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Inspired by a pair of exceedingly rare photographs and the opening of Saratoga — a place of magic, history and imagining — comes this tale of two great fillies.

MOTHER GOOSE wind-up toy by Marx from the 1920's.

MOTHER GOOSE wind-up toy by Marx from the 1920’s.

 

Most American readers know the association between the nursery rhymes of Mother Goose and the thoroughbred of the same name, after whom The Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park is named. Once part of the triad of races that formed the American Triple Crown for fillies, The Mother Goose Stakes were removed from the Triple in 2010, but carries on as an important Grade 1 stakes for 3 year-old fillies. That part of the Mother Goose story is easy. Trying to get a look at H.P. Whitney’s champion filly or even a true sense of her racing career is quite another matter, even though she did everything right on the track and in the breeding shed. In fact, in the latter case, she made a very direct contribution to a thoroughbred dynasty.

The daughter of French import Chicle (1913), Spearmint’s (1903) best son who was also notoriously bad-tempered, Mother Goose was born in 1922, a Whitney homebred. Her dam, Flying Witch, from the Ben Brush sire line, was also the producer of a very fine full brother to Mother Goose, Whichone (1927). He raced against Gallant Fox, whom he managed to beat as a 2 year-old in the 1929 Belmont Futurity, while annexing a number of prestigious races, notably the Champagne, the Withers and the Whitney before breaking down after a dual in the stretch with Jim Dandy and Gallant Fox in the Travers. {If Whichone’s name sounds familiar it might be because of his two best sons: the gelding Whichee (1934), who had the misfortune to race against Seabiscuit and Kayak II, but who was a good runner in his own right, and Bourbon King(1935) a tough campaigner who won the Remsen Stakes.}

CHICLE, the sire of MOTHER GOOSE.

CHICLE, the sire of MOTHER GOOSE.

 

MOTHER GOOSE the broodmare shows a very kind eye, despite her bad-tempered sire.

MOTHER GOOSE the broodmare shows a very kind eye, despite her bad-tempered sire. This is one of the very few images of her.

 

The fact that Mother Goose had a Grade 1 stakes named after her can be taken as proof that she was a filly who sparked the hopes, dreams and imagination of racegoers in the 1920’s, when the sport in North America was relatively new. Her most impressive victory came at two, when she beat the boys in the 1924 Belmont Futurity, most notably Marshall Field III’s sabino chestnut Stimulus(1922), a great grandson of Domino (1891) and winner of the 1925 Pimlico Futurity. In retirement, Stimulus proved a useful sire, producing the champions Beaugay (1943) and Stir Up (1941), as well as a small army of other good runners. {Summer Tan (1952), Nantallah (1953), Decidedly (1959), Sword Dancer (1956), Dust Commander (1967) and Slew O’ Gold (1980) are all direct descendants of Stimulus.}

STIMULUS after his win in the 1925 Belmont Futurity.

STIMULUS after his win in the 1925 Belmont Futurity.

I knew that Mother Goose’s rout of the boys in 1924 was her biggest moment on the track, enough to award her champion 2 year-old filly honours that year. But like any good researcher, I wanted to know more.

And then it happened.

A few weeks back, on a day (to quote Thornton Wilder) “when the dogs were sticking to the sidewalk” in the heat, I was cruising around on the internet and spied an old racing photo at auction that had a peculiar heading: “1924 Press Photo Harry Payne on Mother Goose at Belmont Futurity race in NY.”  Could it be…….?

And there she was:

MOTHER GOOSE (on the rail) shown winning the 1924 Belmont Futurity.

MOTHER GOOSE (on the rail) shown winning the 1924 Belmont Futurity. STIMULUS is in blinkers nearest to the camera. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

 

And as if that weren’t enough, the press photo included the press release on the back, clear as a bell. Like a message in a bottle, I learned more about Mother Goose the runner than I had been able to uncover in decades of searching.

 

The press release was as clear as a bell, describing the courage of the juvenile MOTHER GOOSE in battling on right to the wire. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

The press release was as clear as a bell, describing the courage of the juvenile MOTHER GOOSE in battling on right to the wire. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

Of course, I bought the photo — for the unbelievable price of $14.99 USD. (I do feel badly for the merchant but, like people who run bookstores knowing little about authors, the company is one of several who have bought up the newspaper archives of papers like The Chicago Tribune, knowing little about famous thoroughbreds.)

Mother Goose didn’t stop at the Futurity. She also won the Fashion Stakes and came second and third respectively in the Astoria and Rosedale Stakes that same year. After her debut, the filly seems to disappear from the record books. But as a broodmare, she left a lasting mark as the grandam of Almamoud (1947), one of the greatest ancestresses in American thoroughbred history who was the grandam of Natalma (1957), who produced Northern Dancer (1961).

And isn’t it lovely to know that each time you look at a descendant of Northern Dancer (Natalma) or Halo (whose dam, Cosmah, is a daughter of Almamoud) or Sunday Silence (son of Halo) you are beckoning the spirit of Mother Goose?

SUNDAY SILENCE with the great Charlie Whittingham.

SUNDAY SILENCE shares a silence with the wonderful Charlie Whittingham.

 

Since the explosion of online auction centres like EBAY, these kinds of finds have become rare for me. But there was another purchase I made some time ago that is as precious to me as this photo of Mother Goose. It was of another champion filly and matriarch: Alcibiades. And the circumstances that led me to her were remarkably similar.

Alcibiades’ career on the track and in the breeding shed are perhaps better known than the exploits of Mother Goose. Like her predecessor, Alcibiades has a Grade 1 stakes for 3 year-old fillies named after her and now sponsored by Darley as part of the Breeders Cup Challenge series.

Hal Prince Headley’s great filly was a homebred, born in 1927. Named after a soldier and statesman of Ancient Greece (for which Headley took more than a little abuse because the filly’s dam was called Regal Roman), Alcibiades was a descendant of the incomparable Domino (1891) through her sire, Supremus (1922). Her dam, Regal Roman (1921), a daughter of Roi Herode (1904), arrived in the USA from Great Britain in 1923. Alcibiades was her best progeny.

Her major win at two was in the 1929 Debutante; in 1930, Alcibiades captured the Kentucky Oaks and the Arlington Oaks. One lesser known incident in her three year-old season was that she also ran against Gallant Fox in the 1930 Kentucky Derby, setting blazing fractions on the lead before fading to finish tenth. It was easy to forgive her: the Oaks and Derby were only two weeks apart and the Oaks, which Alcibiades won, was the second of the two. So after this effort in the Derby, one must conclude that the daughter of Supremus was one courageous filly, with a heart as big as her ability, to come back to take the Oaks:

 

After winning the highest award in the land at two and again at three, Alcibiades was retired with a bowed a tendon to take up breeding duties at the Headleys Beaumont Farm. Her last race pitched her against older horses in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, where she ran beautifully to finish third to Wallace Kilmer’s champion, Sun Beau (1925). As serious a competitor as Alcibiades had been on the track, it was as a broodmare that she endowed the American thoroughbred with her most enduring gift. From her brilliant son, Menow (1935), in a direct line of descent, came two jewels of American racing: Tom Fool (1949) and his son, Buckpasser (1963). From her daughter by Man O’ War, Salaminia (1937), descended the Epsom Derby winner, Sir Ivor (1965), the first American-bred to win it since 1954. And Sir Ivor, as many will know, went on to become the ancestor of some very important thoroughbreds, among them Shareef Dancer (1980), Green Desert (1983), Zabeel (1986) and his son, Octagonal (1992), as well as the recently retired Encosta de Lago (1993).

 

Alcibiades' son, MENOW, the sire of TOM FOOL and grandsire of BUCKPASSER.

Alcibiades’ son, MENOW, the sire of TOM FOOL and grandsire of BUCKPASSER. Photo and copyright Acme.

 

SIR IVOR ridden by Lester Piggott goes down to the start.

SIR IVOR, ridden by Lester Piggott and trained by Vincent O’Brien, goes down to the start.

 

ENCOSTA DE LAGO, who descends from ALCIBIADES through a daughter, SALAMINIA, is a recently retired champion Australian sire. Photograph published in the Herald Sun (Australia).

ENCOSTA DE LAGO, who descends from ALCIBIADES through her daughter, SALAMINIA, is a recently retired champion Australian sire. Photograph published in the Herald Sun (Australia).

I stumbled across her photo on a popular auction site and again, the listing was curious: “Alcibiades and her jockey ready to race, 1930.” Assuming that I would be unlikely to find an actual photo of the beloved American filly, I was shocked to find that the image was, indeed, Alcibiades. Unlike the Mother Goose photo, the press release — normally tacked onto the back — was missing and the context around the filly gives little clue as to where the photo was taken. So it’s impossible to say what race this was, except that she was a 3 year-old in 1930. It’s clearly post-race, given the froth in Alcibiades’ mouth. And her jockey sure looks happy, so this is possibly after her win in either the Kentucky Oaks or the Arlington Oaks. But that’s pure guesswork.

In any case, we see her lovely face and soft, dark eye, and note the powerful shoulder and hindquarters of a champion.

 

ALCIBIADES as a three year-old.

ALCIBIADES as a three year-old.

 

Finding these two photographs is like opening a time capsule, or slipping through a wormhole to a time over eighty years ago. It’s as though two photographers in the early part of the last century chose to record two fillies in the hope not only that their images would feature in a prominent newspaper but also that they were capturing something significant, since images always signify something to the person who captures them.  Even if they are two hard-working individuals with an assignment, it was each of them who decided the angle, the lighting, the moment to press the button. They could not have known how important Mother Goose and Alcibiades would be for the breed or even what each filly would contribute to thoroughbred history. But framing each photograph is the hope that they just might be witnessing history-in-the-making. By opening the doors of a living present to those of us who stood like shadows in their futures, two people we will never know have, with two great fillies, reached out to us and in so doing, overcome the limitations of time.

Surely it is this, as much as the subjects themselves, that makes these photographs so precious.

 

Sources

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

Bowen, Edward L. Matriarchs. KY: The Blood-Horse, 1999.

Mitchell, Frank. Racehorse Breeding Theories. Wisconsin: The Russel Meerdink Company Ltd., 2004

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Using history as a guide, if I was shopping for a potential champion, I’d be looking for an “ugly duckling.”

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr.

