Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘heart of a champion’

Images hold a memory in place and this image, of a champion colt who has been long-forgotten, is about to find its frame.

 

ROMAN SOLDIER pictured in 1935 at Hialeah Park, Florida. An NEA photograph. (Source: EBAY.)

 

Go looking for Roman Soldier and you’ll be greeted by blanks almost everywhere you turn. If you’re lucky, you might find a trace that invites you to find out more.

My first sighting of Roman Soldier was when I saw this beautiful photo listed on Ebay. I’m a sucker for a great photograph –one that fills the eye and stops you dead in your tracks. And this one (above) did just that. Although a solitary figure, Roman Soldier’s stride and arched neck screamed power, courage, confidence.  Something about the composition, perhaps its atmosphere, communicated that this colt was special.

Off I went to search, learning that Roman Soldier retired after making 40 starts, with earnings of in excess of 91k USD — an enormous sum in the 1930s, when he raced.

He was, indeed, special.

 

BLOODLINES

In 1919, the year that the “Great War” (WW1) ended, Roman Soldier’s grandsire, Grand Parade, won the Epsom Derby and St. James Palace Stakes, among other British races. Foaled in Ireland, it was said that his dam, Grand Geraldine, spent her days pulling a cart. The coal-black son of another Derby star, Orby, who was also the first Irish-trained horse to win the Epsom Derby, was purchased by Richard “The Boss” Croker, aka Lord Glanely, as a foal:

“…He was well bought as a foal for 470 guineas and showed himself a good early two-year-old, winning in England and Ireland, but considered some way short of the best of his generation. The colt thrived the following season but because of a trace of lameness holding him up in his work, he took his place in the Derby field very much as the owner’s second string.

Grand Parade came in at 33/1 after prevailing in the final furlong, a brave run by a colt who was having his first start as a three-year-old. After a success at Ascot in a two-horse race, Grand Parade went to Lord Glanely’s Exning Stud (near Newmarket) in 1920. He was not a spectacular sire but his Diophon won the 2000 Guineas in 1924. Most of his stock lacked the stamina he showed himself. ” (Source: The National Horseracing Museum, Newmarket, Suffolk)

The handsome GRAND PARADE (1916) after his Derby win, showing the colours of his owner, the Baron of Glanely (Richard Croker), and a portrait of his jockey, Fred Templeman.

Grand Parade’s owner had also bred and raced Orby, but his “other” story was one of corruption. In an article written by Jay Maeder in the New York Daily News, Croker was profiled under the heading “Richard (The Boss) Croker: How the Tammany Hall Leader Became ‘Master of the City.’ ” Here’s an excerpt:

“… Once upon a time, Tammany Hall had been purely a nest of thieves, for years presided over by the ravenous William Marcy Tweed, a man who plundered the city’s coffers so openly that after a while it just seemed to be the natural order of things. By 1870, indeed, Tweed had engineered a new City Charter that effectively made it legal to steal.

…County Cork-born Croker had come to New York as a child, grown up with the brawling Fourth Ave. Tunnel Gang and then, like so many ambitious Irish lads, sought to improve himself by joining Boss Tweed’s Fire Department. Fast did he find himself useful to a Tammany organization always on the lookout for such a promising young fellow as himself: Croker was very good at voting many times over for a given Tammany candidate, and he was very good at breaking the bones of citizens who seemed to want to cast their votes for anyone else.

…In short order he became an alderman, then coroner, then the personal protege of Honest John, who named him fire commissioner. When Honest John died in 1886, it was Croker who succeeded him, merely by sitting down in his chair and asking what anyone was going to do about it.

They called him The Master of the City, and this he indisputably was. His Tammany Hall was the very model of administrative efficiency: ‘I go down to the City Hall every day and go through the departments and see what is going on,’ Croker explained once, ‘and if I find anyone at fault I take them to task.’ Recalcitrant district leaders were summoned to his office, slammed into the walls for a while and then sent away more agreeable to his wishes.”

A political cartoon depicted Richard Croker, his tentacles deep into one of New York City’s “Ice Trust” office.

 

Richard Croker aka Lord Glanely leads in GRAND PARADE after his 1919 Derby win.

Grand Parade’s Derby win includes a portrait of England just at the end of WW1. (Note that, unfortunately, the footage has no sound.)

How Croker purloined his Irish title is unknown, but he did retire to his native Ireland where his stud at Exning gained a fine reputation, counting six classic winners to its name. It was as though Croker took on a completely new identity in his native land, becoming a portly owner-breeder who was known by his turf friends as “Old Guts And Gaiters.” But his return to the Emerald Isle did not go without comment — and the criticism was harsh and came from established Irish breeders.

As it turned out, Croker also had a stud in America and when he retired to Ireland, he brought some of his American bloodstock with him. At the time (the early 20th century) the Irish — in fact, most of the UK — felt that the American thoroughbred was a “stain” on the legacy of the British thoroughbred. But in a supreme irony, one of Croker’s  “inferior” American horses was to establish a breeding legacy.

Her name was Rhoda B. (1895), a daughter of Hanover (1884) out of the mare, Margerine (1886), a descendant of Australian (1858) and Stockwell (1849). Once arrived, Rhoda B. was bred to the great British sire, Orme (1889), of the Bend Or line, producing Orby (1904) and, bred the following year to St. Frusquin (1893), she produced the champion filly, Rhodora (1905).

RHODA B., dam of ORBY and RHODORA. She is pictured here with an unidentified foal.

 

ORBY (Orme X Rhoda B). Bred by Croker and from the Bend Or sire line, Orby became the first to complete the Epsom-Irish Derby double. Following his exploits on the turf, Croker was offerred 50 thousand guineas for both ORBY and his dam, but refused to sell them. ORBY proved to be a reasonably successful sire. Among his best were the Classic winners GRAND PARADE and DIADEM (1000 Guineas). He also sired the winners of about 30,000 (BPS). His reputation was sterling enough that the prominent Irish firm, Goff’s, named one of their sales events after him.

 

RHODORA (St. Frusquin X Rhoda B.). She was one of the best in 1907, winning the Dewhurst and the 1000 Guineas. As a broodmare, she had a hard time and none of her foals survived. Owned by Donald Fraser, Rhodora was slaughtered and fed to his hunting dogs when she failed to give him a live foal.

 

Cohort (1925), the sire of Roman Soldier, was a Croker homebred. The son of Grand Parade was imported to the USA from Ireland at the age of 4, where he proved a very useful stallion. Roman Soldier’s dam, Miamba (1921), was a daughter of Lord Derby’s Light Brigade (1910), also of the Bend Or sire line. Light Brigade arrived in the United States in 1916, where he stood at Hartland stud in Versailles, KY until 1931. Top American winners sired by Light Brigade include Rose of Sharron (1926) and Dr. Freeland (1926), although he is arguably best known today as the BM sire of champion, Discovery (1931).

A winner of the Scarborough and Easter Plates in the UK, Cohort’s best progeny, other than Roman Soldier, and winners of 50k USD or more were the colts  Bobanet (1942) and Brownie (1939), and the filly Ciencia (1939), who won the Santa Anita Derby and was trained by HOF William James “Buddy” Hirsch for King Ranch. The ride that jockey Carroll Bierman gave Ciencia in the Santa Anita Derby is considered one of the finest in all of racing and made the filly the first of her sex to win the classic. Ciencia would go on to become the granddam of champion filly, Miss Cavendish (1961).

Despite Ciencia’s remarkable achievement at Santa Anita, Roman Soldier was easily Cohort’s best progeny based on earnings.

SEABISCUIT, KAYAK II and CIENCIA (left with white nose) going down to the start of the Santa Anita Derby.

Cohort’s dam was Tetrabazzia (1918), a daughter of the incomparable The Tetrarch, out of the mare, Abazzia, a daughter of the champion Isinglass (1890). As we have often asserted here on The Vault, whenever The Tetrarch appears in the first 5 generations of a pedigree, even in the form of a lesser-known daughter like Tetrabbazia, it is always worth noting. Although his brilliance on the turf in the UK was short, The Terarch’s influence on generations of champions right up to the present day is extraordinary.

Tetrabazzia’s best progeny was not Cohort, but the colt Singapore (GB b. 1927). The latter was sired by Gainsborough (GB b.1915) and rated co-champion 3 year-old after his wins in the St. Leger and the Doncaster.

 

The Tetrarch winning the Woodcote Stakes, Steve Donoghue u

 

ROMAN SOLDIER’S RACING CAREER

His name a nod to his sire, Roman Soldier (1932) was purchased for $1,000 USD as a yearling by HOF Max Hirsch at a fall sale in Lexington KY and at 2 was introduced to the track. As proof that Hirsch didn’t think much of him, the colt ran strictly for purse money, capping his juvenile season with 12-5-4-0 and earnings of $4,690, paying back his purchase price in style. The little black colt moved with the Hirsch stable to Florida for the winter and was sold, shortly thereafter, to the wealthy Indiana merchant, William Sachsenmaier and trainer, Phil Reuter, for $7500 and 25% of his earnings, if he won the Florida Derby. However, Roman Soldier would also race under the ownership of Phil Reuter and Elwood Sachsenmaier, the son of William, as the latter died shortly after the colt’s 3 year-old campaign. Phil Reuter trained him throughout a career that may well have put paid to Max Hirsch’s initial impressions about the Cohort colt’s ability.

Trainer Phil Reuter visiting a few of his horses. Date unknown.

Among Roman Soldier’s 3 year-old peers were the likes of Triple Crown winner, Omaha, and the splendid filly, Black Helen. But even such stiff competition did not dim his reputation for the esteemed thoroughbred sports writer, John Hervey, aka “Salvator,” who devoted no less than a fulsome four pages to him in “American Race Horses, 1936” when the “Black Soldier” (Hervey’s moniker for Roman Soldier) campaigned as a 4 year-old. And it was to this source that I turned to find out more about Roman Soldier’s racing career. In fact, without Hervey’s copious research, this article would have been very thin indeed, despite numerous headlines about the colt that appear with regularity in local and national newspapers during his career.

The legendary John Hervey, aka “Salvator,” a consummate racing historian.

 

ROMAN SOLDIER (top corner) as he appeared in American Race Horses 1936, where he was featured in the chapter “Handicap Stars.”

 

There is no question that Roman Soldier was one of the stars of the 1935 -1936 racing seasons, a reputation he earned based on heart, courage and determination. In 1935, between January 17 until July 20, the colt started 12 times, finishing up with a record of 6-2-1 and earnings of $45,100 USD, making Roman Soldier the third highest-earning 3 year-old that year, after Colonel Bradley’s Black Helen and Triple Crown winner, Omaha. After his score in the Detroit Derby, which came in June of that year, his owners were offerred $60,000 USD for him. The offer was refused.

BLACK HELEN and jockey Don Meade after the filly’s win in the 1935 American Derby. She was the undisputed best of her sex that year, also winning the Florida Derby, CC Oaks and Maryland Handicap.

Although the small black colt won impressively in Detroit, Texas and Florida that year, putting up figures like 1:53 over 9f, Roman Soldier is arguably best known for chasing home Omaha in the May 4, 1935 Kentucky Derby.

1935 Kentucky Derby program.

The colt went into the Derby as second favourite; in the post parade John Hervey observed that he looked “…small and frail beside the first choice, the towering Omaha.” But none of that kind of talk bothered Roman Soldier. He did himself proud on the day.

(Note: This video has no sound. However, it stands as a record of May 4, 1935, giving the viewr a sense of the day. Of interest, too, are the shots of police battling gate crashers: apparently gate-crashing was a common affair on Derby day in the 1930’s. As the field turns for home on that wet, rainy day, it becomes a two-horse race. Roman Soldier can be seen clearly at the finish, closing on Omaha.)

A courageous and gritty performance by ROMAN SOLDIER demonstrated that, however “frail” he might have appeared in the post parade, his heart was as big as the winner’s.

The colt came out of the Derby with a sore and swollen ankle on a foreleg, but once mended, he would go on to race in at least three other highly-rated contests. In the Illinois Derby (May 24), where he gave away 6-11 lbs to his challengers, Roman Soldier got up for second. The view of racegoers and sportsmen alike was that he deserved to win. His performances following the Illinois were lacklustre and by the end of his 3 year-old campaign, Roman Soldier was worn out.

Sent off to Kentucky to refresh for his 4 year-old season, John Hervey notes his comeback as follows:

“…Our Soldier, unlike many that come home maimed from the field of battle, was right back on it when robins nested again and hostilities resumed in the Atlantic sector, which he had not invaded the previous campaign. With a strange disregard of critical opinion, he declined to be either a withered leaf or a pensioner idling in the sunshine before the temple of Mars…As a patrician of the equestrian order, the fighting urge proved irresistable and on May 6 he came forth in his war gear at Pimlico…the active combatant ready for any kind of scrimmage…”

The comeback was in a Grade A handicap and Roman Soldier, assuming top weight of 126 lbs., won over 6f in 1:12 1/5. He won his second start at Belmont Park with ease before moving on to “the New England entrenchments” (Hervey). Starting at Rockingham Park, the colt romped home and this earned him, in turn, weight of 132 lbs in the Granite State Handicap, also run at Rockingham, where he faced off against Vanderbilt’s son of Man O War, Identify, who carried 116 lbs.

