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Posts Tagged ‘Zenyatta’

What a decade it has been! All over the horse racing world, champions emerged to dazzle us and lift our spirits. 

There were so many great thoroughbreds in the second decade of the twenty-first century, from Australia to Japan to the UK, Europe and North America, that I gave up on the idea of attempting to acknowledge each one here. Or to make a list of the “Top Ten” horses or moments of the decade.

When I look back, I’ll remember many, but the individuals that punctuate the passing decade for me are the ones who were more than figures on a screen. They touched me deeply in one way or other, inspiring imaginings as they took up residence somewhere close to my heart. Like a besotted paramour, I awaited each of their exploits with an anticipation so intense it hurt. They made my spirit dance.

So these are my stars of a kingdom filled with stars. I have made no attempt to compare them, because I know that comparisons are pointless; for that reason, they appear in chronological, not hierarchical, order.

To the connections of each of these great thoroughbreds, who so graciously gave of their time so that we could really get to know them, I give thanks. I also note that, the connections of all the thoroughbreds on my list save for one allowed their horses to race into their adult years, when their bodies and minds had matured, rather than pulling them off the public stage as 3 year olds.

In North America we have been conditioned to think that keeping older horses in competition is a risk but, in fact, campaigning babies before they have physically developed is far more dangerous. It was wonderful to be reminded what thoroughbreds at the height of their powers could do.

1) ZENYATTA

(2004, Street Cry X Vertigineux by Kris S.)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Native Dancer, Tom Fool, Nashua, Never Bend, Cosmah, Prince Rose, Hyperion, Mumtaz Mahal, The Tetrarch, Bimelech, Teddy.

It was the final year of the great Zenyatta’s racing career and as 2010 opened, she stood a Titan — undefeated in 12 starts, 2008 BC Ladies Classic and 2009 BC Classic winner, and about to garner her second Eclipse Award, as older female. In the latter case, fans were deeply disappointed by her loss of Horse of the Year for 2009, given that she was the first filly/mare to ever win the 2009 BC Classic and to ever win two different BC races. Instead, the title went to another remarkable filly, Rachel Alexandra, who was also winding down an incredible career. Rachel had won the Preakness, together with the Kentucky Oaks, Haskell and the Woodward against older males in 2009, and was as beloved by racing fans as Zenyatta.

By 2010, we all knew Zenyatta, our “Dancing Queen,” intimately. They were family.  We knew her owners, Jerry and Ann Moss and the other members of “Team Z” — trainer John Shirreffs, grooms Mario Espinoza and Carmen Zamona, exercise rider Steve Willard, jockey Mike Smith. We knew that Zenny loved her Guinness. A darling of the press, a star of 60 Minutes and the centre piece of her own website and “Zenyatta’s Diary,” written by the Moss’ racing manager, Dottie Ingordo Shirreffs, Zenyatta was the flagship of racing for millions of fans worldwide.

She contued her winning ways, chalking up 19 wins before the 2010 BC Classic, where she would bid to win it for a second time, a feat only accomplished once before, by the incomparable Tiznow.

Zenyatta arrived in Kentucky on Nov 2, 2010 for her BC run and the world was there to greet her:

I wanted her to do it. She was one of the most exceptional mares in North American racing history and putting colts to the sword felt like a fitting way to close out a brilliant career.

But when it came, in the night at Churchill Downs, victory was not to be. Lagging behind the field for too long, then caught wide on the turn coming home, Zenyatta still ran what was arguably the most impressive race of her career, even though she crossed the finish line a head short.

The 2010 BC Classic was the only loss of a 20-race career in which 13 of her wins came in G1’s.

To say the loss was a heartbreaker to all, from Team Z to fans a continent or more away, is an understatement. But I will always recall the words of an Australian turf writer a few days later, who wrote “…While it stands as her only loss, you know nothing about thoroughbred racing if that’s all you take away from her defeat. Zenyatta did things most thoroughbreds can’t do — coming from over 20 lengths from the leaders and travelling at over 60 mph in her drive to the wire, to lose by a diminishing head. Most of us will never see anything that even comes close to that ever again. This is one absolutely incredible thoroughbred — and that’s what I hope you will remember about her final race.”

Zenyatta was retired in December of 2010. Arriving at Keeneland from California with her whole team, she was greeted by hundreds of people who stood out in the freezing cold to welcome her to Kentucky.

In January 2011, Zenyatta was awarded the 2010 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.

 

2) FRANKEL

(2008, Galileo X Kind by Danehill)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Danzig, Northern Dancer, Nearco, Native Dancer, Buckpasser, Ribot, War Admiral, Man O’ War, Blue Larkspur, La Troienne, Bend Or, Commando, Domino.

Frankel started his career with a win that marked him as a “promising” juvenile, on a wet afternoon at Newmarket, crossing the finish line with Nathaniel, another Galileo colt, at his throat latch.

Named after the incomparable American trainer, Bobby Frankel, who had trained for Prince Khgalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte in the United States, Frankel was by Galileo out of the Prince’s Danehill mare, Kind. And even though his maiden win was in no way remarkable, we had all learned to “watch the Galileos.” I was intrigued by both Nathaniel and Frankel and resolved to keep an eye on both.

The British racing community is less inclined to “go over the top” about a horse than many other racing communities around the world, but by the end of 2011, it was pretty much impossible NOT to keep your eye on Frankel and his jockey, young Tom Queally. And even seasoned racing commentators struggled to find words to represent the history they knew they were living.

As for Frankel — he just kept going on and on.

 

After watching thoroughbreds for over 50 years, I knew I was a witness to an extraordinary individual, one who had been the product of 35 years of breeding by the Prince — as well as quite literally centuries in the making. Whereas the mysteries of breeding the ultimate thoroughbred have managed to elude even the most exacting scientific inquiry, what remains clear is that the evolution of the breed is not the work of any one person, but rather the combined efforts of breeders down through the centuries, together with the genetic contribution of many fine sires and dams. In Frankel, history and lineage had found its truest expression.

I often find myself wondering what it must have been like to experience Eclipse, or The Tetrarch, or Pretty Polly, or Man O’ War in their time, to have been one of the spectators, to have acxtually seen them in the flesh.

Frankel felt exactly like that kind of experience to me. I would be one who could say, “I was there.”

But running alongside Frankel’s unequivocal reign on the turf was another story, one that made each victory bittersweet: his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, was dying. The irony was cruel, that one of Great Britain’s greatest trainers should come upon his crowning achievement in his last years. However, as Sir Henry would acknowledge shortly before his death, “I had to be there for Frankel” and there he was, in every sense of the word, right up to Frankel’s very last race.

The story that was Sir Henry and his brilliant colt, together with all the emotion, came together on the Knavesmire at York in the 2012 Juddmonte International:

The lovely thing about a horse race is that it shows us how to live in the moment.

When you are watching the career of one of the most remarkable thoroughbreds of all time, it is indeed a blessing to live each and every moment fully.

 

3) BLACK CAVIAR

(2006, by Bel Esprit X Helsinge by Desert Sun)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Nijinsky, Northern Dancer, Vain, Nasrullah, Hyperion, Hurry On, Scapa Flow, Gainsborough, Ajax, Isonomy, Doncaster.

I stayed up deep into the early morning to watch her run and paid for it. But there was simply no better place to be: she was my “whirlwind from down under” and I adored her.

In 2012 in the UK it was all about Frankel — and so a (usually) good-natured, if hard-nosed, rivalry rose up between the devoted on two sides of the world:

I’m never tempted to enter into such rivalries, but I will say that neither Frankel nor Nelly took a backseat as far as power and turn-of-foot were concerned.

“Hear The Angels” …..”The Pride of Australia” ……. “Regal Power Wrapped in an Elegant Machine” …. “And the Legend Lives On,” such were just a few of the calls that greeted the big, dark mare as she crossed the finish in her native land, her polka dot silks rippling on jockey Hugh Bowman, the field toiling behind her. She was the fullest expression her ancestors’ majesty, courage and heart.

If it was the signature shake of the reins and the immense surge of chest and forelegs in answer that I waited for when Frankel ran, in Nelly’s case it was the relentless, driving force of her sweep to victory that made my heart leap up.

Travelling to England in her much-publicized rubber suit to run in the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, Nelly delivered, though not in the style we were accustomed to see.

It was race #17 and never before had the great mare finished in a photo. Looking back, I still see it as a blip on the screen. After all, Nelly had journeyed from halfway around the world to appear at Royal Ascot.

Nelly went on to secure 25 straight victories in as many starts, 15 of which were G1s. It was an absolutely astounding record, by any standard.

So astounding, that as I look back on it, I still find Black Caviar’s brilliance difficult to fully register.

Sometimes it’s like that with the great ones.

 

4) TREVE

(2010, Motivator X Trevise by Anabaa)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Sharpen Up, Secretariat, Northern Dancer, Vaguely Noble, Bahram, Spearmint, Hyperion, Isinglass, Persimmon, St. Simon.

I can’t deny it. By the time Treve came into my life, I was pretty much convinced that I’d already witnessed the best it could get.

Then along came Treve.

