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Posts Tagged ‘Pretty Polly’

 

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) 2019 Coral-Eclipse: the first start of Enable’s 5 year-old campaign

 

 

 

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

 

 

4) 2019 Yorkshire Oaks highlights: Some great footage of Enable and Frankie before and after the race

 

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