Rockingham Park’s clubhouse in 1933

 

The handsome IDENTIFY (Man O War X Foot Print by Grand Parade) shared some of ROMAN SOLDIER’S bloodlines through his BM sire, Grand Parade. The colt was picked up in a claiming race by Alfred G. Vanderbilt Jr for $3500 USD. He would easily repay Vanderbilt: he retired with earnings of over 36k, having made 51 starts with 12 wins and another 15 place and shows. (Source: American Race Horses 1936; photographer Bert Clark Thayer. Copyright: The Sagamore Press.)

It was a rousing battle in which Roman Soldier and Identify fought tooth-and-nail to the wire, with the former prevailing by a head. The New York Times blared out the headline:

“Roman Soldier Beats Identify By Head at Rockingham Park; Heavily Weighted Favorite Passes Vanderbilt Racer in Stretch to Win Granite State Handicap as 30,000 Look On — Black Gift Third, Three Lengths Back.” (June 7 1936)

Dramatic as his contest was with Identify, it was not the apex of Roman Soldier’s 4 year-old season. Nor was it his defeat of the champion Discovery in the Havre de Grace Handicap in September, where Roman Soldier only carried 118 lbs. to Discovery’s 128. In fact, Discovery limped off the track, and few witnessing the race would have disagreed that Roman Soldier did much more than claim the spoils. But this is all speculation: no question that Discovery was in a league apart, but upsets do happen.

The crown of Roman Soldier’s year was his very own “Triple.” In sweeping the Havre de Grace, Washington and Riggs Handicaps, the colt did something that had never been done before. No thoroughbred had won the richest triad of Maryland handicaps in the same season. His feat was “…the only one in our turf history comparable to that of Whisk Broom when in 1913 he achieved his historic ‘triple’ in the three great spring handicaps of the Long Island courses,  the Metropolitan, Brooklyn and Suburban.” ( John Hervey in American Race Horses 1936)

Much of the credit for Roman Soldier’s performance in the Washington and Riggs Handicaps must go to jockey, Jack Westrope. According to John Hervey, when HOF Jack Westrope got on board, the colt seemed energized in a way Hervey had never seen before. It’s a shame that he only rode Roman Soldier twice, as Westrope was an absolutely brilliant pilot. He began riding at just eleven years of age, but four years later when he was still an apprentice, he was the leading rider of 1933 in the USA, with 301 victories out of over 1200 rides. He was 15 years old. Although he never achieved the notoriety of a Charlie Kurtsinger or Earl Sande, Westrope won many prestigious races across America; his most famous mounts were Stagehand and Cravat. Jack Westrope died in 1958, when his horse threw him. He was only 40 years old. Inducted into the HOF in 2002, at least one of his peers commented that he should have been honoured the day he died and not almost a half-decade later.

1934: Jack Westrope aboard BIEN FAIT after a win at Hawthorne. For more on Jack, please see Bonus Features below.

IN CONCLUSION

 

A fuzzy image of ROMAN SOLDIER when he won the 1935 Hialeah Inaugural Handicap as a 3 year-old. Photo: NEA.

Roman Soldier was retired at the end of his 4 year-old season and his first progeny arrived in 1938. Perhaps it was that ankle the finally got to him. At any rate, his progeny, although few in number, appear until 1950 and none were really remarkable although he did get six good runners, the best of which were the fillies Roman Sox (1940; BM sire Donnacona, a grandson of Persimmon) and Lady Romery (1936; BM sire Mad Hatter, by Fair Play). Through a daughter, Anthony’s Girl (1939), the French filly Right Bank (1980) descends, a winner of the Premio Lydia Tesio (It-Gr1), Oaks d’Italia (Italian Oaks) (It-Gr1).

The final tribute to Roman Soldier goes to John Hervey:

” Our mental picture of a War-Horse is of a tremendously big, tremendously bulky, tremendously stout charger, looking able to carry a ton of weight and go either over or through a stone-wall as may seem most urgent.

But they are not all of that kind. As we apply that term on the turf, Roman Soldier deserves it as much as any colt of recent seasons, Discovery excepted. He has sniffed the smoke of battle, heard the thunders of the captains and the shoutings, exulted in his prowess and ‘brought home the bacon’ many a time when the carnage has been fiercest. Yet to see him, you would not suspect it. He is not a horse of great size or strength. On the contrary, he is overtopped by many he has lined up with, while instead of being Herculean, he is slim and almost slight of build…

…In reality he is all steel-and-whipcord, with astonishing vitality, constitutional vigor, courage and endurance…” (In American Race Horses 1936, “Handicap Stars,” p. 161.)

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) “News In A Nutshell,” including Roman Soldier and Omaha in the 1935 Kentucky Derby:

2) Old Derby footage, beginning with Omaha’s win in 1935:

 

 

3) Article about Jack Westrope, published by The Blood Horse in 2002, the year he was inducted into the HOF:  https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/186824/jack-westrope-quiet-little-man

4) 1938 Opening Day At Santa Anita:

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Church, Michael. Online: https://www.michaelchurchracingbooks.com/the-1919-victory-derby

Harzmann, Craig. Jack Westrope: Quiet Little Man. August 5, 2002. Blood-Horse online: https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/186824/jack-westrope-quiet-little-man

Hervey, John. American Race Horses 1936. USA: Sagamore Press.

Thoroughbred Horse Pedigree. Online: https://www.pedigreequery.com

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

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 »

As the incomparable WINX marches on, in a campaign that has us all witnessing history-in-the-making, what is it that keeps us coming back to watch her race again?

The psychology of sport is arguably as fascinating as the sport itself. And while those of us who follow horse racing think we do it out of a passion for thoroughbreds or standardbreds, what gets our cranial pleasure centre pumped is the risk that our champion of the day might lose. It could be convincingly argued that without the potential for loss, sport might not exist at all. Because winning — especially winning all the time, despite the odds — is boring.

As much as metaphors of horse racing extol its capacity to inspire hope, the possibility that our four-legged hero or heroine might be conquered is as intoxicating. In a sense, we repeatedly tune in for a Winx or a Rachel Alexandra or a Frankel race because the possibility that they’ll be defeated is irresistable. Which is not to say that we think about this consciously: we don’t think “Will Zenyatta lose?” rather, what we tend to write, speak and ask ourselves is more like “Can Zenyatta do it again?”

Case in point was Zenyatta’s bid for a second consecutive win in the 2010 BC Classic. Even though the loss was painful for fans and her team, broadcaster Trevor Denman spoke a text rich in the nuanced possibility that defeat might, indeed, happen.

Since 2010, it has been the thinking of most racing experts that the great mare ran the best race of her career in defeat. But what most of us remember about that day is the anticipation — and the foreboding — as Blame and Zenyatta near the wire. And Denman’s words, “…Zenyatta ran her heart out…”

The part of the brain that controls pleasure is the amygdala and when we are in contexts that excite us or move us to a level of “brain happy”, as in intense physical workouts or deep meditation, the amygdala releases dopamine into our system. Dopamine is a natural “high” that gives us feelings of intense, emotional well-being, relieving stress and anxiety in a matter of nano-seconds. Arguably, our excitement watching a big race like the 2010 BC Classic is as much about the thrill of the loss as it is about the thrill of the win — and the amygdala cooperates by responding to our heightened senses as we watch to see what will happen.

And the “what” in “will happen” is written in the tension between win and loss, victory and defeat. In the great Frankel’s last race, the ground was less than ideal, and the colt was caught “sleeping” at the start:

Granted, the “nail-biter” of Frankel’s last appearance on the track resolved itself fairly quickly when the colt made his big move in the stretch against a valiant Cirrus des Aigles.

But many of the greatest, most beloved thoroughbreds have come perilously close to sufferring defeat at least once in otherwise brilliant careers.

One instance of this would be Personal Ensign’s victory in what would be her final race, the 1988 BC Distaff, where with heart-thumping courage she struggled in the slop against the winner of the 1988 Kentucky Derby. This race stands as arguably the best performance ever seen in a Breeders Cup Distaff/Ladies Classic. The stakes were high: Could the undefeated Personal Ensign finish off her career with a win against the Kentucky Derby heroine?

The 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup was still another battle to the wire. It featured two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, as well as Nelson Bunker Hunt’s Exceller. Although, sadly, many know Exceller because of his end in a slaughterhouse in Sweden, the colt was a champion who had won races in Europe as well as America.

As you will see in this (rather poor quality) footage of the 1978 Jockey Gold Cup, Seattle Slew ominously rushes out of the gate before the start, although this didn’t appear to dampen his ability in the slightest as the race gets underway. But as viewers in the moment we, of course, don’t know this. And the “Can Slew do it?” is in the forefront as the race gets underway. The track conditions are sloppy but racing fans were firmly entrenched in either the Seattle Slew or Affirmed court:

 

Champion EXCELLER portrayed by Richard Stone Reeves.

The rare defeats of champion thoroughbreds only seem to make racing enthusiasts respect them more. This might be because a champion has proved his/her vulnerability, making them appear a little more like the rest of their human following. The poet Sylvia Plath wrote, “Perfection is terrible … Cold as snow breath..” and, in a sense, our passion for a particular thoroughbred champion is also based on their overcoming the stasis of perfection, which they do by bravely facing the music again and again and risking everything.

The corollary of hope is despair, and loss is one of the experiences that triggers feelings of despondency. Perhaps no other event in the last century of racing in England was as keenly felt as Nijinsky’s narrow loss to Sassafras in the 1970 Arc.

The British people had easily fallen for the brilliance of their Triple Crown winner and so much hope was placed on a triumph in the Arc. But what most had no way of knowing was that Nijinsky had fallen ill to an extreme case of ringworm during the season and that his run in the St. Leger, the last leg of the British Triple Crown, was against the advice of his trainer, Vincent O’Brien. But as owner Charles Engelhardt wanted Nijinsky to run in the Arc — another request frowned upon by O’Brien — the St. Leger was the only decent prep moving forward.

Had O’Brien’s sage advice been heeded, there would have been no Triple Crown winner of 1970. And, as it turned out, the trainer’s judgment about the champion’s fitness for the Arc was also correct.

Still another lacune was Lester Piggott’s ride on Nijinsky in the Arc: he held the colt back too long and whipped him near the finish, causing Nijinsky to shy and lose any chance he may have had to beat Sassafras:

 

The 1970 Arc. It was this close — NIJINSKY on the outside in a photo finish.

Still, it was a photo finish. But when Sassafras was declared the winner, the despair of Nijinsky’s handlers was visceral. They were not alone. Just across the English Channel, England and Ireland felt the loss every bit as keenly.

Had he won under circumstances that would stop most horses cold — from a poor post position to the distance he was asked to travel to reach Sassafras – Nijinsky would have gone down in history as THE thoroughbred of the century. But such was not to be. However, Nijinsky’s courage and raw ability could not be denied: in defeat, he was glorious.

The Hero’s Journey is played out in myth,religions, literature, film and popular tv series around the world.

Since the beginning of time, myths of the hero’s journey have been written. It’s a formula that we all know very well, however we might have learned it: the hero/heroine is born but orphaned early in life — to realize his/her true heroism, s/he must accept and overcome a series of challenges — triumphing over all, the apprentice becomes a true hero/heroine.

In modern times, we recognize the pattern of the ancient hero myths in Shakespeare, in George Lukas’ original Star Wars trilogy, in book series such as Harry Potter and author Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials,” in Marvel characters (Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman et al.) and in television series like Game of Thrones.

But it was theatre and sport that first popularized the hero myth for enthusiastic spectators in the ancient world, pitting individuals against challenges both psychological (as in the Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex) and physical (marathon runs, chariot races, etc.) That tradition has continued to the present.

GOSHAWK walks onto the track. The image evokes the hero entering the fray, and few capture it better than the incomparable C.C.Cook. Date: 1923. (Source: The Vault, private collection)

The pageantry of a horse race echoes, in microcosm, the journey of the hero. Out the horses come, one by one, in the pre-race parade. Each is a warrior going into a battle where the outcome is far from assured. And as we watch them, we can’t help but imbue each one with the courage they so rightly deserve. Once the race is on, we are presented with a micro-battle scene, as horse and jockey overcome all that is thrown in their way to cross the finish line first. If they come home leagues ahead of the field, or fight it out to get their nose down first, they triumph as only a hero or heroine can.

BATEAU (Man O’ War) seems dwarfed by the enormity of the track, reminding us of the challenge she faces — and will be asked to overcome. Another of C.C. Cook’s “racing portraits.” (Source: The Vault private collection.)

 

The Dwyer, July 1920. MAN O’ WAR, with Clarence Kummer up, on his way to the post. Cook frames the colt’s readiness for battle in an image that depicts his taut body and pricked ears, underlying the determination that was so much a part of Man O’ War’s character. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

The drama of a race in which we have invested our hopes and fears is cathartic because we, too, have run races in our own lives. We have funded courage against the odds and struggled to overcome them, and we have succeeded or failed in the process.

Win or lose, the thoroughbreds we have grown up with and come to love, go on. And as we participate in their campaigns, we are also subconsciously reliving places in our own lives. How else to explain our unerring understanding of the grammar of loss and our enthusiastic reception of the crucible through which thoroughbred champions come to be?

 

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

Out of the past: A few of the many other breathtaking performances that are personal favourites (below), listed at random.

We’re certain that our readers have their own favourites. Many of these are available on YouTube if you’d like to relive them.

