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The beautiful EQUIPOISE in a study by C.W. Anderson, who captures both his kind eye and steely head.

The beautiful EQUIPOISE in a study by C.W. Anderson, who captures both his kind, inquisitive eye and wide, intelligent brow.

Every once in awhile, a stellar group of juveniles appear on the scene at exactly the same time and this was the case in America in 1930. Although they spent much of their time beating each other, victory over peers of such excellence reinforced just how good each of these thoroughbreds truly was. When it was all said and done, it was Harry Payne and C.V. Whitney’s dark chestnut colt, Equipoise, who wrote himself into legend. Which is not to say that each of his competitors were not equally worthy of stardom. Jamestown, Twenty Grand, Mate, Don Leon, Vander Pool, Epithet, Tambour, Sweep All, Happy Scot, Polydorus and the wonderful filly, Baba Kenny, were all champions. But the racing gods can be fickle: of Equipoise’s challengers, only Jamestown, Twenty Grand and Mate are remembered today and two — Jamestown and Twenty Grand — are HOF inductees. Dubbed “The Big Four” by the Chicago Tribune when they lit up the two year-old ranks of 1930, Equipoise, Jamestown, Mate and Twenty Grand met and clashed a number of times, delighting racing fans, many of whom felt compelled to pledge their allegiance to one of the “Fab Four.”

Even famed correspondent John Hervey, who wrote under the pen name “Salvator,” got into the act. His choice was Equipoise.

MATE (1928) was a son of PRINCE PAL.

MATE (1928) was a homebred of of Alfred C. Bostwick Jr., whose grandfather was a founding partner of Standard Oil. Winner of the 1931 Preakness, MATE raced in both the USA and England before his retirement. He is best known for his son, ELKRIDGE, a HOF inductee who was the American Champion Steeplechase Horse in 1942 and 1946.

Joseph P. Widener's JAMESTOWN, shown here at stud

George D. Widener Jr’s JAMESTOWN, shown here at stud. He shared American Champion Two Year-Old of 1930 honours with EQUIPOISE. As a sire, he is best known for his son, JOHNSTOWN (1936), winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in 1939 and HOF inductee.

TWENTY GRAND is led in by his owner, Mrs. Payne Whitney, after winning the 1931 Belmont Stakes. The colt also won the Kentucky Derby that year.

TWENTY GRAND is led in by his owner, Mrs. Payne Whitney of Greentree Stables, (H.P. Whitney’s sister-in-law), after winning the 1931 Belmont Stakes. The champion colt also won the Kentucky Derby that year, together with most of the key American stakes races. Photo and copyright, S. Lug for International Newsreel.

But the world in which the “Big Four” ran was a troubled one, devastated by economic depression and climactic disaster. People were shaken to their very roots by circumstances beyond their control. And then along came “The Chocolate Soldier”: in his Eaton-blue mask with its chocolate piping, Equipoise quickly forged a reputation for refusing to go down without a fight. He was, quite simply, the epitome of the will not only to survive, but to thrive.

A dark chestnut colt was born in the spring of 1928 to the mare Swinging (1922), a daughter of Broomstick (1901) and granddaughter of the mighty Ben Brush (1893). Bred by Harry Payne Whitney, who died before his homebred became one of America’s favourite thoroughbreds, the colt was given the name Equipoise. The name was apt. Even as a foal, anyone could see how perfect he was and he appeared to have a temperament to match. Following the death of his father, Equipoise became C.V. aka “Sonny” Whitney’s first superstar.

EQUIPOISE'S grandsire, PETER PAN, shown here as a colt racing in the colours of James R. Keene. Acquired by C.W. Whitney in 1915, PETER PAN proved himself to be a potent sire and BM sire. (Note: America's PETER PAN was a son of the great DOMINO and should not be confused with the Australian champion of the same name.)

EQUIPOISE’S grandsire, PETER PAN, shown here as a colt racing in the colours of James R. Keene. Acquired by C.W. Whitney in 1915, PETER PAN proved himself to be a potent sire and BM sire. (Note: America’s PETER PAN was a son of the great DOMINO and should not be confused with the Australian champion of the same name.)

The Whitneys are one of America’s most famous thoroughbred horse racing dynasties and played a huge role in the making of the American thoroughbred. The family is represented today by C.V. Whitney’s last wife, Marylou Whitney, who has continued to breed thoroughbreds along the lines that have distinguished the Whitneys as both breeders and owners.

The breeding of Equipoise provides insight into the knowledge that H.P. Whitney exercised in arriving at a champion horse.

Equipoise’s sire, Pennant (1911) was a direct descendent of the great Domino (1891). Equipoise’s grandsire, Peter Pan (1904) — not to be confused with the Peter Pan (1929) of Australian fame — was a son of Commando (1898) and, through his female family, Peter Pan also carried the bloodlines of the brilliant British mare, Beeswing (1833) as well as the legendary Eclipse (1764). America’s Peter Pan was a brilliant runner, starting 17 times and distinguishing himself with wins in the Hopeful, the Brooklyn Derby and the Belmont Stakes. Of his win in the 1907 Brighton Handicap, before a crowd of 40,000, the New York Telegraph wrote that Peter Pan “accomplished a task that completely overshadowed any previous 3-year-old performance in turf history.”

Whitney acquired Peter Pan in 1915 and as a sire, he was pure gold. Among his progeny are the exceptional sire, Black Toney (1911), as well as the champion fillies Puss In Boots (1913), Vexatious (1916) and Prudery (1918). Peter Pan was also a BM sire of champions, including the Preakness winner Bostonian (1924), Whiskery (1924) winner of the Kentucky Derby and Champion Three Year Old Colt of 1927, Victorian (1925) who won the Preakness and the filly, Top Flight (1929) who was Champion Two Year Old and Three Year Old Filly and a HOF inductee. Along with Equipoise, Peter Pan was also the grandsire of the ill-fated Black Gold (1921) and of champions Brokers Tip (1930) and Bimelech (1937), a son of La Troienne (1926) who won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and is also a HOF inductee. Bimelech sired Better Self (1945) and is the sire of Never Bend (1960) grandam. Nevert Bend, in turn, sired the British champion, Mill Reef (1968), winner of the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The handsome PENNANT may not have been PETER PAN'S best son but he was a solid campaigner and useful sire.

