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Posts Tagged ‘horse of the year’

What a decade it has been! All over the horse racing world, champions emerged to dazzle us and lift our spirits. 

There were so many great thoroughbreds in the second decade of the twenty-first century, from Australia to Japan to the UK, Europe and North America, that I gave up on the idea of attempting to acknowledge each one here. Or to make a list of the “Top Ten” horses or moments of the decade.

When I look back, I’ll remember many, but the individuals that punctuate the passing decade for me are the ones who were more than figures on a screen. They touched me deeply in one way or other, inspiring imaginings as they took up residence somewhere close to my heart. Like a besotted paramour, I awaited each of their exploits with an anticipation so intense it hurt. They made my spirit dance.

So these are my stars of a kingdom filled with stars. I have made no attempt to compare them, because I know that comparisons are pointless; for that reason, they appear in chronological, not hierarchical, order.

To the connections of each of these great thoroughbreds, who so graciously gave of their time so that we could really get to know them, I give thanks. I also note that, the connections of all the thoroughbreds on my list save for one allowed their horses to race into their adult years, when their bodies and minds had matured, rather than pulling them off the public stage as 3 year olds.

In North America we have been conditioned to think that keeping older horses in competition is a risk but, in fact, campaigning babies before they have physically developed is far more dangerous. It was wonderful to be reminded what thoroughbreds at the height of their powers could do.

1) ZENYATTA

(2004, Street Cry X Vertigineux by Kris S.)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Native Dancer, Tom Fool, Nashua, Never Bend, Cosmah, Prince Rose, Hyperion, Mumtaz Mahal, The Tetrarch, Bimelech, Teddy.

It was the final year of the great Zenyatta’s racing career and as 2010 opened, she stood a Titan — undefeated in 12 starts, 2008 BC Ladies Classic and 2009 BC Classic winner, and about to garner her second Eclipse Award, as older female. In the latter case, fans were deeply disappointed by her loss of Horse of the Year for 2009, given that she was the first filly/mare to ever win the 2009 BC Classic and to ever win two different BC races. Instead, the title went to another remarkable filly, Rachel Alexandra, who was also winding down an incredible career. Rachel had won the Preakness, together with the Kentucky Oaks, Haskell and the Woodward against older males in 2009, and was as beloved by racing fans as Zenyatta.

By 2010, we all knew Zenyatta, our “Dancing Queen,” intimately. They were family.  We knew her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss and the other members of “Team Z” — trainer John Shirreffs, grooms Mario Espinoza and Carmen Zamona, exercise rider Steve Willard, jockey Mike Smith. We knew that Zenny loved her Guinness. A darling of the press, a star of 60 Minutes and the centre piece of her own website and “Zenyatta’s Diary,” written by the Moss’ racing manager, Dottie Ingordo Shirreffs, Zenyatta was the flagship of racing for millions of fans worldwide.

She contued her winning ways, chalking up 19 wins before the 2010 BC Classic, where she would bid to win it for a second time, a feat only accomplished once before, by the incomparable Tiznow.

Zenyatta arrived in Kentucky on Nov 2, 2010 for her BC run and the world was there to greet her:

I wanted her to do it. She was one of the most exceptional mares in North American racing history and putting colts to the sword felt like a fitting way to close out a brilliant career.

But when it came, in the night at Churchill Downs, victory was not to be. Lagging behind the field for too long, then caught wide on the turn coming home, Zenyatta still ran what was arguably the most impressive race of her career, even though she crossed the finish line a head short.

The 2010 BC Classic was the only loss of a 20-race career in which 13 of her wins came in G1’s.

To say the loss was a heartbreaker to all, from Team Z to fans a continent or more away, is an understatement. But I will always recall the words of an Australian turf writer a few days later, who wrote “…While it stands as her only loss, you know nothing about thoroughbred racing if that’s all you take away from her defeat. Zenyatta did things most thoroughbreds can’t do — coming from over 20 lengths from the leaders and travelling at over 60 mph in her drive to the wire, to lose by a diminishing head. Most of us will never see anything that even comes close to that ever again. This is one absolutely incredible thoroughbred — and that’s what I hope you will remember about her final race.”

Zenyatta was retired in December of 2010. Arriving at Keeneland from California with her whole team, she was greeted by hundreds of people who stood out in the freezing cold to welcome her to Kentucky.

In January 2011, Zenyatta was awarded the 2010 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.

 

2) FRANKEL

(2008, Galileo X Kind by Danehill)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Danzig, Northern Dancer, Nearco, Native Dancer, Buckpasser, Ribot, War Admiral, Man O’ War, Blue Larkspur, La Troienne, Bend Or, Commando, Domino.

Frankel started his career with a win that marked him as a “promising” juvenile, on a wet afternoon at Newmarket, crossing the finish line with Nathaniel, another Galileo colt, at his throat latch.

Named after the incomparable American trainer, Bobby Frankel, who had trained for Prince Khgalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte in the United States, Frankel was by Galileo out of the Prince’s Danehill mare, Kind. And even though his maiden win was in no way remarkable, we had all learned to “watch the Galileos.” I was intrigued by both Nathaniel and Frankel and resolved to keep an eye on both.

The British racing community is less inclined to “go over the top” about a horse than many other racing communities around the world, but by the end of 2011, it was pretty much impossible NOT to keep your eye on Frankel and his jockey, young Tom Queally. And even seasoned racing commentators struggled to find words to represent the history they knew they were living.

As for Frankel — he just kept going on and on.

 

After watching thoroughbreds for over 50 years, I knew I was a witness to an extraordinary individual, one who had been the product of 35 years of breeding by the Prince — as well as quite literally centuries in the making. Whereas the mysteries of breeding the ultimate thoroughbred have managed to elude even the most exacting scientific inquiry, what remains clear is that the evolution of the breed is not the work of any one person, but rather the combined efforts of breeders down through the centuries, together with the genetic contribution of many fine sires and dams. In Frankel, history and lineage had found its truest expression.

I often find myself wondering what it must have been like to experience Eclipse, or The Tetrarch, or Pretty Polly, or Man O’ War in their time, to have been one of the spectators, to have acxtually seen them in the flesh.

Frankel felt exactly like that kind of experience to me. I would be one who could say, “I was there.”

But running alongside Frankel’s unequivocal reign on the turf was another story, one that made each victory bittersweet: his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, was dying. The irony was cruel, that one of Great Britain’s greatest trainers should come upon his crowning achievement in his last years. However, as Sir Henry would acknowledge shortly before his death, “I had to be there for Frankel” and there he was, in every sense of the word, right up to Frankel’s very last race.

The story that was Sir Henry and his brilliant colt, together with all the emotion, came together on the Knavesmire at York in the 2012 Juddmonte International:

The lovely thing about a horse race is that it shows us how to live in the moment.

When you are watching the career of one of the most remarkable thoroughbreds of all time, it is indeed a blessing to live each and every moment fully.

 

3) BLACK CAVIAR

(2006, by Bel Esprit X Helsinge by Desert Sun)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Nijinsky, Northern Dancer, Vain, Nasrullah, Hyperion, Hurry On, Scapa Flow, Gainsborough, Ajax, Isonomy, Doncaster.