I always paid attention to what the Head family was up to; this had been true since Freddy Head’s victories on Miesque grabbed my attention in the late 1980’s. After his retirement from riding, Freddy and his sister, Criquette Head Maarek, embarked on careers in training in France, with Freddy closing out 2009 with his brilliant mare, Goldikova. For her part, Criquette Head Maarek enjoyed popular successes with the likes of Three Troikas, Bering and Anabaa, who would go on to become an important sire and the BM sire of Treve.

Recording her first win (above), Treve looked a juvenile with possibilities. But her victory hardly left the world breathless — the tall, lithe filly was still a work in progress.

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the premier grass race for thoroughbreds in the world and France is its home. There is nothing better, as far as the French racing public is concerned, than to have a French-bred and trained Arc winner.

Champions appear when hearts dream them, and are ready to receive them. And by 2013, Treve, bred by the Head family and trained by Criquette Head-Maarek, was ready to answer those French dreaming hearts.

Coming up to the 2013 Arc, Treve had won the Prix de Diane and the Prix Vermeille, both distinguished races in their own right. The undefeated 3 year-old entered the Arc partnered by Thierry Jarnet, Frankie Dettori having broken his ankle in a fall in England. Among the “big horses” were Japan’s brilliant Orfevre, Coolmore’s Ruler of the World, Intello, and Juddmonte’s Flintshire.

It was a scintillating victory for a youngster, and especially since the Arc traditionally favours more mature thoroughbreds.

Youngster or otherwise, to win the Arc once is considered the pinnacle of any turf horse’s career. But to win it twice? In 2014, when Treve took her second shot at the Arc, only six had won it twice, of which Corrida (1936, 1937) was the only filly.

At first, it didn’t look as though Treve would be ready. Plagued by less-than-perfect feet, it was late in the racing calendar before she was declared a starter. Partnered again by Thierry Jarnet, this time she would face Japan’s quirky but talented Gold Ship, England’s Kingston Hill, second to Australia in the Derby, and Sea The Stars’ champion daughter, Taghrooda, winner of the 2014 Oaks.

Not only did Treve rise to the occassion, but she did it in style. The daughter of Motivator had secured her place in history.

The decision was made to campaign Treve in 2015, with the goal a third tilt at the Arc. Her thousands of fans stepped up as well, even composing a song for her. And as the video portrays, hopes were high for a mare beloved by connections and racing public alike.

In the end, Treve was unplaced behind the winner, England’s magnificent Golden Horn, ridden by Frankie Dettori and trained by John Gosden.

While hopes were dashed, it did little to diminish Treve. The Arc is a gruelling affair, one that asks all from those who run it. And Treve flew home a decisive winner twice in consecutive years.

The filly with the beautiful face and kind eye, who roused the hearts of a nation, accomplished the rarest of a feats — one that legends like Sea Bird, Ribot, Dancing Brave and Nijinsky couldn’t attain.

5) AMERICAN PHAROAH

(2012, Pioneerof The Nile X Littleprincessemma by Yankee Gentleman by Storm Cat)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Secretariat, Fappiano, Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, Brigadier Gerard, tracery, Pretty Polly, Fair Trial, Menow, Mata Hari, Man O’ War.

I can close my eyes and still see myself as a girl, watching Secretariat’s Belmont in complete and utter awe. Then came the finesse of Seattle Slew, followed by the heart-thumping charge of Affirmed to the wire, with the courageous Alydar glued to his throat-latch.

But then came a seemingly endless drought.

I don’t know that I’d given up on seeing another Triple Crown winner during my lifetime, but I sure was discouraged. Year after year, I was glued to Churchill Downs and then Pimlico, wishing for a Triple Crown. But defeats like that of California Chrome and Smarty Jones, and losses like that of the incomparable Barbaro, made dreams of another Triple Crown champion seem unlikely.

It had been 37 years — almost 4 decades — since Affirmed defeated Alydar at Belmont when a bay colt from California called American Pharoah hit the Triple Crown trail, mispelled name and all, for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

As a two year-old, Pharoah had them buzzing in California. Even though an injury kept him out of the Breeders Cup in 2014, the juvenile still took the Eclipse Award for outstanding two year-old.

At your own risk do you ever ignore a Baffert runner: the man has the magic and the skill of a great horseman. He can spot a champion-in-the-raw and knows how to condition them properly for the crucible that is the American Triple Crown, a run of three races beginning with the most prestigious, the Kentucky Derby, followed by the Preakness and wrapping up with the Belmont Stakes in New York, over “Big Sandy,” the kind of track so deep and immense that it would dwarf a brontosaurus. There’s barely time for a young horse to catch its breath between the three of them, and each one is run over a different distance, the Belmont being the longest at 1.5 miles (2.4 km) with a long final stretch where many TC hopefuls have been caught — 37 by 2015, to be exact.

Pharoah had a beautiful pedigree — a son of Pioneerof The Nile, himself a son of the mighty Empire Maker (Unbridled X Toussaud by El Gran Senor). His dam, Littleprincessemma (Yankee Gentleman by Storm Cat, a grandson of Secretariat) similarly carried the potential of daughters and grandaughters of Storm Cat, who continues to influence the pedigrees of champions. But pedigree had been no guarantee of Triple Crown success over the decades since 1978.

When I watched the Baffert colt run away from the field over a sloppy track in the Rebel I was impressed….but was I ready to give my hopes and my heart away?

Then came the Arkansas Derby, Pharoah’s last prep before the first Saturday in May in Kentucky. Like the Rebel, the colt’s win seemed effortless, with jockey Victor Espinoza asking him for little and, once again, Pharoah crossed the wire with his ears pricked, as if to say, “So when do I get to really run?”

After this performance, he had me hook, line and sinker. And although it’s easy to have 20/20 vision in hindsight, the Arkansas gave me a glimpse of something unique, although what it was, I knew not. Thinking about it, it seemed to have something to do with his way of going that seemed deceptively slower than it actually was — and effortless, as though the colt could run for days.

By the time Derby day had arrived, Coolmore had already sealed the deal on Pharoah’s breeding rights. I took note of that.

Going into the race, I was most fearful of the gutsy Mubtahiij, and mindful of Carpe Diem and Dortmund, another Baffert entrant. Pharoah started from an outside post position — never ideal in a 20-horse field on a track where the first turn came upon you fast.

I wasn’t a fan of how Espinoza rode him on Derby day, but Pharoah got it done, persevering in the final strides, in spite of being so far from the rail around the turn. Meaning that he’d been asked to make a longer run than the others going in to the final turn and asked to do it early on. I could only respect the colt for his courage, getting up like that as the wire loomed, even though I’d been expecting him to lead the field home by several lengths. (As it turned out, Pharoah had “lost his A game,” according to Baffert, on the walkover to the saddling area when too many people got him riled up. Baffert also reported that Espinoza told him going into the final stretch “…he just didn’t feel the power beneath him.”)

Next up was the Preakness on a rainy day, over the slop. Having watched Pharoah’s Rebel win, I felt he had a decided advantage — rain didn’t faze him one bit. But I was mindful of the colt’s Derby because he hadn’t been quite himself, whatever the reason.

But, as it turned out, the pre-Derby Pharoah was back, taking the second leg of the Triple Crown with ease.

Now the heat was on. Did I dare to dream?

I had a modest “Belmont Party” on the day, with a friend whose dream was as hopeful as my own. By now, I knew Pharoah was special. Really special. But I’d been there before……

I almost choked on a chip, dropped my wine glass, hugged my friend and burst into tears.

It’s still impossible for me to describe all the feelings that rushed through me.

But I do know one thing: American Pharoah crossing the wire in the Belmont was most definitely My Moment of the decade.

6) WINX

(2011, Street Cry X Vegas Showgirl by Al Akbar)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Native Dancer, Cosmah, Halo, Hoist The Flag, Natalma, Hail To Reason, Man O’ War, Ajax, John O’ Gaunt, Pocahontas, Beeswing.

In 2014, Street Cry succumbed to complications of a rare neurological disorder. He was only 16 years old. The loss to Godolphin was immense, made even more tragic by the stallion’s success that seemed only to get better over time. Street Cry’s progeny included the Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, champion Carlton House, the ill-fated Delta Prince, Pride of Dubai, Australian multi-millionaire Trekkings, together with his brilliant daughter, Zenyatta, and many other very good individuals, particularly in Australia.

A short year later, in 2015, noise started coming out of Australia about another Street Cry daughter: Winx.

Owned by the partnership of Magic Bloodstock Racing, R G Treweeke & Mrs D N “Debbie” Kepitis, the four year-old had found her stride in winning fashion in the big leagues. Once again, I started to stay up deep into the Canadian night to check Winx out. But it was soon going to be a pattern for me, fueled by a big brown mare who seemed — no, who was — invincible.

This was one case where statistics actually said it all:

43 starts — 37 wins — 3 places.

4 Cox Plates in successive years.

33 successive wins and 25 Group 1’s.

Finished out of the money only 3 times in a career that spanned 5 years.

As Bob Baffert said, “…She {Winx} always gives you the Hollywood ending.”

The mechanics of her running style might not have been a thing of beauty, but they were devastatingly efficient. And there were shades of Zenyatta — Winx almost always made her run from far off.

And once again, riches fell from the horse racing gods and I adopted a new family on the other side of the world. There was the charming Peter Tighe, Debbie Keptis in her purples and her “Go Winxy,” the softspoken Chris Waller, the expressive Hugh Bowman and the mare’s “best man,” strapper, Turkish-born Umut Odemislioglu. 