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr. The colt was royally bred, but so tiny that E.P. Taylor failed to sell him as a yearling. In fact, potential buyers laughed when he was paraded out with the other yearlings!

Of course, none of the thoroughbreds discussed in this article were ugly. Not literally. But metaphorically, there was something about each one of them that hearkens back to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale: they seemed to be ugly ducklings but what no-one saw at the time was that they were not ducklings at all. Some weren’t good-looking enough. Others took too much time to come into their own. And still others were waiting for a special someone to come along, someone who looked into their eyes and saw who they really were.

The individuals whose stories appear here are only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” — VAULT readers will certainly be able to name many others who fall into this category.

And it all adds up to this: If there’s any “secret” to finding yourself another Frankel or American Pharoah or Black Caviar or Treve, it has to do with looking “under the feathers.”

“UGLY DUCKLINGS” #1: TOO UGLY TO EVER BE A CHAMPION

Perhaps we can’t help it. Horses are beautiful animals and thoroughbreds can be exquisite. And no matter how often horse folk remind us that beauty and talent don’t necessarily go hand in hand, it’s all too easy to ignore when you’ve got a plain bay standing next to a magnificent chestnut…….

 

KINCSEM (filly, 1874-1887)

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters.

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters. But it was painted in hindsight, when the world already had learned that she was incomparable, making one doubt its absolute accuracy.

She may well have been the greatest thoroughbred of them all, winning 54 times in as many starts on two different continents. Kincsem took on all comers and was so devastatingly good that she also ran in 6 walkovers when no-one would run against her.

But at her birth, she was declared by her owner-breeder, Ernest Von Blaskovich, to be the ugliest foal that he had ever seen — and most agreed with him. When Von Blaskovich offered the majority of that year’s crop of foals to Baron Orczy, the latter purchased all but two — and one of the rejects was Kincsem.

Here is one fairly accurate description of a thoroughbred that was so brilliant she actually paused to graze before taking off after the others, only to win going away:

She was as long as a boat and as lean as a hungry leopard … she had a U-neck and mule ears and enough daylight under her sixteen hands to flood a sunset … she had a tail like a badly-used mop … she was lazy, gangly, shiftless … she was a daisy-eating, scenery-loving, sleepy-eyed and slightly pot-bellied hussy …” (Beckwith in “Step And Go Together”)

As a broodmare, Kincsem was pretty decent, although she never duplicated herself. But through one of her daughters, she comes down to us today in the bloodlines of Coolmore’s fine colt, Camelot. In her native Hungary, Kincsem is a national hero and a film based on her life (although it appears that the mare isn’t its central protagonist) is due for release in 2016.

For more on this remarkable thoroughbred:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/kincsem-the-mystery-and-majesty-of-an-immortal/

And on the film:

http://www.euronews.com/2015/10/06/multi-million-dollar-hungarian-movie-hopes-to-compete-with-hollywood/

 

IMP (filly, 1894-1909)

IMP in 1898, going to post at Hawthorne Race Track.

IMP in 1898, going to post at Hawthorne Race Track.

 

She was the 1899 HOTY and twice won the honours for Champion Handicap Mare (1899 & 1900). She had her own theme song (below): “My Coal Black Lady.” And she was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1965.

But when she came into the world, the tiny daughter of Fondling (1886) by the stallion, Wagner (1882) was looked upon poorly by her owner-breeder because she wasn’t pretty and her conformation showed not the slightest hint of promise. But her owner-breeder, D.R. Harness of Chillicothe, Ohio kept her anyway, perhaps because the fact she was bred in the purple overrode his misgivings. Her ancestry included direct descent from the Darley Arabian, Eclipse and Lexington.

Imp raced an unthinkable number of times: 171. But she won 62 times, with 35 seconds and 29 thirds and raced more against the boys than those of her own sex. She set track records from 1 3/4 to 1 1/16.

By the time she was retired, at the age of eight, she was a national figure.

For more about Imp:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/my-coal-black-lady/

 

PHAR LAP (gelding, 1926 – 1932)

“Bobby” as he was called by those closest to him, arrived in the stable of trainer Harry Telford looking like a very, very sorry excuse for a racehorse. Which, in turn, precipitated the first crisis in Phar Lap’s biography, unbeknownst to the scrawny, dishevelled colt who had been born in New Zealand and was a son of the promising sire, Night Raid. Trainer Telford had bought Bobby for owner, David J. Davis, who rushed over excitedly to see his latest acquisition. After a moment of silence, Davis went ballistic. The compromise was that Bobby would be leased to Telford for a period of three years, the trainer covering all costs and the owner getting one third of the colt’s earnings. Assuming he could run.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these figures! Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these figures! Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

The rest, as they say, is history: Bobby aka The Red Terror aka Phar Lap (meaning “lightning/bolt of lightning/lights up the sky” in the Thai language) was a champion. His great heart, together with his victories, moved Australia and New Zealand — and the racing world– to fall in love. And, in 2016, we are still in love with him:

Bobby’s risky run @ The Melbourne Cup in 1930 should have been a movie:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/bribes-threats-bullets-phar-laps-melbourne-cup-1930/

 

WAR ADMIRAL ( colt, 1934-1959)

“Sons of Man O’ War ought to look different,” Mr. Riddle decided, as he looked at Brushup’s new foal. It was a bay colt with no real pizzazz to it …. and it was tiny. Riddle found it impossible to hope for much from the little fellow, who much-resembled his dam. And Brushup had been hopeless as a runner, pretty as she was. Riddle tried, in vain, to hand the colt over to his partner, Walter Jeffords Sr., but when Jeffords refused, it was decided that Brushup’s boy would stay in the Riddle stable until he showed what, if anything, he had as a runner.

War Admiral [2006 Calendar, Nov]

 

By the time he was a three year-old, Riddle had learned that even though The Admiral was the size of a pony (15.2h) he did, indeed, carry his sire’s blood.

And that blood would show in not only in War Admiral’s Triple Crown, but also in the breeding shed. As a sire, his contribution to the breed was as definitive as was the impact of sons and daughters like Busanda, Busher, Bee Mac, Searching, War Jeep and Blue Peter on the sport itself. War Admiral led the general sire list in 1945, the 2 year-old sire list in 1948 and the broodmare sire list in 1962 and again in 1964.

Although The Admiral’s sons were not influential as sires, both Busanda and Searching made a huge impact. Their descendants include the likes of Swaps, Buckpasser, Numbered Account, Iron Liege, Hoist the Flag, Gun Bow, Striking and Crafty Admiral, as well as two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Other descendants of note from the War Admiral line include Dr. Fager, Alysheba, Cigar and, most recently, Zenyatta.

To this day, breeders point with pride to War Admiral in the lineage of their thoroughbreds. What the name connotes is timeless, synonymous with the very essence of the thoroughbred.

For more on War Admiral:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/war-admiral-the-little-horse-who-could-and-did-for-john-shirreffs/

 

ZENYATTA (filly, 2004)

As the tale is now famously told, the yearling daughter of Street Cry did not look her best in the sales ring as a yearling, due largely to a case of ringworm. But David Ingordo could see beyond all that. And Ann Moss has recounted how she and the filly seemed to “just click” at first meeting at Keeneland, just as though Zenyatta had chosen her.

When the hammer fell, the filly had been acquired by the Mosses. But she was not their only purchase that year and shortly after their yearlings arrived at Mayberry Farm, they received a call from Jeanne Mayberry. Jeanne had this to say,”Either you bought yourselves some very slow yearlings or else that Street Cry filly is very, very good. Because when they’re out together running, she leaves them all behind as though they aren’t even moving.”

Prophetic words.

But fast as Zenny was, it took time and patience to “get her right,” as the Mosses’ Racing Manager, Dottie Ingordo Sherriffs, has said. But when trainer, John Sherriffs, did get her right, the result was the birth of an American racing legend:

Retired with a record of 19 wins and 1 second place in 20 starts, Zenyatta’s fans have not diminished in the slightest. At this writing, Zenyatta is the only filly/mare to have ever won two different Breeders’ Cup races and the only filly/mare to ever have won the BC Classic.

 

“UGLY DUCKLINGS” #2: STANDING IN THE SHADOWS

In any institution, whether a school or a sport like horse racing, it works out a lot better if everyone develops in the same, linear way. Couple that with our love affair with speed — intelligence being linked to quickness and, in the case of thoroughbreds, ability with running fast enough to win, preferably at two — and you have the “cracks” through which genius and greatness all-too-frequently slip ……..

 

EXTERMINATOR (gelding, 1915 -1945)

 

 

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

The story of “Old Bones” is famous. He’s as legendary a figure in American thoroughbred racing as Man O’ War — and some say he was the best of them all. High praise for a big, coarse gelding who was bought as a rabbity for a flashy colt named Sun Briar, the hope of  Willis Sharpe Kilmer for the 1918 Kentucky Derby.

The man who first saw under the surface of the lanky chestnut with the deep, dark eyes was trainer Henry McDaniel. It was he who studied Bones and Sun Briar as they worked, noting the intelligence of the former at dealing with his moody running mate. And when Sun Briar couldn’t run in the Derby — and after considerable lobbying by McDaniel and Colonel Matt Winn, the President of Churchill Downs — Kilmer agreed to let the ugliest of his horses run instead. And so it was that Exterminator stepped on to a muddy track and transformed, in three minutes, from an ugly duckling to a Swan King.

To read more about Exterminator: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/a-collectors-mystery-exterminator-and-bob-dorman/

 

DISCOVERY (colt, 1931- 1958)

 

Discovery, a brilliant runner and outstanding broodmare sire, won Horse of the Year in 1935 over Omaha. Discovery appears 4X5X4 in Ruffian's pedigree.

DISCOVERY on the track. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

The son of Display had a brilliant, dazzling chestnut coat and lots of chrome. Born at Walter J. Salmon’s Mereworth Farm and owned by Adolphe Pons, the colt was impressively bred and ran head-first into the accompanying expectations. Predictably, he disappointed, winning only 2 of 13 starts as a two year-old.

At three he appeared again, looking fit enough. However, among the 3 year-olds that year was a colt named Cavalcade, who had already beaten Discovery the year before. In the Derby, Discovery chased Cavalcade home; in the Preakness, he finished third to High Quest and Cavalcade.

But Discovery was just getting going. He went on that same year to win the Brooklyn and Whitney Handicaps, and then set a world record time for 1 3/16 miles in the Rhode Island Handicap.

