Newmarket, a town that is all about horse racing

Mats Genberg Trevor Jones/thoroughbredphoto.com, Mats Genberg

It’s early morning in Newmarket, 60 miles from London. The town is awakening. Hardly any traffic – maybe one or two garbage trucks. And a couple of blocks from the main street, 35 racehorses walk across a pedestrian crossing. Follow GallopMagazine to the English town where it’s all about horse racing.

Driving into Newmarket is a special feeling: farmland decreases, and full, tall hedges with magnificent wooden fences line both sides of the straight road. Within a couple of miles you see stud farm after stud farm, with glorious names and impressive entrances. Behind the stud farms you can catch a glimpse of enormous, green-grass paddocks. Everything is in mint condition, but never sterile or ostentatious. Here, the horse – specifically the Thoroughbred – is the focus.

As you approach Newmarket, you encounter one of Britain’s numerous roundabouts. An enormous statue of a rearing horse with its groom graces the centre.

Plastic Lids

Signs point toward National Stud and July Course, one of the town’s two race tracks. The training fields begin right after the roundabout. On each side of the road are huge grass fields dotted with hundreds of small white plastic markers. Parallel with the road, the markers look like they should be on the runway of an old airfield.

“The plastic markers show where you can ride your gallops today,” says Jessica Humble. ”The markers are moved almost every day, so that we always have new grass to ride on. Jessica is originally from Sweden, and has lived in Newmarket for several years working as an exercise rider for many of Newmarket’s 77 professional race trainers.

To walk on the turf in Newmarket is like walking on a beautiful lawn that stretches for hundreds of acres. The land is perfect, and the roots of the grass go down about 10 inches. The calcium rich lower soil layer makes the land self-draining. A little more than half-a-mile away, the futuristic newly-built grandstand of Newmarket’s second racetrack, Rowley Mile, rises from the valley. It’s astonishingly beautiful and almost surreal. If you have ever ridden a horse, you will feel the need to set off at full speed on this track, as have many before.

newmarket_2_-gallop-magazine-12012
Which gallops are open today? And the famous Warren Hills gallop.

King James I (Mary Stuart’s only son) was one of the first to ride here. In 1605 while hunting hare in neighbouring Fordham, suddenly he found himself in the moorlands of Newmarket. He fell in love with this “Prime Sporting Country”. He bought the house which today is the Rutland Arms Hotel, and built the town’s first royal palace. He and his staff held races here with local and Spanish horses. The Spanish horses were found on the beaches after shipwrecks from the Spanish Armada in Galloway. (The Thoroughbred didn’t exist yet).

James’ son Charles I built the first stand on the moorland. But it wasn’t until his son Charles II inherited the throne that horse racing became known as the Sport of Kings.

Charles II loved horse racing so much that he built a new palace in Newmarket, to which he moved his entire court every year. He also put formal regulations into place, and in 1665 the world’s first horse race, following these regulations, took place – The Newmarket Town Plate. Charles II himself won the race in 1671, and to this day the race is still run every year, making it the oldest annually held race in the world. At three miles, six furlongs, it’s not just the oldest race, it’s also the longest.

”It’s astonishingly beautiful and almost surreal. If you have ever ridden a horse, you will feel the need to set off at full speed on this track, as have many before.”

The Capital of Horse Racing

As the interest in horse racing grew in England, Newmarket grew as well. Horse institutions started to move there, and in 1750 the Jockey Club was founded. Soon yearly regular conditions for races were written for Newmarket, most of which are still ridden today. In 1809 the 2000 Guineas was ridden (one mile championship for 3-year olds) for the first time, and five years later the 1000 Guineas had its premier (one mile for 3-years-old fillies). These two races set the standard for similarly-named or -distanced contests in many countries around the world.

Today almost 15,000 people work in Newmarket, and approximately one in four works with Thoroughbreds or horse racing. The question is if any other sport has such an obvious capital. More than 2,500 horses are in training here. Additionally, the town is surrounded by 65 stud farms, where another 1,000 horses are trained, including The National Stud and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Makboum’s Dalham Hall Stud (Darley).

When you pass the town sign (Illustrated with King Charles and race horses) and drive around in the town, you feel horse racing everywhere. The Jockey Club is located on High Street, with the statue of the stallion Hyperion in front. Next door is the horse racing museum. Some distance away is the shoe shop, which of course offers tailor-made jockey boots, and the jeweller who sells bronze statues of race horses. Tindall’s bookshop has hundreds of horse books, and art galleries have plenty of Thoroughbred portraits. A block away you see horses in the flesh. Behind a gate in a residential area you can spot a walker and a couple of stalls. And close to all this is Tattersalls, the oldest bloodstock auctioneers in the world.

”If you love horse racing, you love Newmarket,” Jessica says.

”The town is like one big race day. There’s horse racing everywhere. And a lot of young people come here. It’s like a school trip. With people [of] every age and from all over the world. ”The influence of horse culture is pretty obvious, just looking at the pubs on High Street. Jackets with trainers’ and stud farms’ names, queuing for a pint. Today’s races on the Goodwood track are shown on the TV. On the street every tenth vehicle is a horse truck. Men in caps in dented Land Rover pickups stop outside the betting office to have a chat with Ferrari owners. Owners and trainers? Or more-or-less successful gamblers?

Ex-trainer Gillian Hay still has her house at the bottom of Warren Hill: ”Everything is here. Not only the great training facilities, but also all the services you need, literally around the corner.”

Horse hospitals, veterinarians of every thinkable specialisation, horse fertility clinics, farriers with different specialties, horse transportation, saddle makers, lawyers. Everything within walking distance. And the training facilities are out of the ordinary: the Jockey Club has a total of 1100 acres of training area: 50+ miles of turf training tracks and 16+ miles of all-weather tracks (polytrack, wood chips or dirt track).

But the long grass slopes are the heart of all conditioning for many of the trainers.

Warren Hill and Long Hill Warren and Long Hills are two straight uphill grades in the north of Newmarket. To be standing there by the rail is true horse-spotting. Trainer after trainer come with their horses, or their ”string.” Usually the horses are ridden on loose reins through the town. No one in Newmarket would ever think twice about bringing a young 2-year-old Thoroughbred through street traffic. They all do it. Every day. Walking along with heads hanging, like riding school horses. Side by side with buses and strollers.

First out this day are some of the smaller trainers, with five-to-six horses each, and sinewy riders in their 60s. Cigarettes in mouth — although it has plenty of negatives, smoking is a good way to hold the appetite and weight in control.

The next group is about 30 horses or even more. Everyone is wearing the identical jackets and helmet covers. The only one wearing riding pants is the head lad, the group leader. Everyone else is riding in jeans. On an old race horse, the head lad stops traffic at the pedestrian crossings. Riding in front. Making sure everybody is doing right. Reporting to the trainer. At the bottom of the hill, he positions his horse to the side, and watches as the riders shorten their stirrups, or ”leathers.”

”Today’s races on the Goodwood track are shown on the TV. On the street every tenth vehicle is a horse truck.”

In two seconds the riding horses turn into the Formula 1 racers they are bred and trained to be. Two by two they race a mile and a quarter, up the legendary Warren Hill synthetic surface. The string gathers at the ridge and then walks down again for a new round. Then it’s back to walking again, a mile and a half across the town. After this the horses have a break, and rest until the next day. But each rider normally has two more horses to ride.

”It’s sometimes hard,” says Jessica, ”but most of all it’s fun. You get your dose of adrenalin every day! I’ll see how long I’ll manage …”

Two men stand outside the pub at High Street. They’re in their 60s. Tiny. They’d be startlingly small in all other European towns, except for Newmarket. The first thought is kind of tragic: they’re ex-jockeys who know only one thing —how to ride race horses. So what does an old jockey do? Shouldn’t he be allowed to just sit still and relax and get his porridge served while watching daytime television?

As we walk by we hear that they’re talking about horses. Horses that they’ve ridden the very same morning. “You’ll see on Saturday—he’ll show them!” one of them says. He laughs, and you clearly see that a visit to the dentist would be a good way of spending the winnings he hopes to get.

And it’s by then you realise that adrenalin is an interesting life extending drug. That it can make some riders ride longer. Very much longer. At least in Newmarket, where the school trip never ends—if you don’t want it to.


 

Tattersalls

tattersalles-ring
It’s been more than 200 years since the first race horse was sold by Tattersalls. Today the bloodstock auctioneers occupy a large part of Newmarket, and the 11 yearly sales fill the town with people from all over the world.

Just walking around the old stables is fascinating. Young grooms sit on folding chairs outside the stalls of the horses they are there to look after. Getting up to brush a horse before it’s about to enter the sales ring, while under the watch of potential buyers and their advisors. In the parking lot horse boxes and Land-Rovers are parked next to Aston Martins. Racing’s ability to get people from all aspects of society together is never more clear than here.

Horses and grooms waiting to enter the sales ring.
Horses and grooms waiting to enter the sales ring.

The sales ring with its dome ceiling feels like a mix of a Russian circus building, a church and a courthouse with light coming in from a multitude of windows. Sheikhs in oilskin jackets and Irish ex-jockeys in jeans stand side-by-side at the rail scrutinizing the horses before the equines enter the sales building  to be led around the ring as the bids (hopefully) come.

Even if you have no intention of buying a horse, it is a fascinating spectacle to be on location when millions (in any currency) are spent.

 


GO TO THE RACES

Racing in the UK is not like anything else. Even more so in Newmarket, since “everyone in the business” shows up whenever there’s a race. The small town has two racecourses – and not a single bend! Both July Course and The Rowley mile are straight tracks …
July Course is the coziest of the two with races in the middle of summer. Start off with a parking lot picnic around 11 am before the races. After the last race there’s often a high profile band playing, so a day at the races can easily turn into a night as well.

NAVIGATE AT THE RUTLAND ARMS

The only hotel on High Street. As English as they come. And one of the few hotels in the world where you need to go down stairs and turn left, when your room is up and to the left … Navigating the corridors and stairs is a fascinating experience that many Newmarket visitors can tell stories about. Classic in the best sense of the word!
www.oxfordhotelsandinns.com

HAVE A PINT AT The Wagon

The racing pub on High Street. This is where you’ll find “everyone.” Just grab a seat and a pint, and before long you’ll be speaking racing with someone.

