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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Feustel’s experience with Hastings was short-lived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

SOURCES

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

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

The Keeneland Library, Lexington, KY, USA

 

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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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Penny Chenery, the owner of The Meadow and of thoroughbred champions, Riva Ridge and Secretariat, died on September 16, 2017 at the age of 95. And for many, Penny’s death was like losing a part of their own personal history.

 

Penny gives Ronnie a hug in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle, as Lucien, Eddie and Secretariat look on. Their big red horse had just won the Kentucky Derby.

When I lived my personal Secretariat story, live television was an extension of what was really happening in the “now.” We watched intently — whether The Beatles on Ed Sullivan or the Triple Crown races — and committed each and every detail to memory. Because, as in life, the only way to re-visit those moments was through significant images, sounds and words stored in the mind. It was in this world that Penny Chenery Tweedy opened her arms to welcome a nation of sports people and racing fans into the life and times of her Triple Crown winner, Secretariat, and the Meadow Stable Team.

Without the social media platforms we can access today, helping strangers to feel close to a champion who happened to be a horse was quite an accomplishment. But Penny did it by overcoming the distance, in both literal and figurative terms — talking with fans as she signed autographs, composing descriptions that jumped off a page, opening up before the cameras that followed her everywhere she went, and reaching out with a repertoire of expressions and gestures that signaled personal contact.

Every fan of Secretariat and of Penny’s beloved Riva Ridge has their own personal narrative of how and when and why they found their way into Penny’s embrace. This is mine.

Penny with RIVA RIDGE and her team following RIVA’s Belmont Stakes win. She would later say, “Secretariat belonged to the world, but Riva belonged to me.” Photo and copyright, Tony Leonard.

Like so many, Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes was so powerful as to become a life memory for me. Even without the replays I can access today, I could close my eyes and see my family and I in front of the television screen, hear Chick Anderson’s call, see again the tears my mother and I shed as the big red colt in the checkered blinkers came down the final stretch. If you were a Canadian, it was doubly powerful. Because the tiny figure astride Secretariat was Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte, and somewhere up there in the stands was Canadian trainer, Lucien Laurin. During a lull in the post-race coverage, my mother fiercely declared what all five of us were thinking, “Well, that’ll show everyone what Canadians can do!”

 

Every Canadian horse racing fan knew Ronnie Turcotte. Born in Drummond, New Brunswick, Turcotte was a French-Canadian who grew up in a family where the spoken language was French. There is a large francophone community in New Brunswick, some of whom have their roots in Quebec, as does Ronnie, who was born there. In the pre-social media world, Turcotte first came to prominence via his association with Northern Dancer, whom he had ridden in his maiden win and again at Woodbine when The Dancer was retired. In fact, it was with E.P. Taylor’s Windfields Farm that the 18 year-old was first taken on as a stable boy and hot walker. Turcotte rose to apprentice jockey and eventually started working for fellow Canadian trainer, Lucien Laurin, at his stable in Maryland.

Ronnie on NORTHERN DANCER following the colt’s maiden win. At this time, Ronnie was an apprentice jockey. When The Dancer was retired, it was Ronnie who rode him out for the final time.

Laurin’s career in horse racing began in 1929, as a jockey at Blue Bonnets in Montreal. After riding 161 race winners and battling with constant weight problems, Laurin began working as a trainer in New England in 1962, a job that would span 45 years and take him to the pinnacle of horse racing success. While working for two different stables, Laurin enjoyed a long and successful association with owner Reginald K. Webster, for whom he trained many good horses, including Quill, the 1958 American Champion 2 Year-Old Filly, and Amberoid, winner of the 1966 Wood Memorial and Belmont Stakes. However, for the majority of Canadians, Lucien Laurin’s name will always be associated with memories of Riva Ridge and Secretariat.

Penny and trainer, Lucien Laurin.

Penny and her Triple Crown colt were a distinctly Canadian affair for many of us who lived north of the forty-ninth parallel, and the pride this engendered was almost as huge as Secretariat’s fame. (Canadians are always proud when they garner attention from the USA, chiefly because, despite its geographical size, Canada has a much smaller population. In 1973, there were about twenty-two and a half million of us, in comparison to a little more than two hundred and eleven million in the USA.) So it was that when it was announced that Secretariat would run his last race in Canada, I was overwhelmed at Penny Chenery’s generosity. It was a great honour for Canadian racing fans and for Lucien Laurin and Ron Turcotte, Penny’s decision would never be forgotten.

Sports commentators were quick to remind the Canadian public that Man O’ War had also run his last race in Canada in 1920, when he took on (American) Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, to win The Kenilworth Park Gold Cup. The comparison was not lost on me. I often imagined that the big red horse of 1973 was a reincarnation of Man O’ War, to whom he seemed to bear an unmistakable resemblance. These imaginings were prompted by an awareness that, in witnessing the Secretariat narrative, I was in fact participating in a living history as great as those who saw Man O’ War run.

 

Ronnie’s last ride on SECRETARIAT came in an early morning workout over the Woodbine turf course. Photo and copyright, Ken Burns.

In October, when the Canadian International is run at Woodbine in Toronto, Canada,  I was training to be a teacher at McGill University. But this didn’t stop me ripping into newspapers from Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere, looking to see if there was any new “Secretariat coverage.” By today’s standards, the press was less than scanty: very few photos, some short reports. It was a cold, bleak month in Eastern Canada and it suddenly became even darker when I learned that Ronnie Turcotte would not get to ride Secretariat in his final race. In my eyes, Secretariat and Ronnie were one. It was finally my chance to celebrate Ronnie and the great Secretariat right here, on Canadian soil, and some dude in New York City had taken that opportunity away from me. And from Ronnie.