I stayed up deep into the early morning to watch her run and paid for it. But there was simply no better place to be: she was my “whirlwind from down under” and I adored her.

In 2012 in the UK it was all about Frankel — and so a (usually) good-natured, if hard-nosed, rivalry rose up between the devoted on two sides of the world:

I’m never tempted to enter into such rivalries, but I will say that neither Frankel nor Nelly took a backseat as far as power and turn-of-foot were concerned.

“Hear The Angels” …..”The Pride of Australia” ……. “Regal Power Wrapped in an Elegant Machine” …. “And the Legend Lives On,” such were just a few of the calls that greeted the big, dark mare as she crossed the finish in her native land, her polka dot silks rippling on jockey Hugh Bowman, the field toiling behind her. She was the fullest expression her ancestors’ majesty, courage and heart.

If it was the signature shake of the reins and the immense surge of chest and forelegs in answer that I waited for when Frankel ran, in Nelly’s case it was the relentless, driving force of her sweep to victory that made my heart leap up.

Travelling to England in her much-publicized rubber suit to run in the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, Nelly delivered, though not in the style we were accustomed to see.

It was race #17 and never before had the great mare finished in a photo. Looking back, I still see it as a blip on the screen. After all, Nelly had journeyed from halfway around the world to appear at Royal Ascot.

Nelly went on to secure 25 straight victories in as many starts, 15 of which were G1s. It was an absolutely astounding record, by any standard.

So astounding, that as I look back on it, I still find Black Caviar’s brilliance difficult to fully register.

Sometimes it’s like that with the great ones.

 

4) TREVE

(2010, Motivator X Trevise by Anabaa)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Sharpen Up, Secretariat, Northern Dancer, Vaguely Noble, Bahram, Spearmint, Hyperion, Isinglass, Persimmon, St. Simon.

I can’t deny it. By the time Treve came into my life, I was pretty much convinced that I’d already witnessed the best it could get.

Then along came Treve.

I always paid attention to what the Head family was up to; this had been true since Freddy Head’s victories on Miesque grabbed my attention in the late 1980’s. After his retirement from riding, Freddy and his sister, Criquette Head Maarek, embarked on careers in training in France, with Freddy closing out 2009 with his brilliant mare, Goldikova. For her part, Criquette Head Maarek enjoyed popular successes with the likes of Three Troikas, Bering and Anabaa, who would go on to become an important sire and the BM sire of Treve.

Recording her first win (above), Treve looked a juvenile with possibilities. But her victory hardly left the world breathless — the tall, lithe filly was still a work in progress.

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the premier grass race for thoroughbreds in the world and France is its home. There is nothing better, as far as the French racing public is concerned, than to have a French-bred and trained Arc winner.

Champions appear when hearts dream them, and are ready to receive them. And by 2013, Treve, bred by the Head family and trained by Criquette Head-Maarek, was ready to answer those French dreaming hearts.

Coming up to the 2013 Arc, Treve had won the Prix de Diane and the Prix Vermeille, both distinguished races in their own right. The undefeated 3 year-old entered the Arc partnered by Thierry Jarnet, Frankie Dettori having broken his ankle in a fall in England. Among the “big horses” were Japan’s brilliant Orfevre, Coolmore’s Ruler of the World, Intello, and Juddmonte’s Flintshire.

It was a scintillating victory for a youngster, and especially since the Arc traditionally favours more mature thoroughbreds.

Youngster or otherwise, to win the Arc once is considered the pinnacle of any turf horse’s career. But to win it twice? In 2014, when Treve took her second shot at the Arc, only six had won it twice, of which Corrida (1936, 1937) was the only filly.

At first, it didn’t look as though Treve would be ready. Plagued by less-than-perfect feet, it was late in the racing calendar before she was declared a starter. Partnered again by Thierry Jarnet, this time she would face Japan’s quirky but talented Gold Ship, England’s Kingston Hill, second to Australia in the Derby, and Sea The Stars’ champion daughter, Taghrooda, winner of the 2014 Oaks.

Not only did Treve rise to the occassion, but she did it in style. The daughter of Motivator had secured her place in history.

The decision was made to campaign Treve in 2015, with the goal a third tilt at the Arc. Her thousands of fans stepped up as well, even composing a song for her. And as the video portrays, hopes were high for a mare beloved by connections and racing public alike.

In the end, Treve was unplaced behind the winner, England’s magnificent Golden Horn, ridden by Frankie Dettori and trained by John Gosden.

While hopes were dashed, it did little to diminish Treve. The Arc is a gruelling affair, one that asks all from those who run it. And Treve flew home a decisive winner twice in consecutive years.

The filly with the beautiful face and kind eye, who roused the hearts of a nation, accomplished the rarest of a feats — one that legends like Sea Bird, Ribot, Dancing Brave and Nijinsky couldn’t attain.

5) AMERICAN PHAROAH

(2012, Pioneerof The Nile X Littleprincessemma by Yankee Gentleman by Storm Cat)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Secretariat, Fappiano, Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, Brigadier Gerard, tracery, Pretty Polly, Fair Trial, Menow, Mata Hari, Man O’ War.

I can close my eyes and still see myself as a girl, watching Secretariat’s Belmont in complete and utter awe. Then came the finesse of Seattle Slew, followed by the heart-thumping charge of Affirmed to the wire, with the courageous Alydar glued to his throat-latch.

But then came a seemingly endless drought.

I don’t know that I’d given up on seeing another Triple Crown winner during my lifetime, but I sure was discouraged. Year after year, I was glued to Churchill Downs and then Pimlico, wishing for a Triple Crown. But defeats like that of California Chrome and Smarty Jones, and losses like that of the incomparable Barbaro, made dreams of another Triple Crown champion seem unlikely.

It had been 37 years — almost 4 decades — since Affirmed defeated Alydar at Belmont when a bay colt from California called American Pharoah hit the Triple Crown trail, mispelled name and all, for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

As a two year-old, Pharoah had them buzzing in California. Even though an injury kept him out of the Breeders Cup in 2014, the juvenile still took the Eclipse Award for outstanding two year-old.

At your own risk do you ever ignore a Baffert runner: the man has the magic and the skill of a great horseman. He can spot a champion-in-the-raw and knows how to condition them properly for the crucible that is the American Triple Crown, a run of three races beginning with the most prestigious, the Kentucky Derby, followed by the Preakness and wrapping up with the Belmont Stakes in New York, over “Big Sandy,” the kind of track so deep and immense that it would dwarf a brontosaurus. There’s barely time for a young horse to catch its breath between the three of them, and each one is run over a different distance, the Belmont being the longest at 1.5 miles (2.4 km) with a long final stretch where many TC hopefuls have been caught — 37 by 2015, to be exact.

Pharoah had a beautiful pedigree — a son of Pioneerof The Nile, himself a son of the mighty Empire Maker (Unbridled X Toussaud by El Gran Senor). His dam, Littleprincessemma (Yankee Gentleman by Storm Cat, a grandson of Secretariat) similarly carried the potential of daughters and grandaughters of Storm Cat, who continues to influence the pedigrees of champions. But pedigree had been no guarantee of Triple Crown success over the decades since 1978.