The racing pub on High Street. This is where you’ll find “everyone.” Just grab a seat and a pint, and before long you’ll be speaking racing with someone.
The racing pub on High Street. This is where you’ll find “everyone.” Just grab a seat and a pint, and before long you’ll be speaking racing with someone.

VISIT THE Brittish Horse-racing Museum If you are new to British racing this is a great first spot to visit. They have more or less everything – including a silent courtyard where you can rest your feet and have a good lunch at a decent price.

If you are new to British racing this is a great first spot to visit. They have more or less everything – including a silent courtyard where you can rest your feet and have a good lunch at a decent price.
If you are new to British racing this is a great first spot to visit. They have more or less everything – including a silent courtyard where you can rest your feet and have a good lunch at a decent price.

Get up early and go to the training tracks (The Jockey Club has a board where they list all open gallops each day) and enjoy the beauty of Thoroughbreds in the morning mist.

Get up early and go to the training tracks (The Jockey Club has a board where they list all open gallops each day) and enjoy the beauty of Thoroughbreds in the morning mist.
Get up early and go to the training tracks (The Jockey Club has a board where they list all open gallops each day) and enjoy the beauty of Thoroughbreds in the morning mist.

A classic brittish pub in Ashley, three miles outside town. This is where you will hear trainers and owners talking about why the last race came out the way it did.
Cool decorations and great food. Open 7 am-11.30 pm.
Sundays 12-15. Closed on Mondays.

A classic brittish pub in Ashley, three miles outside town. This is where you will hear trainers and owners talking about why the last race came out the way it did. Cool decorations and great food. Open 7 am-11.30 pm. Sundays 12-15. Closed on Mondays.
A classic brittish pub in Ashley, three miles outside town. This is where you will hear trainers and owners talking about why the last race came out the way it did.
Cool decorations and great food. Open 7 am-11.30 pm.
Sundays 12-15. Closed on Mondays.

The tack-shop with all you need for racing. Watch out for excess luggage on the flight home!

The tack-shop with all you need for racing. Watch out for excess luggage on the flight home!
The tack-shop with all you need for racing. Watch out for excess luggage on the flight home!

The Pantry. If you still think that Food Culture and England do not mix (in spite of the fact that every TV cooking show in the world has British chefs) you should visit The Pantry. Here you’ll find English food at its best, presented by a couple who really want to teach us what East Anglian cooking is really all about. Stop by for Sunday lunch and chances are you’ll find yourself at the table next to Sir Henry Cecil. www.thepantryfinefoods.com

The Pantry.
The Pantry.

Welcome to Florida

— Sunshine, yachts, oranges and race horses

Amanda Duckworth Mats Genberg, Horsephotos.com

Birds fly south for the winter in the USA, and so do people. Often, many of the best race horses, trainers and jockeys find themselves in the Sunshine State of Florida.

Still, Florida’s position as a great place for horse lovers might not be so well known. The fact remains, however,  the same great weather that makes it a top vacation spot also makes it a perfect place for horses and horse people. Warm—but not steaming hot. Dry—but not a desert. And with everything you need for an easy life within arm’s reach. Living is easy in Florida, regardless of the number of legs you have…
And – in 2017 it’s home to the richest race in the world…

 

To find proof of what a spell in Florida can do to a horse you don’t have to look back more than a year. In 2013 the two biggest races in the United States—the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic—were won by Orb and Mucho Macho Man, respectively, and they both spent their winters in Florida.

But Florida’s equine heritage is deeper, more valuable and more entertaining than just a pleasant weather forecast, and it is worth your time to visit.

Land of flowers

Christopher Columbus is given credit for discovering “the new world,” but it was Juan Ponce de León who found the mainland of what is now the USA. In 1513, he landed on Florida’s northeast coast, and his ship’s last known navigational reading was 30 degrees, 8 minutes, off the coast of St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S. He claimed the land for Spain and named it La Florida, or land of flowers.

For the last 500 years Florida has been influenced by its Spanish past, and with that past came a love of horses. Not only did Ponce de León give Florida to Spain (at least for a time), he gave Florida horses.

When he returned in 1521 the explorer brought 50 horses and other domestic animals with him. However, the natives were not thrilled with his attempts to move in, and Ponce de León and his men were attacked. They went back to Havana, Cuba, leaving behind the animals. The fight also cost the explorer his life, as it is believed he was hit with a poison arrow during the fight and later died of his wounds.

The horses, however, were in Florida to stay.

hialeah2Hialeah Park—home of the flamingos

In time, tourism became a big industry in Florida, and the tourists needed things to do. Just like in so many other places in the world, a race course was seen as the perfect entertainment venue for both the man on the street and the high rollers from high society. It was a perfect way to spend an afternoon when you grew bored of the beach, and so began Florida’s love affair with horse racing.

One of the oldest existing recreational facilities in Florida is none other than a racetrack, but it is a racetrack with a bittersweet existence.

Hialeah Park, just south of Miami, opened in 1921 and is a name that still brings a gleam to the eye of old racegoers. In 1926 the track was damaged severely by a hurricane, and in 1930 it was sold to Philadelphia horseman Joseph E. Widener. He hired architect Lester Geisler to design a new grandstand, clubhouse facilities, and infield gardens stocked with native flora, fauna, and flamingos. It was meant to be a true Florida icon.

The result was stunning. Hialeah became known as one of the most beautiful racetracks in the world. An Australian totalisator for accepting parimutuel betting was the first in America to be installed, and the track became so famous for its flamingo flocks that it was  officially designated as a sanctuary for the American Flamingo by the Audubon Society. Remember the Miami Vice TV show intro?

Although a beloved venue, Thoroughbred racing ceased in 2001 after a change in the state law kept it from having exclusive dates in its competition with the other two race courses in the Miami area   – Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course. A filly by the name of Cheeky Miss won the last Thoroughbred race on May 22, 2001.

That was not the end of the track though. In 2009 it was announced track owner John Brunetti was awarded a racing permit, and in November of that year the historic racetrack reopened…but only for quarter horse racing.

Gulfstream is the powerhouse track in Florida.
Gulfstream is the powerhouse track in Florida.

 

Gulfstream Park

Today Gulfstream Park is the flagship of Florida racing. In 2014, the track celebrated its 75th year, and it is run by a group of people who have a lot of big plans down the road. The track is owned by the Stronach Group—which also owns Santa Anita, Pimlico, Golden Gate Fields and a number of other tracks—and most of the executives are horsemen, which gives it an unusual edge against most of its competition.
In 2017 Gulfstream is host to what will be the Biggest Race in the world – the Pegasus Cup!

“The whole area is like nothing ever seen at a racetrack. It’s actually like a small hispanic town, with dwindling streets, cool shops and restaurants”

Located between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Gulfstream opened in 1939 and has been one of the most important racing venues in the USA.

If you are hoping to see a future Triple Crown race winner, this is not a bad place to be in the winter. Gulfstream offers a series of prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby that has had a significant impact not only the Run for the Roses, but the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes as well.

The Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth are prep races for the Florida Derby, which in turn is a major prep for the Kentucky Derby.

History proves this to be true as in the first 62 runnings of the Florida Derby, 42 starters have gone on to win 57 Triple Crown events. In 2013, Orb won the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.

“Our winter meet is when all of the top trainers and jockeys in the U.S. come down here,” said Gulfstream’s marketing director Mike Nyman, who was an owner/breeder for more than 20 years before taking the job. “It is for several reasons, and obviously the weather is first and foremost. There aren’t too many tracks that are operable in the winter, and we have one of them. We have a lot of good things going on, and it is the tourist season, so a lot of people that are down here during the winter spend their time over here.”

 

 

When Orb crossed the finish line first in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, he became the 22nd horse to win the Run for the Roses after racing in the Florida Derby, and the 13th horse to win both contests.

Year Horse
2013 Orb
2008 Big Brown
2006 Barbaro
2001 Monarchos
1995 Thunder Gulch
1994 Go for Gin (4th in Fla. Derby)
1991 Strike the Gold (2nd)
1990 Unbridled
1984 Swale
1981 Pleasant Colony (5th)
1979 Spectacular Bid
1975 Foolish Pleasure (3rd)
1974 Cannonade (2nd)
1968 Forward Pass
1966 Kauai King (5th)
1964 Northern Dancer
1961 Carry Back
1960 Venetian Way (2nd)
1958 Tim Tam
1957 Iron Liege (3rd)
1956 Needles
1953 Dark Star (13th)

 

New visitors

The first time the track was redone, a casino was added. Furthermore the track added The Village, a center of shopping, dining, nighttime entertainment and cultural activities designed to engage entire families. The whole area is like nothing ever seen at a racetrack. It’s actually like a small Hispanic town, with dwindling streets, cool shops and restaurants where you can sit down outside and enjoy a glass of wine. It is a big change from looking at a parking lot. From Main Street, you can see the parade ring, surrounded by balconies from where you expect to see Zorro preparing to swing down onto a horse.

Far from the traditional American mall or shopping center, this is a place where ”not so interested in racing” members of a family can spend an afternoon while the others go racing.

“While the industry has been having some issues and most tracks have decreasing handle and attendance, we have made a real big effort on track to engage families, younger people, and women,” said Nyman. “You will see the mix of customers at the track is different than at most places.

“We do a lot of things to really engage customers, especially first time customers. We have ambassadors here to help them read a program or make a bet. We will take families into the walking ring, the winner’s circle, the jockeys’ room and the broadcast booth. The typical person people think of at a racetrack is a 65-year-old white male smoking a cigar, and that is just not the way the demographic is at our track now. It’s gotten a lot younger and we like that.”

Clearly the track is doing something right. At a time when many venues are struggling both with handle and attendance, Gulfstream is not. A record crowd was on hand to watch Orb’s victory in the Florida Derby, while total handle on Gulfstream’s 13 races that day was close to $25 million. On-track handle was $1.37 million, up 7.16 percent. General admission and parking are free.