It was a cruel, heartless decision.

 

Penny and Lucien had to work fast to replace Ronnie and their choice, a personal friend of Penny’s, was the accomplished Eddie Maple. In 2009, when he was inducted into the American Racing Hall of Fame, Eddie was asked which race made him the most proud. He answered, “Secretariat, in the Canadian International.” But at the time, Maple was overwhelmed by the responsibility of pilotting a thoroughbred legend in his final race and the expectations of Secretariat’s team, his fans and everyone else who counted themselves citizens of Secretariat Nation that he would, of course, win. In the days following his suspension, Ronnie and Maple formed a bond, with the former teaching the latter everything he needed to know about Secretariat.

 

In the meantime, Woodbine was getting ready for a moment in thoroughbred history. Programs were being printed and, breaking with tradition, special tickets were printed featuring “Big red” on their face:

 

 

 

October 28, 1973 was circled in bright blue on my student agenda. Cameras, crew and sports journalists were crowding into Woodbine and the bistros and hotels of Toronto. The atmosphere crackled, even among the usually laid-back residents at the track.

Secretariat and Eddie Maple had their work cut out for them, as some very good colts were running against them, chief among them Kennedy Road, a five year-old son of Victoria Park who had won the Hollywood Gold Cup and was trained by the brilliant HOF Charlie Whittingham. Whittingham had not accompanied the horse to Woodbine; instead, it was trainer Jim Bentley who handled the colt when he came home to Canada. Kennedy Road had won the Queen’s Plate in 1971 and, although irrascible in temperament, he was a champion and a champion would ride him in the International: Avelino Gomez. The legendary Sandy Hawley was pilotting Presidial, another very solid runner. Big Spruce (out of grass sire, Herbager) who had won the Marlboro Cup and Fabe Count, winner of the Jockey Club Cup, were two other horses given a chance against Secretariat. Robyn Smith, then a rising star among female jockeys and much later, the wife of Fred Astaire, was a fan favourite and booked to partner Triangular, a grandson of Princequillo who was not considered a threat.

 

Jockey Robyn Smith rode TRIANGULAR in the International. She would later become the wife of Fred Astaire, whom she met when riding for Alfred Vanderbilt. The two were inseparable until Astaire’s death.

 

The weather continued to be an issue, particularly the rain, and it was not a certainty that Secretariat would start at all, although that information got lost in the build-up to October 28th. The International wasn’t Secretariat’s first run over turf; he had won the Man O’ War at Belmont impressively — and beaten Big Spruce and Triangular, as well as a very gutsy Tentam:

 

“Some people may not believe me,” jockey Ron Turcotte reflected, a few years after Secretariat’s retirement,”but I always thought he was an even better horse on grass than dirt.” Lucien Laurin was of the same opinion and was confident the colt would manage a wet surface. The decision was made to run.

On race day, it was cold and damp. Dark clouds formed ominously over Woodbine, turning its lush landscape into something that evoked gloom rather than glory. It might not have been the toughest test of her champion’s abilities, but as Penny would point out, “The easiest race on paper is the one I find we lose…so I have to worry.”

As Secretariat appeared in the tunnel and stepped onto the track, I held my breath and tried to staunch the pain of saying goodbye. In 1973, when a thoroughbred retired, he or she seemed to disappear: this was an ending, not just a final race in a brilliant campaign. (Of course, thanks to social media, I didn’t entirely lose the connection. But in 1973, there was no way to predict the internet.)

“There he goes! There he GOES!” stands in my memory alongside “he is moving like a tremendous machine…” Three little words — the tears that flowed when I heard them the first time — and the way my heart pounded when a Canadian flag of carnations was draped over Secretariat’s withers, just as though the whole of Canada enveloped him.

Secretariat is my big red colt and it was Penny who made it possible for me to feel this way.

“THERE HE GOES! THERE HE GOES!” Secretariat winning the Canadian International, October 28, 1973.

 

Out of the gloom on that grey day he came, rolling like a bright red thundercloud.

 

Wearing our flag: Eddie Sweat leads his champion into the winner’s circle and hearts burst open from Halifax to the Northwest Territories to Victoria. Photo and copyright: Michael Burns

 

Margaret Mead’s daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, has observed that a life is a creation composed of the fabric of our daily selves and the improvisation necessary to keep on going, no matter what. In an early book, Composing A Life, Bateson studied the lives of five different women and summed up her findings in the following way: “…Today, the materials and skills from which a life is composed are no longer clear. It is no longer possible to follow the paths of previous generations…We see achievement as purposeful and monolithic, like the sculpting of a massive tree trunk that has first to be brought from the forest and then shaped by long labor to assert the artist’s vision, rather than something crafted from odds and ends, like a patchwork quilt, and lovingly used to warm different nights and bodies.”

The quilt Penny Chenery wove was a masterpiece.

Thank you, Penny, for reaching out to me and taking me on the ride of your life.

 

Penny and her big red colt.