 

Secretariat — The Belmont

 

Ruffian — The Mother Goose

 

Rachel Alexandra — The Kentucky Oaks

 

Barbaro — 2006 Kentucky Derby

 

 

Tiznow & Giant’s Causeway — 2000 BC Classic

 

Dance Smartly — 1991 BC Distaff (following her winning the Canadian Triple Crown)

Invasor & Bernadini — 2006 BC Classic (also features Lava Man, Flower Alley, George Washington, Giacomo, Lawyer Ron & Brother Derek):

 

Zenyatta — 2009 BC Classic

 

American Pharoah — 2015 Belmont Stakes, winning the Triple Crown

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

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 »

In recognition of Man O’ War’s birth over a century ago, it’s been a time of celebration in the USA and Canada. So many fabulous articles, exhibits and online postings about America’s “favourite son” made for great reading and learning. THE VAULT is joining in the fun, with the assistance of B.K. Beckwith, Frank Gray Griswold and the Director of the Keeneland Library, Becky Ryder, to whom a special thank you is extended. 

I. Recollections of Louis Feustel, who trained Man O’ War

 

MAN O’ WAR exercising at Faraway Farm. Keeneland Library Collection. Used here with permission.

In B.K. Beckwith’s magical book, “Step And Go Together,” there is a chapter entitled “The Old Man and the Horse.” It’s a touching interview with Man O War’s trainer, Louis Feustel. We thought it would be fun to share some of Feustel’s recollections with our readers. (NOTE: B= Beckwith; F= Feustel; non-italic = notes on the chapter.)

MAN O’ WAR as a 2 year-old with trainer Louis Feustel (right front, in the light suit), owner Samuel Riddle (in round top hat) and jockey Johnny Loftus. The identity of the other gentleman unknown. Source: Pinterest

B: What was he like? What made him great?

F: I don’t really know…Maybe this will explain it — there was not a thing in the world that you wanted him to do that he would not try to do it better. If you asked him to walk, he’d fight to jog; if you asked him to jog, he’d grab the bit and gallop; if you wanted him to gallop he’d say “to hell with you” — and run.

B: They raced on steel then; you had no aluminum plates.It wouldn’t have made any difference…I think he’d have “tied ’em in knots” … yesterday, today or tomorrow… any weight, any distance.

F: Naturally, I’d agree with you…But I want to say here and now, I’ve never bragged too much about this horse. I’ve always felt the facts could speak for themselves. I loved him, big and mean and bull-headed as he was. He had a heart the size of all outdoors, and he had the physical power to go with it. I knew he was good from the beginning, and I wasn’t fool enough not to know that he was making me look good. Mr. Belmont and Mr. Riddle and the rest of them used to have long talks about what we would do with him, but they all came back to me to see what the horse wanted to do himself.

MAN O’ WAR working out. The drill was to “blow him out” roughly three-eigths of a mile the day before a race, followed by another eighth the day of a race. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

 

F {continuing}: I guess…like every other trainer in the world, I had sense enough to know I had hold of the tail of a tiger and, while I could steer him some, I had to do a lot of swinging with him, I had to grow with him and try to out-guess him…figure things out with him and let him believe he’d done it for himself. You can’t handle a temperamental horse or human being any other way.

B: …Too many people are inclined to think that anybody could have handled “Big Red” …Nothing could be further from the truth. His massive frame housed as much destructive power and deviltry as the average hurricane. Maybe you could get to the “eye” of it with luck, but it took a very good man to navigate from there.

F: You see…I had a bit of an edge with him. I not only knew him from the day he was weaned, but I knew his sire and dam and his grandsire. I broke and trained and won with Mahubah — she started only twice with one first and one second — I handled Fair Play as a yearling and I used to gallop Hastings when I was exercise boy for August Belmont. They were all of them over-anxious and rough. I knew what to expect when I got Man O’ War.

Feustel’s experience with Hastings was short-lived.

F: I was assigned to gallop him an easy half-mile one morning…Two miles later, with him going like a runaway locomotive, somebody picked us up. I was never allowed to get on him again. And that …was alright with me. He scared me almost as much as the first horse I rode for Belmont.

HASTINGS was another tough customer in MAN O’ WAR’S pedigree. When Louis Feustel rode him as a boy for August Belmont, HASTINGS “scared me as much as the first horse I rode for Belmont.”

Feustel had been “bound out” to August Belmont when he was only 10 years old.

F: I got a dollar a month, plus board and room and clothes. I sent the dollar home to my folks. They kept us kids working on the ground for a long time in those days…

By 11, Feustel was riding for Belmont and he remained with racing stock all of his life. At 72, Feustel retired from the farm of Harry M. Warner, where he was farm manager, and with his wife, took over the operation of Mickey’s Tavern in Altadena. During his racing career, Feustel famously trained for Belmont and Sam Riddle, as well as for Elizabeth Arden, Averell Harriman, J.W.Y. Martin, Harry Brown and Edward Harkness.

F: I’ll still say, though, that the best man I ever knew was August Belmont, and Man O’ War was the best horse. It was a sad day for me when I took him back to Kentucky for retirement. It was cold and miserable when I unloaded him from the railway car. There were a lot of people around wanting to strip the blanket off him and take pictures. I guess I wasn’t very polite to ’em. I told ’em to get the hell outta there. When I took him to the van it was so old and rickety that I said to Miss Dangerfield, ” If you don’t get him something better than this to ride in, he’ll knock the sides out of it and end up in the road pulling it himself.” She didn’t like it but I was mad. I hated to see him go.

 

MAN O’ WAR in retirement and one of the vechicles that transported him. Was it the same one Feustel cautioned Miss Dangerfield about? Keeneland Library Collection. Used here with permission.

B: Why was he retired at the end of his three year-old season?

F: We figured that we’d get the grandstand on his back if we went on with him at four…He’d won the Potomac Handicap in his next to last start down at Le Havre, packing 138 pounds…he just galloped to them {the rest of the field}…{Sam Riddle} asked me to go ask Walter Vosburgh (then handicapper for all of New York tracks) what weight he’d put on the horse if we ran him as a four year-old. You know what that man’s answer was? “Lou…I can’t tell you exactly what weight I’d put on him next year, but I’ll say this much –I wouldn’t start him in his first out a pound less than 140” … What could we do? He wins at 140 and then there’s no ceiling. Vosburgh was right of course. He deserved it. But Riddle says, “Retire him. He’ll never run  again” …I wonder what he would have done if we’d gone on with him. We’d never really set him down, you know. Neither I nor anyone else knew just how fast he could run. I’ve always had a hunch on the tracks of those days he could have turned a mile in 1:32 flat…

B: Man O’ War was really Louie’s horse. Riddle bought him and paid the $5,000 at auction at Saratoga which made him his. But he didn’t want him and he never would have got him had it not been for Lou and Mrs. Riddle.

F: … Finally, in desperation, I turned my sales talk on Mrs. Riddle. We all went up to Saratoga and she says to him {Sam Riddle} “You’ve got to buy him. The big red one. Lou thinks he might be good. Just buy him for Lou’s sake if nothing else.” Man O’ War was really more Mrs. Riddle’s horse than Sam’s.

About Man O’ War’s management: it wasn’t as simple as just maintaining a perfect running machine.

F: I had no problems with soundness…But I had mental problems with him from the very beginning.The violent, competitive spirit which burned in him kept you continually on your guard. He never actually hurt anyone…but all of us working with him knew he might try it at any time. He’d peel the shirt off you if you weren’t looking, and he began to savage other horses even before we retired him…Sometimes sweets or a pet, or something of that sort, will help you. But not with him…

Man O’ War was a horse that needed a strong body on his back, hence Clarence Kummer, who Feustel described as “a husky type,” adding that Kummer was “the only one who could really rate him.”

F: I remember once when Kummer was sick up at Saratoga, I put Earl Sande up on him. It was in the Miller Stakes…He was carrying 131 pounds and he won off by six lengths in 1:56 3/5, a new track record {for 1 mile 3/16}. After the race Sande came up to me and he says, “You’ll never get me on his back again. He damned near pulled my arms out of their sockets!”

The Miller Stakes at Saratoga: MAN O’ WAR with Earl Sande up. After the race, Sande told Feustel, “You’ll never get me on his back again.” Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

Feustel also pointed out that horses were handled differently in those days.

F: It was a much longer process both before and after a workout. When I first began exercising stock for August Belmont, there were only two sets went to the track every morning. An individual horse would be out for an hour. He would be walked and then given long gallops, and usually brought back to a paddock two or three times, unsaddled and cooled out, and finally sent out for his serious drill. When we got back to the stable we didn’t just wash ’em off in a hurry and throw a cooler on ’em…Sometimes I used to think that all that working on ’em with the brush and curry, and the saddling and unsaddling, made ’em restless and mean.

C.C. Cook’s exquisite portrait of MAN O’ WAR. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

Beckworth’s interview with Louis Feustel ends with the author noting how much alike, in their youth, trainer and colt seemed to be. However, age had made both Feustel and Big Red more mellow, even gentle.

In the case of Man O’War, Beckwith had visited him one last time at Faraway Farm before the death of the stallion, taking his dog with him. Having been assured that it was safe by Will Harbut, Beckwith and dog drew closer to the great horse.

Big Red lowered his head to sniff and then touch noses with the dog.

 

II. How great was Man O’ War? The reservations of Frank Gray Griswold (1854-1937)

Frank Gray Griswold was an American financier, sportsman and writer who was also the darling of New York society. Griswold was an enthusiastic “rider to hounds” and wrote several books about fox hunting, salmon fishing and one about the bloodlines and performance of notable thoroughbred horses. The book excerpted here is “Race Horses and Racing,” privately published by the Plimpton Press in 1925 and dedicated to the champion thoroughbred, Iroquois. It is a compendium featuring great thoroughbreds, including St. Simon, Lexington, The Tetrarch, Durbar II  — and Man O’ War. While Griswold clearly knows the biography and pedigree of each of his subjects, the larger purpose of this book is to persuade the reader of his expertise on the subject.

 

GRISWOLD pictured here (furthest right, white shoes) on one of his sports fishing jaunts. The photo featured in his book, “Sport on Land and Water.”

 

The champion IROQUOIS, depicted here by Currier & Ives, to whom Griswold’s book is dedicated. IROQUOIS was the first American-bred to win the Epsom Derby in 1881. He then went on to win the St. Leger and the St. James Palace Stakes, among others. Returned to the USA in 1883, he won several races before being retired to stud duty. He was the Leading Sire of 1892.

For Griswold, the standard of excellence is set by champions like Iroquois, to which “Race Horses and Racing” is dedicated.  Iroquois was, without question, a brilliant racehorse who won on both sides of the Atlantic in dramatic fashion, only missing the British Triple Crown by a second place finish in the Two Thousand Guineas. Too, Griswold was a friend of Iroquois’ owner, Pierre Lorillard IV, a millionaire aristocrat who owned Iroquois and raced thoroughbreds out of his Rancocas Stable in the UK and the USA. The introductory chapter of Griswold’s book is devoted to a history of Rancocas Stable.

What makes Griswold’s reservations about Man O’ War being “…hailed as the champion race horse of all times…” is interesting primarily because it disrupts the popular narrative of the day about Sam Riddle’s great horse. Griswold was a mover and shaker in New York society and this fact also makes it intriguing to wonder if his views about Man O’ War were popular among the elites — including horsemen — of the 1920’s. The answer is tough to ascertain. The press largely exhalted Man O’ War — but did their accolades fully convince everyone in the racing community that they were witnessing something they had never seen before?

The Dwyer, July 10, 1920. It was the only race where Feustel held his breath and prepared for defeat — until Kummer tapped him with the whip (one of only two times the colt evcer felt it). Photo shows MAN O’ WAR with Kummer up ,on his way to the post. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

Griswold is happy to extol Man O’ War’s physical attributes: ” …Man O’ War is a chestnut with a star and slight stripe on his forehead. He is a level-built beautiful horse to look at, and as a three year-old was a giant in strength and full of quality. Some good judges thought he was a trifle too long in the back and too wide across the chest, but my personal opinion is that it would be difficult to improve his looks.”

In pedigree, Griswold declares Man O’ War “…hardly fashionably-bred,” noting that despite the good individuals in his bloodline (specifically, Galopin, Macgregor, Underhand, Rock Sand and Spendthrift), “…Man O’ War cannot be registered in the English stud book owing to the mare Aerolite…the dam of three great American race horses Spendthrift, Fellowcraft, and Rutherford; and she was also the sister to that good horse Idlewild” because “…there are several mares in the remote crosses of Aerolite’s pedigree that cannot be traced in the {English stud} book, for they end in the ‘woods.’ ” 

Griswold implies that while this glitch might be “…quite good enough for America,” it is less than desirable in a so-called champion’s pedigree. There were, of course, other champions in Man O’ War’s pedigree that Griswold ignored, notably St. Simon, Hampton, Australian and Doncaster. But Griswold is accurate about Aerolite; in her tenth generation there are indeed a number of individuals whose pedigrees remain incomplete even today. (It should be said that when Griswold is writing, America held true to the English bloodlines and pedigree standards in the development of American-bred thoroughbreds.)