I didn’t care that I spent the day after one of her races in an absolute stupor, since I knew I’d never see another one like her. As a veteran of thoroughbred racing, I’d never witnessed any thoroughbred win 33 races in a row, most of them Group 1’s. And as a North American, sadly used to brilliant colts and fillies retiring at age 3 or 4, I delighted in the statement this mare was making to the racing world — Winx had come into her own at 4 and kept right on going. Had she been a North American thoroughbred, racing over here, the chances of her becoming the mega-star she became would have been zero.

It’s impossible to conclude such an amazing story in a few well-chosen words, so I’ll leave that to those who knew her best, as they were on her very last race, the 2019 G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes:

 

7) ENABLE

(Nathaniel X Concentric by Sadler’s Wells)

Some Powerful Ancestors: Miswaki, Roberto, Icecapade, Mr. Prospector, Forli, Native Dancer, Tantieme, Minoru, Pretty Polly, Hyperion, Persimmon, St. Simon, Newminster, Beeswing.

What a decade it has been for Juddmonte! First there was Frankel, then Arrogate and, as 2019 closed, the prospect of the return of Britain’s Racing Queen, Enable. All homebreds from the stable that campaigned the likes of Dancing Brave, Zafonic, Commander In Chief, Midday and Kingman, among others.

“Have we seen the annointing of the 21st century’s Man O’ War?” called the track commentator at Meydan, as Arrogate came from far off the pace to win the 2017 Dubai World Cup. The colt had already won the 2016 Breeders Cup Classic and the first running of the Pegasus in Florida, before shipping to Dubai and was what horsemen call a “phenom.”

Love has smitten me again, this time in the form of a beautiful filly with a devastating kick and her team, the charismatic Frankie Dettori, masterful John Gosden, Tony Proctor, head travelling lad, and Imran Shahwani, Enable’s head lad and BFF.

Across an ocean she came, charging right into my heart as I watched her rise above all comers over the last 2 years, netting the Epsom, Irish and Yorkshire Oaks (the latter twice in 2017 & 2019), the King George & Queen Elizabeth (twice, in 2017 & 2019), the 2018 Breeders Cup Turf and, most amazing of all, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe twice in successive years (2017 & 2018).

Her performance in 2018, when surgery sidelined her, was particularly impressive, even though this is a filly with a strong, focused mind when it comes to racing. But that doesn’t change what Enable and her team served up in 2018, when she was only about 90% fit: a scintillating win against Magical in the BC Turf and a determined second Arc win against the fabulous, fast-closing Sea of Class. 2018 wasn’t the same as her Arc win in 2017, when Enable led the field home, but this took nothing away from the fact that courage and determination got her to the wire first in a dramatic, heart-pounding finish.

 

In 2019, after taking Cartier honours as the Champion Older Horse of 2018, Enable was back and the goal was a third tilt at the Arc. It was also speculated that this would be her final year on the turf, making each victory leading up to the Arc both sweet and nostalgic. Frankie wept, declaring “…she’s taken me places emotionally I’ve never been to before.” And my eyes filled with tears too, knowing the kind of superstars Frankie has ridden over the decades and realizing that it wasn’t only my spectator emotions that Enable had engaged: she owned Frankie too.

Her 2019 battle with Crystal Ocean in the King George & Queen E. takes highest grades for sheer drama, but I like to think her most dominant performance came a short 4 weeks later, at Ebor in the Yorkshire Oaks, where she and Magical again met up:

Then it was on to the Arc. To be honest, history seemed against her, but as the date approached I was buoyed by Criquette Head-Maarek’s endorsement of Enable, her assuredness that there was no other horse in the field that could touch her for sheer ability. My chief worry was the eventual winner, Waldgeist, because Longchamps was his home turf and he, too, was training well for the legendary Andre Fabre.

Enable had beaten Waldgeist before, but when the turf at Longchamps came up as soggy, I knew “my girl” was at a disadvantage because, as trainer John Gosden would explain, her famous turn of foot would be relatively ineffective. I’m inclined to throw this race out, not because Enable didn’t do her best — she absolutely did — but because the turf conditions were so against her and that, combined with the early speed, took its toll. It’s to Enable’s enormous credit that she finished up in second place. Waldgeist was a worthy winner, although his owner expressed complete shock that anybody, let alone his gallant boy, could actually beat Enable.

I was so saddened that Enable’s final race had ended in defeat — but then came the news that, as long as she was fit and still interested in racing, Enable would return in 2020. I applaud the sportsmanship and generosity of Prince Khalid and his team, and was elated to see Enable again crowned Cartier Horse of the Year, as well as Champion Older Horse.

It will be absolutely wonderful for racing. And as for Frankie — I imagine he’s stocking up on polo mints for his girl.

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) Zenyatta: Love Thing (AnimalsRock4Love)

 

2) American Pharoah: The 2015 Breeders Cup Classic. It was his final start — and he led them home with a flourish, in a new course record.

3) Frankel’s last race

4) The Trainer & The Racehorse, Part Two

 

5) Winx: A tribute

6) WInx : 60 Minutes

7) Enable: “…she’s always been a very proud filly…”

8) ENABLE: 2017 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

 

9) Black Caviar’s Story

10) Treve Feature (At The Races)

11) Treve: 2013 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

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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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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. 

 

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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.

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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.)

s-l1600

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.

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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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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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Using history as a guide, if I was shopping for a potential champion, I’d be looking for an “ugly duckling.”

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr.

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr. The colt was royally bred, but so tiny that E.P. Taylor failed to sell him as a yearling. In fact, potential buyers laughed when he was paraded out with the other yearlings!

Of course, none of the thoroughbreds discussed in this article were ugly. Not literally. But metaphorically, there was something about each one of them that hearkens back to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale: they seemed to be ugly ducklings but what no-one saw at the time was that they were not ducklings at all. Some weren’t good-looking enough. Others took too much time to come into their own. And still others were waiting for a special someone to come along, someone who looked into their eyes and saw who they really were.

The individuals whose stories appear here are only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” — VAULT readers will certainly be able to name many others who fall into this category.

And it all adds up to this: If there’s any “secret” to finding yourself another Frankel or American Pharoah or Black Caviar or Treve, it has to do with looking “under the feathers.”

“UGLY DUCKLINGS” #1: TOO UGLY TO EVER BE A CHAMPION

Perhaps we can’t help it. Horses are beautiful animals and thoroughbreds can be exquisite. And no matter how often horse folk remind us that beauty and talent don’t necessarily go hand in hand, it’s all too easy to ignore when you’ve got a plain bay standing next to a magnificent chestnut…….

 

KINCSEM (filly, 1874-1887)

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters.

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters. But it was painted in hindsight, when the world already had learned that she was incomparable, making one doubt its absolute accuracy.

She may well have been the greatest thoroughbred of them all, winning 54 times in as many starts on two different continents. Kincsem took on all comers and was so devastatingly good that she also ran in 6 walkovers when no-one would run against her.

But at her birth, she was declared by her owner-breeder, Ernest Von Blaskovich, to be the ugliest foal that he had ever seen — and most agreed with him. When Von Blaskovich offered the majority of that year’s crop of foals to Baron Orczy, the latter purchased all but two — and one of the rejects was Kincsem.

Here is one fairly accurate description of a thoroughbred that was so brilliant she actually paused to graze before taking off after the others, only to win going away:

She was as long as a boat and as lean as a hungry leopard … she had a U-neck and mule ears and enough daylight under her sixteen hands to flood a sunset … she had a tail like a badly-used mop … she was lazy, gangly, shiftless … she was a daisy-eating, scenery-loving, sleepy-eyed and slightly pot-bellied hussy …” (Beckwith in “Step And Go Together”)

As a broodmare, Kincsem was pretty decent, although she never duplicated herself. But through one of her daughters, she comes down to us today in the bloodlines of Coolmore’s fine colt, Camelot. In her native Hungary, Kincsem is a national hero and a film based on her life (although it appears that the mare isn’t its central protagonist) is due for release in 2016.

For more on this remarkable thoroughbred:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/kincsem-the-mystery-and-majesty-of-an-immortal/

And on the film:

http://www.euronews.com/2015/10/06/multi-million-dollar-hungarian-movie-hopes-to-compete-with-hollywood/

 

IMP (filly, 1894-1909)

IMP in 1898, going to post at Hawthorne Race Track.

IMP in 1898, going to post at Hawthorne Race Track.

 

She was the 1899 HOTY and twice won the honours for Champion Handicap Mare (1899 & 1900). She had her own theme song (below): “My Coal Black Lady.” And she was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1965.

But when she came into the world, the tiny daughter of Fondling (1886) by the stallion, Wagner (1882) was looked upon poorly by her owner-breeder because she wasn’t pretty and her conformation showed not the slightest hint of promise. But her owner-breeder, D.R. Harness of Chillicothe, Ohio kept her anyway, perhaps because the fact she was bred in the purple overrode his misgivings. Her ancestry included direct descent from the Darley Arabian, Eclipse and Lexington.

Imp raced an unthinkable number of times: 171. But she won 62 times, with 35 seconds and 29 thirds and raced more against the boys than those of her own sex. She set track records from 1 3/4 to 1 1/16.