The handsome PENNANT may not have been PETER PAN’S best son but he was a solid campaigner and useful sire. EQUIPOISE was PENNANT’S most successful runner.

Next to this kind of brilliance, Equipoise’s sire, Pennant, might seem pretty ordinary. But although he was lightly raced, the handsome chestnut never finished out of the money. Equipoise was his best son, but Pennant also sired the champions Bunting (1919), Crystal Pennant (1924), Dauber (1935) who won the 1938 Preakness, Jolly Roger (1922) a Champion Steeplechaser and HOF inductee, as well as that hardy campaigner, The Chief (1935), who made 101 starts before his retirement.

A conformation shot of EQUIPOISE reveals equine perfection, from the fine head through the deep chest and powerful hindquarters. One of his many famous descendants, BUCKPASSER, was blessed with the same almost perfect conformation.

A conformation shot of EQUIPOISE reveals equine perfection, from the fine head through the deep chest and powerful hindquarters. One of his many famous descendants, BUCKPASSER, was blessed with the same flawless conformation.

It is fair to assume that hopes of the Whitney Stable were high for this beautifully-bred colt. But being both breeders and owners, they knew that superb bloodlines and great looks don’t necessarily add up to a champion. Happily, the youngster showed promise, winning his first two starts impressively. But in his third start, Equipoise ran into the more seasoned Vander Pool and came home third. (Vander Pool, owned by Mrs. W.P. Allen, chalked up fifteen straight victories from his maiden win in 1930 into 1931. Ending his two year-old season as a undefeated favourite for the 1931 Kentucky Derby, Vander Pool was injured and never hit the Triple Crown trail. His fifteen straight wins tied the record set by Colin in 1907-1908.)

Next came the Pimlico Nursery Stakes, in which the dark chestnut colt was partnered by the legendary Sonny Workman for the first time. It didn’t go well: Equipoise reared up at the start, pitching Workman. In the Youthful, Workman and Equipoise came home first by five lengths, but the colt was DQ’d for muscling his way to the front and the win went to Vander Pool instead. According to C.W. Anderson in his book, The Smashers, (Equipoise’s)  “zest for battle” was strong “…if he couldn’t find racing room, he made it.” This tendency would not change and the Youthful wasn’t the only race Whitney’s champ lost through disqualification. Workman, a champion rider and HOF jockey who would be Equipoise’s steady partner throughout his career, was quick to learn how to handle the assertive colt and the initial contest between them was forged into a fabulous partnership by the end of Equipoise’s first season.

EQUIPOISE and Sonny Workman head to the start.

EQUIPOISE aka “The Chocolate Soldier” and Sonny Workman head to the start. (Photo carries photographer’s signature, i.e. copyright. It may be Coglianese “the elder,” who took many photos of Equipoise.)

Equipoise’s next victories came in the Keene Memorial and Juvenile Stakes, beating another very good two year-old in Happy Scot. In the Keene, the colt showed he could handle the slop, running to a two length win at Belmont. Then, in the National Stallion Stakes, ” The Chocolate Soldier,” as he was dubbed by press and fans (on the basis of his dark coat) beat Polydorus and the filly Baba Kenny by six. Carrying 130 lbs. to Polydorus’ 115 in the Great American, Equipoise wired the field and crossed the finish line two lengths ahead of his rival.

Equipoise then met up with Jamestown at Saratoga in the summer of his juvenile season. Trained to a “razor’s edge” by trainer A. Jack Joyner, Jamestown built up such a lead in the Saratoga Special over the Whitney colt that Equipoise just couldn’t catch him, although he did beat Sun Meadow by eight lengths, to finish second. Carrying 132 lbs. to Mate’s 119, Equipoise lost by a head in the Champagne. The following week, The Chocolate Soldier went into battle again, facing both Mate and Jamestown in the Futurity, where each horse carried 130 lbs. In a furious stretch duel, Jamestown prevailed by a head over Equipoise. Mate finished another three lengths back.

After the Futurity, Jamestown was put away for the rest of the season. But Equipoise’s connections continued his campaign. The two year-old cruised to a five length win over Don Leon in the Eastern Shore Handicap before meeting up with still another fabulous juvenile, Twenty Grand. In the Jr. Champion Stakes at Aqueduct, with the Whitney colt carrying an extra 11 lbs, Twenty Grand prevailed by a length.

TWENTY GRAND beats EQUIPOISE in the Jr. Champion Stakes at Aqueduct. Photo and copyright: The Chicago Tribune.

TWENTY GRAND beats EQUIPOISE in the Jr. Champion Stakes at Aqueduct. Photo and copyright: The Chicago Tribune.

In their next meeting — the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes — Twenty Grand and The Chocolate Soldier had the crowd on their feet as they battled, head-to-head, to the wire. Twenty Grand won, but the two had set a track record of 1:36 — the fastest ever run by a two year-old over eight furlongs. H.P. Whitney died ten days later, and Equipoise became the first thoroughbred to race in C.V. Whitney’s name.