 

James R. Keene’s SPENDTHRIFT (Australian X Aerolite)

But Griswold’s chief reservation lies in the time standard used to evaluate Man O’ War’s greatness, to which he responds, albeit between-the-lines, “But who did he really beat?” To quote Griswold directly: “…He was hailed the champion race horse of all times, yet he had not met a really good horse in his two years racing career, for John P. Grier, though a fast horse, could not stay and when he met Sir Barton the latter was no longer the champion he had been in 1920…”

Following a meticulous review of Man O’ War’s victories and new track records, Griswold writes, ” It was a pity that he did not meet the reliable Exterminator in the Saratoga Cup, and that he was not raced in America as a four year-old or sent to England to win the Ascot Cup, for turf history can now never explain how great a horse he was. He had proved that he was a game horse and that he could carry weight, but competition alone decides the worth and stamina of the racehorse, and he really was never asked the question. He goes down in history as a ‘riddle horse’ in more than one sense.” 

MAN O’ WAR and Will Harbut checking out the Hazeltine sculpture that would become the monument now housed in the Kentucky Horse Park. Keeneland Library Collection. Used here with permission.

The final argument in Griswold’s chapter on Man O’ War states his case firmly: ” Those sportsmen who believe in the time test will always contend that Man O’ War was the best horse that ever ran. Those who do not believe in the watch will always consider Luke Blackburne, Hindoo, Hanover, Salvator and Sysonby greater race horses than Man O’ War.”

Champion SYSONBY, at Saratoga in 1904, takes a time-out to graze and watch the action on the backstretch.

1920: MAN O’ WAR winning the Lawrence Realization. Feustel and Griswold agree on one point: During his racing career, the colt was never asked the question. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

Frank Gray Griswold’s reservations about the status of Man O’ War in the pantheon of American-bred thoroughbreds are unlikely to change anyone’s mind. But his argument is salient nevertheless. Conferring greatness on a thoroughbred of any year, decade or century has always been a complex business and remains hotly contested.

Not to mention the fact that Griswold’s central argument, centred as it is on the question of speed vs. stamina, is as current today as it was a century ago.

 

III. Recollections of Man O’ War by others (Keeneland magazine and The Blood-Horse)

 

 

SOURCES

Beckwith, B.K. Step And Go Together. 1967: A.S. Barnes and Co., Cranbury, New Jersey.

Griswold, Frank Gray. Race Horses and Racing. 1925: Privately printed by The Plimpton Press, USA. Limited to 500 copies.

The Keeneland Library, Lexington, KY, USA

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

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 »

He was the undisputed King of harness racing’s Golden Era. But his real life was a far cry from the tall tales that framed it.

DAN PATCH in Chicago, 1905.

The issue that always confronts a researcher is the necessity of discerning fact from fiction. But when a horse is part legend and part enigma — and where the latter takes concrete form in publications, movies and an ocean of promotional material — even an experienced researcher can easily take the wrong turn and end up simply perpetuating the fiction.

 

 

The story of Dan Patch is such a case in point. He is, of course, beloved to a nation and to the sport of harness racing. But Dan’s life was so romanticized that ploughing through it all amounts to wading into the fraught waters where enigma reigns supreme. The whole “phenomena” of Dan Patch was as much the creation of his owners, trainers and the world in which he lived, as it was the story of a horse so brilliant that he was almost beyond human comprehension. In fact, sports writers whose sterling reputations preceded them, notably John Hervey, had great difficulty in representing that brilliance, that “something” that placed Dan Patch in the ethereal, making him seem more deity than horse.

Before we begin, I wanted to acknowledge Charles Leerhsen for his brilliant book, “Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America.” And I do mean “brilliant.” This is a book that takes you on the most fascinating journey ever — into Dan’s world as it was at the turn of the last century. I’m not really a fan of non-fiction about famous horses (or people) for a number of reasons I won’t go into here. But in “Crazy Good” both the social and racing history are so absorbing that they risk obscuring the impeccible, meticulous research of the author.

I want to thank Mr. Leerhsen for setting me straight and for ripping the “veil of enigma” from Dan’s story in the kindest possible way. Which he did with humour, compassion and the elegant, rolling prose of an accomplished writer and storyteller.

***************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Dan Patch’s story begins with Zelica, his dam, a sweet-natured Standardbred mare who had a gimpy leg and was purchased as a 2 year-old at a sales dispersal by Dan’s first owner, dry goods merchant Daniel Messner, for the unheard-of sum of $255 (USD). It may have been competitiveness that pulled Messner’s switch, but he may also have been acting on his doctor advice that the best cure for his ailing stomach was a horse.

ZELICA as she appears circa 1907. Source: “Crazy Good” by Charles Leerhson.

When the townspeople of Oxford, Indianopolis, Messner’s home and the site of his store, heard what Messner had paid for the imperfect filly, they gave Zelica a new moniker: “Messner’s Folly.” Messner knew next to zero about horses but he stood up against those who laughed behind his back, driving Zelica around Oxford in a beautiful new harness and rig. By all accounts he genuinely was attached to his little filly, whose coat he kept gleaming as brightly as her silver-studded tack. Despite her limp, Zelica’s bloodlines were impeccible: by the stallion Wilkesbury, a descendant of champion George Wilkes, out of the mare Abdallah Belle by Pacing Abdallah, the filly carried Rysdyk’s Hambletonian on the top and bottom of her pedigree.

The Standardbred horse was officially recognized as a breed in 1879, based on a standard of time performance for one mile —2 minutes 30 seconds — from which the breed takes its name.

The stallion MESSENGER, by MAMBRINO, was imported to the USA shortly after the American Revolution. A thoroughbred, he is the progenitor of the American standardbred trotter although he also produced thoroughbreds.

While the Standardbred trotters all descended from the thoroughbred stallion, Messenger, the pacers emerged from a breed called the “Narragansett pacer,” fused with the bloodlines of another breed, the “Canuck” from Canada. Despite these different trajectories, both trotters and pacers trace back to Rysdyk’s Hambletonian, after which the Hambletonian race is named. (Interestingly, the Canuck, or Canadian horse were the foundation for the later development of the Morgan, American Saddlebred and Standardbred breeds. In vintage photographs of Standardbreds and Morgans, the contribution of the compact Canadian horse shines through.) Of paramount importance, however, is the fact that the Standardbred is America’s horse, born and bred for the first time ever in the USA.

Dan’s sire, Joe Patchen, stands in high contrast to the sweet and gentle Zelica in more ways than one. Joe Patchen, pilotted throughout most of his career by another harness racing legend, Edward F. “Pop” Geers, was sired by Patchen Wilkes, the grandson of Rysdyk’s Hambletonian. While he had been a fair-tempered colt, as a stallion Joe Patchen became so vicious that he was actually weighed down by chains in his stall to keep him under control. Ill-temperament, bordering on the manic, was a strong tendency in the descendants of Dan’s great grandsire, George Wilkes and Joe Patchen sure got dealt a bumper crop of nasty.

JOE PATCHEN, champion pacer but a vicious, ill-tempered sire.

It would seem that Dan Patch came about not as a result of a brilliant breeding decision made by Messner, but rather as the outcome of a drinking episode in which Dan Messner and his friend, John Wattles, a local farmer and livery stable owner, decided to drive Zelica to Joe Patchen — then standing in Chebanse, Illinois, some 40 miles away — to be bred (see quote from Ray Wattles’ manuscript in Leerhsen, “Crazy Good” ). So off they went to do the deed, driving Zelica there and then home again.

Fortunately for Messner, the colt foal who came into the world on Wednesday, April 29, 1896 received Zelica’s gentle temperament in the gene mix. However, the mahogany bay colt with black feet or “points,” as they were called then, was unable to stand at first. He had been born “crooked.” The advice of the onlookers was to put a hammer to his head, but Dan Messner resisted, instead helping to raise the little fellow to nurse. A few hours later, Dan stood on his own, wobbling badly at first. When the wobbling subsided, all present saw a handsome baby, with a beautiful head and strong body. Looking at Zelica’s colt foal, John Wattles claimed he said that if the little fellow “…grows into those legs he’ll be the fastest horse in the world.” Maybe he said it, maybe he didn’t. But if he did, it was probably an expression of pride rather than prophecy.

At about the same moment, Dan Messner decided to name the colt Dan Patchen, which had shortened to Dan Patch by the time Zelica’s son made his first start, the original name having been rejected by the American Trotting Register Association.

An early photo of DAN PATCH from “The Autobiography of Dan Patch” by Merton E. Harrison.

Harness racing was already well established before Dan was born: the first harness racing took place in the Americas in the 1700s. While trotting as a sport began in the East, pacing originated in the Midwest and the South — in the states of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. It took until the late 19th century for the pacers to gain the status of the trotting side of the family, despite the fact that it was harness racing and not thoroughbred racing that drew crowds to local fairs in the Midwest and the South. Although harness racing was the choice of owners of more modest means, even established farms like Calumet housed a string of Standardbred horses by the beginning of the last century.

During Dan’s racing days, harness racing took place in “heats” — a series of five one-mile races. The horse who took the majority of the five won. In a career of almost a decade, Dan Patch lost only two heats and won every race he ran.

When Dan Patch set foot on the track he would begin a campaign that single-handedly pulled pacers out of the charming fabric of town fairs and on to the national stage. But given the degree to which his talent was exploited for gain, one almost wishes he had stayed in Oxford, where he was cherished as a hero and beloved by all.

DAN PATCH was never defeated, although he lost two heats during his racing career.

 

Dan’s debut took place in 1900, when he was a four year-old.  Up until then, he was content to deliver dry goods from his owner’s store and was well on his way to becoming Oxford’s favourite equine.  His temperament was so remarkable that even tiny children could pet him or, as happened on days when he took the Messner family to some local event, run right under him or sit astride him, without incident.

The four-year old Dan Patch apparently stood at a strapping 15.3h, making him slightly taller than the average 15.2h standardbred of his day. It is shocking to realize that the giant of pacing was shorter than Northern Dancer! But, then again, if you look at ancestry, the even today the Canadian horse stands no taller than 15.4h. (NOTE: Various sources and one autobiographer, Merton E. Harrison, report Dan’s height as 16h. However, Charles Leerhsen appears to dispute this, giving the pacer’s height at 15.3h. This seems far more likely, given the meticulous research of the author and the size of other standardbreds of the time. All of which begs the question: Was Dan reported to stand 16h because he actually was or, or did it better suit the giant of a Standardbred pacer he became? )

My grandfather at Ormstown Fair in Quebec, Canada in the 1930s with his champion Standardbred mare. Grandpa barely reached 5 feet, showing the average size of a Standardbred even some 30 years into the last century.

DAN PATCH in 1906. He certainly appears to be closer to 15h3 than 16h here. Source: Minnesota Historical Society.

Getting Dan to the races had been a complex task for his trainer and driver, the elderly John Wattles. Although Dan got around on his delivery duties just fine, when hitched to a sulky his crooked hind leg splayed out, such that he kept banging it on the sulky wheel, or else he caught his left foreleg. The discomfort made it impossible to tell whether Dan had any real racing aptitude. Wattles designed a special sulky for him, one wider than the standard of the day, to correct the problem. Once unimpeded, Dan showed promise in the laps he did with Wattles on an old track near Oxford, but couldn’t really pick up the pace when asked. Off Wattles went to blacksmith Thomas Eleazor Fenton in the town of Pine Village, near Oxford. After hearing about Dan’s problem, Fenton, a wizard at helping horses “with issues,” designed a special shoe for Dan’s malformed left foot; returning to the track, Dan was able to pace and although his speed was nothing to write home about, Wattles was sure that would come in time. Dan was a natural-born pacer, one that would never need hobbles to keep him at a pace — although he would wear knee boots occasionally to protect his foreleg from the overreach of his hind — and that, together with his otherwise powerful frame, was part of his latent potential as a race horse.

Dan Patch had always been a bit of a goofball, but the day came when, on the old training track under the summer sun, the horse grabbed the bit, arched his neck and took Wattles on a mile pace of 2:14 minutes. Messner was there, holding the stopwatch.

It took little convincing to get him to see that Dan Patch had the makings of a fair ground winner.

DAN PATCH. Date unknown.

 

He made his debut at a country fair on August 30, 1900, in a best out of 5 heats race for pacers who had never gone a mile in 2:35. Dan had, of course, gone much faster with Wattles on the old training track near his home, but it was the trainer’s idea to start him off slowly, since Dan was green and even Wattles couldn’t tell how he’d handle all the noise and distractions of a fair grounds harness race. Green he was, but Dan’s remarkable ability was evident right from the start and he not only took his maiden, but two subsequent races at different fairs. In his second start, he lost a heat to Milo S. by a nose. This was the first of only 2 heats he would ever lose. And it was also at this initial stage that Dan moved himself into the 2:20 race category, having paced only a little over 2 seconds slower.

Wattles would have liked Dan to come along a little slower, but as he was learning, when he turned Dan around to make a start and once his horse got going, it was almost impossible to slow him down.

Film outtakes of DAN PATCH on the track. Source: “The Autobiography of Dan Patch,” by Merton E. Harrison.

At the close of 1900, as his horse returned home to Oxford and a hero’s welcome, Daniel Messner was determined to enter Dan in the 1901 Grand Circuit races for handicapped horses. Messner also decided that Dan needed a different trainer if he was to go up against other handicapped pacers.

Myron McHenry, one of the undisputed greats of harness racing, nicknamed “The Wizard of the Homestretch.” However, McHenry was also a wheeler-dealer and alcoholic, both of which landed him in serious trouble throughout his career.