But his finest years were at four and five. In 1935, the colt won 11 of 19 starts, carrying an average of 131 lbs., gaining him the nickname “The Iron Horse.” Retrospectively named 1935 Horse of the Year (over Triple Crown winner, Omaha) and throughout 1936, Discovery’s winning ways continued. Of his Whitney win, the New York Times wrote that the chestnut ran “…the most decisive victory to be scored in a big American stake in many years.”

DISCOVERY was named Horse of the Year for 1935. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

DISCOVERY was named Horse of the Year for 1935. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

As a sire, it was Discovery’s daughters who gave him purchase on immortality, producing the great Native Dancer, Bold Ruler and Bed O’ Roses.

 

SEABISCUIT (colt, 1933-1947)

Rejected outright as a colt foal because of his size and conformation, the little son of Hard Tack languished as a runner until he hooked up with trainer Tom Smith, who could see right through the disguise. In Smith’s hands, “The Biscuit” blossomed into a horse with fire in his blood. It was the Depression Era: a good time for a hero to come along. Especially one who had once been “not good enough,” through no fault of his own. He battled back from defeat. He battled back from injury. And he taught America how to look a setback straight in the eye — and vanquish it.

Enjoy this rare footage of The Biscuit at work and play:

 

RED RUM (gelding, 1965- 1995)

 

 

RED RUM at work on the beach. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun

RED RUM at work on the sands of Southport, England. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun

 

“Beloved”  is probably the first response when someone speaks his name. Or “Immortal.” Something like that.

In its long, distinguished history the National Hunt has known many great horses, but none who rose to the standard of Red Rum. He was, quite simply, the greatest steeplechaser who ever lived.

By the time Donald “Ginger” McCain got his hands on the bay gelding, he had won a few one-mile races over the flat before being passed from one training yard to another. The horse who had descended from the great St. Simon, and whose name originated from the last three letters of his dam (Mared) and sire (Quorum) was never going to amount to much, running in cheap races with modest purses.

GINGER McCAIN WITH RED RUM PICTURED AT HIS STABLES BEHIND SECOND HAND CAR SHOWROOM. SOUTHPORT 1975. pic by George Selwyn,119 Torriano Ave,London NW5 2RX.T:+44 (0)207 267 6929 M: 07967 030722 email: george@georgeselwyn.co.uk Vat no:3308110 05

Ginger McCain with RED RUM, pictured at his stables behind his used car dealership in Southport, 1975. Photo and copyright, George Selwyn.

The first thing that McCain set out to do was to rehabilitate the gelding, who suffered from the incurable disease, pedal osteitis, a disease of the pedal bone. (This was discovered after the trainer paid a goodly sum for “Rummy” on behalf of owner, Noel le Mare.) The “cure” was swimming and long works on the beaches of Southport. And it worked miracles. Red Rum blossomed into a tough, rugged individual. (It should be noted that Ginger adored Rummy and the horse was never put at-risk in any of his races, unlike the situation when he was running on the flat.)

The result was not one, but three, wins in the Aintree Grand National, arguably the greatest test of any horse’s courage and stamina in the world. His first win came at a time when the Grand National was flirting with extinction. It needed a hero and it got one, in the form of a thoroughbred once-destined to run on the flat until he could run no more, and a used car salesman who “also” trained National Hunt horses — and saw something quite different in his Champion’s eye:

 

JOHN HENRY (gelding, 1975-2007)

“For the first two years of his life, John Henry had been peddled like a cheap wristwatch.” (Steve Haskin, in John Henry in the Thoroughbred Legends series)

JOHN HENRY at work.

JOHN HENRY at work.

To say he was “difficult” doesn’t even come close: for what ever reason, John had a nasty disposition, despite his workmanlike performances on the track. It would take trainers (and there were many) like Phil Amato and Ron McNally to work their way around temperament issues to gain the gelding’s trust before the John Henry we now know and admire emerged.

In his 3 year-old season, there were glimmers of ability. But from 1980 to his final win, at the ripe old age of nine, John Henry turned out to be the stuff of greatness. And not only was it his “arrival” as a turf star: John’s rags-to-riches story captivated fans who even today, almost nine years after his death, still revere his memory. Indeed, for many, John Henry is one of a pantheon of superstars, right up there with Exterminator, Man O’ War, Secretariat, Ruffian and American Pharoah.

By the time he was retired to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, John had twice won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year (1981, 1984), with 39 wins in 83 starts and earnings of over six million dollars USD. His 1981 election as Horse of the Year was unanimous and at the time, unprecedented for a nominee to receive all votes cast. In addition, John was inducted into the American Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1990.

 

ISTABRAQ (gelding, 1992)

Unlike John Henry (above), whose bloodlines were blue collar, Istabraq came from a royal line: a son of Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) whose dam, Betty’s Secret, was a daughter of Secretariat. Owned by E.P. Taylor, the Canadian thoroughbred breeder and owner of Northern Dancer, Betty’s Secret was sent to Ireland in 1987 to be bred to some of Northern Dancer’s British sons. Taylor died two years later and the mare, in foal to Sadler’s Wells was purchased by Hamdan Al Maktoum.

The foal she was carrying was Istabraq.

ISTABRAQ as a foal with his dam, Betty's Secret (Secretariat).

ISTABRAQ as a foal with his dam, Betty’s Secret (Secretariat).

The colt foal seemed to understand from the very beginning that he was “someone special.” And indeed he was destined to be — but it took time.

The colt’s name was Sindhi for “brocade” but the weave of him proved inferior on the flat, where he managed only 2 wins. His jockey, the great Willie Carson, described the youngster as a “slow learner” who “…also lacked speed and was not at home on fast ground…I came to the conclusion that the reason he was struggling was because he had no speed. In fact, he was one-paced…”

As a three year-old, he developed foot problems. He was, in fact, flat-footed, making shoeing him a problem. When Istabraq refused to quicken in his last race as a three year-old, despite Carson’s aggressive ride, Sheikh Hamdan let trainer John Gosden know that it was enough: Istabraq was to be sold.

John Durkan started his career as a jockey.

John Durkan started his career as a jockey before becoming an assistant trainer to the great John Gosden.

When John Durkan, Gosden’s assistant trainer, heard that Istabraq would be listed in the 1995 Tattersall’s sale he resolved to acquire him. He saw possibilities for Istabraq, but not on the flat — as a hurdler. Having informed Gosden that he would be leaving to go out on his own, Durkan began searching for a possible buyer for Istabraq and found one in J. P. McManus, a wealthy Irishman who had made a fortune as a gambler. Following the sale at Tattersall’s, McManus shipped Istabraq back to Ireland with the understanding that the colt would be trained by Durkan. In his young trainer, Istabraq had found someone who believed in him.

“He is no soft flat horse. He is the sort who does not get going until he’s in a battle. He has more guts than class and that’s what you need, ” Durkan told McManus, “He will win next year’s Sun Alliance Hurdle.” Prophetic words.

"No soft

“He is no soft flat horse…” Durkan counselled J. P. McManus. And you see it here, in the power as ISTABRAQ launches, even though he’s a good distance from the hurdle.

But the young Durkan would soon be beset with tragedy, although not before watching his beloved gelding take ten hurdle races in a row from 1996-1997. Durkan was battling cancer and was shipped to Sloane Kettering Hospital in New York City; Aidan O’Brien took over training duties. By 1998, John was dying and moved home to Ireland, succumbing on the night of January 21, 1998.

Charlie Swan wore a black armband in John’s memory on the day of Istabraq’s first start in 1998, the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle. The gelding, who was now 6 years old, was a national hero and thousands turned out to watch him begin his 6 year-old season in grand style at Leopardstown:

And then this gallant thoroughbred just went on and on and on, beginning with a win two months later at Cheltenham in what would be the first of three wins in the Champion Hurdle:

Retired in 2002, Istabraq is now in the fourteenth year of a happy retirement at his owner, J.P. McManus’ Martinstown Stud. There, the horse who was voted in 2009 the favourite of the last 25 years by the Irish people, hangs out with his BFF, Risk of Thunder, and continues to greet fans who visit from all over the world:

For more about Istabraq, one of Secretariat’s greatest descendants: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/secretariats-heart-the-story-of-istabraq/

 

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

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Together,we saved over 20 horses from going to slaughter in Canada or Mexico in 2015. And every donation counted in this effort because no donation is too small. Hale, Trendy Cielo, Maya Littlebear, Felicitas Witness and 16 others, including two mares and their foals, thank you.

Please consider making a donation to a worthy cause so that we can help more rescue efforts in 2016.

Thank you.

https://www.gofundme.com/8d2cher4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My idea to collect photographs of the progeny of Northern Dancer, our King of Thoroughbred Racing here in Canada, led to the discovery of just how influential this tiny thoroughbred stallion really was — and continues to be today, particularly in Great Britain, Ireland, Europe and Australia.

NORTHERN DANCER QUOTE by SANGSTER_$_57

It was the last Kentucky Derby my ailing grandfather and I watched together. He sat, wrapped in blankets, in his favourite armchair and I sat cross-legged near him on the carpet, the rest of the family ranged in chairs around the black and white television console. When the little colt hit the wire, the room erupted with gasps, followed by delight. Here he was, the very first Canadian bred and owned 3 year-old to win the Kentucky Derby and he had done it in record-breaking time.

As we watched EP Taylor leading his fractious champion into the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs, my grandfather exclaimed, “Well I never……just look at him ….he’s only a pony!”

I had been born with Grandpa’s “horse gene,” as my mother liked to say. Shortly after the Derby win, I bought a copy of Sports Illustrated magazine, carefully removed a photo of “The Dancer” winning the Florida Derby and glued it onto a sturdy sheet of blue cardboard, under which I wrote: ” ‘He’s all blood and guts and he tries hard.’ Northern Dancer: first Canadian owned-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby. Time: 2:00:00 flat.”

The photo and the memory stuck. Today, as I write this, the faded blue cardboard with The Dancer’s photo and my round printing sits in a frame just above the computer.

This SI shot of Northern Dancer winning the Florida Derby has come down through the decades with me. Once the prized possession of a 14 year-old girl, it now sits in a frame above my computer.

This SI shot of Northern Dancer winning the Florida Derby has come down through the decades with me. Once the prized possession of a 14 year-old girl, it now sits in a frame above my computer.