The Chocolate Soldier's performance in the Pimlico Futurity, together with his record at two, would see him share co-honours, with JAMESTOWN, as Champion Two Year-Old Colt of 1930. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The Chocolate Soldier’s performance in the Pimlico Futurity, together with his record at two, would see him share co-honours, with JAMESTOWN, as Champion Two Year-Old Colt of 1930. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The Pimlico Futurity was a match of the titans, with Twenty Grand, Mate and Equipoise facing off against each other at the equal weight of 130 lbs.  It was a battle called “The Most Spectacular Race Of The Decade” by the Baltimore Sun. And Equipoise won it in a way that not only established him as a champion, but as a colt with the heart of one. The track was muddy and at the start, Equipoise and Sonny Workman broke sideways, effectively hustling both of them back so that it looked as though the pair had been left at the post. Righting the colt, jockey Workman took off after the field. Twenty Grand and Mate got into a feverish duel down the stretch and so intense was their struggle that no-one saw the hooded Equipoise charging at the leaders. In a dazzling display, The Chocolate Soldier won by half a length. Not only was his win incredible, but Equipoise had scored barefoot, having lost his two front shoes somewhere along the way. He had righted a bad trip and won on a muddy track without the benefit of the kind of grip those discarded shoes would have afforded him.

Mud-spattered EQUIPOISE and Sonny Workman head to the winner's circle at Belmont after the "Chocolate Soldier's" win in the

A mud-spattered EQUIPOISE and Sonny Workman head to the winner’s circle at Pimlico  after the “Chocolate Soldier’s” dazzling win in the Pimlico Futurity against TWENTY GRAND and MATE. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The loss of his shoes hinted at a problem that would plague Equipoise throughout the rest of his career: he had thin, shelly feet. And they would plague him even as a three year-old. After three lacklustre performances, including the Preakness, it was discovered that Equipoise had sustained a three-quarter crack and he was retired for the rest of the season. His old rival, Twenty Grand, would win the coveted Kentucky Derby, as well as the Belmont, and had an absolutely brilliant season, annexing just about every major stakes race in the country.As a result, Twenty Grand was crowned Champion Three Year-Old Colt and 1931 Horse Of The Year. (Another of Equipoise’s rivals, Mate, won the Preakness, denying Twenty Grand the Triple Crown.)

The gorgeous TWENTY GRAND with his roses, after winning the 1931 Kentucky Derby.

The gorgeous TWENTY GRAND with his roses, after winning the 1931 Kentucky Derby.

Were it 2014 rather than 1931, the infirm Equipoise would likely have been retired. Happily, retiring a colt with such potential, as long as he was fit, was neither the ethos of the time nor the sensibility of Sonny Whitney. And a good thing, too, since The Chocolate Soldier’s campaign as a four year-old was nothing short of spectacular.

EQUIPOISE sets off for a work, wearing the Whitney colours on his blinkers. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

EQUIPOISE sets off for a work, wearing the Whitney colours on his blinkers. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Possibly taken the same day as the photo above, EQUIPOISE gets a rubdown after a work. This photo is dated 1932. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Possibly taken the same day as the photo above, EQUIPOISE gets a rubdown after a work. This photo is dated 1932. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Right from the start, the concern was keeping the colt injury-free, since his feet were a constant problem, not unlike the great Northern Dancer, who ran throughout his career on a quarter-crack. But the four year-old had filled out and was otherwise a stronger horse and it didn’t take long before he showed the nation that the old Equipoise was back. In fact, he made his first four wins look so easy that it was hard to believe he was running on delicate feet, taking six in as many starts, including the prestigious Toboggan Handicap, as well as the Metropolitan.

In his seventh start, the Delavan Handicap in Chicago, The Chocolate Soldier met up with a rival of old, the brilliant Jamestown. In fact, the Delavan had been especially designed for the two of them. C. W. Anderson’s account brings the drama of their meeting to life:

“…The weights were 128 for Equipoise and 118 for Jamestown. The track was at its best, and Jamestown shot away from the barrier as if to make a runaway race of it, but he could not open up more than a length or two. The pace became faster as they neared the far turn and still Workman had not asked Equipoise for his best. Not until they were in the stretch did he call on him, and the effect was startling. Already it seemed that they were running at an unbelievable pace, but Equipoise flew past Jamestown in a dozen strides and came to the finish three lengths in front. The time, 1:34 2/5, was a new world’s record. That an ovation greeted the dark chestnut as he came back to the scales is putting it mildly. He was a horse that was more than a horse. He had personality and people felt it. Always a perfect gentleman he was as calm and unconcerned in the winner’s circle as if he had been out for an exercise gallop. Jamestown showed distress from his terrific effort, but Equipoise had evidently not been fully extended.”

His world record-breaking time of 1:34 2/5 for the mile stood as an Arlington track record for twenty-six years and as a world record for twenty. And when Equipoise’s record came to an end, it was a faster track and not a faster horse that did it, according to Anderson.

THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER gets his own byline.

In 1932, THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER is right back in the news following his record breaking win in the Delavan Handicap.

In his next two starts, the Stars & Stripes Handicap and the Arlington Gold Cup, Equipoise beat the champion filly, Tred Avon (1928), the hardy Dr. Freeland (1926), Gusto(1929) and another rival during his two year-old season, Mate, in the Gold Cup. Then, carrying a 134 lbs. to the 111 of the winner, Plucky Play (1927), the colt was beaten by a short head, breaking a winning streak that had seen him 9 for 9.

Next stop was Saratoga, where The Chocolate Soldier annexed the Wilson and Whitney Stakes. These were both weight for age races, giving Equipoise a break from the bone-crushing weights of the handicap division. The Havre de Grace Handicap under 128 lbs. was his next victory. Burdened by weight, Equipoise lost his final two starts of 1932. But his earnings for 1932 stood at a staggering $107,375 USD — the equivalent of $1,819,915.25 today. More than enough for him to be declared Champion Handicap Horse and Horse of the Year. 