“We have a lot of people who are very engaged in the business, are passionate about the business, care about the business and don’t believe in its demise. We believe we can bring it back to health, and we have done that,” said Nyman.

While it is true Gulfstream has found success in many of the changes it has made, one area where it might have misstepped is the grandstand. During the initial renovation, grandstand seating was reduced from around 30,000  to a few thousand. That is one of the issues being addressed by the current renovation.

“Obviously there were some mistakes, and nobody is perfect when you roll out these new innovative efforts,” said track president Tim Ritvo, who previously was a jockey and a trainer. “We are doing a lot of tweaking, and we are continuing to improve. We think what you see at Gulfstream is in its infancy of what you are going to see. We are trying to incorporate racing as an entertainment component so that people don’t just come to bet on horses.

“It is about the whole experience: having great dining, having some place cool to hang around if you are a young guy with a girlfriend, and a place to enjoy the thrill and excitement of a horse race.”

One of the main motivating factors for the second renovation in less than a decade is the desire to host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships again. Gulfstream has played host to North America’s end of season championship races three times in the past, but not once since it demolished its grandstand.

“We do want the Breeders’ Cup someday,” said Ritvo. “We need to do a lot of renovations, and we have plans for that. The reason you want to have the Breeders’ Cup is because it makes you a real viable and important player in the industry. The Breeders’ Cup is not a huge profit maker and it takes a lot of work, but it is an honor. It is the championship series of the sport, so who wouldn’t want to have it?”

Hosting events is important to Gulfstream. In 2013, it hosted the Eclipse Awards for the first time and will do so again in 2014. Eclipse Award night is the Oscars of horse racing  in North America, and most everyone had positive feelings about having it at a race track instead of a hotel or convention center. Gulfstream is a track that is trying to bring in new people while taking care of the ones it already has.

“You go to most places and there is next to no marketing for horse racing,” said Eddie Plesa, Jr., who is a leading trainer in Florida. “But if you drive down any road in south Florida or turn on your radio or TV, you see or hear them advertising. They are promoting the sport.”

 

”You can train 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and you don’t have to worry.”

 

Beyond the track

Florida’s climate means that it is a favorite spot not only for racing but also for training racehorses, especially young ones.

Keenly aware of that fact, the Stronach Group opened up Palm Meadows. It is a state-of-the-art training facility located on 304-acres just outside Boynton Beach. Another major training facility is Payson Park, a 400-acre facility, also located in south Florida. It is designed to offer a stress-free environment for horses and trainers alike.

payson-hymn-book

Both operations draw top trainers, and with top trainers come top horses. The reason is two fold: both operations are catering to the horse and both can offer the kind of weather that many facilities around the country dream of.

“When you are training horses in the snow and cold weather, it is a problem,” said Plesa. “The weather is the biggest draw as to why people go to Florida in the winter. You can train 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and you don’t have to worry.”

 

600 Thoroughbred farms

A couple hundred miles north, one finds Ocala, Florida, which bills itself as the Horse Capital of the World (although it has to share that title with four other cities around the world). Whether that claim is accurate or not, it sure is a popular place for horse enthusiasts. If you are looking to see all the effort that goes into getting a horse to the track, Ocala is the place to go.

In 1956, the Ocala area Thoroughbred industry received a boost when Needles became the first Florida-bred to win the Kentucky Derby, and in 1978, Florida bred and -raised Affirmed won the Triple Crown.

Today, Florida is home to around 600 Thoroughbred farms and training centers, and more than 75 percent of those are located near Ocala in Marion County. Ocala is also home to the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company, which stages major bloodstock auctions throughout the year.

Fasig-Tipton also holds sales in Florida, and in fact, it was at its 2006 January sale that the world record auction price of $16 million was set. The colt, later named The Green Monkey, would go on to win just $10,440, reminding everyone of the fact that racing is a sport that involves taking chances.

“Florida is the best place I know of for breaking horses, training horses, and teaching horses what they need to do,” said Plesa. “Time is of the essence, especially with 2-year-olds. When you take them out of a routine because you miss a week of training because of a snow storm, it might take you two weeks to get back to the point where you were. In Florida, you don’t have to worry about that.”

Ritvo, who has dedicated his life to improving the sport of horse racing, agreed,  hitting on the fact that Florida has much to offer the equine enthusiast, be they in the industry or simply a fan.

“Obviously we can’t take credit for everything, since weather is a big factor,” he said. “But it is not just what the horses do here while they are wintering , it is what they do when they leave us that is important. We have more and more business coming our way every time they leave here from a good winter campaign.

“We are a huge state and we are known as a destination travel state and an agricultural state, but we would like to be known as a racing state. Some of the wealthiest people in the world have farms here, and it is important to us to continue to sell the sport. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes: the parties, the events, the beauty of it, and the love of the animals. Once people get in, you are hooked. There is no way you cannot fall in love with the sport.”

Or with Florida.

BEING AP

A movie about AP McCoy

Mats Genberg MICHAEL STEELE/getty images

Making a living from a sport where breaking your body is part of the game, AP McCoy might not strike you as a man of fear. This movie shows us that he is—but in a different way.

Being AP Director: Anthony Wonke Available on DVD/Blueray from amazon.co.uk
Being AP Director: Anthony Wonke Available on DVD/Blueray from amazon.co.uk

Jump racing in the United Kingdom and Ireland is a bit like baseball in the United States: mega-big at home but less understood in other parts of the world.

That is why AP’s name might not ring the biggest bells to people in Hong Kong, the U.S. or Australia, but make no mistake about it, he is a Superstar with a capital S at home. In fact, he is considered one of Britain’s greatest sportsmen. Ever.

AP won 20 (yes, 20!) consecutive UK jockey championships over jumps. That means some of the riders he was competing against in his last seasons were not even born when he won his first title.

Or to put it in another way, he has been the only champion jump jockey for each and every year of their entire lives. It is hard to come up with any other athlete in any other sport in any other country that even comes close.

It comes as no surprise that AP, who retired in April 2015, is now the subject of a full-length documentary that was backed by BBC Films and directed by Anthony Wonke (Fire in the Night, Ronaldo).

“When we first set out to start filming we knew that we had about a year of shooting ahead of us,” says Being AP’s
producer, Nick Ryle. “We did however not know what sort of a year it was going to be or what the movie would be about. Would it be a story about success, injuries, retirement, failure? Anthony would have to adjust his ideas as time passed.”

 

”Pain is temporary, losing is permanent.”

gettyimages-465768638

It turned out to be a movie about fear. Not fear of falling or getting every bone in the body broken—AP is already as close to a bionic man as they come, with a part-metal skeleton—but fear of not being a champion. Fear of not knowing what lies beyond that next bend in the road of life, when racing is no longer there.

”Pain is temporary, losing is permanent,” as AP’s wife, Chanelle, puts it.

”It’s like being an addict,” AP says at one point in the documentary. Instead of ”just one more drink” or ”just one more bet,” it’s just one more race, one more championship, one more record. AP won a total of 4,348 races. As his agent, Dave Roberts, says in the movie: ”If a new jockey wins 200 races per year for 10 years, he still won’t even have half of your wins.”

Viewers get to follow AP in what became his last season of racing and, ultimately, his 20th consecutive championship. The idea of retirement is not there at all in the beginning. When his wife/soulmate tries to bring the subject up, you get that awkward feeling of ”guess I should leave the room now,” but you can’t. You’re there like a fly on the wall.

gettyimages-466099750

Like other athletes, jockeys need to perform on a regular basis. But they are on their own. No team. No coach. After having passed the 4,000 wins mark in 2013, AP set another goal: to win 300 races in a season.

”It’s all numbers,” he says. “It’s only ever been about numbers. It was about winning as many winners in as little time as possible.”

That meant riding races every day. Even going to a dinner to accept an award was seen as a waste of time, as it kept him from riding.

”AP will ride any horse that has a chance of winning,” says Dave at one point. ”He will drive for five hours to Newcastle for one ride.”

In the UK, jockeys go from track to track to ride. In the movie, you follow AP as he runs out, in full racing gear, to a waiting helicopter at one track so he is be able to get to the next track, and the next ride, in time. All in all, he gets to ride in 800-1000 races in a season. Keep in mind that jump races are rarely shorter than two miles.

AP Mccoy -Wiki

As the movie goes on, you feel AP’s fear of the unknown getting stronger and stronger. But somewhere along the line it dawns on him that there is something even more frightening lurking in the shadows: the fate of one who did not quit in time.

Or as he puts it himself: ”I want people to ask why I retired, not why I didn’t retire.”

Being Ap is a rare look into the thoughts and life of a top athlete as he makes the ultimate decision. It is also a movie that keeps popping into your mind the day after you have seen it.

Racecourse handbags – off course…

ARKLE, HYPERION, GOODWOOD are names that are familiar to all Brittish racing fans. They are also names for really cool handbags from Osprey London. The company’s customer club even has a logo that look just like a VIP badge from an English race course. osprey-london-the-maiden
Prices start at about 550 Euro.
www.ospreylondon.com

Issue 3 / 2016

Time for the autumn 2016 issue. This time we tell you about racing in South Africa ( the other down under) and then we cross the Indian Ocean for the story if Archie Da Silva who tells us what it’s like to be a racehorse owner in Hong Koing. Archie owned Silent Witness – say no more!

Shane McNally explains the little things that make racing in Australia different for non ozzies. And you get to meet Maria Hagman. “Just” an amateur trainer only training purebred arabians. But she is the best amateur in Sweden. And – she is one of the worlds best endurance riders. And the single mother of baby twins. And an on-call firefighter!
And don’t miss Shingo Naka’s photos. This is art!
We hope you will enjoy it!

Issue 2 / 2016

In our summer 2016 issue, we have a 14 page portrait of superstar Jockey Victor Espinoza – winner of the 2015 US Triple Crown and the 2016 Dubai World Cup. With photos you have never seen before. We follow up with the story about California Chrome’s exercise rider – Dihigi Gladney – the man with the golden smile.