To this end, he contacted Myron McHenry, a New York-based trainer. At first, McHenry was unwilling to take the colt. The trainer was a superstar, having trained and partnered Phoebe Wilkes, John R. Gentry and a “crooked-legged” filly he bred himself named Rose Croix, who had won the Kentucky Futurity, making McHenry the only man in history to breed, train and drive a Futurity winner. McHenry received many requests from small-town owners to train their horses and refused the vast majority. Too, the trainer doubted that Messner could afford what it took to run a horse in the Grand Circuit.

But Messner persisted and McHenry finally agreed to at least see the horse. So on May 13, 1901, Dan boarded a train to Cleveland to be introduced to McHenry. After taking the horse for a spin, McHenry agreed to take him on. McHenry may not have guessed the ride the handsome son of Joe Patchen had in store for him, but he had wanted the pacer since reading reports of his exploits the year before, modest as they were.

Harness racing was in its Golden Era when Dan came along and a superstar could routinely draw triple the attendance at a professional baseball game. And that meant money — and lots of it. The sport was rife with punters and sleazy types who made a profession of cheating the odds any way they could, including drugging horses with alcohol and cocaine. Races were set up to provide bettors-in-the-know with as much profit as they could squeeze out of a race. Drivers regularly slowed horses so that underdogs could win, despite the vigilance of the American Trotting Association (NTA).

DAN PATCH on a vintage postcard from 1910.

Myron McHenry wasn’t sleazy, but he was an opportunist. He saw in Dan Patch and his naiive owner all kinds of possibilities for making himself a tidy bundle. A consummate horseman and trainer, McHenry was also regularly involved in the kinds of disputes with owners that reduced his stable to only a few runners on a regular basis. As noted by Leerhsen, ” …Messner was a classic example of the kind of owner who stumbled into the lion’s den that was McHenry’s stable.”

Below, a remarkable short clip of Dan racing. Note the protective knee boots on his forelegs:

 

Dan made his first start under McHenry in Windsor, Ontario, Canada on July 10, 1901, in a race for 2:15 pacers that he won comfortably. Seven days later they were in Detroit, at the Grosse Point track, part of the Grand Circuit. And he won again. Then came Cleveland, Columbus and Buffalo; in Buffalo, Dan floated home, pacing the last quarter mile in 30 sec. flat. McHenry declared the pacer the best he had ever raced — and that made sports headlines, as did most of what McHenry did. He was, after all, as much a superstar as his pacer was becoming.

DAN PATCH and McHenry. Here, the champion is shown wearing knee boots. Source: The Minnesota Historical Society.

In the same year, in a training session before a race in Lexington, Kentucky, McHenry found Dan somewhat “sloppy” and slow. He determined that the 5 year-old was off-balance. Taking him to a blacksmith of reputation, who had shoed greats like Lou Dillon, McHenry asked Philander Nash to shorten Dan’s toes on the front, but leave the rear of the hoof alone. Nash did as he was told and when he was done the feeling for Dan must have been rather like walking around in high-heel shoes. But the improvement on the track was immediate and Dan won his race — as he always did.

Somewhere along the timeline of 1901 or perhaps early in 1902, Myron McHenry hooked up with Manley E. Sturges, a New York casino owner and wheeler-dealer. The two hit upon a plan: they would buy Dan Patch from Daniel Messner and then re-sell him as quickly as they could for a much larger sum.

DAN PATCH appears within a frame that includes cameos of Myron McHenry and M.E. Sturges (note: the Sturges name is mispelled here, as happened frequently).

The trouble was: Messner wasn’t selling. He refused Sturges’ offer of $20,000 USD more than once and said offer was a handsome amount in 1901. Simply put, to his owner Dan was family. Messner owned his dam and had bred Dan in 1898/1899 to John Wattles’ good mare, Oxford Girl (sire and dam unknown) to produce a beautiful coal-black filly he named Lady Patch. In 1902, Lady Patch shared a stable with her sire and granddam, Zelica. As well, to the townspeople of Oxford, Dan Patch was their greatest son, the horse that had “put them on the map.” He was the feature of the annual “Dan Patch Day” and a local, one James W. Steele, had even written him his own song, the “Dan Patch Two-Step.” (Note: Not the one that usually appears on video footage or for sale. Steele’s original score, sadly, has been lost.)

Then, in 1902, Messner became the victim of an escalating harassment campaign. It began with the appearance of several well-dressed men who warned him against refusing Sturges’ offer, while never using the New Yorker’s name directly. It culminated with the poisoning and death of Lady Patch, in her stall in Oxford. (It should be noted, however, that some Dan Patch researchers are of the opinion that the filly was poisoned by “some jealous person,” i.e. “jealous of Messner’s success. In other words, not Sturges’ henchman. Regardless, when his filly’s death was declared no accident, Daniel Messner became frightened for Dan’s safety. Shortly thereafter, he sold his beloved Dan to Manley E. Sturges for $20,000.

When the door of the car that would transport Dan opened, it was Myron McHenry who stepped down to take the pacer away from the only home he had ever known and the people who loved him best of all. (McHenry, if not a full partner with Sturges, certainly was cut handsomely into the deal.)

“DAN PATCH BARN” in Oxford, Minnesota is still standing to this day. It is one of the few artefacts related to DAN PATCH that remain extant.

The day Dan left Oxford (IN) forever, almost the whole town turned out at the train station. Among those absent was John Wattles, Dan’s first trainer.

Dan’s campaign in 1902 was as much about advertising his greatness as it was about anything else. With McHenry at the reins, he again raced the Grand Circuit. The aim was to equal or take down the standing record for the mile of 1:59 1/4 , set by pacer Star Pointer in 1897, while making as much money as possible along the way. However, the fact that Dan was still undefeated made it necessary for many tracks to remove him from the betting altogether. This, of course, also interfered with any additional revenue that McHenry and Sturges could make.

The pacer STAR POINTER, who set the record for the fastest mile of 1:59 1/4 in 1897.

Racing again at Windsor, Grosse Point and Cleveland, Dan won in times of 2:06 1/2, 2:05 and 2:03 3/4 respectively. But winning purses were modest as far as McHenry and Sturges were concerned. Campaigning their shining star was only lucrative if they could find a way to milk even more profit out of him.

DAN PATCH at work. Date unknown. Source: Minnesota Historical Society.

McHenry hit upon the idea that they could make more profit if Dan raced against the clock in time trials along the Grand Circuit. Neither McHenry nor Sturges were doing well financially with Dan — and they were anxious to “flip him” and make the huge profit they anticipated. Remember: 1902 is the world before the automobile completely takes over the hearts and minds of America, and harness racing was the king of popular sport.

Dan Patch was a “name” that drew crowds in the thousands and the shrewd McHenry was certain there was a rich man out there who would want his name associated with such a celebrity.

DAN PATCH was a beauty. Shown here with Myron McHenry. Date unknown.

And, in fact, there was: Marion Willis Savage of the International Stock Food Company of Minneapolis and Hamilton (later to be re-named Savage), Minnesota.

Over the next several months, the kindly Dan was put to the test, pulling off fractions like :31 seconds for a quarter mile on tracks in Colombus, Brighton Beach and Readville until, on August 29, 1902, he beat Star Pointer’s record by 1/4 of a second. Returning to Readville, having had his shoes re-done and caulked by Philander Nash, Dan was clocked at 1: 59 1/4  — although McHenry was insistent that the correct time was really 1:59 and left the track infuriated.

Enter Mr. Savage.

The narrator of this rare footage is harness racing HOF, Delvin Glen “Del” Miller, a driver, trainer and owner who is also well-known for his contribution to the breed through the mighty stallion Adios, one of the most important foundation sires of the modern Standardbred. Adios stood at Miller’s Meadow Lands Farm in Pennsylvania. Miller was also the founder of The Meadows Racetrack in Meadow Lands, Penn. which is still in existence today, known as “The Meadows Racetrack and Casino.” In 1997 the Adios Pace was officially renamed the Delvin Miller Adios Pace in Del’s honor.

Dan’s new owner was a complex man. Despite Del Miller’s positive, if measured, words about Marion Willis Savage, the man who took ownership of Dan in 1903 for $60,000 USD was another wheeler-dealer, albeit of a different order from McHenry and Sturges. However, as the rise of the automobile overtook the horse and as car races replaced horse races in America, it was Savage who assured the legacy and legend of Dan Patch for posterity. In fact, horse and man live on in symbiotic relationship –just as Savage assured Dan’s place in American racing history and culture, so his affiliation with the champion assured that his own name would live on.

 

DAN PATCH with his third and final owner, Marion Willis Savage.

It would have been romantic had Savage been driven to enshrine Dan Patch in America’s cultural ethos because he understood his horse was one of “the greats.” But he didn’t.

Savage had tried his hand at two agriculture-related businesses before arriving in Minneapolis, where he set up the International Stock Foods Company. Its key product was a food supplement that made claims of fattening up livestock. Marketed as “3 Feeds For One Cent,” it quickly became a best seller, largely because of Savage’s decided gift for advertising. In this regard, Savage could rightly be called a visionary.

Ironically, despite the nature of his business, Savage knew very little about horses. To the businessman, none of that mattered. He had purchased a commodity in Dan Patch, one that would make both his company and himself famous.

“3 Feeds For One Cent” was Savage’s main product, a supplement to fatten up livestock. Postcard, circa 1899.

As his chief promoter, Savage unintentionally gave Dan Patch a national audience who would assure his dominance in the annals of harness racing history, career records aside. So many stars of the late 19th-early 20th centuries have largely been forgotten: Sleepy Tom, Flora Temple, Alix, Star Pointer, Dexter, Axtell, Pocahontas, Lou Dillon, Goldsmith Maid, Axworthy, Volomite, Ethan Allen, Hamburg Belle, Jay-Eye-See, Nancy Hanks and a host of others. Had they had Marion Willis Savage as their agent, their march through time might well have been different.

DEXTER.

NANCY HANKS.

FLORA TEMPLE.

Despite knowing little or nothing about horses, Savage had progessive views about keeping Dan and the other horses he acquired well within themselves. At his grandiose stables in Hamilton/Savage (Minn) the stalls were bright and airy. The facilities included both an indoor and outdoor training track, as seen in the Del Miller footage [above]. The stables were indeed palatial — and the round tower that dominated them led people to re-name them the “Taj Mahal.”

International Stock Food Farm, aka The Taj Mahal, and its main stables in Hamilton/Savage, Minnesota. Postcard.

But when the brilliant and sweet-natured Dan arrived in Minneapolis to waiting throngs, he couldn’t have known that his life story was about to change still again. The change was such that we couldn’t help but think of the story of Black Beauty. Except that, unlike Anna Sewell’s classic, there was no rescue. No riding-off-into-the-sunset clause — Dan Patch had been bought as a marketing commodity for the International Stock Foods Company, and his treatment until the end of his days was anything but kind.

During the Savage years, Dan was moved from city to city on a tight schedule that took no account of what was best for the horse, who was beginning to show his age. But Dan was an individual who would always give his best when asked, and for a time, from 1903-1906, he did just that. Running in time trials all around the country, accompanied by pacemakers to keep him interested and honest, the champion set new track records.

In 1903, Dan broke the world record at Brighton Beach, pacing a mile in 1:59 despite cold and windy conditions. At McHenry’s urging, Dan paced the final quarter mile in under 30 seconds.

In Lexington that same year, the 7 year-old broke the existing record for pacing while attached to a wagon (instead of the lighter, more aerodynamic sulky) by over two seconds. In the meantime, McHenry was beginning to worry about the pacer, who he felt was exhausted. However, another pacer called Prince Alert had taken down Dan’s 1:59 and Savage was determined that Dan get it back before closing out the 1903 season.

So, a week after Lexington, McHenry and Dan were in Memphis, where the champion with the big heart and the courage to match it regained the one mile record from Prince Alert with a time of 1:56​14.  Dan’s performance was so dramatic that it made the front page of the New York Times.

Newspapers around the country carried the story of DAN PATCH’S 1:56 1/4 mile — a new world’s record.

Extending their stay in Memphis, Dan set two additional world records: in the first trial, he lowered the record for the half mile from 57​12 seconds to 56 seconds. In the second, run 45 minutes later and pacing again hitched to a wagon, Dan bested his own record from 1:59​14 to 1:57​14.

1905. DAN PATCH (inside)with one of his pacesetters, warming up before setting his Memphis record.

By 1904 Savage and McHenry had parted company. This was really no surprise. Both men were determined types, used to getting their own way. But only one knew that Dan was being overworked and that, despite his gallant heart, the pacer was showing signs of gearing down: whatever else one said about Myron McHenry, the man knew the great Dan Patch very, very well.

DAN PATCH paced the mile in 1:56 in Memphis in 1904.

Stepping into his place was Harry Hersey, a kind and caring man who was a Savage employee with scant driving experience. This move effectively put Marion Savage completely in charge of Dan’s training and appearance schedule. In other words, Dan no longer had anyone to speak on his behalf to his ambitious owner, as McHenry tried — and usually failed — to do.

DAN PATCH with Harry Hersey. Date unknown.

As it turned out, Hersey would eventually quit too, disheartened and angered by Savage’s overriding of what was best for Dan and the other horses in his stable. In September of 1904, with Hersey as his driver, Dan Patch came close to dying of what was initially diagnosed as a strangulated hernia, but later determined to be an impacted bowel. Savage hurried to his dying superstar and would later say that it was Imported Stock Foods colic medicine that had saved him. But that was, of course, completely untrue. A few days later, when Dan could still barely stand, Savage ordered him to be paraded before his fans in Topeka before being shipped back home, where he was given a brief time off. This must have gotten to Hersey, as it did Dan’s head lad, Charlie Plummer, whose job it was to travel with Dan and who slept in his charge’s stall when they were on the road. Dan was back in action a few weeks later, in October.