EQUIPOISE was the star of the Handicap Division for three straight years from 1933-1935, winning Horse of the Year each time. Shown here with his lad. Date unknown but likely post-1932. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

EQUIPOISE won Champion Handicap Horse for three straight years, from 1932-1934. So spectacular was he that The Chocolate Soldier was also awarded Horse of the Year in 1932 and again in 1933. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

As C.W. Anderson notes about horses racing in the handicap division in the early part of the last century, ” For three years, Equipoise was at the top of the handicap division, where the reward for a victory is always more weight. Two- and three-year olds may finish a season undefeated, but that is absolutely impossible for a handicap star. There is a limit to what he can carry, but there is no limit to what the handicappers can put on him. He may be the best horse on the track by twenty lengths and still win less than half his races. This was the road Equipoise had to travel…”

…And, in 1933, Equipoise not only travelled, he positively triumphed.

Winning the Philadelphia, Metropolitan, Suburban and the Arlington handicaps in succession, carrying as much as 135 lbs., it seemed impossible to believe that the chocolate beauty could be conquered, either by the handicappers or chronic foot issues. At this point in his career, the hoof that had sustained the quarter-crack had frequently to be pared down so severely that it was almost to the extent of growing a new hoof. Other researchers who have written about Equipoise claim that he never ran 100% sound. But by the time 1933 had come to a close, the Whitney champ had run up a 7-race winning streak, a feat rarely accomplished by any horse in the Handicap Division. One marvels at his courage and determination, but it’s easy to see why Equipoise was a racing hero of the Depression — and why his mere presence on the track evoked a sense of hopeful anticipation.

No matter how much weight they put on him, EQUIPOISE re-enacted this scene over and over again. Here he is, coming home under his regular rider, the great SONNY WORKMAN. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

No matter how much weight they put on him, EQUIPOISE re-enacted this scene over and over again. Here he is, coming home under his regular rider, the great SONNY WORKMAN. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The last two years of his racing career saw the burden of being a high weight in the handicap ranks start to tell on The Chocolate Soldier. The quarter-crack was becoming harder and harder to patch up and the Whitney Stable became even more diligent in monitoring his overall condition. But Equipoise loved to race because he lived to dominate his opposition on the track, in spite of his easy going temperament off it. And his fans…..the stands continued to shake each and every time he appeared. But soldiers soldier on, and at six Equipoise won the Philadelphia and Dixie Handicaps, before running in the Metropolitan. It was a tragic race. Chase Me (1929), an undefeated former hunter, much beloved in Maryland, went down while leading the pack home and was euthanized on the track. Equipoise came home first, but was disqualified for banging into Mr. Khayyam (1930).

Mr. KHAYYAM, a son of OMAR KHAYYAM, depicted by Frederick Voss in 1937.

Mr. KHAYYAM, a son of OMAR KHAYYAM, depicted by renowned equine artist, Frederick Voss, in 1937.

In the Suburban Handicap Equipoise carried 134 pounds, and although he came to the wire in a blaze, beating War Glory (1930) by ten lengths, it wasn’t enough to stop Ladysman (1930) from edging him out by a nose. After running third in the Narragansett Invitational, Equipoise beat Mr. Khayyam in the Whitney Trophy Handicap. It was enough to earn him a third consecutive Champion Handicap Horse award. At the age of seven, Equipoise ran only three times and all were on the West Coast, beating his old rival Twenty Grand in the Oakwood Handicap, only to again be disqualified for bumping.

Here’s rare footage of Equipoise winning the Whitney Trophy (Gold) Cup in 1934. It was found for us by a VAULT reader, Lorelei! (Just CLICK on the link below. Then, on the site, click on the number 57983 in the red box. You can also make the clip full-screen. Just look for the 2-way arrows at the bottom.)

http://www.efootage.com/stock-footage/57983/Equipoise_Wins_Whitney_Gold_Cup_Race

EQUIPOISE at seven in California, where he was training to run in the Santa Anita Handicap. Burdened with 130 lbs., he finished unplaced and was retired to stud shortly thereafter.

EQUIPOISE at seven in 1935, pictured in California, where he was training to run in the Santa Anita Handicap. Burdened with 130 lbs., he finished unplaced and was retired to stud shortly thereafter.

The Chocolate Soldier ended his career with twenty-nine wins (plus ten seconds and four thirds) in fifty-one starts, and earnings of $338,610 USD.

Sadly, his stud career was short: by 1938, Equipoise was gone. However, out of only four foal crops, the stallion produced the 1942 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner, Shut Out (1939), helping to make him America’s leading sire that year. Happily, Equipoise’s story doesn’t end there: he is also the BM sire of Triple Crown winner, Assault (1943), and through a daughter, Alpoise (1937), he is represented in the third generation of the great Tom Fool (1949), who would go on to sire Tim Tam (1955) and Buckpasser (1963).

"Here is a living harmony in horseflesh; an embodiment of rhythm and modulation, of point and counterpoint, that sang to the eye and made music in the heart..." (famed turf writer John Hervey, aka Salvator, writing about Equipoise)

“Here is a living harmony in horseflesh; an embodiment of rhythm and modulation, of point and counterpoint, that sang to the eye and made music in the heart…” (John Hervey, aka Salvator, describing EQUIPOISE) Photo shows EQUIPOISE working over an unknown track. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

EQUIPOISE shown here in a stunning portrait by photographer Sutcliffe. Source: EBAY

EQUIPOISE shown here in a stunning portrait by photographer L.S. Sutcliffe. (Source: EBAY auction)

EQUIPOISE'S passing was noted in all the major race publications.

EQUIPOISE’S passing was noted in all the major race publications.

The handsome SHUT OUT as he was depicted in 1943 in the Daily Racing Form.

The handsome SHUT OUT as he was depicted in 1943 in the Daily Racing Form.

EQUIPOISE was the BM sire of Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT, pictured here with his handler.

EQUIPOISE was the BM sire of Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT, pictured here with his handler.

