Posts Tagged ‘Thoroughbred horse’

What more can we say about this wonderful mare? Well, let’s have a look in “7 clicks” — just for fun.


CLICK #1: “…I think I remember saying to Chris (Waller), ‘Do you really like her?’ ” (one of the triad of Winx owners, Peter Tighe)

So it was that the daughter of Street Cry-Vegas Showgirl came to the stables of one of Australia’s outstanding trainers, Chris Waller. Owners Peter and Patty Tighe, Debbie Kepitis and Richard Treweeke were overjoyed at their purchase.

But had they asked Coolmore Australia’s stud manager, Peter O’Brien, who had attended the filly’s birth, he would have told them that from the outset Winx showed signs that she was going to be a late developer, even though she looked a really good individual in other ways.

During her days at Coolmore, Winx was easy to notice: she stood within 10 minutes of her birth, showed a great deal of independance very early on, and was blessed with a kind nature.

WINX at two days old. Photo and copyright: Coolmore.


Peter O’Brien’s understanding that it would take Winx some time to mature and show what she really was all about proved timely: Winx’s cavalry charge to the top of the world’s standings only started in earnest in 2015, when she was a four year-old.

It is likely that, had she gone to anyone other than Chris Waller, Winx would never have been given the time she needed to become the mighty mare we know today. And Winx’s owners were also prepared to wait, trusting in their trainer’s knowledge and experience.


CLICK #2: A surprise in Winx’s tail female


Winx’s dam, Vegas Showgirl, started thirty-five times, winning seven and retiring with earnings of $59,700 AUD. It is fair to say that she was not a household name, but she did win twice as a three year-old making her a solid, if not assured, broodmare prospect. Examining Vegas Showgirl’s tail female, what leaps out is Obeah in the third generation.

OBEAH, shown here with her trainer, Henry Clarke. Source: Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred.

A grandaughter of 1943 Triple Crown winner, Count Fleet, Obeah raced for Harry and Jane Lunger out of Henry Clarke’s Delaware Park stable. Notable wins came in the Blue Hen Stakes and the Delaware and Firenze Handicaps.

But North American racing fans know Obeah best for one reason and one reason alone: she was the dam of the brilliant, ill-fated Go For Wand:

Pedigree influences up to the fifth generation carry some influence — although how much, exactly, is almost impossible to determine. But it’s a safe bet that North American fans of Winx will be delighted to learn that a small part of her DNA comes through Count Fleet and that she is a cousin, albeit a very distant one, of the beloved Go For Wand.


CLICK #3: How did Winx get her name?

According to owner Richard Treweeke, Winx’s name owes much to Vegas Showgirl. In an interview done by 60 Minutes Australia (below in Bonus Features), Treweeke recounted how, when one sees a stage show in Las Vegas, the showgirls give you a “…wink, wink, wink.”

So, with a slight adjustment, Vegas Showgirl’s filly became Winx.



CLICK #4: What individual attributes help Winx to win — and keep on winning?

It has been speculated that Winx’s heart and lungs hold greater capacity than most thoroughbreds.

But one thing — other than her steely determination to win — that gives Winx a decided advantage has to do with her racing form, or style.

Granted, Winx’s running style isn’t the most fluid. Rather, she can look at times as though she has egg-beaters for legs.

But this is where what we think we see can be deceiving.

For one thing, the length of Winx’s stride has been measured at almost 6.8m. The stride of most thoroughbreds is about 6.1m. Exceptions are Phar Lap and Secretariat at 8.2m and the mighty Bernborough was said to have a massive stride of 8.6m.

But it’s not only Winx’s stride that helps her get the job done: whereas most thoroughbreds have a stride frequency of 130-140 strides per minute, Winx checks in at nearly 170 strides per minute. And she can maintain this frequency for much longer periods, notably as she kicks for home, a point in any race where most runners are tiring.

This short video of her win in the Sunshine Coast Guineas in 2015 highlights the impact of Winx’s stride and its frequency. The 2015 Guineas win also marks the beginning of Winx’s winning streak that now stands at 23 straight wins, 17 of which have been Group 1’s:


CLICK #5 : Winx and Hugh Bowman

Hugh Bowman is a jockey at the pinnacle of his career. But his promise showed even during his apprentice days, receiving the crown for champion apprentice NSW jockey in his very first year of riding, and champion Sydney apprentice followed in 1999/2000. The 37 year-old was awarded Longines’ 2017 Best World’s Jockey at the end of last season, having won 10 of the world’s Top 100 Group/Grade 1 races, six of which were on Winx. It was Bowman’s masterful win in the 2017 Japan Cup aboard Cheval Grand at Tokyo Racecourse that sealed the Longines’ title. Among the champions they beat in the Japan Cup were HOTY Kitasan Black and champions Makahiki, Soul Stirring and Satono Crown.

So strong is trainer Waller’s faith in Bowman, that Winx was withdrawn from what would have been her first start of the season (in the 2018 Apollo Stakesin Sydney) when a suspension made it impossible for Bowman to ride her. Unlikely that few were surprised by Waller’s decision, since Bowman and Winx are an established partnership at this point in time and no-one other than her inner circle knows the mare as well as Bowman. Famous racing pairs dot the history of thoroughbred racing worldwide and these powerful relationships underscore the importance of finding just the right fit between a jockey and a thoroughbred.

Here, in footage collected in February 2018 at a trail at Randwick,we catch a glimpse of some of the relationship between Winx and Bowman, as well as that between Bowman and Waller. The video also illustrates the complexities of conditioning a thoroughbred and, in this aspect, sheds a light on the profession that is universal.

(Note: Footage from the cam recorder picked up during Bowman’s ride comes at the end of the video.)


CLICK #6: Umet Odemisioglu  wanted to be an actor…

After her most recent win, in the 2018 Chipping Norton, an emotional Chris Waller noted that professional as she is, Winx loves to go home where “…she can just be a horse.”

And there’s no question that Umet Odemisioglu and Candice are the two of the humans that make Winx feel that she’s home.


WINX with Umet Odem.

Born in Turkey, Umet is Chris Waller’s foreman and one of Winx’s strappers. The champion mare is one of some twenty thoroughbreds in his care.

But his path to Winx’s side was an unlikely one: Umet’s first love was film. He studied acting for two years in Turkey before attending what he describes as a “horse university” in Istanbul. Once he’d graduated, Umet left for Ireland, where he worked on a stud farm until his arrival in Australia in 2006. He has worked for trainer Chris Waller since 2011.

Umet has looked after Winx since she first arrived in Waller’s barn as a youngster. If she were an actress, he figures Winx would be Angelina Jolie because, “…they’re both sweethearts, especially Angelina with the charities. They’re both box office superstars who bring in the crowds.” (quoted in “Strapper Recalls Winx Journey” by Matt Kelly in G1X)

Back at home after a trial or a race, Winx doesn’t like to be bothered — she likes lots of time to herself. And it is Umet who assures that the mare’s down time is just that. On big days, it’s Umet who brings her into the spotlight, equipped with hood that blocks out some of the sounds of the track.

Winx is no lover of the starting gate and Umet, together with Candice, as well as her trainer and jockey, each play their part in keeping her off her toes as much as they can before the gates fly open. He walks close to her, letting her know that he’s there and focusing on keeping the mare as calm and relaxed as possible. And this is no easy job when you’re assailed by cameras, together with the noise and movement of a huge, jostling crowd.

Winx may be used to the attention, but Umet needs to be able to anticipate what she’s not used to seeing. It’s a big part of keeping her safe.

(Note: To learn more about Winx’s second strapper, Candice, please see BONUS FEATURES, below.)


CLICK #7: The “Paradox of Champions”

The excitement that characterizes each time a champion like Winx races is fuelled by the risk of her losing. This is what we have coined as the “paradox of champions.”

All those feelings — “Can she do it again?” “Will X defeat her?” “Can she win no matter the odds?” “Is she ready for today’s race?” — are underpinned by the anxiety that Winx may, indeed, be beaten. Even the speculation that her owners might consider Ascot or Hong Kong or Japan or the 2018 Breeders’ Cup is underpinned, to some extent, by the lure of the risk.

It is this paradox that accounts for analogy between the careers of great thoroughbreds and the archetypal hero/heroine’s mythical journey. Like the heroine of myth, Winx needs to keep overcoming obstacles, be they foreign courses or other talented thoroughbreds to guard her title of one of the very best worldwide.

At this point, no-one knows what the 2018 plans are for Winx, in what may well be the last season of a brilliant career.

But, thankfully, it seems clear that Winx herself will be foremost in making that decision.













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As CHELTENHAM 2018 approaches, we re-visit one of the most popular posts THE VAULT has ever done. This is the story of the incomparable ISTABRAQ, the medoicre flat runner with royal blood who would rise to the status of a Superhero in the history of the British National Hunt.



Charlie Swan and ISTABRAQ retire from the 2002 Championship at Cheltenham amid the applause and tears of thousands.

…..When the young jockey pulled up the 10 year-old bay gelding after the third hurdle of the 2002 Cheltenham Championship, the thousands who had come to see him race rose to their feet. But Charlie Swan knew that he was doing the right thing. The year before, the game old warrior had actually fallen and in the minds of his jockey, trainer and owner, it was unthinkable to put him at risk. As they walked by the stands that day, the spectators — who were still on their feet — began to applaud. Swan saw grown men crying. Women clutched tissues to wet cheeks. Young people stretched out their hands to touch a horse who was the bravest they had ever seen.

But no amount of emotion could change the realization that a thoroughbred who had dominated horse racing for the last 5 years was leaving the turf for the last time. 

The career of a legend had ended.

His name was Istabraq (1992), a Sindhi word for “brocade.” In his early years, Istabraq seemed an unlikely candidate to wear the mantle of racing legend, despite his impeccable breeding. His sire was the sire of sires, Sadler’s Wells (1981) and his dam was Betty’s Secret, by Secretariat. Betty’s Secret had already distinguished herself as the dam of Secreto (1981), the winner of the Epsom Derby in 1984. Owned by E.P. Taylor, the Canadian thoroughbred breeder and owner of Northern Dancer, Betty’s Secret was sent to Ireland in 1987 to be bred to some of Northern Dancer’s British sons. Taylor died two years later and the mare, in foal to Sadler’s Wells was purchased by Hamdan Al Maktoum. The foal she was carrying was Istabraq.

Whereas his dam was a loner, known for her aggressive behavior toward other mares, Istabraq had a sweet disposition. His only quirk as a youngster was that he enjoyed showing himself off to other foals — and anyone at the paddock fence who might be watching.  “…It was almost as if he knew he was worth a fortune,” reflected Tom Deane, who cared lovingly for Istabraq as a young colt at Derrinstown in County Kildare, Ireland. But Deane adored all of his young charges. Istabraq grew into a nice, correct yearling, but in every other way he seemed pretty average.

“Worth a fortune…” Baby ISTABRAQ (by SADLER’S WELLS) with his dam, BETTY’S SECRET (by SECRETARIAT). The little colt foal was the son of a champion and the grandson of two champions, NORTHERN DANCER being the sire of SADLER’S WELLS.

As a two year-old racing on the flat, Istabraq was backward and lacked a good “turn of foot,” meaning that he needed too much time to pick up speed. Sheikh Hamdan’s advisor, Angus Gold, believed that any thoroughbred with real ability shows promise in its two year-old season. Even though Istabraq seemed to try when he ran and even though trainer John Gosden was prepared to give him the time he needed to develop, in the end it was Gold’s judgement that won out. By 1994 the verdict on Istabraq was that he was unlikely to live up to his wonderful pedigree. His jockey, the great Willie Carson agreed. He described the youngster as a “slow learner” who “…also lacked speed and was not at home on fast ground…I came to the conclusion that the reason he was struggling was because he had no speed. In fact, he was one-paced…”

By his third year, Istabraq had developed foot problems. He had always been rather flat-footed, especially in front and it was difficult to shoe him such that his heels were off the ground. Consequently, he developed a quarter crack and was out of commission for several weeks that year. In his final race on the flat, he refused to quicken despite Carson’s aggressive ride and was beaten by a length. Sheikh Hamdan decided that he had persevered with Istabraq long enough and gave instructions that he was to be sold.

