How to conquer the world in 341 days

Alex Cairns Zoe Metz, Eclipse Sportswire/Getty

A 100-foot statue of the mythical equine Pegasus looms over the Florida landscape, crushing into submission a writhing steel dragon. With no hint of understatement, this monstrous pair signal the location of Gulfstream Park, home of the Pegasus World Cup, the latest addition to the elite racing calendar and the world’s richest race. In an age where the spectacular has become the norm, Gulfstream hoped this titanic structure would draw global attention and provide an allegory for the epic battles their $12m purse sought to incite.


With the participation of established champion California Chrome and new-kid-on-the-block Arrogate, the inaugural edition of the Pegasus on 28th January 2017 had a ready rematch narrative, the pair having tussled up the Santa Anita straight in the 2016 Breeders´ Cup Classic. Arrogate came out on top on that occasion, wearing down his hardened elder in the final strides, and it was hoped a second clash would again leave hearts thumping at Gulfstream.

In the end, Chrome’s failure to fire and subsequent retirement took most of the headlines, but the utter dominance of effortless winner Arrogate suggested that as one champion waned, another was hitting cruising speed on a sharp upward trajectory.

Arrogate and Mike Smith after the Pegasus World Cup.
Arrogate and Mike Smith after the Pegasus World Cup.

Rapid rise

Purchased by Juddmonte Farms for $560,000 at Keeneland yearling sales in September 2014, this steel-grey son of Unbridled’s Song had caught the eye of more than a few prospective buyers, with an enviable pedigree and scopey frame suggesting notable long-term potential for the dirt circuit.

Prince Khalid’s powerful operation would not be bested in the ring however as, with the remarkable foresight that has helped make the Juddmonte project such a success, they had earmarked this raw racer as harbouring the potential to be fashioned into a marketable dirt stallion for their expanding American roster.

With turf-steeped Juddmonte home-breds unlikely to excel in the lucrative American dirt programme, California trainer Bob Baffert, famed for his skilled handling of dirt performers, had been drafted in in 2012 to both purchase and train outside stock. Baffert had been part of the team that bought Arrogate and welcomed the colt to his barns in summer 2015.

But such is the unpredictable nature of the racing game that even those with the means and vision of Juddmonte are not immune to setbacks. And so it was that sore shins scuppered Arrogate’s 2yo career, leaving him to make a belated debut as a 3yo in April 2016.

With such esteemed connections, Arrogate predictably drew the money for his first outing in a 1200m Los Alamitos Maiden. A tardy break and troubled passage meant the best he could manage was 3rd, but a rapid final quarter provided reassurance that continued patience would soon be rewarded.

Indeed, it seems Arrogate has been keen to make up for lost time ever since, racking up 7 consecutive victories with an average winning distance of 4.5 lengths.

Without the reference of a 2yo season, the racing world did not immediately grasp just how good Arrogate might be. A relentless all-the-way win in the G1 Travers Stakes over 2000m at Saratoga in August of 2016 changed this, signalling exceptional talent and teeing up the aforementioned clash with California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Despite having hit the track mere months before, Arrogate assured his place in racing history in effectively ending Chrome’s career with convincing victories at Santa Anita and then Gulfstream.

So Arrogate had seemingly been put into overdrive, zipping from debut defeat to G1 glory in the time it takes some horses to put one hoof in front of the other. With $10m already amassed, Baffert contemplated building his latest superstar’s future race programme around a defence of the Classic and the Pegasus. An entirely reasonable route to follow.

But racing is a global game these days and Arrogate already possessed the pedigree and race record to make an attractive American-based dirt stallion for Juddmonte. Only a prestigious international victory could really enhance his profile and they don’t come any more prestigious than the Dubai World Cup.

Arrogate, ridden by Mike Smith, wins the Dubai World Cup at Meydan.Photo by Douglas DeFelice/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images.
Arrogate, ridden by Mike Smith, wins the Dubai World Cup at Meydan.Photo by Douglas DeFelice/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images.

Top of the world

Until the Pegasus came along, the Dubai World Cup was the world’s richest horse race and a prize Baffert had landed on 2 occasions in 1998 and 2001. In Arrogate it appeared he had the horse to make it 3.

Having realised such impressive exploits in a short period of time, it was easy to forget that Arrogate was still a relative novice. Baffert appeared confident, but did sound one note of caution. “The break is going to be the most important part. Arrogate missed the break on his first start and he couldn’t get out and got beat.”

