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Posts Tagged ‘thoroughbred champions’

In the annals of history, who or what gets either remembered or forgotten is always a messy business. And thoroughbred horse racing is no different.

 

The image that starts it all: RUNSTAR, in 1924, after a win on an unidentified track. Photo N.E.A.

 

Photo back.

There’s nothing sweeter than a mystery and it was the depiction in this photo that grabbed our attention. The delighted crowd around the winner, who dips his handsome head as if in response to the warm smile and the touch of the woman just approaching him, caught on film somewhere in North America in March or April of 1924. The crowd surrounding jockey and horse suggests that one of them, or both, were well-known to the racing public of the day, or else that the win was in a significant race, whether at the local or national level. Another photographic detail that struck us immediately was the resemblance of this colt/filly to a nineteenth century legend: Salvator (b. 1886, by Prince Charlie o/f Salina by Lexington) who raced in the USA at the end of the nineteenth century for James Ben Ali Haggin.

Haggin was a lawyer and mining magnate from Kentucky who struck it rich in California and built the world’s largest thoroughbred stable and breeding farm there in the 1880’s on well over a million acres. In 1898, he purchased the historic Elmendorf thoroughbred farm and eventually relocated his thoroughbred operation to Kentucky where he was referred to as the “Laird of Elmendorf.” Salvator and the filly Firenze/Firenzi (Glenelg X Florida by Virgil) were Haggin’s most famous thoroughbreds, although he did win the Kentucky Derby in 1886 with a colt named Ben Ali (Virgil by Ulrica by Lexington).

A photograph of the incomparable SALVATOR, who bears a distinct resemblance to RUNSTAR.

 

The Match Race between SALVATOR (outside) and TENNY was one of epic proportions, prompting this famous Currier & Ives print.

 

BEN ALI, Haggins 1886 Kentucky Derby winner.

The information on the back of the “mystery” photo said little, except for what appeared to be a scrawled name. Having had a good deal of experience unlocking the (English) words in old manuscripts, this one was no challenge: RUNSTER or RUNSTAR.

As it turns out, the resemblance to Salvator that we had noted was no coincidence. The horse pictured was Runstar and he was born in 1919, a son of Runnymede (1908) o/f Salvatrix (1902), a granddaughter of Salvator through a son, Salvation (1892). Given his superhero status on the track, Salvator proved a great disappointment at stud, producing little of merit. But Salvation was one of his better progeny, winning the Champagne and Matron at two and the Ingleside in San Francisco at five, with a number of second- and third-place finishes in the intervening years.

Born in 1884, little FIRENZE (FIRENZI) earned $100,000 for James B.A. Haggin before her retirement. FIRENZE was without question one of the greatest fillies of the nineteenth century in America.

Runstar’s sire, Runnymede was most famously the sire of Morvich, the first California-bred colt to win the Kentucky Derby, which he did in 1922. Runnymede was bred by James R. Keene, one of the great American racing breeders and owners. Runnymede, who had earned the reputation of a first class sprinter in England, was shipped back to America by one Emil Herz, who had purchased him in England at the dispersal of Keene’s bloodstock circa 1914/1915; once here, Runnymede was sold first to Barney Schreiber, who in turn sold him on to Adoplh B. Spreckels, an enormously wealthy Californian and owner of the Napa Stock Farm.

Runstar and Morvich were born in the same year, 1919, and despite the latter’s rise to Derby glory, it was Runstar who the Spreckels’ stable held in the highest esteem until the day he retired. Compared to the handsome Runstar, Morvich was described as a “plain, ungainly colt” with an awkward gait, the result of defective knees. Even though the striking chestnut and chrome Runstar won his maiden at Empire City over 5f and a purse of $1131, he would never find his way into the public’s imagination as Morvich did.

As a two year-old, Morvich was never defeated; as he readied for his three year-old campaign, at least one sports writer claimed that the son of Runnymede would prove as great as Samuel Riddle’s Man O’ War.

MORVICH. Source and photographer unknown.

Unlikely as it seems to us today that any thoroughbred would be hailed as comparable to Man O’ War, the enthusiasm seemed justified when Morvich took the 1922 Kentucky Derby, his first start of 1922, in fine fashion:

But the Derby would be the last race Morvich ever won. Retired to stand in Kentucky, under the care of Elizabeth Dangerfield, who had also taken care of Man O’ War when he first retired, Morvich eventually made his way back to California where he died at 27 years of age. There, Arthur Mosse took care of him, describing the old stallion as one of the kindest, sweetest studs he had ever known. Morvich produced little of any note during his time in the breeding shed.

1922: WHISKAWAY beats MORVICH in the Kentucky Special. Press photo. Source: Pinterest

But back in 1921, when Morvich and Runstar first arrived on the East coast from the Spreckels’ California stable, it was Runstar not Morvich who toook pride of place and was housed in the number one stall. Morvich was up for sale and despite a daylight win in his first start, was duly sold through the aegis of trainer Max Hirsch, who kept 10% of the colt’s winnings throughout Morvich’s career. Prior to making their first starts, the colts worked together even though Morvich proved a sluggish workmate. The DRF noted, under the heading, “The Colt Runstar Is Much Admired” : “In the opinion of such a good judge of horseflesh as James McLaughlin, paddock and patrol judge at Jamaica, C.W. Carroll {Spreckels’ trainer at the time} …has the best-looking 2 year-old that has made its appearance in the East this year. ..” (DRF Archives, 1921-05-28)

The two year-old Runstar may have been a knockout to look at, but his performance paled in comparision to Morvich’s freaky rise to fame in 1921. However, Runstar can hardly be viewed as an “also ran” that year. He raced 9 times over American and Canadian tracks, and won or placed in 5. The colt was DQ’d from a win in one race at Empire, when his jockey Metcalf reached over and slashed Earl Sande as they neared the finish. The DRF reported , of his win in the Wakefield Handicap, that he was “troublous” but had behaved that day, so he may also have been a high-spirited two year-old. But Runstar was also described in the DRF as “…Never really fit as a two year-old and troubled by a sore mouth in all of his races.” (excerpt from DRF Archives, 1922-04-23)

The Daily Racing Form summed up Runstar’s juvenile season as follows:

“Runstar was one of the hard- luck two year-old colts of last year. He came from California with Morvich…and was the highest tried of the {Spreckels} stable, far better than the two year-old champion {Morvich} — which was sold for that reason. He was a big colt, growing and soft, and never had the proper chance. In races he was fast, but seemed to be without the vitality to finish. Runstar won three races, two at Empire, one the Wakefield Handicap, and another the Autumn Handicap: the Hochelaga, at Montreal. But his prizes were not great or worthy of his reputation, speed or looks. The colt will be in the 1922 Derby and is in Roy Walden’s {Waldron} skilled hands among the Simms-Xalapa farm string at Havre de Grace. The colt has grown in size, health and spirit, and it would not surprise many to see him a vastly improved race horse in the Simms canary and purple colours when he comes out again.” (in DFR Archives, 1922-03-06)

“RUNSTAR An Unlucky Colt” in the DRF, 1922, as excerpted in the quote above.

It seems likely that the Spreckels family shared the sentiment expressed in the DRF, moving their prized colt from trainer Carroll to Roy Waldron, who was the trainer for businessman’s Edward F. Simms’ Xalapa Farm and stable. Simms had agreed to stable and race the Spreckels colt, who now ran in the former’s colours, although still owned by the latter.

The man who took over the training of the Spreckles’ blaze-faced Runstar had begun his career as a jockey. Interrupted by World War One, Waldron served with the U.S. Army’s Fifth Division, the 157 Depot Brigade, before taking out his training licence upon his return to civilian life.

Initially, Waldron’s chief client were Simms and Henry W. Oliver, who were racing partners. As time went on, Waldron would become best known as the trainer of Ethel Mars’ 1940 Derby winner, Gallahadion, who defeated the overwhelming favourite that year, Bimelech.

Ethel Mars’ GALLAHADION in the Winners Circle of Churchill Downs with trainer ROY WALDRON. Source: The New York Times.

Unless we are talking about Man O’ War, or Ruffian, the verdict on any individual’s racing proficiency is as affected by the context in which s/he runs as it is by his/her performance. And Runstar’s world was filled with several notable besides Morvich. Exterminator, Black Gold, Grey Lag, Mad Hatter and John P. Grier were the most renowned of those travelling the racing circuit in the early years of the 1920s, but there were several others, beginning with Kai Sang/Kai-Sang, who were champions in their time and whom our collective memory has failed.

Rare footage of Exterminator’s Kentucky Derby. (Please note that there’s no sound.)

It was Rancocas Stables’ Kai Sang/Kai-Sang who first brought attention to the The Finn, who would sire HOF Zev a year later. In 1921 the Sam Hildreth-trained Kai Sang ranked second-best after Morvich. (In the 1921 Eastview Stakes, it was Runstar’s jockey who slashed Earl Sande, handing Sande and Kai Sang the win.) In his three year-old campaign, Kai Sang/Kai-Sang was arguably the best of his generation, winning the Jerome Handicap, as well as the Lawrence Realization.  As a sire, Kai Sang had a respectable career: out of 137 foals, he had 9 stakes winners, of which the filly Khara was the most impressive.

Rancocas Stables’ champion, KAI-SANG/KAI SANG, pictured here in Thoroughbred Types 1900-1925, by Vosburgh, Lanier, Cooley and Bryan. Photograph by Haas.

However, as a broodmare Khara was outstanding. She produced the full siblings Aethelwold, Savage Beauty and Little Sphinx by Challenger II and each one would leave it mark on future generations. Aethelwold and Savage Beauty were stakes winners. Savage Beauty went on to produce Little Hut, dam of stakes winners and important sires (and broodmare sires) Habitat and Northfields. Little Sphinx produced three stakes winners, Equichall, Captor, and Glad, and several of her daughters were important producers. Noors Image, a daughter of Little Sphinx by champion Noor, produced Dancer’s Image, winner of the Wood Memorial, and first in the Kentucky Derby although his win was set down when drugs were found in his system post-race. 

Harry Payne Whitney’s BUNTING was another very good colt born the same year as RUNSTAR who won 8 stakes races at 2 and 3. His female family includes Jabot and Jay Trump. Photography by Rouch in the book, Thoroughbred Types 1900-1925, by Vosburgh, Lanier, Cooley and Bryan.

At three, Runstar appeared to be finding his best form, following his return from Spreckels’ stable in Napa Valley CA where he had wintered. It seems clear that racing gurus were expecting more from the colt in 1922, given the press he got and the regard in which he was held, including W. S. Vosburgh, the NY state handicapper and eminent thoroughbred expert. Vosburgh noted that Runstar had “…grown into a great smashing colt much like Salvator, to which he traces through his dam. Speed was Runstar’s forte at two, but he looks like a long distance horse and may surprise the critics by going on.” (excerpt from DRF, 1922-04-23. DRF Archives)

Runstar’s race record until 1924 is sketchy at best. At three, the colt was one of the featured names in the running of the rich Paumonok Handicap at Jamaica carrying a purse of $5,000 USD. Either he ran but failed to finish in the top three or he didn’t start at all; too, Runstar was assigned weight for several graded stakes, including The Excelsior, the Stuyvescant Handicap and the Yonkers Handicaps, as well as the Suburban, but there is no other data on him in these runnings. It is likely that Runstar shipped to Saratoga with the Waldron string in 1922, but more precise information about Runstar’s performance there is nonexistant.

RUNSTAR seemed to get excellent press at the start of his 3 year-old season, as is the case here. Source: DRF Archives, 1922-04-17.

And so it remains until 1924, the year in which Runstar stakes his claim to fame.

Below: In 1932, Phar Lap won the Agua Caliente handicap, initially known as the Coffroth Handicap.

 

Thanks largely to the DRF Archives, the context of the Runstar photo that started it all became clear: this is the winner’s circle at Tijuana race track on March 30, 1924 and Runstar had just won the Coffroth Handicap, later to become known as the Agua Caliente Handicap, most famously won by thoroughbred legends Phar Lap (1932), Seabiscuit (1938) and Round Table (1958), the last winner before the race disappeared altogether. The Spreckels’ colt had actually been retired to his owner’s Napa Valley farm in 1923/-24 when the idea of racing him at Tijuana became attractive.

RUNSTAR is shown here when his entry into the 1924 Coffroth Handicap in Tijuana was announced. Source: Oakland Tribune.

The Coffroth Handicap was first run in 1917 and was, in 1924, offerring a handsome purse of $43,650 USD to the winner. The Tijuana track was a popular venue at this time for wealthy and influential horsemen like Spreckels who was, in his day, a California “high roller.”  Still convinced that greatness lay within reach for his homebred, the decision to run Runstar in the Coffroth was almost certainly made in the fervent hope that the chrome and chestnut son of Runnymede would finally get the recognition he deserved. So it was that the five year-old suddenly found himself back on the work tab under the guidance of a familiar face, trainer Charles W. Carroll. But the time he got to get himself back into the groove was short: a mere two weeks.

Postcard with photo taken on the day of the 1924 Coffroth Handicap. Source: Pinterest.

The Coffroth was run on March 30, a mere three months before the death of Runstar’s owner, Adolph Spreckels. If Runstar hadn’t had much time to get into race-fit condition, it sure didn’t show on race day. Under jockey Edgar Barnes, Runstar led all the way, “…carefully nursed along in front by jockey Barnes, who used rare judgment and showed an uncanny skill in rating his mount along…” and won from fast-closing Osprey and Cherry Tree by a head. Other than a testimonial to Runstar’s courage and heart, as noteworthy was who came in fourth: none other than Exterminator, who, as an ageing champion, was described as “…beaten, though not disgraced.”  The finish of the 1924 Coffroth was determined to be the “…most sensational seen in the West.” (excerpts from DRF Archives, 1924-03-31)

Close-up: RUNSTAR with jockey Edgar Barnes and an unidentified woman who may, in fact, be Alma de Brettville Spreckels, wife of Adolph Spreckles. This same lady appears in both photos of RUNSTAR featured here. Photo: NEA.

Carrying his owner’s huge hopes, Runstar had finally proved himself worthy, and Adolph Spreckels must have been delighted.

BLACK GOLD, the 1924 winner of the Kentucky Derby. Source: The Vault library. Photo otherwise unidentified.

Runstar’s Coffroth win did not go unnoticed by either the horse racing industry or the public, indicating the status the handicap and/or its winner enjoyed in 1924. Shortly after Black Gold won the 1924 Kentucky and Louisianna derbies, Ak-Sar-Ben Exposition Company of Omaha, Nebraska approached his owner, Rosa M. Hoots, and Adolph Spreckels to set up a Match Race between Runstar and Black Gold. Initially, it looked as though both owners were interested, but the offer subsequently fell through. Spreckels died in June of 1924 and this almost certainly changed things as far as his breeding operation and stable of runners were concerned.

In October 1924 it was announced that Spreckels’ son-in-law, Walter de Brettville, had engaged trainer Lonny Tryon to train the horses being sent to the Tijuana track and Runstar was among them. After the Coffroth, Runstar’s only recorded stakes race was the 1926 Tijuana Speed Handicap, in which he finished second to Preston Burch’s Thistlewood.

Like his race record, progeny records for Runstar are woefully incomplete. We know that he stood in California in 1923, when Spreckels first thought to retire him. The last extant records of his progeny are in 1939, when the filly June Ray is born. Runstar appears to have lived out his life at the Spreckels stud in Napa Valley where he was born. The date of his death could not be found.

In 1941, Runstar was listed along with Dr. Leggo, Morvich, Alexander Partages and Ervast as one of the greatest California thoroughbreds of the last forty years and it appears that the Spreckels’ colt was inducted into the California Hall of Fame. Whether or not that was the case, it is clear that Runstar was held in the same or an even higher regard as Morvich by the California racing community.

RUNSTAR was one of California’s “greatest.” (DRF, 06-06-1941)

 

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ahead By Three. Agua Caliente Handicap (Coffroth Handicap): https://aheadbythree.wordpress.com/charts/agua-caliente-handicap-coffroth-handicap/

Breitigam, Gerald. Morvich: an autobiography of a racehorse. 1922: Reprinted by Special Permission of the Author by “Bill” Heisler Publisher

Daily Racing Form Archives

Forney, Mary. The Original Big ‘Cap: South of the Border: http://maryforney.blogspot.com/2009/12/original-big-cap-south-of-border.html

Vosburgh, Lanier, Cooley and Brien. Thoroughbred Types: 1900 -1925. Privately printed.1926

 

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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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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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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Images hold a memory in place and this image, of a champion colt who has been long-forgotten, is about to find its frame.

 

ROMAN SOLDIER pictured in 1935 at Hialeah Park, Florida. An NEA photograph. (Source: EBAY.)

 

Go looking for Roman Soldier and you’ll be greeted by blanks almost everywhere you turn. If you’re lucky, you might find a trace that invites you to find out more.

My first sighting of Roman Soldier was when I saw this beautiful photo listed on Ebay. I’m a sucker for a great photograph –one that fills the eye and stops you dead in your tracks. And this one (above) did just that. Although a solitary figure, Roman Soldier’s stride and arched neck screamed power, courage, confidence.  Something about the composition, perhaps its atmosphere, communicated that this colt was special.

Off I went to search, learning that Roman Soldier retired after making 40 starts, with earnings of in excess of 91k USD — an enormous sum in the 1930s, when he raced.

He was, indeed, special.

 

BLOODLINES

In 1919, the year that the “Great War” (WW1) ended, Roman Soldier’s grandsire, Grand Parade, won the Epsom Derby and St. James Palace Stakes, among other British races. Foaled in Ireland, it was said that his dam, Grand Geraldine, spent her days pulling a cart. The coal-black son of another Derby star, Orby, who was also the first Irish-trained horse to win the Epsom Derby, was purchased by Richard “The Boss” Croker, aka Lord Glanely, as a foal:

“…He was well bought as a foal for 470 guineas and showed himself a good early two-year-old, winning in England and Ireland, but considered some way short of the best of his generation. The colt thrived the following season but because of a trace of lameness holding him up in his work, he took his place in the Derby field very much as the owner’s second string.

Grand Parade came in at 33/1 after prevailing in the final furlong, a brave run by a colt who was having his first start as a three-year-old. After a success at Ascot in a two-horse race, Grand Parade went to Lord Glanely’s Exning Stud (near Newmarket) in 1920. He was not a spectacular sire but his Diophon won the 2000 Guineas in 1924. Most of his stock lacked the stamina he showed himself. ” (Source: The National Horseracing Museum, Newmarket, Suffolk)

The handsome GRAND PARADE (1916) after his Derby win, showing the colours of his owner, the Baron of Glanely (Richard Croker), and a portrait of his jockey, Fred Templeman.

Grand Parade’s owner had also bred and raced Orby, but his “other” story was one of corruption. In an article written by Jay Maeder in the New York Daily News, Croker was profiled under the heading “Richard (The Boss) Croker: How the Tammany Hall Leader Became ‘Master of the City.’ ” Here’s an excerpt:

“… Once upon a time, Tammany Hall had been purely a nest of thieves, for years presided over by the ravenous William Marcy Tweed, a man who plundered the city’s coffers so openly that after a while it just seemed to be the natural order of things. By 1870, indeed, Tweed had engineered a new City Charter that effectively made it legal to steal.

…County Cork-born Croker had come to New York as a child, grown up with the brawling Fourth Ave. Tunnel Gang and then, like so many ambitious Irish lads, sought to improve himself by joining Boss Tweed’s Fire Department. Fast did he find himself useful to a Tammany organization always on the lookout for such a promising young fellow as himself: Croker was very good at voting many times over for a given Tammany candidate, and he was very good at breaking the bones of citizens who seemed to want to cast their votes for anyone else.

…In short order he became an alderman, then coroner, then the personal protege of Honest John, who named him fire commissioner. When Honest John died in 1886, it was Croker who succeeded him, merely by sitting down in his chair and asking what anyone was going to do about it.

They called him The Master of the City, and this he indisputably was. His Tammany Hall was the very model of administrative efficiency: ‘I go down to the City Hall every day and go through the departments and see what is going on,’ Croker explained once, ‘and if I find anyone at fault I take them to task.’ Recalcitrant district leaders were summoned to his office, slammed into the walls for a while and then sent away more agreeable to his wishes.”

A political cartoon depicted Richard Croker, his tentacles deep into one of New York City’s “Ice Trust” office.

 

Richard Croker aka Lord Glanely leads in GRAND PARADE after his 1919 Derby win.

Grand Parade’s Derby win includes a portrait of England just at the end of WW1. (Note that, unfortunately, the footage has no sound.)

How Croker purloined his Irish title is unknown, but he did retire to his native Ireland where his stud at Exning gained a fine reputation, counting six classic winners to its name. It was as though Croker took on a completely new identity in his native land, becoming a portly owner-breeder who was known by his turf friends as “Old Guts And Gaiters.” But his return to the Emerald Isle did not go without comment — and the criticism was harsh and came from established Irish breeders.

As it turned out, Croker also had a stud in America and when he retired to Ireland, he brought some of his American bloodstock with him. At the time (the early 20th century) the Irish — in fact, most of the UK — felt that the American thoroughbred was a “stain” on the legacy of the British thoroughbred. But in a supreme irony, one of Croker’s  “inferior” American horses was to establish a breeding legacy.

Her name was Rhoda B. (1895), a daughter of Hanover (1884) out of the mare, Margerine (1886), a descendant of Australian (1858) and Stockwell (1849). Once arrived, Rhoda B. was bred to the great British sire, Orme (1889), of the Bend Or line, producing Orby (1904) and, bred the following year to St. Frusquin (1893), she produced the champion filly, Rhodora (1905).

RHODA B., dam of ORBY and RHODORA. She is pictured here with an unidentified foal.

 

ORBY (Orme X Rhoda B). Bred by Croker and from the Bend Or sire line, Orby became the first to complete the Epsom-Irish Derby double. Following his exploits on the turf, Croker was offerred 50 thousand guineas for both ORBY and his dam, but refused to sell them. ORBY proved to be a reasonably successful sire. Among his best were the Classic winners GRAND PARADE and DIADEM (1000 Guineas). He also sired the winners of about 30,000 (BPS). His reputation was sterling enough that the prominent Irish firm, Goff’s, named one of their sales events after him.

 

RHODORA (St. Frusquin X Rhoda B.). She was one of the best in 1907, winning the Dewhurst and the 1000 Guineas. As a broodmare, she had a hard time and none of her foals survived. Owned by Donald Fraser, Rhodora was slaughtered and fed to his hunting dogs when she failed to give him a live foal.

 

Cohort (1925), the sire of Roman Soldier, was a Croker homebred. The son of Grand Parade was imported to the USA from Ireland at the age of 4, where he proved a very useful stallion. Roman Soldier’s dam, Miamba (1921), was a daughter of Lord Derby’s Light Brigade (1910), also of the Bend Or sire line. Light Brigade arrived in the United States in 1916, where he stood at Hartland stud in Versailles, KY until 1931. Top American winners sired by Light Brigade include Rose of Sharron (1926) and Dr. Freeland (1926), although he is arguably best known today as the BM sire of champion, Discovery (1931).

A winner of the Scarborough and Easter Plates in the UK, Cohort’s best progeny, other than Roman Soldier, and winners of 50k USD or more were the colts  Bobanet (1942) and Brownie (1939), and the filly Ciencia (1939), who won the Santa Anita Derby and was trained by HOF William James “Buddy” Hirsch for King Ranch. The ride that jockey Carroll Bierman gave Ciencia in the Santa Anita Derby is considered one of the finest in all of racing and made the filly the first of her sex to win the classic. Ciencia would go on to become the granddam of champion filly, Miss Cavendish (1961).

Despite Ciencia’s remarkable achievement at Santa Anita, Roman Soldier was easily Cohort’s best progeny based on earnings.

SEABISCUIT, KAYAK II and CIENCIA (left with white nose) going down to the start of the Santa Anita Derby.

Cohort’s dam was Tetrabazzia (1918), a daughter of the incomparable The Tetrarch, out of the mare, Abazzia, a daughter of the champion Isinglass (1890). As we have often asserted here on The Vault, whenever The Tetrarch appears in the first 5 generations of a pedigree, even in the form of a lesser-known daughter like Tetrabbazia, it is always worth noting. Although his brilliance on the turf in the UK was short, The Terarch’s influence on generations of champions right up to the present day is extraordinary.

Tetrabazzia’s best progeny was not Cohort, but the colt Singapore (GB b. 1927). The latter was sired by Gainsborough (GB b.1915) and rated co-champion 3 year-old after his wins in the St. Leger and the Doncaster.

 

The Tetrarch winning the Woodcote Stakes, Steve Donoghue u

 

ROMAN SOLDIER’S RACING CAREER

His name a nod to his sire, Roman Soldier (1932) was purchased for $1,000 USD as a yearling by HOF Max Hirsch at a fall sale in Lexington KY and at 2 was introduced to the track. As proof that Hirsch didn’t think much of him, the colt ran strictly for purse money, capping his juvenile season with 12-5-4-0 and earnings of $4,690, paying back his purchase price in style. The little black colt moved with the Hirsch stable to Florida for the winter and was sold, shortly thereafter, to the wealthy Indiana merchant, William Sachsenmaier and trainer, Phil Reuter, for $7500 and 25% of his earnings, if he won the Florida Derby. However, Roman Soldier would also race under the ownership of Phil Reuter and Elwood Sachsenmaier, the son of William, as the latter died shortly after the colt’s 3 year-old campaign. Phil Reuter trained him throughout a career that may well have put paid to Max Hirsch’s initial impressions about the Cohort colt’s ability.

Trainer Phil Reuter visiting a few of his horses. Date unknown.

Among Roman Soldier’s 3 year-old peers were the likes of Triple Crown winner, Omaha, and the splendid filly, Black Helen. But even such stiff competition did not dim his reputation for the esteemed thoroughbred sports writer, John Hervey, aka “Salvator,” who devoted no less than a fulsome four pages to him in “American Race Horses, 1936” when the “Black Soldier” (Hervey’s moniker for Roman Soldier) campaigned as a 4 year-old. And it was to this source that I turned to find out more about Roman Soldier’s racing career. In fact, without Hervey’s copious research, this article would have been very thin indeed, despite numerous headlines about the colt that appear with regularity in local and national newspapers during his career.

The legendary John Hervey, aka “Salvator,” a consummate racing historian.

 

ROMAN SOLDIER (top corner) as he appeared in American Race Horses 1936, where he was featured in the chapter “Handicap Stars.”

 

There is no question that Roman Soldier was one of the stars of the 1935 -1936 racing seasons, a reputation he earned based on heart, courage and determination. In 1935, between January 17 until July 20, the colt started 12 times, finishing up with a record of 6-2-1 and earnings of $45,100 USD, making Roman Soldier the third highest-earning 3 year-old that year, after Colonel Bradley’s Black Helen and Triple Crown winner, Omaha. After his score in the Detroit Derby, which came in June of that year, his owners were offerred $60,000 USD for him. The offer was refused.

BLACK HELEN and jockey Don Meade after the filly’s win in the 1935 American Derby. She was the undisputed best of her sex that year, also winning the Florida Derby, CC Oaks and Maryland Handicap.

Although the small black colt won impressively in Detroit, Texas and Florida that year, putting up figures like 1:53 over 9f, Roman Soldier is arguably best known for chasing home Omaha in the May 4, 1935 Kentucky Derby.

1935 Kentucky Derby program.

The colt went into the Derby as second favourite; in the post parade John Hervey observed that he looked “…small and frail beside the first choice, the towering Omaha.” But none of that kind of talk bothered Roman Soldier. He did himself proud on the day.

(Note: This video has no sound. However, it stands as a record of May 4, 1935, giving the viewr a sense of the day. Of interest, too, are the shots of police battling gate crashers: apparently gate-crashing was a common affair on Derby day in the 1930’s. As the field turns for home on that wet, rainy day, it becomes a two-horse race. Roman Soldier can be seen clearly at the finish, closing on Omaha.)

A courageous and gritty performance by ROMAN SOLDIER demonstrated that, however “frail” he might have appeared in the post parade, his heart was as big as the winner’s.

The colt came out of the Derby with a sore and swollen ankle on a foreleg, but once mended, he would go on to race in at least three other highly-rated contests. In the Illinois Derby (May 24), where he gave away 6-11 lbs to his challengers, Roman Soldier got up for second. The view of racegoers and sportsmen alike was that he deserved to win. His performances following the Illinois were lacklustre and by the end of his 3 year-old campaign, Roman Soldier was worn out.

Sent off to Kentucky to refresh for his 4 year-old season, John Hervey notes his comeback as follows:

“…Our Soldier, unlike many that come home maimed from the field of battle, was right back on it when robins nested again and hostilities resumed in the Atlantic sector, which he had not invaded the previous campaign. With a strange disregard of critical opinion, he declined to be either a withered leaf or a pensioner idling in the sunshine before the temple of Mars…As a patrician of the equestrian order, the fighting urge proved irresistable and on May 6 he came forth in his war gear at Pimlico…the active combatant ready for any kind of scrimmage…”

The comeback was in a Grade A handicap and Roman Soldier, assuming top weight of 126 lbs., won over 6f in 1:12 1/5. He won his second start at Belmont Park with ease before moving on to “the New England entrenchments” (Hervey). Starting at Rockingham Park, the colt romped home and this earned him, in turn, weight of 132 lbs in the Granite State Handicap, also run at Rockingham, where he faced off against Vanderbilt’s son of Man O War, Identify, who carried 116 lbs.

Rockingham Park’s clubhouse in 1933

 

The handsome IDENTIFY (Man O War X Foot Print by Grand Parade) shared some of ROMAN SOLDIER’S bloodlines through his BM sire, Grand Parade. The colt was picked up in a claiming race by Alfred G. Vanderbilt Jr for $3500 USD. He would easily repay Vanderbilt: he retired with earnings of over 36k, having made 51 starts with 12 wins and another 15 place and shows. (Source: American Race Horses 1936; photographer Bert Clark Thayer. Copyright: The Sagamore Press.)

It was a rousing battle in which Roman Soldier and Identify fought tooth-and-nail to the wire, with the former prevailing by a head. The New York Times blared out the headline:

“Roman Soldier Beats Identify By Head at Rockingham Park; Heavily Weighted Favorite Passes Vanderbilt Racer in Stretch to Win Granite State Handicap as 30,000 Look On — Black Gift Third, Three Lengths Back.” (June 7 1936)

Dramatic as his contest was with Identify, it was not the apex of Roman Soldier’s 4 year-old season. Nor was it his defeat of the champion Discovery in the Havre de Grace Handicap in September, where Roman Soldier only carried 118 lbs. to Discovery’s 128. In fact, Discovery limped off the track, and few witnessing the race would have disagreed that Roman Soldier did much more than claim the spoils. But this is all speculation: no question that Discovery was in a league apart, but upsets do happen.

The crown of Roman Soldier’s year was his very own “Triple.” In sweeping the Havre de Grace, Washington and Riggs Handicaps, the colt did something that had never been done before. No thoroughbred had won the richest triad of Maryland handicaps in the same season. His feat was “…the only one in our turf history comparable to that of Whisk Broom when in 1913 he achieved his historic ‘triple’ in the three great spring handicaps of the Long Island courses,  the Metropolitan, Brooklyn and Suburban.” ( John Hervey in American Race Horses 1936)

Much of the credit for Roman Soldier’s performance in the Washington and Riggs Handicaps must go to jockey, Jack Westrope. According to John Hervey, when HOF Jack Westrope got on board, the colt seemed energized in a way Hervey had never seen before. It’s a shame that he only rode Roman Soldier twice, as Westrope was an absolutely brilliant pilot. He began riding at just eleven years of age, but four years later when he was still an apprentice, he was the leading rider of 1933 in the USA, with 301 victories out of over 1200 rides. He was 15 years old. Although he never achieved the notoriety of a Charlie Kurtsinger or Earl Sande, Westrope won many prestigious races across America; his most famous mounts were Stagehand and Cravat. Jack Westrope died in 1958, when his horse threw him. He was only 40 years old. Inducted into the HOF in 2002, at least one of his peers commented that he should have been honoured the day he died and not almost a half-decade later.

1934: Jack Westrope aboard BIEN FAIT after a win at Hawthorne. For more on Jack, please see Bonus Features below.

IN CONCLUSION

 

A fuzzy image of ROMAN SOLDIER when he won the 1935 Hialeah Inaugural Handicap as a 3 year-old. Photo: NEA.

Roman Soldier was retired at the end of his 4 year-old season and his first progeny arrived in 1938. Perhaps it was that ankle the finally got to him. At any rate, his progeny, although few in number, appear until 1950 and none were really remarkable although he did get six good runners, the best of which were the fillies Roman Sox (1940; BM sire Donnacona, a grandson of Persimmon) and Lady Romery (1936; BM sire Mad Hatter, by Fair Play). Through a daughter, Anthony’s Girl (1939), the French filly Right Bank (1980) descends, a winner of the Premio Lydia Tesio (It-Gr1), Oaks d’Italia (Italian Oaks) (It-Gr1).

The final tribute to Roman Soldier goes to John Hervey:

” Our mental picture of a War-Horse is of a tremendously big, tremendously bulky, tremendously stout charger, looking able to carry a ton of weight and go either over or through a stone-wall as may seem most urgent.

But they are not all of that kind. As we apply that term on the turf, Roman Soldier deserves it as much as any colt of recent seasons, Discovery excepted. He has sniffed the smoke of battle, heard the thunders of the captains and the shoutings, exulted in his prowess and ‘brought home the bacon’ many a time when the carnage has been fiercest. Yet to see him, you would not suspect it. He is not a horse of great size or strength. On the contrary, he is overtopped by many he has lined up with, while instead of being Herculean, he is slim and almost slight of build…

…In reality he is all steel-and-whipcord, with astonishing vitality, constitutional vigor, courage and endurance…” (In American Race Horses 1936, “Handicap Stars,” p. 161.)

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) “News In A Nutshell,” including Roman Soldier and Omaha in the 1935 Kentucky Derby:

2) Old Derby footage, beginning with Omaha’s win in 1935:

 

 

3) Article about Jack Westrope, published by The Blood Horse in 2002, the year he was inducted into the HOF:  https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/186824/jack-westrope-quiet-little-man

4) 1938 Opening Day At Santa Anita:

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Church, Michael. Online: https://www.michaelchurchracingbooks.com/the-1919-victory-derby

Harzmann, Craig. Jack Westrope: Quiet Little Man. August 5, 2002. Blood-Horse online: https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/186824/jack-westrope-quiet-little-man

Hervey, John. American Race Horses 1936. USA: Sagamore Press.

Thoroughbred Horse Pedigree. Online: https://www.pedigreequery.com

 

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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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I owe Steve Haskin for this article because his story, “For The Love of a Horse,” got me thinking about the horse that first grabbed my heart. 

(Link to Steve Haskin’s narrative: http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2019/05/19/-For-the-Love-of-a-Horse.aspx)

The cover of Sports Illustrated featuring the 1962 Derby favourite, Meadow Stables’ Sir Gaylord.

His name was Greek Money and I laid down my very first bet on him to win the 1962 Preakness. I was 12 years old and the bet, a nickel, was lodged with Grandpa in the livingroom of my grandparents’ home, minutes before the field started to load.

It had become an annual ritual, Grandpa and me watching the Triple Crown races together. Inevitably, he would ask me for my pick and on Preakness day it was a handsome colt named Greek Money. I was feeling confident: I’d picked Roman Line to win the Kentucky Derby, and although irritated that Decidedly had robbed me of a Derby winner, I was proud that a colt no-one had much bothered with in the pre-Derby show had come in second. As importantly, I wanted to convince Grandpa that the “horse gene” we shared gave us a deep affinity.

It was tough to really connect with my grandfather, at least in part because he was the last of the Victorians — those born at the end of the nineteenth century — and his sensibility was almost a century behind mine. He believed that children “…should be seen but not heard” and he would have enforced that addage had my parents not tempered him some. But what brought us together, nurtured by my grandmother, was a passion for horses. He had watched me grow up with Breyer horses, cowboy outfits, Marx Wild West play sets and books like Misty of Chincoteague and The Black Stallion. He even tuned in on Saturdays to watch Fury, Champion the Wonder Horse, Roy Rogers and My Friend Flicka with me.

It was always so much fun — that’s how I remember watching my earliest Triple Crown races with Grandpa. Right up there with comfort food. There was no place better than to be sitting beside him in front of the black and white television console for the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. The big house grew quiet and those not interested took their leave.

Eddie Arcaro was a great favourite in the Wheeler household; Citation was one of Grandpa’s personal “Pantheon of Greats” and he loved to reminisce about “Cy” and Eddie. But Eddie was no longer riding. And for the millions who had followed his career with the kind of reverance usually reserved for places of worship, Arcaro’s retirement in 1961 signalled a sea change to the racing world as they had known it.

On Derby day in 1962 Grandpa would likely have said something like, “I sure don’t see another Citation in this bunch.” Cy was unquestionably the contemporary standard against which every promising 3 year-old was judged. (Were he alive today, Grandpa would be both annoyed and disheartened that the racing world seems to have all but forgotten his beloved Citation.)

Eddie Arcaro and CITATION wearing the roses.

His pick was the Derby favourite, Ridan. But we’d both lost out to Decidely, a son of Determine, a superstar who had won the 1954 Derby. Determine was a “little guy,” but the son of the mighty Alibhai (Hyperion) was a steel grey rocket who also won the San Gabriel, the Santa Anita Derby, the San Felipe, the San Jose and another 5 stakes in his native California that same year.

 

By Preakness Day 1962, the oval coffee table in the “sitting room” was piled high with thoroughbred magazines and race tables, attesting to my grandfather’s studious analysis of the field. As we watched the beginning of the telecast, it was his habit to tell me about some of the contenders. That year, Grandpa was still most interested in Ridan, but Jaipur was also on his lens. As a 2 year-old, Jaipur had won the Hopeful as well as the Flash and Cowdin Stakes under Eddie Arcaro. Knowing my grandfather, he likely picked Ridan over Jaipur because Arcaro wasn’t riding the latter any longer. He had followed both colts through their 2 year-old seasons, as he had Christopher Chenery’s Sir Gaylord, a prohibitive favourite to win the 1962 Derby before he was injured and retired.

2 year-old JAIPUR and Eddie Arcaro. The great jockey retired at the end of the 1961 season.

There would be no Triple Crown, but the Preakness field was still comprised of several very good colts, the best of which were arguably the aforementioned Jaipur and Ridan.

Ridan, a son of Nantallah (Nasrullah) and the excellent Rough Shod (Gold Bridge), the dam of champions Lt. Stevens, Moccassin, Gambetta and Thong, and grandam of Nureyev, certainly had an outstanding pedigree. Bred by Claiborne Farm and owned by Mrs. Moody Jolley, Ernest Woods and John L. Greer, Ridan was trained by HOF Leroy Jolley, who had primed him to victory in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes before finishing third in the Derby. On Preakness Day he was partnered by Manny Ycaza and it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a better performance from him.

RIDAN, held by Henry Gervais, returns to Claiborne Farm upon his retirement. Photo & copyright, Keeneland Library.

Jaipur was owned by the eminent owner-breeder George Widener and trained by future HOF Bert Mulholland. The son of Nasrullah (Nearco) and Rare Perfume (Eight Thirty) had an equally outstanding pedigree and 1962 was another great year for the colt, who had already won the Hopeful, the Cowdin and the Flash Stakes in 1961. Jaipur came into the Preakness with big wins in the Withers and the Gotham already under his belt. He headed to the post in the Preakness with his regular rider, Bill Shoemaker, in the irons.

Jaipur and Ridan were poised to enter into a rivalry that, if not legendary, was certainly noteworthy and destined to become the central narrative of the 1962 racing season. It hit a pitch in the 1962 Travers, as they battled for victory and 3 year-old Champion honours.

Buddy Raines (white hat) pulls post position 1 for GREEK MONEY. He’s flanked by Eddie Arcaro and Horatio Luro, who trained DECIDEDLY, the 1962 Derby winner.

As for the rest of the Preakness Field, aside from the Derby winner, Decidedly, there was also the very game Admiral’s Voyage (whose future daughter, Pas de Nom, produced the great sire Danzig), as well as a colt named Crimson Satan, the future sire of the swift Crimson Saint, dam of Terlingua (the dam of Storm Cat), Pancho Villa (Secretariat) and Royal Academy (Nijinsky). Crimson Satan was a speedball and best at shorter distances, but not the equal of the other runners in my grandfather’s view. Pedigree aside, Grandpa also quietly dismissed Decidedly’s chances, viewing his Derby win as a fluke. Roman Line was running as well, but for some reason I chose Greek Money, very likely because he was the one who most impressed me physically on the day.

But who was Greek Money — other than the strking chestnut on whom I had invested a nickel’s worth of hope?

GREEK MONEY on his way out to the track.

To begin with, Greek Money’s bloodlines were anything but shabby. By Greek Song, the winner of the Dwyer and Arlington Classic as a three year-old, Greek Money was a great grandson of Hyperion. The colt’s dam, Lucy Lufton, was by the Epsom Derby and Two Thousand Guineas winner, Nimbus, a son of Nearco.

Nimbus’ win in the 1949 Epsom Derby was witnessed by HM Queen Mary, HM Princess Elizabeth, Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Derby and the newly-weds Rita Hayworth and Ali Khan, among others:

 

 

GREEK SONG (above) ridden by John Oxley. Donald P. Ross, the owner-breeder of GREEK MONEY, also owned his sire, GREEK SONG.

Greek Money’s owner-breeder, Donald Peabody Ross, purchased his dam sight unseen at Newmarket and shipped her to the USA, where she was breed to Greek Song, who was also owned by Ross. A businessman who had co-founded Delaware Park, Ross’ Brandywine Stable might not have been a household name, but his enthusiam for breeding and racing thoroughbreds was clear.  He served as President of the Thoroughbred Racing Association, as steward of The Jockey Club and was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Donald P. Ross bred and owned GREEK MONEY.

In 1962, Virgil W. “Buddy” Raines was the trainer for Brandywine Stable. As a child, Raines was handed over first by his parents to serve as an endentured servant to an itinerant trainer in what was the beginning of an 80-year long career in the industry. He was subsequently passed on to one “Whistling” Bob Smith, trainer for the prestigious Brookmeade Stable and its owner, Isabel Dodge Sloane. Raines did all the usual menial jobs around the stable, but as he grew into adolescence, Smith began to mentor him and trusted him to work the great Cavalcade, a Brookmeade star. Under Smith’s guidance, Raines rose to become his assistant trainer.

During his time with Brandywine Stable, Raines not only trained Greek Money but had also trained his sire, as well as other Brandywine stars, notably the champions Cochise (Boswell X New Pin by Royal Minstrel) and his daughter, Open Fire (Cochise X Lucy Lufton), both greys and descendants of The Tetrarch sire line, a precursor of speed and stamina. In addition, from 1989-1991, the now senior Raines trained three consecutive winners of the Maryland Million Classic for Andrew Fowler, Master Speaker and dual winner, Timely Warning. The latter was ridden to victory by Raines’ grandson, Mike Luzzi.

Throughout his career, Buddy Raines was a popular personality, noted for his storytelling ways. Nominated to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2006, Raines lost out to Carl Hanford, trainer of the incomparable Kelso.

A young Buddy Raines aboard CAVALCADE, the star of Isabel Dodge Sloane’s Brookmeade Stable.

Greek Money was ridden on Preakness day by John Rotz, a HOF who won most of America’s important races at least once during his 20-year career. Although Rotz was never the household name that contemporaries like Arcaro or Shoemaker became, he did receive the George Woolf Jockey Award in 1973, given to a jockey who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack.

“Gentleman John” Rotz, as he was known, the jockey for GREEK MONEY.

So it was that on that third Saturday in May, I watched with intense interest as my Preakness choice was loaded and locked into the starting gate:

I jumped to my feet, yelling “He won! He won!” but Grandpa put a cautionary hand on my arm.

“Maybe not. The stewards need to look at it again.”

“Why?” I countered, incredulous.

“We’ll see what happens. Sit still now.”

Joseph di Paola’s image of GREEK MONEY and RIDAN just before they hit the wire is arguably one of the most dramatic ever — note Ycaza’s elbow, overlapping Rotz’s arm. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

As we waited, along with all those gathered at Pimlico that day, photographer Joseph di Paola’s lens had indeed seen what happened. di Paola had decided to move down from the finish some 30-40 feet, and aimed his camera at the finish line. He was a crack photographer, who worked for the Baltimore Sun for some 50 years, and he wanted something a little different than the usual finish photo. Well, he sure got it. The image is one of the most iconic in the history of racing photography, and shows Manny Ycaza reaching over to apparently interfere with Rotz as Greek Money and Ridan neared the finish.

Oddly, it was neither the stewards nor Rotz who lodged the claim of foul: it was Ycaza, who stated that Greek Money had interefered with Ridan in the stretch. In his senior years, John Rotz told an interviewer that he didn’t believe that Ycaza had actually made contact with him. Rotz added that if Ycaza had concentrated on aiming Ridan at the finish line, instead of leaning over and stretching out his arm, Ridan would likely have won.

After an agonizing delay, the stewards ruled in favour of the winner and Greek Money was led into the winner’s circle to accept his wreath of black-eyed Susans. However, when di Paola’s photograph hit the front pages of every North American newspaper, a hearing was conducted into the matter and it was di Paola’s photo that became a primary source, since it captured something that the film of the finish didn’t allow the stewards to see. Manny Ycaza was handed a suspension.

GREEK MONEY’S win, as it was reported in the Winnipeg Free Press, featuring Joseph di Paola’s photograph.

My pride was visceral: Greek Money was “my” colt and his victory belonged to me.

Actress Joan Crawford presents the Preakness trophy to jockey John L. Rotz, rider of GREEK MONEY.(Clarence B. Garrett/ Baltimore Sun)

I won back my nickel plus Grandpa’s, and shortly thereafter used my winnings to purchase a Drumstick ice cream cone.

That it tasted like no Drumstick before it, I’m certain.

 

Selected Bibliography

Knauf, Leslie. “1962 Preakness: The Stretch Duel In Which ‘All Heck Broke Loose’ ” The Rail, May 16, 2012.  https://therail.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/16/1962-preakness-the-stretch-duel-in-which-all-heck-broke-loose/

Campbell, Cot. Stories From Cot Campbell: Virgil W. “Buddy” Raines. The Blood-Horse, February 27, 2013. http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/cot-campbell/archive/2013/02/27/buddy-raines.aspx

Aiken Thoroughbred Racing and Hall of Champions: Open Fire. https://www.aikenracinghalloffame.com/Open_Fire.html

 

Bonus Features

Jaipur Documentary:

The 1962 Travers: Jaipur vs. Ridan

 

Jockey Mike Luzzi (Buddy Raines’ grandson) and Timely Warning (two-time winner, the Maryland Million Classic)

 

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

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As the 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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If — which is the longest word in any language — Mendelssohn pulls off a win in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, be sure that his maternal ancestor, Sea-Bird II, will have blessed his effort with the gift of wings.

SEA-BIRD II. Conformation shot, identified with stamp of trainer Etienne Pollet. Credit: Photo & Cine RECOUPE, Paris, France. (Photograph from the collection of THE VAULT, purchased on Ebay.)

Far back in the fifth generation of Mendelssohn’s maternal family sits the name of Sea-Bird II. Of course, he is just one of many that account genetically for the Ballydoyle superstar. But Sea-Bird II was arguably the best thoroughbred of the twentieth century, at least as far as the British and the Europeans are concerned, rating #1 in John Randall and Tony Morris’ important book, “A Century of Champions.” ( The mighty Secretariat came in at #2, followed by Ribot in #3, Brigadier Gerard in #4 and Citation in #5. Man O’ War finished in the #21 spot.)

Tony Morris is one of the most respected figures in thoroughbred geneology and pedigree, as well as being a consummate historian of the sport, in the world. The Randall-Morris tome begins by asserting that it is foolhardy to compare horses over the generations, while adding that, thanks to the system devised by Timeform in 1947, reliable handicapping figures can be drawn across the decades of the twentieth century using their formula. In 2016, Sea-Bird II’s rating of 145 ranks him second on the list of Timeform’s all-time world’s best since 1947; Frankel sits at #1 with a rating of 147.

Sea-Bird (as he was registered in France) only raced for a period of roughly eighteen months, in a career that saw him lose just once and winning both the Epsom Derby and the 1965 Arc in his three year-old season. By the time he left for the USA to join the stallion roster at John Galbreath’s Darby Dan Farm in Kentucky, Sea-Bird had become a legend in his own time.

However, the colt foal who came into the world in March 1962 set his tiny hoofs to the ground unaware that his owner-breeder, Jean Ternynck, a textile manufacturer in Lille, France, considered his pedigree rather medoicre. His sire, Dan Cupid, a son of the incomparable Native Dancer, had been a runner-up in the 1959 Prix du Jockey Club to the brilliant Herbager, arguably his best race although he did take the Prix Mornay as a two year-old. His dam was a daughter of Sickle by Phalaris and a grandaughter of the superb Gallant Fox — a pedigree that appeared to promise some potential. However, as of 1962 Dan Cupid had yet to produce anything of merit as a sire. Sea-Bird’s dam, Sicalade, from the sire line of Prince Rose, was in a similar predicament and while Dan Cupid was maintained by Ternynck, Sicalade was gone by 1963.

 

The handsome DAN CUPID (by Native Dancer ex. Vixenette) raced in France for Jean Ternynck and stood at stud there. But he never produced anything that even came close to SEA-BIRD II.