When I watched the Baffert colt run away from the field over a sloppy track in the Rebel I was impressed….but was I ready to give my hopes and my heart away?

Then came the Arkansas Derby, Pharoah’s last prep before the first Saturday in May in Kentucky. Like the Rebel, the colt’s win seemed effortless, with jockey Victor Espinoza asking him for little and, once again, Pharoah crossed the wire with his ears pricked, as if to say, “So when do I get to really run?”

After this performance, he had me hook, line and sinker. And although it’s easy to have 20/20 vision in hindsight, the Arkansas gave me a glimpse of something unique, although what it was, I knew not. Thinking about it, it seemed to have something to do with his way of going that seemed deceptively slower than it actually was — and effortless, as though the colt could run for days.

By the time Derby day had arrived, Coolmore had already sealed the deal on Pharoah’s breeding rights. I took note of that.

Going into the race, I was most fearful of the gutsy Mubtahiij, and mindful of Carpe Diem and Dortmund, another Baffert entrant. Pharoah started from an outside post position — never ideal in a 20-horse field on a track where the first turn came upon you fast.

I wasn’t a fan of how Espinoza rode him on Derby day, but Pharoah got it done, persevering in the final strides, in spite of being so far from the rail around the turn. Meaning that he’d been asked to make a longer run than the others going in to the final turn and asked to do it early on. I could only respect the colt for his courage, getting up like that as the wire loomed, even though I’d been expecting him to lead the field home by several lengths. (As it turned out, Pharoah had “lost his A game,” according to Baffert, on the walkover to the saddling area when too many people got him riled up. Baffert also reported that Espinoza told him going into the final stretch “…he just didn’t feel the power beneath him.”)

Next up was the Preakness on a rainy day, over the slop. Having watched Pharoah’s Rebel win, I felt he had a decided advantage — rain didn’t faze him one bit. But I was mindful of the colt’s Derby because he hadn’t been quite himself, whatever the reason.

But, as it turned out, the pre-Derby Pharoah was back, taking the second leg of the Triple Crown with ease.

Now the heat was on. Did I dare to dream?

I had a modest “Belmont Party” on the day, with a friend whose dream was as hopeful as my own. By now, I knew Pharoah was special. Really special. But I’d been there before……

I almost choked on a chip, dropped my wine glass, hugged my friend and burst into tears.

It’s still impossible for me to describe all the feelings that rushed through me.

But I do know one thing: American Pharoah crossing the wire in the Belmont was most definitely My Moment of the decade.

6) WINX

(2011, Street Cry X Vegas Showgirl by Al Akbar)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Native Dancer, Cosmah, Halo, Hoist The Flag, Natalma, Hail To Reason, Man O’ War, Ajax, John O’ Gaunt, Pocahontas, Beeswing.

In 2014, Street Cry succumbed to complications of a rare neurological disorder. He was only 16 years old. The loss to Godolphin was immense, made even more tragic by the stallion’s success that seemed only to get better over time. Street Cry’s progeny included the Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, champion Carlton House, the ill-fated Delta Prince, Pride of Dubai, Australian multi-millionaire Trekkings, together with his brilliant daughter, Zenyatta, and many other very good individuals, particularly in Australia.

A short year later, in 2015, noise started coming out of Australia about another Street Cry daughter: Winx.

Owned by the partnership of Magic Bloodstock Racing, R G Treweeke & Mrs D N “Debbie” Kepitis, the four year-old had found her stride in winning fashion in the big leagues. Once again, I started to stay up deep into the Canadian night to check Winx out. But it was soon going to be a pattern for me, fueled by a big brown mare who seemed — no, who was — invincible.

This was one case where statistics actually said it all:

43 starts — 37 wins — 3 places.

4 Cox Plates in successive years.

33 successive wins and 25 Group 1’s.

Finished out of the money only 3 times in a career that spanned 5 years.

As Bob Baffert said, “…She {Winx} always gives you the Hollywood ending.”

The mechanics of her running style might not have been a thing of beauty, but they were devastatingly efficient. And there were shades of Zenyatta — Winx almost always made her run from far off.

And once again, riches fell from the horse racing gods and I adopted a new family on the other side of the world. There was the charming Peter Tighe, Debbie Keptis in her purples and her “Go Winxy,” the softspoken Chris Waller, the expressive Hugh Bowman and the mare’s “best man,” strapper, Turkish-born Umut Odemislioglu. 

I didn’t care that I spent the day after one of her races in an absolute stupor, since I knew I’d never see another one like her. As a veteran of thoroughbred racing, I’d never witnessed any thoroughbred win 33 races in a row, most of them Group 1’s. And as a North American, sadly used to brilliant colts and fillies retiring at age 3 or 4, I delighted in the statement this mare was making to the racing world — Winx had come into her own at 4 and kept right on going. Had she been a North American thoroughbred, racing over here, the chances of her becoming the mega-star she became would have been zero.

It’s impossible to conclude such an amazing story in a few well-chosen words, so I’ll leave that to those who knew her best, as they were on her very last race, the 2019 G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes:

 

7) ENABLE

(Nathaniel X Concentric by Sadler’s Wells)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Miswaki, Roberto, Icecapade, Mr. Prospector, Forli, Native Dancer, Tantieme, Minoru, Pretty Polly, Hyperion, Persimmon, St. Simon, Newminster, Beeswing.

What a decade it has been for Juddmonte! First there was Frankel, then Arrogate and, as 2019 closed, the prospect of the return of Britain’s Racing Queen, Enable. All homebreds from the stable that campaigned the likes of Dancing Brave, Zafonic, Commander In Chief, Midday and Kingman, among others.

“Have we seen the annointing of the 21st century’s Man O’ War?” called the track commentator at Meydan, as Arrogate came from far off the pace to win the 2017 Dubai World Cup. The colt had already won the 2016 Breeders Cup Classic and the first running of the Pegasus in Florida, before shipping to Dubai and was what horsemen call a “phenom.”

Love has smitten me again, this time in the form of a beautiful filly with a devastating kick and her team, the charismatic Frankie Dettori, masterful John Gosden, Tony Proctor, head travelling lad, and Imran Shahwani, Enable’s head lad and BFF.

Across an ocean she came, charging right into my heart as I watched her rise above all comers over the last 2 years, netting the Epsom, Irish and Yorkshire Oaks (the latter twice in 2017 & 2019), the King George & Queen Elizabeth (twice, in 2017 & 2019), the 2018 Breeders Cup Turf and, most amazing of all, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe twice in successive years (2017 & 2018).

Her performance in 2018, when surgery sidelined her, was particularly impressive, even though this is a filly with a strong, focused mind when it comes to racing. But that doesn’t change what Enable and her team served up in 2018, when she was only about 90% fit: a scintillating win against Magical in the BC Turf and a determined second Arc win against the fabulous, fast-closing Sea of Class. 2018 wasn’t the same as her Arc win in 2017, when Enable led the field home, but this took nothing away from the fact that courage and determination got her to the wire first in a dramatic, heart-pounding finish.

