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As the incomparable WINX marches on, in a campaign that has us all witnessing history-in-the-making, what is it that keeps us coming back to watch her race again?

The psychology of sport is arguably as fascinating as the sport itself. And while those of us who follow horse racing think we do it out of a passion for thoroughbreds or standardbreds, what gets our cranial pleasure centre pumped is the risk that our champion of the day might lose. It could be convincingly argued that without the potential for loss, sport might not exist at all. Because winning — especially winning all the time, despite the odds — is boring.

As much as metaphors of horse racing extol its capacity to inspire hope, the possibility that our four-legged hero or heroine might be conquered is as intoxicating. In a sense, we repeatedly tune in for a Winx or a Rachel Alexandra or a Frankel race because the possibility that they’ll be defeated is irresistable. Which is not to say that we think about this consciously: we don’t think “Will Zenyatta lose?” rather, what we tend to write, speak and ask ourselves is more like “Can Zenyatta do it again?”

Case in point was Zenyatta’s bid for a second consecutive win in the 2010 BC Classic. Even though the loss was painful for fans and her team, broadcaster Trevor Denman spoke a text rich in the nuanced possibility that defeat might, indeed, happen.

Since 2010, it has been the thinking of most racing experts that the great mare ran the best race of her career in defeat. But what most of us remember about that day is the anticipation — and the foreboding — as Blame and Zenyatta near the wire. And Denman’s words, “…Zenyatta ran her heart out…”

The part of the brain that controls pleasure is the amygdala and when we are in contexts that excite us or move us to a level of “brain happy”, as in intense physical workouts or deep meditation, the amygdala releases dopamine into our system. Dopamine is a natural “high” that gives us feelings of intense, emotional well-being, relieving stress and anxiety in a matter of nano-seconds. Arguably, our excitement watching a big race like the 2010 BC Classic is as much about the thrill of the loss as it is about the thrill of the win — and the amygdala cooperates by responding to our heightened senses as we watch to see what will happen.

And the “what” in “will happen” is written in the tension between win and loss, victory and defeat. In the great Frankel’s last race, the ground was less than ideal, and the colt was caught “sleeping” at the start:

Granted, the “nail-biter” of Frankel’s last appearance on the track resolved itself fairly quickly when the colt made his big move in the stretch against a valiant Cirrus des Aigles.

But many of the greatest, most beloved thoroughbreds have come perilously close to sufferring defeat at least once in otherwise brilliant careers.

One instance of this would be Personal Ensign’s victory in what would be her final race, the 1988 BC Distaff, where with heart-thumping courage she struggled in the slop against the winner of the 1988 Kentucky Derby. This race stands as arguably the best performance ever seen in a Breeders Cup Distaff/Ladies Classic. The stakes were high: Could the undefeated Personal Ensign finish off her career with a win against the Kentucky Derby heroine?

The 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup was still another battle to the wire. It featured two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, as well as Nelson Bunker Hunt’s Exceller. Although, sadly, many know Exceller because of his end in a slaughterhouse in Sweden, the colt was a champion who had won races in Europe as well as America.

As you will see in this (rather poor quality) footage of the 1978 Jockey Gold Cup, Seattle Slew ominously rushes out of the gate before the start, although this didn’t appear to dampen his ability in the slightest as the race gets underway. But as viewers in the moment we, of course, don’t know this. And the “Can Slew do it?” is in the forefront as the race gets underway. The track conditions are sloppy but racing fans were firmly entrenched in either the Seattle Slew or Affirmed court:

 

Champion EXCELLER portrayed by Richard Stone Reeves.

The rare defeats of champion thoroughbreds only seem to make racing enthusiasts respect them more. This might be because a champion has proved his/her vulnerability, making them appear a little more like the rest of their human following. The poet Sylvia Plath wrote, “Perfection is terrible … Cold as snow breath..” and, in a sense, our passion for a particular thoroughbred champion is also based on their overcoming the stasis of perfection, which they do by bravely facing the music again and again and risking everything.

The corollary of hope is despair, and loss is one of the experiences that triggers feelings of despondency. Perhaps no other event in the last century of racing in England was as keenly felt as Nijinsky’s narrow loss to Sassafras in the 1970 Arc.