British-born Charlie Plummer with DAN PATCH. Charlie was DAN’S head lad during most of the Savage years.

Dan Patch celebrated his ninth birthday in 1905, an age at which racehorses, even in the rollicking early years of the last century, were thought past their prime. Even though it was foolish to expect anything great from an ageing pacer, Dan was still greeted like a king everywhere that his travelling roadshow went. Certainly, he arrived like one in his very own elaborately-decorated coach. And it was the year that Dan, with Hersey driving, would set his official record of 1:55 1/4 , which he did in Lexington, Kentucky. The record would stand for 30 years.

DAN PATCH arrived at his appearances by rail, in his own elaborately outfitted railway car. Shown here with his considerable stable of caregivers.

 

1905. DAN PATCH (inside)with one of his pacesetters, warming up before setting his Memphis record.

It would have been the perfect moment to retire the great Dan Patch. It has been estimated that Savage made about two million USD from Dan’s appearances, products — including his own — that carried Dan’s image or name or both, and stud fees (Savage bred Dan during the breeding season each year, a practice not uncommon at the time).

Dan had set his breathtaking world record for the mile with the help of his pacesetters and an equipment addition called a “wind shield” that Savage et al. had been using. (The wind shield or wind screen was affixed to the back of the sulky of one of Dan’s pacesetters to cut down on wind resistance.) However, in 1906 the National Trotting Association (NTA) banned the use of the wind shield, although they did allow Dan Patch’s 1905 record to stand. Officially, then, Dan’s best mile was 1:55​14.

Unofficially, his best time was 1:55, paced in September 1906 at the Minnesota State Fair. However, ignoring the ban on wind shields, one was mounted on a pacesetter and because of this, the NTA never officially recognized the time. (An incensed Savage was so indignant about the NTA’s decision that he renamed his International Stock Food Farm the “International 1:55 Stock Food Farm.” Savage also continued to advertise Dan’s 1:55 in publicity for his products and promotion of Dan Patch progeny.

DAN PATCH and Harry Hersey setting the 1:55 world record.

 

In 1906 at the Minnesota State Fair, DAN PATCH set the unofficial record of 1:55. He is pictured here following his run. DAN was now 10 years old.

 

During the three intervening years before his retirement, Dan Patch continued a rigorous schedule of appearances around the country, but crowds began to shrink and the champion was no longer able to best his own best. Too, the automoble was progessively taking over North America and this mark of progress would have a permanent impact on both standardbred and thoroughbred racing. In still another sense, America had tired of seeing the grand old man of pacing. Savage may have been a genius of a salesman, but he knew little of the price of over-exposure.

Portrait of DAN PATCH by George Ford Morris.

Dan Patch retired undefeated, having paced over 80 times in races and time trials and holding nine world records.

Of his stud career, success was moderate, but Dan never produced anything even close to himself. The mares he received weren’t the best, largely because Minneapolis was too far away from the centre of breeding in Lexington. However, the champion sired 38 trotters who met the 2m:30s standard and one who broke the 2:10 barrier. He also sired 138 pacers who met the standard, 5 of whom broke the 2:05 barrier. Dazzle Patch was his most successful son, but died prematurely, leaving only a few progeny. Dan Patch’s name is rare in modern pedigrees.

DAN PATCH (outside)and his son, DAZZLE PATCH.

His most famous descendant is the Hall of Fame pacer, Jate Lobell aka “Jate The Great,” who traces back to Dan Patch’s daughter, Theda Patch, in the 5th generation of his female family.

Jate retired as the third richest pacer of all-time and was syndicated for a cool 12 million. He sired 15 offspring who went the mile in 1:50 another 496 who paced it in 1:55, with 296 winners of 100k, and total earnings of over $105 million. Millionaires Cane Pace, Riyadh, David’s Pass, Gothic Dream and Village Jasper were his best. As a broodmare sire, Jate Lobell is credited with total earnings of over $205 million, with 553 $100,000 winners and 12 millionaires. They include world champions Mister Big ($4,008,257), My Little Dragon ($2,318,623), Southwind Lynx ($1,763,389) and, most recently, 2010 North America Cup winner Sportswriter ($1,566,460).

JATE LOBELL, champion pacer and sire of champions. JATE carries THEDA PATCH (DAN PATCH) in the 5th generation of his female family. He is DAN PATCH’S most brilliant descendant. JATE LOBELL Died in 2015.

A mere seven years after retirement, on July 11, 1916 at 10:00 a.m., Dan Patch collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack. In the seconds that remained of his life, Dan moved his legs in a pace.

Owner, Willis Marion Savage died 36 hours later in hospital of a pulmonary embolism, following routine surgery for hemorrhoids. His plans to have the greatest Standardbred of the early decades of the last century, and one of the greatest who ever lived, stuffed and mounted were called off following Savage’s death. The horses of the International Stock Food Farm were dispersed and Dan Patch was laid to rest in an unmarked grave near the river on the property.

Savage died a seriously indebted man and the family — his wife and two sons — struggled to fend off debt collectors for the rest of their days.

Dan Patch’s grave has never been found.

 

A tombstone in memory of DAN is found in his hometown of Oxford, Indiana. But his actual burial site in Savage, Minnesota on the site of the International Stock Foods Farm has never been found.

 

 

BONUS FOOTAGE:

1) Champion ADIOS

2) VOLOMITE and other champions of the past. Rare footage

 

3) JATE LOBELL — final heat of the 1987 North American Cup

4) JATE LOBELL at the Meadowlands, 1987

 

Selected Bibliography

Harrison,Merton E. The Autobiography of Dan Patch. St. Paul, Minn: Webb Publishing Co., 1912

Leerhsen, Charles. Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America. New York: Simon and Shuster, 2018

NY TIMES Archives. Dan Patch Beat Record: Great Pacer Lowered World’s Mile Time to 1:59 at Brighton. August 20, 1903

— New Records For Dan Patch. December 1, 1903

Waite, Gerald. Dan Patch. Indiana Historical Society

The Dan Patch Historical Society: http://www.danpatWaite, Gerald. Dan Patch. Indiana Historical Societych.com

The Dan Patch Project: http://danpatchproject.org

The Harness Racing Museum: https://harnessmuseum.com

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

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 »

ENABLE as a foal. A Juddmonte homebred, she is the product of 30 years of careful and skillful breeding decisions made by Prince Khalid Abdullah and his advisors.

 

She was not the first Arc winner to show up at the Breeders Cup, but she was the first dual Arc winner.

Others had come before her, most recently Golden Horn. But none could quite pull off annexing the Arc and a Breeders Cup in the same year. One Arc winner, Dylan Thomas, was entered but never ran.

 

Year – Arc Win Arc Winner Breeders’ Cup Result
1986 Dancing Brave 4th in Turf
1987 Trempolino 2nd in Turf
1990 Saumarez 5th in Turf
1992 Subotica 5th in Turf
2001 Sakhee 2nd in Classic
2007 Dylan Thomas 5th in Turf
2015 Golden Horn 2nd in Turf
2016 Found 3rd in Turf

 

Prince Khalid Abdullah had tried to accomplish this double feat with the legendary Dancing Brave in 1986:

Prince Khalid has always been an enthusiastic supporter of the Breeders Cup, sending his horses to America year after year to compete against some of the best in the world. But the decision to send Enable to the 2018 BC was one that surprised and delighted North Americans from Montreal, Canada to the smallest towns on the American-Mexico border. Many knew that the filly’s arrival was the first act in the drama of a precious gift that was being shared with the world.

Many were moved, even before they caught their first glimpse of Enable at Churchill Downs, by her courageous performance in the 2017 and 2018 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The most prestigious race in Europe, the Arc is the ultimate test of champions.

In her 2017 win, the 3 year-old Enable had led the field home under champion jockey, Frankie Dettori:

But the Enable who arrived at Longchamps in 2018 was not the same individual, or, if she indeed was, the filly had yet to show it. She had sustained a worrisome setback — fluid in a knee — at trainer John Gosden’s facility, Clarehaven, in May and this meant she was effectively out of commission until her first start in the G3 September Stakes in the UK. (Please excuse the unfortunate reference to “Indian style” by the announcer.)

The 2018 Arc was only the second start of the filly’s 4 year-old season. In striking contrast to her fitness level in the 2017 Arc, where Enable rolled to victory in what was her seventh start of the season, the 2018 Arc would be a huge ask and everyone knew it. John Gosden acknowledged repeatedly that it had been a “long, difficult and emotional year” with his champion filly, but what he did not tell eager throngs of journalists was that the filly had spiked a fever going into the race and was about 85% herself. In the end, Enable showed her bravery by holding on to get up by a short head over a brilliant run by the 3 year-old, Sea of Class:

But North America, like the rest of the racing world, cared not that Enable had won her second Arc by a slim margin: she had prevailed. And all waited with sweet anticipation for the arrival of a thoroughbred queen.

ENABLE heads out on to the turf at Churchill Downs. In the saddle is a man who has been with her every step of the way, Imran Shawani.

They love her at her home of Clarehaven, they love her in the UK and France. Predictably, North America fell in love with her too. There was no other BC entry who got anything close to the attention Enable got in the days leading up to Saturday, November 3 and the BC Turf.

Among those watching the champion filly was photographer and racing journalist, Michele MacDonald, of Full Stride Communications, who wrote: “There is a certain essence about a great horse that is unmistakable. You can see something of an aura around them even from a distance — something in the way they carry themselves, some kind of projection of their very heart and soul. This essence never fails to ignite me, and I find my blood pumping, hands shaking, eyes watering — it’s often difficult to take the photos I want to produce while in this state, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything. This visceral recognition of a higher force that powers champions is part of why we are inspired by the best in Thoroughbred racing. Today the two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe heroine Enable revealed her spark of greatness as she took a tour of Churchill Downs’ turf course. Juddmonte’s 4yo daughter of Nathaniel, Europe’s Horse of the Year for 2017, is the heavy favorite to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf…”

“…a certain essence about a great horse that is unmistakable…” pronounced Michele MacDonald of Full Stride Communications. ENABLE beautifully captured by the brilliant British photographer, Michael J. Harris. Photo and copyright, Michael J. Harris. Quote and photo used with permission.

Accompanied by Clarehaven’s Head travelling lad, Tony Proctor, and the man who cares for her every need, Imran Shawani, Enable took some gentle gallops over the BC turf course as her team awaited the arrival of trainer Gosden and the jockey that has partnered her throughout most of her career, Frankie Dettori. In the unknown world of Churchill Downs, Imran and Tony provided security and comfort as they have always done — playing out an essential role flawlessly. You could see their influence in Enable’s curious eyes, gleaming coat and unruffled composure.

Tony Proctor and ENABLE. Photo and copyright, Michael J. Harris. Used with permission.

With the arrival of Gosden and Dettori, excitement went up by several notches around the track and, through social media, around the racing world.

Michele MacDonald: “Today’s Enable moment: crouching under the rail [to take a photograph] allowed a different sensation, that of feeling (as well as hearing) the ground tremble as the champion and Frankie Dettori galloped past. When they were stepping off the turf course, Enable paused for a moment to take in the view. Walking near her, trainer John Gosden said gently, “Come on, pet.” She dutifully moved on, heading toward her attempt to make history Saturday…”

 

John Gosden makes no secret that he loves ENABLE. Shown here, with his wife, greeting the filly after her second Arc win.

Day Two of the Breeders Cup dawned sunny and dry, allowing the turf and dirt courses some relief from the rain that had fallen liberally during the week. The day before the BC Turf, Frankie Dettori had talked about Enable’s chances in a refreshingly down-to-earth manner, “Look…the stats tell you that it’s not easy …so we’re going to give it a try.” When asked if Enable would be “better” than she was in the Arc, he responded, “Well I hope she’s just the same — she doesn’t have to be better.”

Before the Turf — the Classic for turf runners — there were more thrills, as there had been on Day One when the juveniles were the stars. But despite the Post Parades of champion thoroughbreds, many awaited Enable and her run towards BC history with even greater excitement. The filly would be facing turf giants from either side of the Atlantic — Talismanic, Waldgeist, Channel Maker, Robert Bruce, Sadler’s Joy and two from the O’Brien stable in Hunting Horn and Magical.

The German champion Waldgeist was the second favourite in the betting. But Aidan O’Brien had saved the best for last in the brilliant filly, Magical, who even Frankie Dettori admitted, “…sails like a rubber duck over these conditions” and John Gosden added, “…the filly [Magical] was brilliant recently at Ascot [on Champions Day].”

Here’s Magical winning the Fillies and Mare Stakes on 2018 Champions Day. (Note: Sound quality improves after about 4 seconds):

Then, as the saying goes, “The hour was upon us.” And as Enable and Frankie passed her, Michele Mac Donald remarked, When a horse looks at you like this when they are walking past in the post parade, your knees go a bit weak and you know they have shown you greatness.”

“When a horse looks at you like this…you know they have shown you greatness,” said Michele MacDonald of ENABLE in the BC Turf post parade. Photo and copyright, Michael Harris. Quote and photo used with permission.