 

In 2019, after taking Cartier honours as the Champion Older Horse of 2018, Enable was back and the goal was a third tilt at the Arc. It was also speculated that this would be her final year on the turf, making each victory leading up to the Arc both sweet and nostalgic. Frankie wept, declaring “…she’s taken me places emotionally I’ve never been to before.” And my eyes filled with tears too, knowing the kind of superstars Frankie has ridden over the decades and realizing that it wasn’t only my spectator emotions that Enable had engaged: she owned Frankie too.

Her 2019 battle with Crystal Ocean in the King George & Queen E. takes highest grades for sheer drama, but I like to think her most dominant performance came a short 4 weeks later, at Ebor in the Yorkshire Oaks, where she and Magical again met up:

Then it was on to the Arc. To be honest, history seemed against her, but as the date approached I was buoyed by Criquette Head-Maarek’s endorsement of Enable, her assuredness that there was no other horse in the field that could touch her for sheer ability. My chief worry was the eventual winner, Waldgeist, because Longchamps was his home turf and he, too, was training well for the legendary Andre Fabre.

Enable had beaten Waldgeist before, but when the turf at Longchamps came up as soggy, I knew “my girl” was at a disadvantage because, as trainer John Gosden would explain, her famous turn of foot would be relatively ineffective. I’m inclined to throw this race out, not because Enable didn’t do her best — she absolutely did — but because the turf conditions were so against her and that, combined with the early speed, took its toll. It’s to Enable’s enormous credit that she finished up in second place. Waldgeist was a worthy winner, although his owner expressed complete shock that anybody, let alone his gallant boy, could actually beat Enable.

I was so saddened that Enable’s final race had ended in defeat — but then came the news that, as long as she was fit and still interested in racing, Enable would return in 2020. I applaud the sportsmanship and generosity of Prince Khalid and his team, and was elated to see Enable again crowned Cartier Horse of the Year, as well as Champion Older Horse.

It will be absolutely wonderful for racing. And as for Frankie — I imagine he’s stocking up on polo mints for his girl.

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) Zenyatta: Love Thing (AnimalsRock4Love)

 

2) American Pharoah: The 2015 Breeders Cup Classic. It was his final start — and he led them home with a flourish, in a new course record.

3) Frankel’s last race

4) The Trainer & The Racehorse, Part Two

 

5) Winx: A tribute

6) WInx : 60 Minutes

7) Enable: “…she’s always been a very proud filly…”

8) ENABLE: 2017 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

 

9) Black Caviar’s Story

10) Treve Feature (At The Races)

11) Treve: 2013 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

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At this writing, many voices have already sounded out about the recent sale of California Chrome to Japanese interests. As the champion is due to leave prior to Christmas, I wanted to add my own voice to the choir.

 

I have to admit that I’m still in shock. California Chrome stands large among that small, elite group of American thoroughbreds that over the centuries gave the breed and the sport wings. So the very idea that the consortium that owns Chrome would sell him to another country still floors me, and the message it sends in so doing is dark. Very dark. Because it has the effect of a kind of semantic vortex, ramming the point home to me that any thoroughbred is essentially a commodity and, as such, about making money. And more money. Ad infinitum.

Too, the timing of the transaction, given what the sport is going through in the USA this year was, to be kind, “unfortunate.”

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The first thing that happened when I heard the news was a voice inside me that whispered: “…so…Chrome doesn’t belong to us anymore.”

My response may sound silly, but even Samuel Riddle, all those decades ago, understood that Man O’ War belonged to the people.

 

When a horse belongs to the people, they are woven into a nation’s identity and into personal histories.

It can happen with real, live superstars like California Chrome, or those that lived long before most of us were born.

And it isn’t always in the cards that a great thoroughbred receives this kind of recognition; in fact, those thoroughbreds who make the journey from the track into the heart of a nation are small in number.

Time does nothing to wither the people’s devotion to the few who join the pantheon: Man O’ War, Exterminator, Phar Lap, Red Rum, Greyhound, Arkle, Dan Patch, Seabiscuit, Northern Dancer, Desert Orchid and Secretariat are with us today, glorious in their vividness. Stories about them are passed down over generations, so central are they to the foundation of racing and National Hunt culture. They live on within a people’s consciousnes, a nation’s collective memory.

Chrome grabbed my attention early in his three-year old campaign. It was his courage and the sheer majesty of watching him run that did it. For three minutes, several times through 2014, Chrome lifted me up and took me to that world where great horses take those who journey with them.

And journey I did. Fervent hopes travelled with Chrome and his team when they arrived in Kentucky a little ahead of the first Saturday in May in 2014. By then, I was tired of hearing how the big chestnut was a “freak,” given his pedigree. I understood that Chrome was a champion-in-the-making. (It was enough for me that he carried Pulpit, A.P. Indy, Mr. Prospector, Seattle Slew, Numbered Account and Secretariat over his first five generations. As a racing historian, I know that a great individual can emerge from a sire line or female family as much as three generations later. This is far more usual than a casual observer might think. In the case of Chrome — he was to become the most accomplished of the A.P. Indy line by the time he retired. )

Chrome’s Derby gave me the same chills and sense of wonder that I had felt watching Barbaro in 2006 and Rachel Alexandra in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks. It was the spectacle of the colt leading the field home that so reminded me of my response when first Barbaro, and then Rachel, came down the home stretch. My heart cracked wide open and I wept.

On our journey went, through the highs and lows.

Dubai 2016: “…It’s alchemy in Dubai: Chrome turns to gold…” This call will live with me forever, right up there with the most famous lines from Secretariat’s Belmont and Zenyatta’s BC Classic win.

When Chrome left the Shermans’ barn at Los Alimitos, California for the last time, I watched it live and tried not to cry. Art Sherman and son Alan, together with Dhigi and Raul, were family by now, and I could almost feel what they were feeling as the time for their colt’s retirement drew nigh.

 

In Kentucky, I delighted in his burgeoning relationship with Gilberto at Taylor Made and the spontaneous home videos and photographs of them playing together. And the folks at Taylor Made were wonderful, honouring the social contract with Chrome’s faithful following in so many ways, from Chrome visits to timely updates.

CHROME and Gilberto at Taylor Made.

 

 

All seemed right in Chromeland……until the news broke, on November 20, 2019.

I had to read the headlines twice. I just couldn’t believe it.

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I appreciate that thoroughbred breeding is an international affair. But that’s not new. The British stock that travelled to Kentucky in the eighteenth century were, after all, the foundation of the North American thoroughbred.

And I have little doubt that California Chrome will be given the royal treatment in Japan.

He’ll stand at Arrow Stud, a base that doesn’t attract elite mares but, rather, more modest types. His full book for 2020 indicates enthusiasm, but it also bespeaks an industry that is no less impatient for quick results than anywhere else in the thoroughbred racing world. As was pointed out to me by bloodstock expert Michele MacDonald recently, Empire Maker only got 50 mares in his last year in Japan: despite a superb pedigree, he was apparently a less-than-succesful outcross to the Sunday Silence bloodline and too slow to get winners. And so it was that Empire Maker, the grandsire of TC winner American Pharoah, came home.

