in which he shattered the track record) and of the Wood Memorial.

BOLD RULER (inside) narrowly beats GALLANT MAN (outside) in the 1957 Wood Memorial.

BOLD RULER (inside) narrowly beats GALLANT MAN (outside) in the 1957 Wood Memorial.

BOLD RULER arrives at Churchill Downs to run in the 1937 Kentucky Derby.

BOLD RULER arrives at Churchill Downs.

Travis M. Kerr’s Round Table, trained by William Molter, came into the Derby off a win in the Blue Grass Stakes. A “son” of Claiborne Farm, as was Bold Ruler, the colt had been sold to oilman Kerr by Bull Hancock with the understanding that he would stand at Claiborne after his retirement. Round Table dominated thoroughbred racing in 1958, but as a three year-old he was still a year away from his best form.

ROUND TABLE with trainer, William Molter.

ROUND TABLE with trainer, William Molter.

John Nerud’s Gallant Man was hardly a lightweight and 1957 saw him take some prestigious races, among them the Travers and the Jockey Gold Cup. But the press only seemed to give the Irish-bred son of HRH the Aga Khan’s Arc winner, Migoli, a lukewarm reception until Gallant Man chased Bold Ruler to the finish line in the Wood Memorial, only losing by a whisker. The little bay carried an impressive bloodline, albeit a European one, that he would pass down to two of the greatest American fillies ever: Gallant Bloom and Genuine Risk. These, then, were the best of 1957 Derby field. And as they broke from the starting gate, no-one could possibly have anticipated the outcome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkQ57ANF1KE

Bill Shoemaker inexplicably misses the finish line by standing in the stirrups on GALLANT MAN for a split second, allowing IRON LIEGE to charge through to win.

Bill Shoemaker inexplicably misses the finish line by standing in the stirrups on GALLANT MAN and allowing IRON LIEGE to charge through and win. It was a split second error that changed the course of history.

After the loss, John Nerud gave Gallant Man some time off, skipping the Preakness and entering him in the Belmont Stakes instead. Bold Ruler won the Preakness for Sunny Jim and his connections and was promptly entered in the Belmont. Iron Leige, who ran a game second to Bold Ruler in the Preakness, wasn’t entered in the last leg of the American Triple Crown. Silent footage of Bold Ruler’s Preakness, with the winner being chased to the wire by Iron Leige (#4): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6PuKjzWATs The Belmont Stakes belonged to Gallant Man. With The Shoe back in the saddle, Nerud’s colt ran a monster race, sailing home 8 lengths ahead of the second-placed Inside Tract, with Bold Ruler finishing up third. Gallant Man’s time for the Belmont stood until, ironically, a son of Bold Ruler, the mighty Secretariat, took it down.

GALLANT MAN wins the 1957 Belmont Stakes by 8 lengths, leaving Bold Ruler well behind at the finish.

GALLANT MAN wins the 1957 Belmont Stakes by 8 lengths, leaving Bold Ruler well behind at the finish.

When he heard of Gallant Man’s death, at the age of 34 years at Spendthrift Farm, HOF trainer John Nerud remembered his champion colt with pride, ” When he was sound and good, a horse never lived who could beat him…he had it all — speed and endurance.”  

GALLANT MAN, according to his brilliant trainer, John Nerud, "had it all."

GALLANT MAN, according to his trainer, John Nerud, “had it all.” This kind of praise from such a brilliant horseman is a fitting tribute to a colt who truly embodied what it means to be a thoroughbred champion.


GALLANT BLOOM, a daughter of GALLANT MAN, was Champion Two and Three Year-Old filly in 1968-69. A winner of 12 races in a row, she was GALLANT MAN’S best daughter. GALLANT BLOOM was inducted into the HOF in 1977.

The Lady Is A Champ: Genuine Risk, winner of the

The Lady Is A Champ: Genuine Risk, winner of the 1980 Kentucky Derby, was only the second filly to ever do so. A beloved filly who will never be forgotten, GENUINE RISK’S BM sire was GALLANT MAN. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.


http://www.horseracenation.com. Derby Remix http://www.jockeysite.com. Kentucky Derby: Legendary Losers

Bolus, Jim. Kentucky Derby Stories. Pelican Publishing Company (ISBN: 9781565544659)

Reed, William F. Duking It Out At The Derby in SI Vault (si.com)

Winter Quarter Farm website. About Us (winterquarterfarm.com)

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (www.racingmuseum.org)

Colin’s Ghost. Bold Ruler Wins The Wood Memorial, 1957 (colinsghost.org)


NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.


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