When John Durkan, Gosden’s assistant trainer, heard that Istabraq would be listed in the 1995 Tattersall’s sale he resolved to acquire him. He saw possibilities for Istabraq, but not on the flat — as a hurdler. Having informed Gosden that he would be leaving to go out on his own, Durkan began searching for a possible buyer for Istabraq and found one in J. P. McManus, a wealthy Irishman who had made a fortune as a gambler. Following the sale at Tattersall’s, McManus shipped Istabraq back to Ireland with the understanding that the colt would be trained by Durkan. In his young trainer, Istabraq had found someone who believed in him. “He is no soft flat horse. He is the sort who does not get going until he’s in a battle. He has more guts than class and that’s what you need, ” Durkan told McManus, “He will win next year’s Sun Alliance Hurdle.” Prophetic words.
John Durkan believed in him and that belief changed a mediocre flat horse into an Irish national legend.

John Durkan believed in him and that belief changed a mediocre flat horse into an Irish national legend.

In Great Britain it is not unusual for thoroughbreds to be moved from racing on the flat to the world of National Hunt racing when they meet with little success at the former. National Hunt racing originated in Ireland in the 18th century and to this day the Irish remain devoted to a style of racing that they continue to dominate. Each type of National Hunt race has its own features. An average hurdle race, for example, involves a minimum of 8 hurdles over 3.5 feet high and is run over a distance of at least 2 miles. The chase involves horses jumping fences of 4.5 feet minimum and courses that range from 2 – 4.5 miles. The steeplechase is restricted to thoroughbreds that have a hunter certificate; the most famous steeplechase in Britain is the Grand National. Thoroughbreds that hurdle, chase or steeplechase need to have an aptitude for jumping. But since National Hunt racing demands that horses both jump and run over longer distances than is usual on a flat course, a National Hunt thoroughbred needs to be particularly courageous and tough, as well as blessed with endurance. Arguably, National Hunt colts and fillies need to be deeper through the heart than their “softer” flat racing cousins.

The first item on the agenda for Istabraq upon his return from Tattersall’s was an appointment with the vet. It is traditional to geld National Hunt thoroughbreds to ensure their safety and comfort, as well as make them easier to handle. The operation itself is straightforward but can be taxing for an older horse and Istabraq fell into this category. Turned out, he was given time to heal and come back to himself. In the mean time, John Durkan was busily making plans to buy yearlings for new owners and finalize the purchase of his own stable when he fell ill. A short time later, he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Before he left for Sloan Kettering in New York, arrangements were made to send Istabraq to a brilliant young trainer, Aidan O’Brien, with the understanding that when John recovered the colt would be returned to him.

The first to school Istabraq over hurdles was the young stable jockey, Charlie Swan. As they moved from the baby hurdles to the “real deal,” Istabraq demonstrated a flair for jumping. He didn’t back away and he didn’t hesitate. Swan recalls, “He was quite amazing, a real natural.” It was the beginning of a famous partnership.
Even at the very beginning, while he was still in training, ISTABRAQ demonstrated his jumping talent.

Even at the very beginning, while he was still in training, ISTABRAQ demonstrated his jumping talent.

In Istabraq’s first start over hurdles at Punchestown (IRE), O’Brien instructed Swan to focus on making the experience an enjoyable one for the horse. To that end, he told the jockey to drop Istabraq behind and, if he felt that the horse was willing and ready, to move him up to the leaders as they turned for home. It is the considered opinion of many that it is Aidan O’Brien’s instinctive understanding of a horse’s mind that has been the major ingredient in a stellar career. In character, O’Brien is a modest, shy man, whose greatest concern is always for the well-being of the thoroughbreds in his care. And not unlike Istabraq’s first trainer, John Gosden, O’Brien understood the virtues of patience in building up a thoroughbred’s confidence and stamina.

The plan went off perfectly until the final hurdle, where Istabraq made the kind of mistake a novice might well make, losing ground as he raced toward the finish. But the game colt finished second, beaten only by a short nose. All concerned were pleased with his performance. In defeat, Istabraq had shown the qualities of a champion — albeit an inexperienced one. And sure enough, from his second start in 1996 through to his twelfth race in 1997, Istabraq took ten hurdle races in a row; he won on courses that were rated from soft to yielding and from good to firm to heavy. Along the way, he won the hearts of a nation.
It was impossible not to love this courageous pair: Charlie and ISTABRAQ.

It was impossible not to love this courageous pair: Charlie and ISTABRAQ.

Over the same period, John Durkan’s valiant battle with cancer continued. His belief in Istabraq, combined with the support of family and colleagues back home in Ireland gave him the will to go on. After each race, O’Brien, McManus and/or Swan would call Sloane Kettering to share all the details of Istabraq’s performance. Sometimes John was able to hear the races live over the radio from his hospital bed. And once he made it back to Ireland to see his colt win, going 2m 3f at Leopardstown — a victory the press described as a “mere formality,” so certain were punter and fan alike of the colt’s prowess. For John, however, Leopardstown was a special moment, renewing his resolve to beat leukaemia and return to the sport — and the colt — he loved.

In March 1997, from an apartment in New York where he awaited a bone marrow transplant the following day, John was able to hear the running of the Royal Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle from Cheltenham (ENG) live via his father-in-law’s mobile phone. As John listened in, little did he know that Istabraq was giving his trainer and jockey cause to worry. As was the case with the great Nijinsky, Istabraq had inherited the “delicate sensibility” of many of the Northern Dancers. Even when home at Coolmore, he would fret if there were any changes in his routine and this had made shipping him to Cheltenham tricky. In the walking ring prior to the Sun Alliance, surrounded by noisy onlookers, Istabraq became increasingly agitated. His blood-bay coat was dark with sweat. The only solution — one that was to cost both O’Brien and Swan a small fortune in fines throughout the horse’s career — was to get Istabraq out of the walking ring and onto the race course. And although National Hunt rules prohibit a horse from going onto the course before the others, the tactic never once resulted in Istabraq’s being disqualified from a race.
As John battled cancer, Aidan O'Brien stepped in to train ISTABRAQ. Shown here in conversation with Charlie Swan.

As John battled cancer, Aidan O’Brien stepped in to train ISTABRAQ. Shown here in conversation with Charlie Swan.

Istabraq ran his race even though it took Swan some moments to settle him. The colt was coming up a winner when he was bumped hard by another horse as they flew over a hurdle. Charlie Swan feared his mount would go down, but miraculously the colt landed on his feet. It was unbelievable that   Istabraq recovered: he had been travelling at about 30mph when the other thoroughbred cannoned into him. Istabraq was on his feet and moving, but winded. Swan gave the colt about three strides to collect himself before asking him to pick it up. And Istabraq, who had once been regarded as lacking a good turn of foot, turned it on. With a horse called Mighty Moss at his throat latch Istabraq battled back, winning the Sun Alliance by a length. Mobbed by ecstatic fans, the gelding was led into the victory enclosure. Over the din, Aidan O’Brien, JP McManus and Charlie Swan got on a mobile phone to share every moment with John Durkan. Not only had John’s bold prediction for the grandson of Secretariat come true, but Istabraq would go on to finish the 1997 season unbeaten.

As Istabraq’s star ascended, John’s health went into sharp decline. The decision was made to bring him home to Ireland where he could spend his days in the company of family and friends. Despite the fact that he was dying, John turned out to see Istabraq win The Hatton’s Grace Hurdle in November, 1997. It was the last time he would see “his lad” : on the night of January 21, 1998, John Durkan died. 
ISTABRAQ and Charlie Swan in full flight at Cheltenham in 1998. Photo and copyright, George Selwyn.

ISTABRAQ and Charlie Swan in full flight at Cheltenham in 1998. Photo and copyright, George Selwyn.

Charlie Swan wore a black armband in John’s memory on the day of Istabraq’s first start in 1998, the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. The gelding, who was now 6 years old, handled the race with ease. John Durkan had been laid to rest only the day before, making it a bittersweet victory. But John’s wife, Carole, joined Istabraq in the winner’s enclosure and accepted the trophy on behalf of her late husband. 

The AIG had been a final prep for Istabraq before the prestigious Smurfit Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy, to be run at Cheltenham in March. By this point, Istabraq was a mature and experienced hurdler at the top of his form. Charlie Swan gave him a final work before the big day and as they returned to the stable, Aidan O’Brien confided, “He will bloody destroy them.” Swan was taken aback at the force of O’Brien’s conviction. “But Aidan, this is the Champion Hurdle.” To which the trainer replied, “I don’t care. He will destroy them.” And destroy them he did: Istabraq took the first of what were to be three consecutive Champion Hurdle victories by twelve lengths, in a time just shy of the record. It had been 66 years since a thoroughbred had won the trophy so decisively — and that horse had only faced a field of 4. 

“This one’s for John…” ISTABRAQ and Charlie lead the field home by an astonishing 12 lengths.

Istabraq’s victories in the Champion Hurdle in 1998, 1999 and again in 2000 remain the races for which Istabraq is renowned. In the 2000 race, he not only won but set a time record and joined an elite group of four other thoroughbreds who had also clinched the trophy three times. As the Racing Post put it, “Istabraq exchanged greatness for immortality.”

Here he is in a video summary of the highlights of the career of the “Mighty Istabraq”:

“… it was the manner of Istabraq’s wins that remains shocking … he simply cruised to victory, whatever the conditions, with a grace and strength that often beggared belief.” Shown here, with Charlie Swan.

In 2001, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth forced the cancellation of the Champion Hurdle and as Istabraq’s legion of fans — together with Aidan O’Brien — insist to this day, the likelihood of his winning a fourth consecutive time. Given the fact that he had won the second and third Champion Hurdles under less-than-ideal circumstances, one could not blame them for believing that Istabraq would “destroy” the field one more time.

Returning to Cheltenham a year later as a 10 year-old, Istabraq was not the horse he had been in 2000. Days after Charlie Swan rode him off the course after only the third hurdle, Aidan O’Brien announced that the gelding had damaged the equivalent of the Achilles tendon in his hock. Istabraq was retired, having won 23 of 29 starts over jumps, with earnings of over 1 million BPS.

ISTABRAQ takes flight. Note his distance from the actual hurdle.

In 1989, the year that Secretariat died, it was discovered that he had a very large heart — literally — estimated to weigh between 22-23 lbs. It was a perfect heart in every other way. Prior to this discovery, it was thought that the great thoroughbred Phar Lap (1926) had possessed the largest heart, at 14 lbs.  The discovery of Secretariat’s huge heart sparked renewed interest in  X-chromosome research that had been taking place for a number of years on human runners, as well as in the work of equine geneticists like William E. Jones of California and Dr. Anthony Stewart of Australia. The X-chromosome is a more potent carrier of genetic material than the Y, although both have important roles to play in the making of a thoroughbred. But it is the X that is a possible precursor of thoroughbred performance when it is linked to the transmission of a large heart. Subsequently, it was discovered that Sham (1970), Secretariat’s mightiest rival, had a heart that weighed 18 lbs., lending credence to the probability that had he been born in any other year, Sham would have swept the Triple Crown himself. Today we know that there are 4 sire lines that transmit a large heart on the X-chromosome: Princequillo, War Admiral, Blue Larkspur and Mahmoud. These 4 sires, if one traces back the genetic pattern for the transmission of the X — which is from sire to daughter and from that daughter to her son(s) — the incidence of strong race performance is more or less continuous. Secretariat produced 4 double-copy daughters: Weekend Surprise (1980), Secrettame (1978), Terlingua (1978) and Betty’s Secret. (Double-copy because all carried Princequillo plus one or more of the other 3 sire lines on the top and bottom of their pedigrees.) All of these, in turn, produced at least one son who is a potential heart-line source, notably A.P. Indy (Weekend Surprise),  Gone West (Secrettame), Storm Cat (Terlingua) and Istabraq (Betty’s Secret). Of these mares, only Betty’s Secret carried Princequillo on the top and bottom of her pedigree, suggesting that she would pass on to a son like Istabraq a “double dose” of Secretariat’s large heart. 

ISTABRAQ in retirement with his best buddy, RISK OF THUNDER.

At 19, Istabraq still greets vistors at J.P. McManus’ Martinstown Stud (IRE). Although politely sociable with his fans, Istabraq’s greatest affection is reserved for his pasture pal, Risk of Thunder. Watching the two nuzzle and romp and roll in the dirt together, they are just horses. But when Istabraq’s fans come to visit, they see the greatest Irish champion hurdler who ever set foot on the turf. As if to let him know how much they love him, the Irish public voted him their favourite horse of the last 25 years in 2009. 