Punctuated as he was by the love of a grandfather who was gone only a year later, as well as that festering horse gene of mine, it was predictable that by 1990 I had decided to collect original press photos of Northern Dancer and some of his progeny. What I had in mind was a project: to collect some photos and then mount them in an album, together with a little research on The Dancer’s most prominent progeny.

Lester Piggott and NIJINSKY, the last British Triple Crown winner.

Lester Piggott and NIJINSKY, the last British Triple Crown winner.

I started out in earnest, shopping on places like the newly-opened EBAY. But little did I know what I was going to uncover. The search for original photos of Nijinsky and The Minstrel connected me to a number of UK sellers — and it was here that the proverbial “floodgates” flew open. My career and family had necessitated a lengthy sabbatical from all things thoroughbred, leaving me somewhat amazed to discover that through the aegis of the great trainer and horseman, Vincent O’Brien, Canada’s tiny Dancer had, in fact, gone viral. 

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr.

NORTHERN DANCER by Allen F. Brewer, Jr. The artist’s exquisite portrait belies the temperament of Canada’s King of Thoroughbreds which was, to quote E.P. Taylor’s daughter, “Not very nice at all.”

 

I had bought a few albums to house the photos and had started mounting them together with text. But as the sheer number of photos mounted, I could see that I was making myself a project that would take a lifetime to complete. It wasn’t that I had no criteria for acquiring a photo…..it was that truly great thoroughbreds kept coming and coming, like an enormous tidal wave, prompting the question: Where do I draw the line?

Think about it. Out of the “Danzig connection” alone, another galaxy of superstars in England, Ireland, Europe and Australia have emerged. And this is only one of many Northern Dancer sire lines.

DANZIG pictured here at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky where he stood for the whole of his career at stud.

DANZIG pictured here at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky where he stood for the whole of his career at stud.

 

DANZIG'S best son, DANEHILL.

DANZIG’S best son, DANEHILL.

 

DANEHILL'S son, DANEHILL DANCER, a sire of sires.

DANEHILL’S son, DANEHILL DANCER, a sire of sires.

 

DANSILI, another son of DANEHILL who is making a huge impact on the breed worldwide.

Juddmonte’s DANSILI, another son of DANEHILL who is making a huge impact on the breed worldwide.

 

Among the remarkable thoroughbreds who descend from a bewildering galaxy of Northern Dancer sire lines and families, and who have recently retired are the champions: Rachel Alexandra (USA), America’s sweetheart and 2009 Horse of the Year, is a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro and granddaughter of Sadler’s Wells; Black Caviar (AUS) whose sire, Bel Esprit, is the grandson of Nijinsky and whose dam, Helsinge, is the granddaughter of the late Green Desert (by Danzig); the incomparable Frankel (GB) a son of Galileo (by Sadler’s Wells) whose dam, the Blue Hen, Kind, is a daughter of Danehill (by Danzig); America’s two-time Horse of the Year and turf star, Wise Dan (USA), who carries Storm Bird (by Northern Dancer) and Lyphard (by Northern Dancer) on both sides of his 4th generation pedigree; the 2014 and 2013 Investec Derby winners Australia (IRE) by Galileo and Camelot (IRE) by Montjeu; Arc winner Danedream (GER), whose sire Lomitas is a grandson of Nijinsky and whose dam, Danedrop, is a daughter of Danehill (by Danzig); the brilliant Nathaniel (IRE), a son of Galileo and only one of two horses to seriously challenge Frankel, the other being Zoffany (IRE) by Dansili, a son of Danehill and grandson of Danzig; the mighty Igugu (IRE), winner of the SA Triple Tiara and a daughter of Galileo; the immortal Hurricane Fly (IRE) whose sire Montjeu is a son of Sadler’s Wells; the undefeated Arc winner Zarkava (IRE) whose sire, Zamindar, is a grandson of The Minstrel and whose dam, Zarkasha, is by the superb Kahyasi, a grandson of Nijinsky; the ill-fated and brilliant St. Nicholas Abbey (IRE) a son of Montjeu; the Australian champion All Too Hard (AUS), the half-brother of Black Caviar, and a grandson of Danehill (by Danzig); the wonderful mare, The Fugue (IRE), a daughter of Dansili (by Danehill) whose dam, Twyla Tharp, is by Sadler’s Wells; Canada’s Inglorious, winner of the 2011 Queen’s Plate, who is a granddaughter of Storm Bird (by Northern Dancer); and last but hardly least, Goldikova (IRE) whose sire, Anabaa is a son of Danzig and whose dam, Born Gold, is a granddaughter of Lyphard (by Northern Dancer).

It’s impossible to think of thoroughbred racing or the National Hunt without these individuals — but even they are the tip of the proverbial iceberg in the ongoing genetic dance of The Dancer.

Below, a video of the American turf superstar, Wise Dan, winning the 2013 Breeders Cup Mile for the second straight year:

“The bird has flown” — the fabulous Nathaniel winning the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot:

The “sensational” Canadian filly,Inglorious, winning the 2011 Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, Toronto, Canada:

Stallions — so many names that one gets dizzy just trying to keep them in a kind of chronological order. Among the best-known: Giant’s Causeway, Medaglia d’Oro, Elusive Quality, Animal Kingdon, Big Brown and War Front in the USA; Galileo, Sea The Stars, Yeats, Invincible Spirit, Cape Cross (sire of Sea The Stars, Ouija Board and Golden Horn), New Approach, Oasis Dream, Kingman, Mastercraftsman, Dansili and Dubawi in Great Britain, Ireland and Europe; So You Think, Exceed and Excel, Sepoy, Redoute’s Choice, Fastnet Rock, More Than Ready, Bel Esprit and Snitzel in Australia; and in Japan, the great Empire Maker and leading sires by earnings, Deep Impact and King Kamehameha ( a son of Kingmambo who is inbred 2 X 4 to Northern Dancer through his sons, Nureyev and Lyphard, and carries Nijinsky’s son, Green Dancer, in his 4th generation).

A look back at the late Bart Cummings’ great champion, So You Think:

And in 2015?

Well, let’s see.

There’s America’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, American Pharoah (whose brilliance, I will continue to insist, owes at least as much to Empire Maker and his Blue Hen dam, Toussaud, a daughter of Northern Dancer’s El Gran Señor as to any other in his pedigree), the Investec Derby winner Golden Horn, Shadwell’s brilliant Muhaarar, Coolmore’s Gleneagles, the up-and-coming sire, Mastercraftman’s The Grey Gatsby and Amazing Maria in Great Britain. And it’s impossible to overlook the incomparable Treve, who now has her own theme song!

This year, they all look like him, carrying his bay coat and dark mane and tail into a future he never saw. But the familiar colours of my “tiny Dancer” always take me back to that last Kentucky Derby my grandfather and I watched together. And as for my collection of photographs, it’s tailed off considerably since it arrived at 500 + images. I’m well behind in recording them all, so the considerable overflow are now housed in an archival file.

But then along came 2015.

And I can see that my collecting is not yet done…….

 

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UPDATE

Since I began THE VAULT’S rescue fund, $1,542.00 CAD has been raised, allowing THE VAULT readers and yours truly to rescue Hale, as well as a Standardbred gelding and a beautiful blue roan QH mare, in foal, from slaughter. Too, donations have been made to Our Mims and RR Refuge. I continue to work to save horses, one horse at a time: this week, it was a granddaughter of Secretariat.

This blue roan mare, in foal, was rescued from slaughter by VAULT readers the week of August 31, 2015

This blue roan mare, in foal, was rescued from slaughter by VAULT readers the week of August 31, 2015

Here’s some footage of Hale, a mere month after VAULT readers, his new owner and yours truly rescued him:

If you love THE VAULT, please accept my heartfelt thanks. I write it for you.

And please consider making a donation:

http://www.gofundme.com/8d2cher4

Together we can make a difference.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We’ve been here many, many times before and this year it’s all about American Pharoah, whose misspelled name has only made his wins in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness more distinctive.

The delight and the doubts have dominated the press in North America since Zayat Stables’ American Pharoah began his Triple Crown bid, first by winning the Kentucky Derby and then by romping to a Preakness victory in the slop, winning by a margin only equalled by Smarty Jones 11 1/4 victory in the 2004 Preakness (above).

But then came the Belmont…..and the undefeated Smarty, who had won every heart along the way, suffered his first — and only — career defeat. To say that it was a heartbreaker would be an understatement.

It’s 2015, and here we go again.

And what can be studied to ascertain whether or not American Pharoah’s (AP) chances in a dwindling field are better than that of a champion like the great Smarty Jones? Truthfully, no analysis can be foolproof which is one of the reasons that horse racing worldwide still brims with anticipation, hope and dreams of glory.

There are a number of complex factors that will determine the outcome on June 6th and how they interrelate is where the mystery lies.

First, there is the colt himself — how tired is AP? After all, as E. P. Taylor who owned and bred Northern Dancer observed, ” If you run them enough times, they get beaten…A horse can’t tell you how he’s feeling…” And the “fatigue factor” would arguably be less relevant if the Derby and Preakness winner was going up against colts who had run in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. But he isn’t. In the Belmont, he’ll meet up with colts who are fresher, who’ve had time to rest and work up to the Belmont. AP’s had three weeks.

AMERICAN PHAROAH shown after his Preakness win.

AMERICAN PHAROAH shown after his Preakness win.

 

Then there are the bloodlines and what these might cough up in terms of indicators. AP’s bloodlines are superb on his sire line. In fact his grandsire, Empire Maker, trained by the legendary Bobby Frankel, was himself the spoiler when he won the 2003 Belmont to quash Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid:

Empire Maker had been beaten by Funny Cide in the Derby that year, but skipped the Preakness before running in the Belmont. He was a fresher colt going in, but it’s impossible to overlook his bloodlines: Unbridled (Mr. Prospector sire line) out of the fabulous mare, Toussaud, by El Gran Señor (Northern Dancer). And Empire Maker, who stands in Japan now, has thrown a hailstorm of champions from his American foal crops, including AP’s sire, Pioneerof the Nile, Eclipse champion (2011-2013) Royal Delta and champions Sky Kingdom, In Lingerie, Grace Hall, Emollient, Bodemeister and Acomas. Pioneerof the Nile looks to be on his way to following in Empire Maker’s steps, but it’s still too early to be certain. Often, though, it takes a generation for a sire or a dam to produce a superstar like AP, win or lose on June 6. And Empire Maker has the goods to do it.