And then time stopped, as it’s wont to do at moments like this:

In well less than a short few minutes, Enable had taken history and given it a good shake to become the first thoroughbred to capture both the Arc and a Breeders Cup in the same year, a year where she’d spent more time recuperating than running. Her BC Turf victory was only her third (and last) race of her four year-old season.

John Gosden’s elegant remarks provided a perfect summation, as well as occassion for a really good chuckle in “Mr. Dettori has three children going to college…”

ENABLE in the saddling area prior to her run in the BC 2018 Turf, surrounded by her team.

ENABLE sails across the finish line.

Emotions as ENABLE comes back to the Winner’s Circle.

ENABLE, the queen of the 2018 BC Turf.

The battle between Enable and Magical was titanic but it was the ground that played against Enable, making her decisive win even more remarkable, if that’s possible. (NOTE: Frankie’s analysis of the race comes up early in the video):

In conclusion — a daunting task when Enable is the subject — we would like to express our gratitude and thanks to Prince Khalid Abdullah for sharing a most precious gift with the North American racing community.

It was an experience that will stay with us forever.

 

A very special thank you to the gifted Michael Harris who allowed us the use of his photographs of Enable, and to Michele MacDonald of Full Stride Communications for her moving observations of Enable and her team at the 2018 Breeders Cup. Your images and words made this article into a richly-textured experience for VAULT readers.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

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 »

Dating back to well before the 16th century, it’s one of the oldest horse races in the world. Steeped in medieval tradition and filled with colour, controversy and drama, The Palio lies at the very heart of the identity of the city of Siena.

(Dear Reader: This post is neither a promotion of the Palio nor a condemnation of it. Rather, it was inspired by a treasured memory and a recent visit to Italy. Video footage included here shows no horse or rider being fatally injured, although some may be seen falling during the actual running of the race. AA)

 

MEETING GAUDENZIA

It wasn’t that Rome or Venice or Verona weren’t breathtaking, but my connection to Siena was personal, rooted deep into my childhood.

In 1961, when I was 12 years old, my grandmother had given me a book by Marguerite Henry entitled, “Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio.”

Some fifty-seven years later, here I was in the Piazza del Campo in Siena, where the climax of Gaudenzia’s story had taken place.

Entering the Piazza del Campo in Siena. Lined with restaurants and lying in the heart of city, it’s a place where tourist and the Sienese congregate over drinks and food.

 

Under the clock tower in the Piazza, noticeable in grey stone, lie the stables where the horses will be kept on the day of the Palio. Within these cool, dry walls, horses await the start of a race that has gained international status.

 

Over a gin-tonic and pizza, I contemplated the giant oval of the Piazza, imagining how it must transform in July and again in August, when The Palio is run. Like a palimpsest veiled only by the sights and sounds of lunch on an ordinary day in June, medieval buildings festooned with flags, cobblestones covered over with sand and an infield packed where hundreds stood, packed tighter than sardines in a tin, drifted like ghosts across my inner eye.

Winding through the narrow streets that extend like spokes on a wheel from the Piazza, there were many signs that the Palio of July was, indeed, on its way: street lights adorned with the colours of the different contradas, or districts of Siena; a winding street in the contrada of Leocorno (The Unicorn) festooned with orange and white Leocorno flags; a deserted cafe that opted for diplomacy by displaying the flags not only of Leocorno, but also della Pantera (The Panther, in red and blue) and della Tartuca (The Tortoise, in blue & yellow); and a bodega (small grocery store) where the entire back wall was a riot of Palio memorabilia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PALIO

Different as the regions of Italy may be, one of many things they share in common is a strong commitment to local customs and traditions. Located in Tuscany, Siena is famous for its centuries-old rivalry with Firenze (Florence), as well as being the home of the world’s oldest horse race, The Palio of Siena. Although historians estimate that the Palio is about 800 years old, the first written records about it don’t appear until the sixteenth century. Sometimes a third Palio, called the Palio of Peace or the Extraordinary Palio, is run between May-September. But when this happens, it is because there is a special event that is being commemorated.

The Palio is, ultimately, about the courage of a horse and rider, and the centuries-old, fierce competitiveness of the seventeen contradas of Siena. There is, of course, intrigue as these rivalries play out in July and August. But the intrigue only adds to the drama of horses and men reliving a beloved tradition. However, to fully understand The Palio and the sensibility of Siena, it helps to know a little of Italy’s history.

Until 1861, when Italy became a unified country under the Sardinian king, Victor Immanuel II, the whole of what we know today as one country was in fact ruled by a number of powerful city states. These city states controlled their own territories and were regularly at war with one another. Italy was a celebration of a richly diversified regionalism up until 1861, when all these regional customs and traditions had to learn to live together. And live together they do, but it is a kind of begrudging unity and it is those regional qualities that keep that going. Even in 2018, the citizens of Firenze/Florence consider themselves the chief rival to Siena, just as it was in ancient times. And our tour guide, who came from neither city, confided, ” You know, I find Siena the most beautiful city in the North. But any Florentine will tell you that the Sienese people are really not that nice, not very friendly. The Florentines are much nicer, much warmer.”

To a large extent, the magnificence of the different cities and regions of Italy today is due to their ancient roots as powerful jurisdictions. This is arguably most evident in Venice, a city that presents itself to you as though it was the only important city in Italy.

In the Piazza San Marco, the city of Venice presents herself in all her power and glory. The lion of the city flag hangs proudly next to that of Italy.

 

Proclaiming its power to the world: The Piazza San Marco in Venice.

 

The drama of the first Palio is re-enacted yearly by Siena’s seventeen contradas. Each one has its own flag, its own museum and it own Church. Each Sienese is christened in his/her contrada and it is to the contrada that they return when they die. In Siena on July 2 (Palio di Provenzano) and again on August 17 (Palio dell’Assunta), when the Palios are run, whole families split up, each joining his/her contrada for the day. To refuse to do so would be considered a social aberration, unless you were a babe in arms.

 

 

The colours of the contradas of Siena.

Long before the races of summer, the hunt by each contrada is on for a horse and rider. Whereas jockeys can be contracted by a contrada early in a given year, in the last 60 or so years it is more common after the horse chosen to represent their district is assigned. Each contrada contributes to the pool of horses available, even though not every horse is chosen and there is no certainty that they will be represented by the horse they have put forward. The horses themselves are always mixed breeds, pure breeds being forbidden largely because horses need to be fast and strong enough to withstand the rigors of the Palio. They can come from any walk of life, from working horses to pleasure horses, or from any region of Italy. The most important criteria is their speed. The horses selected are often trained by each contrada’s jockey, but then a twist comes in the form of a lottery.

A few days before the Palio a process takes place to choose horses. On the morning of the third day before the Palio the lottery takes place, but not before each horse is given a thorough check by a veterinary team, followed by a trial run around the Palio course. After this, the ten most suitable horses are chosen and then assigned to each contrada in a draw. The draws for horses being random, it is rare that a horse and its trainer, now turned jockey, end up together.

Only ten contradas participate in each Palio; in the July 2 Palio, the seven contradas who didn’t participate in July of the previous year are included, as well as three additional contradas, who are selected at random in another draw.

Below: The “Drawing of the Horses.”

 

The moment a horse is assigned, the contrada takes it away to their district stables, in a procession of contrada members. It will only return to the Piazza del Campo on the day of the race.

From the time he is contracted, the jockey is given security guards, whose job it is to see that he isn’t tempted by other contradas to throw the race. From the time they are chosen, the best jockeys are habitually assailed by offers in the form of bribes. The only way to assure their loyalty is for the contrada to offer them a handsome sum of money, the payment of which takes place before the Palio. But don’t feel sorry for the contradas: they frequently enpower their jockeys to bribe other jockeys right up to the start of the race. As well, each contrada has up to the morning of the Palio to change its jockey if he is suspected of being compromised in a way that will endanger their winning.

Jockeys can be changed but the horses cannot. If they become ill or unable to race, the horse withdraws as does its contrada and, for all the brutality of the Palio, there have been numerous cases of horses being withdrawn because a contrada feared for its safety.

Three days before the first Palio, as Siena begins to explode with contrada flags and marching bands, the jockeys and horses are given a chance to have a dry run in the form of six horse trials around the course, the last of which occurs on the morning of the actual Palio. Before the trials begin, the entries are drawn and this will decide the order the horses are called to the start on Palio day. The “wild card” — the tenth contrada drawn — does not line up with the rest of the horses. Instead, this pair stand farther back and only when they decide to go is the race officially on.

 

The Tratta is the ceremony in which places are drawn for the Palio. You can see the results on the board in the background. Number ten is the “wild card” — the horse and rider that will determine the start of the race.

On the day of the Palio, horses and riders are blessed in the church of their contrada. Then the horse, wearing its brightly coloured spennacchiera and bridle, is paraded to the Piazza del Campo, where it will be stabled within the cool, stone walls of the del Campo stables to await the race, which takes place at 7:30 pm in July (and at 7 p.m. in August).

The Blessing of the Horse:

 

The running of the Palio is the final event of a day of colour, excitement and festivity, all invoking the rites and rituals of hundreds of years before, called “The Historical Walk” (Passeggiata Storica).The participants number about 600 and are drawn from all of the 17 contradas. The war cart (Carroccio), drawn by white oxen, carries the Palio — a hand-painted banner that goes to the victor of that year’s Palio and hearkens back to the original Pallium banner of the 1500’s or earlier, made of sacred, liturgical cloth and after which the race derived its name.

The arrival of the Palio, or victory flag, is the last event before the Palio itself is run.

 

 

As the horses for the Palio appear on the track, a roar goes up from the crowd. The jockeys, now wearing the silks of the contrada for which they are racing, are bareback and carry only a long riding stick, called a nerbi, make of dried cow hide and with which they can drive on their horses or impede another horse, specifically by knocking off its spennacchiara. Since it is the horse and its contrada, not the rider, who is credited with the win, even a riderless horse can race to victory in the Palio. That is — as it used to be — unless the closest jockey manages to knock of its spennacchiara. But this latter rule has been changed, even though its absence remains contrversial. Spennacchiara or no, the first horse across the finish line, riderless or not, wins.

 

GUESS, who won the July 1 2013 Palio for Oca (The Goose), wearing his spennacchiara (between his ears) in Oca colours.

The horses will race around the Piazza de Campo course three times before the finish and the winner is greeted by a three-gun salute. At the start, the horses are called by the name of the contrada and in chronological order, as per the position they have drawn. Nine line up between the two ropes that mark off the starting gate. The 10th horse and rider, the rincorsa, waits behind the ropes: when the other horses are reasonably orderly in front of him, he will kick off the race by encouraging his horse to leap forward.

As you can see, in the video below, readying for the start can take some time! Here is the July 2, 2018 Palio that took place only a few days after I had left Italy and was on my way home. Note the rincorsa, in the yellow and red colours of the Valdimontone (Valley of the Ram) contrada, behind the other nine horses. Note, too, the sharp turn horses and riders make and the white on the walls — thick mattressing put up to lessen the chances of a horse or rider falling to its death. The winner for the Drago (Dragon) contrada was the bay Rocco Nice, ridden by jockey Andrea Mari.

(Note: Riders are unseated and horses fall, but there were no casualties or serious injuries sustained.)

 

HOMAGE TO GAUDENZIA

 

The real GAUDENZIA was not only the heroine of a children’s story. She was adored by an entire nation and went on to become an international superstar, thanks to Marguerite Henry’s book.

 

I recalled little of Marguerite Henry’s story of Gaudenzia.

When I arrived home, one of the first things I did was to pull the book down from the shelf where it sat with other beloved books of my childhood and start to read it again. By the time I had read the last page, I remembered that I didn’t really like the book and I could hazard a guess as to why 12 year-old me might not have been enamored of it.

First of all, “Gaudenzia” is a harsh story of a very poor boy and a forgotten cart horse. Secondly, there’s the annoyance of Henry’s attempt to write people speaking Italian in English, as was the tradition of the time, and dialogue comes off in a way that reminds you of the imperfect speech of a toddler. I felt that Giorgio Terni would have been deeply offended reading this in the context of 2018, but in the 1950’s and long before, this was typically the way dialects and “foreign speakers” were represented. (It was lightly documented, but true, that Will Harbut was deeply hurt by the publication of the phrase he became most noted for: “Da’ mostest horse.” Harbut felt that his words should have been published in standard or, as he put it, “correct” English, i.e. “the mostest horse,” as a sign of respect.)

Last, but not least, “Gaudenzia” has its dark moments and chief among them is the fact that Giorgio’s father bought and fattened horses to be sold for their meat. In fact, it was the loss of the blind mare, Bianca to slaughter — a mare who Giorgio loved desperately — and the coincidence that Gaudenzia came into the world on the same day, that engendered the boy’s interest in the filly foal. Giorgio believed that Gaudenzia was the blind Bianca, coming back to him. As a girl who loved horses, it is quite possible that it was inside the pages of Henry’s narrative that I first learned about horse slaughter and, as a youngster, the very idea of eating a horse would have been inconceivable.

GAUDENZIA, as she is shown with Giorgio, in the book by Marguerite Henry.

It was when I read the final page of the book that explained Gaudenzia’s brilliant reign over the Palio and her retirement, that it hit me: Gaudenzia was real.

