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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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