Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘heart of a champion’

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.

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

 

Advertisements

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 »

What more can we say about this wonderful mare? Well, let’s have a look in “7 clicks” — just for fun.

 

CLICK #1: “…I think I remember saying to Chris (Waller), ‘Do you really like her?’ ” (one of the triad of Winx owners, Peter Tighe)

So it was that the daughter of Street Cry-Vegas Showgirl came to the stables of one of Australia’s outstanding trainers, Chris Waller. Owners Peter and Patty Tighe, Debbie Kepitis and Richard Treweeke were overjoyed at their purchase.

But had they asked Coolmore Australia’s stud manager, Peter O’Brien, who had attended the filly’s birth, he would have told them that from the outset Winx showed signs that she was going to be a late developer, even though she looked a really good individual in other ways.

During her days at Coolmore, Winx was easy to notice: she stood within 10 minutes of her birth, showed a great deal of independance very early on, and was blessed with a kind nature.

WINX at two days old. Photo and copyright: Coolmore.

 

Peter O’Brien’s understanding that it would take Winx some time to mature and show what she really was all about proved timely: Winx’s cavalry charge to the top of the world’s standings only started in earnest in 2015, when she was a four year-old.

It is likely that, had she gone to anyone other than Chris Waller, Winx would never have been given the time she needed to become the mighty mare we know today. And Winx’s owners were also prepared to wait, trusting in their trainer’s knowledge and experience.

 

CLICK #2: A surprise in Winx’s tail female

 

Winx’s dam, Vegas Showgirl, started thirty-five times, winning seven and retiring with earnings of $59,700 AUD. It is fair to say that she was not a household name, but she did win twice as a three year-old making her a solid, if not assured, broodmare prospect. Examining Vegas Showgirl’s tail female, what leaps out is Obeah in the third generation.

OBEAH, shown here with her trainer, Henry Clarke. Source: Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred.

A grandaughter of 1943 Triple Crown winner, Count Fleet, Obeah raced for Harry and Jane Lunger out of Henry Clarke’s Delaware Park stable. Notable wins came in the Blue Hen Stakes and the Delaware and Firenze Handicaps.

But North American racing fans know Obeah best for one reason and one reason alone: she was the dam of the brilliant, ill-fated Go For Wand:

Pedigree influences up to the fifth generation carry some influence — although how much, exactly, is almost impossible to determine. But it’s a safe bet that North American fans of Winx will be delighted to learn that a small part of her DNA comes through Count Fleet and that she is a cousin, albeit a very distant one, of the beloved Go For Wand.

 

CLICK #3: How did Winx get her name?

According to owner Richard Treweeke, Winx’s name owes much to Vegas Showgirl. In an interview done by 60 Minutes Australia (below in Bonus Features), Treweeke recounted how, when one sees a stage show in Las Vegas, the showgirls give you a “…wink, wink, wink.”

So, with a slight adjustment, Vegas Showgirl’s filly became Winx.

“…wink,wink,wink.”

 

CLICK #4: What individual attributes help Winx to win — and keep on winning?

It has been speculated that Winx’s heart and lungs hold greater capacity than most thoroughbreds.

But one thing — other than her steely determination to win — that gives Winx a decided advantage has to do with her racing form, or style.

Granted, Winx’s running style isn’t the most fluid. Rather, she can look at times as though she has egg-beaters for legs.

But this is where what we think we see can be deceiving.

For one thing, the length of Winx’s stride has been measured at almost 6.8m. The stride of most thoroughbreds is about 6.1m. Exceptions are Phar Lap and Secretariat at 8.2m and the mighty Bernborough was said to have a massive stride of 8.6m.

But it’s not only Winx’s stride that helps her get the job done: whereas most thoroughbreds have a stride frequency of 130-140 strides per minute, Winx checks in at nearly 170 strides per minute. And she can maintain this frequency for much longer periods, notably as she kicks for home, a point in any race where most runners are tiring.

This short video of her win in the Sunshine Coast Guineas in 2015 highlights the impact of Winx’s stride and its frequency. The 2015 Guineas win also marks the beginning of Winx’s winning streak that now stands at 23 straight wins, 17 of which have been Group 1’s:

 

CLICK #5 : Winx and Hugh Bowman

Hugh Bowman is a jockey at the pinnacle of his career. But his promise showed even during his apprentice days, receiving the crown for champion apprentice NSW jockey in his very first year of riding, and champion Sydney apprentice followed in 1999/2000. The 37 year-old was awarded Longines’ 2017 Best World’s Jockey at the end of last season, having won 10 of the world’s Top 100 Group/Grade 1 races, six of which were on Winx. It was Bowman’s masterful win in the 2017 Japan Cup aboard Cheval Grand at Tokyo Racecourse that sealed the Longines’ title. Among the champions they beat in the Japan Cup were HOTY Kitasan Black and champions Makahiki, Soul Stirring and Satono Crown.

So strong is trainer Waller’s faith in Bowman, that Winx was withdrawn from what would have been her first start of the season (in the 2018 Apollo Stakesin Sydney) when a suspension made it impossible for Bowman to ride her. Unlikely that few were surprised by Waller’s decision, since Bowman and Winx are an established partnership at this point in time and no-one other than her inner circle knows the mare as well as Bowman. Famous racing pairs dot the history of thoroughbred racing worldwide and these powerful relationships underscore the importance of finding just the right fit between a jockey and a thoroughbred.

Here, in footage collected in February 2018 at a trail at Randwick,we catch a glimpse of some of the relationship between Winx and Bowman, as well as that between Bowman and Waller. The video also illustrates the complexities of conditioning a thoroughbred and, in this aspect, sheds a light on the profession that is universal.

(Note: Footage from the cam recorder picked up during Bowman’s ride comes at the end of the video.)

 

CLICK #6: Umet Odemisioglu  wanted to be an actor…

After her most recent win, in the 2018 Chipping Norton, an emotional Chris Waller noted that professional as she is, Winx loves to go home where “…she can just be a horse.”

And there’s no question that Umet Odemisioglu and Candice are the two of the humans that make Winx feel that she’s home.

 

WINX with Umet Odem.

Born in Turkey, Umet is Chris Waller’s foreman and one of Winx’s strappers. The champion mare is one of some twenty thoroughbreds in his care.

But his path to Winx’s side was an unlikely one: Umet’s first love was film. He studied acting for two years in Turkey before attending what he describes as a “horse university” in Istanbul. Once he’d graduated, Umet left for Ireland, where he worked on a stud farm until his arrival in Australia in 2006. He has worked for trainer Chris Waller since 2011.

Umet has looked after Winx since she first arrived in Waller’s barn as a youngster. If she were an actress, he figures Winx would be Angelina Jolie because, “…they’re both sweethearts, especially Angelina with the charities. They’re both box office superstars who bring in the crowds.” (quoted in “Strapper Recalls Winx Journey” by Matt Kelly in G1X)

Back at home after a trial or a race, Winx doesn’t like to be bothered — she likes lots of time to herself. And it is Umet who assures that the mare’s down time is just that. On big days, it’s Umet who brings her into the spotlight, equipped with hood that blocks out some of the sounds of the track.

Winx is no lover of the starting gate and Umet, together with Candice, as well as her trainer and jockey, each play their part in keeping her off her toes as much as they can before the gates fly open. He walks close to her, letting her know that he’s there and focusing on keeping the mare as calm and relaxed as possible. And this is no easy job when you’re assailed by cameras, together with the noise and movement of a huge, jostling crowd.

Winx may be used to the attention, but Umet needs to be able to anticipate what she’s not used to seeing. It’s a big part of keeping her safe.

(Note: To learn more about Winx’s second strapper, Candice, please see BONUS FEATURES, below.)

 

CLICK #7: The “Paradox of Champions”

The excitement that characterizes each time a champion like Winx races is fuelled by the risk of her losing. This is what we have coined as the “paradox of champions.”

All those feelings — “Can she do it again?” “Will X defeat her?” “Can she win no matter the odds?” “Is she ready for today’s race?” — are underpinned by the anxiety that Winx may, indeed, be beaten. Even the speculation that her owners might consider Ascot or Hong Kong or Japan or the 2018 Breeders’ Cup is underpinned, to some extent, by the lure of the risk.