The British people had easily fallen for the brilliance of their Triple Crown winner and so much hope was placed on a triumph in the Arc. But what most had no way of knowing was that Nijinsky had fallen ill to an extreme case of ringworm during the season and that his run in the St. Leger, the last leg of the British Triple Crown, was against the advice of his trainer, Vincent O’Brien. But as owner Charles Engelhardt wanted Nijinsky to run in the Arc — another request frowned upon by O’Brien — the St. Leger was the only decent prep moving forward.

Had O’Brien’s sage advice been heeded, there would have been no Triple Crown winner of 1970. And, as it turned out, the trainer’s judgment about the champion’s fitness for the Arc was also correct.

Still another lacune was Lester Piggott’s ride on Nijinsky in the Arc: he held the colt back too long and whipped him near the finish, causing Nijinsky to shy and lose any chance he may have had to beat Sassafras:

 

The 1970 Arc. It was this close — NIJINSKY on the outside in a photo finish.

Still, it was a photo finish. But when Sassafras was declared the winner, the despair of Nijinsky’s handlers was visceral. They were not alone. Just across the English Channel, England and Ireland felt the loss every bit as keenly.

Had he won under circumstances that would stop most horses cold — from a poor post position to the distance he was asked to travel to reach Sassafras – Nijinsky would have gone down in history as THE thoroughbred of the century. But such was not to be. However, Nijinsky’s courage and raw ability could not be denied: in defeat, he was glorious.

The Hero’s Journey is played out in myth,religions, literature, film and popular tv series around the world.

Since the beginning of time, myths of the hero’s journey have been written. It’s a formula that we all know very well, however we might have learned it: the hero/heroine is born but orphaned early in life — to realize his/her true heroism, s/he must accept and overcome a series of challenges — triumphing over all, the apprentice becomes a true hero/heroine.

In modern times, we recognize the pattern of the ancient hero myths in Shakespeare, in George Lukas’ original Star Wars trilogy, in book series such as Harry Potter and author Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials,” in Marvel characters (Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman et al.) and in television series like Game of Thrones.

But it was theatre and sport that first popularized the hero myth for enthusiastic spectators in the ancient world, pitting individuals against challenges both psychological (as in the Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex) and physical (marathon runs, chariot races, etc.) That tradition has continued to the present.

GOSHAWK walks onto the track. The image evokes the hero entering the fray, and few capture it better than the incomparable C.C.Cook. Date: 1923. (Source: The Vault, private collection)

The pageantry of a horse race echoes, in microcosm, the journey of the hero. Out the horses come, one by one, in the pre-race parade. Each is a warrior going into a battle where the outcome is far from assured. And as we watch them, we can’t help but imbue each one with the courage they so rightly deserve. Once the race is on, we are presented with a micro-battle scene, as horse and jockey overcome all that is thrown in their way to cross the finish line first. If they come home leagues ahead of the field, or fight it out to get their nose down first, they triumph as only a hero or heroine can.

BATEAU (Man O’ War) seems dwarfed by the enormity of the track, reminding us of the challenge she faces — and will be asked to overcome. Another of C.C. Cook’s “racing portraits.” (Source: The Vault private collection.)

 

The Dwyer, July 1920. MAN O’ WAR, with Clarence Kummer up, on his way to the post. Cook frames the colt’s readiness for battle in an image that depicts his taut body and pricked ears, underlying the determination that was so much a part of Man O’ War’s character. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

The drama of a race in which we have invested our hopes and fears is cathartic because we, too, have run races in our own lives. We have funded courage against the odds and struggled to overcome them, and we have succeeded or failed in the process.

Win or lose, the thoroughbreds we have grown up with and come to love, go on. And as we participate in their campaigns, we are also subconsciously reliving places in our own lives. How else to explain our unerring understanding of the grammar of loss and our enthusiastic reception of the crucible through which thoroughbred champions come to be?

 

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

Out of the past: A few of the many other breathtaking performances that are personal favourites (below), listed at random.

We’re certain that our readers have their own favourites. Many of these are available on YouTube if you’d like to relive them.

 

Secretariat — The Belmont

 

Ruffian — The Mother Goose

 

Rachel Alexandra — The Kentucky Oaks

 

Barbaro — 2006 Kentucky Derby

 

 

Tiznow & Giant’s Causeway — 2000 BC Classic

 

Dance Smartly — 1991 BC Distaff (following her winning the Canadian Triple Crown)

Invasor & Bernadini — 2006 BC Classic (also features Lava Man, Flower Alley, George Washington, Giacomo, Lawyer Ron & Brother Derek):

 

Zenyatta — 2009 BC Classic

 

American Pharoah — 2015 Belmont Stakes, winning the Triple Crown

 

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

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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.

“…wink,wink,wink.”

 

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.

 

 

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) TEAM WINX

 

 

 

2) 60 MINUTES AUSTRALIA

 

 

**********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************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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Imagine, if you will, the world of thoroughbred racing without sires like Northern Dancer, Sunday Silence, Halo, Mr. Prospector, Seattle Slew or their descendants: Sadler’s Wells, A.P. Indy, Galileo, Tapit, Sebring, Deep Impact, Medaglia d’Oro, Snitzel, Dubawi, King Kamehameha,  or the late Street Cry…………. 

Named the top two year-old of the last century (John Randall and Tony Morris in ” A Century of Champions”) The Tetrarch ran only as a juvenile and proved a shy, disinterested stud, siring only 130 foals before retiring to become a pleasure horse.

Remarkably, his influence is such that The Tetrarch appears in the pedigrees of most modern thoroughbreds worldwide, making him a huge influence on the breed. Each entry in the 2017 Kentucky Derby carried The Tetrarch in his pedigree. And you can bet that the winners at Royal Ascot 2017 have a 95% or better chance of carrying The Tetrarch in their pedigrees too.

The Tetrarch might well have been the very best there ever was. 

 

THE TETRARCH_BblDvz0CAAILoEn.jpg-large

THE TETRARCH displays his famous chubari, or Tetrarch, spots. In the early decades of the last century, these markings were so strange that they sometimes inspired fear among the superstitious. Shown here as a two year-old.

 

Of course, The Tetrarch did not rise to legendary status on his own. He was an unruly individual and it took three other equally tough, Irish characters — the renowned trainer Henry “Atty” Persse, stable lad Dick McCormick and the legendary jockey, Steve Donaghue — to get him right.

But before Atty, Dick or Steve laid eyes on him, The Tetrarch began life as the offspring of a stallion described as a “plodder,” who had been purchased by one Edward Kennedy of Straffon Stud in County Kildare, Ireland. Kennedy was a rich cattle owner who developed a taste for thoroughbreds and was determined to revive the Herod male line in Great Britain. This determination may well have stemmed from the fact that Herod was a direct descendant of the Byerly Turk, who, with his owner, Captain Robert Byerly of the Sixth Dragoon Guards, had spent time in Ireland in the late seventeenth century. In 1690, records show that the “Byerly charger” won a flat race, the Silver Bell,  on Down Royal in Northern Ireland.

The BYERLY TURK, one of three sire lines to which all thoroughbreds can be traced.

 

Herod_(horse)

HEROD, together with MATCHEM and ECLIPSE, is a foundation sire of the thoroughbred breed. HEROD was a direct descendant of the BYERLY TURK.

Herod (originally King Herod, 1758-1780) is one of three foundation stallions from which the thoroughbred descends. Like the better-known Eclipse, Herod was also bred by Prince William, The Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George II.

Herod is the foundation sire who represents the Byerly Turk sire line and he was a fine racehorse who began his career as a five year-old, the usual age that thoroughbreds started their racing careers in the eighteenth century. He raced until he was eight, winning at a preferred distance of four miles in several races at Newmarket. But it was really as a sire that Herod would make his lasting contribution to the sport. Although he sits very far back in The Tetrarch’s pedigree, Rouge Rose, a direct descendant of Herod appears in the colt’s pedigree on both top and bottom.

ROI HEROD_550b3b2b552ff5d634dae6e3122bc21f

ROI HERODE, sire of THE TETRARCH.

Always on the lookout for a Herod descendant, Edward Kennedy finally found a horse that caught his eye at Doncaster in 1909, where the French-bred Roi Herode finished in second place in the Doncaster Cup. This race was arguably Roi Herode’s absolutely best lifetime performance and Kennedy bought him, intending to race the five year-old for at least another year before sending him to the breeding shed. But, as luck would have it, Roi Herode broke down shortly thereafter.

The breeding season was almost over, so Kennedy bred him to one of his own mares, Vahren, a granddaughter of the great Bend Or, another Herod descendant. But Kennedy’s expectations regarding the union were likely moderate. Vahren had produced two decent fillies before The Tetrarch, but neither could have been considered brilliant.

VAHREN_8919d93345857b9c4ad4a924cbdef954

VAHREN, by the 2000 Guineas winner BONA VISTA (BEND OR) was lightly raced, winning only three minor races before retirement.

The Tetrarch came into the world on April 22, 1911 as a chestnut with dark spots. It is an irony in the narrative of so many great thoroughbreds that they are often dismissed at birth by their breeders for any number of reasons, including their lack of beauty. And The Tetrarch was no different: not particularly appealing as a youngster, his “coarse looks” were only exacerbated by the changes in his coat. Already huge for his age at six months, the emergence of a peculiar grey coat made him look distinctly odd, so much so that this was all anyone really seemed to notice about him. The youngster’s coat featured huge Chubari (later renamed “Tetrarch”) spots that gave an overall appearance described best by Steve Donaghue:  “…he was a sort of elephant grey with big splotches of lime colour, looking as though someone had splashed him all over with handfuls of wet lime…” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 138)

Little surprise, then, when a fellow horseman advised Kennedy to geld the yearling and train him for the chase, rather than send him to the sales at Doncaster.

THE TETRARCH_hqdefault

THE TETRARCH as he may have looked during his racing career.

But Edward Kennedy had his mind made up and off the colt went to auction, where he was promptly purchased by Henry Seymour aka “Atty” Persse. Of course, Kennedy had a pretty good idea that the hammer would fall to the trainer. Atty had conditioned both Roi Herode for Kennedy, as well as the colt’s half-sister, Nicola, and the trainer liked the family. The colt was, as Atty saw, well-made with a broad, intelligent head and looked like a 3 year-old. However, Atty wasn’t the only bidder impressed by the Roi Herode-Vahren colt and he had to go to 1300 guineas to secure him. But, as was usual for the trainer, Atty planned to sell The Tetrarch on at a higher price, thus making a profit, albeit a small one, given the handsome sum he had originally paid. Before the year was out, Atty had sold The Tetrarch to his cousin, Major Dermot McAlmont. He made no profit on the transaction.

Atty was forty-three years old when he first laid eyes on The Tetrarch. The Persse family of County Galway were large in number and wealthy. They had interests in everything from real estate to local governance to high culture. The fifth of ten children, Atty was brought up like an aristocrat, graduating from Oxford with an M.A. before turning his heel on England and heading off to America to ride steeplechasers with the Meadowbrook Hounds. Returning to his homeland, Atty continued to build a reputation over courses in Great Britain and Europe until debilitating injuries put an end to his riding career.

ATTY_JH-Persse-1940

Young ATTY PERSSE.

In 1902, he began training horses in a yard near Dublin and by 1906 he had set himself up on the downs at Chattis Hill near Stockbridge in Hampshire, England. Atty already had a reputation for excellence well before The Tetrarch came along, but his relationship with his employees has been variously described as cruel, bloody-minded, mean and dictatorial.

Some speculate that the chronic pain of his jumping injuries may have been largely responsible for this; others, that he was an aristocrat dealing with a dime-a-dozen work force of boys — and treated them accordingly.

His stable lads, most of whom were under fifteen years of age, signed contracts to work for Atty that stipulated what they could and could not do. Working hours were of indeterminate length; sleeping quarters were above the stable, where the boys were locked in overnight; and they entitled to one day off a year. However, there were meals and wages provided, and for boys with neither prospects nor training, this seemed to be enough, even though few lasted for more than a year.

Secrecy was as paramount in Atty’s yard as hard work, mainly because the trainer made a small fortune at betting. A favourite strategy was to place a very good horse that no-one knew anything about in a race where his odds were say, 60-1, and then bet on him/her to win. The resulting income may not have been essential, but Atty really got a kick out of taking the bookmakers to the cleaners.

However, when it came to training thoroughbreds, Atty Persse was arguably a genius. Trainers like Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, the stepfather of the late Sir Henry Cecil, apprenticed under him and considered him comparable to none. (Boyd-Rochfort was Champion British flat racing trainer five times and perhaps most famously, was trainer to George VI, the father of HM Queen Elizabeth II.)