 

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

Tom Durkin interviews Penny (2014):

 

Penny on the 40th Anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown:

 

Penny, Ronnie & Lucien talk SECRETARIAT:

 

Q&A with EDDIE MAPLE:

 

 

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Big Red’s Last Race,” produced by the Ontario Jockey Club. (It’s my favourite portrait of Secretariat, Penny, Ronnie, Lucien, Eddie, Charlie {misnamed in the preceding clip as “George Davis”} and pony, Billy Silver. It’s real and filled with warmth and appreciation, a faithful Canadian rendition of the meaning Secretariat’s last race held for me. AA)

The Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame: Kennedy Road, Eddie Maple

 

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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 any parent, grandparent, teacher or librarian will tell you, helping a child to become a reader for life starts when they are young. But it’s not just about introducing books an adult thinks a child might like. It’s about following the child’s interests, because when a child discovers a book that speaks to them in the most intimate way, there will be no turning back. This article is dedicated to my friend, librarian J.D.

The very first Pointe Claire library, built in the late 19th century.

The very first Pointe Claire library, built in the late 19th century.

Shortly before I retired from education, my team and I travelled around the province of Quebec to offer seminars to practising teachers on a number of topics. Arguably one of our absolute favourite sessions was the one we animated on early literacy. The reason it was our favourite had a good deal to do with what happened as we began laying out our ideas for the session.

After a good deal of talking — always the beginning stage of any production process for us — we fell into a conversation about the books we had loved as children. As each of us shared our memories, we began to see that literacy is deeply embedded in an individual’s “reading landscape,” beginning with their earliest experiences with books. Anything, in fact, that an individual associates with discovering the pleasures of reading is part of an individual’s reading landscape, from best-loved books to bookmarks to places or events where books were borrowed, bought or received as gifts.

We each set out to uncover, and write about, our own reading landscapes. (The idea was to mount our stories on a blog that teachers we were meeting could access prior to the literacy seminar, which we actually did and the teachers just loved this. In fact, it sent many of them off in search of their own reading landscapes.)

Retrieving my own reading landscape was not unlike an archeological dig — there were layers and layers, going back through my life to some of my earliest memories. Which, in turn, led to the little library in Pointe Claire where I discovered C.W. Anderson for the very first time. I knew about Marguerite Henry and had read many of her books, beginning with Misty of Chincoteague. But these books had been gifts to a younger me, the one too small to ride her bicycle to our local library and choose books for herself.

Christmas was filled with horse books....

The librarian at our teeny-tiny Pointe Claire library sat me down in front of a shelf of books by C.W. Anderson.

I will always love Marguerite Henry and I own those books by her that I loved best. (Ditto for the work of Walter Farley, of Black Stallion fame, who also wrote a lovely book about Man O’ War.) But the author who set my heart on fire was C.W. Anderson. “CWA” met me where I lived — right at the corner of Horses + Art.

Cover of the CW ANDERSON portfolio of lithographs of the same name.

Cover of the CW ANDERSON portfolio of the same name.

 

FAIR PLAY, sire of MAN O' WAR by C.W. Anderson

FAIR PLAY, sire of MAN O’ WAR by C.W. Anderson.

 

In his novel, States of Emergency, author Andre Brink writes “…love forces us to go down into our own archeology.”  As I revisited the moment I had first discovered the books of Anderson, I just knew that I had to do what that little girl didn’t really have the skill to do: research everything there was to know about C.W. Anderson and get busy collecting a number of his books and portfolios of prints, using my child-memory as a guide.

An early discovery was that CWA wasn’t only an author-illustrator of books about horses and ponies. In fact, his earliest works were a bawdy set of cartoons, produced on a regular basis for the New Yorker and Ballyhoo magazines in the 1920’s and 30’s. In addition, his art appeared on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post and Youth’s Companion. This period culminated in 1935 in the publication of a distinctly adult book entitled, “And So To Bed.”

 

Anderson's cover for The Saturday Evening Post (October 4, 1924)

Anderson’s cover for The Saturday Evening Post (October 4, 1924)

 

"And So To Bed' preceded Anderson's arrival on the scene as arguably one of the best equine artists of the last century.

“And So To Bed’ preceded Anderson’s arrival on the scene as one of the supreme equine artists of the last century.

 

A graduate of the prestigious Chicago School of Art, CWA lived in Greenwich Village after the close of WW1. For a few years prior to his move to New York City, Anderson taught school in Chicago. But teaching was not his primary ambition. It was from Greenwich Village that he broke into publishing with his cartoons and art, both of which showed an artist with a sharp, spicy sense of humour. Other interests included music: CWA was a very good violinist but not good enough to make it a career.

Probably late in the 1930’s, CWA moved to Mason, New Hampshire, where he lived until his death in 1970. The permanent move to Mason from New York City happened very gradually, precipitated by CWA meeting Madeleine Paltenghi in the late 1920’s during his New York days. Madeleine was a poet and an aspiring author of children’s books, and it was with her that Anderson developed the Billy and Blaze series, she doing at least some of the writing or editing, and he concerning himself with the illustrations. The books themselves make no mention of Madeleine Paltenghi, which is rather curious. But it may also have been deliberate: CWA was an established name in publishing by this time whereas Madeleine was not. The first Billy and Blaze was published in 1936, gaining instant appeal. It was CWA’s first venture into the world of horses.

BILLY AND BLAZE, 1936.

BILLY AND BLAZE, 1936.

Shortly before or after the publication of the first Billy and Blaze book, CWA was living full-time in Mason, NH, first alone in a studio he had had built just down the road from the house where Madeleine lived with her young son, Charles Emil. The two married in 1944 and their collaboration as artist and writer continued until Madeleine’s death from mitral stenosis, a condition caused by the narrowing of the mitral valve of the heart. During the last days of her life, CWA wrote her a poem each morning that he would take up to Madeleine with her breakfast. These became known as the “Orange Juice poems,” according to his stepson, Charles Emil Ruckstuhl. There are forty-one of them, the last being written on the day Madeleine died.

Another early collaboration between CWA and Madeleine Paltenghi was Honey On A Raft.

Another early collaboration between CWA and Madeleine Paltenghi was Honey On A Raft.

 

Silverpoint featured poems by Madeleine and silverpoint drawings by CWA.

Silverpoint featured poems by Madeleine and silverpoint drawings by CWA.

Madeleine was not only CWA’s partner and best friend, she also shared with her husband a love of horses. During their marriage, the couple owned a number of horses: Peter, Wise Bug, Suzie, Howdy and Bobcat. The latter, a beautiful chestnut, became the subject of one of CWA’s books, published in 1965. Two later books, A Pony For Linda and Linda and The Indians were created for his granddaughter, Linda Ruckstahl.

 

Bobcat, published in 1965, was about one of CWA's horses.

Bobcat, published in 1965, was about one of CWA’s horses. It seems clear that he and the chestnut shared a deep bond.

 

Illustration from A Pony For Linda, written for CWA's granddaughter

Illustration from A Pony For Linda, written for CWA’s granddaughter and published in 1951.

 

Although it is unclear how CWA made his transition to equine art — and it may have been as simple as the huge success of Billy and Blaze –— one thing that is clear is that he followed the stories of great thoroughbreds through the press and was particularly passionate about Man O’ War and his progeny. His accounts re-fashion news-worthy prose from any number of sources into highly readable, entertaining narratives. The accuracy in CWA’s books about thoroughbreds is an absolute boon for a researcher today, since the “inside stories” of so many great thoroughbreds are all but lost. CWA may have thought he was giving his equine subjects the kind of immortality that print endows, but he was also writing himself into an invaluable source of thoroughbred racing history and culture. Too, there were clearly no severe copyright restrictions during the time that CWA was creating his beautiful and expressive illustrations: many can be traced right back to press photographs that appeared in newspapers and magazines of the day.

An original press photo of COUNT FLEET at work. Photo and copyright The Chicago Tribune.

An original press photo of COUNT FLEET at work. Photo and copyright The Chicago Tribune.

 

CWA's lithograph of COUNT FLEET.

CWA’s lithograph of COUNT FLEET.

 

L.S. Sutcliffe's magnificent photo of EQUIPOISE

L.S. Sutcliffe’s magnificent photo of EQUIPOISE

 

The beautiful EQUIPOISE in a study by C.W. Anderson, who captures both his kind eye and steely head.

EQUIPOISE in a head study by CWA.

 

Battleship, in his menacing black hood, is in the lead and goes on to win the 1938 Grand National. An original photograph from my collection that inspired the article on Battleship published in September 2012 on THE VAULT.

Battleship, in his menacing black hood (furthest from front) is in the lead as the son of Man O’ War goes on to win the 1938 Grand National at Aintree. An original photograph that inspired the article on Battleship published in September 2012 here on THE VAULT.

 

CWA's illustration of BATTLESHIP.

CWA’s illustration of BATTLESHIP on his way to becoming the first American owned and bred horse to win the Grand National at Aintree.

 

CWA’s stories of great thoroughbreds of the past were supplemented by illustrations as magnificent as any photograph. The book illustrations were actually produced using a traditional lithograph process and it was a slow, painstaking process. The word lithograph comes from the Ancient Greek, litho meaning “stone” and graphein meaning “to write.”  The traditional process uses an image drawn with oil, fat, or wax onto the surface of a smooth, level lithographic limestone plate. The stone was treated with a mixture of acid and gum arabic, etching the portions of the stone that were not protected by the grease-based image. When the stone was subsequently moistened, these etched areas retained water; an oil-based ink could then be applied and would be repelled by the water, sticking only to the original drawing. The ink would finally be transferred to a blank paper sheet, producing a printed page.

This traditional technique is still used in some fine art printmaking applications today, but the more popular process is to capture the original in a photograph and then use the photo-image to print. Many of the prints of the late Richard Stone Reeves were produced from photographs of his original oil paintings, as is the case with the work of the majority of contemporary equine artists. In the case of CWA, his illustrations began life as original drawings, often done in pen and ink, that were then copied by hand to become lithographs. In his portfolios of lithographs, the process is laid out in detail. The portfolios were published beginning in 1952 and the last one appeared in 1968. Each portfolio contained about 8-12 single lithographs. Today, C.W. Anderson single lithographs can be found on sites like Ebay or Etsy, but, sadly, whole portfolios are becoming increasingly scarce.

 

Portfolios by CWA look like this. Each portfolio has an illustrated booklet, as well as an identification sheet and the lithographs themselves.

Portfolios by CWA look like this. Each portfolio has an illustrated portfolio cover and contains an illustrated booklet, an identification chart and the lithographs themselves.

 

Elements of a CWA portfolio of lithographs.

Elements of a CWA portfolio of lithographs. The identification chart is in the foreground.

 

The cover of one of CWA's portfolios, All Thoroughbreds.

The cover of one of CWA’s portfolios, All Thoroughbreds depicting the head of the legendary Man O’ War.

 

CWA actually studied the anatomy of the horse (as did the great George Stubbs before him) and some of his anatomical sketches can be found in a few of his books, notably “Sketchbook” and “Thoroughbred.” The illustrations pre- and post these anatomy lessons are very different: specifically, they show a smooth transition from cartoonist to representational equine artist. During his career, CWA published over thirty-five books about horses, six or seven portfolios of equine art and also accepted an unrecorded number of private commissions. He taught school in Mason off and on and was a judge, certified by the American Horse Show Association, of hunters and jumpers. And, in at least one source consulted in the writing of this article for THE VAULT, CWA is depicted as “a beloved citizen of Mason.”

GALLANT FOX (1939) as he appears in Black, Bay and Chestnut betrays some of the cartoonist's hand....

GALLANT FOX (1939) as he appears in Black, Bay and Chestnut betrays some of the cartoonist’s hand….

 

...whereas SHUVEE with her first foal bespeaks a more experienced representational hand.

…whereas SHUVEE with her first foal bespeaks a full transition to representational art.

 

A youth theatre in Wilton, NH called “Andy’s Summer Playhouse” was founded in 1971, a year after the death of Mason’s beloved “Andy” as family and friends called him. First located in the Mason Town Hall, “Andy’s” relocated to Wilton about a decade later.

From their website (http://www.andyssummerplayhouse.org/history/) :

...Named for CW Anderson, our namesake, and the inspiration his artwork gave to our original 10 seasons at Mason Town Hall. Anderson’s framed artwork surrounded the room where kids fostered 
the initial legacy of Andy’s, which continues in 2016.

...Andy’s Summer Playhouse grew out of the dream of two teachers in the Mascenic Regional School, Margaret Sawyer and William Williams, to keep alive, during the summer of 1971, a theater 
experience that had occurred at their high school that spring. The Playhouse found its first home in Mason, New Hampshire. Here the enthusiasm of its founders drew the support of several arearesidents who offered not only financial assistance, but the generous gift of their talent. Most notable among these is Elizabeth Orton Jones, illustrator, author and playwright, whose 
contribution through the years has been of vital importance to the artistic growth of the playhouse.

“Andy” was a beloved summer resident of Mason, internationally known as C.W. Anderson., a jovial outreaching man who loved young people. He wrote and illustrated stories about horses and 
children, many of which have a Mason background with pictures of local boys and girls. In the world of art, he was known for his meticulously beautiful renderings of animals and people, and 
in the world of youth, for his untiring interest and faith in new generations.

“I know well that only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young,” said the poet Walter del a Mare. Andy believed that implicitly, and lived it too. Thus it was 
only fitting that the new venture should strive to honor his memory.

And so it does today.

CWA_ANDY'S SUMMER PLAYHOUSE_andys

 

When I want to revisit the day that I first discovered him at our local library, I take one of CWA’s books down from the bookcase in my bedroom, settle into a comfy spot, and slowly open the cover. Sometimes I read the narratives, other times I lose myself in the illustrations. A Filly For Joan, the book I received for Christmas when I was about ten and still have, as well as books I have collected that I remember bringing home from the library all those years ago, cast a kind of spell over me. It’s rather hard to explain, but it feels as though the younger me is completely present and actively reading the book to me. Things like finding a favourite illustration almost unconsciously and then being flooded with liquid sunshine all over, or hearing myself recite a sentence or a phrase before I’ve even read it, happen regularly. It’s a “back-in-time” experience unlike any other I’ve known. Perhaps, I often think, this is what Albert Einstein’s curve of time-space feels like. (Members of my team who, like me, were also digging into their reading landscapes and went on to hunt down the books of their childhood reported similar phenomena when they held a book they had cherished in their hands and opened its pages.)

A Filly For Joan was a Christmas present about the same time that I first discovered CWA. It remains a beloved text in my reading landscape.

A Filly For Joan was a Christmas present from my parents at roughly the same period as my first discovery of CWA. It holds pride of place in my own library today.

If I go to my CWA library for research, none of younger me tags along. She probably finds it too tedious. Researching isn’t really about imagining, or the delicious discovery that a book can really speak to you, even though it sparks ideas and draws connections between apparently disparate information. Research is more like a treasure hunt, in that sense. Ridiculously exciting but not the same genre of discovery as a little girl lying in bed at night and imagining herself right in a story.

However, younger me and adult me treasure this: we both know the way to the corner of Horses + Art.

 

After my mother died about 2 years ago, we needed to clear out her house. I found that she had kept many of my early drawings. This one, of a girl riding her horse, was done when I was about 10-12 years old.

My mother kept many of my early drawings, something I only discovered after her death. This one, of a girl riding her horse, was done when I was about 10-12 years old. Looking at it for the first time, I knew its “archeology” : it was most definitely inspired by “A Filly For Joan.”

 

Thank you, Mr. Anderson, for opening a world to me.

Thank you, Mr. Anderson, for opening a world to me.

 

 Sources

Ruckstuhl, Charles Emil. Andy As I Knew Him. Published by AuthorHouse: 2004. (ISBN 1-4184-2670-9)

Some Mason Biographies. http://home.earthlink.net/~georgeo/mason_biographies.htm

Andy’s Summer Playhouse website: http://www.andyssummerplayhouse.org/info

Smith Center For The Arts website: http://thesmith.org/support-us/lights-camera-auction/fair-play/

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Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out who our great trainers of today would pick, if they were asked the same question?