The handsome and prepotent EMPIRE MAKER.

The handsome and prepotent EMPIRE MAKER.

Of course, AP is not the only colt going into the Belmont with a great pedigree. There is the sensational Mubtaahij, who appears to like the Belmont surface and is by the hot sire, Dubawi, out of Pennegal by Pennekamp, himself a sire who showed brilliance on the turf — winning the 2000 Guineas, Prix de la Salamandre, Dewhurst and Prix Djebel, among 6 of 7 lifetime victories. If our “might skip a generation” breeding axiom kicks in here, then Mubtaahij is doubly-blessed. His dam is a Blue Hen in her own right — and let’s keep in mind that it’s the dam that hands on the powerful X in Mubtaahij’s genetic profile.

MUBTAAHIJ working at Belmont. Photograph and copyright, Emily Gricco.

MUBTAAHIJ working at Belmont. Photograph and copyright, Emily Gricco.

 

Another serious contender in the Belmont is Frosted. He’s by America’s arguably best sire, Tapit (AP Indy) out of a Deputy Minister mare, Fast Cookie. What’s interesting about Frosted is that he carries Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew on both sides of his fourth generation. And that can’t be bad. Other strong pedigrees are found in Materiality (his sire is Preakness & Belmont Stakes winner, Afleet Alex/BM sire, Langfuhr) and Keen Ice, a son of the mighty Curlin, who certainly will get the distance.

The gorgeous FROSTED has the pedigree to match. Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

The gorgeous FROSTED has the pedigree to match. Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

KEEN ICE at work over the Belmont track. Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

KEEN ICE at work over the Belmont track. A son of the mighty CURLIN, he has what it takes to get the distance. Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

 

A factor that looms large is that of the jockeys.

AP keeps his regular rider, Victor Espinoza, who is no stranger to pressure. He rode the last Triple Crown hopeful, California Chrome, in the 2014 Belmont where the colt finished out of the money, overtaken by much fresher horses. In 2002, Espinoza was astride the Baffert-trained War Emblem, but the colt stumbled coming out of the gate and never really recovered. So Espinoza knows the hype and knows the track; hopefully, he’ll ride at least one race on June 6th prior to the Belmont to get the feel of the track.

Mubtaahij will be missing his regular rider, Christophe Soumillon, and some are speculating that Soumillon’s decision to drop the ride (because of a previous commitment) speaks loud about the colt’s Belmont chances. However, the talented son of Dubawi gets the services of talented Irad Ortiz Jr. Ortiz has won a Breeders’ Cup and knows the Belmont track. Kent Desormeaux and Joel Rosario ride Keen Ice and Frosted, respectively, and both can be counted on to come up with sound performances. The great Mike Smith rides the Nick Zito-trained Frammento and these two are a formidable combination: over the years, American racing fans have learned to never count Zito out.

One of the very best: trainer Nick Zito brings FRAMMENTO into the Belmont.

One of the very best: trainer Nick Zito brings FRAMMENTO into the Belmont.

 

Then there’s the matter of the track itself. Although Saratoga has the reputation of being “the graveyard of champions,” in North America every true racing fan knows that the real graveyard is the Belmont, aka “Big Sandy.” To quote the pre-eminent correspondent of American racing, Steve Haskin, writing in Blood-Horse on June 1:

“…the fact is, many jockeys who don’t have experience at Belmont Park, especially going 1 1/2 miles, get lost on those sweeping turns, with the far turn being what I call the turn of no return. Once you make a mistake on that turn, especially going that far, there is no recovering from it.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but you do not want to get caught wide on the first turn and you certainly don’t want to go into the second turn wide. At Belmont, the ideal trip is to remain closer to the rail (if it is playing fair), then ease out nearing the quarter pole or waiting for an opening on the inside. Going wide at the five-sixteenths pole or quarter pole is not a big deal. It is going into the turn wide that leaves horses rubber-legged after turning for home, as they are forced to lose ground for a very long time while negotiating that seemingly endless turn.

…As far as staying on the rail, that is going to be up to Bob Baffert. The great John Nerud has always said the key to Belmont is knowing the track on that day and watch how the track is maintained the days leading up to the race. And he’ll be able to tell by watching all the races run on that Friday and of course on Saturday. According to Nerud, it all depends on what the crew does with the cushion. If they remove a good part of the cushion on the inside and dump it 20-25 feet out from the rail, you want to get on that rail and stay there, especially from the five-sixteenths pole to the eighth pole.. If they leave the cushion alone, because of the pitch of the track, it likely will be slower down on the inside.”

(See more at: http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2015/06/01/memo-to-victor-don-t-let-belmont-park-beat-you.aspx#sthash.q752Ur2V.dpuf)

belmont park_tc

 

Last, but not least, is the matter of statistics, those supposedly factual indicators of what a colt has got, pedigree-wise, and therefore, what he should do in a classic, 1.5 mile/12f race like the Belmont Stakes.

To help those new to the business of handicapping, we need to stress that both the Dosage Index (DI) and Centre of Distribution (CD) of any thoroughbred are, in actuality, trends used by breeders more than “facts” per se. What we mean by this is that both DI and CD are attempts to consolidate pedigree information along the lines of stamina and speed influences. The CD and DI of a thoroughbred are tied to the influences of chef-de-race stallions found in a horse’s pedigree over the first 4 generations.

But influences are just that and no more than that — even the great Secretariat’s speed-stamina profile (20-14-7-9-0) did not quite capture what he showed us on the track!

A thoroughbred’s Dosage Profile (DP), from which its DI and CD derive, is calculated based on the number of stamina-speed sire influences in a pedigree. There are five categories: Brilliant, Intermediate, Classic, Solid and Professional, with “Brilliant” denoting a preference for shorter distances (speed influence) and “Professional,” longer distances (stamina influence). Horses classified as “Classic” have an almost-equal speed-stamina ratio. The numbers assigned in all 5 categories (even if 1 or more are 0) constitute the DP. Then, through a numerical ponderation formula, the DI and CD are calculated and they indicate a trend represented by a ratio of stamina-to-speed influences that may (or may not) indicate the conditions under which a horse does best. The higher the DI or CD, the greater the speed influence.

(In fact, when we look at the CD’s of the 11 Triple Crown winners, we see just how misleading this kind of information can be if used as the sole criteria for picking a Triple Crown winner: Sir Barton @ 1.00, Gallant Fox @ 0.57, Omaha @ 0.75, War Admiral @ 0.52, Count Fleet @ 0.25, Whirlaway @ 0.10, Assault @ 0.46, Citation @ 0.04, Secretariat @ 0.90, Seattle Slew @ 0.68 and Affirmed @ 0.55. Then add, for good measure, Man O’ War @ 1.17, Alydar @ 1.10, Little Current @ 0.22 or the fabulous Smarty Jones @ 1.00 and one sees that while the CD is a useful indicator of the ratio of speed-to-stamina in an individual’s pedigree, it can also prove very dodgy for punters!)

AP comes in with a CD of 0.88, meaning that his speed influence is presumably more dominant than stamina; Mubtaahij has a CD of 0.00, showing a distinct speed-stamina imbalance that should favour stamina over speed. At 0.64, Keen Ice shows a relatively balanced speed-stamina influence; and Frosted shows a CD of 0.67. The average CD for 12 furlongs (the distance of the Belmont Stakes) is 0.43. And this is where the worm-hole that can be statistics opens up: none of the colts mentioned here compare favourably with the ideal of 0.43. But why is that? Probably because they’re babies with limited races under their belts, making it hard to assess them against a statistic that takes no account of the number of races those individuals used to reach this statistic had run.

Too, we would note that in comparing the respective DP’s of Frosted, Keen Ice, Mubtaahij and AP, the two with the most speed-stamina balance and therefore, using this theory, the most inherited Classic potential are Frosted and Keen Ice. But, again, what’s missing is the time it might take any of these youngsters to reach their Classic potential.

American Pharoah shown working at Churchill Downs pre-Belmont Stakes.

American Pharoah shown working at Churchill Downs shortly before he shipped to Belmont.

So….can American Pharoah, a brilliant colt at both two and three, give America its first Triple Crown winner since 1978? Having watched him through this year and last, we know that one thing is certain: he will do his best on June 6th. That’s the kind of honest, hard-working colt he is and it’s doubtful he knows any other way of being.

But the result on June 6th? There are no absolutes.

If the factors align for colt and jockey — from how the track plays to fatigue vs. freshness to what’s bred in the bone — then, when the gates spread and Big Sandy opens its arms, welcome all of these equine athletes….and the possibility of a Triple Crown champion.

AMERICAN PHAROAH with HOF trainer, Bob Baffert who says of his champion, "He is just the sweetest horse." Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

AMERICAN PHAROAH with HOF trainer, Bob Baffert who says of his champion, “He is just the sweetest horse.” Photo and copyright, Emily Gricco.

 

SPECIAL THANKS

…to gifted photographer, Emily Gricco, who generously gave THE VAULT permission for the use of her images of the Belmont contenders. If you love great photography, catch Emily on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

 

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

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Twitter and Facebook are already in a flutter at the prospect of these famous babies making their first start. And, because we’re human, we’re inclined to think that this anticipation — which feels like a chronic twitch deep in the equine lover’s soul — is absolutely unique.

COZMIC ONE, the first born out of champion Zenyatta, shown working out at Santa Anita under his regular exercise rider, Kevlyn            . Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

COZMIC ONE, the first born out of champion Zenyatta, shown working out at Santa Anita under his regular exercise rider, veteran Kevlan Henry. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

Except that it isn’t.

Down through the years, the arrival of the first progeny of great thoroughbreds has been greeted with the same kind of feeling. Today, however, the Frankels and Rachels and Nellys and Zenyattas are public figures — and that means we can witness every detail of the development of their sons and daughters as though we were actually right there. Now that really is unique.

Even though televised coverage made Native Dancer a public hero, social media today allows fans, punters and journalists worldwide a degree of involvement with thoroughbreds that is immediate and unprecedented. In the case of two of America’s great mares, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, a devoted community have followed Jess’s Dream (2011) aka Taco and Cozmic One (2011) aka Coz from their first steps right up to their training towards a first start. In the UK, many are following the progress of baby Frankels, born in 2014 to mares like Danedream and More Joyous, while in Australia, Black Caviar’s first born is now six months old and already has her own “Nelly groupies.”.