Add to that the history of Del Mar racecourse, Ribot, Australias new superhorse Winx and a lesson on how to make horse portraits for a Queen.

Issue 1 / 2016

In this brand new spring issue, you can read about Per Gråberg, a Swedish champion jockey, who rides for his love of speed, the legendary Birdsville Races that pull in enthusiasts from all over Australia, the very expensive redevelopment of Longchamp, Japan’s latest racing darling Buchiko and her unusual colouring, and much more.

Issue 4 / 2015

In this brand new winter issue, you can read about Lucky Baldwin and his not so quiet life, how the UAE turned sand into gold all thanks to horse racing, three of the world’s most popular horses: Treve, Golden Horn and American Pharoah, jockey Michelle Payne who is going into the record books and much more.

Issue 3 / 2015

In this issue you can read about Surfers Paradise in Queensland—a town that breathes horse racing, Lester Piggott who turns 80-years-old in November, Cajun racing, before Before American Pharoah was king and much more!

 

Issue 2 / 2015

Gallop Magazine 2/2015

In this issue you can read about Kentucky Special, beach racing in Spain, Mike De Kock, Triple Crown and much more!

Issue 1 / 2015

Gallop Magazine 1/2015

In this issue you’ll find stuff like all you ever wanted to know about Kentucky Derby, Ripley’s fantastic photographs, Ryan Moore, Chantilly, Laghat the blind race horse and much more.

Issue 4 / 2014

Our brand new winter issue is here. And it brings you some of our best stories ever. Like a “from the saddle” view of the Grand National, a portrait of super trainer Criquette Head-Maarek and a visit to one of the most exciting racing countries right now–Turkey.

Issue 3 / 2014

Gallop Magazine 3/2014
Gallop Magazine 3/2014

We’re proud to present you with our fall issue!

It has great reads on some of our most cherished topics, including our newfound love for big-crowd South Korean racing, a star-studded visit to Melbourne Cup, the undeserved destiny of Sunday Silence and Al Capone’s brushes with Chicago’s local racing elite.

Issue 2 / 2014

Gallop Magazine 2/2014

In the summer issue you can read about Top 5 most valuable horse racing collectibles, Adrenaline & Beauty–horse racing stories from all over the world, French racing by the sea, portrait of the jockey star Gary Stevens, Berlin, Tale of two Derby horses and a lot more!

Go racing Gangnam style

Mats Genberg Mats Genberg, KRA, Alex Cairns

South Korea is small — only about the size of Maine or Ireland — but it is home to some 50 million people. Of course, 75% of these people live in the 25% of the country that is not covered in mountains.

Horses head for home in Seoul, where even the suburbs count their populations in the millions.
Horses head for home in Seoul, where even the suburbs count their populations in the millions.

 

To look at it another way, close to 40 million people live in an area the size of New York City. Still there is no chaos – just the opposite.

This is a country where everything runs on time, people bow politely, and efficiency is the mantra. It is also a country where horse racing has an annual attendance of more than 16 million people. Follow us as we expose the horse racing world’s best kept secret: Racing in South Korea.

It’s a hot Saturday on the outskirts of Seoul. Racing is just about to start at the city’s racecourse, but the enormous grandstands seem empty. The only people you see in the open areas between the structures and the track are cleaners and guards.

To us Westerners, the sight is not abnormal. This is what it often looks like in Europe and North America. These days, people watch the races from computers or on TV instead of going to the track.
“There’s only about 30,000 people here today,” says T.I. Jung of the Korean Racing Authority, who guides us.

That is a crowd size that most major race days in the West would be proud of. But where are all of these people? It turns out the grandstand is so enormous the crowd just barely fills it halfway up.

The seated capacity is about 80,000, but on this summer day most of the 30,000 in attendance stay inside because of the scorching subtropical heat. Except, of course, for the die hard fans who watch the horses in the subterranean parade ring.

 

Watching racing here is like watching a gigantic, precision mechanism at work. What else could be expected in a country wherehigh school kids learn algebra at the university level and subway stations are as clean as hotel lobbies?

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The horses are led out into the parade ring and shown to the betters, while the jockeys mount. Information about every possible aspect of the race is shown on giant screens. This is Samsung land, mind you.

Covered by TV-cameras from every angle, the horses enter the tunnel to the below-ground preparation area. Here, every horse is weighed before each race before entering into another tunnel and going up to the track.

All races in South Korea are run on sand. In Seoul, the racecourse even has two sand tracks, with some distances starting on the inner track and finishing on the outer. The horses canter to the stalls (some have lead ponies), and all is as efficient as you would expect it to be.

This is a big screen!
This is a big screen!

Loading is done in a matter of seconds. And then, away they go. Lining the rails with 30 meters between them are security staff. Their backs are toward the horses as they stare at the crowd, much like the hooligan police at English football matches. There are no hooligans here, though. Standing on a balcony, the total absence of cheering and shouting is eerie as everybody is indoors this hot July day.

After the race, all of the horses are unsaddled and led away from the public view—including the winner. On regular race days, the winner’s presentation takes place without the horse.

Once inside the building, the feeling is completely different. Various sections of the racecourse open up for different target groups. For instance, newcomers have their own section, where they can be taught the basics of betting without hard-core punters around. There are even classrooms where races and rides are analyzed by betting teachers. Other parts of the track are dedicated to families, the elderly, and the owners, respectively.

”Betting has had a bit of a bad ring to it here,” says Jung. ”It is conceived as an activity for ‘real men’ who speak in terms that you don’t understand. We really try to open it up to new people and create an atmosphere where everybody can feel relaxed.”

The average purse for each thoroughbred race is $95,000, about 30,000 visitors attend on normal race days, and there is a yearly betting turnover of some $7 billion! All in all, the KRA has more than 16 million people watching races at its locations every year.

In order to gain credibility and respect, racing in South Korea is extremely transparent. The control room at Seoul Racecourse Park looks like something from NASA, and there are more TV cameras than at a royal wedding. Most horses are trained at the racecourses in Seoul, Busan, and Jeju, and each year more than 4,000 participate in races at one of the tracks. Each facility also has a complete horse industry center.

In Seoul, about 1,500 horses are in training with some 53 trainers. Here you do not only find stables and training facilities, but an equine hospital, a ”hoof clinic centre,” and the Korean Horse Industry Research Center as well. Even the local trainers’ association has its own building.

It is clear that the Korean Racing Authority (KRA) is slightly more than your average turf club. The fact it has a total of 1,100 staff, plus another 8,000 on race days, is impressive.
So are the finances.

The average purse for each thoroughbred race is $95,000, about 30,000 visitors attend on normal race days, and there is a yearly betting turnover of some $7 billion! All in all, the KRA has more than 16 million people watching races at its locations every year.


Walking around the Seoul Racecourse makes any horse person feel at home. Even if one end of the racecourse faces high-rise buildings, the other side of the venue’s park-like 280 hectares climbs up the steep green hills that are so typical of the Korean landscape. It doesn’t feel at all like you are in one of the world’s biggest cities.

”Our location is actually a key asset for us when we are recruiting people to the KRA,” says Jung. “Young people are starting to realize that they want more out of life than just a desk at an office and crowding on the subway. We can offer clean air, nature and lots of space. And of course horses!”

Betting is huge in South Korea, and it’s very controlled. KRA is a government body responsible not only for horse racing but also for betting. Wagering is restricted to the racecourses and to KRA betting offices around the country.
Jung took us a KRA Plaza in Seoul. Seeing one of these “shops” is an experience that is as far from a bookie office in London or a PMU agent in France as you can get.

Upon entering the five-story building, you pay a small entry fee. The size of it depends on how long you want to stay and how much comfort you want. In total, the building can hold up to 5,000 people.

Monitors, betting magazines, and form guides are everywhere and are all in Korean. Long rows of betting windows and betting machines line the walls. The feeling is a bit like that of pre-computer Wall Street. People gaze at overhead screens, while running back and forth with paper slips that are either thrown away in anger or carried to the cashier window as if they were precious diamonds.

All of it is done in a very orderly fashion—after all, we’re in Korea.

Betting has to be done in cash, and this specific KRA Plaza has a daily turnover of about $2 million per day, three days per week. There is no racing Monday through Thursday, so those days the facilities are used for free by the local community as a place for exercise, studies, and community meetings.

Most races in South Korea are restricted to locally-bred horses, and if you want to buy a foreign horse there are restrictions. In order to protect the Korean bloodstock industry, there is a legal limit on how much Korean buyers can spend on a colt or gelding at overseas sales – $20,000 is the maximum.

There is no limit for fillies, as the intention is after they are done racing, they will become broodmares and help improve the domestic breeding stock.

Thoroughbreds are not the only race horse bred here. Legend has it that Mongol invaders brought their own horses to the island and cross-bred them with the native ponies resulting in the local Jeju pony.
Thoroughbreds are not the only race horse bred here. Legend has it that Mongol invaders brought their own horses to the island and cross-bred them with the native ponies resulting in the local Jeju pony.

Most foreign horses are bought at 2-year-old sales by the KRA, the Seoul Racehorse Owners’ Association, or the Busan Racehorse Owners’ Association rather than by an individual owner. A few weeks after the new purchases have been flown to Korea, they will go through the sales ring again and be sold on to private owners. It is not uncommon for a horse to fetch many times his original value at this stage.

All owners are registered with the KRA and are usually attached to one of the two Thoroughbred racecourses in Korea: Seoul or Busan. (The third track, Jeju, hosts pony racing, but more on that in a bit.)

While they may spend some time at the KRA’s training centre in Jangsu or at a private farm if their owner has such facilities, most 2-year-olds join straight up with their assigned trainers at Seoul or Busan. Most horses will spend their entire careers at the same track, and horses from the rival tracks only meet in the very biggest races.
The same goes for jockeys, trainers, and owners. You ”belong” to one racecourse, and that is where you race.

Furthermore, foreign-bred horses may only run in open races. Because of the small number of these contests available, very few of these races are solely for 2-year-olds or restricted to fillies. Therefore, it is possible a juvenile filly can find herself up against a 5-year-old gelding in her racing debut.

The heart of the breeding industry is the island of Jeju, south of the Korean peninsula, but Thoroughbreds are not the only race horse bred here. Legend has it that Mongol invaders brought their own horses to the island and cross-bred them with the native ponies resulting in the local Jeju pony, which still survives today.

Amid fears that the Jeju pony was dying out in the 1980s as it ceased to be needed in traditional agricultural roles, the Korean government designated the ponies “National Monument Number 347” and mandated the KRA set up the apparatus necessary to save the species. The result was the Jeju Race Park and pari-mutuel betting.

The heart of the breeding industry is the island of Jeju, south of the Korean peninsula
The heart of the breeding industry is the island of Jeju, south of the Korean peninsula.

Jeju ponies are strong despite their small size, and although the jockeys maintain their weight at similar levels to their Thoroughbred counterparts, you can see weights of up to 74 kg (163 lbs). The majority of races are open to all ages, and while most runners are young, there are a number of ponies who start their careers very late and a handful of ponies who still run at age 20 and older.

Racing in Kenya

at Ngong Race Course

Ardina Strüwer Ardina Strüwer

The sport of horse racing knows no borders. It does not relate to GNP or religion. Where there are people and horses, there is horse racing. It’s as simple as that. Swedish writer and photographer Ardina Strüwer takes us to a racing scene that is so different, and yet so similar. Welcome to Kenya.

 

In the middle, on a white bench, is Paddy Migdoll. She still has the best parking spot on the track.
In the middle, on a white bench, is Paddy Migdoll. She still has the best parking spot on the track.

The scent of newly cut grass, horse and… popcorn. The sun shines from a clear blue sky and the temperature is—as it usually is here, regardless of season—around a comfortable 20° C (around 70 °F). Tall trees and the occasional palm tree give shade to the parade ring, and not far away the turf of the track is shining in green.
Spectators of all colours, nationalities and social standings gather and the air is full of festivity. Baloons and ice cream stands are open. Children run around barefoot in the grass. Someone plays golf in the infield.

”I had a farm in Africa,
at the foot of Mount Ngong.”

Karen Blixen “Out of Africa”

I’m at Ngong Race Course in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, just a few miles from the place where author Karen Blixen once had her coffee plantation. This place is full of beautiful one story buildings, hand-painted signs and English ladies in floral blouses and skirts that belong in another time. Men in hats sport binoculars in frayed leather covers that have seen a safari or two. Gin & Tonics are two pounds (or Euros…) per glass, served by waiters in white dinner jackets.

The feeling of being in a time long gone is very present, but the shining Thoroughbreds wouldn’t be out place at any modern race course in the world. The rules, routines and the training methods are very similar to what we find in the rest of the world. Yet the atmosphere is so different. After all, we are in central Africa.

Racing time machine

Going to the races in Nairobi is a bit like stepping in to a time machine. Not only when it comes to details like the results being posted by hand on a black-board, but in the intimacy of it all. There are 250 horses in training, eight runners in each race and a handful of trainers. After just a few visits you have a fairly good idea of who is who in Kenyan racing. The next weekend you are likely to run into many of them at a polo-game or a showjumping event. People here race horses for the passion and the love of horses. There are no big purses, and the training fees are among the lowest in the world.

In the parade ring I spot Leslie Sercombe, the most successful jockey in Kenya. She is tall, blond and thin. Her mother Patsy is a trainer and a vet. Her twin sister is a showjumping rider.

Julie McCann is a foot and a half shorter, and second in the standings. She doubles up as jockey and trainer. Julie didn’t start riding until in her 20s, after a career as a speedway motorcycle rider. She is married to Stewart McCann, a jockey too, who spent some years riding in Sweden—in a very different climate. Stewart has some weight issues. Earlier in the day I saw him sweating heavily while dressed in a ski-suit in his car with the heater turned up to the maximum. Saunas are only found in the 5 star hotels of Nairobi.

In the center of the parade ring Paddy Migdoll sits on her regular bench. Mrs. Migdoll is an upright lady in her 80s. A horse owner and former trainer who likes to talk about her tea visits to the Queen of England. She still has the best parking space at Ngong Racecourse even though the sign with her name is tilting a little. Mrs. Migdoll was introduced to the sport by Beryl Markham, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic. Markham was also the first woman in Kenya to get a race trainers license in 1926. Long before any woman in most Euro-pean countries.

The Jockey Club of Kenya was founded in 1965. Originally an upper class sport, today you find Kenyans of all aspects of society cheering for their favourites. Parts of the track have free admission and the lowest bet is 20 cents.

 

”I can think of no better way to start my own day than to ride out with the exercise riders in the Ngong forest”

Capital: Nairobi.
Population: 43 million.
Aera: 582 646 km2
Language: English (official language), Kiswahili (national language); several local languages.
Government type: Republic.
Important industries: Tea, horticulture, coffee, petroleum products, fish, cement, tourism.
Exchange rate: 100 KES (Kenya Shilling) = 0,91 Euro.
GDP/Capita: 882 USD.
Religion: About 80 Muslim, 10 % indigenous beliefs.
Average age: 18,8 years.
Life expectancy at birth: 63 years.
History:
Before the colonization of Kenya the most of the country was relatively unknown to the outside world. The coastline was however well known due to the trade with the Far East. Kenya came under British colonial rule in 1895. European settlers was given rights to land that was not cultivated by Africans. This happened mainly in the highlands where settlers grew coffee, tea, cotton and weat.After a while, this lead to violent protests and attacks on European farms. After a long struggle the country gained its independance on Dec. 12, 1963. One of the biggest British projects in Kenya was the construction of the railroad from Mombasa to Uganda. The new capital Nairobi was built right next to the railroad.

Discover KENYA

Kenya is a fantastic country to visit, and if you don’t want to go for an extended and expensive prepared tour, it is easy to just fly to Nairobi and discover the country on your own.


The bell tolls, jockeys jump up on their mounts and canter to the start. Everybody leaves the parade ring and we spread out to our favourite observation spots. On the grandstand I run into Rune Carlsson from Norway. He is the proud owner of several horses, including Kenyan Derby winner Martial Art who now continues his career in South Africa. Next to him is swede Johan Svensson who does peace work in East Africa. Johan got in touch with racing after a few years playing polo in Kenya. A knee injury put a stop to his own riding, so he bred his two mares to Riverton Heights (Seattle Slew) and Heard a Whisper (Bellaphy). The result was African Storm who won the Kenyan 2000 Guineas in 2008 and Peacetime, a multiple winner.

 

Close to the horses

”What I love about racing in Kenya is that you are so close to the horses,” said Johan. ”They thunder by you a few feet away. Racing here is not so much about the races as such. It’s common to bring family and friends just to hang out.”

They’re of and we follow the first part of the race on the TV-screen. After a while the horses turn in from the bend. The crowd starts cheering, people get up from theirs seats, children stop playing, arms wave race cards. The speaker is yelling. Everybody is yelling.

The field is well together but Jacob Lekorian, a man from the Massai people, in silks the colour of the flag of Rune Carlssons’ native Norway, makes his horse give that little extra and wins by a length. Fun for Rune—the owner—but even more so for Jacob. At the age of 20 decided to become a jockey, even though he was scared to death of horses. The first time a thoroughbred ran off with him he was so ashamed that it was a week before he dared to return to the stable. In Kenya there are no jockey schools and the trainers do not always have the time to teach the new riders.

“Going to the races in Nairobi is a bit like stepping in to a time machine.”

Now Jacob is one of the top riders and works as a head-lad at McCanns. His family are proud of him, he says, but they refuse to set foot at the track. Horses are still considered a very strange animal in Kenya. Jakob won the Kenya Oaks in 2011, and recently spent a few seasons in Denmark.’

”I want to be better, learn more, and become as good as I can possibly be.”
Every second Sunday from September to July races are held at Ngong Race Course, There is a yearling sale in August, and this years record selling horse was sold at Euro 12 000. Considered a very high price in this country, especially in light of the turmoil in the region the last few years. Almost all horses in training in Kenya are at Ngong Race Course. The vast majority of the stable staff have tough lives, with marginal salaries, regularly sick children, school fees to pay and elderly parents to support. School fees to pay. But I never HEAR anyone complain, rather I hear constant jokes and laughter. The love for the horses is there as well. Patience. Wisdom.

They might not know as much about racing as we do in the industrialized  world, but the passion for the horses and the sport is exactly the same.
Even at the foot of Mount Ngong.

Restaurants

The Talisman bar and restaurant—lovely atmosphere,
good food, popular hangout for horse people in Karen.

http://www.thetalismanrestaurant.com/

Haandi restaurant—very good Indian food in Nairobi.

http://www.haandirestaurants.com/kenya.php

(Westlands)
Seven Seafood Grill—fantastic seafood
http://www.experienceseven.com/

 

Tours

The National Park—10 minutes from Nairobi you can be on the savannah with lions, rhinos, zebras and antelopes.
http://www.kws.go.ke/parks/nairobi-national-park

David Sheldricks elephant orphanage—in Karen
http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/

Giraffe Manor—hotel with its own herd of giraffes—in Karen
http://www.thesafaricollection.com/properties/giraffe-manor/

Naivasha Lake—1 hour from Nairobi—with lodges in various price ranges—contact Tour Africa Safaris.
http://www.sopalodges.com/lake-naivasha-sopa-lodge/overview

The Sanctuary Farm, Naivasha—ride among antelopes and giraffes for 15 dollars. The Erskines, who own the farm, are thoroughbred breeders.
http://www.sanctuaryfarmkenya.com/

Stay over night:
Elsamere, Naivasha—a rather plain lodge wher the hippos come up to graze in front of your cabin and where Born Free’s Joy Adamson lived
http://www.elsatrust.org/

 

Hotels:

Lovely boutique hotel in Nairobi
http://www.palacina.com/

Hotel with bush-feeling in Karen
http://www.ngonghouse.com/

Tribe hotel next to the shoppingmall Village Market with many good restaurants
http://www.tribe-hotel.com/

 

BLACK TYPE

and Group Races.
What’s it all about… really?