 

James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons. The most prestigious American thoroughbred trainer of them all. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons. The most prestigious American thoroughbred trainer of them all. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

 

James aka “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons (also known as “Mr Fitz”) sits right at the top of distinguished American thoroughbred trainers. He began his career as a stable boy, working his way up to jockey. When his weight put an end to riding, Sunny Jim began to train thoroughbreds, saddling his first winner, Agnes D., on August 7, 1900 at Brighton Beach. As time moved on, his star shone brighter than any: two Triple Crown winners in Gallant Fox and son, Omaha, together with a slew of great colts and fillies, including Hard Tack, Granville, Faireno, Seabiscuit (before Charles Howard owned him), Fighting Fox (Gallant Fox’s full brother), Vagrancy, Johnstown, Bold Ruler, Nashua and Misty Morn. Sunny Jim’s horses won both the Jockey Gold Cup and Wood Memorial seven times; the Kentucky Derby three times; the Preakness four times; and the Belmont six times. His long association with William Woodward’s Belair Stud and the Phipps’ Wheatley Stables meant that some very fine horses came under his care and management. He was U.S. Champion trainer by earnings five times from 1930 until 1955. A beloved figure in the world of thoroughbred racing, Sunny Jim was noted for his gentleness and warmth, although he brooked no nonsense from any who worked for him. And he knew thoroughbreds inside-out.

Sunny Jim’s last great thoroughbred was Nashua, and the exploits of the colt in the 1950’s thrust both he and his trainer back into the spotlight. In 1957, word was out about another potential star in the 82 year-old Fitzsimmons’ stable: a son of Nasrullah named Bold Ruler.

NASHUA with Sunny Jim, who adored his less-than straightforward charge. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

NASHUA with Sunny Jim, who adored his less-than straightforward champion. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

BOLD RULER, with Eddie Arcaro up, defeats GENERAL DUKE in the 1957 Flamingo Stakes.

BOLD RULER, with Eddie Arcaro up, defeats GENERAL DUKE in the 1957 Flamingo Stakes. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

 

On February 23, 1957, journalist Frank Ortell, writing for the New York World Telegram, published this feature article. He had asked the great trainer which thoroughbreds he would place in his own fantasy stable or, which thoroughbreds were the greatest of all time. Here, as it was published, is Sunny Jim’s reply. (Photographs added by THE VAULT.)

Standouts In All Divisions: Exterminator and Man 0′ War Among His “All-Time Choices”

Frank Ortell, Staff Reporter

Miami, Feb. 23 (1957): Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who got his first racetrack job the day Grover Cleveland was inaugurated, looks back on his 82 years with undoubtedly the richest over lit capacity for thoroughbred appraisal of any living man.

Sunny Jim, still one of the top conditioners of America who even now is preparing Bold Ruler here at Hialeah for next Saturday’s Flamingo, today gives this newspaper’s readers the benefit of his Panoramic background in a unique venture. He’s picking the finest horses he has known in each division, in short a “dream stable.’

It is typical of the breadth of Jim’s vision that, of the 19 fillies’ and colts he has singled out, no more than three were trained by him-Nashua, Gallant Fox and Misty Morn.

 

Weight-Carrying ‘Essential’

Jim, stoop·shouldered but erectly forthright in opinion, started off with his top vote among the handicap racers.

“Exterminator is my best there,” he reported. “A handicap horse must carry weight at a variety of distances and he must be as strong at two miles as at six furlongs. That was Exterminator: He ran as often as called on — I think he

started 100 times –and track conditions meant little to him.”

C.C. Cook's great shot of EXTERMINATOR, whom he once described as "the beautiful and the glorious." Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

“EXTERMINATOR is my best there.” Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

Jim recalled that Exterminator, a gelding, had been purchased by Willis Sharpe Kilmer for $15,000 from J. C. Milam mainly as a work horse for the speedy Sun Briar. When Sun Briar couldn’t go in the 1918 Kentucky Derby, Exterminator

won under Willie Frapp, later named as Upset’s jockey in Man 0′. War’s only defeat.

Fitz’ supporting choices in the same division were Kingston, from the 1880s, and Roseben. At the turn of the century the handicappers just couldn’t find enough weight to stop Roseben in the shorter races.

ROSEBEN aka The Big Train.

ROSEBEN aka The Big Train joined EXTERMINATOR and KINGSTON as Sunny Jim’s top Handicap Horses.

For fillies in the handicap category, he nominated Beldame, leased by August Belmont to Newton Bennington (Belmont preferred not to race her himself) and the more recent Gallorette. “I’d like to add Lady Amelia,” he continued. “George Odom, a great trainer and a great jockey in his time, tells me that Lady Amelia could pack 130 pounds and run away from them. She did it at Gravesend. She also beat Roseben at Hot Springs.”

BELDAME was one of Sunny Jim's Handicap Fillies.

BELDAME was one of Sunny Jim’s Handicap Fillies.

Fitz’ Dream Stable

This is the “dream stable” selected by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons from all the horses in his ken.

TWO YEAR-OLD COLTS: Colin, Sysonby, Citation

TWO YEAR-OLD FILLIES: Top Flight, Regret

THREE YEAR-OLD COLTS: Man O War, Nashua, Count Fleet, Gallant Fox

THREE YEAR-OLD FILLIES: Artful, Twilight Tear, Misty Morn

HANDICAP HORSES: Exterminator, Kingston, Roseben

HANDICAP FILLIES: Beldame, Imp, Gallorette, Lady Amelia

 

Count Fleet for Speed

It is Jim’s opinion — and many others — that Man O’ War was the best three year-old of all time. “After him,” he said, ”I’d like to have Nashua and Count Fleet. Nashua was as sound as one could ask and and was willing to run any time.

Count Fleet had plenty of speed.”  Here he asked for inclusion of a fourth three-year·old. ‘” I want to save a stall for Gallant Fox,” he said. “He was the best three-year-old I had until Nashua came along.”