It is this paradox that accounts for analogy between the careers of great thoroughbreds and the archetypal hero/heroine’s mythical journey. Like the heroine of myth, Winx needs to keep overcoming obstacles, be they foreign courses or other talented thoroughbreds to guard her title of one of the very best worldwide.

At this point, no-one knows what the 2018 plans are for Winx, in what may well be the last season of a brilliant career.

But, thankfully, it seems clear that Winx herself will be foremost in making that decision.

 

 

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) TEAM WINX

 

 

 

2) 60 MINUTES AUSTRALIA

 

 

**********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************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 conformation, she is unmistakably her mother’s daughter. But at this stage of the game, Soul Stirring is also the best of Frankel’s first crop, as well as his first and only G1 winner of 2016.

Champion STACELITA with her FRANKEL filly, born in 2014 and to be named SOUL STIRRING.

2014: Champion STACELITA with her newborn FRANKEL filly, SOUL STIRRING. Photo source: Twitter.

This is one alliance of bloods that did exactly what might be expected, much to the delight of Katsumi, Haruya and Teruya Yoshida, the owners of Shadai, Northern and Oiwake farms on the island of Hokkaido, in Japan. Take an outstanding stallion in Frankel– arguably the greatest thoroughbred that England has ever known — and put him to a champion thoroughbred mare and daughter of Monsun, Stacelita. Then hope and pray.

 

Prayers aside, it sure helps if the possibility inherent in a particular mating is a gleam in the Yoshidas’ eye, as this much-anticipated foal was. After all, these are the breeders who imported Sunday Silence from the USA and turned the son of Halo into the Northern Dancer of Japan and a leading sire from 1995-2008. In 2017 Shadai remains the home of Sunday Silence’s most powerful sons and daughters, notably the pre-potent Deep Impact. But there’s a down side to any giant bloodline: so prevalent is Sunday Silence’s blood in Japanese bloodstock in their own country that the Yoshidas, together with most Japanese breeders, are keen to acquire mares who provide an outcross to his bloodline.

Enter champions like Stacelita, Danedream, Azeri, Ginger Punch, Proud Spell, Champagne d’Oro, In Lingerie, Mi Sueno, Zazu, Sarafina, Evening Jewel, Princess of Sylmar and, more recently, Curalina and Don’t Tell Sophia, among other global acquisitions purchased by the Yoshidas.

 

Nor are the brothers only interested in broodmares. Daughters of Deep Impact, like the great Gentildonna, also need suitable suitors. Shopping in North America, Britain and Europe for great bloodstock for well over three decades, Shadai has acquired champions like War Emblem (now retired and living at Old Friends in Kentucky), Harbinger, Workforce (now standing at Knockhouse Stud in Ireland), Novellist, Carroll House, Tony Bin, Falbrav, Empire Maker (now back in the USA), I’ll Have Another and Pentire.

The Frankel-Stacelita union represents a desire to enrich and diversify the Shadai bloodstock through the introduction of powerful bloodlines like that of Monsun, Galileo and Danehill (through Frankel’s dam, Kind). But the pairing was a crapshoot: Frankel, standing his first season, was unproven and Stacelita was also a wild card, since her first foal, a filly by Smart Strike, was only a yearling.

SOUL STIRRING just before she was weaned is already an impressive individual.

SOUL STIRRING just before she was weaned was already an impressive individual. Photo source: Twitter.

When snow drifts lay high and gleaming against the bare trees, Stacelita brought her filly foal into the world. As winter melted away and greenery festooned paddock and tree at Shadai Farm, it became clear that Stacelita’s daughter had inherited her dam’s conformation, coat colour and large, expressive eyes. According to trainer Chad Brown, who took over training duties from Jean-Claude Rouget in France, Stacelita was noted for her “presence” — something that other thoroughbreds noticed and respected. At three and four, Stacelita won the Prix St. Alary, Prix Vermeille, Prix Jean Romanet, La Coupe and the Prix de Diane. In France, she was an absolute superstar. Shipped to Chad Brown, she annexed the Beverly D. and the Flower Bowl Invitational, but a terrible trip in the Breeders Cup that same year resulted in her giving a lacklustre performance. It didn’t matter: Stacelita was the Eclipse Award winner for Best Turf Female in 2011. She retired with well over two million in earnings and visited Frankel in 2013.

 

Right from the start, STACELITA'S little daughter had presence. Used with the permission of Michele McDonald. Photo and copyright, Michele McDonald.

Right from the start, SOUL STIRRING had presence. Shown here with her dam, STACELITA. Used with the permission of Michele McDonald. Photo and copyright, Michele McDonald.

Frankel followers were beginning to note that many in his first crop shared a distinctive feature: on the outside, they took after their dams. And Soul Stirring, as she was named, had Stacelita’s size, scope and bone. As a baby, what she had inherited from Frankel certainly couldn’t be discerned just by looking at her.

The devotion Frankel had gained as a racehorse showed no sign of ebbing when he retired, and  “The First Frankels” were eagerly awaited, despite the risk that this great thoroughbred wouldn’t necessarily prove to be as great a sire. Frankel nevertheless got the immediate support of Juddmonte, who offered him a modest book of exceptional mares in 2013. And this trend is likely to continue throughout his stallion career. The idea is to keep him “exclusive” — as his privileged status demands.

So it was that Soul Stirring’s first start in July 2016 in the land of her birth was greeted with great excitement. She was, after all, Japan’s own “baby Frankel.”

And her win came with a sense of what Frankel had almost certainly contributed to her pedigree (Soul Stirring is #3, yellow-striped silks and red cap):

True, she won it by a fraction of a nose, but the explanation for that probably came in the walking ring before the race (video below), where the 2 year-old was fractious. Unlike other Frankels, who showed his enthusiastic forward locomotion, Soul Stirring’s running style was reminiscent of Stacelita. But although her willingness and speed couldn’t be attributed to Frankel alone, it seemed likely that on the “X” her sire had contributed was more than a little of Danehill, one of the most stunningly successful sires of the last forty years.

Soul Stirring had indeed stirred hearts around the world. But one start does not a champion make. With Christophe Lemaire back in the irons for trainer Kazuo Fujisawa, the filly made her second start, this time against the colts, in the October 2016 Ivy Stakes (please click on video):

This win was something different: Soul Stirring showed a lightning turn of foot when asked, powering into the lead to finish with ears pricked. It was a thrilling, decisive victory. And even the champion and two-time Horse of the Year in Japan, Gentildonna, had only won once in two starts as a two year-old. So Japanese racing fans, together with Teruya, aka “Terry” Yoshida, were ecstatic.

SOUL STIRRING in the walking ring before the Ivy Stakes looked composed.

SOUL STIRRING in the walking ring before the Ivy Stakes looked composed. Photo source: Twitter.

 

Crossing the finish line, ears pricked.

Crossing the finish line, ears pricked. Photo source: Twitter,

Soul Stirring was acquiring a following after beating the colts, and social media was regularly peppered with shots of her preparation for the final start of her two year-old campaign, the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, a G1 race for the best juveniles in the land. Should she win it, Soul Stirring would become Frankel’s first G1 winner. The filly seemed to have it all — looks, turn of foot, ability to rate off the pace and blazing speed. It was impossible not to wish the best for her in her final race, scheduled to take place in December.

SOUL STIRRING works prior to the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies.

SOUL STIRRING works prior to the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies. Photo source: Twitter.

Elsewhere, it was late in the flat season: The Frankels racing in England and France, despite signs of brilliance, had not managed a G1 and had been put away until their three year-old season. Too, a majority of the best-bred Frankels hadn’t even shown up on the turf: Frankel himself raced at two, but he was by all accounts a “late bloomer,” a quality that seemed in evidence in his 2014 crop.