Horse racing is full of its own special words and expressions. Sometimes it’s hard to understand. What does ”Group Races” mean? And what is a ”Black Type Pedigree?”

Now you can stop wondering; Gallop Magazine will sort out the big race terminology for you.

Black Type.
Black Type.

Many people are of the opinion that horse racing really is a breeding competition. That all the victories and prize money really are only there in order to select the breeding stock of tomorrow.

Regardless of your thoughts on the subject, the fact remains: everybody wants to know exactly how good their own horse is. How good—or valuable—is the race record of the mare or of the stallion you consider using? And how good is the pedigree of the horse you examine at the sales?

Giving a horse a rating or a ”form” is one solution. Better horse—higher rating. But how are you supposed to rate wins? Is it worth more to win the Derby for 3-year-olds than a race for older horses? Is a race with higher prize money more important than one with a long history? These are all questions that horse racing has been struggling to find answers to for centuries. However, in 1952 the problem became visible in a way never before seen. The first European horses where shipped over to race in the first-ever international race, the Washington D.C. International. The predecessor to what is today’s Breeders Cup World Championships.

For bettors, handicappers and trainers the previous performances of the invited horses were a jungle. Was the Illinois Derby as important as The Epsom Derby?

 

During the late 1960s the situation became urgent in Europe. Prize money in the big races in France could be 50% higher than in a corresponding race in England. Since weights were determined on money earned, British horses would come in to the races cheaply and get a lower weight than if they had won an equivalent race in France.

 

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

When you read about race results, you will sooner or later see the term ”Group Race” or ”Black Type.” But what does it mean?

This is how it works: When a race is ridden, the average rating (form) of first four horses is used to calculate the level of the race. If the race has a high enough level to be included in the international ”Pattern Race Calendar” it will be defined as ”Listed.” If it is of an even higher level it will become a so called ”Group Race.”
Group Races come in three classes: Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3. (abbreviated Gr1, Gr2 and Gr3.)
Group 1 is the highest level. Just to keep things even more confusing, North America has its own system and calls its equivalent races Grade 1, 2 or 3 instead of Group 1, 2 or 3.

These races are also called ”Black Type” because performances in these races are written in bold letters (Black Type) in sales catalogues and stallion marketing.

 

GROUP RACES

In 1970 Jean Romanet (father of today’s leading figure in international racing, Louis Romanet), was the manager of France Galop, which is the French racing authority. He presented a system where France, Ireland and UK would nominate 90 races each. The 270 races would be categorized in three categories, or groups, and thus the term ”Group Races” was born. Weights in those races would only be on performances in other group races—regardless of prize money in those races.

Group 1 was the Classic Races*, Group 2 was the Classic Trials and Group 3 was other major races. In 1971 Italy joined the system, and in 1972 Germany followed.

The idea was widely accepted, especially among the sales companies that manage the auctioning of yearling thoroughbreds. In the auction catalogues it is important to be able to quickly identify the individuals with high performing pedi-grees. By tradition, horses who have won or been placed in important races had their names written in bold letters—or ”black type.” The problem was that each country had their own view on what races deserved the sought after typography.

BLACK TYPE PEDIGREE. This yearling filly by Galileo out of Clara Bow was sold for €600 000 Euro at Arqanas prestigeous Deauville sale in August 2010, making her the most expensive horse at the sale. She is a good example of a true Black Type pedigree. The dam Clara Bow has her name written in regular type since she has no Group race or listed performance of her own. Her son Witton Court has been placed (2nd and 3rd) in Listed races (L) and gets his name written in lower case letters but in Black Type. Her other foals Turtle Bow, Turtle Bowl and Age of Aquarious are all Group race winners and gets to have their names written in capital letters (for winning) and Black Type (for doing it in Group Races). All Black Type races also get their category written in bold.
BLACK TYPE PEDIGREE.
This yearling filly by Galileo out of Clara Bow was sold for €600,000 at Arqana’s prestigious Deauville sale in August 2010, making her the most expensive horse at the sale. She is a good example of a true Black Type pedigree.
The dam Clara Bow has her name written in regular type since she has no Group race or listed performance of her own. Her son Witton Court has been placed (2nd and 3rd) in Listed races (L) and gets his name written in lower case letters but in Black Type. Her other foals Turtle Bow, Turtle Bowl and Age of Aquarious are all Group race winners and gets to have their names written in capital letters (for winning) and Black Type (for doing it in Group Races).
All Black Type races also get their category written in bold.

It was easier for a sales company in Ireland to know the importance of a race at an Irish track than one held in France.

The need for a common standard was obvious, and it was about to come in place.

In 1972 the need for more detailed rules led to the creation of the system we have today. The goal was to have complete transparency and to have one body make all the decisions on which race were to have which status. From Listed (L) to Group 3 and Group 2 to the finest races of all—Group 1.

The rules dictate that all horses carry equal weight. Fillies do get a weight allowance, as do 3-year-olds when they race against older horses. The longer the race, the bigger the allowance. The only allowed penalties are that horses that have won Group 2 or Group 1 races may be given extra weight when they race in classes below their own highest level. All races must also be completely open to all horses regardless of what country they come from. A rule that is not very well known is that geldings are not allowed to run in Group 1 races that are only for 2- or 3-year-old horses.

As time went by more and more countries from all over the world joined the “Pattern Race System.” All western European countries subscribe to it, as do UAE, Hong Kong, Japan, Qatar etc. A special committee was also created to supervise and control how the sales companies present the horses on offer. It is known as the ICSC, or International Cataloguing Standards Committee.

Only approved races may be printed in Black Type.

 

HANDICAPPING OF RACES

The level of each race is calculated based on the average form/rating of the first four horses in the race for the last three runnings. A total of 12 horses are used for the calculation, and it is the “end of season rating” that is used.

This is an internationally agreed rating based upon the best performance of a horse during the year. It is set by the committee handicappers at the classification meeting. In order to be eligible for Group race status, the race has to maintain a certain level over three consecutive years.

This means that regardless of prize money no race can ”buy” a Group race listing.

When the Dubai World Cup—the race with the highest purse in the world—was created, it had wait to get its Group 1 status. If the average rating sinks, the race can be downgraded and if the rating goes up, it can apply for an upgrade.

This is one of the reasons that major races all over the world fight to get the best horses. Even if it means a foreign horse takes the local prize money, bringing in the best can also help raise the status of the race and the importance of local horses on the international market.
There are also plenty of pitfalls. If a race changes its surface, distance, location or even date, a new application must be made.

 

LISTED

In the early days of Group races the term ”Listed” came into use. Originally a name for races that were ”in the catalogue,” but with slightly more diffuse criteria.

Now, Listed races are as strictly controlled as Group races and could really be referred to as “Group 4” races. However, this might cause problems for some countries with many Listed races that have been accepted because of tradition, but would risk losing their statutes with the new, stricter rules.

The top 10 Group 1 and Grade 1 races in the world in 2016, including rating and 2016 winner.

1) Breeders’ Cup Classic (USA) 125.25 – Arrogate

2) Irish Champion Stakes (IRE) 124.75 – Almanzor

3) Pacific Classic Stakes (USA) 124.75 – California Chrome

4) Cox Plate (AUS) 124.75 – Winx

5) Champion Stakes (GB) 124.00 – Almanzor

6) Breeders’ Cup Turf (USA) 122.25 – Highland Reel

7)  George Ryder Stakes (AUS) 122.00 – Winx

8)  Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (FR) 122.00 – Found

9) Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE) 121.50 – Postponed

10) Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (GB) 121.25 – Minding  

 

Melbourne Cup a handicap race. And a Group race.
Melbourne Cup is a handicap race. And a Group race.

 

OTHER SYSTEMS

The European system is now the norm in many places. Other countries do however have similar systems. In North America, where the Black Type races are called Graded Stakes, the status is awarded by the American Graded Stakes Committee, which has rules that in many ways are similar to the European: The races may not be limiting other than gender and/or age.

Whether or not a race is called Grade 1, 2 or 3 depends on the quality of the horses, just as in Europe. The difference is that there are no exact definitions. It is also interesting to note that US Graded Stakes races can be handicaps, which races where each horse carries a weight in relation to its own capacity.

That is also the case in Australia, which has a third system. The biggest race in Australia—Melbourne Cup—is a Group 1 race AND a handicap.

“The European system is based on an ability to rate and compare wins, says Björn Eklund, of the European and Mediterranean Horseracing Federation (EMHF).

That is why equal weight is a cornerstone in the system. As such, a handicap with different weights never can be given Black Type status in any country that subscribe to the European system.”

A few years back Arabian horse racing has adopted the same concept. It has a system where Group races have to be approved by the Pattern Race Committee in exactly the same way, and with the same rules, as with Thoroughbreds.

MORE AND MORE countries are joining the system. There is talk about countries in South America having serious plans. However, in some countries with local, less strict systems, new rules would not be popular. Fewer races would be approved and fewer horses would have the sought after lettering in their performance.

But as someone once said. What is easy to win is not valuable.

And it doesn’t get any more difficult than a Group race.

 

Issue 1 / 2014

In the spring issue you can read about The Hollywood story of Mine That Bird, Jump racing at the heart of the Irish, Maryland – The small state with big racing, and a lot more!

JON FRANKLIN

Photo Special

Mats Genberg

In the summer of 1994 Jon Franklin and three work colleagues from a William Hill betting shop drove down from London to the Glorious Goodwood race meeting ob the south coast of England.

”Looking back, I am glad that I took my camera along. After the summer, I was moving up to Nottingham to begin a three year full time course in Photography.

Though he was a keen follower of racing through his job at William Hill, he had not till that day attended a race meeting.

From the moment I set foot inside Goodwood Racecourse, I couldn’t put my camera down.

I was fascinated. The people, the horses, the highly charged atmosphere, the sheer beauty of the racecourse.