Buckpasser, pictured here in 1966 with trainer   was thought by equine artist Richard Stone Reeves to be the most perfect thoroughbred he had ever seen. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Buckpasser, pictured here in 1966 with trainer Eddie Neloy was thought by equine artist Richard Stone Reeves to be the most perfect thoroughbred he had ever seen. Certainly his bloodlines were golden: not only did he count EQUIPOISE in his pedigree but his dam was the great BUSANDA (1947), a daughter of WAR ADMIRAL (1934). Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Another descendent of EQUIPOISE was the Kentucky Derby winner, TIM TAM, shown here at work. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Another descendent of EQUIPOISE was the Kentucky Derby winner, TIM TAM, shown here at work. TIM TAM went on to win the Preakness before he fractured a sesamoid in the Belmont. Amazingly, the colt finished in second place, showing all the courage of EQUIPOISE and earning the title of Champion Three Year Old colt in 1958. As a sire, TIM TAM would go on to sire the champion filly, TOSMAH (1961), as well as the dam of KNOWN FACT(1977)  and TENTAM (1969), TAMERETT (1962).  Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

SOURCES

Anderson, C.W. The Smashers. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952.

EQUIPOISE in The Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame @ http://www.spiletta.com/UTHOF/index.html

“Horses In Arlington’s Hall of Fame” in The Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1989

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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NEWS FLASH: Welcome to the new look of THE VAULT! Although we loved the former design, this one offers more space and scope and should make reading and viewing our articles an even more pleasurable experience. Enjoy!

The Queen’s Plate is Canada’s most storied and prestigious thoroughbred race and the first jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown. It is also the oldest continuously run stakes race in North America. Its history began in 1860, when Queen Victoria gave the race “Royal Assent” and even the most cursory glance into Plate history reveals a palimpsest of great Canadian thoroughbreds and the men and women who left an indelible signature on both the horse and the sport.

There are precious few books about the Queen’s Plate and only a miserly smidgeon of other research sources. Canadians tend to be rather myopic when it comes to their own racing narrative, preferring instead to hitch their sensibilities to the UK, USA or Australia. But the Queen’s Plate stubbornly persists and celebrated its 154th running recently, despite those who view it as a poor cousin to the Kentucky or Epsom Derbies or other prestigious races like the Melbourne Cup. The Queen’s Plate could teach us a good deal about perseverance: after all, it is older than Canada herself, who only became a nation in 1867.

Before taking a summer hiatus from writing to research and ruminate about new subjects for THE VAULT, I thought that I’d end on a note of unabashed national pride and share with our readers a glimpse into a few of Canada’s most distinguished turf characters, all of whom owe the Queen’s Plate for their distinguished place in Canadian thoroughbred history.

THE VAULT will be back again in mid-August with more stories of horse racing past and present.

Until then, my very best wishes to each of you and thank you again for your support, encouragement and fabulous correspondence. Have a lovely summer!

Queen Victoria, as depicted by Sir Edwin Landseer, with her companion, John Brown, inaugurated the Queen's Plate and the tradition of presenting the winner with a pouch from the sovereign, containing 50 guineas.

Queen Victoria, as depicted by Sir Edwin Landseer, inaugurated the Queen’s Plate and the tradition of presenting the winner with a pouch from the sovereign, containing 50 guineas, in 1860. “The Plate” has been run every year since then.

The early years

In 1902, LYDDITE won the QUEEN'S PLATE for owner Nataniel Dymant of Orkney Stud.

In 1902, LYDDITE won the QUEEN’S PLATE for owner William Hendrie, pictured on the right. LYDDITE’S trainer, Edward Whyte, holds the colt. 

Let's Go To The Races! As early as 1910, Old Woodbine was a fashionable place to see and be seen.

Let’s Go To The Races! As early as 1910, Old Woodbine was a fashionable place to see and be seen.

Queen Victoria gave her royal blessing to the inaugural running of the Queen’s Plate in 1860, offering its winner a  “a plate to the value of Fifty Guineas.” The plate itself has long since been replaced by a gold trophy, but the historical connection between the race and the British monarchy remains. The name of each winner of the Queen’s Plate is communicated directly to Britain’s reigning monarch (HRH Queen Elizabeth II in 2013) who, in turn, hand inscribes a note of congratulation that is sent to the owner of the winning horse, together with a purple velvet bag emblazoned with a royal crest and containing 50 British sovereigns.

In its 154 runnings, the Plate has been both a “King’s Plate” (King Edward VII, King Edward VIII and King George VI ) and a “Queen’s Plate” (Queen Victoria and the present Queen, Elizabeth II), since it takes its name from the ruling British monarch of the day. In an annual ritual enacted since the 19th century, the Plate is attended by the Queen’s representative, Canada’s Governor-General, who arrives in a horse-drawn landau that would otherwise be occupied by a British monarch were s/he to be present. And the monarchy has, indeed, graced the Queen’s Plate; although Queen Victoria never managed it, both the present Queen and her father, King George VI have been in attendance. The Queen has been in attendance on several occasions, most recently in 2010.