December 11th arrived and Soul Stirring’s cheering section held its breath, while those in other parts of the world consumed gallons of coffee the evening before and got set to stay up all night. (Soul Stirring is #2, yellow-striped silks, white cap):

With that, it was settled. Stacelita’s daughter was indeed a champion juvenile, having beaten the best of her age and sex with relative ease. The win would be enough to award her Champion Two Year Old Filly honours in Japan, before getting some time off.

A delighted Christophe Lemaire congratulates his filly.

A delighted Christophe Lemaire congratulates his filly. Photo source: Twitter.

 

Victory salute.

Victory salute. Photo source: Twitter.

 

SOUL STIRRING, Champion two year-old of 2016.

SOUL STIRRING, JRA Champion Two Year-Old Filly of 2016. Photo source: Twitter.

 

What a difference two months can make.

By February 2017, Soul Stirring was back in training for the first start of her three year-old campaign, the Tulip Sho, in March. The choice of the Tulip Sho spoke volumes: the race is the habitual qualifier for the Japanese Filly Triple Crown, comprised of the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) and the Shuka Sho (formerly the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup, run from 1976–1995). The most recent winner of the Filly Triple is the brilliant Gentildonna, who won it in 2012.

Caught in the lens of eager photographers, Soul Stirring was already bigger and stronger than the juvenile version of herself, just eight weeks after her mini-break. In fact, she had added 20 kgs. Put another way, the filly was beginning to “grow into herself.”

SOUL STIRRING, December 2016.

SOUL STIRRING, December 2016. Photo source: Twitter.

 

SOUL STIRRING, February 2017

SOUL STIRRING, February 2017. Photo source: Twitter.

 

February 2017: SOUL STIRRING works, prior to the Tulip Sho. The hood is used to keep her mind on business — and likely signals to the filly that something important is on the horizon. Photo source: Twitter.

By now Frankel lovers around the world knew about Soul Stirring and, as even breeders are inclined to feel, the sense that she could be “The One” (of 2014) to carry the beloved Frankel into the future was visceral. When you love a thoroughbred you pray for that, pray that time won’t swallow them up and render them ghostly. And Soul Stirring gave people the same stirring in the heart, in the soul, as Frankel had once done. She drew you in. She had presence alright — and that ineffable something that sets hearts and minds on fire.

But would she train on into her third year? So many brilliant two year-olds don’t…..

March 3, the day of the Tulip Sho, Frankel enthusiast Jess Samy noted: “Don’t mess with me. She’s a girl on a mission” And Soul Stirring sure did. Tight as a coiled spring, she strode the walking ring between her handlers exuding power, making it impossible to take your eyes off her — even at 1 a.m. in the morning (central North American time).

 

“A girl on a mission,” said Jess Samy. She’s got her game face on. Photo source: Twitter.

Walking ring footage. Soul Stirring is #10:

The competition befitted a Triple Crown qualifier, the strongest of them being Entry Ticket (#4), Lys Gracieux (#3) and Miss Panthere (#7), all granddaughters of Sunday Silence. Two others were by the winningest of Japanese sires, Deep Impact. And Soul Stirring was starting from deep outside the rest of the field.

With Christophe Lemaire once again her pilot, Soul Stirring stepped into the starting gate:

Hugely evident in her victory is that Soul Stirring had come into 2017 very much the same, willing competitor as she had been at two. That, and how readily she quickened to win, ears pricked. As an American jockey might say, “I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of her yet.”

SOUL STIRRING in her winning colours. Photo source: Twitter.

April and the Oko Sho (1,000 Guineas) await, where Soul Stirring may very well face another very good Frankel daughter in Mi Suerte (out of Mi Sueno), as well as Miss Pathere and Lys Gracieux who finished second and third, respectively, in the Tulip Sho.

But on that day, all around the planet, you’d better believe that hearts will swell and hope will power her wings.

SOUL STIRRING, taken in February 2017. Photo source: Twitter.

SOUL STIRRING seems to be saying, “That’s right. I did it again.” (In winner’s circle, Tulip Sho.) Photo source: Twitter.

 

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

Special thanks to Charlotte Farmer, who introduced this great filly to me, and John Engelhardt, Executive Director, Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners. Without their help, this article would never have been written and I would have missed out on the story of an exceptional thoroughbred. Thank you.

This article is dedicated to Ryan Brady, whose journey with a filly he had never met speaks of a love great enough to overcome adversity, and an enduring respect for those who weave our history. 

GLACIAL PRINCESS with her dam, GAY NORTH, a daughter of the mighty NEARCTIC, who sired NORTHERN DANCER.

GLACIAL PRINCESS with her dam, GAY NORTH, a daughter of the mighty NEARCTIC, who sired NORTHERN DANCER. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners.

When you study thoroughbred history you quickly come to see that the stories of hundreds of great thoroughbreds have been forgotten. The reasons are as many as the individuals themselves, but at particular risk are those thoroughbreds who raced locally, often in the states where they were born, never venturing to prestigious venues or those races, like the Kentucky Derby, that almost guarantees an enduring legacy. That they are forgotten is especially harsh, considering that these horses are in many ways the true heroes and heroines of racing in North America and in the world at large. Without them and the many racetracks where they ran, there would be no sport at all.

The dark filly pictured above with her dam could have run with the best of her year, colt or filly, but she made her stand principally at Beulah Park in Ohio. Glacial Princess, as she would be named by owners William Fouss and Dr. John Graver, crowns the pantheon of thoroughbred champions in her state. A legend and beloved, she brought people to the track just to see her, to breathe in a little of the same air that Glacial Princess inhaled and to go home saying that they had seen a mighty filly run.

Despite a proud 91-year history, Beulah Park, its people and their stories were about to disappear forever.

During a walk through Beulah Park with his fiancee shortly before it closed, Ryan Brady and his intended came upon Glacial Princess’ headstone. Brady’s fiancee wondered aloud if the champion filly’s memorial would be paved over, once the track was sold and developers started to dig up the infield. The thought made Brady feel ill.

“…’It was really important to find a dignified resting place for Glacial Princess,’ Brady told thisweeknews.com. ‘I couldn’t stand the thought of her grave being paved over by a parking lot or a new building.

‘I never got to see her race, but growing up in Ohio, I knew her history,’ added Brady, ‘and I thought this is just the right thing to do.’ ” (excerpted from The Blood-Horse, January 19, 2017)

And so it was that Ryan Brady began a two-year campaign to honour a Princess he had never actually seen. And he was lucky enough to enjoy the full support of many key people, among them Beulah Park’s new ownership.

Dr. John Graver, who owned Glacial Princess in partnership with William Fouss, was stoutly behind Brady’s efforts and agreed to donate his filly’s headstone, should a suitable burial site be found for her. Brady also consulted with Charlotte Farmer, who had located, exhumed and transported the champion Noor’s remains from California to Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky for re-burial. And when he heard about the efforts to find an eternal place of rest for Glacial Princess, Michael Blowen of Old Friends stepped forward once again, just as he had for Noor and Barbara D. Livingston’s beloved champion, Springsteel, who found himself in similar straits when Rockingham Park closed, to offer “…a place for her {Glacial Princess’} fans to come and honour her.” Upon hearing the news, Charlotte Farmer expressed her joy, saying, “…Now my Prince {Noor} will have a Princess beside him to complete his royal court.”

noors-grave_a27821b25dc6e687af31113b8eb00abf

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

BRENT'S PRINCE was Ohio's Horse of the Year in

BRENT’S PRINCE was Ohio’s Horse of the Year in 1975. The son of the 1967 winner of the Kentucky Derby, Proud Clarion (Hail To Reason), BRENT’S PRINCE proved a very good sire. Photo and copyright, the Estate of Tony Leonard.

Glacial Princess was bred by Cider Mill Farm in Ohio and came into the world in 1981. Other than a white star, the youngster bore a distinctive white spot on her right flank. The spot was like a kiss from Mahmoud, who appeared in her female family in the 5th generation. But that was just the beginning. The dark-coated newborn was racing royalty: a daughter of the 1975 Ohio Horse of the Year and 3 year-old Champion, Brent’s Prince (a son of the 1967 Kentucky Derby winner Proud Clarion by Hail To Reason) and Gay North, a daughter of Nearctic, the sire of Northern Dancer. And within the bloodlines of the filly foal’s pedigree were other legendary names: Nearco, Bull Page and his sire, Bull Lea, Hyperion, Turn-To, Blue Larkspur, Scapa Flow (GB) and Gainsborough (GB).