RACHEL ALEXANDRA'S first born, JESS'S DREAM (on outside) is also working towards a first start which is likely to come in Florida.

RACHEL ALEXANDRA’S first born, JESS’S DREAM (on outside) is also working towards a first start which is likely to come in Florida.

Seventy or more years ago, even though the expectations for the offspring of champions like Man O’ War was probably as great, the general public didn’t have the kind of access to them that we have today. And the down-side of our real-time relationship to these royally-bred babies may well be that our expectations for them are weighty enough to crush an elephant.

Happily, horses are oblivious to tidal waves that arise in virtual space.

The magnificent EBLOUISSANTE, half-sister to champion ZENYATTA is very much her own person, as trainer John Shirreffs understands. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

The magnificent EBLOUISSANTE, a 17h half-sister to champion ZENYATTA is very much her own person, as trainer John Shirreffs understands. Thank goodness for that, because it leaves her fans lots of room to appreciate her for exactly who she is. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

When Great Britain’s lavishly-spotted The Tetrarch (1911) — arguably the best two year-old ever produced in that part of the world — retired, there can be little doubt that his progeny were eagerly anticipated. As a sire, The Tetrarch was able to pass some of his special qualities on, notably to a son, Tetratema (1917), but he principally inscribed himself in breeding history through his Blue Hen daughter, Mumtaz Mahal, the “Flying Filly.” She was “The One” of all of the Tetrarch’s comparatively small number of progeny who most ignited memories of her sire when she appeared on the turf, and the sprightly grey filly had her own fan club because of it. In the breeding shed, Mumtaz Mahal became the ancestress of the sire lines of Nasrullah, Royal Charger, Tudor Minstrel and Mahmoud, making her influence on the breed in the last century one of the most important. The narrative of The Tetrarch and his brilliant daughter is one of those rare cases when a direct offspring caught the genes of a brilliant parent in spades.

THE TETRARCH.

THE TETRARCH

TETRATEMA, pictured here by W.A. Roach, a champion son of THE TETRARCH

TETRATEMA, pictured here by W.A. Roach, a champion son of THE TETRARCH, was best over short distances but he won 5 races in 1919 and the King’s Stand, King George and 2000 Guineas the following year. As a sire he was very good, producing excellent fillies and colts like ROYAL MINSTREL(1925) and FORAY (1934). In their book A Century of Champions, Randall and Morris rated TETRATEMA as the third best 2 year-old of the century, just behind THE TETRARCH and TUDOR MINSTREL.

MUMTAZ MAHAL, his daughter, is one of the most important of all thoroughbred broodmares.

MUMTAZ MAHAL is one of the most important of all thoroughbred broodmares.

On the other hand, it was anything but “in the cards” that one of the world’s greatest thoroughbred sires, Hyperion, as well as his descendant, Canada’s Northern Dancer, would amount to much at stud. For one thing, both were tiny; for another, Hyperion was almost as famous for his laziness as he was for winning the Epsom Derby and Northern Dancer was not only temperamental, but raced his whole career on a split hoof. So they were both, in a sense, “wild cards” from a breeder’s perspective. And while Canada waited to see their “Dancer’s” sons and daughters rekindle the excitement of his Triple Crown campaign, it is unlikely that Hyperion’s get were welcomed with anything near the same enthusiasm. But, as we know today, both stallions had an astounding impact on the breed, passing their “bloodedness” on to generation after generation. Which reminds us that it can take several generations before an individual comes along whose bloodlines scream his/her ancestry: in the case of Northern Dancer, thirty years intervened.

Rare and fascinating footage of Hyperion’s Derby (no sound). Lord Derby’s “pony” wears #9:

NIJINSKY and Lester Piggot just following their win in the 1970 Epsom Derby.

NIJINSKY and Lester Piggot just following their win in the 1970 Epsom Derby. England’s last Triple Crown winner, NIJINSKY made a name for himself overseas and was significant to the rise of his sire, NORTHERN DANCER. Standing at Claiborne Farm, NIJINSKY proved to be an excellent sire and sire-of-sires, through sons like Caerleon. He also distinguished himself as a broodmare sire.

Frankel's BM sire, Sadler's Wells, and his millionaire sons out for a walk at Coolmore Ireland. The grand old man is followed by Galileo, Montjeu and High Chaparral.

SADLER’S WELLS, another son of NORTHERN DANCER, single-handedly changed the face of thoroughbred racing worldwide. The stallion is shown here, followed by his millionaire sons GALILEO, MONTJEU and HIGH CHAPARRAL on a walk at Coolmore, Ireland. Photo and copyright, The Racing Post.

 

Sometimes, it is thoroughbreds who fly “under the radar” that have a huge impact on the sport of racing. A case in point is Bold Venture (1933), one of any number of colts and fillies whose racing career –through no fault of their own — did precious little to recommend them to the racing public and, subsequently, to breeders. The 1936 Kentucky Derby winner, Bold Venture was the son of the British import, St. Germans (1921), the leading sire of 1931 and sire of the great Twenty Grand (1928). Bold Venture’s dam was a granddaughter of Commando (1898). Despite his pedigree, the colt entered the Kentucky Derby without a single stakes win, going off at 20-1 odds and ridden by an apprentice jockey, Ira “Babe” Hanford.

Jockey IRA "BABE" HANFORD with HOF trainer, Max Hirsch and daughter, Mary Hirsch.

Jockey Ira “Babe” Hanford (on the fence) with HOF trainer, Max Hirsch, and his daughter, Mary Hirsch, who became America’s first registered female trainer.

Underdogs certainly win important races, but the 1936 Kentucky Derby was such a debacle that few were convinced that Bold Venture deserved the honours. When the gates flew open, the favourite, Joseph E. Widener’s Brevity (1933), was knocked to his knees. Another excellent three year-old, Granville (1933), threw his jockey when slammed in a chain reaction involving Bold Venture and another horse. In the end, with Brevity giving full chase, Bold Venture flew under the wire to win.

Trained by the brilliant Max Hirsch, Bold Venture was back to run in the Preakness with HOF George Woolf in the irons, nosing out Granville at the wire to win. The colt was retired at the end of an undefeated 3 year-old season and sent to stud in Kentucky, having been sold to Robert J Kleberg for $40,000 USD. He had little success there and was subsequently moved to Kleberg’s King Ranch, in Texas — where he sired the Triple Crown winner, Assault (1943), and Kentucky Derby winner, Middleground (1947). Bold Venture remains the only Kentucky Derby winner to sire two other Kentucky Derby winners.

Wearing roses: BOLD VENTURE and the young Ira "Babe" Hanford, the youngest jockey to ever win the Kentucky Derby.

Wearing roses: BOLD VENTURE and the young Ira “Babe” Hanford, the youngest jockey to ever win the Kentucky Derby.

Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT.

Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT.

The Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner, MIDDLEGROUND, captured by Brewer.

The 1950 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner and 1951 Horse of the Year, MIDDLEGROUND, captured by the late Allen F. Brewer, equine artist extraordinaire.

 

There’s almost nothing to make the soul of a racing fan soar with hope than watching a horse they love bring babies into the world, fillies and colts filled with all the promise of a golden future.

Goldikova, Danedream, Havre de Grace, More Joyous — and down the road, Gentildonna, Taghrooda and The Fugue — are but a few of the well-loved thoroughbred mares who have embarked on broodmare careers. In the recent past there have been several great broodmares whose young set the flame burning anew, including Toussaud (Empire Maker, Chester House, Decarchy, Honest Lady), Kind (Frankel, Noble Mission, Bullet Train, Joyeuse), Personal Ensign (My Flag, Miner’s Mark, Our Emblem), Dance Smartly (Dancethruthedawn, Scatter the Gold, Dance With Ravens) and Urban Sea (Galileo, Sea The Stars, My Typhoon, Black Sam Bellamy, All Too Beautiful).

Miswaki's lovely and accomplished daughter, Urban Sea

URBAN SEA, Arc winner and Blue Hen, dam of GALILEO, SEA THE STARS, MY TYPHOON, BLACK SAM BELLAMY and ALL TOO BEAUTIFUL. There is absolutely no question that URBAN SEA passed on her greatness to her offspring.

 

PERSONAL ENSIGN with her colt foal, MINER'S MARK. The dam of MY FLAG and grandam of STORMFLAGFLYING and WAR EMBLEM was a champion from track to foaling barn.

PERSONAL ENSIGN with her colt foal, MINER’S MARK, her first born. The dam of MY FLAG and grandam of STORMFLAGFLYING and WAR EMBLEM was a champion from track to foaling barn.

 

Toussaud and her goat. This great mare is Bode's grandam on his tail female.

TOUSSAUD and her goat. The dam of EMPIRE MAKER, CHESTER HOUSE, DECARCHY, HONEST LADY and CHISELLING made a lasting contribution to thoroughbred bloodlines.

 

 

Dance Smartly always kept her shape, no matter how many foals she had. Here she is in Kentucky, having visited Thunder Gulch. Photo and copyright, The Blood-Horse.

DANCE SMARTLY, the only filly to ever win a Triple Crown in mixed company in North America, went on to become a Blue Hen for Sam-Son Farm. Here she is in Kentucky, having visited Thunder Gulch. Photo and copyright, The Blood-Horse.

 

So what does the future hold for royal babies like Cozmic One and Jess’s Dream? Have they inherited the brilliance of their dams? of their sires? of both?

Like human children, these colts and fillies are a one-off. Unique. They’ll train differently and run differently than their parents. They’ll meet different challenges and obstacles along the way as they build their own reputations. Some will be brilliant, others hard-working, and still others, just plain unlucky. Most will bring the heart and courage of their breed to each and every race and most will do their very best to win.

But whatever their destiny, hours and hours of skill, dedication, encouragement and love have brought them to a new beginning.

Let the magic begin!

COZMIC ONE at Santa Anita. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

COZMIC ONE (Bernardini ex. Zenyatta) at Santa Anita. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

 

THE VAULT wishes to thank photographer Jane Wade for the use of some of her outstanding photographs in this article.