By the time she was retired, at the age of eight, she was a national figure.

For more about Imp:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/my-coal-black-lady/

 

PHAR LAP (gelding, 1926 – 1932)

“Bobby” as he was called by those closest to him, arrived in the stable of trainer Harry Telford looking like a very, very sorry excuse for a racehorse. Which, in turn, precipitated the first crisis in Phar Lap’s biography, unbeknownst to the scrawny, dishevelled colt who had been born in New Zealand and was a son of the promising sire, Night Raid. Trainer Telford had bought Bobby for owner, David J. Davis, who rushed over excitedly to see his latest acquisition. After a moment of silence, Davis went ballistic. The compromise was that Bobby would be leased to Telford for a period of three years, the trainer covering all costs and the owner getting one third of the colt’s earnings. Assuming he could run.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these figures! Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these figures! Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

The rest, as they say, is history: Bobby aka The Red Terror aka Phar Lap (meaning “lightning/bolt of lightning/lights up the sky” in the Thai language) was a champion. His great heart, together with his victories, moved Australia and New Zealand — and the racing world– to fall in love. And, in 2016, we are still in love with him:

Bobby’s risky run @ The Melbourne Cup in 1930 should have been a movie:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/bribes-threats-bullets-phar-laps-melbourne-cup-1930/

 

WAR ADMIRAL ( colt, 1934-1959)

“Sons of Man O’ War ought to look different,” Mr. Riddle decided, as he looked at Brushup’s new foal. It was a bay colt with no real pizzazz to it …. and it was tiny. Riddle found it impossible to hope for much from the little fellow, who much-resembled his dam. And Brushup had been hopeless as a runner, pretty as she was. Riddle tried, in vain, to hand the colt over to his partner, Walter Jeffords Sr., but when Jeffords refused, it was decided that Brushup’s boy would stay in the Riddle stable until he showed what, if anything, he had as a runner.

War Admiral [2006 Calendar, Nov]

 

By the time he was a three year-old, Riddle had learned that even though The Admiral was the size of a pony (15.2h) he did, indeed, carry his sire’s blood.

And that blood would show in not only in War Admiral’s Triple Crown, but also in the breeding shed. As a sire, his contribution to the breed was as definitive as was the impact of sons and daughters like Busanda, Busher, Bee Mac, Searching, War Jeep and Blue Peter on the sport itself. War Admiral led the general sire list in 1945, the 2 year-old sire list in 1948 and the broodmare sire list in 1962 and again in 1964.

Although The Admiral’s sons were not influential as sires, both Busanda and Searching made a huge impact. Their descendants include the likes of Swaps, Buckpasser, Numbered Account, Iron Liege, Hoist the Flag, Gun Bow, Striking and Crafty Admiral, as well as two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Other descendants of note from the War Admiral line include Dr. Fager, Alysheba, Cigar and, most recently, Zenyatta.

To this day, breeders point with pride to War Admiral in the lineage of their thoroughbreds. What the name connotes is timeless, synonymous with the very essence of the thoroughbred.

For more on War Admiral:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/war-admiral-the-little-horse-who-could-and-did-for-john-shirreffs/

 

ZENYATTA (filly, 2004)

As the tale is now famously told, the yearling daughter of Street Cry did not look her best in the sales ring as a yearling, due largely to a case of ringworm. But David Ingordo could see beyond all that. And Ann Moss has recounted how she and the filly seemed to “just click” at first meeting at Keeneland, just as though Zenyatta had chosen her.

When the hammer fell, the filly had been acquired by the Mosses. But she was not their only purchase that year and shortly after their yearlings arrived at Mayberry Farm, they received a call from Jeanne Mayberry. Jeanne had this to say,”Either you bought yourselves some very slow yearlings or else that Street Cry filly is very, very good. Because when they’re out together running, she leaves them all behind as though they aren’t even moving.”

Prophetic words.

But fast as Zenny was, it took time and patience to “get her right,” as the Mosses’ Racing Manager, Dottie Ingordo Sherriffs, has said. But when trainer, John Sherriffs, did get her right, the result was the birth of an American racing legend:

Retired with a record of 19 wins and 1 second place in 20 starts, Zenyatta’s fans have not diminished in the slightest. At this writing, Zenyatta is the only filly/mare to have ever won two different Breeders’ Cup races and the only filly/mare to ever have won the BC Classic.

 

“UGLY DUCKLINGS” #2: STANDING IN THE SHADOWS

In any institution, whether a school or a sport like horse racing, it works out a lot better if everyone develops in the same, linear way. Couple that with our love affair with speed — intelligence being linked to quickness and, in the case of thoroughbreds, ability with running fast enough to win, preferably at two — and you have the “cracks” through which genius and greatness all-too-frequently slip ……..

 

EXTERMINATOR (gelding, 1915 -1945)

 

 

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

The story of “Old Bones” is famous. He’s as legendary a figure in American thoroughbred racing as Man O’ War — and some say he was the best of them all. High praise for a big, coarse gelding who was bought as a rabbity for a flashy colt named Sun Briar, the hope of  Willis Sharpe Kilmer for the 1918 Kentucky Derby.

The man who first saw under the surface of the lanky chestnut with the deep, dark eyes was trainer Henry McDaniel. It was he who studied Bones and Sun Briar as they worked, noting the intelligence of the former at dealing with his moody running mate. And when Sun Briar couldn’t run in the Derby — and after considerable lobbying by McDaniel and Colonel Matt Winn, the President of Churchill Downs — Kilmer agreed to let the ugliest of his horses run instead. And so it was that Exterminator stepped on to a muddy track and transformed, in three minutes, from an ugly duckling to a Swan King.

To read more about Exterminator: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/a-collectors-mystery-exterminator-and-bob-dorman/

 

DISCOVERY (colt, 1931- 1958)

 

Discovery, a brilliant runner and outstanding broodmare sire, won Horse of the Year in 1935 over Omaha. Discovery appears 4X5X4 in Ruffian's pedigree.

DISCOVERY on the track. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

The son of Display had a brilliant, dazzling chestnut coat and lots of chrome. Born at Walter J. Salmon’s Mereworth Farm and owned by Adolphe Pons, the colt was impressively bred and ran head-first into the accompanying expectations. Predictably, he disappointed, winning only 2 of 13 starts as a two year-old.

At three he appeared again, looking fit enough. However, among the 3 year-olds that year was a colt named Cavalcade, who had already beaten Discovery the year before. In the Derby, Discovery chased Cavalcade home; in the Preakness, he finished third to High Quest and Cavalcade.

But Discovery was just getting going. He went on that same year to win the Brooklyn and Whitney Handicaps, and then set a world record time for 1 3/16 miles in the Rhode Island Handicap.

But his finest years were at four and five. In 1935, the colt won 11 of 19 starts, carrying an average of 131 lbs., gaining him the nickname “The Iron Horse.” Retrospectively named 1935 Horse of the Year (over Triple Crown winner, Omaha) and throughout 1936, Discovery’s winning ways continued. Of his Whitney win, the New York Times wrote that the chestnut ran “…the most decisive victory to be scored in a big American stake in many years.”

DISCOVERY was named Horse of the Year for 1935. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

DISCOVERY was named Horse of the Year for 1935. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

As a sire, it was Discovery’s daughters who gave him purchase on immortality, producing the great Native Dancer, Bold Ruler and Bed O’ Roses.

 

SEABISCUIT (colt, 1933-1947)

Rejected outright as a colt foal because of his size and conformation, the little son of Hard Tack languished as a runner until he hooked up with trainer Tom Smith, who could see right through the disguise. In Smith’s hands, “The Biscuit” blossomed into a horse with fire in his blood. It was the Depression Era: a good time for a hero to come along. Especially one who had once been “not good enough,” through no fault of his own. He battled back from defeat. He battled back from injury. And he taught America how to look a setback straight in the eye — and vanquish it.

Enjoy this rare footage of The Biscuit at work and play:

 

RED RUM (gelding, 1965- 1995)

 

 

RED RUM at work on the beach. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun

RED RUM at work on the sands of Southport, England. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun

 

“Beloved”  is probably the first response when someone speaks his name. Or “Immortal.” Something like that.

In its long, distinguished history the National Hunt has known many great horses, but none who rose to the standard of Red Rum. He was, quite simply, the greatest steeplechaser who ever lived.

By the time Donald “Ginger” McCain got his hands on the bay gelding, he had won a few one-mile races over the flat before being passed from one training yard to another. The horse who had descended from the great St. Simon, and whose name originated from the last three letters of his dam (Mared) and sire (Quorum) was never going to amount to much, running in cheap races with modest purses.

GINGER McCAIN WITH RED RUM PICTURED AT HIS STABLES BEHIND SECOND HAND CAR SHOWROOM. SOUTHPORT 1975. pic by George Selwyn,119 Torriano Ave,London NW5 2RX.T:+44 (0)207 267 6929 M: 07967 030722 email: george@georgeselwyn.co.uk Vat no:3308110 05

Ginger McCain with RED RUM, pictured at his stables behind his used car dealership in Southport, 1975. Photo and copyright, George Selwyn.