 

NEARCTIC, who famously sired Canada's NORTHERN DANCER, was the BM sire of GLACIAL PRINCESS.

NEARCTIC, the BM sire of GLACIAL PRINCESS, also sired Canada’s NORTHERN DANCER.

There was not much question who had dominated the Princess’ blood. She had Nearctic’s determination to never be headed in a race, and his (at times) thoroughly unloveable personality. In fact, as far as her character went, Glacial Princess was a carbon copy of Northern Dancer, who reserved his affection for only one person — Winnie Taylor, the wife of E.P. Taylor, who bred and owned him. Otherwise, he was a mean-spirited little bully. In the case of the daughter of Brent’s Prince, the object of her affection was trainer John Rutherford. By the time she arrived at Rutherford’s barn, Glacial Princess had matured into a tall, iron-grey filly and she quickly let everyone know that she just wasn’t cut out to be a cuddle bug.

Lynn Boggs, herself a thoroughbred owner, got to know Glacial Princess when Rutherford asked her to braid roses into the filly’s mane for an upcoming race.

“With John, she was an angel. He loved that horse and she loved him,” she {Boggs} said. “Other people — she didn’t much like dealing with them.

“She had a little bit of a mean streak in her, it’s true,” she said. “But when you have a horse like that, so regal and proud on the track, you can’t help but fall in love with them.” (excerpted from This Week Community News, January 11, 2017)

 

GLACIAL PRINCESS on track, wearing the colours of Fouss and Graver's Equinall Stable.

GLACIAL PRINCESS on track, wearing the colours of Fouss and Graver’s Equinall Stable. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners.

 

It didn’t matter that she wasn’t one of the “sweet” ones. Glacial Princess was as rare as flamingos in an Ohio winter: a superstar filly who would triple her sale price in earnings by the end of her juvenile season. Ironically, her nickname was the “Iron Lady,” the same as that of another racing champion born a year after Glacial Princess, Lady’s Secret.

Ohio’s Iron Lady not only earned the title for her steel grey coat, but also for her fierce competitive spirit. Running against fillies and colts, under all conditions and carrying as much as 128 lbs. on her back, Glacial Princess always gave it her best shot. She was one of those thoroughbred’s who answers the question with 150% effort in race after race after race. The jockeys who guided her through to a remarkable career included Heriberto Rivera Jr., Danny Weiler and Sebastian Madrid.

In 1985, Glacial Princess ran 17 times, winning 11, 9 of which were stakes and earning Ohio Horse of the Year honours.

GLACIAL PRINCESS out of the gate.

GLACIAL PRINCESS out of the gate. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners.

The following year, Glacial Princess ran 19 times, closing out the year with a record of 8-2-2. The filly made Ohio thoroughbred racing history, when she became the first Ohio-bred to ever record $200,00 plus earnings in back-to-back years and she went on to win a second consecutive Horse of the Year title in a tie with the colt, Rhinflo.

1986 also saw Glacial Princess run her finest race, cruising to victory in the Miss Southern Ohio Stakes at River Downs by 5 lengths. The performance is emphatic enough to spark memories of Ruffian and of Rachel Alexandra’s Oaks. But 1986 also brought disappointment: defeat at Aqueduct in The G.III Vagrancy — although Glacial Princess was later found to have had a virus — and in Hawthorne’s Yo Tambien Handicap (The Chicago Tribune, October 2, 1986.).

And somewhere along the way, the filly had lost trainer John Rutherford, first going to Marvin Moncrief and finally to Gary M. King. In fact, on the Pedigree Query website, two other trainers’ names appear next to the filly’s list of graded stakes wins: Linda Lysher (Evergreen Stakes, 1986) and Patrick J. Kerins (George Lewis Memorial Stakes, 1986, Diana and Lady Liberty Stakes, 1987).

Still, her year had been a winning one. As co-owner Graver told the press, ” …All of her losses this season have been justifiable…She will continue racing as long as she remains healthy and sound.” (The Cincinnati Enquirer, May 24, 1986.)

GLACIAL PRINCESS was racing royalty and Ohio's greatest pride.

GLACIAL PRINCESS was Ohio’s greatest pride. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners.

 

On April 25, 1987 it all came to an end when Glacial Princess broke down. The injuries she sustained made it impossible to save her and she was buried in the infield at Beulah Park, near the finish line.

When a loved one is taken, the bereft mourn forever. So it was with the Ohio racing community: a filly who raised hopes and hearts was gone.

Old Beulah Park cradled her in its arms, an embrace that bespoke memory and loss.

GLACIAL PRINCESS' headstone, in the infield at Beulah Park. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred

GLACIAL PRINCESS’ headstone, in the infield at Beulah Park. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners.

 

The film below chronicles Glacial Princess’ career, offering rare footage of her as a filly foal and on the track. It was written and produced in a collaboration between Carroll and Marlane Nibert, John Engelhardt and the filly’s owners.

It is an absolute treasure:

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

In January 2017, having the approval of Beulah Park’s Pat Kelley and the Grove City administration, the search for Glacial Princess’ mortal remains began, with the assistance of members of the anthropology department at Ohio State University. John Queen of Richwood, a friend of Brady’s, supplied the back-hoe and the team went to work with Brady in attendance. They knew where the filly had been buried, but other important details were sketchy.

“…after hours of digging Saturday, the group found no trace of her. It’s possible the remains deteriorated, they said.

“They found a railroad spike, the remains of a small dog wrapped in a blanket, and a race ticket believed to be from the 1930s. Ultimately, after excavating a good portion of the infield, they decided that Glacial Princess will remain permanently at rest at the track where her impressive career began and ended.” (excerpted from an article in the Columbus Dispatch, January 22, 2017.)

The video below includes footage from the original short film about Glacial Princess (above) but also includes coverage of the search for the champion filly’s remains:

 

With mixed emotions, Ryan Brady carefully collected pieces of the winner’s circle, some dirt from the finish line and the burial site, together with an old betting ticket that they had found. Then he deposited it all into a tote that would be sent on to Old Friends, followed by Glacial Princess’ headstone. Of very real comfort was the fact that the plan for the development of Beulah Park will include a sizeable park to commemorate Grove City’s racing history — and preliminary renderings {of said plan} show it encompassing Glacial Princess’ grave, meaning that what remains of her won’t be disturbed.

When the Memorial Service in her honour takes place at Old Friends, Ryan plans to bring red carnations — the state flower of Ohio — for his Princess.

ohio-state-bird-and-flower-magnet-438-xl

 

 

 

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

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 »

 

chrome-maya-angelou_15976959_1361347417250185_3490810252961142422_n

(Source: Facebook.)

 

The heart and mind process imminent endings before they actually happen. There are reflections, a fondness for the past tense, a sense of distancing the self from the event, because when heart and mind know an ending is upon them, they rehearse.

But eyes and mind are different, as they must be, since the eyes live in an eternal present. On January 29, 2017 California Chrome left his stall on the Gulfstream shed row to begin a new career at Taylor Made in Kentucky. Eyes and hearts watched him go for the final time, saw the empty stall, began to register the absence.

As I watched Chrome leave his home in Los Alamitos, I knew in my heart what Art, Alan, Dhigi and Raul were feeling. They had welcomed me into Chrome’s world, closing the space between the far-away me and themselves, and as the van pulled out of Los Alamitos for the last time I was filled with sadness. “The eyes are the window of the soul” and my soul was right there beside the people who made Chrome’s stall a home.

Chrome’s departure for Gulfstream had almost nothing to do with the Pegasus and everything to do with the closing chapter of a brilliant career for me. And along with the Team Chrome family, I knew I’d miss the presence in my life of this magnificent copper horse and his honest, courageous heart.