The Great One, Man O' War, shown working over the Saratoga track.

Man O’ War was “…the best three year-old of all time.”

 

COUNT FLEET (shown here with owners the Hertzes).

COUNT FLEET (shown here with owners the Hertzes) “…had plenty of speed.”

 

William Woodward leads in his Triple Crown winner. The Fox got a little fractious in the winner's circle even though his owner managed to hang onto him until Mr. Fitz arrived to take charge. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

“I want to save a stall for Gallant Fox.” Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

For his three year-old fillies, our expert chose Artful, Twilight Tear and Misty Morn. Artful, remembered by all old-timers was owned by W. C. Whitney and trained by John Rodgers. Strangely, she was no success as a broodmare. Her

“best” was a mediocrity named Sam Slick, who was five before he won at Bowie.

"Artful was the fastest horse I ever saw."

“ARTFUL was one of the speediest horses I ever saw.”

 

MISTY MORN, a daughter of Princequillo, was in the Fitz stable at the same period as Nashua. She was an exceptional filly. As a broodmare, she was the dam of BOLD LAD and SUCCESSOR, both sired by BOLD RULER.

MISTY MORN, a daughter of Princequillo, was an exceptional filly trained by Sunny Jim. As a broodmare, she was the dam of Bold Lad and Successor, both sired by Bold Ruler, and both two year-old champions in their respective years.

 

“Artful was one of the speediest horses I ever saw,” he recalled. “Twilight Tear was like a machine …. Misty Morn came strongest in the fall, because she could come up to a distance better than most.”

 

TWILIGHT TEAR "...was a machine." She is shown here winning the Acorn. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

TWILIGHT TEAR “…was like a machine.” She is shown here winning the Acorn. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

For his prize two-year colts, Fitz  picked  Sysonby and Colin, two fabled names out of the past. Both were owned by James R. Keene, one of the turf’s most noted patrons. It was his recollection, fortified by the records, that Sysonby lost

only once in 15 starts and that Colin never lost in 15. In a small purse era, Sysonby earned $184,438, Colin $181,610. Sysonby died of blood poisoning.. His skeleton may be seen in New York’s Museum of Natural History. Colin suf-

fered from chronic unsoundness and, when shipped to England, broke down in a workout. He never was raced there . ”Jim Rowe used to tell me, ‘the proudest thing in my life was that I trained Colin’,” Jim pointed out. For his modern two

year-old colt he added Citation. “One of the best young horses of all time,” he summed up Citation.

SYSONBY

SYSONBY figures as one of Sunny Jim’s prize two year-olds, together with COLIN and CITATION. The latter he described as “…One of the best young horses of all time.”

The two year-old fillies: “I’d take two from the same stable, Top Flight and Regret (C. V. Whitney). They could run with anything that was sent against them and were game enough to run as many times in a year as a trainer would want.”

 

TOP FLIGHT, shown here with her Man O' War foal, joins

TOP FLIGHT, shown here with her Man O’ War foal.

 

REGRET

REGRET, who, with Top Flight, “…could run with anything that was sent against them.” Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

1)“Welcome to Fitzsimmonsville” — a delightful and historical site devoted to Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

http://www.fitzbook.com

2) Swaps & Nashua (video): 

3)  Bold Ruler runs in the Trenton Handicap for top honours (video):

4) Gallant Fox — rare footage (video) 

5) Twilight Tear wins the Arlington Classic (video)

http://www.gettyimages.ca/detail/video/the-arlington-classic-is-run-at-washington-park-race-news-footage/504412273

 

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

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

KINCSEM (filly, 1874-1887)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on this remarkable thoroughbred:

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

And on the film:

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

 

IMP (filly, 1894-1909)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

For more about Imp:

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

 

PHAR LAP (gelding, 1926 – 1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WAR ADMIRAL ( colt, 1934-1959)

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

War Admiral [2006 Calendar, Nov]

 

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

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

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

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

For more on War Admiral:

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

 

ZENYATTA (filly, 2004)

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

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

Prophetic words.

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

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

 

“UGLY DUCKLINGS” #2: STANDING IN THE SHADOWS

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

 

EXTERMINATOR (gelding, 1915 -1945)

 

 

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

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

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

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

 

DISCOVERY (colt, 1931- 1958)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SEABISCUIT (colt, 1933-1947)

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

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

 

RED RUM (gelding, 1965- 1995)

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

JOHN HENRY (gelding, 1975-2007)

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

JOHN HENRY at work.

JOHN HENRY at work.

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

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

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

 

ISTABRAQ (gelding, 1992)

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

The foal she was carrying was Istabraq.

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

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

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

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

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

John Durkan started his career as a jockey.

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

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

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

"No soft

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In 1920, an American legend and a Triple Crown winner met in Canada to decide who was the best thoroughbred of the year. On August 29, 2015 — 95 years later — another Triple Crown winner goes to the post in Saratoga to annex a victory in the historic Travers Stakes to his already impressive track record. And the connections between these two events weave still another narrative where past punctuates present.

Technically, there wasn’t an American Triple Crown the year Sir Barton won it. However, by 1923 the term starts to show up in occasional press releases. But it took until 1930, when Gallant Fox won it, for the term to be popularized by the Daily Racing Form’s Charles Hatton. By 1950, the Triple Crown had its own trophy and a tradition was well-entrenched in the sport; too, Sir Barton became the first “official” winner, the title being given to him posthumously in 1948.