Dick McCormack, one of the lads in Atty’s yard who would rise to the position of head lad and apprentice trainer, attempted to welcome the colt with the funny spots on his arrival, but that proved almost impossible. Given his imposing size, The Tetrarch was so unruly as to be dangerous.

But Dick was one of Atty’s most trusted apprentices and the trainer let him get on with gentling the colt and giving him his early training, begin with lungeing. As The Tetrarch and the boy got to know one another, trust grew. Throughout his brief racing career, Dick was the only other person who could ride The Tetrarch other than jockey and fellow Irishman, Steve Donoghue. According to McCormick’s son, Richard, “My father was one of only two people to ever to ride The Tetrarch…The other one was his racecourse jockey Steve Donoghue who later wrote Dick was the only man able sit on him long enough to stay there. If he hadn’t been around, the horse may well have been cut (gelded) and that would have changed things a lot.” (Excerpt from Colin Greaves’ article in the Irish Examiner, March 2017)

dick_mccormick_on_the_tetrarchs

Dick McCormick riding THE TETRARCH. Dick was the only other person to ever ride the colt and knew him best of all.

 

Even in Dick’s able hands, The Tetrarch had shown something of himself that was rather unique: he essentially trained himself. Jockey Steve Donoghue, who likely heard a recount from Dick McCormick, tells it like this:

“…Even when first in the side-reins, he seemed to know all about it beforehand and to require no teaching, and as for going through the starting-gate, he only saw the tapes once before he ran and won at Newmarket…I always said from the first day I rode him that this was ‘his second time on earth’! He had in my opinion experienced it all before, in everything connected with racing…” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 139)

Atty brought each individual along at their own pace. The Tetrarch was still growing and even when Dick had the colt well in hand, he wasn’t really put into a training regimen, with the result that he was far behind the other two year-olds in the Chattis Hill stable.

As the story is famously told, a day came when Atty asked Dick to saddle up The Tetrarch for a run across the downs with some of the trainer’s other two year-olds.

It was not easy to surprise Atty, but the day of The Tetrarch’s first run sure did.

The colt jumped out with the others and in less than two furlongs, he left them behind in the dust. Atty couldn’t decide if this was a fluke.

tetrarch with ATTY PERSSE and DONOGHUE_

THE TETRARCH, Steve Donoghue up.

So he sent him out again with a very good, seven year-old called Captain Symons whom Atty relied upon to help him cull out really promising youngsters. To make it a fair contest, Atty applied weight-for-age, meaning that The Tetrarch was weighted down with an additional twenty-one lbs. in lead weights. Added to the mix were two other very good horses. In addition, Atty asked jockey Steve Donoghue to ride The Tetrarch for the first time. Off they went and the same thing happened, Steve reporting that the colt almost pulled his arms out of their sockets as he galloped along.

Below, a taste of “the gallops” today. The Tetrarch did his gallops over the grass on the downs near Atty’s stable where there was likely little fencing, as you see here:

The third time out, racing against a very good and speedy four year-old mare, Noramac, Steve thought he heard Atty shouting at him half-way through the trial. As The Tetrarch sailed along, Noramac was nowhere in sight. When jockey and colt returned to the trainer, Donoghue inquired whether or not something was wrong.

To which Atty responded, “Oh, no. I was only shouting to the lad on the mare to tie her onto the grey’s tail!” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 141)

The Tetarch

At two, THE TETRARCH was as big as a four year-old. For this reason, trainer Atty Persse was slow to start his training regime. But it didn’t seem to matter. The colt seemed to know how to do everything without anybody teaching him how to do it.

A rare and lovely silent video of the 1923 Derby at Epsom, won by the great Steve Donoghue and Papyrus. The two would later travel to the USA to race against Zev:

The Tetrarch’s first start came at Newmarket, on April 17, 1913. As might have been expected, Donoghue and the big grey were teased before the race, some asking if The Tetrarch wasn’t actually a much older horse, others referring to him as a “Rocking Horse” because of his unique markings. The pair took it all in good fun.

But when the tape went up, The Tetrarch jumped out, blazing along to take his maiden race by a good four lengths. But it could have been by twenty  — and everyone knew it. Even the other jockeys, riding out after the finish, pronounced The Tetrarch a “wonder-horse.” (Below: The Tetrarch shares a page in The Illustrated London News [1913] with the higly-rated Prince Palatine.)