From that day on, I knew precisely how I was going to spend my three years at University. I was going to dedicate my time there to documenting racecourse life in Britain.”

Jon sent some of his photos to Goodwood and by chance, his style of photography fitted very much their vision at the time and Jon soon became the ”house photographer”.

This led to his involvement in the well known book ”Racing Tribe” —a light hearted study of racing and race going in Britain by social anthropologist Kate Fox.

Today Jon produces photographic imagery for the marketing departments of over twenty racecourses throughout Britain, Ireland and in Scandinavia.

‘As I say, looking back, I am glad that I remembered to take my camera with me on my day trip to Goodwood in 1994.’

It has been a marvelous photography journey and one that hasn’t ended yet.”

Northern Dancer

– The greatest little horse ever seen

Mats Genberg, Geir Stabell, Niels rosenkjær Keeneland, Mirrorpix

When you talk about horses that make history, Northern Dancer has a place of his very own. Standing a mere 14.3 hands tall (150 cm) and born in Canada at the end of May, he had the odds stacked against him. Every now and then, however, what can’t be actually happens. This is such a tale.

 

The Canadian businessman Edward Plunkett Taylor loved racing. During the twenties and thirties it was he who more or less saved Canadian racing. He bought run-down race tracks and took over studs galore. But Taylor had a dream—to create a Canadian star, a horse to be remembered with reverance long after we had forgotten EP Taylor himself. A horse to win the Kentucky Derby.
Taylor had to start from scratch, with a really good broodmare. Hyperion’s daughter Lady Angela was up for auction at Newmarket, England, in December 1952, in foal to the great Nearco. Taylor wanted to buy the mare, let her foal in England and have her covered by Nearco again.

The Hyperion/Nearco nick was one everybody believed in. But so far it had not worked out especially well in real life.
Martin Benson, the owner of the mare, was the main owner of Nearco as well. At this time and age one didn’t sell breedings. It was a time when a part owner in a stallion had a certain amount of covering rights and held on to them. Benson would be happy enough to sell the mare, but not an additional covering.

Northern Dancer with trainer Horatio Luro.
Northern Dancer with trainer Horatio Luro.

EP Taylor, however, found out Benson was not just a bookmaker, but a gambler, too. He spent his winters in Florida, where it was difficult for an Englishman to bring cash. Cash for gambling. A promise of $3,000 waiting for Benson in Florida solved Taylor’s problem. In the end Lady Angela was sold for $35,000, an enormous amount in the 1950s.
Lady Angela arrived in Canada and foaled the colt Nearctic. A fitting name for a son of Nearco born (Né in French) in the far north (Arctic).

Nearctic was a tough horse to deal with. Very tough. Track work made him so much on his toes, that he was hardly ridable. During his racing career, he suffered from a cracked hoof, that often played havoc with the plans for him. Victories came, nevertheless. As a 4-year-old the horse won the Michigan Mile in Detroit and its $40,000.

A fortnight later Taylor was in Saratoga for the sales. Nearctic’s winnings were to be invested in a broodmare. Natalma, a grand-daughter of Mother Goose by Native Dancer, was picked out. Native Dancer was the first racehorse to become an idol in the era of American television. Native Dancer raced 22 times and won 21 times. He was second once: In the Kentucky Derby. Rumour has it, his ghost still lurks beneath the grandstand at Churchill Downs, seeking revenge on Dark Star—the horse who denied him his greatest triumph.

Natalma won races, but she had an adversity—she hated the whip. Once she threw herself against the rails to avoid it. In the process she bumped another horse and was disqualified. It took weeks before she would go even near the track again.
A knee injury undid her and her racing career was cut short. When she went into the breeding barn it was late in the season. A nearby stallion was required and a fertile one at that. The answer was Nearctic, who was standing at the owner’s stud and had proved he had the ”juice” during his first season.

It was on the 27th of May 1961­—when most of that year’s crop had already been foaled—Natalma’s little first born saw daylight. The colt was small and when the time came for the yearling sales at Windfield Farms the following year, he was standing at least 10 centimeters below his contemporaries.

His reserve was $25,000. Even if his pedigree was fantastic as such, neither Nearctic nor Natalma had been quite up to expectations. And both had been injury prone.

Jim and Phil Boylen were two brothers taking a good look at the small colt, but their trainer put his foot down. ”Who wants a midget?”
Jim later said, that it probably was all for the good, they didn’t buy him. ”We were just a bunch of amateurs. Knowing us, we probably would have gelded him.” he said.

No one bought him, and the small colt stayed behind along with 32 others to be trained and raced in the owner/breeder’s colours.

But he didn’t pull up crossing the line after the nine furlongs. He let Northern Dancer go for another furlong. All in all a mile and a quarter (2000 meters). The Derby distance had been tested.

When Northern Dancer went into training in his native Canada, he was still very much on the smallish side, standing just 14.3 hands, but with plenty of scope. He was built more like a quarter horse than a thoroughbred and was anything but an easy ride. To sit on Northern Dancer was like siting on a keg of gunpowder. He bounced from one foot to the other trotting. Could whip around on a 5 cent piece, and when he went from trotting to galloping, it was like turning on an afterburner. Northern Dancer didn’t take to exercise. He didn’t take to that many humans either.

One sunny July morning at the classic Woodbine track in Toronto, Northern Dancer gave a premonition of what was to come. It was the first time he was to break from the stalls. Horatio Luro, his trainer, told the exercise rider that he could be a bit lazy. ”Touch him down the shoulder with the whip to make sure he gets away.”

And away he came. Like a bat out of Hell. He clocked 37 seconds for 600 meters with the rider pulling him so hard that the saddle slipped forward. One week later he worked 800 meters in: 48.8. Just two weeks further on it was racing time. Ron Turcotte—the man who 10 years later was to pilot Secretariat to his Triple Crown—was up.

”I was told not to use the whip,” Turcotte said. ”The horse went well enough and took the lead when I asked him to, but was satisfied to stay head to head with the other horse. I shifted the whip to my left hand so nothing could be seen from the stands and tapped him once. The horse exploded and within 70 yards he opened up an eight-length lead, which is what we won by. Had I done that at the quarter pole he surely would have won by 15 to 20 lengths.”

 Northern Dancer Pedigree: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Dancer
Northern Dancer could and is without a doubt still the most influental stallion in the world.

 

Size is not important.

We often hear that a good big one will always beat a good little one, but that is as silly as claiming a top class horse does not care about the going. Many a small horse has become a champion. Northern Dancer is himself the best of examples. He was uncommonly small, but also uncommonly good.

When a horse is small and unfurnished, there isn’t much to work with. The horse simply lacks scope and has too little substance. Small, powerful horses, on the other hand, can be proper Golden Eggs. They are solid, they are strong and thanks to being small, they weigh less and thus are subject to less injuries.

Northern Dancer often met horses standing up to 20 centimeter above him, but not many of them possessed the same body volume. He had an amazing heart and lung capacity. One could see the effect when he started racing as a 2-year-old.

”His stride seems to be twice as long as normal for a horse of his size and to top it, he has full control of his legs,” wrote Charles Hatton, one of the leading experts from the Daily Racing Form, when Northern Dancer became the 2-year-old champion of Canada. ”He reminds me of the Bolshoi Ballet.” In Canada, he won five of his seven races—two of which on the turf—before he was shipped to Aqueduct in New York to meet tougher opposition. He started off in a regular conditions race. Here he met the very smart Buper, who had won the Futurity Stakes and considered among the best in the States.

The punters knew better. They loaded their money onto Northern Dancer. When the gates opened, he was at very prohibitive odds and had Buper one length in arrears when he crossed the line as a not unduly worried winner. Nine days later on the same track he won again, this time the valuable Remsen Stakes. It is one of the most important races for two-year-olds in New York, often indicating which of the East Coast youngsters are good enough to have a crack at next year’s Kentucky Derby.

 

Beaten in his opener at three.

After Northern Dancer had beaten Lord Date by two lengths in the Remsen, he was one of the favourites for the Kentucky Derby half a year later. But in Florida things went wrong in his first race as a 3-y-o. Under Bob Ussery the horse was badly away after having been interfered with by another horse at the break. When he found his stride, he was far behind and had to go through a wall of horses to reach the front. In the home stretch Ussery made use of his whip to get that little extra out of his mount. He shouldn’t have done it. Northern Dancer finished third and for a quite while after the incident he—like his dam—refused to go near the track.

The next time Northern Dancer was seen in public was in a match race with no prize money at the very same track. A three horse match over 1400 meter. Chieftain, who had beaten him a fortnight earlier, was in the line-up again. This time Northern Dancer got his revenge and beat Chieftain by seven lengths.

Nine days afterward it was time for the Flamingo Stakes. Bill Shoemaker rode and the two length victory made it obvious, that Northern Dancer had the capacity to race with the big guns. Maybe even in Kentucky.
Five short days later he gained yet another victory over 1400 meters at Gulfstream Park as part of the preparations for the Florida Derby on April 4.

On the day before the big race he was to have a work-out. Just a pipe-opener. A new exercise rider was engaged. The trainer’s orders were to go four furlongs (800 m) in 48 seconds. Northern Dancer took a different view, took hold of the bit and took off. When the rider finally was able to pull him up, he had done five furlongs (1000 m) in 58,6. Northern Dancer had raced one day early.
When the horses were at the gate the following day, nerves were abundant. But Billy Shoemaker knew exactly what he was doing. Nicely and with no fuzz he won the nine furlong race in 1:50,8.

Now the sights were set on racing in—and hopefully winning—the Kentucky Derby. The same evening, however, Shoemaker announced that he had chosen another horse in the Kentucky Derby. Hill Rise.

A new jockey was contacted: Bill Hartack. A cocky man with three Derbies to his name. Hartack agreed to try out the horse in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland nine days prior to the Derby. Hartack kept Northern Dancer on a tight rein until entering the home stretch, where he loosened his hold a bit and was away. Approaching the finish line, however, a cheer went up from the crowd as local boy Allen Adair was closing in rapidly. Hartack loosened the reins a bit more and won by half-a-length. But he didn’t pull up crossing the line after the nine furlongs. He let Northern Dancer go for another furlong. All in all a mile and a quarter (2000 m). The Derby distance had been tested.