BONUS FEATURE

John Shirreffs, trainer of Derby winner Giacomo and HOTY Zenyatta, among others, reflects on the early success of Zenyatta’s half-sister, Eblouissante, in this TVG Special. In so doing, Shirreffs provides insight into just what it takes to get even the most royally-bred thoroughbred to the track and to keep them feeling happy within themselves:

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

Read Full Post »

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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” I don’t think about her without believing she was one of those magical, lightning strike things.” (the late Tammy Samuel-Balaz, daughter of SamSon Farm founder, Ernest “Ernie” Samuel.)

“… I really don’t even know where to start. I suppose you would have to understand that I fell in love with Dance Smartly back when she was kicking butt against the boys in ’91 and I was a nine-year-old girl who took up riding because I wanted to be her jockey (never mind the fact that I was already bigger than most jockeys at that age). I’ve loved her pretty much all my life, and those years I got to spend with her were amazing. ” (RV, October 2012.)

RV, this one is for you.

It was only her second foal, but the folks at Sam-Son Farm in Ontario, Canada were right to expect big things from Classy N’ Smart. The mare, a daughter of Sam-Son’s No Class (Nodouble ex. Classy Quillo) and the sire, Smarten (Cyane ex. Smartaire), was already a Canadian Hall-of-Fame inductee, having chalked up 5 wins in 9 starts, including the prestigious Canadian Oaks, before she retired.

The year was 1988. And Classy N’ Smart’s filly foal, standing on shaky legs and lurching crab-like towards her dam’s milk, was equine royalty.

No_Class with foal

No Class was most certainly misnamed. She stands as one of the great Blue Hen mares of the last century, producing Sky Classic, Regal Classic, Grey Classic, Always A Classic and Classic Reign, as well as Classy N’ Smart. Shown here with Sky Classic (by Nijinsky II), No Class was one of Ernie Samuel’s foundation mares.

Smarten, pictured here winning the 1979 American Derby at Arlington was the sire of Classy N' Smart and the broodmare sire of Dance Smartly.

Smarten, pictured here winning the 1979 American Derby at Arlington was the sire of Classy N’ Smart and the broodmare sire of Dance Smartly.

Classy N' Smart (Smarten ex. No Class) was very good on the track but brilliant in the breeding shed.

Classy N’ Smart (Smarten ex. No Class) was very good on the track but brilliant in the breeding shed. She produced sire extraordinaire, Smart Strike , as well as champions Strike Smartly and Full of Wonder. But Dance Smartly remains her crowning achievement.

Special as she was, Classy N’ Smart only accounted for half of the newborn’s royal lineage. The other half came to her via Claiborne Farm’s brilliant Danzig. A son of Northern Dancer, Danzig’s racing career was short-circuited by injury. But as a stallion he was pure gold. His sons and daughters were infamous for their talent and, other than Dance Smartly, he gave the world a goodly number of international superstars. Among the most distinguished of his millionaire progeny were Chief’s Crown, Versailles Treaty, Agnes World, Lure, Hard Spun, Polish Navy, Dispute and Danzig Connection. Danzig also sired the much-loved Dayjur, as well as Brahms, Belong To Me and Anabaa, sire of Goldikova. But it was his pre-potent son, Danehill, who would become one of the most influential sires of the late twentieth century.

Below is rare footage of Danzig’s brief racing career. The tape’s a bit worn, but a treat to watch nevertheless.

Classy N’ Smart’s bay filly would join a roster of SamSon champions. The farm took its name from its founder, Ernest “Ernie” Samuel, whose history with thoroughbreds had begun initially with show jumpers. His proudest moment came in 1968, when Canadian Club won Canada’a very first equestrian Gold Medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. Canadian Club’s rider, the gifted Jim Day, would continue to ride Samuel-owned jumpers as part of Canada’s Olympic Team until 1976, when he retired. Shortly thereafter, Samuel hired him to be SamSon’s private racing trainer.

1968-equestrian-team-7800

Jim Day at the 1968 Mexico Olympics aboard the white-faced Canadian Club. A champion thoroughbred jumper, Canadian Club was retired to Sam-Son Farm in 1972, where he lived out his life surrounded by those who truly appreciated him.

Well before it became fashionable, Ernie Samuel focused his own breeding program on building an impressive broodmare band, believing that the mare played a key role in the breeding equation . His first purchase was No Class, together with another broodmare prospect, Loudrangle (Quadrangle ex. Lady Known As Lou {Nearctic}). Together, these two established the foundation of Sam-Son’s breeding program. Nor did Samuel stint on stallions, sending his broodmares to only the very best, among them Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer and Danzig.

Classy N’ Smart’s filly was named Dance Smartly, a nod to her grandsire and her broodmare sire, although her distinctive white facial mark quickly earned her the nickname “Daisy” around the farm. Associated with spring and renewal, it was fitting that the leggy filly be re-named after the promise of the daisy.

Other than an outstanding pedigree, Dance Smartly didn’t particularly distinguish herself to trainer Day until she was nearing her first start. Then, as he recalls, jockey Brian Swatuk returned from working the youngster to declare, “This might be the best horse I’ve ever sat on in my entire life.”

Day took note.

A month later, on July 7, 1990, Dance Smartly won her maiden at Woodbine by 3 1/2 lengths. Following a win on the grass in the Natalma Stakes, Dance Smartly and Wilderness Song, another exceptional Sam-Son filly, were sent to Belmont to run in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Racing in blinkers in her first year, Dance Smartly showed great potential and she was honest -- the filly gave her best each and every time.

Racing in blinkers in her first year, Dance Smartly showed that she had royal blood. She never gave up, even when the odds were stacked against her.

But disaster struck when Dance Smartly (outfitted in blinkers) and Wilderness Song were allowed to get into a speed dual that gutted both of them.  Day’s instructions were to allow Wilderness Song to get to the front first, with Dance Smartly rating just off the pace until the final stretch run. Coming down to the wire, her head tilted towards the grandstand, Dance Smartly marshalled every ounce of strength she had left.

Watching from the owners’ box as their filly battled on, the Samuels and Jim Day knew what they were seeing: the birth of a champion.

The BC effort was more than enough to earn Dance Smartly the Canadian Sovereign Award that year for Champion 2 year-old filly.

In 1991, as a three-year old, SamSon’s royally-bred filly started 8 times, on 2 different surfaces and in two different countries and emerged victorious every time.

Within a period of eight months, Dance Smartly won the Canadian Oaks, the Canadian Triple Crown (as in the USA, open to both sexes), the Molson Millions and the Breeders Cup Distaff (now the BC Ladies Classic). In so doing, she would vanquish fillies and colts alike, including her solid stablemate, Wilderness Song. Others who fell victim included the American and Canadian champion colts, Fly So Free and Rainbows For Life, Versailles Treaty and Queena, winner of the Maskette, Spinster and Ruffian Stakes (and the future dam of Brahms), as well as Brought To Mind and General Meeting, a son of the great Seattle Slew who would prove to be one of California’s top sires.

Wilderness Song was a brilliant filly who had the misfortune of being born in the same year as her stable companion, Dance Smartly. Nevertheless, she retired a millionaire and was inducted into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame in 2008.

Wilderness Song was a brilliant filly who had the misfortune of being born in the same year as her stable companion, Dance Smartly. Nevertheless, she retired a millionaire and was inducted into the Canadian Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 2008.

SamSon's champion colt, Rainbows For Life, shown here as a stallion. "Rainbows" was champion 2 year-old of 1990, and champion older male as well as grass horse in 1992. Sold to the Czech Republic, he was a champion sire in 1999, 2004-2006. Wilderness Song died this year (2012).

SamSon’s champion colt, Rainbows For Life, shown here as a stallion. “Rainbows” was champion 2 year-old of 1990, and champion older male as well as grass horse in 1992. Sold to the Czech Republic, he was a champion sire in 1999, 2004-2006. He died this year (2012).

By the end of the year, Dance Smartly had become a legend in her own time: the first (and only) filly to ever win the Canadian Triple Crown, the first Canadian-bred to ever win a Breeders Cup race, recipient of both the Sovereign and Eclipse Awards for Champion 3 year-old filly in 1991, as well as a second Sovereign Award for 1991 Horse of the Year and the all-time leading money-winner (filly or mare) worldwide. Largely because of her performance, supplemented by those of Wilderness Song and Rainbows For Life, Sam-Son Farm took home both an Eclipse and Sovereign Award for Outstanding Owner (1991).

The familiar gold and red of Sam-Son was to become a hallmark of the 1991 racing season. The now unblinkered Dance Smartly, Pat Day in the irons, was easily the racing partnership of the year.

The familiar yellow and red of Sam-Son Farm was to become a hallmark of the 1991 North American racing season. The now unblinkered Dance Smartly with Pat Day in the irons were the racing partnership of 1991.

Daisy’s win in the Canadian Oaks marked the arrival of Pat Day. The American jockey, famous for piloting champions like Easy Goer, Summer Squall, Unbridled,  Lady’s Secret and Sam-Son’s Sky Classic, handled Dance Smartly with patience and poise. Horse and jockey seemed to communicate seamlessly.

The “Day boys” (although not related) got along famously. And the connection that Pat Day established between himself and Dance Smartly was fundamental, since, unlike some horses, Daisy wasn’t particularly interactive with her human handlers. Those who knew her best insisted that, right from the beginning, the filly “knew who she was,” pointing out that special horses are frequently aloof. They seem to come from somewhere between the horizon and the heavens, where they frequently fix their gaze in what has been dubbed “the look of eagles.” They listen to the music of the spheres.

Dance Smartly had "the look of eagles," just like Man O' War and Hyperion who occur in her pedigree. Photo and copyright The Blood-Horse.

Dance Smartly strikes”the look of eagles”pose, just like two of her most illustrious ancestors, Man O’ War and Hyperion. Photo and copyright The Blood-Horse.

The big filly with the resplendent, dappled coat was easy to handle and gentle by nature. Only on the track did she transform from SamSon’s sweetheart into a fire-breathing, equine monster. Despite her habit of leaping out of the gate as though she was a sprinter, Day could do anything with her. The filly relaxed beautifully, allowing her to channel that strength and determination into a burst of lightening speed when asked. Pat Day could feel her readiness through the reins, ears pricked, waiting for him to push the button. And when he did, the champion eased away from the rest of the field in long, fluid strides.

Looks can be deceiving. Daisy seemed to do it all so easily that only the fractions told the real story. That, and the devastation she left in her wake: Dance Smartly’s  Triple Crown triumph comprised a combined winning margin of 18 lengths.