Recently, ISTABRAQ was honoured by his Irish fans and his racing Team.  Join them in this delightful short:

It’s impossible to mistake the stamp of greatness. Just watch Istabraq coming to win his first Champion Hurdle by 12 lengths in strides so enormous that he seems to be eating up the ground as he goes. Or watch how he quickens at the last, producing a mighty surge that precious few thoroughbreds could muster.

No question about it: in Istabraq, the heart of Secretariat has come home.

Still a ham for the camera, ISTABRAQ cavorts in his paddock in 2010.

Catching up with Istabraq, February 2018:


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In conformation, she is unmistakably her mother’s daughter. But at this stage of the game, Soul Stirring is also the best of Frankel’s first crop, as well as his first and only G1 winner of 2016.

Champion STACELITA with her FRANKEL filly, born in 2014 and to be named SOUL STIRRING.

2014: Champion STACELITA with her newborn FRANKEL filly, SOUL STIRRING. Photo source: Twitter.

This is one alliance of bloods that did exactly what might be expected, much to the delight of Katsumi, Haruya and Teruya Yoshida, the owners of Shadai, Northern and Oiwake farms on the island of Hokkaido, in Japan. Take an outstanding stallion in Frankel– arguably the greatest thoroughbred that England has ever known — and put him to a champion thoroughbred mare and daughter of Monsun, Stacelita. Then hope and pray.


Prayers aside, it sure helps if the possibility inherent in a particular mating is a gleam in the Yoshidas’ eye, as this much-anticipated foal was. After all, these are the breeders who imported Sunday Silence from the USA and turned the son of Halo into the Northern Dancer of Japan and a leading sire from 1995-2008. In 2017 Shadai remains the home of Sunday Silence’s most powerful sons and daughters, notably the pre-potent Deep Impact. But there’s a down side to any giant bloodline: so prevalent is Sunday Silence’s blood in Japanese bloodstock in their own country that the Yoshidas, together with most Japanese breeders, are keen to acquire mares who provide an outcross to his bloodline.

Enter champions like Stacelita, Danedream, Azeri, Ginger Punch, Proud Spell, Champagne d’Oro, In Lingerie, Mi Sueno, Zazu, Sarafina, Evening Jewel, Princess of Sylmar and, more recently, Curalina and Don’t Tell Sophia, among other global acquisitions purchased by the Yoshidas.


Nor are the brothers only interested in broodmares. Daughters of Deep Impact, like the great Gentildonna, also need suitable suitors. Shopping in North America, Britain and Europe for great bloodstock for well over three decades, Shadai has acquired champions like War Emblem (now retired and living at Old Friends in Kentucky), Harbinger, Workforce (now standing at Knockhouse Stud in Ireland), Novellist, Carroll House, Tony Bin, Falbrav, Empire Maker (now back in the USA), I’ll Have Another and Pentire.

The Frankel-Stacelita union represents a desire to enrich and diversify the Shadai bloodstock through the introduction of powerful bloodlines like that of Monsun, Galileo and Danehill (through Frankel’s dam, Kind). But the pairing was a crapshoot: Frankel, standing his first season, was unproven and Stacelita was also a wild card, since her first foal, a filly by Smart Strike, was only a yearling.

SOUL STIRRING just before she was weaned is already an impressive individual.

SOUL STIRRING just before she was weaned was already an impressive individual. Photo source: Twitter.

When snow drifts lay high and gleaming against the bare trees, Stacelita brought her filly foal into the world. As winter melted away and greenery festooned paddock and tree at Shadai Farm, it became clear that Stacelita’s daughter had inherited her dam’s conformation, coat colour and large, expressive eyes. According to trainer Chad Brown, who took over training duties from Jean-Claude Rouget in France, Stacelita was noted for her “presence” — something that other thoroughbreds noticed and respected. At three and four, Stacelita won the Prix St. Alary, Prix Vermeille, Prix Jean Romanet, La Coupe and the Prix de Diane. In France, she was an absolute superstar. Shipped to Chad Brown, she annexed the Beverly D. and the Flower Bowl Invitational, but a terrible trip in the Breeders Cup that same year resulted in her giving a lacklustre performance. It didn’t matter: Stacelita was the Eclipse Award winner for Best Turf Female in 2011. She retired with well over two million in earnings and visited Frankel in 2013.


Right from the start, STACELITA'S little daughter had presence. Used with the permission of Michele McDonald. Photo and copyright, Michele McDonald.

Right from the start, SOUL STIRRING had presence. Shown here with her dam, STACELITA. Used with the permission of Michele McDonald. Photo and copyright, Michele McDonald.

Frankel followers were beginning to note that many in his first crop shared a distinctive feature: on the outside, they took after their dams. And Soul Stirring, as she was named, had Stacelita’s size, scope and bone. As a baby, what she had inherited from Frankel certainly couldn’t be discerned just by looking at her.

The devotion Frankel had gained as a racehorse showed no sign of ebbing when he retired, and  “The First Frankels” were eagerly awaited, despite the risk that this great thoroughbred wouldn’t necessarily prove to be as great a sire. Frankel nevertheless got the immediate support of Juddmonte, who offered him a modest book of exceptional mares in 2013. And this trend is likely to continue throughout his stallion career. The idea is to keep him “exclusive” — as his privileged status demands.

So it was that Soul Stirring’s first start in July 2016 in the land of her birth was greeted with great excitement. She was, after all, Japan’s own “baby Frankel.”

And her win came with a sense of what Frankel had almost certainly contributed to her pedigree (Soul Stirring is #3, yellow-striped silks and red cap):

True, she won it by a fraction of a nose, but the explanation for that probably came in the walking ring before the race (video below), where the 2 year-old was fractious. Unlike other Frankels, who showed his enthusiastic forward locomotion, Soul Stirring’s running style was reminiscent of Stacelita. But although her willingness and speed couldn’t be attributed to Frankel alone, it seemed likely that on the “X” her sire had contributed was more than a little of Danehill, one of the most stunningly successful sires of the last forty years.

Soul Stirring had indeed stirred hearts around the world. But one start does not a champion make. With Christophe Lemaire back in the irons for trainer Kazuo Fujisawa, the filly made her second start, this time against the colts, in the October 2016 Ivy Stakes (please click on video):

This win was something different: Soul Stirring showed a lightning turn of foot when asked, powering into the lead to finish with ears pricked. It was a thrilling, decisive victory. And even the champion and two-time Horse of the Year in Japan, Gentildonna, had only won once in two starts as a two year-old. So Japanese racing fans, together with Teruya, aka “Terry” Yoshida, were ecstatic.

SOUL STIRRING in the walking ring before the Ivy Stakes looked composed.

SOUL STIRRING in the walking ring before the Ivy Stakes looked composed. Photo source: Twitter.


Crossing the finish line, ears pricked.

Crossing the finish line, ears pricked. Photo source: Twitter,

Soul Stirring was acquiring a following after beating the colts, and social media was regularly peppered with shots of her preparation for the final start of her two year-old campaign, the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, a G1 race for the best juveniles in the land. Should she win it, Soul Stirring would become Frankel’s first G1 winner. The filly seemed to have it all — looks, turn of foot, ability to rate off the pace and blazing speed. It was impossible not to wish the best for her in her final race, scheduled to take place in December.

SOUL STIRRING works prior to the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies.

SOUL STIRRING works prior to the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies. Photo source: Twitter.

Elsewhere, it was late in the flat season: The Frankels racing in England and France, despite signs of brilliance, had not managed a G1 and had been put away until their three year-old season. Too, a majority of the best-bred Frankels hadn’t even shown up on the turf: Frankel himself raced at two, but he was by all accounts a “late bloomer,” a quality that seemed in evidence in his 2014 crop.

December 11th arrived and Soul Stirring’s cheering section held its breath, while those in other parts of the world consumed gallons of coffee the evening before and got set to stay up all night. (Soul Stirring is #2, yellow-striped silks, white cap):

With that, it was settled. Stacelita’s daughter was indeed a champion juvenile, having beaten the best of her age and sex with relative ease. The win would be enough to award her Champion Two Year Old Filly honours in Japan, before getting some time off.

A delighted Christophe Lemaire congratulates his filly.

A delighted Christophe Lemaire congratulates his filly. Photo source: Twitter.


Victory salute.

Victory salute. Photo source: Twitter.


SOUL STIRRING, Champion two year-old of 2016.

SOUL STIRRING, JRA Champion Two Year-Old Filly of 2016. Photo source: Twitter.


What a difference two months can make.

By February 2017, Soul Stirring was back in training for the first start of her three year-old campaign, the Tulip Sho, in March. The choice of the Tulip Sho spoke volumes: the race is the habitual qualifier for the Japanese Filly Triple Crown, comprised of the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) and the Shuka Sho (formerly the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup, run from 1976–1995). The most recent winner of the Filly Triple is the brilliant Gentildonna, who won it in 2012.

Caught in the lens of eager photographers, Soul Stirring was already bigger and stronger than the juvenile version of herself, just eight weeks after her mini-break. In fact, she had added 20 kgs. Put another way, the filly was beginning to “grow into herself.”

SOUL STIRRING, December 2016.

SOUL STIRRING, December 2016. Photo source: Twitter.


SOUL STIRRING, February 2017

SOUL STIRRING, February 2017. Photo source: Twitter.


February 2017: SOUL STIRRING works, prior to the Tulip Sho. The hood is used to keep her mind on business — and likely signals to the filly that something important is on the horizon. Photo source: Twitter.

By now Frankel lovers around the world knew about Soul Stirring and, as even breeders are inclined to feel, the sense that she could be “The One” (of 2014) to carry the beloved Frankel into the future was visceral. When you love a thoroughbred you pray for that, pray that time won’t swallow them up and render them ghostly. And Soul Stirring gave people the same stirring in the heart, in the soul, as Frankel had once done. She drew you in. She had presence alright — and that ineffable something that sets hearts and minds on fire.

But would she train on into her third year? So many brilliant two year-olds don’t…..

March 3, the day of the Tulip Sho, Frankel enthusiast Jess Samy noted: “Don’t mess with me. She’s a girl on a mission” And Soul Stirring sure did. Tight as a coiled spring, she strode the walking ring between her handlers exuding power, making it impossible to take your eyes off her — even at 1 a.m. in the morning (central North American time).


“A girl on a mission,” said Jess Samy. She’s got her game face on. Photo source: Twitter.

Walking ring footage. Soul Stirring is #10:

The competition befitted a Triple Crown qualifier, the strongest of them being Entry Ticket (#4), Lys Gracieux (#3) and Miss Panthere (#7), all granddaughters of Sunday Silence. Two others were by the winningest of Japanese sires, Deep Impact. And Soul Stirring was starting from deep outside the rest of the field.

With Christophe Lemaire once again her pilot, Soul Stirring stepped into the starting gate:

Hugely evident in her victory is that Soul Stirring had come into 2017 very much the same, willing competitor as she had been at two. That, and how readily she quickened to win, ears pricked. As an American jockey might say, “I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of her yet.”

SOUL STIRRING in her winning colours. Photo source: Twitter.

April and the Oko Sho (1,000 Guineas) await, where Soul Stirring may very well face another very good Frankel daughter in Mi Suerte (out of Mi Sueno), as well as Miss Pathere and Lys Gracieux who finished second and third, respectively, in the Tulip Sho.

But on that day, all around the planet, you’d better believe that hearts will swell and hope will power her wings.

SOUL STIRRING, taken in February 2017. Photo source: Twitter.

SOUL STIRRING seems to be saying, “That’s right. I did it again.” (In winner’s circle, Tulip Sho.) Photo source: Twitter.



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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Special thanks to Charlotte Farmer, who introduced this great filly to me, and John Engelhardt, Executive Director, Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners. Without their help, this article would never have been written and I would have missed out on the story of an exceptional thoroughbred. Thank you.

This article is dedicated to Ryan Brady, whose journey with a filly he had never met speaks of a love great enough to overcome adversity, and an enduring respect for those who weave our history. 

GLACIAL PRINCESS with her dam, GAY NORTH, a daughter of the mighty NEARCTIC, who sired NORTHERN DANCER.

GLACIAL PRINCESS with her dam, GAY NORTH, a daughter of the mighty NEARCTIC, who sired NORTHERN DANCER. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners.

When you study thoroughbred history you quickly come to see that the stories of hundreds of great thoroughbreds have been forgotten. The reasons are as many as the individuals themselves, but at particular risk are those thoroughbreds who raced locally, often in the states where they were born, never venturing to prestigious venues or those races, like the Kentucky Derby, that almost guarantees an enduring legacy. That they are forgotten is especially harsh, considering that these horses are in many ways the true heroes and heroines of racing in North America and in the world at large. Without them and the many racetracks where they ran, there would be no sport at all.

The dark filly pictured above with her dam could have run with the best of her year, colt or filly, but she made her stand principally at Beulah Park in Ohio. Glacial Princess, as she would be named by owners William Fouss and Dr. John Graver, crowns the pantheon of thoroughbred champions in her state. A legend and beloved, she brought people to the track just to see her, to breathe in a little of the same air that Glacial Princess inhaled and to go home saying that they had seen a mighty filly run.

Despite a proud 91-year history, Beulah Park, its people and their stories were about to disappear forever.

During a walk through Beulah Park with his fiancee shortly before it closed, Ryan Brady and his intended came upon Glacial Princess’ headstone. Brady’s fiancee wondered aloud if the champion filly’s memorial would be paved over, once the track was sold and developers started to dig up the infield. The thought made Brady feel ill.

“…’It was really important to find a dignified resting place for Glacial Princess,’ Brady told thisweeknews.com. ‘I couldn’t stand the thought of her grave being paved over by a parking lot or a new building.

‘I never got to see her race, but growing up in Ohio, I knew her history,’ added Brady, ‘and I thought this is just the right thing to do.’ ” (excerpted from The Blood-Horse, January 19, 2017)

And so it was that Ryan Brady began a two-year campaign to honour a Princess he had never actually seen. And he was lucky enough to enjoy the full support of many key people, among them Beulah Park’s new ownership.

Dr. John Graver, who owned Glacial Princess in partnership with William Fouss, was stoutly behind Brady’s efforts and agreed to donate his filly’s headstone, should a suitable burial site be found for her. Brady also consulted with Charlotte Farmer, who had located, exhumed and transported the champion Noor’s remains from California to Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky for re-burial. And when he heard about the efforts to find an eternal place of rest for Glacial Princess, Michael Blowen of Old Friends stepped forward once again, just as he had for Noor and Barbara D. Livingston’s beloved champion, Springsteel, who found himself in similar straits when Rockingham Park closed, to offer “…a place for her {Glacial Princess’} fans to come and honour her.” Upon hearing the news, Charlotte Farmer expressed her joy, saying, “…Now my Prince {Noor} will have a Princess beside him to complete his royal court.”



BRENT'S PRINCE was Ohio's Horse of the Year in

BRENT’S PRINCE was Ohio’s Horse of the Year in 1975. The son of the 1967 winner of the Kentucky Derby, Proud Clarion (Hail To Reason), BRENT’S PRINCE proved a very good sire. Photo and copyright, the Estate of Tony Leonard.

Glacial Princess was bred by Cider Mill Farm in Ohio and came into the world in 1981. Other than a white star, the youngster bore a distinctive white spot on her right flank. The spot was like a kiss from Mahmoud, who appeared in her female family in the 5th generation. But that was just the beginning. The dark-coated newborn was racing royalty: a daughter of the 1975 Ohio Horse of the Year and 3 year-old Champion, Brent’s Prince (a son of the 1967 Kentucky Derby winner Proud Clarion by Hail To Reason) and Gay North, a daughter of Nearctic, the sire of Northern Dancer. And within the bloodlines of the filly foal’s pedigree were other legendary names: Nearco, Bull Page and his sire, Bull Lea, Hyperion, Turn-To, Blue Larkspur, Scapa Flow (GB) and Gainsborough (GB).


NEARCTIC, who famously sired Canada's NORTHERN DANCER, was the BM sire of GLACIAL PRINCESS.


There was not much question who had dominated the Princess’ blood. She had Nearctic’s determination to never be headed in a race, and his (at times) thoroughly unloveable personality. In fact, as far as her character went, Glacial Princess was a carbon copy of Northern Dancer, who reserved his affection for only one person — Winnie Taylor, the wife of E.P. Taylor, who bred and owned him. Otherwise, he was a mean-spirited little bully. In the case of the daughter of Brent’s Prince, the object of her affection was trainer John Rutherford. By the time she arrived at Rutherford’s barn, Glacial Princess had matured into a tall, iron-grey filly and she quickly let everyone know that she just wasn’t cut out to be a cuddle bug.

Lynn Boggs, herself a thoroughbred owner, got to know Glacial Princess when Rutherford asked her to braid roses into the filly’s mane for an upcoming race.

“With John, she was an angel. He loved that horse and she loved him,” she {Boggs} said. “Other people — she didn’t much like dealing with them.

“She had a little bit of a mean streak in her, it’s true,” she said. “But when you have a horse like that, so regal and proud on the track, you can’t help but fall in love with them.” (excerpted from This Week Community News, January 11, 2017)


GLACIAL PRINCESS on track, wearing the colours of Fouss and Graver's Equinall Stable.

GLACIAL PRINCESS on track, wearing the colours of Fouss and Graver’s Equinall Stable. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners.


It didn’t matter that she wasn’t one of the “sweet” ones. Glacial Princess was as rare as flamingos in an Ohio winter: a superstar filly who would triple her sale price in earnings by the end of her juvenile season. Ironically, her nickname was the “Iron Lady,” the same as that of another racing champion born a year after Glacial Princess, Lady’s Secret.

Ohio’s Iron Lady not only earned the title for her steel grey coat, but also for her fierce competitive spirit. Running against fillies and colts, under all conditions and carrying as much as 128 lbs. on her back, Glacial Princess always gave it her best shot. She was one of those thoroughbred’s who answers the question with 150% effort in race after race after race. The jockeys who guided her through to a remarkable career included Heriberto Rivera Jr., Danny Weiler and Sebastian Madrid.

In 1985, Glacial Princess ran 17 times, winning 11, 9 of which were stakes and earning Ohio Horse of the Year honours.

GLACIAL PRINCESS out of the gate.

GLACIAL PRINCESS out of the gate. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners.

The following year, Glacial Princess ran 19 times, closing out the year with a record of 8-2-2. The filly made Ohio thoroughbred racing history, when she became the first Ohio-bred to ever record $200,00 plus earnings in back-to-back years and she went on to win a second consecutive Horse of the Year title in a tie with the colt, Rhinflo.

1986 also saw Glacial Princess run her finest race, cruising to victory in the Miss Southern Ohio Stakes at River Downs by 5 lengths. The performance is emphatic enough to spark memories of Ruffian and of Rachel Alexandra’s Oaks. But 1986 also brought disappointment: defeat at Aqueduct in The G.III Vagrancy — although Glacial Princess was later found to have had a virus — and in Hawthorne’s Yo Tambien Handicap (The Chicago Tribune, October 2, 1986.).

And somewhere along the way, the filly had lost trainer John Rutherford, first going to Marvin Moncrief and finally to Gary M. King. In fact, on the Pedigree Query website, two other trainers’ names appear next to the filly’s list of graded stakes wins: Linda Lysher (Evergreen Stakes, 1986) and Patrick J. Kerins (George Lewis Memorial Stakes, 1986, Diana and Lady Liberty Stakes, 1987).

Still, her year had been a winning one. As co-owner Graver told the press, ” …All of her losses this season have been justifiable…She will continue racing as long as she remains healthy and sound.” (The Cincinnati Enquirer, May 24, 1986.)

GLACIAL PRINCESS was racing royalty and Ohio's greatest pride.

GLACIAL PRINCESS was Ohio’s greatest pride. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners.


On April 25, 1987 it all came to an end when Glacial Princess broke down. The injuries she sustained made it impossible to save her and she was buried in the infield at Beulah Park, near the finish line.

When a loved one is taken, the bereft mourn forever. So it was with the Ohio racing community: a filly who raised hopes and hearts was gone.

Old Beulah Park cradled her in its arms, an embrace that bespoke memory and loss.

GLACIAL PRINCESS' headstone, in the infield at Beulah Park. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred

GLACIAL PRINCESS’ headstone, in the infield at Beulah Park. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners.


The film below chronicles Glacial Princess’ career, offering rare footage of her as a filly foal and on the track. It was written and produced in a collaboration between Carroll and Marlane Nibert, John Engelhardt and the filly’s owners.

It is an absolute treasure:


In January 2017, having the approval of Beulah Park’s Pat Kelley and the Grove City administration, the search for Glacial Princess’ mortal remains began, with the assistance of members of the anthropology department at Ohio State University. John Queen of Richwood, a friend of Brady’s, supplied the back-hoe and the team went to work with Brady in attendance. They knew where the filly had been buried, but other important details were sketchy.

“…after hours of digging Saturday, the group found no trace of her. It’s possible the remains deteriorated, they said.

“They found a railroad spike, the remains of a small dog wrapped in a blanket, and a race ticket believed to be from the 1930s. Ultimately, after excavating a good portion of the infield, they decided that Glacial Princess will remain permanently at rest at the track where her impressive career began and ended.” (excerpted from an article in the Columbus Dispatch, January 22, 2017.)

The video below includes footage from the original short film about Glacial Princess (above) but also includes coverage of the search for the champion filly’s remains:


With mixed emotions, Ryan Brady carefully collected pieces of the winner’s circle, some dirt from the finish line and the burial site, together with an old betting ticket that they had found. Then he deposited it all into a tote that would be sent on to Old Friends, followed by Glacial Princess’ headstone. Of very real comfort was the fact that the plan for the development of Beulah Park will include a sizeable park to commemorate Grove City’s racing history — and preliminary renderings {of said plan} show it encompassing Glacial Princess’ grave, meaning that what remains of her won’t be disturbed.

When the Memorial Service in her honour takes place at Old Friends, Ryan plans to bring red carnations — the state flower of Ohio — for his Princess.






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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(Source: Facebook.)


The heart and mind process imminent endings before they actually happen. There are reflections, a fondness for the past tense, a sense of distancing the self from the event, because when heart and mind know an ending is upon them, they rehearse.

But eyes and mind are different, as they must be, since the eyes live in an eternal present. On January 29, 2017 California Chrome left his stall on the Gulfstream shed row to begin a new career at Taylor Made in Kentucky. Eyes and hearts watched him go for the final time, saw the empty stall, began to register the absence.

As I watched Chrome leave his home in Los Alamitos, I knew in my heart what Art, Alan, Dhigi and Raul were feeling. They had welcomed me into Chrome’s world, closing the space between the far-away me and themselves, and as the van pulled out of Los Alamitos for the last time I was filled with sadness. “The eyes are the window of the soul” and my soul was right there beside the people who made Chrome’s stall a home.

Chrome’s departure for Gulfstream had almost nothing to do with the Pegasus and everything to do with the closing chapter of a brilliant career for me. And along with the Team Chrome family, I knew I’d miss the presence in my life of this magnificent copper horse and his honest, courageous heart.



Trainers Art & Alan Sherman, exercise riders Willie Delgado (until April 2015 approx.) and Dhigi Gladney (April 2015-January 2017 approx.), groom Raul Rodriquez and jockey Victor Espinoza comprise the “hands on” of Team Chrome, the people who did everything from picking out his feet to teaching him how to win.

And they did it brilliantly, while always making time for the press and their colt’s devoted Chromies by throwing open windows to the tribulations, trials and excitement of campaigning a great horse.

(Videos: from 2014, produced by David Trujillo and Blood-Horse, respectively):


Art Sherman was not entirely a stranger to the media, having been champion Swaps’ exercise rider in 1955, at the age of eighteen. Between 1957-1979, Sherman was a professional jockey, turning to training thoroughbreds after that. And even though California Chrome was Sherman Stables’ first Kentucky Derby contender, Art brought a depth of knowledge about thoroughbreds to the table. His down-to-earth, straight-shooting and always cordial style set the bar on what it means to be a consummate professional. The Shermans are sportsmen and they love the game. Art’s admiration for Shared Belief and Arrogate was palpable following their victories over Chrome, and bespoke a classy gentleman of the track.

In the three/four years that the colt and his trainers were under the microscope they taught us all so much — not only about California Chrome, but about the life of a trainer responsible for a North American racing icon. Expressions like, “He (Chrome) ran his eyeballs out…” and “He’s just a cool horse,” became part of my lexicon, as did the familiarity of Art in cap and jacket, hands in his pockets, answering still another round of questions.

Of all the interviews with Art, this one, after his colt’s win in the 2016 World Cup, is my favourite. I was so thrilled for Art, Alan, Dhigi and Raul that I danced all around the living room, my eyes glazed with tears.

But glamour of Dubai aside, the largest percentage of Chrome’s racing life happened at the Sherman Stables in Los Alamitos (and before that, at Hollywood Park). It’s easy to forget just how much time thoroughbreds spend in their stalls or in training; a trainer’s greatest skill is keeping his horse happy during the (sometimes) long stretch between races. Keeping a horse “well within himself” is based on familiar routines, appropriate exercise and attention from those who are most important to him/her. Centre stage are the exercise rider(s) and the groom(s) and it is the latter who often become a thoroughbred’s best friend. As with dogs and cats, the person who cares for them is, in the horse’s mind, the person to whom they belong.

Enter Raul Rodriguez, who accompanied Chrome from his very first start to his retirement (video produced by the Blood-Horse in 2014):


Raul’s bonuses from Chrome’s wins have allowed him to purchase a home amid an 80-acre ranch in his home, Jalisco (Mexico), where he intends to retire. As I write this, Raul is with his boy at Taylor Made, helping him to settle in. And I’m remembering Eddie Sweat taking Secretariat and Riva Ridge to Claiborne, and that photo of Eddie in tears, leaning against a stone wall….. May your goodbye be a kinder one, Raul.

Raul and his boy, CALIFORNIA CHROME

Raul and his boy

It was William Delgado and Dhigi Gladney who put the muscle on America’s 2014 and 2016 Horse of the Year. Working in tandem with Art and Alan, they were the ones who taught the juvenile his job. Through their hands and voices, Chrome learned about gallops, works and cooling out. They taught him how to break from the starting gate and how to change leads on the fly. It was from Willie and Dhigi that he received praise, and began to understand how to work with a rider instead of against him. Too, it was from Willie that the colt first heard “the question” — that moment a thoroughbred is invited to really run. With Dhigi came the fine tuning — sharpening Chrome’s sensitivity to his rider’s commands, helping him move fluidly from one “gear” to another. And both of these fine young men had everything to do with the champion’s “attitude” towards racing.

Delgado worked Chrome as a juvenile and then until April 2015, teaching him many key lessons along the way (video produced by America’s Best Racing in 2015) :

And it was Dhigi’s beautiful smile, cordiality and enthusiasm that lit up the last 18 months of Chrome’s career, as he added his skill to the racing repertoire of the champion (video produced in 2017 by Gulfstream Park):


The accomplished Victor Espinoza was Chrome’s jockey throughout most of his career. Victor is a man known for his generosity with fans. But he is also the man that guided Chrome home, giving him confidence when he needed it and helping him navigate safely through traffic. There is another kind of intimacy between a jockey and a horse he knows well, and it was when Victor took over the irons in the King Glorious Stakes at Hollywood Park in 2013 that California Chrome began to turn into the Chrome we know and love. There was a chemistry between them. An understanding. And it was Victor who took care of Chrome in his final start, making certain that the horse got back to the barn without sustaining what could have been a fatal injury.

Here they are in the August 21, 2016 Pacific Classic, where they took on an absolutely stellar field:



Msrs. Steve Cobourn and Perry Martin were the first owners of California Chrome and through the eyes of two new to the sport, we shared the ups and downs of Chrome’s early career. One can only wonder how many newcomers were inspired to get into the game by knowing the enthusiastic duo and their copper-coated colt with his purple silks.

Mr. Perry Martin and Mr. Steve Cobourn

Mr. Perry Martin and Mr. Steve Cobourn

Although Perry Martin had wanted to retire the colt in 2015, partner Steve Cobourn sold his share in the horse to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky and the whole game plan changed. When the Taylors joined Team Chrome, the colts silks turned from purple to chrome, literally. Too, following his loss in the 2015 Dubai World Cup, he was sent to Taylor Made after a stint spent in the UK before returning to the Shermans for the 2016 racing season. It was a joy to see him hanging out in Kentucky and I thought the idea a brilliant one: since Chrome would retire to Taylor Made, I wondered whether or not getting used to the place would ease the transition, when it came.

But in Taylor Made, the Champ found a new home. A family business where he was greeted with deep respect and love.

Chrome playing with Taylor Made Stallion Manager, Gilberto Terrazas (video produced in 2015 by Armando Reyes)

This superb Blood-Horse video features the story of post-UK Chrome (2015) right up to the Dubai World Cup win (2016) and gives viewers a great look at what Taylor Made is all about:



Leading up to California Chrome’s retirement, the new partnership busied themselves setting up a form of “super syndicate,” partners who will make a 4-year commitment to Chrome at stud and assure him great mares.

Through the final campaign in the Champion’s career, Taylor Made were there. And when he arrived at the farm, they found their own way to make it clear that they knew we Chromies were out there.

(Video produced on Jan. 30, 2017 by Taylor Made Sales Agency Inc.)



(Video produced on Jan. 30, 2017 by Taylor Made Stallions)




Thank you for your warmth and kind generosity.

Thank you for reaching out and “seeing” me — and understanding what it is to love a horse.

And thank you, Chrome. You made my heart soar. You made me feel wonder.

And I will love you forever.



(Video by David Truhillo, Nov 2016)



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 little ditty comes to you, dear reader, at the close of 2016 with my best wishes for a New Year filled with an abundance of lovely surprises, new adventures and discoveries, radiant health and many occasions for laughter. This narrative aspires to set a mood of joy and hope as we ring in 2017! Love, Abigail


Dedicated to the family and descendants of W.J. Gray, and especially his granddaughter, without whom this article would have been so much less than it became.


BLUE LARKSPUR, a superb thoroughbred from track to breeding shed, captured in the lens of W.J. Gray. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

BLUE LARKSPUR, a superb thoroughbred from track to breeding shed, carrying the W.J. Gray stamp. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

As many of you know, I am wholly addicted to photography and especially vintage photographs. One of my favourite haunts, even when I’m not looking to buy anything, is Ebay — a superb place to just enjoy old photographs of all kinds.

Over the years, my collecting of rare old photographs of thoroughbreds and standardbreds has netted a handful of surprise discoveries and chance encounters with people from all around the world. One was with a descendant of Colonel Phil Chinn of Kentucky, and another took place when I bought a photograph of Safely Kept beating Dayjur in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in the now famous “shadow incident” (below). As it turned out, the seller was the then owner of the UK’s Pacemaker magazine (now Owner Breeder), who was in the midst of selling off his magazine’s photo archives. So it was that I was gifted with some rare and wonderful photographs of Nijinsky, Danzig, Danehill and Sadler’s Wells from the Pacemaker archives. As a thank you, I sent this gentleman a copy of Secretariat from the Thoroughbred Legends series, as he was a huge fan and this was one book he didn’t have in his collection.

But one of the most fascinating of my discoveries began on an ordinary day, when I was trawling Ebay for no particular reason. I was scrolling through a search I routinely do of vintage horse photos when I stumbled upon a relatively rare Phar Lap, at a ridiculous price. I bought it and then returned to the seller’s listing, to see what else s/he had on offer. What came up was the kind of “find” that makes a collector dizzy: photos of the beloved Exterminator, the great Discovery (BM sire of Native Dancer, Bold Ruler, Bed O’ Roses and Hasty Road), of Blue Larkspur (outstanding in every way, the son of Black Toney is credited as being one of the X -chromosome, large heart sires), Pavot (US Champion Two year-old and grandson of Man O’ War), beloved Stymie, “The People’s Champion,” and a couple of more obscure thoroughbreds. These were large and possibly authentic photographs of the day. I bought the Exterminator and a few others. And then I sent a note off to the seller, asking about the provenance of the photographs. S/he duly responded to say that they were purchased at a garage sale in Los Angeles, where s/he had found them “stuffed into a cardboard box” on the front lawn, surrounded by vast arrays of household goods.


COALTOWN by W.J. Gray. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

COALTOWN by W.J. Gray. His signature is just under the colt’s hind leg. (This was one I was too late to buy, unfortunately.) Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

I waited for the arrival of my bounty, feeling that this might well be my personal “Antiques Roadshow moment.” You know the reference: the moment where the little lady from some tiny town that no-one has ever heard of is told that her photograph is worth a small fortune. Or not: many purchases turn out to be not quite what they appear to be in the Ebay listing, mostly due to sellers who know little or nothing about the difference between original and newly-minted photographs.

In the interim, I went back to the seller’s Ebay profile to check on other photographs that s/he might have sold. There I discovered images of a handful of thoroughbred champions who had been scooped up by other buyers: Calumet Farm’s Coaltown, who had the misfortune to race in the same years as Citation; the champions Alsab, Challendon and Gallorette, together with Reigh Count, the sire of Count Fleet; and Rosemont, he who famously beat Seabiscuit and Omaha and sired the champion filly, Bed O’ Roses.

Anyone who collects thoroughbred photos of the past will know that getting an authentic, original photo of Coaltown, Exterminator, Reigh Count, Phar Lap, Discovery or Gallorette is a definite coup because, for whatever reason, images of them are scarce. But what was equally fascinating in this seller’s lot was that the majority of the images were ones that I had never seen anywhere before. And this, of course, peaked my curiosity. I hoped that my own photos would yield some clue as to the photographer’s identity and/or the source (i.e. studio or printer’s mark, date of production, etc.)

The champion ALSAB. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

The champion ALSAB. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

My anticipation was rewarded shortly thereafter when a large, padded envelope arrived. As one photograph after another emerged, I was beyond delighted. Each one was 13.5 X 11 ” with very little border, printed on thick,nicely aged paper presumably used by printing studios/photographers of the day. The images themselves were crisp and compelling. With the exception of the Exterminator and the Phar Lap, each one bore either the signature (within the print itself) of a “W.J. Gray ” or an oval stamp that read “W.J. Gray, Photos, 411 So. Main Street, Los Angeles.”  

The Exterminator bore an encircled C in one corner that I can attribute to the great equine master, C.C. Cook, as well as recognizing his distinctive hand in inscribing the horse’s name, the jockey (A. Johnson) and a few other details on the print itself. Affixed to the photo, on fading newsprint, were typed details of Exterminator’s race record.


The print of EXTERMINATOR. Photo and copyright: C. C. Cook.

The print of EXTERMINATOR. Note the paper note affixed, listing his race record. Photo and copyright: Keeneland-Cook.

The Phar Lap only carried a typed newsprint square of the date and locale of his death, together with his career earnings. Had it been taken at either Menlo Park, CA or at Agua Caliente? I knew that, after his celebrated arrival in California and at the request of the American press corps, the champion was kitted up to pose for photos — the last that exist of Phar Lap before his untimely death.

There were no other identification marks on the print, although the image was superb and I knew that this was an exceedingly rare image of Australia’s beloved “Red Terror.” (At this writing, I have only managed to locate one copy of this photo online, but the site is in a foreign language so I was unable to read it. If any of you have any information about it — including recognizing the track where it was taken — please contact me here below, in the section reserved for COMMENTS. Thank you. AA)


The PHAR LAP photo.

The PHAR LAP photo. I am fairly certain that this is Billy Elliott in the irons and Tommy Woodcock in the background, in coat and hat. (Phar Lap’s Australian jockey, Jim Pike, had very noticeable cheekbones and a sharper nose. But at a distance, his official trainer, Harry Telford and Woodcock look somewhat similar. However, it was Woodcock and not Telford who accompanied Phar Lap to America, making it important to know who that figure in the background is, as it would date the photo.) Taken either at Menlo Park, CA or at Agua Caliente, Mexico, or else taken in Australia at some point in his career.

Once I had fully savoured my treasures, and framed the photos of Old Bones (aka Exterminator) and Bobby (aka Phar Lap), I began a search for the mysterious Mr. W. J. Gray.  But “Gray” is a common surname and searches kept giving me any instance of “W.J.” separately from “Gray.” After several dead ends, I finally hit upon a lead.

As it turned out, W. J. Gray was a photographer of some of Hollywood’s most iconic stars:


INGRID BERGMAN by W.J. Gray. Note his signature on the photo on the left-hand side. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

INGRID BERGMAN by W.J. Gray. Note his signature on the photo on the left-hand side. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.


JUNE ALLYSON by W.J. Gray. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

JUNE ALLYSON by W.J. Gray, also carrying his signature on the right. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.


A young FRANK SINATRA by W.J. Gray with the latter's signature visible under Sinatra's. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

A young FRANK SINATRA by W.J. Gray with the latter’s signature visible under Sinatra’s. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.


Too, I found one image of an iconic historical figure in American – World War II history that Gray had captured in understated dignity …


GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR by W.J. Gray. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR by W.J. Gray. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.


…as well as numerous aircraft, and one snowy scene of Los Angeles in the winter of 1944:






This was enough to tell me that Mr. Gray was, indeed, a very fine photographer, one whose reputation for exceptional work was acknowledged. After all, not just anyone was called upon to photograph Ingrid Bergman or General Macarthur. As well, many of the airplanes he photographed were produced by the industry giant Lockheed, with whom Gray likely had a contract.

From the scanty information I was able to retrieve, it appeared that much of Gray’s extant work was done in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

The great CORNELL WILDE, photographed by Billy Gray. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

The great CORNELL WILDE, photographed by Billy Gray. Gray’s characteristic signature sits to the left, below Wilde’s. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

But nowhere –nowhere — was there any indication of the photographer’s perhaps secret passion for the great thoroughbreds of his day. Whereas the Hollywood and possibly the Lockheed photos could well have been taken in California, several of the horses I had discovered never raced in California, indicating that Gray may have travelled around the country to record their exploits. Did he, I wondered, also work for (a)newspaper(s), capturing images of great thoroughbreds for their pages?


A quite spectacular photograph of DISCOVERY, the BM sire of Native Dancer and Bed O' Roses, carrying the W.J. Gray stamp. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

A quite spectacular photograph of DISCOVERY, the BM sire of Native Dancer and Bed O’ Roses, carrying the W.J. Gray stamp. Copies of this shot can be found on Ebay by those unscrupulous dealers who copy and sell other people’s work. Photo, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

Another thorny question: why a stamp and not a signature? Could the stamp indicate that the photograph was developed by Gray at his studio, whereas the signature, as seen in the Hollywood photos and on some of the thoroughbred shots, indicated that Gray himself was the photographer? This explanation seemed most likely, and is reinforced by the handwriting on the Discovery shot (above) that looks very much like C.C. Cook’s hand and carries only the Gray stamp. I hasten to add that, unlike today where so many unscrupulous types download someone else’s work from the internet and sell it on places like Ebay, if Gray did indeed sell others’ work in his store, it would have been through an agreement reached with the photographer, who likely made a commission on the sale of his work.

However, Gray — like C.C. Cook and other photographers of the day — was also given to writing on some of his negatives, as is the case with the photo of Alsab (above) that carries both writing and his signature (while minus the Gray stamp). If signature vs. stamp weren’t intended to discriminate the photographs Gray handled,  it’s equally possible that he just switched from signing his photographs to stamping them, making all those bearing either identification mark attributable to him. A tough call, and one impossible to resolve without the knowledge of someone who knew the man and something about his career.

So, on went the winding trail of the narrative of these stunning images and their creator, until I came across a blog that held a new Gray photograph. Although not of a thoroughbred, in the Comments section below it there was a reply from W.J. Gray’s great grandson, who confirmed that his great grandfather had owned a photography shop in Hollywood/Los Angeles. I duly obtained Mr. Gray’s great grandson’s coordinates from the blogger and shot off a hasty email. Could he tell me something more about his ancestor and about Gray’s thoroughbred photos?

CHALLENDON. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

CHALLENDON, in what appears to be a press photo. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

Within a few days, I received a very cordial note from Mr. Gray’s great grandson, who told me that he was researching his great grandfather, knew he had taken photos of Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin and commercial aircraft, but had absolutely no idea that he had an interest in thoroughbreds. I duly sent him copies of some of the thoroughbred photographs that had been listed on Ebay. Again I received a reply and a promise that he would forward the photos, as well as my letter, to other Gray family members. This was in 2014.

As the photos I had found were outstanding and reflected not only Gray’s skill but his knowledge about some of the most important thoroughbreds of his time, it was hard to forget about him.

Then, a day after I began writing this piece, I saw that there were many comments on The Vault that I had had no time to answer, given the Christmas holidays…and first among them was a message from W.J. Gray’s granddaughter. In fact, in a context where truth is stranger than fiction, she had written to me the day before I decided to try to pull something together about her grandfather for my first post of 2017.

Happy coincidence? Certainly.

I had been thinking about the mysterious Mr. Gray as a great subject for a new year post, because I believe that discovery is one of the great spices in life, even if its story is incomplete, which Gray’s clearly was until the moment I read his granddaughter’s note to me.

Sometimes the Universe is indeed inexplicable — and on December 26, 2016, it was presenting me with a gem.


Some horses don't wear well down through time. Meet the excellent LADYSMAN, winner of the Arlington Futurity, the Hopeful, the Grand Union Hotel Stakes and the United States Stakes in 1932, when he was also honoured with Champion Two Year-Old honours. LADYSMAN was a real press and fan favourite until his retirement in 1935. Used with the permission of WJ Gray's granddaughter.

Some horses don’t “wear well” down through time. Meet the excellent LADYSMAN, winner of the Arlington Futurity, the Hopeful, the Grand Union Hotel Stakes and the United States Stakes in 1932, when he was also honoured with Champion Two Year-Old honours. LADYSMAN was a real press and fan favourite until his retirement in 1935. Used with the permission of WJ Gray’s granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.


W.J. (Billy) Gray’s granddaughter’s initial message to me was followed by a flurry of emails and an actual “phone date.”

As it turned out, she had been born two weeks after her grandfather died, in January 1958, but had grown up hearing many stories about him. Her mother, Billy’s daughter-in-law, had only wonderful memories of him: “…She adored him and his gentle spirit, {he} was the absolute kindest person she ever knew! …My grandfather was a self-made man who lived his life with dignity, integrity and kindness.” (Private correspondence)

As she went on to say:

“…When you contacted my second cousin, his dad sent me copies of the photos you found (where did you find them?)

That began my search for horse racing photos…I couldn’t find any, except one that had been hand painted and was sold at an estate auction a few years prior. I searched for months! Many many months with no success.

Then one night I was watching the movie “Seabiscuit.” I was crying at the appropriate moment😊 and then put the movie on hold and asked out loud (no one was home) ‘Grandpa, am I ever going to find your horse racing photos?’.

I began to search on the internet, again. This time I searched ‘WJ Gray Seabiscuit’. On the third page of searches I found three lines that included contact info and:
‘large, original photos of Seabiscuit and War Admiral by Wm Gray of Los Angeles for $100, Philadelphia’

I called him immediately and told him that {the photographs he was selling} was my grandfather who died 2 weeks before I was born and I was searching for his photos. The man called me back the next day and said I must have those photos and {that he had} discovered 4 more in his stash! He said his father had bought them in Philly when a bar closed and they were selling the photos off the wall! He’d tried to sell them before and thought that no-one understood what they were. But he did. He liked the ‘ponies’.” (Private correspondence) 


WJ GRAY getting ready to take a photograph. Used with permission by his granddaughter.

A very dapper WJ GRAY getting ready to take a photograph, possibly at Santa Anita. Used with the permission of his granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

Then scans of the photos she had tracked down and purchased from the man in Philadelphia arrived. Once again, I was astounded. Not only were the images crisp, but most were shots of thoroughbreds I knew well but had never seen before: War Admiral in close-up coming into the final turn of the Belmont Stakes (and victory in the Triple Crown); Phar Lap after his win at Agua Caliente; an apparent press photo (because it included a typed byline) of Seabiscuit losing the Santa Anita Handicap to Rosemont; A.C. Bostwick’s champion, Mate, winner of some important races, notably the the Preakness, Champagne and American Derby in 1931; Equipoise winning The Metropolitan (1932); and Granville, a very good son of Gallant Fox, on track in the colours of the famous Belair Stud. Each large photo carried the oval “WJ Gray Photos” stamp.


GRANVILLE on track. Photo and copyright, the estate of WJ Gray.

GRANVILLE on track. Photo and copyright, the Estate of WJ Gray.

Mr. Gray’s granddaughter was also kind enough to send photos of her grandfather, as well as biographical notes.


W.J. GRAY with an unidentified horse. Used with the permission of his granddaughter.

W.J. GRAY with an unidentified horse. Used with the permission of his granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

William (Billy) J. Gray was born on Edisto Island, SC in 1883, the youngest of ten children. He was orphaned at the age of seven and while in an orphanage was taught a trade that presumably allowed him to work on the railroad, possibly as a cabin boy. He eventually ended up in Los Angeles CA. Some time before 1919, Billy had bought himself a camera and learned how to use it, because in that year he took a photograph of Woodrow Wilson that he sold to the Los Angeles Times newspaper. (A signed copy of this photograph hangs in the Ronald Reagan Library, where it was discovered by Billy’s granddaughter. She tells me that the family has the original print.)

It was the sale of the Woodrow Wilson to the LA Times that suggested to the twenty-six year old Billy Gray that his photography hobby could, in fact, be potentially lucrative. And he had the courage to follow his instincts — and his heart. As Hollywood and its stars together with various newspapers came to recognize Billy’s endowment, it was possible for the then father of five to support his family during the dark days of the Depression by taking pictures. At some point soon after the sale of the Woodrow Wilson photo, Billy opened his first place of business in Los Angeles, to be followed by a second establishment, also in Los Angeles.


An early advertisement placed by W.J. Gray, sometime after 1921. Note the company name: FILM STARS PORTRAIT CO. Used with the permission of his granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

As the ad above indicates, Billy Gray was targeting Hollywood stars in the early years of his career and to say that he was successful would be an understatement. Below, a W.J. Gray photograph of Hollywood icons and, in his own hand, a note on the back:



This was Charlie Chaplin’s private plane. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.



Back of the photograph above, listing of the names of the Hollywood icons pictured. Used with the permission of Billy’s granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.


A cousin also supplied memories of Billy “on the job,” as in this excerpt from my private correspondence with Billy’s granddaughter:

“My cousin, as a little girl, remembers visiting our grandparents in Los Angeles and walking to our grandfather’s studio on Pico (his other studio). Grandfather was developing his own film and in those days you printed a photo, ad or sheet of stationary one-at-a-time. She remembers helping stack the sheets of naval ship stationary, one at a time. During and after the war, grandfather would go down to the docks and take a photo of the ships. He’d come back, develop the film and then print one sheet at a time on stationary. She added that they {other members of the Gray family} would help Grandpa as he printed the individual stationary paper and envelopes: she would fold them and place them into the envelopes which was how they were sold.

Then he would go back down to the docks to sell it. The sailors would buy the stationary that featured their ship to write home on.

My cousin was born near the end of the war and grandfather was still producing this stationary after the war.”

In addition, Billy’s granddaughter mentioned a photograph she had of Billy in a printing shop in Chicago, as well as evidence that he had travelled to Greenland at some point. She further told me that her grandfather’s wife hand-coloured portraits and other photographs associated with the Gray’s photography business and that she had located one, of a thoroughbred, that had sold at auction.

In our lengthy exchanges, she was also able to confirm that Billy was indeed a horse lover (as opposed to just a photographer of thoroughbreds), who had friendships with several of the jockeys at the California tracks and possibly at other racing venues. (This reported by her aunt, Billy’s 91 year-old sister.) As for the “stamp vs. signature” issue, she was unable to provide clarification. However, when I asked about the typing at the foot of some of the photographs, she told me that it was indeed her grandfather who had typed in these details himself.




The Santa Anita Derby of 1937. Typed underneath by WJ GRAY: “Start –Santa Anita Derby. Won by “FAIRY HILL.” (M. Peters up) Photo and copyright, the estate of WJ Gray.


A portrait of Billy Gray. Used with the permission of his granddaughter.

A portrait of Billy Gray. Used with the permission of his granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.


Finally, Mr. W.J. Gray was emerging out of the shadows for me and I was glad. He was an exceptionally gifted photographer and one who deserves to also be celebrated by anyone interested in thoroughbreds and the history of racing in America.

In recording facets of the world as he knew it, Billy made his mark in the world a lasting one.

He could not have known that his photographs would leave a trail for a little girl who loved him to follow. But I’m betting he’d be pleased. I know that his granddaughter is.

What a precious, precious gift Billy Gray left her: the opportunity to literally see a part of his world, through his eyes.

W. "BILLY" J. GRAY: Here's looking at you?

W. “BILLY” J. GRAY: Here’s looking at you! Used with the permission of his granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.



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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Thanks to your support, messages and enthusiasm, THE VAULT goes into its 7th year in 2017. I can hardly believe it! This article, over two years in the making, is my special Christmas gift to each and every one of you. With it comes my warmest wishes for a joyous and safe holiday season, filled with laughter, surprises and special moments to cherish. Love, Abigail






HOF jockey and trainer Johnny Longden rode winners with a capital “W” — champions like Swaps, Noor, Busher, Whirlaway, Round Table, Your Host and George Royal. But no matter how great the others were, Longden would say that “The Count” — Count Fleet — was the best of them all.

COUNT FLEET shown here with his trainer

COUNT FLEET shown here with his trainer Don Cameron and The Count’s regular exercise lad, Frank Kiniry. Photographer unknown.

Horsemen like my grandfather tend to say, “The reason so few horses ever get to the Triple Crown is because it’s a road fraught with everything but good luck.” And the story of Count Fleet and Johnny Longden is exactly that: so filled with the fickleness of Fate — good and bad — that it is absolutely remarkable they ended up together in the starting gate of the 1943 Kentucky Derby.

As regular readers of THE VAULT know, it was my grandfather who set me on the path that led to writing about thoroughbreds and standardbreds. No question I got the “horse gene,” as my late mother called it, from my Grandpa. It was his passion –a bright fire that illuminated the stories of the great thoroughbreds and standardbreds of his day — that kindled my imagination. In Grandpa’s pantheon, few were more admired than the incomparable John Longden, who had roots in Canada, and his “horse of a lifetime,”Count Fleet. I risk to say that The Count crowned my grandfather’s pantheon. He never said so, but he also never talked about any other thoroughbred, including Man O War, with the same fire in his eye. The Count had moved him in a way that none of the others he so admired, before or after him, would.

Count Fleet came into the world on March 24, 1940 at his owner, John D. Hertz’s, Stoner Creek Stud near Paris, Kentucky. The tiny son of champion and 1928 Kentucky Derby winner, Reigh Count, and the mare, Quickly — a great great granddaughter of the British wonder horse, The Tetrarch — did not impress. Hertz, the rental car magnate, was a canny businessman in all things and Quickly’s little colt foal likely went onto his “for sale” inventory within months of his birth.




REIGH COUNT, the sire of COUNT FLEET. An outstanding looking individual who was bred in the purple, Hertz bought him from Willis Sharpe Kilmer after seeing the colt savage another horse during a race. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.


QUICKLY, the dam of COUNT FLEET. Photographer unknown.

QUICKLY, the dam of COUNT FLEET, carried the blood of one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time, THE TETRARCH, in her 4th generation. A sprinter, QUICKLY made 85 starts with a record of 32-14-13 before she was acquired by Hertz from Joseph D. Widener. Photographer unknown.


In 1912, almost three decades before the birth of Count Fleet, Mary Longden and her four youngest children — Lillian, Doris, five year-old John and baby Elsie — closed up their home in Wakefield, England and boarded a train for Liverpool. From there, they would board a ship that would take them to Canada, where they were to meet up with Johnny Longden’s father, Herb, and two older siblings. The family’s eventual destination would be Tabor, Alberta, where Herb had found work in the coal mines.

But the train was running behind schedule. Mary feared for the worst: that their ship would sail before they arrived at the port. And, as it turned out, she was right.

The ship they were booked on was none other than the Titanic.

As Johnny would tell it to B. K. Beckwith, author of The Longden Legend, ” …I was five years old and it didn’t mean too much to me then. I guess kids of that age aren’t overly impressed with the workings of fate or whatever you want to call it…I’ve heard since the iceberg ripped most of the bottom out of the boat. It probably would have been curtains for us. The Longden pocketbook wasn’t in any shape to afford upper deck cabins. Most likely we’d have been among the fifteen hundred that went down with her…”  



The NEW YORK AMERICAN front page following the sinking of the TITANIC.

From his arrival as a little boy in Canada to his first encounter with Count Fleet, Johnny worked first as a herd boy and then as an apprentice coal miner and a clerk, all the while dreaming of becoming a jockey. He started out racing quarter horses before switching to thoroughbreds. By 1927 Johnny was working under contract for small-time thoroughbred owners in Alberta, Canada and in southwest American states just across the border. Along the way he met up with another youngster, George Woolf, and the two would remain best friends until Woolf’s tragic end in 1946, at the age of 35.

The $150,000 statue was commissioned by Cardston ranchers Jack and Ida Lowe and created by Artist Don Toney. It is being donated to the province of Alberta.

The statue of George Woolf and Seabiscuit  captured at the moment when George yelled, “So long, Charley!” to War Admiral’s jockey, pulling away to win the most famous match race in American racing history. The sculpture was commissioned by Cardston ranchers Jack and Ida Lowe and created by Artist Don Toney. Unveiled in 2010, the statue stands in Cardston, Alberta, Woolf’s birthplace.


In the same year that Reigh Count won the Kentucky Derby, Longden’s contract was bought up by one E.A. “Sleepy” Armstrong, a veteran horseman; when Sleepy Armstrong came into Johnny’s life, things started to change. His horizons expanded to racetracks in Cuba and Agua Caliente, where he rode a very good colt named Bahamas against the mighty Phar Lap in the Caliente Handicap of 1932.

Phar Lap won, of course. As Johnny remembered it: “I was leading the field to the three eights pole. About that point the big New Zealander went by the rest of us like we were tied to the fence…” :



By the early 1940’s, Longden was an established American jockey with a growing reputation for excellence, voted America’s leading jockey in 1938. In 1940 he was one of the founders of the (American) Jockey Guild. Now based in California, “The Pumper” — as he was nicknamed by his peers for his tendency to pump his arms as he encouraged a horse forward — had also become an American citizen. Over the testing ground of tracks from Canada to Cuba, Johnny had also learned to ride just about any horse under any conditions anywhere. Today, we would call him a “horse whisperer.” His whispers to particularly difficult mounts were communicated through voice, legs and hands. Johnny wasn’t one to hit a horse unless it really needed a reminder; instead, he relied on the language he had learned that his mounts would understand.

COUNT FLEET rendered by C.W. Anderson during a work. Based on a photograph from 1942/1943, this is a faithful representation of THE COUNT as a youngster.

COUNT FLEET during a work, beautifully rendered by C.W. Anderson and based on a photograph taken in 1942/1943.


By the time he was a yearling, Count Fleet already had a reputation for being tough to handle and was, accordingly, sent to auction. One of Hertz’s stable lads, Sam Ramsen, pleaded with the Stoner Creek manager on the colt’s behalf and his words were to become prophetic, “Someday he’s going to be some fine racer. When that leggy brown colt wants to run, he can just about fly.”

(This first attempt to get rid of him as a yearling remains a distinctly odd feature of The Count’s narrative, especially since Hertz had purchased his sire after seeing him savage another thoroughbred in a race, allegedly declaring, ” I love a fighter, man or horse.”)

Despite Ramsen’s plea, there were no takers at the sale. So Quickly’s baby boy was given a name, registered to owner Mrs. John D. (Fannie) Hertz and sent off to the Hertz’s trainer, Gregory Duncan “Don” Cameron.  The stage was set for one of history’s great partnerships: in 1939, Cameron had contracted Johnny Longden to ride horses owned by Fannie Hertz, as well as another owner, Vera S. Bragg.


The stage was set: the paths of Johnny and THE COUNT crossed in 1942. Photo and copyright: The Baltimore Sun.

The stage was set: the paths of Johnny and THE COUNT finally converged in 1942. Here they are working at Belmont. Photo and copyright: The Baltimore Sun.


The first time Johnny rode The Count, the colt came close to killing him. As Longden told the story, the pair were working at Belmont Park and Johnny noticed two horses coming towards them on the track. But The Count had running on his mind and Johnny couldn’t get him to either slow down or change lanes, so he somehow managed to guide him between the pair without anyone getting hurt. Telling the story to his biographer, B.K. Beckwith, Johnny still couldn’t envision how he’d pulled it off. But one thing was certain: after this incident, only Longden rode Count Fleet in race preps and actual races. Everyone else was too terrified to even contemplate it, although there are a few rare images of another young lad working the colt when he was in his 3 year-old season.

THE COUNT was a handful, but according to Longden, he was not a mean horse at all. Photographer and source unknown.

THE COUNT was a handful, but according to Longden, he was not mean — just a colt with a mind of his own. Photograph circa 1943. Photographer and source unknown.


Despite the Belmont episode, Johnny was adamant that there wasn’t a mean bone in Count Fleet’s body, although this fact went largely unnoticed in the press of the day. Headlines like “NASTY BUT FAST” dogged the colt throughout his brief racing career, even when he was packing fans in like sardines at Aqueduct or Churchill Downs.

In his biography, Longden explained The Count’s personality this way,” He was not, you understand, a mean horse…Just one full of the devil with a mind which was very much his own.”  As a two year-old, Johnny described Count Fleet as a somewhat sorry looking individual though, “He really didn’t have the look of a top prospect then…He was a medium size — about fifteen hands three inches — and, though he was deep in the girth and had a good shoulder, he was weedy behind…he looked more like a filly than a colt.”  In addition, Count Fleet at two weighed in at only 900 lbs., reaching 1,000 lbs. by January 1943. John Hervey (“Salvator”) was more complimentary, describing the colt as one who, though not handsome, sported a very fine head and a character both intelligent and inquisitive.


"...He looked more like a filly than a colt." COUNT FLEET as a two year-old. Photo from THE VAULT'S private collection.

“…he looked more like a filly than a colt.” COUNT FLEET as a two year-old. Photo and copyright: Bert Morgan, KEENELAND .


In 1942, before Count Fleet had made his first start as a juvenile, Johnny recalled another trainer, Sammy Smith, coming to Cameron’s barn at Belmont one morning. The Count was led out for Smith to look over and Longden understood that the colt was being offered for sale; the asking price was $4500. Now Johnny had been working for the Hertzes for almost two years at this point, and he had established a trusting relationship with John D. Hertz. When he realized The Count was up for grabs, he picked up a bicycle from the yard and pumped muscle to the nearest phone booth to call John D. Fortunately, Johnny got hold of him and begged Hertz not to sell the feisty youngster.

Hertz replied that he considered the colt dangerous and was afraid that he would kill Longden one day, to which Johnny replied, ” I’m not afraid of him.” There was a long pause. Then came the words,“All right…If you’re game enough to ride him, I’ll keep him.” 

At first, Hertz may well have regretted his decision: in his two year-old campaign, Count Fleet had a kind of seesaw year, breaking his maiden by four lengths in his third start followed by other wins as well as a few upsets. However, throughout the season the colt never finished worse than third. Said Longden of The Count’s juvenile year, ” He beat himself…He never should have lost a race, but he was a tough customer to handle, green and rough in those early starts, and you couldn’t take hold of him –you couldn’t even properly guide him. You had to let him run, and if you didn’t have racing room, he’d go to the outside or just climb over horses. If you were in close quarters with him, you were in trouble.” 

Actually, Count Fleet’s similarity to the most respected speedball of all time, The Tetrarch, was remarkable. It was just as though the “great grey” had come back in the form of a deceptively unremarkable brown colt.


"I'm not afraid of him." Johnny and COUNT FLEET. Photographer and source unknown.

“I’m not afraid of him.” Johnny and THE COUNT. Photographer and source unknown.


THE TETRARCH was selected one of the best thoroughbreds of the last century, even though he only raced for a single season. Ridiculed for his markings ("chubari spots"), THE TETRARCH would have the last laugh by becoming a prepotent sire and BM sire.

THE TETRARCH was selected one of the best thoroughbreds of the last century, even though he only raced for a single season. Ridiculed for his markings (“chubari spots”), THE TETRARCH would have the last laugh by becoming a prepotent sire and BM sire. COUNT FLEET carried his blood in the fourth generation of his pedigree.


But The Count wasn’t only a speed devil — he was also a lover boy.

In the Belmont Futurity, as Longden manoeuvred the two year-old toward the lead, he drew alongside the filly, Askmenow, a daughter of champion Menow. As Johnny told it, “…The Count decided he didn’t want to leave her. She was in that delicate condition that appealed to him. I couldn’t budge him. He just galloped along beside her and let Occupation steal the race.” 

It was the last race Count Fleet would ever lose.

The colt’s next start was in the historic Champagne Stakes in New York. That day, he really took a toll on Johnny’s patience, acting up behind the gate and sending the track lads scurrying. It was the only time he would feel Longden’s whip, which was applied to get his mind on the job at hand.