My sorrow is founded on the fact that Chrome isn’t just any horse. He’s an American icon and the pride of a nation. He’s also a conduit, bringing youth and others into horse racing by closing the distance between the sport, its superstars and the public.

But none of that mattered, it would seem.

It would have been unthinkable in the racing community of owner-breeders like William Woodward or the late Penny Chenery, who were only too pleased to share their pride in their champions with the nation.

As a fan recently wrote: “Well then, let’s just ship them all out of the country. I’m done with racing.”

How very sad.

(David Trujillo on Youtube)

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) I wrote my heart out about Chrome and his team on THE VAULT on January 31, 2017:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/to-chrome-and-his-team-how-you-made-me-feel

2) Did you know this about California Chrome? Steve Haskin of The Blood-Horse. Highly recommended.

http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2019/11/25/chrome-gone-but-forever-part-of-history.aspx

3) Posted by David Trujillo (Youtube)

 

4) Before California Chrome’s Belmont Stakes: fan video posted by America’s Best Racing

 

5) From RIDE TV

6) Another video made lovingly by a fan (debhart01498 on Youtube)

7) Playing: Chrome and Gilberto at Taylor Made (Armando Reyes, Youtube)

 

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

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

 

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As the world awaits Enable’s attempt to win the Arc for an unprecedented third time, it’s worth noting that she already belongs to a very select group. Since the first Arc (1920) only seven other individuals have won it twice.

 

In 1920, the British-bred COMRADE (Bachelor’s Double X Sourabaya) became the first Arc winner. The colt was trained by Peter Purcell Gilpin of Clarehaven Stables, who also famously trained the champion, PRETTY POLLY.

 

1) KSAR (1921, 1922)

KSAR became the first dual Arc winner.

The Arc was designed to complement the prestigious Grand Prix de Paris, as well as promote the French thoroughbred breeding industry. It must have smarted when the British-bred Comrade won the very first Arc. However, only a year after its first running, along came the first of the dual Arc winners who was, happily, also a French-bred. Ksar was the product of a pair of champions. His sire, Bruleur, won the Prix de Paris and Prix Royal-Oak; a descendant of The Flying Dutchman, Bruleur was a top stayer.

KIZIL KOURGAN, dam of ZSAR, painted by Allen Culpepper Sealy.

Ksar’s dam, Kizil Kourgan (Omnium II X Kasbah), was also a blueblood and won the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, the Prix Lupin over colts, the Prix de Diane, the Grand Prix de Paris, and the Prix Royal-Oak as a three year-old.

In 1921, after winning the Prix Royal-Oak in a manner that saw him return to his stable as fresh as a rose, Ksar was produced three weeks later to win the 1921 Arc. The following year, Ksar continued in his brilliant ways, losing only twice and once when his regular jockey, George Stern, was replaced by another rider. In the 1922 Arc, Ksar and Stern were reunited, and the result gave history its first dual Arc winner.

Ksar would go on to be a leading sire in France, producing the likes of Diademe and the influential sire, Tourbillion. He was also the damsire of 1941 Arc winner and champion 3 year-old La Pecha.

2) MOTRICO (1930, 1932)

MOTRICO was the second ARC winner.

Eight years later, a bay colt named Motrico (Radames X Martigues) also completed an Arc duo. Owned by Vicomte Max de Rivaud and trained by Maurice d’Okhuysen, the colt took his name from a Spanish coastal town. A descendant of the Triple Crown winner, Flying Fox, through his sire line, Motrico also carried St. Simon in his upper and lower family tree.

Following his first Arc win in 1930, Motrico was retired to stud, where he proved unpopular. So the stallion was returned to the turf two years later, winning the 1932 Arc to become the oldest individual to do so, at the age of seven.

3) CORRIDA (1936, 1937)

CORRIDA, the first filly to win dual Arcs, was owned by the legendary Marcel Boussac.

Another dual winner in the form of the filly, Corrida, came in 1936 and 1937. Corrida’s 1936 Arc signalled the first of six Arc winners for the race’s most successful owner, Marcel Boussac, who went on to win the Arc so many times — with Djebel (1942), Ardan (1944), Caracalla (1946) and Coronation (1949) — that Boussac became a household word in his native France.

Corrida was, like so many thoroughbred champions, bred in the purple. Her sire, Coronach, was by the prepotent sire Hurry-On, and proved to be a champion. Coronach won the 1926 Epsom Derby, as well as the prestigious St. Leger, St. James Palace and the Coronation Cup for owner-breeder, Lord Woolavington.

Derby day in 1926 was wet and dreary, but the handsome Coronach led all the way and won as he pleased. The following video shows the world of horse racing in 1926 in some detail, while featuring Coronach’s Derby win. Coronach can be seen starting in the post parade: look for the colt with the long, white blaze and jockey in white silks with a bold stripe across chest and sleeves. (NOTE: There is no sound.)

 

 

Corrida’s dam, Zariba, was a daughter of Maurice de Rothchild’s champion, Sardanapale. Winner of the Prix Morny and the Prix de la Foret, Zariba was no slouch herself on the turf. As a broodmare, Zariba was a success and Corrida was her best offspring.

Not only did the brilliant Corrida win her second Arc in 1937, but that same year she also took the Grosser Preis der Reichshaupstadt in Germany, dismissing a field that included two Deutsches Derby winners, and an Italian Oaks and 1000 Guineas winner.

Corrida’s story ended abruptly in the midst of the German invasion of France in WWII. By then, the filly was retired and had produced a colt foal, Coaraze, to a cover by champion Tourbillon. Many thoroughbreds disappeared during the invasion and the Germans frequently exported thoroughbreds seized as they marched through Europe to their German National Stud. Other thoroughbreds died in bombings.

Among those who disappeared from the Boussac stud were sire Pharis — and Corrida.

 

COARAZE, the only progeny of CORRIDA, was brilliant on the turf. His stud career was in Brazil and was supreme in his influence on the Brazilian thoroughbred.

4) TANTIEME (1950, 1951)

Francois Dupre’s Tantieme had the dubious record of being the last French-bred thoroughbred of the 20th century to realize dual Arc victories.

TANTIEME, owned by Francois Dupre, was as brilliant on the turf as he was in the breeding shed.

A bay colt with a fine intelligent head, Tantieme was the son of Deux Pour Cent of the Teddy sire line and the mare, Terka. On the turf, Tantieme proved himself outstanding: he was out of the money only once in 15 starts and also won the Grand Criterium, Poule d’Essai des Poulains, Prix Lupin, Prix Ganay and the British Coronation Cup. Retired to stud, he sired champions Tanerko, Reliance, Match II and the filly La Senga.

TANERKO, winner of the Grand Prix St. Cloud, Prix Ganay and Prix Lupin, among others. At stud, he sired the Classic winner, RELKO.