The first Saturday in May is like a holiday in Kentucky. All the big races in the world aside, it’s the Kentucky Derby winners who become megastars.

When Northern Dancer arrived at Churchill Downs in Luisville, media was out in force. The interest in the little horse was record high. Especially in Canada, where everybody sat glued to the TV or the radio.

And then they where off. Northern Dancer from post position seven. He found a handy position on the rail in 7th place and waited. But the tactics went sour. When he was about to deliver his challenge, he was boxed in on the outside by Hill Rise. But for a split second an opening appeared and Northern Dancer more or less threw himself out under the chin of Hill Rise. His legs went like drumsticks and it took a while for Hill Rise to get on terms again. Closer and closer he came and almost got alongside. But Northern Dancer kept him at bay. In the [then] record time of 2.00,0.

The cheering in Canada knew no end. People poured out into the streets. Cars honked their horns.
Northern Dancer was the All Canadian Horse.

Two weeks later it was time for the second leg of the Triple Crown, The Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. It was a return match against Hill Rise. Northern Dancer won easily by two lengths. The same evening his trainer announced that they would not be trying for the Triple Crown. The distance of a mile and a half (2400 meters) in the Belmont Stakes was too far.

Taylor, however, had other plans. Having luncheon with Queen Elizabeth II (racing afficionado and de facto Queen of Canada), Her Majesty congratulated him on the the victory. The story goes that the Queen suggested he should have a go at all three races. Northern Dancer was shipped to New York and Aqueduct.

June the sixth arrived. Everybody wanted to see the little hero win. Fate had something else in hand. The race was run slowly, and Northern Dancer ate so much dirt at the back of the pack, that he was coughing it up for hours after the race. He finished third. Some say it was due to bad riding orders. Others, that it was a jockey’s mistake. Whatever the reason, the dream was shattered.
Before his sortie, he went for a tour of honour in Canada. Northern Dancer was the people’s hero. Fanmail arrived by the sack. One blind boy asked if he could come and pat the horse. EP Taylor’s wife, Winifred, gave her permission.

It is well known, that Northern Dancer in spite of his size was no cuddly pony. Just a few days before the boy came visiting,Northern Dancer chased his trainer out of his stall. He had a special relationship with Winifred since he was a foal, though. When she came into the barn with the boy and talked to him, he was standing still as a statue. All the time the boy caressed his muzzle, he behaved like an old cart horse and looked half asleep.

June 20th was the day of the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in Toronto. Northern Dancer was there to put on a performance for his people, the canadians. At ridiculously low odds.But when the horses passed the grandstand on the first circuit, many a heart in the crowd was stopping. Northern Dancer was second to last. In the next bend he was last.

The jockey’s explanation was simple. His horse was going so freely, he had trouble restraining his pace and had to cover him up. Eventually he had to give Northern Dancer his head and the horse made his own opening by sheer power.
In the back stretch he passed the others one by one. And in the home strech the little hero cruised to a 7-1/2 length victory. The third horse home was a further12 lengths away.

It was all over now, though. An injured tendon he had shown signs of after the Belmont was now evident. Northern Dancer had practically run the entire race on three legs.

His racing career was finished. His total showing was 14 victories, two seconds, and two thirds from 18 races. He earned $580,806.
But now the tale begins in earnest.

Northern Dancer – Wikipedia

 

Northern Dancer the sire

Son of Northern Dancer, Nijinsky II and Lester Piggott. Those who had doubts about Canadian race horses was silenced when Nijinsky II became the first horse in 35 years to win the brittish Triple Crown.
Son of Northern Dancer, Nijinsky II and Lester Piggott. Those who had doubts about Canadian race horses was silenced when Nijinsky II became the first horse in 35 years to win the brittish Triple Crown.

The following winter Northern Dancer embarked on his second career as a sire.
As a racehorse he was a champion and a good one, but just one of many champions, nevertheless. He is often likened to the legendary gelding gelding Kelso, who was the first horse to earn $1 million in the USA and held the record at $1.9 million (from 39 victories) for 15 years.
Kelso could obviously not become a sire, but Northern Dancer could and is without a doubt still the most influential stallion in the world.
Northern Dancer had a very special personality, which he clearly passed on to his sons, grandsons and their sons… as well as the many fine fillies he sired.

Furthermore he demonstrated to people in his surroundings, that he was an intelligent animal. His jockeys didn’t have to make use of the whip to make him win. A touch on the shoulder was enough for him to shift into overdrive. And win.

The first season at stud Northern Dancer stood for a fee of 10.000 dollars. At the time it was usual for champions to enter breeding strictly controlled by their owners. That way they could make sure the stallion only covered top notch mares and got off to a good start in their breeding career. Horses like Bull Lea, Nasrullah and Bold Ruler were formed into ”Champion Sires” doing that. The owners of Northern Dancer, now a syndicate of 32 persons headed by EP Taylor, again chose their own way. The horse stood at Windfield Farms and was advertised at the open market.

Success was not long coming. In 1967, Northern Dancer had seven 2-year-olds who had been offered at various auctions.  All seven raced, which is unusual in itself. All seven won, which is highly unusual. Five of the seven won at the least one stakes race, which is unique. This was the start of something more than a fantastic career as a sire. This was the start of a new era in breeding. It was to be dominated by one name in both the USA and Europe both: Northern Dancer.

Vincent O’Brien—the Irish explorer

Vincent O’Brien with Northern Dancer-sonThe Minstrel. The Minstrel was born in Kanada and won, among other races, the Epsom Derby.
Vincent O’Brien with Northern Dancer-sonThe Minstrel. The Minstrel was born in Kanada and won, among other races, the Epsom Derby.

That Northern Dancer was an extraordinary sire was soon obvious in the States, but as it turned out another legend was to be almost as important to Northern Dancer’s global legacy as his breeder EP Taylor. Vincent O’Brien, the trainer who was just as clever with horses on the flat as he was with horses over jumps, was the man, who discovered Northern Dancer as a factor of success in Europe. He advised his owners to invest in sons of Northern Dancer beleiving they would be as good— if not better—on turf as they were on the stateside dirt-tracks. He also predicted, that they—in their turn—would succeed as sires. O’Brien, the Master of Ballydoyle, where Aiden O’Brien (no relation) now trains, was right.
He usually was.

He and Robert Sangster imported sons of Nothern Dancer like Nijinsky II, The Minstrel, Storm Bird, Be My Guest and Sadler’s Wells. All became racing champions and all became sucessful sires.

The sons of Northern Dancer often had a special look. They were seldom big, which is understandable, and even if they had mass, they had a bit of Arab look about them. Often they arrived with a big blaze like Northern Dancer himself. They were all well balanced and the assembly line that put them together usually remembered to mount a fantastic head for racing on them. That they also had the qualities to succeed as sires, one could say is a tangible bonus. Even his unraced sons have become fine sires. Night Shift is perhaps the best known of these. He headed the list of sires in England for one season having champions like The Groove and Nicolotte to his name.

”They were all well balanced and the assembly line that put them together usually remembered to mount a fantastic head for racing on them”

 

40 million. Thanks, but no thanks.

During the 1981 season, when Northern Dancer was 20­—years old, Windfield Farms received an offer of $40 million for him. The 32 members of the syndicate immediately declined. They thought he was worth more. They were probably not wrong. The Northern Dancer sons Nijinsky and The Minstrel had both won the Epsom Derby, the Irish Derby and the King George and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes during the 70s. Both stars had Lester Pigott as their steady partner.

A story concerning Nijinsky tells, that his dam Flaming Streak, was in fact sold by Taylor to Frank Sherman as a racehorse. But was she was sent back as she had an inflamed joint. She later won the Queen’s Plate and became Horse of the Year in Canada. When she was covered by Northern Dancer, the result was Nijinsky, who not only won the English and the Irish Derby, but also carried off the English 2000 Guineas and St. Leger to become the first Triple Crown winner for 35 years in the UK.

The success continued in the 80s when Sadler’s Wells entered the stage. Perhaps he was not quite as good a racehorse as Nijinsky, but he is regarded by many as the best sire of the Northern Dancer sons.

”This is not necessarily true,” says Tony Morris, one of the world’s leading experts on thoroughbred breeding. ”Nijinsky and the French Lyphard, trained by Alec Head, were world class sires, too. Northern Dancer is without a doubt the best and most influental sire the world has seen.”

Answering the question on what set Northern Dancer apart from other champion sires, Morris said: ”He had an unusually high percentage of stakes winners. Northern Dancer never covered more than 36 mares a year and in one of his crops he had eleven Stakes winners. No other sire has even come close to those figures and I doubt any in the future will”.

And for the future continuing to be dominated by horses with Northern Dancer blood, one won’t be offered any high odds. The little horse has put his mark on racing forever. And so EP Taylor’s dream came true. More, than he had probably dared to dream. With his three homebreds—Nearctic, his son Northern Dancer and his son Nijinsky—he produced some of the world’s most influental sires.
All born in Canada—a country, where you really can’t breed racehorses, or so they said before 1964.

Northern Dancer’s services were initially offered at $10,000. No foal, no fee.

When he went into retirement at the age of 26, you had to pay $100,000. With no guarantees. Today it is not a question whether a racehorse has Northern Dancer in its pedigree, but rather if it hasn’t.

Northern Dancers stud fee started at $10,000 live foal fee. When he reitired at the age of 26 (1987) mare owners paid $1 million for a breeding. Without any guarantee!
Today the question is not if a race horse has Northern Dancer in its pedigree, but if does NOT have it. He has sired a total of 146 stakes winners.

FAMOUS Northern Dancer OFSPRING:
Nijinsky II
The Minstrel
El Gran Senor
Nureyev
Lyphard
Danzig
Sadler’s Wells
GRANDSIRE OF (among others)
Storm Cat
Deputy Minister
El Prado
Northern Dancer is both the maternal and paternal grand-grand sire to Big Brown. Winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2008.