The parents of Queen Elizabeth II, King George VI and his queen (later known as the Queen Mother) arrive for the 1939 Queen's Plate. (Photo and copyright, City of Toronto, Canada)

The parents of Queen Elizabeth II, King George VI and his Queen (later known as the Queen Mother) arrive for the 1939 Queen’s Plate in a horse-drawn landau reminiscent of the one they would use at Royal Ascot. (Photo and copyright, City of Toronto, Canada)

Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Woodbine on July 4, 2010 for the Queen's Plate, won that year by BIG RED MIKE. (Photo and copyright, The Toronto Star)

Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Woodbine on July 4, 2010 for the Queen’s Plate, won that year by BIG RED MIKE. (Photo and copyright, The Toronto Star)

BIG RED MIKE moves out of the pack to win the 2010 Queen's Plate. (Photo and copyright, The Toronto Star)

BIG RED MIKE moves out of the pack to win the 2010 Queen’s Plate. (Photo and copyright, The Toronto Star)

Queen Elizabeth II congratulates the winning jockey, Eurico Rosa Da Silva. (Photo & copyright, The Toronto Star)

Queen Elizabeth II congratulates the winning jockey, Eurico Rosa Da Silva. (Photo & copyright, The Toronto Star)

In the early years, the Queen’s Plate was….well….”colourful,” to say the least. Originally, the Plate was open only to owners who were British subjects living in Ontario and thoroughbreds born in Ontario. As well, entrants  had to be non-winners, although either sex and all ages were permitted. Originally raced in 3 heats, the goings on during each heat prompted any number of stories, from jockeys dumping their weights before the race, to horses having their names altered to deter scrutiny so that a “ringer” (a much better horse, probably not bred in Ontario) might win, to American owners masquerading as Ontario natives. Add that to a boisterous crowd, a race that travelled nomad-fashion all over Ontario until finally settling in Toronto (with Queen Victoria’s approval) and racing etiquette of the time, and you have a Queen’s Plate with all the thrills of a Wild West Show.

The King/Queen's Plate finally settled at Old Woodbine, in the young city of Toronto, in 1883. This photo shows Opening Day at Old Woodbine in 1926.

The King/Queen’s Plate finally settled at Old Woodbine, in the young city of Toronto, in 1883. This photo shows Opening Day at Old Woodbine in 1926.

For our money, the most colourful Queen’s Plate in those early years has to go to the Plate of 1865, won by the 4 year-old LADY NORFOLK (1862):

Run on June 7 at London, Ontario, the first heat was won by STONE PLOVER, owned by a Mr. Harry Chappel, who gave his home as Sandwich, Ontario. But the judges disqualified STONE PLOVER after his winning of the second heat, having discovered that Mr. Chappel was a native of Detroit. Accordingly, the second heat went to a horse called Beacon, who had come in second. However, it was discovered that BEACON’S jockey had pulled the weights assigned to his horse out of the saddle pads and thrown them into the infield before the start of the second heat. So BEACON was disqualified too.

The fillies LADY NORFOLK and NORA CRIENA (who had raced a year earlier under the name “SPRING”) had finished next in the first two heats to the now-disqualified STONE PLOVER and BEACON. Desperate to award the Queen’s Plate to someone, the judges determined that they would be the only two horses invited back for the third, and final, heat. 

NORA CRIENA broke sharply and, although never more than a length ahead of LADY NORFOLK, prevailed. But for reasons no longer recorded, two months after Nora Criena’s victory, the Queen’s Plate was awarded to Lady Norfolk. To this day, no-one has been able to explain why.

INFERNO (1902) a blood-red colt by HAVOC (1892) out of BON INO (1884) was a grandson of HIMYAR (1875) and the SEAGRAM family's first Plate winner.

INFERNO (1902) a blood-red colt by HAVOC (1892) out of BON INO (1884) was a grandson of HIMYAR (1875). He was without question one of the very first Canadian thoroughbred champions, winning just about every carded race in Ontario in his day. His owners, the SEAGRAM family of Seagram distillers fame, won the Plate an astounding 20 times between 1891-1935.

Joseph E. Seagram pictured in 1869 on his mare, BLACK BESS.

Joseph E. Seagram pictured in 1869 on his mare, BLACK BESS.

J.E. Seagram's King's and Queen's Plate winners depicted on the label of Seagram's whiskey.

J.E. Seagram’s King’s and Queen’s Plate winners depicted on the label of Seagram’s whiskey. Seagram’s passion for thoroughbred racing did much to make it an acceptable pastime of the establishment in Canada.

Horses at Old Woodbine gather near the starter's stand, circa

Horses at Old Woodbine gather near the starter’s stand, very early in the 1900’s. (Photo and copyright, the City of Toronto)

Let’s hear it for the girls!

Fillies and mares like NORA CRIENA and LADY OF NORFOLK figured prominently in the winner’s circle of the Plate throughout its long history, long before women were permitted to attend race meetings. In its first century, the Plate was won by fillies or mares some 28 times and, in 1925, when a filly named  FAIRBANK won, the first five finishers were all fillies.

This photo was taken at Old Woodbine in the same year, 1925, that the filly,       won the Plate.

This photo was taken at Old Woodbine in the same year, 1925 that the filly FAIRBANK won the Plate. The first 5 finishers that year were fillies. (photo and copyright, the city of Toronto)

But by the 1940’s colts became dominant in the winner’s circle, at least in part because entry requirements had broadened to include the whole of Canada and narrowed, to specify only 3 year-olds. From 1943-2013, only seven fillies have taken home the 50 sovereigns: Charles Hemstead’s PAOLITA (1940) in 1943; E.P. Taylor’s CANADIANA (1950) in 1953; E.P. Taylor’s FLAMING PAGE (1959) in 1962; Conn Smythe’s (of NHL trophy fame) JAMMED LOVELY (1964) in Canada’s centenary (1967); Ernie Samuels’ DANCE SMARTLY (1988) in 1991; DANCETHRUTHEDAWN(1998), DANCE SMARTLY’S daughter, in 2001; and Donver Stables’ INGLORIOUS (2008) in 2011. And while PAOLITA and CANADIANA won the Plate at a distance of 1 1/8 miles, in 1957 the distance was set at 1 1/4 miles, where it has remained.

Plate-winnning ladies tend to be special for other reasons as well: YOUNG KITTY (1925) , who took the Plate in 1928, won the Coronation Stakes, Clarendon Plate, King’s Plate, Breeders’ Stakes, William Hendrie Memorial Handicap and the Connaught Cup Handicap; CANADIANA retired as the greatest money-winning filly in Canadian racing history and was voted the 1952 Horse of the Year, FLAMING PAGE became the dam of NIJINSKY II and granddam through a daughter, FLEUR, of the Epsom Derby winner, THE MINSTREL. DANCE SMARTLY remains the only filly to ever win a Triple Crown in mixed company in North America and became a Blue Hen producer after her retirement.