 

RELIANCE, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club, Grand Prix de Paris, Prix Royal-Oak, Prix Hocquart and the Prix de Morronniers. a champion, RELIANCE was only beaten once — by the incomparable Sea-Bird in the 1965 Arc.

 

MATCH (MATCH2 in USA) winner of the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, Prix Noailles and Prix Royal-Oak in France. In the USA he famously won the Washington D.C. International Stakes.

5) RIBOT (1955, 1956)

Of course, the narrator of Ribot’s first Arc win (above) might not have been aware that he was looking at a racing giant. In any case, the title of this British Pathe video makes us smile today, because Ribot wasn’t just any “Italian horse.” In fact, Frederico Tesio’s colt would take the racing world by storm. By the time he retired in 1956, immediately after his second Arc win, Ribot had shown himself able to win at any distance, against some of the best of his day and over any type of turf, marching to victory in Italy, France and England.

 

Ribot went off to the breeding shed undefeated and was exceptionally successful as a sire. He began his stud career at Lord Derby’s stud in England before being syndicated under the terms of a 5-year lease and relocated at Darby Dan farm in the USA. As a stallion, Ribot developed a nasty temperament, one that only surfaced after his retirement from racing — and this made insuring him for travel almost impossible. The result was that he couldn’t be returned to Lord Derby or anywhere else and remained in the USA until his death in 1972.

Ribot progeny who distinguished themselves include the great Tom Rolfe, His Majesty, Arts and Letters, Molvedo, Ribocco, Prince Royal and the champion Ragusa.

6) ALLEGED (1977, 1978)

Lester Piggott and ALLEGED after their win in the 1977 Arc.

Britain’s Alleged had not initially been pegged as destined for greatness when first arriving at the Master of Ballydoyle’s stables. Originally destined for the dirt and having started his training in California, it was the view of the trainer there that Alleged’s weak knees would never hold up on the dirt. Subsequently purchased by Robert Sangster, Alleged was sent to Ireland, where the incomparable Vincent O’Brien determined that the colt needed some time to develop to his full potential. The son of Hoist The Flag (and grandson of Tom Rolfe, a son of Ribot) began to show his promise as a 3 year-old when he won the Great Volitigeur Stakes impressively.

With Lester Piggott in the irons, Alleged walked on to the course at Longchamp in 1977 and ran into history.

Lester and Alleged would repeat in 1978.

The video below is in French. Here are a few helpful details pre-viewing: Alleged is number 6 in the-then Coolmore silks of bright green and blue. Note that American jockey legend, Willie Shoemaker, rides Nelson Bunker Hunt’s fine mare, Trillion (number eight). Trillion raced in France where the daughter of Hail To Reason was hugely successful. Also of note is Freddy Head, riding Dancing Maid (Lyphard), who was a jockey of brilliant accomplishment, perhaps best noted for his wins on the fabulous Miesque. Head would go on to train the superb Goldikova, among others.

The four year-old Alleged started as “le grand favori” — the overwhelming favourite. Not surprisingly, both Shoemaker and Head are right there at the end.

Lester Piggott, described by the announcer as a “Buster Keaton figure” actually managed a smile as he and Alleged were led past the stands and Alleged was acknowledged as one of the very best of his generation. Freddy Head was reported to be “downfallen” by his filly’s performance, while Willie Shoemaker was saluted for the fine performance of his filly Trillion and onlookers were reminded that in his native USA, Shoemaker was a superstar.

Retired to stud — where he became still another bad-tempered sire like his great grandsire, Ribot — Alleged was nevertheless an overwhelming success, ranked among the top ten sires in England in 1985 and sixth among sires of winners in France in 1988. As a BM sire, Alleged led the list in France in 1998 and came second in 2002. Among his best known progeny as a stallion and BM sire are Miss Alleged, Shantou and Flemensfirth.

7) TREVE ( 2013, 2014)

It’s almost impossible to forget the mighty Treve, who had devoted fans all over the world and, at one point, even had her own website. Trained by Criquette Head-Marek, the sister of Freddy Head, Treve’s first Arc dazzled and her second left fans breathless, coming as it did after a difficult campaign where the filly battled health issues.

In 2013, Treve gave France its first French-bred Arc winner of the 21st century and with her 2014 Arc victory, the first French dual Arc winner as well. The daughter of Motivator (Montjeu) out of Trevise (Anabaa) was still another Arc champion bred in the purple.

In 2013, undefeated as a 3 year-old, Treve beat some greats to lead the field home under Thierry Jarnet, who filled in for the injured Frankie Dettori:

2014 had been a tough year for Treve, making her 2014 Arc victory all that much sweeter. Flintshire and Al Kazeem were back, to be joined by the talented Taghrooda, Kingston Hill, Ruler of the World and Gold Ship. But there is only one Treve — and she showed it emphatically on the day:

Treve’s connections entered their mare for a third tilt at the Arc, but it was not to be:

Treve did her best but was no match for the John Gosden-trained and Frankie Dettori-ridden champion, Golden Horn, who had also won the 2015 Epsom Derby. The mare finished fourth, under a drive by Thierry Jarnet.

Treve was subsequently retired and has since produced three foals: Paris, born in 2017 and sired by Dubawi, and fillies by Shalaa (2018) and Siyouni (2019) who remain unnamed. She is in foal to Sea The Stars to a 2019 cover.

8) ENABLE (2017, 2018)

Now it’s Enable’s turn to greet the racing gods at Longchamp on October 6, 2019. Running as a 5 year-old, as Treve did in her final Arc run, the mare’s most-touted rivals are thought to be Coolmore’s Japan, White Birch Farms’ Sottsass, Gestut Ammerland & Newsells Park’s Waldgeist and Godolphin’s Ghaiyyath.

Japan (Galileo X Shastye by Danehill) is a 3 year-old colt whose last start was in August where he narrowly defeated Crystal Ocean to win the Juddmonte International. The colt has also scored in the King Edward (June) and at Longchamps in the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris in July:

So Japan will head into the Arc very fresh, having had the longest break of all of Enable’s more prominent foes.

Sottsass (Siyouni X Starlet’s Sister by Galileo) most recently won the Qatar Prix Neill at Longchamps on September 19, 2019. The 3 year-old enters the Arc with a record of 6-4-0-0 and continues to improve, according to trainer Jean-Claude Rouget:

Waldgeist  (Galileo X Waldlerche by Monsun) is the same age as Enable and is a gutsy, determined competitor who is coming into his own. His last start was on September 15 over the Longchamps turf in the Qatar Prix Foy, winning handily in what looked very much like a good, easy blow before the Arc. Here’s Waldgeist beating Ghaiyyath in the Prix Ganay at Longchamps in April:

It is true that Enable has already taken on Waldgeist and beaten him, but this chestnut is so honest and he can be counted on to bring his best to Longchamp in October.

Ghaiyyath (Dubawi X Nightime by Galileo) is a 4 year-old whose racing career was stalled in 2017. Returning in 2018, the 3 year-old sparkled at Longchamps, but did little else that year.