And off I went to research her further, to discover that she had, in fact, won four Palios. In her second victory, Gaudenzia had won without her rider, even as her beloved Giorgio — who had trained her but was aboard another horse — raced along beside her, trying desperately to remove her spennacchiara. (In the 1950’s the old rule was in place and it would have effectively disqualified Gaudenzia from her riderless victory had another jockey managed to knock off her spennacchiara.) Giorgio was devastated at trying to stop his mare from gaining a second consecutive victory because he knew that he was one of the few people she trusted.

 

GAUDENZIA racing to victory in the July Palio in 1954, with Giorgio Terni on her back.

Henry travelled to Tuscany three times in order to understand the phenomena of the Palio and was there, with Giorgio, when he and Gaudenzia won the first Palio. She confessed that she had to scrap her first idea for a story because the real story of the grey, part-Arab mare and the peasant boy, Giorgio Terni, was so much more dramatic. As she put it in her preface “… Their battle to outwit destiny is a drama of human and animal courage.”

 

GAUDENZIA and Giorgio: “…a drama of human and animal courage.” (Marguerite Henry, Preface, “Gaudenzia: Pride of the Palio.”)

Gaudenzia, who was born in 1942 and won her first 3 Palios at the age of 12, was barred from running for a year because she was certain to win. Returning in the August Palio in 1956, at the age of 14, she won again. It would be the last time she raced. She retired having won 3 consecutive Palios in 1954, in which there was an additional September Palio. No horse had ever done this before Gaudenzia. When she annexed a 4th win in 1956, she became the stuff of legend. The cart horse had morphed into a Queen.

Gaudenzia and Giorgio win their first Palio for the contrada Onda (The Wave) on July 2, 1954. Note that Gaudenzia is the 10th horse and so, is the one who signals the start of the race. (FYI: There is no sound on the video, but there are some wonderful close-ups of Gaudenzia that make up for it.)

And here is Gaudenzia’s last Palio, on August 16, 1956. This time she ran in the colours of Istrice (The Crested Porcupine) and was ridden by Francesco Cuttoni. Giorgio Terni was her trainer.

Gaudenzia was retired with all the glory of a queen, which she had become, and lived out the rest of her days in a medieval castle near Siena. Giorgio visited her regularly until her death, in 1972 or 1974, at the age of 30/32.

GAUDENZIA being led to the stable of her contrada after the drawing of the horses. Date unknown.

 

GAUDENZIA in the colours of Istrice (The Crested Porcupine) after her final victory in the August Palio of 1956.

 

GAUDENZIA’S beautiful face appears on this German version of Marguerite Henry’s book.

 

GAUDENZIA in the lead — where she always was — in what appears to be her first win in July of 1954.

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

The trailer from the documentary PALIO, available on Netflix. In it, those involved speak in their own voices, leaving the viewer to construct his/her own understanding and conclusions about this complex and controversial race. Some might also be interested to know that the featured jockey, Giovanni Atzeni, is the third cousin of jockey Andrea Atzeni, of thoroughbred racing fame. (NOTE: This is in no way a promotion of the documentary, to which I have no affiliation, but I did watch it and enjoyed it very much.)

 

“…The emotions of a life, the feeling of a life” : Siena Prepares For The Palio

 

Bibliography

Henry, Marguerite. Gaudenzia: Pride of the Palio. Rand McNally and Company, New York. 1960

Edizioni KINA Italia/L.E.G.O. The Palio: The Heart and Soul of Siena. ND

Sports Illustrated. Issue of August 30, 1954.

GAUDENZIA: Archivio del Palio di Siena @ https://www.ilpalio.siena.it/5/Cavalli/413?cod=C413

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

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 »

If — which is the longest word in any language — Mendelssohn pulls off a win in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, be sure that his maternal ancestor, Sea-Bird II, will have blessed his effort with the gift of wings.

SEA-BIRD II. Conformation shot, identified with stamp of trainer Etienne Pollet. Credit: Photo & Cine RECOUPE, Paris, France. (Photograph from the collection of THE VAULT, purchased on Ebay.)

Far back in the fifth generation of Mendelssohn’s maternal family sits the name of Sea-Bird II. Of course, he is just one of many that account genetically for the Ballydoyle superstar. But Sea-Bird II was arguably the best thoroughbred of the twentieth century, at least as far as the British and the Europeans are concerned, rating #1 in John Randall and Tony Morris’ important book, “A Century of Champions.” ( The mighty Secretariat came in at #2, followed by Ribot in #3, Brigadier Gerard in #4 and Citation in #5. Man O’ War finished in the #21 spot.)

Tony Morris is one of the most respected figures in thoroughbred geneology and pedigree, as well as being a consummate historian of the sport, in the world. The Randall-Morris tome begins by asserting that it is foolhardy to compare horses over the generations, while adding that, thanks to the system devised by Timeform in 1947, reliable handicapping figures can be drawn across the decades of the twentieth century using their formula. In 2016, Sea-Bird II’s rating of 145 ranks him second on the list of Timeform’s all-time world’s best since 1947; Frankel sits at #1 with a rating of 147.

Sea-Bird (as he was registered in France) only raced for a period of roughly eighteen months, in a career that saw him lose just once and winning both the Epsom Derby and the 1965 Arc in his three year-old season. By the time he left for the USA to join the stallion roster at John Galbreath’s Darby Dan Farm in Kentucky, Sea-Bird had become a legend in his own time.

However, the colt foal who came into the world in March 1962 set his tiny hoofs to the ground unaware that his owner-breeder, Jean Ternynck, a textile manufacturer in Lille, France, considered his pedigree rather medoicre. His sire, Dan Cupid, a son of the incomparable Native Dancer, had been a runner-up in the 1959 Prix du Jockey Club to the brilliant Herbager, arguably his best race although he did take the Prix Mornay as a two year-old. His dam was a daughter of Sickle by Phalaris and a grandaughter of the superb Gallant Fox — a pedigree that appeared to promise some potential. However, as of 1962 Dan Cupid had yet to produce anything of merit as a sire. Sea-Bird’s dam, Sicalade, from the sire line of Prince Rose, was in a similar predicament and while Dan Cupid was maintained by Ternynck, Sicalade was gone by 1963.

 

The handsome DAN CUPID (by Native Dancer ex. Vixenette) raced in France for Jean Ternynck and stood at stud there. But he never produced anything that even came close to SEA-BIRD II.

 

SICKLE, the BM sire odf SEA-BIRD II. Hailing from the PHALARIS sire line, with SELENE as his dam, SICKLE’S influence as a sire was outstanding. Imported to the USA by Joseph Widener, SICKLE produced individuals like STAGEHAND and is the grandsire of POLYNESIAN, who sired NATIVE DANCER. SICKLE was one of two leading sires produced by SELENE.

Ah, the mystery of breeding! The numbers of great sires and mares who produce nothing much are astronomical in number, but by the time Sea-Bird made his third appearance as a juvenile, his owner was likely considering the corollary. Namely, that two mediocre thoroughbreds had got themselves one very promising colt.

 

In France, DAN CUPID, the sire of SEA-BIRD, has an audience with HM The Queen.

Sea-Bird was sent to the Chantilly stables of trainer Etienne Pollet, a cousin of his owner, Ternynck. The colt raced three times as a two year-old, winning the Prix de Blaison (7f.) despite being green and getting off to a poor start. A short two weeks later, he won again, but this time it was the prestigious Criterium de Maisons Lafitte. Like his first win, Sea-Bird crossed the wire a short neck ahead of the excellent filly, BlaBla, who would go on to win the Prix Diane/French Oaks as a three year-old. For the final start of his juvenile season, the colt was entered in the prestigious Grand Criterium against some of the best of his generation.

GREY DAWN as portrayed by Richard Stone Reeves. The son of HERBAGER was the undisputed star of the 1964 juvenile season in France.

The colt Grey Dawn was also entered and he had already won the two most important juvenile contests in France that year, namely the Prix Morny and the Prix de la Salamandre. Run at Longchamps over a mile, the Grand Criterium was thought to be Grey Dawn’s to lose. The son of Herbager — who had, ironically, been the nemesis of Dan Cupid in the Prix de Jockey Club — was a superstar.

During the race, Grey Dawn was always in striking position. Sea-Bird, on the other hand, had been left a lot to do by his jockey, Maurice Larraun, as the field turned for home. Finally given his head, the colt rushed forward in a mighty charge to take second place to Grey Dawn. But it was too little too late. Despite that, many felt the Sea-Bird was the true star of the race, even though Grey Dawn had won without ever truly being extended. Trainer Etienne Pollet was delighted, knowing full well that Sea-Bird’s late charge had been something quite spectacular. (Note: Footage of this race appears in the SEA-BIRD feature video, below.)

SEA-BIRD at work, probably as a three year-old in 1965. Credit: Paris Match, Marie Claire. (Photograph in the collection of THE VAULT, purchased on Ebay.)

The three year-old Sea-Bird was a force to be reckoned with. His first two starts, the Prix Greffulhe at Longchamps (10.5f) and the Prix Lupin, had him pegged for Epsom given his winnings margins of 3 and 6 lengths, respectively. And in the Prix Lupin, he had left Diatome, the winner of the important Prix Noailles, and Cambremont, who had defeated Grey Dawn in the Poule d’Essai des Poulins, in his slipstream.

On Derby day, Sea-Bird started as favourite. In the field were Meadow Court, who would go on to win the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in authoritative fashion, as well as the filly, Blabla, the winner of the French Oaks.

Sea-Bird is wearing number 22, with Australian jockey Pat Glennon wearing dark green silks and a black cap:

 

“…The Derby performance had to be seen to be believed. In a field of 22 he came to the front, still cantering, 1 1/2 furlongs from home, then was just pushed out for 100 yards before being eased again so that runner-up Meadow Court was flattered by the 2 lengths deficit. ”  (In Randall and Morris, “A Century of Champions,” pp 65)

Apparently, Glennon had been told by trainer Pollet to watch Sea-Bird after the finish line, since there was a road that crossed the track and Pollet was worried the colt would run right into it. Glennon told the press that it was all he could think about near the finish, which was the reason he pulled up the colt. Otherwise, the winning margin could have been well over 5 lengths.

SEA-BIRD moves away from the pack, on his way to victory at Epsom. MEADOW COURT and I SAY are just behind him. Photo credit: Keystone, UK. (From the collection of THE VAULT)

 

Epsom 1965: At the finish, ears pricked. Photo credit: Sport & General, London, UK (From the collection of THE VAULT.)

 

Sea-Bird only raced twice after his victory at the Epsom Derby, winning the Grand Prix Sant-Cloud at a canter.

Then came the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the three year-old’s greatest challenge.

The field was stellar, including the American champion, Tom Rolfe, who had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the undefeated Russian superstar, Anilin, the British champion, Meadow Court, and the French champions Reliance and Diatome. But despite the undisputed quality of the field, Sea-Bird produced one of the most devastating performances in the history of the Arc:

Just prior to the running of the Arc, the American John W. Galbreath had reputedly paid owner Ternynck $1,350,000 to lease Sea-Bird for five years to stand him at stud at his legendary Darby Dan Farm. Galbreath was no stranger to European racing, having already acquired the stellar Ribot in 1959 under another 5-year lease. One of America’s greatest breeders, in 1965 Galbreath stood the stallions Swaps, Errard, Helioscope and Decathlon at Darby Dan, while holding breeding rights to other champion thoroughbreds, notably Tudor Minstrel, Royal Charger, Gallant Man, Arctic Prince and Polynesian.

Retired in 1965, Sea-Bird was crowned the Champion 3 year-old in both England and France, as well as Champion Handicap colt in France.

 

SEA-BIRD pictured at Orly all kitted out to fly off to the USA and John W. Galbreath’s Darby Dan Farm. Credit: Keystone. (From the collection of THE VAULT.)

 

SEA-BIRD appears reluctant to board. Credit: Keystone (From the collection of THE VAULT)

The young stallion stood his 5 years at Darby Dan, during which time he bred two excellent progeny. He returned to France amid expectations of still more outstanding progeny.

Sadly, Sea-Bird’s life was cut short upon his return to France, where he died of colitis at the age of eleven. But he is remembered for siring an Arc winner of his own, in the incomparable Allez France; as well as the brilliant Arctic Tern, Gyr, who had the misfortune to run in the same years as the brilliant Nijinsky, the millionaire hurdler, Sea Pigeon, Mr. Long, who was a 5-time Champion sire in Chile from 1982-1986, and America’s beloved Little Current, the winner of the 1974 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, who like his sire, stood at Darby Dan Farm.

It is a great and tragic irony that his short life never allowed Sea-Bird a chance to produce European and British grass champions of the quality of his American crops.

 

In the Belmont Stakes, Little Current was every inch Sea-Bird’s son:

 

 

Even though Sea-Bird can’t be credited for the brilliance that is Mendelssohn, he played his part in the genetic landscape of the colt’s pedigree.

I, for one, will be watching on May 7 to see if there’s a mighty bird sitting just between Mendelssohn’s ears.

 

________________________________________________________________

Below, a lovely SEA-BIRD feature, including very rare racing footage together with the insights of his trainer, Etienne Pollet.

 

 

Selected Bibliography

Hunter, Avalyn online @ American Classic Pedigrees: Sea-Bird (France)

Randall, John and Tony Morris. A Century of Champions. London: Portway Press Limited, 1999

Timeform online @ https://www.timeform.com/horse-racing/features/top-horses/Timeforms

Tower, Whitney. The Man, The Horse and The Deal That Made History in Sports Illustrated, June 1, 1959

 

**********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************NOTE: THE VAULT 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 »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: