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This is a female family with one incredible knockout punch. They descend from The Byerly Turk sire line — and the influence of their strain on important sire lines and female families can be traced right up to today.

Pictured in the background, THE BYERLY TURK. In the foreground, an aristocratic, possibility The Sultan, of the Ottoman Empire.

Female families traditionally receive less credit than sire lines in terms of their contribution to the makeup of an individual. This bias initially stemmed from the fact that a mare has only a limited breeding life, compared to a stallion, and therefore exercises less influence. However, the mare contributes a full 50% to the DNA of any offspring, and so is hardly marginal in shaping the breed and moving it forward. The other popular theory is that ancestors of any one individual have less and less influence the further back they appear in its pedigree. Clearly, from a genetic stance, an ancestor in the 15 generation has had its genetic contribution diluted over time. Be that as it may, any pedigree is a carefully woven series of genetic markers and without that far-removed ancestor, the individual would not be quite the same.

Also worth noting: we are aware that Bruce Lowe’s Thoroughbred Families (1895) is a theory that has undergone substantial revision due to more recent research. We are using his system here chiefly to trace the chronology of the progeny and descendants of the Agnes family.

 

THE BYERLY TURK

The Byerly Turk was one of the three foundation sires of the thoroughbred breed. The other two are, of course, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian, the latter famously featured in Marguerite Henry’s “King of the Wind.”

Captain Byerly’s Turk stallion was first a noble and courageous war horse during the time of the Ottoman Empire. One current theory states that at the seige of Buda in Hungary in 1688, Captain Robert Byerly of the Sixth Dragoon Guards relieved a captured Turkish officer of his handsome brown/black Turk stallion. Other theories claim that the stallion was captured in Vienna. Either way, he became known as the Byerly Turk because his owner became Captain Byerly. They were litterly thousands of Turk horses bred at this time. Extant records show that Turkish breeders, called “timars” (landowners, a privilege that had to be granted by the Sultan of the empire) had, as a collectivity, so many thousands of Turk horses that exact numbers could not be estimated. Turk horses weren’t bred to make money; rather, they were bred out of national pride and duty to the empire — quite simply, it was a timar’s duty to help preserve the Turk bloodline.

The best of the Turk horses, who were described as strong, powerful and highly intelligent, were co-opted into the Turkish Sultan’s enormous calvalry, where they would take their chances on the battlefield before they were retired to stud, going back to their owners.

Thought to be a reasonably accurate portrait of THE BYERLY TURK, though painted after his death, the stallion is pictured here with his groom. The grooms of Turk stallions were indentured to them from the moment of their birth until the end of their days.

After the approximately 8 year-old Byerly Turk became Captain Byerly’s war horse, it is documented that they participated in battles in Ireland during King William’s War and at the Battle of Boyne in July 1690. During his time in Ireland, there is an account of the stallion at a race meeting at Down Royal in Northern Ireland, at which he reputedly won the top prize, the Silver Bell. That the Byerly Turk and his owner were seconded into the ranks of the Queen Dowager’s Cuirassiers (later to become the 6th Dragoon Guards) tells us that the Byerly stallion was no fine-boned specimen but, rather, a big-bodied type, possibly standing as tall as 16h. We can make this assumption with some confidence, since the horses inducted into this regiment had to be either black or bay, and of “substantial” size and substance.

For those interested in reading more about THE BYERLY TURK, I recommend this book by Jeremy James. Although controversial because of competing theories about THE BYERLY TURK, it is beautifully written and what is imagined is firmly based in a credible historical context. (The only other book on the stallion, titled “The Byerly Turk” by K.M. Haralambos is very good, but very dry, and concentrates on tracing the stallion’s descendants/sire line.)

When he was retired to stud, The Byerly Turk stood at the Byerly estates in County Durham and then in Yorkshire. He reportedly covered very few “well-bred” mares for reasons that remain unclear, making his influence on the development of the thoroughbred somewhat remarkable. His best sons were Basto and Jigg. A descendant of Jiggs, Highflyer (1774), exercised as important an influence as Eclipse (1764) on the evolution of the thoroughbred.

HIGHFLYER (Herod X Rachel by Blank by the Godolphin Arabian). Owned by Richard Tattersall of Tattersall’s fame, as a stallion HIGHFLYER earned more than Tattersall made selling bloodstock. In 1790, the stallion had 109 winners and his stud fee peaked to 50 gns., a handsome sum in the day.

Initially, the influence of The Byerly Turk sire line flourished, but by 2020 it seems inevitable that it is on the verge of extinction: today, over 90% of thoroughbred stallions worldwide descend from the Darley Arabian sire line.

THE AGNES FAMILY: BEGINNINGS

The “Agnes family,” dating back to the birth of matriarch Agnes in 1844, were shining examples of the influence of The Byerly Turk sire line in earlier days.

The celebrated JOHN OSBORNE JR., a famous English jockey of the 1800s.

There appear to be no portraits of Agnes, which is a shame, but she does have a colourful story all her own.

In 1844, one John Howe Osborne, the father of a popular jockey of the day, “Honest John” Osborne Jr. (whose riding career lasted some 46 years and who then went on to become a trainer of repute) attended the races at Shrewsbury, where he purchased a mare with a filly foal at her side for 14 sovereigns. The mare was named Annette, and her filly foal was Agnes. As the founder of the Agnes family, Agnes is considered to be the matriarch of the most important family in ther British Stud book, according to E.M. Humphnis in her biography, The Life of Fred Archer.

The mighty BIRDCATCHER.

Agnes’ second foal was a filly, Miss Agnes (1850), by the famous British sire Birdcatcher (1833), also known as Irish Birdcatcher for his routing of others at The Curragh during his years on the turf. Through his son, The Baron, Birdcatcher was the grandsire to the great stallion, Stockwell, and his brother, Rataplan.

“…Several of Birdcatcher’s sons proved effective stallions. First and foremost was The Baron, who sired the brothers Stockwell and Rataplan out of the great mare Pocahontos, and who became a classic sire in France as well. It’s through Stockwell that Birdcatcher’s sireline comes to the forefront in the breed today through Doncaster, Phalaris, Teddy, Native Dancer, and Nearco. The grey-coated Chanticleer sired St. Leger winner Sunbeam … [another son] Oxford sired Sterling and Nuneham. Both Mickey Free and Knight of St. George were sent to America and met with some success there.”  (Thoroughbred Heritage Portraits)

THE BARON (1842), sire of STOCKWELL, an important sire.

 

POCAHONTOS (1837) pictured with her bay colt, STOCKWELL (1849). The mare is considered one of the most important foundation mares in the UK. (NOTE: Not to be confused with the American mare of the same name.)

 

One of the most important thoroughbred sires ever, the handsome STOCKWELL.

Miss Agnes began a dynasty all her own.

Through her daughter, Frivolity (b.1867/Macaroni X Miss Agnes), Miss Agnes became the great grandam of one of the top broodmares of the last century, Plucky Liege (1912/Spearmint X Concertina).

PLUCKY LIEGE, a daughter of SPEARMINT X CONCERTINA, the great grandaughter of MISS AGNES.

Plucky Liege produced eleven champions, including a winner of the Epsom Derby, Bois Roussel (1935) when she was twenty-three years old. She was also the dam of Admiral Drake, Bull Dog and Sir Gallahad III. So important was Plucky Liege, largely through a daughter, Marguerite de Valois and sons Bull Dog and Sir Gallahad III, that it is difficult to find a major runner today who doesn’t carry a strain of Plucky Liege in its pedigree.

Bois Roussel: The 1938 Epsom Derby:

 

In 1863, Osborne sold Miss Agnes, together with her filly foal by The Cure, Little Agnes (b. 1856), to Sir Tatton Sykes, who was in the process of building his legendary stud at Sledgmere.

Like her dam, Little Agnes was to have a long reach established principally through twop daughters.

WILD DAYRELL (1852) and the Earl of Craven. He won the Derby in 1855. WILD DAYRELL was the sire of WILD AGNES. Interestingly,this is one of the earliest photographs of a thoroughbred ever taken.