This year, Ghaiyyath has looked very good in the Prix d’Harcourt and breathtaking in the Grosser Preis von Baden, where he not only ran 14 lengths clear but also beat the 2019 winner of the German Derby. Ghaiyyath races in the Godolphin blue, under jockey William Buick :

This last win was on September 1 and was jaw-dropping, even though the pace was modest. Given his up-and-down career to date, it’s worth wondering which Ghaiyyath will show up on October 6 at Longchamps.

Enable goes into this year’s Arc in top form, undefeated in her 2019 campaign and with some impressive running under her belt, notably the sensational battle between Enable and Crystal Ocean in the King George:

Enable showed of what she is made in the King George, as did the magnificent Crystal Ocean, but the 5 year-old mare came out of this contest in fine form to defeat another great in Magical in the Yorkshire Oaks in August.

According to trainer John Gosden, Enable is as of this writing in excellent health and, as a mature thoroughbred, at the “…height of her powers.”

On October 6 she will face another challenge in what has already been a superlative career. Should she win, Enable will be the first and only thoroughbred to achieve three Arc wins.

To Enable and Frankie we say, “May the winds of Heaven guide and keep you. Just do your best — and come home to us safe.”

 

Bonus Features

  1. John Gosden talks Enable (September 26, 2019)

2. Enable gallops the Rowley Mile (September 25, 2019)

3. Frankie Dettori (September 25, 2019)

 

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

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The racing public loves them all, from the superstars to those that run their hearts out each and every time without ever mounting the steps to glory.  And then there are those very few who break through to steal your heart away.

So it is with Enable.

I felt privileged to follow Nathaniel, a son of Galileo and the sire of Enable, through the years in which the great Frankel campaigned. But Nathaniel, unlike Frankel, suffered physical setbacks and never had the chance to showcase his stamina over his three years on the turf. Trained by John Gosden (who also trains Enable), owned by Lady Rothschild and ridden by the young Will Buick, when Nathaniel was good he was very very good indeed:

Once retired, it seemed that his limited campaign might well take a toll on his stallion prospects. In 2014, out of Nathaniel’s first crop, came a homebred of Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte operation. The filly was out of the Prince’s mare, Concentric, a daughter of Sadler’s Wells. In due course, she was christened Enable.

ENABLE as a filly foal, following close on her dam’s heels.

That Enable descended from Northern Dancer was hardly unique, since his line continues to dominate thoroughbred bloodlines in the UK through sons like Galileo, and more immediate descendants like Frankel and Nathaniel. It was in the UK that our King of Canadian thoroughbreds first made a name for himself as a sire. The first “Master of Ballydoyle,” the incomparable Vincent O’Brien, single-handedly built The Dancer’s reputation as a sire of champions in those early years. So it was that I entered into the world of British flat-racing, celebrating the superb Nijinsky, as well as The Minstrel, El Gran Senor and so many other outstanding individuals campaigned by Ballydoyle.

By the 1990’s I was wholly caught up in thoroughbred racing on the other side of The Pond and with the arrival of the internet, I often had the best seat in the house.

Even though I was keen on following Nathaniel’s first crop, I missed Enable’s first start largely because it was exactly that and therefore overlooked in the media. But on Epsom Oaks day in 2017, through lightening flashes and driving rain, Enable made herself known as a filly to remember. It was only her third start.

At this point, I was impressed, but also knew too much about the vicissitudes of the sport to jump on the Enable bandwagon. Like her jockey, who, after the Oaks victory declared, “…she’s only run three times, she’s very good … I think she’ll get better,” I needed to see more.

On the 2017 British flat season went and if I’d “needed to see more,” Enable was quite happy to dish it out. The Irish Oaks, King George and Yorkshire Oaks fell before her like so many leaves from a mighty oak, leaving colts of the quality of Highland Reel, Ulysses, Benbatl, Idaho and Jack Hobbs in her slipstream. And at some point along the way (and before the 2017 Arc) Nathaniel’s daughter stole up on me and began to play my heartstrings.

ENABLE: A few basic details. Note that her best stride equals that of SECRETARIAT. Published in the Racing Post (UK).

Just like the nucleotides (molecules) in a string of DNA, each and every individual in a thoroughbred pedigree contributes to the making of a particular filly or colt. Thoroughbreds as far back as the 15th generation of Enable’s pedigree contributed to her genetic profile, even though any direct influence is typically limited to the first five generations. Still, take just one ancestor out of the mix and Enable is no longer Enable. But heredity is only part of the equation: the other 50% has to do with training and handling. And for that, accolades to John Gosden and her team for keeping Enable happy within herself for three straight years.

With John Gosden in 2018.

Frankie and ENABLE. Photo and copyright, Michael Harris. Used with permission.

With her BFF and exercise rider, Imran Shahwani. Photo and copyright, Michael Harris. Used with permission.

Kisses from Tony Proctor, Head Travelling Man for Clarehaven after her win in the 2019 Darley Yorkshire Oaks. Photo and copyright, Michael Harris. Used with permission.

To witness the campaign of a great thoroughbred in the modern era is little different than being part of the history of champions like The Tetrarch or Hyperion or Kincsem or Man O’ War in their own time. They, too, engendered the palpable appreciation of the crowd, the rumble and cheers at the finish, the crush of humanity around the winners enclosure. It’s always been a kind of ritualistic happening, the relationship between a champion thoroughbred and the racing public of the day, even without cell phones to record it all.

In Enable’s case, I found myself thinking of the darling of early 20th c. racing in Great Britain, Pretty Polly (1901-1931), whose lifetime achievement of 22 wins in 24 starts no other filly in the 20th century would match. But it was not just the number of her victories, it was the way she dismissed the competition:

PRETTY POLLY is seen here in an image that recalls words uttered when ECLIPSE ran: “…and the rest nowhere.”

Like Enable, Pretty Polly was a superstar, and her racing career was sweetened by the attentions of an adoring public. She featured regularly in periodicals of the day: one article was even devoted to spending the day with her at the stables of her trainer, Peter Gilpin.

In Family Tables of Racehorses, written by Kazamierz Bobinski and deemed one of the most important books on thoroughbred breeding, only one mare born in the 20th century qualified for special status as head of a special branch, identified in her own right as a prolific source of quality in the breed: that mare was Pretty Polly. Her first daughter, Molly Desmond, was the most potent of the four fillies Polly produced. Molly’s descendants include Spike Island (1922 EpsomDerby winner), Nearctic (the sire of Northern Dancer and Icecapade, among others), Chef-de-Race Great Nephew (sire of the ill-fated Shergar, among others), the great Japanese sire Northern Taste, Brigadier Gerard (Britain’s Horse of the 20th Century) and Classic winners Premonition, St. Paddy, Flying Water and To-Agori-Mou and Luthier. Pretty Polly’s other three daughters, Dutch Mary, Polly Flinders and Baby Polly, account for Donatello II, Supreme Court, Vienna (the sire of Vaguely Noble), Carroll House (winner of the Arc de Triomphe), Epsom Derby winner Psidium, Only For Life, Unite, Marwell, My Game by My Babu (whose daughters produced champions) and Court Harwell; recent descendants include the incomparable Invasor (2005 Triple Crown in Uruguay, 2006 Breeders Cup Classic, 2007 Dubai World Cup, 2006 American HOTY, 2013 HOF inductee) and champion Soldier of Fortune (2007 Irish Derby, 2007 Prix Niel, 2008 Coronation Cup).