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And so it went all through The Tetrarch’s two year-old season, and the public fell in love with him. One distinguished stakes race after another fell to the “dynamic duo” of British racing: the Coventry, the Champagne, the Woodcote, the Rous Memorial and the National Breeders Produce Stakes.

The last of these saw The Tetrarch’s closest finish — he won it by a neck.

But the reason for that was simple enough to explain and Donoghue did so publicly, in an effort to dispel some of the opinions in the press: The Tetrarch had misjudged the start. The colt was always speedy at the jump out, quick to anticipate when the tape was about to drop. But in the National Breeders Produce Stakes, he moved forward too quickly, forcing Donoghue to pull him back and as he did, the tape went up and the race was on. Leaping forward, The Tetrarch was caught on the shoulder by another horse and nearly toppled forward.

It was a cloudy day and no-one in the stands really saw the start. It was also a holiday, so Sandown Park was packed with people, many of whom had come there to see The Phenom of 1913. Too, it was a valuable race and as the field rushed away from them, Donoghue knew he had to get his colt balanced and then coax him to run.

“Coax” was the operative word: The Tetrarch needed to always be on the lead. He had won every race before this one on the lead because he tended to “sulk” if asked to rate off the pace. By the time that Donoghue had the colt ready to go, the rest of the field was 20 lengths away. By mid-field, the colt had managed to pass two stragglers. With only 100 yards to the finish, The Tetrarch had two lengths to make up. He began a furious charge, with Donoghue urging him on with his hands, to win by a neck.

Many felt it was the best performance of The Tetrarch’s brief career.

horse-racing-the-tetrarch-g8xxx4

Steve Donoghue and “The Spotted Wonder.”

Having ridden many champion thoroughbreds, among them Papyrus, Brown Jack and Captain Cuttle, Steve would always say that The Tetrarch was one of the greatest he ever rode. No small bow from the man who had won six Epsom Derbies, two Epsom Oaks and St. Legers, as well as three 2000 Guineas:

“…He was a magnificent creature — a super-horse. I have never during the whole of my career ridden another horse that gave me the feeling of immense power behind the saddle that The Tetrarch did. The leverage of his hind quarters was so great that as he galloped one was fairly lifted from the saddle. The terrific speed he displayed seem to be all impelled from behind. To be on him was like riding a creature that combined the power of an elephant with the speed of a greyhound. He was, indeed, a ‘wonder-horse.'” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp 139)

THE TETRARCH_woodcote-stakes-at-epsom-G8XXWX

THE TETRARCH winning the Woodcote Stakes, Steve Donoghue up.

The “Spotted Wonder” as he was fondly dubbed enjoyed the popularity of a Zenyatta or a Treve or a Caravaggio. The colt was already in the betting to win most of the three year-old classics, including the Epsom Derby. None expected that the final race of his two year-old season would be his last.

Then, suddenly, it all went terribly wrong.

THE TETRARCH_fromDONAGHUE book

THE TETRARCH’S two year-old season, captured in photo and drawing.

The Tetrarch had a bad habit of crossing his forelegs — or “plaiting” — when he walked or slowed up after a work or a race. Unable to correct this, Atty Persse had special shoes put on the colt’s forelegs that were shaved back, so that, should he catch himself, The Tetrarch would escape injury. The trainer was quoted as saying that you could “actually hear it” when the colt plaited and that it had been a serious concern since he had first arrived in Persse’s yard.

And it was, indeed, the plaiting that would end The Tetrarch’s career. It first happened shortly after the end of his two year-old campaign. Even pin-firing the foreleg didn’t help, as the colt struck himself again and this time, the injury was career-ending.

In Atty’s view, it was best to retire him and so, with his public jolted from worry to despair about first the silence surrounding their hero’s preparation for his three year-old season and then the announcement of his retirement, the colt was sent back to Ireland, to Thomastown Stud in Kilkenny where he stood his first season in 1915. The following year, The Tetrarch moved to Ballylinch Stud, where he lived until his death in 1935.