 

TEAM CHROME: IN THE BARN AND ON THE TRACK

Trainers Art & Alan Sherman, exercise riders Willie Delgado (until April 2015 approx.) and Dhigi Gladney (April 2015-January 2017 approx.), groom Raul Rodriquez and jockey Victor Espinoza comprise the “hands on” of Team Chrome, the people who did everything from picking out his feet to teaching him how to win.

And they did it brilliantly, while always making time for the press and their colt’s devoted Chromies by throwing open windows to the tribulations, trials and excitement of campaigning a great horse.

(Videos: from 2014, produced by David Trujillo and Blood-Horse, respectively):

 

Art Sherman was not entirely a stranger to the media, having been champion Swaps’ exercise rider in 1955, at the age of eighteen. Between 1957-1979, Sherman was a professional jockey, turning to training thoroughbreds after that. And even though California Chrome was Sherman Stables’ first Kentucky Derby contender, Art brought a depth of knowledge about thoroughbreds to the table. His down-to-earth, straight-shooting and always cordial style set the bar on what it means to be a consummate professional. The Shermans are sportsmen and they love the game. Art’s admiration for Shared Belief and Arrogate was palpable following their victories over Chrome, and bespoke a classy gentleman of the track.

In the three/four years that the colt and his trainers were under the microscope they taught us all so much — not only about California Chrome, but about the life of a trainer responsible for a North American racing icon. Expressions like, “He (Chrome) ran his eyeballs out…” and “He’s just a cool horse,” became part of my lexicon, as did the familiarity of Art in cap and jacket, hands in his pockets, answering still another round of questions.

Of all the interviews with Art, this one, after his colt’s win in the 2016 World Cup, is my favourite. I was so thrilled for Art, Alan, Dhigi and Raul that I danced all around the living room, my eyes glazed with tears.

But glamour of Dubai aside, the largest percentage of Chrome’s racing life happened at the Sherman Stables in Los Alamitos (and before that, at Hollywood Park). It’s easy to forget just how much time thoroughbreds spend in their stalls or in training; a trainer’s greatest skill is keeping his horse happy during the (sometimes) long stretch between races. Keeping a horse “well within himself” is based on familiar routines, appropriate exercise and attention from those who are most important to him/her. Centre stage are the exercise rider(s) and the groom(s) and it is the latter who often become a thoroughbred’s best friend. As with dogs and cats, the person who cares for them is, in the horse’s mind, the person to whom they belong.

Enter Raul Rodriguez, who accompanied Chrome from his very first start to his retirement (video produced by the Blood-Horse in 2014):

 

Raul’s bonuses from Chrome’s wins have allowed him to purchase a home amid an 80-acre ranch in his home, Jalisco (Mexico), where he intends to retire. As I write this, Raul is with his boy at Taylor Made, helping him to settle in. And I’m remembering Eddie Sweat taking Secretariat and Riva Ridge to Claiborne, and that photo of Eddie in tears, leaning against a stone wall….. May your goodbye be a kinder one, Raul.

Raul and his boy, CALIFORNIA CHROME

Raul and his boy

It was William Delgado and Dhigi Gladney who put the muscle on America’s 2014 and 2016 Horse of the Year. Working in tandem with Art and Alan, they were the ones who taught the juvenile his job. Through their hands and voices, Chrome learned about gallops, works and cooling out. They taught him how to break from the starting gate and how to change leads on the fly. It was from Willie and Dhigi that he received praise, and began to understand how to work with a rider instead of against him. Too, it was from Willie that the colt first heard “the question” — that moment a thoroughbred is invited to really run. With Dhigi came the fine tuning — sharpening Chrome’s sensitivity to his rider’s commands, helping him move fluidly from one “gear” to another. And both of these fine young men had everything to do with the champion’s “attitude” towards racing.

Delgado worked Chrome as a juvenile and then until April 2015, teaching him many key lessons along the way (video produced by America’s Best Racing in 2015) :

And it was Dhigi’s beautiful smile, cordiality and enthusiasm that lit up the last 18 months of Chrome’s career, as he added his skill to the racing repertoire of the champion (video produced in 2017 by Gulfstream Park):

 

The accomplished Victor Espinoza was Chrome’s jockey throughout most of his career. Victor is a man known for his generosity with fans. But he is also the man that guided Chrome home, giving him confidence when he needed it and helping him navigate safely through traffic. There is another kind of intimacy between a jockey and a horse he knows well, and it was when Victor took over the irons in the King Glorious Stakes at Hollywood Park in 2013 that California Chrome began to turn into the Chrome we know and love. There was a chemistry between them. An understanding. And it was Victor who took care of Chrome in his final start, making certain that the horse got back to the barn without sustaining what could have been a fatal injury.

Here they are in the August 21, 2016 Pacific Classic, where they took on an absolutely stellar field:

 

TEAM CHROME: THE OWNERS

Msrs. Steve Cobourn and Perry Martin were the first owners of California Chrome and through the eyes of two new to the sport, we shared the ups and downs of Chrome’s early career. One can only wonder how many newcomers were inspired to get into the game by knowing the enthusiastic duo and their copper-coated colt with his purple silks.

Mr. Perry Martin and Mr. Steve Cobourn

Mr. Perry Martin and Mr. Steve Cobourn

Although Perry Martin had wanted to retire the colt in 2015, partner Steve Cobourn sold his share in the horse to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky and the whole game plan changed. When the Taylors joined Team Chrome, the colts silks turned from purple to chrome, literally. Too, following his loss in the 2015 Dubai World Cup, he was sent to Taylor Made after a stint spent in the UK before returning to the Shermans for the 2016 racing season. It was a joy to see him hanging out in Kentucky and I thought the idea a brilliant one: since Chrome would retire to Taylor Made, I wondered whether or not getting used to the place would ease the transition, when it came.

But in Taylor Made, the Champ found a new home. A family business where he was greeted with deep respect and love.

Chrome playing with Taylor Made Stallion Manager, Gilberto Terrazas (video produced in 2015 by Armando Reyes)

This superb Blood-Horse video features the story of post-UK Chrome (2015) right up to the Dubai World Cup win (2016) and gives viewers a great look at what Taylor Made is all about:

 

 

Leading up to California Chrome’s retirement, the new partnership busied themselves setting up a form of “super syndicate,” partners who will make a 4-year commitment to Chrome at stud and assure him great mares.

Through the final campaign in the Champion’s career, Taylor Made were there. And when he arrived at the farm, they found their own way to make it clear that they knew we Chromies were out there.

(Video produced on Jan. 30, 2017 by Taylor Made Sales Agency Inc.)

 

 

(Video produced on Jan. 30, 2017 by Taylor Made Stallions)

 

 

THANK YOU, TEAM CHROME.

Thank you for your warmth and kind generosity.

Thank you for reaching out and “seeing” me — and understanding what it is to love a horse.

And thank you, Chrome. You made my heart soar. You made me feel wonder.

And I will love you forever.

 

 

(Video by David Truhillo, Nov 2016)

 

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

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 »

Thanks to your support, messages and enthusiasm, THE VAULT goes into its 7th year in 2017. I can hardly believe it! This article, over two years in the making, is my special Christmas gift to each and every one of you. With it comes my warmest wishes for a joyous and safe holiday season, filled with laughter, surprises and special moments to cherish. Love, Abigail

 

15319375_10205746430780145_1697530941_n

 

 

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

HOF jockey and trainer Johnny Longden rode winners with a capital “W” — champions like Swaps, Noor, Busher, Whirlaway, Round Table, Your Host and George Royal. But no matter how great the others were, Longden would say that “The Count” — Count Fleet — was the best of them all.

COUNT FLEET shown here with his trainer

COUNT FLEET shown here with his trainer Don Cameron and The Count’s regular exercise lad, Frank Kiniry. Photographer unknown.

Horsemen like my grandfather tend to say, “The reason so few horses ever get to the Triple Crown is because it’s a road fraught with everything but good luck.” And the story of Count Fleet and Johnny Longden is exactly that: so filled with the fickleness of Fate — good and bad — that it is absolutely remarkable they ended up together in the starting gate of the 1943 Kentucky Derby.