 

Here’s how Little Agnes’ influence played out in simplified form:

Daughters of Little Agnes and their get:

1) Wild Agnes (b. 1852/Wild Dayrell X Little Agnes)

A) her daughter, Fair Agnes (b.1853/Voltigeur X Wild Agnes): Ancestress of the important sire Desmond (1896), a son of St. Simon. Desmond’s daughter, Molly Desmond, out of champion Pretty Polly, appears in the 5th generation of Northern Dancer’s pedigree. It is through Molly Desmond that we come to Lady Angela, the dam of Nearctic, sire of Northern Dancer. 

The handsome DESMOND (1896), a son of St. Simon.

Champion of the turf and British heroine, PRETTY POLLY by Alfred Charles Havell.

MOLLY DESMOND (1914/ Desmond X Pretty Polly), great grandam of LADY ANGELA, who was the dam of NEARCTIC, the sire of NORTHERN DANCER. Photo courtesy of Thoroughbred Heritage online.

 

The young LADY ANGELA (1944). The daughter of HYPERION was imported to Canada by E.P. Taylor. And the rest, as they say, is history.

NORTHERN DANCER: In the beginning…

 

A-i) Wild Aggie(b. 1870/ Wild Dayrell X Fair Agnes) produced Dolly Agnes (1883), ancestress of: Sulamani; the important sire Green Dancer; Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Solemia; Authorized, Derby champion and sire of 2-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll; champion 2,000 Guineas winner, Makfi; champion filly November Snow and Kentucky Derby winner, Strike The Gold.

The handsome GREEN DANCER (1972) was one of NIJINSKY’S many successful sons at stud.

TIGER ROLL: His second Aintree Grand National win

 

A-i/1) Frivolous (b. 1875/ Friponnier X Wild Aggie): ancestress of champions including Epsom Derby winner Slip Anchor (1982); the Wildenstein’s Star Lift (1984); Stacelita (2006); Salomia (2009); Buena Vista (2006); and Manhattan Cafe (1998).

SLIP ANCHOR & Steve Cauthen: The 1985 Epsom Derby:

The superb STACELITA now makes her home in Japan, where she has already produced the champion SOUL STIRRING, a daughter of FRANKELfor owner Teruya Yoshida.

 

2) Another daughter of Little Agnes, Bonnie Agnes (b. 1875/ Blair Athol X Little Agnes) is the ancestress of Zabeel, Detroit, Carnegie and Herbager.

DETROIT’S 1980 Arc win:

Again put to The Cure, Miss Agnes produced another filly and a full sister to Little Agnes, Polly Agnes, in 1865. The filly was small and delicate, and owner Sir Tatton Sykes, it is variously reported, took an extreme dislike to her. Sykes accordingly offerred Polly Agnes to his stud groom, John Snarry. Snarry held a far more positive view of the filly, took her and sent her on to his son at The Newstead Stud, in Malton, North Yorkshire. Clearly, Snarry Sr. was a fine judge of bloodstock, because Polly Agnes was to become the most famous of all of the Agnes family descendants. Snarry’s Newstead Stud may have been modest, but it was about to become one of the most prestigious breeding establishments in Great Britain through Polly Agnes.

Snarry determined not to race his little filly but to breed her instead. Polly Agnes’ first foal, by Cathedral (b. 1861), a son of the excellent Newminster (b. 1848), was a colt who was named Rural Dean (b. 1869) and he did nothing much. Snarry decided to send Polly Agnes to the important British sire, Macaroni (b. 1860), winner of the Derby Stakes, the Two Thousand Guineas Stakes and the Doncaster Cup. The result was a filly he named Lily Agnes (b. 1861).

The stallion MACARONI (b.1860) during his racing days. Painted by Harry Hall in 1863.

 

LILY AGNES by MACARONI X POLLY AGNES during her racing career.

 

LILY AGNES

From extant paintings, it appears that Lily Agnes held some resemblance to her sire. She may not have been a beauty, but she was the first of three fillies from Macaroni – Polly Agnes matings that would, according to noted sports writer, William Scarth Dixon ( in “In the North Countree — Annals and Anecdotes of Horses, Hound and Herd”)  result in “…some of the finest horses the world has ever seen.”

It seemed that the filly also carried some physical resemblance to her female family. Lily Agnes was described by Scarth Dixon as “…a game looking mare, light of flesh like her grandam but with immense propelling power and famous limbs. She also had the lop ears that are a peculiarity of the family.” Once in training. Lily Agnes’ true measure began to surface. She won all 4 of her starts at 2 with comparative ease; in 1874 she won 7 of 10 starts, winning the Northumberland and Doncaster cups against the colts. But her greatest performance (William Scarth Dixon) came in 1875, when she won the Great Ebor Handicap against some very good colts carrying an impost of some 8lbs.