The Tetrarch proved an indifferent stud, or a “shy” breeder, siring only 130 foals during his breeding career. Although he never reproduced himself, he got some very good colts and was the leading sire in 1919. One son, Stefan the Great, is a great grandsire in the female family of Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, himself a superb sire and the BM sire of Kelso.

But his most brilliant offspring was “The Flying Filly,” Mumtaz Mahal, who was purchased by the Aga Khan, to whom is owed the founding of a thoroughbred dynasty through the Mumtaz Mahal’s daughters: Mumtaz Begum (Blenheim) dam of Nasrullah (Nearco); Mah Mahal (Gainsborough) dam of Mahmoud (Blenheim); Mah Iran (Bois Roussel) dam of Migoli who sired Gallant Man and also the dam of Star of Iran and grandam of champion Petite Etoile; and Rustom Mahal (Rustom Pasha) dam of Abernant (Owen Tudor), from whom a number of champions of the British turf descend. In the USA, two other daughters of The Tetrarch, La Dauphine who got champion Anita Peabody(Luke McLuke) and Herodias from whom Prince John and Lamb Chop descend, also made their mark.

MUMTAZ MAHAL_Flying Filly

The brilliant MUMTAZ MAHAL was dubbed “The Flying Filly” by British racegoers. Painting by Lionel Edwards.

But when we say that thoroughbreds worldwide carry The Tetrarch in their pedigrees, including those running in 2017, we refer principally to the overwhelming influence of Nasrullah and Mahmoud on the breed.

From the Nasrullah sire line comes Grey Sovereign, Bold Ruler (sire of Secretariat, grandsire of Spectacular Bid, great grandsire of Seattle Slew, great great grandsire of A.P. Indy), Nashua (BM sire of Mr. Prospector and Roberto), Nantallah (dam of Moccasin, Thong and Ridan, grandam of Nureyev and great grandam of Sadler’s Wells), Red God (sire of Blushing Groom) and Never Bend (sire of Mill Reef, grandsire of Shirley Heights). From this Tetrarch descendant alone comes any thoroughbred who descends from any of Nasrullah’s sons and their individual sire lines.

From the Mahmoud sire line comes most importantly Northern Dancer, through his dam Natalma, a granddaughter of Mahmoud. Any thoroughbred who descends from Northern Dancer — including names like Nijinsky, Sadler’s Wells, Istabraq, Danehill, Galileo, Yeats, and, of course, the mighty Frankel — would never have come to be without some help from The Tetrarch.

In addition, Cosmah (whose sire Cosmic Bomb was also a Tetrarch descendant) out of Almahmoud, Mahmoud’s daughter, was the dam of Queen Sucree (Ribot), herself the dam of Cannonade. The brilliant HOF Tosmah (Tim Tam) was also a daughter of Cosmah. But Cosmah’s most influential progeny was undoubtedly Halo (Hail To Reason) who is, most importantly for this discussion, the sire of Sunday Silence. In other words, the Japanese thoroughbred champions that descend from Sunday Silence, including the prepotent Deep Impact, owe their existence — at least in part — to The Tetrarch as well.

Simply put, the world of contemporary thoroughbred racing would be impossible to imagine without these champions, all descendants of The Tetrarch.

And, for those who only focus on the first five generations of a champion’s pedigree, consider this: without The Tetrarch’s influence, all of the individuals featured here would never have come into being.

And the list goes on and on and on…………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

The Tetrarch. The Spotted Wonder. AuthorHouseuK, 2014

(Note: Yes, The Tetrarch is the narrator of his own biography and that fact led me to debate on reading the book. But when I decided to buy it, I was pleasantly surprised. Beautifully researched and the “horse’s voice” is never soppy or humanized — it’s simply the vehicle for telling The Tetrarch’s astounding story. Available also on Kindle.)

Mortimer, Roger. Twenty Great Horses of the British Turf. New York: A.S. Barnes & Company, Inc., 1967.

Donoghue, Steve. Just My Story. London: Hutchison & Co. No publication date.

Karen, Frances J. The Tetrarch: The Story Behind The Spotted Wonder. In Trainer Magazine, Issue 50, July-September 2015.

Greaves, Colin. Charles Haughey’s Balidaress. In the Irish Examiner, March 30, 2017 edition. (Note: Provided some insight into the story of Dick McCormick, The Tetrarch’s best friend and the person who knew him best.)

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