Although many of their images have been lost over time, below is an album of those that have survived.

Joseph E. Seagram's YOUNG KITTY, the 1928 winner of the King's Plate.

Joseph E. Seagram’s YOUNG KITTY, the 1928 winner of the King’s Plate.

SALLY FULLER took the QKing's Plate in 1935 for the Seagrams.

SALLY FULLER took the King’s Plate in 1935 for the Seagrams.

PAOLITA, owned by  comes home in the 1943 King's Plate.

PAOLITA, owned by Charles Hemstead, comes home in the 1943 King’s Plate.

With EDDIE ARCARO in the irons, E.P. Taylor's CANADIANA being led in to the winner's circle at Woodbine in 1953.

With EDDIE ARCARO in the irons, E.P. Taylor’s CANADIANA being led in to the winner’s circle at Woodbine in 1953.

Mrs. E.P. Taylor leads in FLAMING PAGE. The daughter of BULL PAGE won the Queen's Plate in

Mrs. E.P. Taylor leads in FLAMING PAGE. The daughter of BULL PAGE won the Queen’s Plate in 1962.

Conn Smythe with JAMMED LOVELY tries to persuade his filly to accept the honours in

Conn Smythe with JAMMED LOVELY tries to persuade his filly to accept the honours in 1967.

the Queen of Canadian racing, DANCE SMARTLY, with Pat Day in the irons speeds home to take the Queen's Plate for owner Ernie Samuels' in

The Queen of Canadian racing, DANCE SMARTLY, with Pat Day in the irons, speeds home to take the Queen’s Plate for owner Ernie Samuels’ in 1991. The daughter of DANZIG would end her 3 year-old season undefeated, winning the Canadian Triple Crown, the Canadian Oaks, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and the Molson Export Million Stakes among others. Canada crowned her Horse of the Year in 1991 and she would take the honours as well for Champion 3 year-old in both the USA and Canada that same year.

Champion DANCETHRUTHEDAWN, by MR. PROSPECTOR out of DANCE SMARTLY, a brilliant daughter of the Queen of Canadian racing.

Champion DANCETHRUTHEDAWN, by MR. PROSPECTOR out of DANCE SMARTLY. The brilliant daughter of the Queen of Canadian racing became the first filly of the 21st century to win the Queen’s Plate and the second of DANCE SMARTLY’S offspring to win the coveted title. A son, SCATTER THE GOLD, also by MR. PROSPECTOR, would open the 21st century of Canadian racing with his 2000 Queen’s Plate win.

INGLORIOUS becomes the first filly of the 21st century to capture the Queen's Plate in 2011.

In 2011, INGLORIOUS (HENNESSY ex. NOBLE STRIKE by SMART STRIKE) became the second filly of the 21st century to capture the Queen’s Plate for owners Vern and Donna Dubinsky.

Those fabulous colts

And what about the colts?

Well, as you might expect, many Plate winners represented the very best of Canadian thoroughbred bloodlines and training. Among the very best were horses like HOROMETER (1931), BUNTY LAWLESS (1935), KINGARVIE (1943), McGILL (1947), CANADIAN CHAMP (1953), NEW PROVIDENCE (1956), VICTORIA PARK (1957), CANEBORA (1960), KENNEDY ROAD (1968), l’ENJOLEUR (1972) and NORCLIFFE (1973). Of these, EPIC (by Bunty Lawless); McGILL (by Bunty Lawless), CANEBORA (by Canadian Champ) and KENNEDY ROAD (by Victoria Park) were sired by King/Queen’s Plate winners.

By the mid-twentieth century, Edward Plunkett Taylor — commonly known as E.P. Taylor and “Eddie” to his friends — would exercise an indelible influence on the shape of Canadian racing in just about every conceivable way. In fact, Taylor would raise the Canadian thoroughbred to worldwide acclaim when he bred the King of Canadian Racing, NORTHERN DANCER.

E.P. Taylor with his first (King's) Plate winner, EPIC, who won in 1949.

E.P. Taylor with his first (King’s) Plate winner, EPIC (1946), who won in 1949.

In 1947, as the newly appointed director of the Ontario Jockey Club (OJC), E.P. Taylor embarked on a bold plan to bring horse racing in the Toronto area up to the same standards as leading racetracks in North America. Travelling to Hollywood Park in its Golden Era, a plan began to take shape in his head. Acquiring local racetracks (Hamilton, Thorncliffe, Long Branch, Dufferin and Stamford), Taylor began by consolidating their racing charters into three major race venues: Fort Erie, Greenwood (aka “Old Woodbine”) and a to-be-built “New Woodbine.”

Old Woodbine, pictured above, took the name Greenwood when New Woodbine opened.

Old Woodbine, pictured above, took the name Greenwood when (New) Woodbine opened in 1956.

The (New) Woodbine clubhouse bespoke glory days ahead.

The (New) Woodbine clubhouse bespoke glory days ahead.

The sumptuous infield at Woodbine, viewed from the stands.

The sumptuous infield at Woodbine, viewed from the stands.

Woodbine as it looks today.

Woodbine as it looks today.

A year later on June 12, 1956, on 780-acres in the Township of Etobicoke, (New) Woodbine opened. Complete with a one-mile oval dirt track and seven-eighths turf course, Woodbine also featured an infield worthy of the greatest landscaper, complete with ponds and waterfalls. The clubhouse was a feat of modern architecture, streamlined and spacious. Right down to the starting gates, designed with the greatest attention to the safety of horse and jockey alike, Woodbine was the image of what horse racing in Canada could — and should — be. To this day, its Queen’s Plate surface is the safest in any weather of any racetrack in North America.