The first thing that McCain set out to do was to rehabilitate the gelding, who suffered from the incurable disease, pedal osteitis, a disease of the pedal bone. (This was discovered after the trainer paid a goodly sum for “Rummy” on behalf of owner, Noel le Mare.) The “cure” was swimming and long works on the beaches of Southport. And it worked miracles. Red Rum blossomed into a tough, rugged individual. (It should be noted that Ginger adored Rummy and the horse was never put at-risk in any of his races, unlike the situation when he was running on the flat.)

The result was not one, but three, wins in the Aintree Grand National, arguably the greatest test of any horse’s courage and stamina in the world. His first win came at a time when the Grand National was flirting with extinction. It needed a hero and it got one, in the form of a thoroughbred once-destined to run on the flat until he could run no more, and a used car salesman who “also” trained National Hunt horses — and saw something quite different in his Champion’s eye:

 

JOHN HENRY (gelding, 1975-2007)

“For the first two years of his life, John Henry had been peddled like a cheap wristwatch.” (Steve Haskin, in John Henry in the Thoroughbred Legends series)

JOHN HENRY at work.

JOHN HENRY at work.

To say he was “difficult” doesn’t even come close: for what ever reason, John had a nasty disposition, despite his workmanlike performances on the track. It would take trainers (and there were many) like Phil Amato and Ron McNally to work their way around temperament issues to gain the gelding’s trust before the John Henry we now know and admire emerged.

In his 3 year-old season, there were glimmers of ability. But from 1980 to his final win, at the ripe old age of nine, John Henry turned out to be the stuff of greatness. And not only was it his “arrival” as a turf star: John’s rags-to-riches story captivated fans who even today, almost nine years after his death, still revere his memory. Indeed, for many, John Henry is one of a pantheon of superstars, right up there with Exterminator, Man O’ War, Secretariat, Ruffian and American Pharoah.

By the time he was retired to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, John had twice won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year (1981, 1984), with 39 wins in 83 starts and earnings of over six million dollars USD. His 1981 election as Horse of the Year was unanimous and at the time, unprecedented for a nominee to receive all votes cast. In addition, John was inducted into the American Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1990.

 

ISTABRAQ (gelding, 1992)

Unlike John Henry (above), whose bloodlines were blue collar, Istabraq came from a royal line: a son of Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) whose dam, Betty’s Secret, was a daughter of Secretariat. 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.

ISTABRAQ as a foal with his dam, Betty's Secret (Secretariat).

ISTABRAQ as a foal with his dam, Betty’s Secret (Secretariat).

The colt foal seemed to understand from the very beginning that he was “someone special.” And indeed he was destined to be — but it took time.

The colt’s name was Sindhi for “brocade” but the weave of him proved inferior on the flat, where he managed only 2 wins. His jockey, the great Willie Carson, 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…”

As a three year-old, he developed foot problems. He was, in fact, flat-footed, making shoeing him a problem. When Istabraq refused to quicken in his last race as a three year-old, despite Carson’s aggressive ride, Sheikh Hamdan let trainer John Gosden know that it was enough: Istabraq was to be sold.

John Durkan started his career as a jockey.

John Durkan started his career as a jockey before becoming an assistant trainer to the great John Gosden.

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.

"No soft

“He is no soft flat horse…” Durkan counselled J. P. McManus. And you see it here, in the power as ISTABRAQ launches, even though he’s a good distance from the hurdle.

But the young Durkan would soon be beset with tragedy, although not before watching his beloved gelding take ten hurdle races in a row from 1996-1997. Durkan was battling cancer and was shipped to Sloane Kettering Hospital in New York City; Aidan O’Brien took over training duties. By 1998, John was dying and moved home to Ireland, succumbing on the night of January 21, 1998.

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. The gelding, who was now 6 years old, was a national hero and thousands turned out to watch him begin his 6 year-old season in grand style at Leopardstown:

And then this gallant thoroughbred just went on and on and on, beginning with a win two months later at Cheltenham in what would be the first of three wins in the Champion Hurdle:

Retired in 2002, Istabraq is now in the fourteenth year of a happy retirement at his owner, J.P. McManus’ Martinstown Stud. There, the horse who was voted in 2009 the favourite of the last 25 years by the Irish people, hangs out with his BFF, Risk of Thunder, and continues to greet fans who visit from all over the world:

For more about Istabraq, one of Secretariat’s greatest descendants: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/secretariats-heart-the-story-of-istabraq/

 

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Together,we saved over 20 horses from going to slaughter in Canada or Mexico in 2015. And every donation counted in this effort because no donation is too small. Hale, Trendy Cielo, Maya Littlebear, Felicitas Witness and 16 others, including two mares and their foals, thank you.

Please consider making a donation to a worthy cause so that we can help more rescue efforts in 2016.

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Twitter and Facebook are already in a flutter at the prospect of these famous babies making their first start. And, because we’re human, we’re inclined to think that this anticipation — which feels like a chronic twitch deep in the equine lover’s soul — is absolutely unique.

COZMIC ONE, the first born out of champion Zenyatta, shown working out at Santa Anita under his regular exercise rider, Kevlyn            . Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

COZMIC ONE, the first born out of champion Zenyatta, shown working out at Santa Anita under his regular exercise rider, veteran Kevlan Henry. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

Except that it isn’t.

Down through the years, the arrival of the first progeny of great thoroughbreds has been greeted with the same kind of feeling. Today, however, the Frankels and Rachels and Nellys and Zenyattas are public figures — and that means we can witness every detail of the development of their sons and daughters as though we were actually right there. Now that really is unique.

Even though televised coverage made Native Dancer a public hero, social media today allows fans, punters and journalists worldwide a degree of involvement with thoroughbreds that is immediate and unprecedented. In the case of two of America’s great mares, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, a devoted community have followed Jess’s Dream (2011) aka Taco and Cozmic One (2011) aka Coz from their first steps right up to their training towards a first start. In the UK, many are following the progress of baby Frankels, born in 2014 to mares like Danedream and More Joyous, while in Australia, Black Caviar’s first born is now six months old and already has her own “Nelly groupies.”.

RACHEL ALEXANDRA'S first born, JESS'S DREAM (on outside) is also working towards a first start which is likely to come in Florida.

RACHEL ALEXANDRA’S first born, JESS’S DREAM (on outside) is also working towards a first start which is likely to come in Florida.

Seventy or more years ago, even though the expectations for the offspring of champions like Man O’ War was probably as great, the general public didn’t have the kind of access to them that we have today. And the down-side of our real-time relationship to these royally-bred babies may well be that our expectations for them are weighty enough to crush an elephant.

Happily, horses are oblivious to tidal waves that arise in virtual space.

The magnificent EBLOUISSANTE, half-sister to champion ZENYATTA is very much her own person, as trainer John Shirreffs understands. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

The magnificent EBLOUISSANTE, a 17h half-sister to champion ZENYATTA is very much her own person, as trainer John Shirreffs understands. Thank goodness for that, because it leaves her fans lots of room to appreciate her for exactly who she is. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

When Great Britain’s lavishly-spotted The Tetrarch (1911) — arguably the best two year-old ever produced in that part of the world — retired, there can be little doubt that his progeny were eagerly anticipated. As a sire, The Tetrarch was able to pass some of his special qualities on, notably to a son, Tetratema (1917), but he principally inscribed himself in breeding history through his Blue Hen daughter, Mumtaz Mahal, the “Flying Filly.” She was “The One” of all of the Tetrarch’s comparatively small number of progeny who most ignited memories of her sire when she appeared on the turf, and the sprightly grey filly had her own fan club because of it. In the breeding shed, Mumtaz Mahal became the ancestress of the sire lines of Nasrullah, Royal Charger, Tudor Minstrel and Mahmoud, making her influence on the breed in the last century one of the most important. The narrative of The Tetrarch and his brilliant daughter is one of those rare cases when a direct offspring caught the genes of a brilliant parent in spades.

THE TETRARCH.

THE TETRARCH

TETRATEMA, pictured here by W.A. Roach, a champion son of THE TETRARCH

TETRATEMA, pictured here by W.A. Roach, a champion son of THE TETRARCH, was best over short distances but he won 5 races in 1919 and the King’s Stand, King George and 2000 Guineas the following year. As a sire he was very good, producing excellent fillies and colts like ROYAL MINSTREL(1925) and FORAY (1934). In their book A Century of Champions, Randall and Morris rated TETRATEMA as the third best 2 year-old of the century, just behind THE TETRARCH and TUDOR MINSTREL.

MUMTAZ MAHAL, his daughter, is one of the most important of all thoroughbred broodmares.

MUMTAZ MAHAL is one of the most important of all thoroughbred broodmares.

On the other hand, it was anything but “in the cards” that one of the world’s greatest thoroughbred sires, Hyperion, as well as his descendant, Canada’s Northern Dancer, would amount to much at stud. For one thing, both were tiny; for another, Hyperion was almost as famous for his laziness as he was for winning the Epsom Derby and Northern Dancer was not only temperamental, but raced his whole career on a split hoof. So they were both, in a sense, “wild cards” from a breeder’s perspective. And while Canada waited to see their “Dancer’s” sons and daughters rekindle the excitement of his Triple Crown campaign, it is unlikely that Hyperion’s get were welcomed with anything near the same enthusiasm. But, as we know today, both stallions had an astounding impact on the breed, passing their “bloodedness” on to generation after generation. Which reminds us that it can take several generations before an individual comes along whose bloodlines scream his/her ancestry: in the case of Northern Dancer, thirty years intervened.