SIR BARTON_10e491c5c80b8df5290e897afcbf47f7

When Man O’ War met up with Sir Barton for their match race, those present would have probably described the two as “Might be the greatest ever ?” and “The Greatest Ever ! ” respectively. The Kenilworth Park Match Race was the last race the mighty Man O’ War ran and, although he outran Sir Barton handily, it must be stressed that the latter — who suffered from foot problems throughout his racing career — was a great thoroughbred in his own right. In acknowledgement of his accomplishments, Sir Barton was inducted into the National Museum and Racing Hall of Fame in 1957, and was among the first thirteen thoroughbreds to be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1976.

The good people of Kenilworth Park spared nothing in preparing for “The Race of the Century” which it indeed was. In 1920, Man O’ War was likely viewed as a brilliant upstart. Beating the incomparable Sir Barton would determine his true merit. In addition, special stables, complete with around the clock guards, were built to house the two champion thoroughbreds.

A new grandstand some 800 feet long was built, a special train was booked to transport race goers from Toronto to Windsor and the dirt track was made ready with a special attention to detail. Tickets were sold at an astronomical $5.00 each.

An old postcard depicting the former Kenilworth Race Track. Note the Canadian Emblem -- it would be another 44 years before Canada had its present flag.

An old postcard depicting the former Kenilworth Race Track. Note the Canadian Emblem — it would be another 44 years before Canada had its present flag.

 

Preparing the track at Kenilworth on April 11, 1920, the day before "The Race Of The Century" was run.

Preparing the track at Kenilworth as it was pictured in April of 1920.

 

"THE TICKET" -- at $5.00 a head, it was a pricey item.

“THE TICKET” — at $5.00 a head, it was a pricey item.

MAN O' WAR and his retinue on their way by train to Canada for the race.

MAN O’ WAR and his retinue on their way by train to Canada for the race.

MAN O' WAR coming on to the Kenilworth track.

MAN O’ WAR coming on to the Kenilworth track.

By the afternoon of Thursday October 7th, 1920 both horses arrived in Windsor, Ontario by train, Man O’ War shipping from New York and Sir Barton from Laurel, Maryland. The atmosphere in Windsor was on the weekend before the race at a fever pitch.

One can only imagine the excitement that gripped Windsor from the arrival of Man O’ War and Sir Barton to October 12. However, the race itself proved something of a disappointment since Sir Barton, now a 4 year-old, was foot sore and not the blazing 3 year-old of 1919 who had won a Triple Crown as well as the Withers in a space of 32 days. The Ross Stables’ champion led initially, but about sixty yards into the mile and a quarter distance, Man O’ War took the lead and won by 7 lengths in a new track record.

As he crossed the finish line, Man O’ War must have heard the din of the crowd, many of whom knew that they had witnessed one of the greatest historical markers of the sport. And it was, arguably, this last race against another great horse that saw Man O’ War take the throne of thoroughbred racing in North America.

To the continued chanting and applause of the crowd, Big Red was led into the winners’ circle, where he drank from a gold cup that had been specially designed by Tiffany and Co. for Abe Orpen, the owner and manager of Kenilworth, at a cost of $5,000.

Mr. Samuel Riddle and trainer, Louis Feustel, hold the gold cup while Man O' War takes a long drink.

Mr. Samuel Riddle and trainer, Louis Feustel, hold the gold cup while MAN O’ WAR  takes a long drink.

And it is this very same cup, affectionately known as the “Man O’ War Cup” that will be presented to the winner of the 2015 Travers at Saratoga, NY on August 29, 2015.

Following his death, the widow of Samuel Riddle presented Man O’ War’s solid gold cup to Saratoga, where it became officially known as the Travers Trophy. The cup is presented every year by a descendant of the Riddle family, together with a host of other dignitaries. A gold-plated replica is given to the winning owner.

MAN O' WAR'S Gold Cup, aka the Travers Trophy.

MAN O’ WAR’S Gold Cup, aka the Travers Trophy.

 

Man O’ War won the Travers in 1920. On August 29 his descendant, American Pharoah, will step onto the track at Saratoga with the same intention.

We wish this great colt only the best but must add the fact that America’s newest Triple Crown winner also carries Upset in his pedigree……and Upset was the only horse to ever beat Man O’ War, in the Sanford at Saratoga.

But, then again, Man O’ War put paid to his nemesis in the Travers:

Man o'War (1) passes the Saratoga stands for the first time leading his only competitors from the powerful Harry Payne Whitney stable, John P. Grier (3) and Upset (2). Man o’ War won “under restraint through the stretch” as Upset passed his tiring stablemate to gain second place at the finish.

MAN O’ WAR (1) passes the Saratoga stands for the first time in the 1920 Travers, leading his only competitors from the Whitney stable, John P. Grier (3) and Upset (2). MAN O’ WAR won “under restraint; UPSET (third horse) finished second.

 

 

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No donation is too small and all are appreciated. Thank you, from the heart. AA

HALe is in his forever home, thanks to the readers of THE VAULT and Abigail Anderson.

HALE is now safe in his forever home, thanks to the readers of THE VAULT and Abigail Anderson.

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

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BONUS FEATURES

1)Another look at The Race of the Century” with new footage:

2) From Steve Haskin, North America’s pre-eminent turf writer:

http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2015/08/27/travers-stakes-high-anxiety.aspx

3) Announcement that American Pharoah will run in the Travers, with the “decisive” workout (red cap on rider):

4) American Pharoah schools at Saratoga (TVG)

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