As regular readers of THE VAULT know, it was my grandfather who set me on the path that led to writing about thoroughbreds and standardbreds. No question I got the “horse gene,” as my late mother called it, from my Grandpa. It was his passion –a bright fire that illuminated the stories of the great thoroughbreds and standardbreds of his day — that kindled my imagination. In Grandpa’s pantheon, few were more admired than the incomparable John Longden, who had roots in Canada, and his “horse of a lifetime,”Count Fleet. I risk to say that The Count crowned my grandfather’s pantheon. He never said so, but he also never talked about any other thoroughbred, including Man O War, with the same fire in his eye. The Count had moved him in a way that none of the others he so admired, before or after him, would.

Count Fleet came into the world on March 24, 1940 at his owner, John D. Hertz’s, Stoner Creek Stud near Paris, Kentucky. The tiny son of champion and 1928 Kentucky Derby winner, Reigh Count, and the mare, Quickly — a great great granddaughter of the British wonder horse, The Tetrarch — did not impress. Hertz, the rental car magnate, was a canny businessman in all things and Quickly’s little colt foal likely went onto his “for sale” inventory within months of his birth.

 

 

REIGH COUNT

REIGH COUNT, the sire of COUNT FLEET. An outstanding looking individual who was bred in the purple, Hertz bought him from Willis Sharpe Kilmer after seeing the colt savage another horse during a race. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

QUICKLY, the dam of COUNT FLEET. Photographer unknown.

QUICKLY, the dam of COUNT FLEET, carried the blood of one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time, THE TETRARCH, in her 4th generation. A sprinter, QUICKLY made 85 starts with a record of 32-14-13 before she was acquired by Hertz from Joseph D. Widener. Photographer unknown.

 

In 1912, almost three decades before the birth of Count Fleet, Mary Longden and her four youngest children — Lillian, Doris, five year-old John and baby Elsie — closed up their home in Wakefield, England and boarded a train for Liverpool. From there, they would board a ship that would take them to Canada, where they were to meet up with Johnny Longden’s father, Herb, and two older siblings. The family’s eventual destination would be Tabor, Alberta, where Herb had found work in the coal mines.

But the train was running behind schedule. Mary feared for the worst: that their ship would sail before they arrived at the port. And, as it turned out, she was right.

The ship they were booked on was none other than the Titanic.

As Johnny would tell it to B. K. Beckwith, author of The Longden Legend, ” …I was five years old and it didn’t mean too much to me then. I guess kids of that age aren’t overly impressed with the workings of fate or whatever you want to call it…I’ve heard since the iceberg ripped most of the bottom out of the boat. It probably would have been curtains for us. The Longden pocketbook wasn’t in any shape to afford upper deck cabins. Most likely we’d have been among the fifteen hundred that went down with her…”  

 

titanic-sinking-newspaper

The NEW YORK AMERICAN front page following the sinking of the TITANIC.

From his arrival as a little boy in Canada to his first encounter with Count Fleet, Johnny worked first as a herd boy and then as an apprentice coal miner and a clerk, all the while dreaming of becoming a jockey. He started out racing quarter horses before switching to thoroughbreds. By 1927 Johnny was working under contract for small-time thoroughbred owners in Alberta, Canada and in southwest American states just across the border. Along the way he met up with another youngster, George Woolf, and the two would remain best friends until Woolf’s tragic end in 1946, at the age of 35.

The $150,000 statue was commissioned by Cardston ranchers Jack and Ida Lowe and created by Artist Don Toney. It is being donated to the province of Alberta.

The statue of George Woolf and Seabiscuit  captured at the moment when George yelled, “So long, Charley!” to War Admiral’s jockey, pulling away to win the most famous match race in American racing history. The sculpture was commissioned by Cardston ranchers Jack and Ida Lowe and created by Artist Don Toney. Unveiled in 2010, the statue stands in Cardston, Alberta, Woolf’s birthplace.

 

In the same year that Reigh Count won the Kentucky Derby, Longden’s contract was bought up by one E.A. “Sleepy” Armstrong, a veteran horseman; when Sleepy Armstrong came into Johnny’s life, things started to change. His horizons expanded to racetracks in Cuba and Agua Caliente, where he rode a very good colt named Bahamas against the mighty Phar Lap in the Caliente Handicap of 1932.

Phar Lap won, of course. As Johnny remembered it: “I was leading the field to the three eights pole. About that point the big New Zealander went by the rest of us like we were tied to the fence…” :

 

 

By the early 1940’s, Longden was an established American jockey with a growing reputation for excellence, voted America’s leading jockey in 1938. In 1940 he was one of the founders of the (American) Jockey Guild. Now based in California, “The Pumper” — as he was nicknamed by his peers for his tendency to pump his arms as he encouraged a horse forward — had also become an American citizen. Over the testing ground of tracks from Canada to Cuba, Johnny had also learned to ride just about any horse under any conditions anywhere. Today, we would call him a “horse whisperer.” His whispers to particularly difficult mounts were communicated through voice, legs and hands. Johnny wasn’t one to hit a horse unless it really needed a reminder; instead, he relied on the language he had learned that his mounts would understand.

COUNT FLEET rendered by C.W. Anderson during a work. Based on a photograph from 1942/1943, this is a faithful representation of THE COUNT as a youngster.

COUNT FLEET during a work, beautifully rendered by C.W. Anderson and based on a photograph taken in 1942/1943.

 

By the time he was a yearling, Count Fleet already had a reputation for being tough to handle and was, accordingly, sent to auction. One of Hertz’s stable lads, Sam Ramsen, pleaded with the Stoner Creek manager on the colt’s behalf and his words were to become prophetic, “Someday he’s going to be some fine racer. When that leggy brown colt wants to run, he can just about fly.”

(This first attempt to get rid of him as a yearling remains a distinctly odd feature of The Count’s narrative, especially since Hertz had purchased his sire after seeing him savage another thoroughbred in a race, allegedly declaring, ” I love a fighter, man or horse.”)

Despite Ramsen’s plea, there were no takers at the sale. So Quickly’s baby boy was given a name, registered to owner Mrs. John D. (Fannie) Hertz and sent off to the Hertz’s trainer, Gregory Duncan “Don” Cameron.  The stage was set for one of history’s great partnerships: in 1939, Cameron had contracted Johnny Longden to ride horses owned by Fannie Hertz, as well as another owner, Vera S. Bragg.

 

The stage was set: the paths of Johnny and THE COUNT crossed in 1942. Photo and copyright: The Baltimore Sun.

The stage was set: the paths of Johnny and THE COUNT finally converged in 1942. Here they are working at Belmont. Photo and copyright: The Baltimore Sun.

 

The first time Johnny rode The Count, the colt came close to killing him. As Longden told the story, the pair were working at Belmont Park and Johnny noticed two horses coming towards them on the track. But The Count had running on his mind and Johnny couldn’t get him to either slow down or change lanes, so he somehow managed to guide him between the pair without anyone getting hurt. Telling the story to his biographer, B.K. Beckwith, Johnny still couldn’t envision how he’d pulled it off. But one thing was certain: after this incident, only Longden rode Count Fleet in race preps and actual races. Everyone else was too terrified to even contemplate it, although there are a few rare images of another young lad working the colt when he was in his 3 year-old season.

THE COUNT was a handful, but according to Longden, he was not a mean horse at all. Photographer and source unknown.

THE COUNT was a handful, but according to Longden, he was not mean — just a colt with a mind of his own. Photograph circa 1943. Photographer and source unknown.

 

Despite the Belmont episode, Johnny was adamant that there wasn’t a mean bone in Count Fleet’s body, although this fact went largely unnoticed in the press of the day. Headlines like “NASTY BUT FAST” dogged the colt throughout his brief racing career, even when he was packing fans in like sardines at Aqueduct or Churchill Downs.

In his biography, Longden explained The Count’s personality this way,” He was not, you understand, a mean horse…Just one full of the devil with a mind which was very much his own.”  As a two year-old, Johnny described Count Fleet as a somewhat sorry looking individual though, “He really didn’t have the look of a top prospect then…He was a medium size — about fifteen hands three inches — and, though he was deep in the girth and had a good shoulder, he was weedy behind…he looked more like a filly than a colt.”  In addition, Count Fleet at two weighed in at only 900 lbs., reaching 1,000 lbs. by January 1943. John Hervey (“Salvator”) was more complimentary, describing the colt as one who, though not handsome, sported a very fine head and a character both intelligent and inquisitive.