Once retired, John Snarry sold Lily Agnes to the Duke of Westminster in 1880; she was in foal to Doncaster at the time. Of course, there were great expectations for Lily Agnes as she was, at the time, one of the few great race mares of her age. The Doncaster colt foal was named Rossington (b. 1881) and had moderate success. A full sister, Farewell (b. 1882), won the One Thousand Guineas for the Duke.

LILY AGNES pictured here with ORELIO (b.1894) by Bend d’Or.

But the Duke was not convinced that Doncaster was the right sire for Lily Agnes, selecting instead Bend Or. And from this mating came an individual who is the most important sire of the 19th century — and who was, as well, a brilliant race horse: Ormonde.

ORMONDE

There are countless stories of champions who were underrated or even openly disliked by their owners when they were youngsters, and such is the case with Ormonde. The Duke wasn’t overly impressed with him, but kept him and sent him off to trainer John Porter at Kingsclere Stables.

John Porter was an ambitious man with enough foresight to buy Highclere from his mentor’s, Sir Joseph Hawley, estate. He re-designed Highclere and laid down the Watership Down gallops that are still in use today. Porter also founded Newbury racecourse. (The stable passed to trainer Ian Balding in the second half of the 20th century and is now run by his son, Andrew Balding. Ian trained the fabulous Mill Reef at Kingsclere, as well as Mrs. Penny, the beloved Lochsong, Tagula, and, in total, 2,000 Kingsclere winners before his retirement.)

JOHN PORTER’S Highclere Stables and his residence, Park House. The first photo shows JOHN PORTER. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, January 7, 1899.

John Porter became one of England’s most prestigious trainers. Among his charges were three Triple Crown winners in Ormonde, Common and Flying Fox; Ormonde’s good son, Orme; Oaks winner Geheimness; and that same year, another Derby winner in the filly Shotover, as well as (British) Filly Triple Crown winner, La Fleche. Porter was clearly a terrific trainer, but he also possessed another valuable character trait that more often than not pays off: patience. Such was the case with Ormonde; when the colt arrived at Kingsclere he was a less-than-impressive physical specimen, but under Porter’s care and patience, he not only won the British Triple Crown but retired undefeated.

As a sire, Ormonde had a storied life, travelling from England to Argentina to California then back to England and finally, back to California again. His sire record isn’t great, with few sons and daughters in general, and this was because Ormonde was not a healthy horse. He was a roarer and always had breathing issues, a problem attributed to his dam and the Agnes family. Illness affected him, making him subfertile as well. Given this, his stallion travels in the late 19th/early 20th century seem ill-advised, if remarkable.

However, Ormonde is the great great grandsire of Teddy, through Ajax by Triple Crown champion Flying Fox. French-bred Teddy sired Sir Gallahad III (out of Plucky Liege), La Troienne and Bull Dog (also out of Plucky Liege), changing the face of American breeding forever.

Sir Gallahad III sired the Triple Crown winner, Gallant Fox, Kentucky Derby winners Gallahadion and Hoop Jr., and Preakness winner High Quest. He also sired Roman (sire of champions Hasty Road, Romanita and Broodmare of the Year {American} Pocahontas); Fighting Fox (a full-brother to Gallant Fox, who sired the champions Fighting Step and Crafty Admiral); Insco (sire of champions Unerring and Inscoelda), Hadagal, Black Devil (winner of the Doncaster Cup in the UK), Count Gallahad, Sir Damion, Sir Andrew, Bold Irishman, and Amphitheatre.

GALLANT FOX’S (American) Triple Crown:

Teddy was also a notable BM sire. The best of his daughters was La Troienne, the dam of Bimelech and Black Helen, who is also the grandam of Busher, great grandam of Buckpasser and the ancestress of Numbered Account, Easy Goer and Smarty Jones, among others.

Bull Dog, a full brother to Sir Gallahad III, was the Leading sire in 1943. As a BM sire, he was very effective and was Leading BM sire in 1953, 1954 & 1956. His most influential son was Bull Lea, the sire of Triple Crown winner, Citation.