Before being entered in the first leg of the Triple, the Queen’s Plate, Dance Smartly had never taken on the boys before. She was joined by SamSon’s Wilderness Song and Rainbows For Life. Watch as the SamSon fillies come home first and second:

Unlike its American counterpart, the Canadian Triple Crown was run over two different surfaces — dirt and grass — until 2006, when Woodbine’s main dirt track was converted to polytrack. The Canadian Triple is comprised of three races: the 1 1/4 mile Queen’s Plate (dirt), the 1 3/16 Prince of Wales Stakes (on the dirt at Fort Erie) and, finally, on the grass at Woodbine for the 1 1/2 mile Breeders’ Stakes.  Inaugurated in 1959, there have been 7 horses to win the Canadian Triple to date, among them New Providence (1959), Canebora (1963), With Approval (1989) and the ill-fated Izvestia (1990).

The flow of Dance Smartly and Pat Day coming to the wire was a combination of fire (hers) and ice (his).

The flow of Dance Smartly and Pat Day coming to the wire was a combination of fire (hers) and ice (his).

Here she is on tape, accompanied by delighted Canadian voices, winning the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, The Prince of Wales Stakes:

The last leg, the Breeders’ Stakes, is run in August on the grass track at Woodbine. The day dawned warm and slightly humid. The turf was labelled good.

Next up was the Molson Millions. a short few weeks after her Triple Crown sweep. Despite the fact that it came only a few short weeks after her Triple Crown campaign, Dance Smartly’s win was breathtaking.  (The race is highlighted at the very beginning of the article, above).

Wearing the Molson's Millions victory wreath, Dance Smartly and Pat Day are led into the winner's circle at Woodbine.

Wearing the Molson’s Millions victory wreath, Dance Smartly and Pat Day are led into the winner’s circle at Woodbine by a proud Ernie Samuel.

The Breeders’ Cup Distaff was now a little over six weeks away. Shortly after their arrival in Kentucky, Daisy’s exercise rider returned from a work to say that something didn’t feel right: the filly was favouring a front foot. It would take almost three weeks to treat it, during which time Wilderness Song, under Pat Day, gave Sam-Son its first international victory when she took the Spinster.

Dance Smartly was being hand-walked until shortly before the Distaff, when she was given one strong workout. And although her connections were delighted with it, they also knew that one work offered little guarantee that their champion was back to her best form. By all accounts, Daisy was a filly recovering from an injury and nearing the end of a long, tiring campaign when she walked into the Breeders’ Cup starting gate at Churchill Downs:

She was, indeed, the undisputed Queen of North American racing. The late Tammy Samuel-Balaz was to say that the experience of accompanying Dance Smartly throughout her 1991 campaign was “A magical time.” One can only imagine what the exploits of his homebred champion meant to Ernie Samuel. Other SamSon champions would follow: Sky Classic, Chief Bearhart, Smart Strike, Ruling Angel, Quiet Resolve and  Soaring Free. Between 1984-2004, SamSon Farm would see eight of their horses crowned Canadian Horse of the Year.

But one thing was certain on that autumn day in 1991: Dance Smartly had stolen hearts as no other before her, taking her family and fans on a journey to the pinnacle of thoroughbred racing. It was hard to take it all in as it was happening, in the same way that history eludes those living it. But there were images: Dance Smartly turning her head towards the grandstand as she devoured the home stretch, as if to say, “Okay people –watch this!” ….the red and gold silks, stealing up on the outside of the competition …..the characteristic bowing of her head as she was led into the winner’s circle….the wide, intelligent forehead and the warmth in her deep, dark eyes.

Would she? Could she? Following her Triple Crown sweep, Dance Smartly's connections were aiming for the 1991 Breeders Cup. But intervening was the temptation of the Molson Millions at Woodbine....

Canada’s Queen of Hearts.

Dance Smartly returned at four, running exclusively on the grass and winning the Canadian Maturity in mixed company. However, unknown to her racing public, Daisy had been fighting a pulled suspensory ligament injury to her right foreleg. Following a third place finish in the Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington, Ernie Samuel announced her retirement.

She had done enough. In 17 starts, Dance Smartly was never worse than third, retiring with 12 wins, 2 places, 3 shows and earnings of $3,263, 835.00.

Coming home to win the 1991 BC Distaff.

Coming home to one of the world’s most famous finish lines at Churchill Downs in the 1991 BC Distaff.

Racing accolades would follow: in 1995, Dance Smartly was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame; in 2003, she was inducted into the American National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, joining a pantheon of North American champions.

In retirement: Dance Smartly and her BFF, Rainbows Classic, at SamSon Farm.

In retirement: Dance Smartly (right) and another broodmare (chestnut) at SamSon Farm.

Incredibly, as a broodmare Dance Smartly was as successful as she’d been on the track. Although Ernie Samuel died of cancer in 2000, only a short time before one of Dance Smartly’s foals took the Queen’s Plate, Daisy did him proud throughout her life.

Daisy with one of her last foals, the filly Dance To The Sea.

Daisy with her last foal — a baby she just adored — the filly, Dance To The Sea. Nicknamed “Diva” the filly was most like her dam in personality of all of Daisy’s foals. The two continued to exchange fond greetings well after Diva had been weaned.

Diva peeks out at the camera from behind her dam. Sired by Gone West, Diva has produced two foals of her own to date. Her latest is Tizgone, by Tiznow, born in 2010.

Diva (by Gone West) peeks out at the camera. To date, Diva has produced two foals of her own. The filly Tizgone (Tiznow) was born in 2010.

Of Dance Smartly’s first 5 foals, two — Scatter The Gold and Dancethruthedawn — won back-to-back Queen’s Plates in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Millionaire Dancethruthedawn’s three year-old campaign culminated with a Sovereign Award for Champion 3 year-old filly (2001). Another Sovereign was awarded to Dance Smartly for Broodmare of the Year — the third generation of Samson broodmares to win it.

Dance Brightly (Mr. Prospector) was Dance Smartly's first foal. He stands at stud in Chile.

Dance Brightly (Mr. Prospector) was Dance Smartly’s first foal. He stands at stud in Chile and has produced winners. Photo and copyright, A. C. Crosby

Scatter The Gold at the Arrow Stud Open House in Japan 2 years ago. He has since been sold to a stud farm in Russia.

Scatter The Gold (Mr. Prospector) at the Arrow Stud Open House in Japan 2 years ago. He has since been sold to a stud farm in Russia.

Dancethruthedawn is a broodmare at SamSon Farm in Ontario. Personal photo.

Millionaire champion Dancethruthedawn (Mr. Prospector) is now a member of the SamSon broodmare band.

Another daughter, Dancethruthestorm (Thunder Gulch) had her first foal, a Giant's Causeway filly in 2008.

Another daughter, Dancethruthestorm (Thunder Gulch) had her first foal, a Giant’s Causeway filly, in 2008. Named Grand Style(4), she broke her maiden at first asking and was retired. In 2012, she produced a colt, Twirlinggrandstyle (Twirling Candy).

Although her best offspring in terms of earnings was Dancethruthedawn (1998), Daisy’s sons Dance Brightly (1995), Dance To Destiny (1999) and Dance With Ravens (2002) have all proven to be very consistent sires. Another two, Dancethruthestorm and Dance To The Sea never raced and are members of SamSon’s broodmare band.

The gorgeous Dance With Ravens, who stands at Northview Stallion Station.

The gorgeous Dance With Ravens (A.P. Indy), who stands at Northview Stallion Station. UPDATE: In December 2015 Dance With Ravens was sold to “Saudi Arabian interests”He will stand his first year at stud there in 2016. (Paulick Report, DRF) Photo and copyright, Alison Janevic.

Dance To Destiny (Mr. Prospector) never finished out of the money and proved a very decent sire. He stood at SamSon, but was sold to Saudi Arabia in 2011.

Dance To Destiny (Mr. Prospector) never finished out of the money and proved a very decent sire. He stood at SamSon, but was sold to Saudi Arabia in 2011.

In her new life as a mare on the farm where she was raised, Daisy loved to play games — providing her human playmate had treats. Favourites were “find the mint” and follow-the-leader. She was attentive, patient and kind with her foals. The old stifle injury continued to bother her and became degenerative as she grew older, giving her a “gimpy” walk and forcing her to put more pressure on her one good foreleg. SamSon placed her with another handicapped mare, Rainbow Classic, who became Daisy’s BFF.

Dance Smartly always kept her shape, no matter how many foals she had. Here she is in Kentucky, having visited Thunder Gulch. Photo and copyright, The Blood-Horse.

Dance Smartly always kept her shape –and her dapples — no matter how many foals she had. Here she is in Kentucky in 2003, dancing in her paddock. Photo and copyright, The Blood-Horse.

The staff at SamSon loved Dance Smartly. Regal and aloof though she could be, Daisy had a special human friend with whom she was affectionate. RV had loved Daisy since she was a girl and now, with the mare’s velvety muzzle in her lap, a long-cherished dream had come true.

In her paddock at SamSon.

In her paddock at SamSon, Daisy sports her winter coat.

Beloved.

“She had a lot of class…She had a lot of presence. There wasn’t a mean bone in her body…Everybody loved her.” (Dave Whitford, quoted in THE GLOBE AND MAIL, August 22, 2007)

On August 18 or 19, 2007, Daisy was found laying down in her paddock. She could not get up. The SamSon personnel gathered around her, encouraging her to try. It took extraordinary effort. But once standing, it was clear why the mare had spent so long on the ground: she had broken at least one bone in her already handicapped foreleg. In the end there was only one humane avenue open. Dance Smartly was only 19 years old.

Under the Globe & Mail’s headline, “Beloved Dance Smartly Put To Rest,” farm manager Dave Whitford told readers, “We do have a nice grave for her right out in front of the office, a very special place for her…..We’ll be trying to make that area as nice as possible in the coming months.”

Between the lines of final tributes, in the spaces between paragraphs and in what those who were interviewed left unsaid, the void was  articulated. Canadian racing had lost its Queen. SamSon, its beloved Daisy.

Memory, like love, makes its home on the threshold of eternity. For those of us who loved her, that is where Dance Smartly lives.

 

Saying goodbye to our Queen was painful, but her spirit lives on through her daughters and sons.

 

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