 

"...He looked more like a filly than a colt." COUNT FLEET as a two year-old. Photo from THE VAULT'S private collection.

“…he looked more like a filly than a colt.” COUNT FLEET as a two year-old. Photo and copyright: Bert Morgan, KEENELAND .

 

In 1942, before Count Fleet had made his first start as a juvenile, Johnny recalled another trainer, Sammy Smith, coming to Cameron’s barn at Belmont one morning. The Count was led out for Smith to look over and Longden understood that the colt was being offered for sale; the asking price was $4500. Now Johnny had been working for the Hertzes for almost two years at this point, and he had established a trusting relationship with John D. Hertz. When he realized The Count was up for grabs, he picked up a bicycle from the yard and pumped muscle to the nearest phone booth to call John D. Fortunately, Johnny got hold of him and begged Hertz not to sell the feisty youngster.

Hertz replied that he considered the colt dangerous and was afraid that he would kill Longden one day, to which Johnny replied, ” I’m not afraid of him.” There was a long pause. Then came the words,“All right…If you’re game enough to ride him, I’ll keep him.” 

At first, Hertz may well have regretted his decision: in his two year-old campaign, Count Fleet had a kind of seesaw year, breaking his maiden by four lengths in his third start followed by other wins as well as a few upsets. However, throughout the season the colt never finished worse than third. Said Longden of The Count’s juvenile year, ” He beat himself…He never should have lost a race, but he was a tough customer to handle, green and rough in those early starts, and you couldn’t take hold of him –you couldn’t even properly guide him. You had to let him run, and if you didn’t have racing room, he’d go to the outside or just climb over horses. If you were in close quarters with him, you were in trouble.” 

Actually, Count Fleet’s similarity to the most respected speedball of all time, The Tetrarch, was remarkable. It was just as though the “great grey” had come back in the form of a deceptively unremarkable brown colt.

 

"I'm not afraid of him." Johnny and COUNT FLEET. Photographer and source unknown.

“I’m not afraid of him.” Johnny and THE COUNT. Photographer and source unknown.

 

THE TETRARCH was selected one of the best thoroughbreds of the last century, even though he only raced for a single season. Ridiculed for his markings ("chubari spots"), THE TETRARCH would have the last laugh by becoming a prepotent sire and BM sire.

THE TETRARCH was selected one of the best thoroughbreds of the last century, even though he only raced for a single season. Ridiculed for his markings (“chubari spots”), THE TETRARCH would have the last laugh by becoming a prepotent sire and BM sire. COUNT FLEET carried his blood in the fourth generation of his pedigree.

 

But The Count wasn’t only a speed devil — he was also a lover boy.

In the Belmont Futurity, as Longden manoeuvred the two year-old toward the lead, he drew alongside the filly, Askmenow, a daughter of champion Menow. As Johnny told it, “…The Count decided he didn’t want to leave her. She was in that delicate condition that appealed to him. I couldn’t budge him. He just galloped along beside her and let Occupation steal the race.” 

It was the last race Count Fleet would ever lose.

The colt’s next start was in the historic Champagne Stakes in New York. That day, he really took a toll on Johnny’s patience, acting up behind the gate and sending the track lads scurrying. It was the only time he would feel Longden’s whip, which was applied to get his mind on the job at hand.

And The Count got the message: he led from gate to the wire, setting a world record for two year-olds in the process of 1:34 and 4/5. After this victory, Johnny felt he’d found “the key to him” — get the colt out on top and just let him run. “…It was what he loved to do more than anything else.”  In other words, Count Fleet needed to own the track from the first break. And it was exactly this that his gifted jockey would guide him to do. Not that this was always that easy to pull off: “…that horse {The Count} did horrify me on occasions,” Johnny once confided to his biographer.

COUNT FLEET wins the Champagne stakes, Longden up, and sets a new track record.

COUNT FLEET wins the Champagne Stakes, Longden up, and sets a world record for two year-olds. Photographer/source unknown.

 

In the Pimlico Futurity, The Count faced his rival, Occupation, once again. Although he broke on top, Occupation was soon overtaken by the Hertzes little whiz kid, who flew by to win by five and equal the course record. The Count’s last start of 1942 was in the Walden Stakes. If there had been any doubt as to his ability, it all ended that day: the bay who looked more like a filly than a colt won by roughly thirty lengths, carrying weight of 132 lbs. This performance, together with his other wins that season, made Count Fleet good enough to abscond with the title that, at the beginning of the racing calendar, looked to be Occupation’s — namely, U.S. Champion Two Year-Old (colt).

 

count-fleet-before-wood-memorial__57

 

The Count went into 1943 as the favourite to win the Kentucky Derby, a feat that would allow his sire, Reigh Count, entry into the elite club of Derby sires of Derby winners. Other very good three year-olds of 1943 included Blue Swords, Slide Rule and The Count’s nemesis, Occupation. Older horses who added to the spirit of the sport that year were Equipoise’s son, Shut Out, who had won the 1942 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, Belair Stud’s Apache and Marise Farms’ Market Wise, a son of Broker’s Tip who had famously defeated Whirlaway in the 1941 Jockey Gold Cup in track record time.

 

Edgemere Handicap, 1943: APACHE (blinkers) edges SHUT OUT to take the win, with MARKET WISE and Johnny Longden coming in third. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Older horses running in 1943 did much to keep the sport an exciting one: Edgemere Handicap, 1943 — APACHE (blinkers) edges SHUT OUT to take the win, with MARKET WISE and Johnny Longden coming in third. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

After claiming an easy victory in the St. James Purse, the colt and his team were off to Aqueduct to compete in the Wood Memorial, then run at a distance of 1m, 7yards. These were, of course, the War Years and there were many restrictions on travel being enforced America-wide, all of which seriously threatened the running of the Kentucky Derby, which dilemma Colonel Matt Winn, the President of Churchill Downs, was wrestling with even as the gates swung open for the Wood Memorial.

countfleetapr_1943

Rare photo of COUNT FLEET in 1943, breaking in either the Wood Memorial or The Withers. THE COUNT is the first arrow closest to “Copywritten Image.” Photo from the private collection of THE VAULT.

The anticipation of spectators at the Wood, according to John Hervey, seemed to set Aqueduct on fire and derived from The Count’s performance — and new track record — in the slop in the St. James Purse. Both Blue Swords and Slide Rule lined up at the gate, but before The Count was loaded, he was either kicked or grabbed in his hind leg: “…It was low down, near the fetlock. We went on and won easy anyway, but it filled up pretty bad afterwards, and for a times we were afraid we might not make the Kentucky Derby. I sat up and tubbed him in ice all the way to Louisville. We went down in a boxcar. It was nip and tuck, but we made it to the race…” (Longden as quoted by Beckwith, his biographer).

But however uncomfortable the colt might have been, he took the Wood in 1:43, and made two excellent colts look more like cart horses than thoroughbreds.

A look at COUNT FLEET'S hind leg following his win in the Wood Memorial. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

A look at COUNT FLEET’S hind leg following his win in the Wood Memorial. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Matt Winn had now resolved with authorities that, although the horses would arrive by boxcar and/or on wheels for the Kentucky Derby, only local people would be in attendance at the track that day. As those who crowded Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May 1943 would remember it, the “Streetcar Derby” was worth it, even though they had to leave their cars at home.

The Count did not disappoint, rolling passed Blue Swords and Slide Rule to a victory that bespoke his class. Below, silent footage of the race:

 

 

COUNT FLEET wins the Kentucky Derby and makes his sire, REIGH COUNT, a Derby-winning sire of a Derby-winning son. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

COUNT FLEET wins the Kentucky Derby and makes his sire, REIGH COUNT, a Derby-winning sire of a Derby-winning son. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

 

Johnny and COUNT FLEET festooned with roses. Photographer/source unknown.