All this having been said, we still aren’t “done” with Lily Agnes. The mare had five other matings with Bend Or, one of which produced the filly Ornament (1887). Ornament wasn’t much on the turf, but as a broodmare, she gave the world a jewel in Sceptre (1899), by Persimmon.

Sceptre raced during the same time as champion Pretty Polly, but the two never met on the turf even though they were often compared in the tabloids, in what was a mock rivalry. Sceptre was a champion of great depth and accomplishment, so much so that she deserves her own place on The Vault — and she’ll have that before the year is out. So we won’t detail her astounding turf career here. But whereas her so-called rival, Pretty Polly, led a life of luxury, Sceptre was not so lucky; in addition, she was underrated as a broodmare, failing to produce anything regarded as “important.”

However, as often happens, it can take more than a generation for the blood of a superstar like Sceptre to show itself. And it was her daughter, Maid of the Mist (1906) by Cyllene (1895) who would carry Sceptre into the future through a son, Craig An Eran (b. 1918/Sunstar by Sundridge X Maid of the Mist by Sceptre).

CRAIG EN ARAN as depicted by A.W. Stirling-Brown.

One of the best in England in 1921 at 3, Craig En Aran won the 2000 Guineas, St. James Palace Stakes, the Eclipse Stakes and finished 2nd in the Epsom Derby and 4th in the St. Leger.

At stud he proved successful, if not brilliant. His best son was Admiral Drake (b. 1931/Craig En Aran X Plucky Liege) — and note that “the Admiral” carries two strains of the Agnes family through both his sire and his dam. Admiral Drake sired the Epsom Derby winner, Phil Drake (b.1952/Admiral Drake X Philippa, from the Teddy sire line) but Admiral Drake and his sire, Craig En Aran, are arguably more of interest here because they appear in the 4th and 5th generations, respectively, of Halo ( b. 1969/Hail To Reason X Cosmah), as does Sir Gallahad III (through Plucky Liege).

HALO’S sire, HAIL TO REASON, winning as a 2 year-old at Monmouth Park:

Halo, a great and memorable sire, despite his vicious temperament.

And Halo is, of course, the sire of Sunday Silence (b. 1986/Halo X Wishing Well by Understanding) among other excellent progeny.

And Sunday Silence completely changed the face of Japanese breeding through his daughters and sons, the most prepotent of which was arguably the late Deep Impact (b.2002/ Sunday Silence X Wind In Her Hair by Alzao, Northern Dancer sire line).

1989: Two descendants of the Agnes family, SUNDAY SILENCE and his foe, the mighty EASY GOER, meet again in the Breeders Cup Classic:

The Great One: DEEP IMPACT

 

 

IN CONCLUSION

Believe it or not, this isn’t even a complete record of how “those Agnes girls” shaped the breed worldwide. Truthfully, why this female family hasn’t had its very own book published is surprising. Of course, we can’t say that the strains of this family directly influenced important individuals like Halo or Sunday Silence or Northern Dancer, but we can hold that without the Agnes family these individuals could never have been.

To say that the lop-eared Agnes and her progeny were remarkable is an understatement. Their story stands as one of the most remarkable in thoroughbred history.

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dixon, Scarth William. In The North Countree: Annals And Anecdotes of Horses, Hounds and Herds. Read Books, 2013. Online reference.

Gillies, Scot. Rare Thoroughbred Sire Lines — Ormonde and Teddy and Damascus. Blood-Horse online, December 19, 2018.

Humphris, Edith Mary. The Life of Fred Archer. London: Hutchison, 1923.

Hunter, Avalyn. American Classic Pedigrees. Lanham MD: Blood-Horse Publications, 2003.

James, Jeremy. The Byerly Turk. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2005.

Kingsclere History. Online at Kingsclere website: https://www.kingsclere.com/kingsclere-history/

Thoroughbred Bloodlines. Online site.

Thoroughbred Heritage. Online site.

McGrath, Chris. Byerly Turk Reaching The End Of The Line. In TDN Europe, June 10, 2018.

 

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

So it is with Enable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With John Gosden in 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Thus far, the year has been emotionally-charged.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

BONUS FEATURES

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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