At the same time, Taylor was dominating the Queen’s Plate, winning it a total of 11 times for his Windfields Farm, making him the second only to J.E. Seagram in the stats of most-winning owners.

Modern Times

Increasingly, Canadian-born 3 year-olds to win the Queen’s Plate reflect the cross-fertilization of American and Canadian bloodstock.

The TEDDY line, through a son of BULL DOG who was acquired by E.P. Taylor and named BULL PAGE, was responsible for Queen’s Plate winners NEW PROVIDENCE and FLAMING PAGE. CHOP CHOP, a grandson of GALLANT FOX and another descendant of the TEDDY line, stood at E.P. Taylor’s National Stud, where he sired VICTORIA PARK  and was Canada’s leading sire seven times. The mighty BUCKPASSER was the sire of the 1975 and 1976 Queen’s Plate winners L’ENJOLEUR and NORCLIFFE, respectively. And NORCLIFFE’S best son, GROOVY (1983), would become one of America’s racing darlings. So it continues: the mighty DANZIG (1977), a son of NORTHERN DANCER, sired DANCE SMARTLY and GIANT’S CAUSEWAY (1997), a son of STORM CAT (1983), sired the 1997 Queen’s Plate winner, MIKE FOX (1994).  Since 1990, 15 winners of the Queen’s Plate have been sired by stallions bred and born in the USA.

The gorgeous NORCLIFFE

The gorgeous NORCLIFFE, a son of the champion, BUCKPASSER, shows that good looks can, indeed, be inherited.

Owned by Canada's SamSon Farm, Plate winner, EYE OF THE LEOPARD now stands at Calumet. He is a son of the incomparable A.P. INDY.

Owned by Canada’s SamSon Farm, the 2009 Plate winner, EYE OF THE LEOPARD now stands at Calumet. He is a son of the incomparable A.P. INDY.

The continuing domination of colts over fillies from the 1940’s until today reflects the growth of the Canadian thoroughbred industry in general, spear-headed by the leadership of the Seagram family, E.P. Taylor, Ernie Samuels and, more recently, Gustav Schickedanz, Frank Stronach and Eugene Melnick. And even though Woodbine, like so many other North American race tracks, has been threatened by changing times, the Queen’s Plate forges on and reminds Canadians on an annual basis that horse racing is still another sport that brings Canada pride.

The names of contemporary Queen’s Plate winners are well-known to Americans, as well as members of the thoroughbred milieu worldwide.

Below, we let another medium do the talking as a way of celebrating some of the finest Canadian colts of the last fifty years. Each of these victories dazzle and delight — while reminding the modest folk of Canada that our native-grown thoroughbreds have always been and continue to be champions of the highest calibre.

Protect your 50 GUINEAS, Canada. And protect your horses.

Each have played an enormous role in the development of a country and its culture.

NORTHERN DANCER (1961): CANADA’S MUCH-LOVED PONY WINS HIS FINAL RACE, THE 1964 QUEEN’S PLATE, UNDER JOCKEY BILL HARTACK. (NOTE: Audio comes on only in the final 50 seconds.)

IZVESTIA (1987): CANADA’S TRIPLE CROWN WINNER COMES HOME TO TAKE THE 1990 QUEEN’S PLATE IN A BRILLIANT, BREATHTAKING PERFORMANCE

WITH APPROVAL (1986): ANOTHER CANADIAN TRIPLE CROWN WINNER BEGINS HIS JOURNEY WITH A WIN IN THE 1989 QUEEN’S PLATE

ALYDEED (1989): ALYDAR’S LITTLE BOY “IN A CLASS OF HIS OWN” AS HE WINS THE 1992 QUEEN’S PLATE FOR ROGER ATFIELD AND JOCKEY CRAIG PERRET

PETESKI (1990): AFFIRMED’S LITTLE BOY — “A DECISIVE WINNER” OF THE 1993 QUEEN’S PLATE. THE WIN GAVE TRAINER ROGER ATFIELD HIS 6th QUEEN’S PLATE WINNER. PETESKI WENT ON TO WIN THE CANADIAN TRIPLE CROWN.

AWESOME AGAIN (1994): WINNER OF THE 1997 QUEEN’S PLATE, THIS WONDERFUL COLT WENT ON TO SHOW JUST HOW GOOD HE WAS IN THE 1998 BREEDERS CUP CLASSIC:

SCATTER THE GOLD (1997): THE SON OF DANCE SMARTLY GIVES HER THE FIRST OF TWO QUEEN’S PLATE WINNERS IN 2000. HE BROKE HIS MAIDEN ON PLATE DAY!

WANDO (2000): THIS FEISTY CHESTNUT, A SON OF LANGFHUR, WOULD GO ON TO WIN THE 2003 CANADIAN TRIPLE CROWN. AND THIS IS HOW IT ALL STARTED — “PATRICK HUSBANDS ASKS HIM FOR HIS HEART AND WANDO OPENS UP” :

NIIGON (2001): A FABULOUS COLT STAKES HIS CLAIM TO GREATNESS, WINNING THE 2004 QUEEN’S PLATE FOR HIS SIRE, UNBRIDLED:

MIKE FOX (2004): THE SON OF GIANT’S CAUSEWAY MAKES JOCKEY EMMA-JANE WILSON THE FIRST WOMAN TO WIN THE PLATE IN A THRILLER:

SOURCES USED IN THIS ARTICLE

THE QUEEN’S PLATE: The First Hundred Years by Trent Frayne. 1959: The Jockey Club Limited, Canada (Printed and bound in Canada by HUNTER ROSE LTD.)

THE CANADIAN HORSE RACING HALL OF FAME:  http://www.canadianhorseracinghalloffame.com

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