Rare and fascinating footage of Hyperion’s Derby (no sound). Lord Derby’s “pony” wears #9:

NIJINSKY and Lester Piggot just following their win in the 1970 Epsom Derby.

NIJINSKY and Lester Piggot just following their win in the 1970 Epsom Derby. England’s last Triple Crown winner, NIJINSKY made a name for himself overseas and was significant to the rise of his sire, NORTHERN DANCER. Standing at Claiborne Farm, NIJINSKY proved to be an excellent sire and sire-of-sires, through sons like Caerleon. He also distinguished himself as a broodmare sire.

Frankel's BM sire, Sadler's Wells, and his millionaire sons out for a walk at Coolmore Ireland. The grand old man is followed by Galileo, Montjeu and High Chaparral.

SADLER’S WELLS, another son of NORTHERN DANCER, single-handedly changed the face of thoroughbred racing worldwide. The stallion is shown here, followed by his millionaire sons GALILEO, MONTJEU and HIGH CHAPARRAL on a walk at Coolmore, Ireland. Photo and copyright, The Racing Post.

 

Sometimes, it is thoroughbreds who fly “under the radar” that have a huge impact on the sport of racing. A case in point is Bold Venture (1933), one of any number of colts and fillies whose racing career –through no fault of their own — did precious little to recommend them to the racing public and, subsequently, to breeders. The 1936 Kentucky Derby winner, Bold Venture was the son of the British import, St. Germans (1921), the leading sire of 1931 and sire of the great Twenty Grand (1928). Bold Venture’s dam was a granddaughter of Commando (1898). Despite his pedigree, the colt entered the Kentucky Derby without a single stakes win, going off at 20-1 odds and ridden by an apprentice jockey, Ira “Babe” Hanford.

Jockey IRA "BABE" HANFORD with HOF trainer, Max Hirsch and daughter, Mary Hirsch.

Jockey Ira “Babe” Hanford (on the fence) with HOF trainer, Max Hirsch, and his daughter, Mary Hirsch, who became America’s first registered female trainer.

Underdogs certainly win important races, but the 1936 Kentucky Derby was such a debacle that few were convinced that Bold Venture deserved the honours. When the gates flew open, the favourite, Joseph E. Widener’s Brevity (1933), was knocked to his knees. Another excellent three year-old, Granville (1933), threw his jockey when slammed in a chain reaction involving Bold Venture and another horse. In the end, with Brevity giving full chase, Bold Venture flew under the wire to win.

Trained by the brilliant Max Hirsch, Bold Venture was back to run in the Preakness with HOF George Woolf in the irons, nosing out Granville at the wire to win. The colt was retired at the end of an undefeated 3 year-old season and sent to stud in Kentucky, having been sold to Robert J Kleberg for $40,000 USD. He had little success there and was subsequently moved to Kleberg’s King Ranch, in Texas — where he sired the Triple Crown winner, Assault (1943), and Kentucky Derby winner, Middleground (1947). Bold Venture remains the only Kentucky Derby winner to sire two other Kentucky Derby winners.

Wearing roses: BOLD VENTURE and the young Ira "Babe" Hanford, the youngest jockey to ever win the Kentucky Derby.

Wearing roses: BOLD VENTURE and the young Ira “Babe” Hanford, the youngest jockey to ever win the Kentucky Derby.

Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT.

Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT.

The Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner, MIDDLEGROUND, captured by Brewer.

The 1950 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner and 1951 Horse of the Year, MIDDLEGROUND, captured by the late Allen F. Brewer, equine artist extraordinaire.

 

There’s almost nothing to make the soul of a racing fan soar with hope than watching a horse they love bring babies into the world, fillies and colts filled with all the promise of a golden future.

Goldikova, Danedream, Havre de Grace, More Joyous — and down the road, Gentildonna, Taghrooda and The Fugue — are but a few of the well-loved thoroughbred mares who have embarked on broodmare careers. In the recent past there have been several great broodmares whose young set the flame burning anew, including Toussaud (Empire Maker, Chester House, Decarchy, Honest Lady), Kind (Frankel, Noble Mission, Bullet Train, Joyeuse), Personal Ensign (My Flag, Miner’s Mark, Our Emblem), Dance Smartly (Dancethruthedawn, Scatter the Gold, Dance With Ravens) and Urban Sea (Galileo, Sea The Stars, My Typhoon, Black Sam Bellamy, All Too Beautiful).

Miswaki's lovely and accomplished daughter, Urban Sea

URBAN SEA, Arc winner and Blue Hen, dam of GALILEO, SEA THE STARS, MY TYPHOON, BLACK SAM BELLAMY and ALL TOO BEAUTIFUL. There is absolutely no question that URBAN SEA passed on her greatness to her offspring.

 

PERSONAL ENSIGN with her colt foal, MINER'S MARK. The dam of MY FLAG and grandam of STORMFLAGFLYING and WAR EMBLEM was a champion from track to foaling barn.

PERSONAL ENSIGN with her colt foal, MINER’S MARK, her first born. The dam of MY FLAG and grandam of STORMFLAGFLYING and WAR EMBLEM was a champion from track to foaling barn.

 

Toussaud and her goat. This great mare is Bode's grandam on his tail female.

TOUSSAUD and her goat. The dam of EMPIRE MAKER, CHESTER HOUSE, DECARCHY, HONEST LADY and CHISELLING made a lasting contribution to thoroughbred bloodlines.

 

 

Dance Smartly always kept her shape, no matter how many foals she had. Here she is in Kentucky, having visited Thunder Gulch. Photo and copyright, The Blood-Horse.

DANCE SMARTLY, the only filly to ever win a Triple Crown in mixed company in North America, went on to become a Blue Hen for Sam-Son Farm. Here she is in Kentucky, having visited Thunder Gulch. Photo and copyright, The Blood-Horse.

 

So what does the future hold for royal babies like Cozmic One and Jess’s Dream? Have they inherited the brilliance of their dams? of their sires? of both?

Like human children, these colts and fillies are a one-off. Unique. They’ll train differently and run differently than their parents. They’ll meet different challenges and obstacles along the way as they build their own reputations. Some will be brilliant, others hard-working, and still others, just plain unlucky. Most will bring the heart and courage of their breed to each and every race and most will do their very best to win.

But whatever their destiny, hours and hours of skill, dedication, encouragement and love have brought them to a new beginning.

Let the magic begin!

COZMIC ONE at Santa Anita. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

COZMIC ONE (Bernardini ex. Zenyatta) at Santa Anita. Photo and copyright, Jane Wade.

 

THE VAULT wishes to thank photographer Jane Wade for the use of some of her outstanding photographs in this article.

BONUS FEATURE

John Shirreffs, trainer of Derby winner Giacomo and HOTY Zenyatta, among others, reflects on the early success of Zenyatta’s half-sister, Eblouissante, in this TVG Special. In so doing, Shirreffs provides insight into just what it takes to get even the most royally-bred thoroughbred to the track and to keep them feeling happy within themselves:

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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Z Princess. This is how I will always remember her. Photo used by permission from Team Zenyatta. Photo and copyright, Team Zenyatta.

Z PRINCESS. This is how I will always remember her. (Photo used by permission from Team Zenyatta. Photo and copyright, Tyler Matson for Zenyatta.com)

It was late in the day when I got online and saw the news. I just stared, unable to grasp the meaning of what I was reading. My heart burned for Zenyatta and her family, Ann and Jerry Moss, Dottie and John Shirreffs, Team Z support staff Kyle Acebo, Tyler Matson and Alys Emson, and the folks at Lane’s End. I wanted so much to tell them that they were not alone, to hug each one, to bring over the comfort of a meal to each household — as we do here when a loved one has gone.

But I only know Zenny and Team Z through the wonders of virtual reality and that same pixelated reality also has the scope to distance.

Grief is an intensely private process. When we respect those most bereaved, we understand their need for privacy.

This, then, seeks to bring comfort. I hope it will stand as a sentinel to keep loving watch over Zenny and her family, as thousands of her extended human family are doing right now, all around the world.

……. My father was a master of the sciences, for which he had the kind of reverence that we see most often today in quantum physicists. When I was very young and we lost my beloved Grandpa Wheeler to cancer, Dad counselled, “Just remember, matter can never be created and it can never be destroyed. We’ve lost Grandpa in a way that’s so painful, but Grandpa isn’t gone. He’s going to be in the sun, in the rain that falls, in the oceans, in the moon, in the air you breathe…..in everything you know.”  At the time, I probably understood this as a statement of faith. But it came from Dad’s reverence for life as he knew it — scientifically. (I can still close my eyes today and hear his voice telling me that my Grandpa would never, ever be gone, even though Dad died over thirty years ago.)

Of course, he was absolutely right, as I was to discover through my own studies in quantum physics, and the discourse which best captures it — Buddhism. No life is ever extinguished. It just sheds one earthly appearance to take on another. And this has nothing to do with theories of reincarnation — it’s more profound.

It has to do with the miracle that sustains all of life, from our beautiful blue planet to a simple blade of grass to a thoroughbred Princess…………

And I hold close to the miracle.