When Bobinski’s text of 1953 was updated by Toru Shirai in 1990, Pretty Polly’s influence had become so enormous and her descendants so successful that the continued force of family 14-c into the 21st century is assured.

The mighty INVASOR is a descendant of PRETTY POLLY, through NEARCTIC, who traces back to MOLLY DESMOND.

There are several instances of Pretty Polly in Enable’s pedigree, both along her sire line and in her female family. This in and of itself isn’t all that surprising, given the influence of Pretty Polly’s daughters. Nevertheless, I welcomed the Enable-Pretty Polly connection: it seemed fitting that the heroine of early 20th c. British racing ought to smile down on a heroine of the early 21st century.

Like Enable, Pretty Polly was a large filly, standing over 16h. who, despite her size, was very feminine. Although she was brilliant on race day, Pretty Polly disdained her pre-race works, which were often described as “sluggish.” Frankie Dettori and John Gosden have said the same of Enable, Frankie describing her attitude as something akin to, ” Just shove off…”  Both Polly and Enable are described as “sweet-natured” until the roar of battle transforms them into determined warriors who refuse to be headed. Neither filly appears to have founthe huge crowds that gathered to see them on race days disturbing, taking it all in stride.

PRETTY POLLY was a big, albeit feminine filly, noted for her sweet temperament when at Clarehaven. On the track, however, she morphed into a warrior.

I was, however, astonished by one connection: Pretty Polly’s trainer, Peter Gilpin, actually built Clarehaven Stables at Newmarket on the betting proceeds from a winning filly named Clarehaven, who won the Cesarewitch Handicap in 1900. As is well -known, Clarehaven is home to John Gosden’s stable and to Enable. In the early part of the last century, it was also the home of Pretty Polly.

The filly CLAREHAVEN after her win in the Cesarewitch in 1900. From “Horse Racing Greats: Mr. Peter Purcell Gilpin” by Alfred E.T. Watson, n.d.

The Arc was Enable’s last start of 2017 and when she came home, leading the field, I wept. I’m fairly certain I wasn’t alone: Enable was the first British-trained filly to ever win the Arc.

ENABLE: the 2017 Prix de l”Arc de Triomphe. Photo and copyright, Michael Harris. Used with permission.

Had I not witnessed her stellar 3 year-old campaign, I might have been less astounded by Enable’s performance at 4.

2018 wasn’t a good year for Enable’s team, as far as her health was concerned. A knee injury that threatened to see her retired was overcome, but then came further minor setbacks. The cumulative result was that Enable competed only 3 times in 2018 — but what a performance she gave, narrowly taking the Arc from the flying Sea of Class, and then showing her grit in the BC Classic against her old nemesis, Magical. These two races were only slightly more than a month apart and on two different continents.

As the Arc and the BC Turf unfolded, I saw a filly whose courage, heart and fighting spirit could not be denied. But Enable was also very clearly not the Enable of the previous year, and it irked me that so many failed to understand that an athlete who could not be conditioned to the max due to injury had to be an absolute superstar to accomplish what she did. In Europe, the Arc is the pinnacle; in the USA, it’s the Breeders Cup. Enable became the first thoroughbred in history to win both the Arc and the Breeders Cup (Turf) in the same year. As the 2018 racing season closed, I was in awe of John Gosden for the monumental role he had played in Enable’s unprecedented success. And the filly? Words were inadequate to express her heart, her courage.

My emotions throughout 2018 are best represented in this footage of Enable’s return to the winner’s circle after her second Arc win:

 

Now we are a few short weeks before the 2019 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which might well be Enable’s last appearance before she retires.

Thus far, the year has been emotionally-charged.

At Sandown, Ascot and Ebor, Enable has packed in a public anxious to see the mare they call their Queen before she leaves the turf forever. Trainer Gosden has borne the responsibility of racing a national icon with characteristic grace, while Frankie Dettori has wept. Imran Shahwani and Tony Proctor give the impression that they are Masters of Zen, living each moment to the fullest. It’s all bittersweet, knowing as we do that Enable has no idea that her career on the turf is winding down, and that very soon she will leave Clarehaven and the only life she has known since she was a 2 year-old.

ENABLE — that beautiful face. Photo and copyright, Michael Harris. Used with permission.

As an experienced and mature thoroughbred, Enable is stronger physically than she was at 3, and her form thus far closely resembles that of her three year-old season. Her performance against the superb Crystal Ocean in the 2019 King George and her gate-to-wire win in the Cheshire Oaks had me rivetted, while also prompting reflections on her 2018 campaign. The difference in Enable from a year ago is enormous this year: she is one healthy, happy, alert and determined competitor.

But she’s also older than some very fine colts who will meet her on the Longchamps turf this fall, as John Gosden cautioned when interviewed after Enable’s most recent victory. It is a critical observation from a consumate trainer that I will remember as the field goes to post on October 6, 2019, when the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe takes place. This is no apologeia for Enable: age and experience are as often blessings as not.

 

 

 

Individuals like Enable are rare in the history of our sport, and the full significance of any historical event eludes us while we live it. But I know that Enable’s campaign has been exactly that, whether or not I can fully apprehend its significance. Enable’s career dwarfs most of the other racing stories of the last decade, even as it sets the standard of excellence for future champions.

UK photographer Michael Harris says that this shot of ENABLE going back to the stable at York with Tony was inspired by the cover of the Beatles’ album, Abbey Road. Photo and copyright, Michael Harrisd. Used with permission.

Longchamps on October 6 awaits. But regardless of the outcome, all that Enable is and all that she represents can never be diminished.

Well, I don’t know what will happen … but it doesn’t really matter to me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop … and I’m not worried about anything.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, April 3, 1968)

A. Anderson. The Mountaintop. Ink on rice paper (2017).

 

NOTE: I would like to thank the gifted Michael Harris, thoroughbred photographer, for kindly giving me permission once again to use his photographs of Enable in this article.

 

BONUS FEATURES

 

1) Ebor Festival: Yorkshire Oaks. Very likely Enable’s last start in England

 

 

 

2) “Two Bodies One Heart” : Enable & Frankie. Posted by a fan

 

 

3) 2019 Yorkshire Oaks highlights: Some great footage of Enable and Frankie before and after the race

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Champion EXCELLER portrayed by Richard Stone Reeves.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

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

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

 

Secretariat — The Belmont

 

Ruffian — The Mother Goose

 

Rachel Alexandra — The Kentucky Oaks

 

Barbaro — 2006 Kentucky Derby

 

 

Tiznow & Giant’s Causeway — 2000 BC Classic

 

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

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

 

Zenyatta — 2009 BC Classic

 

American Pharoah — 2015 Belmont Stakes, winning the Triple Crown

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENABLE sails across the finish line.

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

ENABLE, the queen of the 2018 BC Turf.

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

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

It was an experience that will stay with us forever.

 

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

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

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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

 

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