And The Count got the message: he led from gate to the wire, setting a world record for two year-olds in the process of 1:34 and 4/5. After this victory, Johnny felt he’d found “the key to him” — get the colt out on top and just let him run. “…It was what he loved to do more than anything else.”  In other words, Count Fleet needed to own the track from the first break. And it was exactly this that his gifted jockey would guide him to do. Not that this was always that easy to pull off: “…that horse {The Count} did horrify me on occasions,” Johnny once confided to his biographer.

COUNT FLEET wins the Champagne stakes, Longden up, and sets a new track record.

COUNT FLEET wins the Champagne Stakes, Longden up, and sets a world record for two year-olds. Photographer/source unknown.


In the Pimlico Futurity, The Count faced his rival, Occupation, once again. Although he broke on top, Occupation was soon overtaken by the Hertzes little whiz kid, who flew by to win by five and equal the course record. The Count’s last start of 1942 was in the Walden Stakes. If there had been any doubt as to his ability, it all ended that day: the bay who looked more like a filly than a colt won by roughly thirty lengths, carrying weight of 132 lbs. This performance, together with his other wins that season, made Count Fleet good enough to abscond with the title that, at the beginning of the racing calendar, looked to be Occupation’s — namely, U.S. Champion Two Year-Old (colt).




The Count went into 1943 as the favourite to win the Kentucky Derby, a feat that would allow his sire, Reigh Count, entry into the elite club of Derby sires of Derby winners. Other very good three year-olds of 1943 included Blue Swords, Slide Rule and The Count’s nemesis, Occupation. Older horses who added to the spirit of the sport that year were Equipoise’s son, Shut Out, who had won the 1942 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, Belair Stud’s Apache and Marise Farms’ Market Wise, a son of Broker’s Tip who had famously defeated Whirlaway in the 1941 Jockey Gold Cup in track record time.


Edgemere Handicap, 1943: APACHE (blinkers) edges SHUT OUT to take the win, with MARKET WISE and Johnny Longden coming in third. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Older horses running in 1943 did much to keep the sport an exciting one: Edgemere Handicap, 1943 — APACHE (blinkers) edges SHUT OUT to take the win, with MARKET WISE and Johnny Longden coming in third. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

After claiming an easy victory in the St. James Purse, the colt and his team were off to Aqueduct to compete in the Wood Memorial, then run at a distance of 1m, 7yards. These were, of course, the War Years and there were many restrictions on travel being enforced America-wide, all of which seriously threatened the running of the Kentucky Derby, which dilemma Colonel Matt Winn, the President of Churchill Downs, was wrestling with even as the gates swung open for the Wood Memorial.


Rare photo of COUNT FLEET in 1943, breaking in either the Wood Memorial or The Withers. THE COUNT is the first arrow closest to “Copywritten Image.” Photo from the private collection of THE VAULT.

The anticipation of spectators at the Wood, according to John Hervey, seemed to set Aqueduct on fire and derived from The Count’s performance — and new track record — in the slop in the St. James Purse. Both Blue Swords and Slide Rule lined up at the gate, but before The Count was loaded, he was either kicked or grabbed in his hind leg: “…It was low down, near the fetlock. We went on and won easy anyway, but it filled up pretty bad afterwards, and for a times we were afraid we might not make the Kentucky Derby. I sat up and tubbed him in ice all the way to Louisville. We went down in a boxcar. It was nip and tuck, but we made it to the race…” (Longden as quoted by Beckwith, his biographer).

But however uncomfortable the colt might have been, he took the Wood in 1:43, and made two excellent colts look more like cart horses than thoroughbreds.

A look at COUNT FLEET'S hind leg following his win in the Wood Memorial. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

A look at COUNT FLEET’S hind leg following his win in the Wood Memorial. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Matt Winn had now resolved with authorities that, although the horses would arrive by boxcar and/or on wheels for the Kentucky Derby, only local people would be in attendance at the track that day. As those who crowded Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May 1943 would remember it, the “Streetcar Derby” was worth it, even though they had to leave their cars at home.

The Count did not disappoint, rolling passed Blue Swords and Slide Rule to a victory that bespoke his class. Below, silent footage of the race:



COUNT FLEET wins the Kentucky Derby and makes his sire, REIGH COUNT, a Derby-winning sire of a Derby-winning son. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

COUNT FLEET wins the Kentucky Derby and makes his sire, REIGH COUNT, a Derby-winning sire of a Derby-winning son. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.


Johnny and COUNT FLEET festooned with roses. Photographer/source unknown.

Johnny and COUNT FLEET festooned with roses. Photographer/source unknown.


And then it was on to Pimlico, where the colt scored an even more decisive victory in the Preakness, beating Blue Swords by 8 lengths. Routing Blue Swords still again brought The Count’s reputation to its next level, since the former was a beautifully-bred son of Blue Larkspur whose dam was a daughter of Man O’ War. Blue Swords was the Sham of his day, confronted with a determined athlete who tended to wear his opponents down before the race was even half over. As The Blood-Horse put it, “If Count Fleet is the spectacular comet in the racing skies of 1943, then Blue Swords is the comet’s tail.”


THE COUNT arrives at Pimlico with trainer,

THE COUNT arrives at Pimlico with trainer, Don Cameron. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.


Leading them on a merry chase, COUNT FLEET swings into the turn at Pimlico.

Leading them on a merry chase, COUNT FLEET swings into the turn at Pimlico. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.


Wearing the black-eyed Susans. Photographer and source unknown.

Wearing the black-eyed Susans. Photographer and source unknown.


Trainer Cameron decided to run him next in the Withers, just to “keep him sharp.”  And The Count might have been at least a tad to blame: after a race — any race, from the easiest to the Derby and Preakness — it was not unusual for the colt to tire out two hot walkers as he cooled down. He never once came back from a race worn out.

Again, in what was becoming an all-too-familiar story, Johnny and The Count came home ahead of the competition in the Withers, leaving Slide Rule — who had skipped The Preakness — six lengths behind. The press — keen to exaggerate anything peculiar or interesting in an otherwise dark time — had already elevated The Count to the status of Man O’ War following his Preakness romp. But when the three year-old took the Withers, they were dumbfounded. This was due also to the fact that only one other Triple Crown winner had pulled off the double, the great Sir Barton. It was “a feat so difficult that any turfman who has witnessed it once need not expect to see it again during his lifetime.”²

Streaking home in The Withers, the second-to-last race of his career.

Streaking home in The Withers, the second-to-last race of his career. Photographer and source unknown, but possibly The Baltimore Sun.


John and Fannie Hertz with their champion. Photo circa 1943.

John and Fannie Hertz with their champion. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.


Count Fleet went to the post for the very last time in the 1943 Belmont Stakes, although no-one anticipated that it would be his final start. The high rolling colts like Blue Swords and Slide Rule had stayed home, leaving The Count to face a field of two who were truly only going to win if, in Johnny’s words, “… he’d have to fall down … and even then I thought he could get up and win. He was that good.”

Those who ride will tell you that horses react to resistance like dogs — in the case of horses, they just run faster. So it was that when Fate joined the dance, Count Fleet decided to fight back.

“He fractured a bone in his left front leg. I felt him bobble in the long stretch and knew he had hurt himself…I started to pull him up but he’d have none of it. He just grabbed the bit in that bull-headed way of his and took off again.” (Longden as quoted by Beckwith, his biographer).



You'd never know that there was anything wrong with him at all: COUNT FLEET comes home in the Belmont Stakes to become America's sixth Triple Crown winner.

You’d never know that there was anything wrong with him at all: COUNT FLEET comes home in the Belmont Stakes to become America’s sixth Triple Crown winner. Photo and source unknown.


Count Fleet’s performance was so devastatingly good that the Hertzes were, of course, delighted to welcome their Triple Crown champion into the winner’s circle. But the next morning, the Count was so badly off that neither trainer nor groom could get him out of his stall. The injury involved a tendon and the limb was fired. The colt was then kept at Belmont until October, when he was shipped to the Hertzes Stoner Creek farm in Kentucky. The racing world waited, praying that the champion would return in 1944. But the Hertzes were owners who always put their horses first and when the risk to The Count appeared too great, it was with deep regret that the decision was made to retire him. In the Hertzes’ mind, there was never any question of risking his life on the track.


Johnny and THE COUNT, in living colour. Source unknown, although probably a journal or magazine of the day.

Johnny and THE COUNT, in living colour. Source unknown, although probably a journal or magazine of the day.


Whether it was his brief career or just the realities of war time, The Count’s story has been woefully neglected over the decades since he won the Triple Crown. In fact, researching Count Fleet’s racing career — in terms of coming up with something other than the obvious — represents the second longest project THE VAULT has ever undertaken. Insight into the character of the horse came principally from two sources: Johnny Longden’s biography and the superb record of John Hervey aka “Salvator,” as provided in “American Race Horses, 1943.” The former reference I owe to the great Steve Haskin, to whom I am deeply indebted.

Another issue pointed out by Hervey that likely had some impact on Count Fleet’s reputation was that criticism of his career was often based on “But whom did he beat?” In Hervey’s view, the Belmont aside, these doubters clearly weren’t much up on their game, since individuals like Occupation, Blue Swords and Slide Rule were extremely worthy competitors. It was more, in Hervey’s view, the fact that Count Fleet made it look too easy. Referencing the wisdom of the incomparable W.S. Vosburgh when writing about America’s latest Triple Crown winner, Hervey also had this to say: “…As racing goes, the enthusiasts have short memories. They require new gods to worship, and if, a season or two hence, these deities show feet of clay, by that time still newer ones will have displaced them.”³ 

Critics of his racing career there may have been, but Count Fleet would triumph again as a sire.

In 1951, a son, Counterpoint, won the Belmont Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He was also chosen as 1951 Horse of the Year. And again in that same year, a daughter, Kiss Me Kate, was named Champion Three Year Old. But perhaps sweetest of all was Count Turf’s win in the 1951 Kentucky Derby. Then, in 1952, One Count shared Horse of the Year honors with the two year-old Native Dancer for his wins in the Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup.



COUNT TURF. Source unknown

COUNT TURF. Source unknown.


KISS ME KATE with Eddie Arcaro in the irons. Source unknown.

KISS ME KATE with Eddie Arcaro in the irons. Source unknown.


Nor would The Count’s legacy end here. Through his daughters, Count Fleet was BM sire to one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time, Kelso, as well as to champions Lamb Chop, Quill, Prince John, and the 1965 Kentucky Derby and Santa Anita Derby winner, Lucky Debonair.

KELSO with owner, Allaire DuPont. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

KELSO with owner, Allaire DuPont. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Count Fleet lived to be thirty-three when, after foundering for three days, he was laid to rest at Stoner Creek Stud on December 3, 1973.

…… And I learned exactly why my beloved grandfather’s eyes shone so brightly when he spoke about Count Fleet and Johnny Longden: the same year that The Count departed, I watched Secretariat and Ron Turcotte win the Belmont.


COUNT FLEET at thirty years of age, as captured by the genius of the late Tony Leonard. Photo and copyright, the estate of Tony Leonard.

COUNT FLEET at thirty years of age, as captured by the genius of the late Tony Leonard. Photo and copyright, the estate of Tony Leonard.





A Visual Story of Count Fleet:






Johnny Longden’s last ride:





¹As Titanic buffs will know, the ship set sail from Southampton, not from Liverpool. But this is how Johnny told the story to his biographer and Longden had a reputation for being an honest man, unlikely to grandstand by telling a lie. One has to wonder if the “lower deck” passengers weren’t taken on in Liverpool, where the Titanic’s crew boarded the ill-fated ocean liner. Or, was the plan to get a “connecting” ship from Liverpool to Southampton, unlikely as that would seem. Or, is it possible that Mary Longden was employed to work on the Titanic, in turn for passage for herself and her children? Or, was this simply a fanciful tale that young Johnny was told and believed to be true?

² John Hervey, in American Race Horses 1943, pp. 107

³ Ibid, pp 99


Beckwith, B.K. The Longden Legend. 1973: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc.

Hervey, John. American Race Horses 1943. 1944: The Sagamore Press.

Archives of the Daily Racing Form in the University of Kentucky Digital Library.

Archives of the Milwaukee Journal.

Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall Of Fame: http://www.spiletta.com/UTHOF/countfleet.html


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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