Princess Z, heading towards the camera, filled with curiosity. Photo used with the permission of Team Zenyatta. Photo by Kyle Acebo. Copyright, Team Zenyatta

Z PRINCESS, overcome by curiosity, heads towards the camera. (Photo used with the permission of Team Zenyatta. Photo and copyright, Alys Emson for Zenyatta.com)

 

 

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NOTE TO MY READERS: I have recently had a death in my family and this, together with the natural excitement about this year’s American Triple Crown and flat racing overseas accounts for the lapse between VAULT articles. But I will be back soon with more stories of great horses from around the world. Thank you for your understanding.

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It’s Derby time again here in North America and that familiar buzz is in the air. Everyone is busy choosing their favourite. But the best colt or filly doesn’t always win. Sometimes, the outcome depends on the Racing Gods who, as we all know, can turn the best laid plans on their ear. 

DEGAS' sculpture of a thoroughbred walking seemed a fitting opening to this article.

“Thoroughbred Horse Walking” by EDGAR DEGAS. From the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

1929: BLUE LARKSPUR VS CLYDE VAN DUSEN When it was all over, racing mogul Colonel Edward R. Bradley, who owned the favourite, Blue Larkspur, described the winner as “…the worst horse to win the Derby in twenty years.” If the winner, Clyde Van Dusen, had anything at all going for him it was that he was a son of the American racing legend, Man O’ War. The other thing he had going for him on that rainy and sloppy first Saturday in May were his caulk shoes, which enabled him to get some traction on the slippery Churchill Downs track. Clyde was described as a “mere pony of a horse with a weedy frame” and was bred by New York businessman Herbert Gardner. Somewhere early in his career, the colt became a gelding and was named by Gardner after his trainer, Clyde Van Dusen, who was a former jockey. Although he was the seventh gelding in fifty-five years to win the Kentucky Derby, it would be another seventy-four before the beloved Funny Cide would do it again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9flaRIstGXk#t=16 Blue Larkspur, on the other hand, was crowned HOTY in 1929 and he deserved it. The son of Black Servant and grandson of Black Toney was a really honest colt who almost always did his best. But his best was beyond him on Derby day, when the track played muddy and deep, and the assistant trainer (Herbert J “Derby Dick” Thompson, Bradley’s HOF trainer having succumbed to an attack of appendicitis) failed to shoe him properly for the track conditions. Blue Larkspur did brilliantly to manage fourth place and to come home in one piece.

BLUE LARKSPUR was a really handsome horse and this photo shows him to advantage.

BLUE LARKSPUR was a really handsome horse and this photo shows him to advantage.

MYRTLEWOOD, a daughter of BLUE LARKSPUR, during her racing days. She would go on to become a foundation mare of the American thoroughbred horse.

MYRTLEWOOD, a daughter of BLUE LARKSPUR, during her racing days. She would go on to become a foundation mare of the American thoroughbred horse.

And lucky for the American thoroughbred that he did, since as a sire Blue Larkspur had an enormous influence on the development of the breed. His genes passed most effectively to his daughters, among them the foundation mare Myrtlewood, and this allowed Blue Larkspur to top the broodmare sire list from 1944-1960, inclusive. His daughters produced some great, great thoroughbred champions, among them: Twilight Tear, Princess Turia, Bull Page, Durazna, Busanda, Cohoes and War Jeep. Clyde Van Dusen ran 42 times but the 1929 Kentucky Derby was his last major win. In retirement, the gelding was acquired by his trainer for use as a stable pony.

Trainer CLYDE VAN DUSEN with his namesake after the gelding's retirement from racing. CLYDE the horse lived to be 22 years old and was, by all accounts, a favourite of his trainer.

Trainer CLYDE VAN DUSEN with his namesake whom he bought after the gelding’s retirement from racing. CLYDE the horse lived to be 22 years old and was, by all accounts, considered a gem — albeit with a character all his own — by his trainer.

1933: HEAD PLAY VS. BROKERS’ TIP As recently as 1993, the outcome of the 1933 Derby was still being hotly debated. Racing fans will recognize the famous photograph of Head Play and Brokers’ Tip coming to the finish line. The latter, owned by Idle Hour Stock Farm’s powerful Colonel Edward R. Bradley (of Blue Larkspur fame) would be declared the winner. To his dying day, Head Play’s jockey, Herb Fisher, would insist that his colt had actually won and that the decision of the judges had more to do with Bradley’s influence than with an honest assessment of who-was-where at the finish line.

The famous photo of the 1933 Derby finish shows the jockeys fighting it out as BROKERS TIP (blinkers) and HEAD PLKAY come to the finish.

The famous photo of the 1933 Derby finish shows the jockeys fighting it out as BROKERS’ TIP (blinkers) and HEAD PLAY come to the finish.

It was a very different story in the Preakness, where HEAD PLAY came home first under the great Charlie Kurtsinger.

It was a very different story in the Preakness, where HEAD PLAY came home first under the great Charlie Kurtsinger. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Neither colt went into the Derby as a favourite, although Head Play was without question the better prospect of the two. He was a grandson of Fair Play, the sire of Man O’ War, and had won the Hawthorne Juvenile and Cincinnati Trophy as a two year-old, both at a distance of 6f. Head Play also came into the Derby as the winner of the Derby Trial Stakes, run over 8f. An interesting contemporary note about Head Play is that his second owner at the time of the Derby and until his retirement, Mrs. Suzanne Burnett Mason, was the mother of H. Burnett Robinson. After WWII, Robinson hooked up with racing’s Hal Prince Headley and, under Headley’s advice, bought a property that would become Winter Quarter Farm. And Winter Quarter Farm, still under Robinson ownership today, was the place where HOTY Zenyatta, as well as her Blue Hen dam Vertigineux, came into the world. (For more photos of Head Play, as well as Zenyatta’s page, go to the Winter Quarter Farm at this link: http://winterquarterfarm.com/about-us/) The 1933 Derby became infamous for the shoving match that took place just before the finish, between Herb Fisher (on Head Play) and Don Meade (aboard Brokers’ Tip, in the blinkers on the inside). Believe it or not, the drama of the finish added some spice to an otherwise mediocre Derby field and gave horse racing what it desperately needed in America at the height of the Depression: a ton of publicity. For Brokers’ Tip, who was declared the winner, the Derby would stand as the only race he ever won. (Note: There is no voice over on the footage. Head Play is wearing #9 and Brokers’ Tip, in blinkers, is #16) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxBrMrj39uU   1942: ALSAB VS DEVIL DIVER, WITH REGARDS & SHUT OUT If the Derby field of 1933 was considered mediocre, the 1942 field was its polar opposite. Devil Diver and Shut Out were stable mates. Born at the Whitney’s Greentree Stable, Devil Diver was by the Whitney’s British import, St. Germans, whose son Twenty Grand had run himself into American thoroughbred history with wins in the 1931 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.  Shut Out was by an American legend, Equipoise, “The Chocolate Soldier.” Both Whitney colts were also trained by the HOF conditioner, John M. Gaver Sr. During a brilliant career that spanned thirty-seven years, Gaver also trained the champions Capot, Tom Fool, Stage Door Johnny and Stop The Music.

DEVIL DIVER with the legendary EDDIE ARCARO.

DEVIL DIVER gets some loving’ from the legendary EDDIE ARCARO.

Devil Diver had major wins in the Sanford, Hopeful and Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at two and had opened his three year-old season by beating Whirlaway in the Phoenix Handicap. Shut Out was also a fine colt who, although beaten at two by Devil Diver in the Hopeful, would prove a better three year-old than his popular stablemate. But Devil Diver would have his revenge at four: beginning in 1943, the colt would win the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap for three consecutive years. Like many fine horses of his day, Devil Diver won at punishing weights — often more than 130 lbs. But this couldn’t stop him and as a five year-old, his efforts were rewarded by receiving the title of American Champion Older Male Horse. However, that was in his future; the thinking in 1942 was that Devil Diver would continue his winning ways at three. So it was that Eddie Arcaro chose the accomplished two year-old who had defeated Mr. Longtail, America’s latest Triple Crown winner, to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Shut Out got the services of another HOF jockey, Warren Wright.

SHUT OUT at work as a three year-old. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

SHUT OUT at work as a three year-old. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Shut Out’s chief rival as a three year-old was another famous name in American racing annals, Alsab. Taking his name from his owner, Albert Sabeth, the 1941 Champion Two-Year Old Colt, whose grandsire was the great Neddie, would chase Shut Out’s heels through the Derby and Belmont Stakes. Trained by Charles Swenke, Alsab quickly gained a massive fan base and at three, the colt annexed the Withers, American Derby, Lawrence Realization and the New York Handicap. Perhaps most impressively, Alsab defeated Whirlaway in a match race held at Narragansett Park on September 19, 1942: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlNaBhmLW_s Then there was With Regards, another terrific colt, winner of the Arkansas Derby and Myrtlewood Handicap. Owned by Josephine Grimes and trained by her husband, Ted, the son of Jack High was arguable the quirkiest of this distinguished group. It appeared that, among other things, With Regards had a “thing” about getting into the starting gate before mid-afternoon; in fact, retirement was forced upon him at age five for refusing to load two times in a row. By then, the colt had made 63 starts, with a record of 19-14-4 and winnings of just over $87,000 USD.  For the Derby, With Regards got the services of HOF Johnny Longden — in Longden’s future, and only a year down the road, was the next Triple Crown winner, the incomparable Count Fleet.