 

SICKLE, the BM sire odf SEA-BIRD II. Hailing from the PHALARIS sire line, with SELENE as his dam, SICKLE’S influence as a sire was outstanding. Imported to the USA by Joseph Widener, SICKLE produced individuals like STAGEHAND and is the grandsire of POLYNESIAN, who sired NATIVE DANCER. SICKLE was one of two leading sires produced by SELENE.

Ah, the mystery of breeding! The numbers of great sires and mares who produce nothing much are astronomical in number, but by the time Sea-Bird made his third appearance as a juvenile, his owner was likely considering the corollary. Namely, that two mediocre thoroughbreds had got themselves one very promising colt.

 

In France, DAN CUPID, the sire of SEA-BIRD, has an audience with HM The Queen.

Sea-Bird was sent to the Chantilly stables of trainer Etienne Pollet, a cousin of his owner, Ternynck. The colt raced three times as a two year-old, winning the Prix de Blaison (7f.) despite being green and getting off to a poor start. A short two weeks later, he won again, but this time it was the prestigious Criterium de Maisons Lafitte. Like his first win, Sea-Bird crossed the wire a short neck ahead of the excellent filly, BlaBla, who would go on to win the Prix Diane/French Oaks as a three year-old. For the final start of his juvenile season, the colt was entered in the prestigious Grand Criterium against some of the best of his generation.

GREY DAWN as portrayed by Richard Stone Reeves. The son of HERBAGER was the undisputed star of the 1964 juvenile season in France.

The colt Grey Dawn was also entered and he had already won the two most important juvenile contests in France that year, namely the Prix Morny and the Prix de la Salamandre. Run at Longchamps over a mile, the Grand Criterium was thought to be Grey Dawn’s to lose. The son of Herbager — who had, ironically, been the nemesis of Dan Cupid in the Prix de Jockey Club — was a superstar.

During the race, Grey Dawn was always in striking position. Sea-Bird, on the other hand, had been left a lot to do by his jockey, Maurice Larraun, as the field turned for home. Finally given his head, the colt rushed forward in a mighty charge to take second place to Grey Dawn. But it was too little too late. Despite that, many felt the Sea-Bird was the true star of the race, even though Grey Dawn had won without ever truly being extended. Trainer Etienne Pollet was delighted, knowing full well that Sea-Bird’s late charge had been something quite spectacular. (Note: Footage of this race appears in the SEA-BIRD feature video, below.)

SEA-BIRD at work, probably as a three year-old in 1965. Credit: Paris Match, Marie Claire. (Photograph in the collection of THE VAULT, purchased on Ebay.)

The three year-old Sea-Bird was a force to be reckoned with. His first two starts, the Prix Greffulhe at Longchamps (10.5f) and the Prix Lupin, had him pegged for Epsom given his winnings margins of 3 and 6 lengths, respectively. And in the Prix Lupin, he had left Diatome, the winner of the important Prix Noailles, and Cambremont, who had defeated Grey Dawn in the Poule d’Essai des Poulins, in his slipstream.

On Derby day, Sea-Bird started as favourite. In the field were Meadow Court, who would go on to win the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in authoritative fashion, as well as the filly, Blabla, the winner of the French Oaks.

Sea-Bird is wearing number 22, with Australian jockey Pat Glennon wearing dark green silks and a black cap:

 

“…The Derby performance had to be seen to be believed. In a field of 22 he came to the front, still cantering, 1 1/2 furlongs from home, then was just pushed out for 100 yards before being eased again so that runner-up Meadow Court was flattered by the 2 lengths deficit. ”  (In Randall and Morris, “A Century of Champions,” pp 65)

Apparently, Glennon had been told by trainer Pollet to watch Sea-Bird after the finish line, since there was a road that crossed the track and Pollet was worried the colt would run right into it. Glennon told the press that it was all he could think about near the finish, which was the reason he pulled up the colt. Otherwise, the winning margin could have been well over 5 lengths.

SEA-BIRD moves away from the pack, on his way to victory at Epsom. MEADOW COURT and I SAY are just behind him. Photo credit: Keystone, UK. (From the collection of THE VAULT)

 

Epsom 1965: At the finish, ears pricked. Photo credit: Sport & General, London, UK (From the collection of THE VAULT.)

 

Sea-Bird only raced twice after his victory at the Epsom Derby, winning the Grand Prix Sant-Cloud at a canter.

Then came the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the three year-old’s greatest challenge.

The field was stellar, including the American champion, Tom Rolfe, who had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the undefeated Russian superstar, Anilin, the British champion, Meadow Court, and the French champions Reliance and Diatome. But despite the undisputed quality of the field, Sea-Bird produced one of the most devastating performances in the history of the Arc:

Just prior to the running of the Arc, the American John W. Galbreath had reputedly paid owner Ternynck $1,350,000 to lease Sea-Bird for five years to stand him at stud at his legendary Darby Dan Farm. Galbreath was no stranger to European racing, having already acquired the stellar Ribot in 1959 under another 5-year lease. One of America’s greatest breeders, in 1965 Galbreath stood the stallions Swaps, Errard, Helioscope and Decathlon at Darby Dan, while holding breeding rights to other champion thoroughbreds, notably Tudor Minstrel, Royal Charger, Gallant Man, Arctic Prince and Polynesian.

Retired in 1965, Sea-Bird was crowned the Champion 3 year-old in both England and France, as well as Champion Handicap colt in France.

 

SEA-BIRD pictured at Orly all kitted out to fly off to the USA and John W. Galbreath’s Darby Dan Farm. Credit: Keystone. (From the collection of THE VAULT.)

 

SEA-BIRD appears reluctant to board. Credit: Keystone (From the collection of THE VAULT)

The young stallion stood his 5 years at Darby Dan, during which time he bred two excellent progeny. He returned to France amid expectations of still more outstanding progeny.

Sadly, Sea-Bird’s life was cut short upon his return to France, where he died of colitis at the age of eleven. But he is remembered for siring an Arc winner of his own, in the incomparable Allez France; as well as the brilliant Arctic Tern, Gyr, who had the misfortune to run in the same years as the brilliant Nijinsky, the millionaire hurdler, Sea Pigeon, Mr. Long, who was a 5-time Champion sire in Chile from 1982-1986, and America’s beloved Little Current, the winner of the 1974 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, who like his sire, stood at Darby Dan Farm.

It is a great and tragic irony that his short life never allowed Sea-Bird a chance to produce European and British grass champions of the quality of his American crops.

 

In the Belmont Stakes, Little Current was every inch Sea-Bird’s son:

 

 

Even though Sea-Bird can’t be credited for the brilliance that is Mendelssohn, he played his part in the genetic landscape of the colt’s pedigree.

I, for one, will be watching on May 7 to see if there’s a mighty bird sitting just between Mendelssohn’s ears.

 

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Below, a lovely SEA-BIRD feature, including very rare racing footage together with the insights of his trainer, Etienne Pollet.

 

 

Selected Bibliography

Hunter, Avalyn online @ American Classic Pedigrees: Sea-Bird (France)

Randall, John and Tony Morris. A Century of Champions. London: Portway Press Limited, 1999

Timeform online @ https://www.timeform.com/horse-racing/features/top-horses/Timeforms

Tower, Whitney. The Man, The Horse and The Deal That Made History in Sports Illustrated, June 1, 1959

 

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