Johnny and COUNT FLEET festooned with roses. Photographer/source unknown.

 

And then it was on to Pimlico, where the colt scored an even more decisive victory in the Preakness, beating Blue Swords by 8 lengths. Routing Blue Swords still again brought The Count’s reputation to its next level, since the former was a beautifully-bred son of Blue Larkspur whose dam was a daughter of Man O’ War. Blue Swords was the Sham of his day, confronted with a determined athlete who tended to wear his opponents down before the race was even half over. As The Blood-Horse put it, “If Count Fleet is the spectacular comet in the racing skies of 1943, then Blue Swords is the comet’s tail.”

 

THE COUNT arrives at Pimlico with trainer,

THE COUNT arrives at Pimlico with trainer, Don Cameron. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

Leading them on a merry chase, COUNT FLEET swings into the turn at Pimlico.

Leading them on a merry chase, COUNT FLEET swings into the turn at Pimlico. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

Wearing the black-eyed Susans. Photographer and source unknown.

Wearing the black-eyed Susans. Photographer and source unknown.

 

Trainer Cameron decided to run him next in the Withers, just to “keep him sharp.”  And The Count might have been at least a tad to blame: after a race — any race, from the easiest to the Derby and Preakness — it was not unusual for the colt to tire out two hot walkers as he cooled down. He never once came back from a race worn out.

Again, in what was becoming an all-too-familiar story, Johnny and The Count came home ahead of the competition in the Withers, leaving Slide Rule — who had skipped The Preakness — six lengths behind. The press — keen to exaggerate anything peculiar or interesting in an otherwise dark time — had already elevated The Count to the status of Man O’ War following his Preakness romp. But when the three year-old took the Withers, they were dumbfounded. This was due also to the fact that only one other Triple Crown winner had pulled off the double, the great Sir Barton. It was “a feat so difficult that any turfman who has witnessed it once need not expect to see it again during his lifetime.”²

Streaking home in The Withers, the second-to-last race of his career.

Streaking home in The Withers, the second-to-last race of his career. Photographer and source unknown, but possibly The Baltimore Sun.

 

John and Fannie Hertz with their champion. Photo circa 1943.

John and Fannie Hertz with their champion. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

Count Fleet went to the post for the very last time in the 1943 Belmont Stakes, although no-one anticipated that it would be his final start. The high rolling colts like Blue Swords and Slide Rule had stayed home, leaving The Count to face a field of two who were truly only going to win if, in Johnny’s words, “… he’d have to fall down … and even then I thought he could get up and win. He was that good.”

Those who ride will tell you that horses react to resistance like dogs — in the case of horses, they just run faster. So it was that when Fate joined the dance, Count Fleet decided to fight back.

“He fractured a bone in his left front leg. I felt him bobble in the long stretch and knew he had hurt himself…I started to pull him up but he’d have none of it. He just grabbed the bit in that bull-headed way of his and took off again.” (Longden as quoted by Beckwith, his biographer).

 

 

You'd never know that there was anything wrong with him at all: COUNT FLEET comes home in the Belmont Stakes to become America's sixth Triple Crown winner.

You’d never know that there was anything wrong with him at all: COUNT FLEET comes home in the Belmont Stakes to become America’s sixth Triple Crown winner. Photo and source unknown.

 

Count Fleet’s performance was so devastatingly good that the Hertzes were, of course, delighted to welcome their Triple Crown champion into the winner’s circle. But the next morning, the Count was so badly off that neither trainer nor groom could get him out of his stall. The injury involved a tendon and the limb was fired. The colt was then kept at Belmont until October, when he was shipped to the Hertzes Stoner Creek farm in Kentucky. The racing world waited, praying that the champion would return in 1944. But the Hertzes were owners who always put their horses first and when the risk to The Count appeared too great, it was with deep regret that the decision was made to retire him. In the Hertzes’ mind, there was never any question of risking his life on the track.

 

Johnny and THE COUNT, in living colour. Source unknown, although probably a journal or magazine of the day.

Johnny and THE COUNT, in living colour. Source unknown, although probably a journal or magazine of the day.

 

Whether it was his brief career or just the realities of war time, The Count’s story has been woefully neglected over the decades since he won the Triple Crown. In fact, researching Count Fleet’s racing career — in terms of coming up with something other than the obvious — represents the second longest project THE VAULT has ever undertaken. Insight into the character of the horse came principally from two sources: Johnny Longden’s biography and the superb record of John Hervey aka “Salvator,” as provided in “American Race Horses, 1943.” The former reference I owe to the great Steve Haskin, to whom I am deeply indebted.

Another issue pointed out by Hervey that likely had some impact on Count Fleet’s reputation was that criticism of his career was often based on “But whom did he beat?” In Hervey’s view, the Belmont aside, these doubters clearly weren’t much up on their game, since individuals like Occupation, Blue Swords and Slide Rule were extremely worthy competitors. It was more, in Hervey’s view, the fact that Count Fleet made it look too easy. Referencing the wisdom of the incomparable W.S. Vosburgh when writing about America’s latest Triple Crown winner, Hervey also had this to say: “…As racing goes, the enthusiasts have short memories. They require new gods to worship, and if, a season or two hence, these deities show feet of clay, by that time still newer ones will have displaced them.”³ 

Critics of his racing career there may have been, but Count Fleet would triumph again as a sire.

In 1951, a son, Counterpoint, won the Belmont Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He was also chosen as 1951 Horse of the Year. And again in that same year, a daughter, Kiss Me Kate, was named Champion Three Year Old. But perhaps sweetest of all was Count Turf’s win in the 1951 Kentucky Derby. Then, in 1952, One Count shared Horse of the Year honors with the two year-old Native Dancer for his wins in the Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

 

 

COUNT TURF. Source unknown

COUNT TURF. Source unknown.

 

KISS ME KATE with Eddie Arcaro in the irons. Source unknown.

KISS ME KATE with Eddie Arcaro in the irons. Source unknown.

 

Nor would The Count’s legacy end here. Through his daughters, Count Fleet was BM sire to one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time, Kelso, as well as to champions Lamb Chop, Quill, Prince John, and the 1965 Kentucky Derby and Santa Anita Derby winner, Lucky Debonair.

KELSO with owner, Allaire DuPont. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

KELSO with owner, Allaire DuPont. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Count Fleet lived to be thirty-three when, after foundering for three days, he was laid to rest at Stoner Creek Stud on December 3, 1973.

…… And I learned exactly why my beloved grandfather’s eyes shone so brightly when he spoke about Count Fleet and Johnny Longden: the same year that The Count departed, I watched Secretariat and Ron Turcotte win the Belmont.

 

COUNT FLEET at thirty years of age, as captured by the genius of the late Tony Leonard. Photo and copyright, the estate of Tony Leonard.

COUNT FLEET at thirty years of age, as captured by the genius of the late Tony Leonard. Photo and copyright, the estate of Tony Leonard.

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

 

A Visual Story of Count Fleet:

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny Longden’s last ride:

 

 

 

Footnotes

¹As Titanic buffs will know, the ship set sail from Southampton, not from Liverpool. But this is how Johnny told the story to his biographer and Longden had a reputation for being an honest man, unlikely to grandstand by telling a lie. One has to wonder if the “lower deck” passengers weren’t taken on in Liverpool, where the Titanic’s crew boarded the ill-fated ocean liner. Or, was the plan to get a “connecting” ship from Liverpool to Southampton, unlikely as that would seem. Or, is it possible that Mary Longden was employed to work on the Titanic, in turn for passage for herself and her children? Or, was this simply a fanciful tale that young Johnny was told and believed to be true?

² John Hervey, in American Race Horses 1943, pp. 107

³ Ibid, pp 99

Sources

Beckwith, B.K. The Longden Legend. 1973: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc.

Hervey, John. American Race Horses 1943. 1944: The Sagamore Press.

Archives of the Daily Racing Form in the University of Kentucky Digital Library.

Archives of the Milwaukee Journal.

Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall Of Fame: http://www.spiletta.com/UTHOF/countfleet.html

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

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 »

Older Posts »