The handsome WITH REGARDS and trainer, TED GRIMES. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The handsome WITH REGARDS and trainer, TED GRIMES. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Colonel MATT WINN, the President of Churchill Downs, played a huge role in shaping the sport. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Colonel MATT WINN, the President of Churchill Downs, played a huge role in shaping the sport. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The excellence of the 1942 Derby field prompted the hugest turnout since Colonel Matt Winn had taken the post of President of Churchill Downs. As Winn told a reporter from The Tucson Daily Citizen: “Son,” (Winn) said as the bright Kentucky sun outlined the faint stripes in his dark, blue suit, “I’ve been through four wars. I was born in the first year of the Civil War, I have weathered two others and now I’m in my fourth. And the one thing I have learned is that you should never sell America short nor America’s love of sport short. You take this race track. Now, I’m not talking about Saturday’s Derby, because Saturday’s Derby will be the biggest of all. I thought my dream of 100,000 people would come true last year but there were only 95,000. But I know my dream will come true this year because we can’t fill the demands we have had for tickets–from 50 cent tickets to $125 tickets. To me, this Derby is already history. It is the 1943 Derby  I’m planning now. And do you know what I’ll tell you this minute? Son, I’ll promise you the 1943 Derby will be even bigger than this one. Gasoline shortages? Tire scarcities? America can take them in stride. America will come here–and America will go other places–(even) if America is forced to walk.” Alsab went into the Derby as the favourite, with Devil Diver, Shut Out and With Regards getting a fair amount of play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw6r39Rj-QY Despite the fact that Shut Out went on to win the Belmont Stakes, this time with Eddie Arcaro in the saddle, it was Alsab who took the honours as American Champion Three Year-Old Colt that year. Arguably, Alsab’s defeat of the mighty Whirlaway was the clincher, together with the romantic notion of a colt with a rather ordinary pedigree, bought by a rather “average” guy, who goes on to become a champion.   1953: NATIVE DANCER VS DARK STAR Without question, the most famous of losers of the Kentucky Derby has to be the incomparable NATIVE DANCER. The loss would be the only one of his career. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBBvKILL1IM As the story goes, the “Grey Ghost” as he was famously dubbed by the racing public of 1953 had to weave in and out of horses just to get to the lead. And with each manoeuver, the colt lost ground on the leader, the aptly named Dark Star. In the third quarter, Native Dancer ran from the outside in a time of 23 seconds. But close to the final dash, HOF jockey Eric Guerin went back to the rail, only to be blocked again by Dark Star’s jockey, the cunning Henry Moreno. Guerin gave Native Dancer a couple of smacks and the colt fired, losing at the finish by a head. Which is to take nothing away from Dark Star, who ran the race of his life. His time of 2:02 was better than that of champions like Spectacular Bid, Seattle Slew, Ferdinand, Swale, Winning Colours and Alysheba.

DARK STAR wears the roses in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

DARK STAR wears the roses in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

1957: GALLANT MAN VS IRON LIEGE This is the story of a great jockey who made a terrible mistake. It remains the most infamous of all of the “what-went-wrong” Derbies. The jockey in question, Bill Shoemaker, first said that his horse had taken a bad step, until he was remanded by the track stewards. Their verdict was to suspend “The Shoe” for 15 days. In his biography, published many years later, Shoemaker stated that as he crossed the finish line, “I knew I’d made a boo boo.”  Which would be to put it mildly. The horses at the centre of the controversy were the John Nerud-trained Gallant Man and Calumet Farm’s Iron Liege. But it was a prestigious field that went to the post on that cold, grim day, led by the favourite — Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons’ Bold Ruler. In the field was also the great Round Table, trained by Moody Jolley, the father of HOF trainer Leroy Jolley. Iron Liege and his stable mate, Gen. Duke, were both sons of Bull Lea and although the former had the advantage of War Admiral as his BM sire, he was the lighter-regarded of the two Jones-trained colts. However, Gen. Duke was scratched after coming home from the Derby Trial lame, so it was Iron Liege and jockey Bill Hartack who carried Calumet’s banner on Derby day.

IRON LIEGE works, wearing the fashion of the day for horses with sensitive ears.

IRON LIEGE works, wearing the fashion of the day for horses with sensitive ears. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Bold Ruler was well-regarded by racing pundits of the day and his trainer, “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, was a legend — the only conditioner to ever train two Triple Crown winners, Gallant Fox and his son, Omaha. Although he would be more famous as the sire of the mighty Secretariat, as a three year-old Bold Ruler came into the Derby a winner of the Flamingo Stakes (in which he shattered the track record) and of the Wood Memorial.

BOLD RULER (inside) narrowly beats GALLANT MAN (outside) in the 1957 Wood Memorial.

BOLD RULER (inside) narrowly beats GALLANT MAN (outside) in the 1957 Wood Memorial.

BOLD RULER arrives at Churchill Downs to run in the 1937 Kentucky Derby.

BOLD RULER arrives at Churchill Downs.

Travis M. Kerr’s Round Table, trained by William Molter, came into the Derby off a win in the Blue Grass Stakes. A “son” of Claiborne Farm, as was Bold Ruler, the colt had been sold to oilman Kerr by Bull Hancock with the understanding that he would stand at Claiborne after his retirement. Round Table dominated thoroughbred racing in 1958, but as a three year-old he was still a year away from his best form.

ROUND TABLE with trainer, William Molter.

ROUND TABLE with trainer, William Molter.

John Nerud’s Gallant Man was hardly a lightweight and 1957 saw him take some prestigious races, among them the Travers and the Jockey Gold Cup. But the press only seemed to give the Irish-bred son of HRH the Aga Khan’s Arc winner, Migoli, a lukewarm reception until Gallant Man chased Bold Ruler to the finish line in the Wood Memorial, only losing by a whisker. The little bay carried an impressive bloodline, albeit a European one, that he would pass down to two of the greatest American fillies ever: Gallant Bloom and Genuine Risk. These, then, were the best of 1957 Derby field. And as they broke from the starting gate, no-one could possibly have anticipated the outcome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkQ57ANF1KE

Bill Shoemaker inexplicably misses the finish line by standing in the stirrups on GALLANT MAN for a split second, allowing IRON LIEGE to charge through to win.

Bill Shoemaker inexplicably misses the finish line by standing in the stirrups on GALLANT MAN and allowing IRON LIEGE to charge through and win. It was a split second error that changed the course of history.

After the loss, John Nerud gave Gallant Man some time off, skipping the Preakness and entering him in the Belmont Stakes instead. Bold Ruler won the Preakness for Sunny Jim and his connections and was promptly entered in the Belmont. Iron Leige, who ran a game second to Bold Ruler in the Preakness, wasn’t entered in the last leg of the American Triple Crown. Silent footage of Bold Ruler’s Preakness, with the winner being chased to the wire by Iron Leige (#4): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6PuKjzWATs The Belmont Stakes belonged to Gallant Man. With The Shoe back in the saddle, Nerud’s colt ran a monster race, sailing home 8 lengths ahead of the second-placed Inside Tract, with Bold Ruler finishing up third. Gallant Man’s time for the Belmont stood until, ironically, a son of Bold Ruler, the mighty Secretariat, took it down.

GALLANT MAN wins the 1957 Belmont Stakes by 8 lengths, leaving Bold Ruler well behind at the finish.

GALLANT MAN wins the 1957 Belmont Stakes by 8 lengths, leaving Bold Ruler well behind at the finish.

When he heard of Gallant Man’s death, at the age of 34 years at Spendthrift Farm, HOF trainer John Nerud remembered his champion colt with pride, ” When he was sound and good, a horse never lived who could beat him…he had it all — speed and endurance.”  

GALLANT MAN, according to his brilliant trainer, John Nerud, "had it all."

GALLANT MAN, according to his trainer, John Nerud, “had it all.” This kind of praise from such a brilliant horseman is a fitting tribute to a colt who truly embodied what it means to be a thoroughbred champion.

GALLANT BLOOM, a daughter of GALLANT MAN

GALLANT BLOOM, a daughter of GALLANT MAN, was Champion Two and Three Year-Old filly in 1968-69. A winner of 12 races in a row, she was GALLANT MAN’S best daughter. GALLANT BLOOM was inducted into the HOF in 1977.

The Lady Is A Champ: Genuine Risk, winner of the

The Lady Is A Champ: Genuine Risk, winner of the 1980 Kentucky Derby, was only the second filly to ever do so. A beloved filly who will never be forgotten, GENUINE RISK’S BM sire was GALLANT MAN. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

SOURCES

http://www.horseracenation.com. Derby Remix http://www.jockeysite.com. Kentucky Derby: Legendary Losers

Bolus, Jim. Kentucky Derby Stories. Pelican Publishing Company (ISBN: 9781565544659)

Reed, William F. Duking It Out At The Derby in SI Vault (si.com)

Winter Quarter Farm website. About Us (winterquarterfarm.com)

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (www.racingmuseum.org)

Colin’s Ghost. Bold Ruler Wins The Wood Memorial, 1957 (colinsghost.org)

 

NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. 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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