Drawn in stall 9 of 14, Arrogate was squeezed as they broke and found himself 20 lengths behind the leader. ‘If he wins, he’s the greatest horse since Secretariat,’ Baffert said to wife Jill.

But it wasn’t Secretariat who came to mind as Arrogate was coaxed down the back straight by rider Mike Smith. It was Zenyatta, the imposing mare whose trademark slow-starting fast-finishing style had been orchestrated to perfection by Smith throughout her prolific career (with one notable exception).

As had so often been the case for Zenyatta, Arrogate’s chances spanned the full spectrum of racing probability in a matter of minutes. From ‘impossible’ to ‘unstoppable’, his juggernaut action brought him from last to first in one of the most improbable runs even seasoned racing fans might recall.

This feat was notable not only for its athletic immensity. In crossing the winning line at Meydan, Arrogate superseded California Chrome as the highest-earning North American thoroughbred in the history of the sport. The bank of Arrogate now held assets of over $17m.

‘If he wins, he’s the greatest horse since Secretariat,’ Baffert said to wife Jill.

Without the reference of a 2yo season, the racing world did not immediately grasp just how good Arrogate might be.
Without the reference of a 2yo season, the racing world did not immediately grasp just how good Arrogate might be.

Flying higher

Arrogate had conquered the World Cup just 341 days into his career and the question could now be asked as to how he might possibly better himself.

The truth is that unless a superior prize is plucked Pegasus-like from the air, Arrogate already carries dirt racing’s most weighty titles in terms of both prestige and financial reward.

But for successful men like Baffert and Smith, and even more so for one as distinguished and wealthy as Prince Khalid Abdullah, the dollars and ratings can no longer be the main motivation behind their racing endeavours. Rather it is the realisation of ambitious projects through a series of judgement calls that drives their quest for success; the creation of moments such as Arrogate’s irresistible Meydan run that feed their passion.

After a delayed take-off, Arrogate has soared to heights unequalled. With returns to the Classic, the Pegasus, and the World Cup on the agenda, how long until he hits the stratosphere?

Find full facts about Arrogate here:

Where the Turf meets the Surf


Jörgen Nilsson, Amanda Duckworth Getty Images, Del Mar/thoroughbred club

In May 1936, in the aftermath of the American Depression, a hastily convened meeting took place at the Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, California. The reason for the gathering, however, had nothing to do with movies.

After a prosperous career as a pro football player, William A. Quigley settled down in La Jolla, Southern California, where he turned out to be a great visionary with a nose for business. He had his eye on the fairgrounds in Del Mar, near San Diego, and he sensed a certain potential. The area bordered to the Pacific Ocean and had exhibition facilities, a mile course for different equine stunts and provisional stands. It was by no means an impressive establishment, but its location and surroundings were ideal for Quigley’s purposes, and he was given a verbal promise to lease the area for 10 years.

Del Mar’s Three Musketeers—General Manager Bill Quigley, Chairman Bing Crosby, and Vice Chairman Pat O’Brien.
Del Mar’s Three Musketeers—General Manager Bill Quigley, Chairman Bing Crosby, and Vice Chairman Pat O’Brien.

The ex-footballer had a vision. He saw Los Angeles a 100 miles to the north. He saw people coming in droves for a day of fun in relaxed surroundings. He saw a race track that could be named Del Mar. He also saw who could be the track’s face to the world.

Bing Crosby was in the middle of a remarkable singing career, and during the 1930s and ‘40s he also found fame as an actor.
Bing Crosby was in the middle of a remarkable singing career, and during the 1930s and ‘40s he also found fame as an actor.

Bing Crosby was in the middle of a remarkable singing career, and during the 1930s and ‘40s he also found fame as an actor. Harry Lillis Crosby—his real name—more or less invented the singing style of crooning and was the trail blazer for celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He was the brightest shining star of his time. Crosby also owned Don Juan Osuna Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe to the north east of Del Mar, where he relaxed with his family and a plethora of friends when he wasn’t performing.

Quigley, a socially accomplished charmer, knew this. He also knew Crosby was very keen on racing. Quigley was straightforward and a bit of a snob, too. He was always immaculately clad and changed his clothes several times a day. His style and personality attracted the singer, and William soon became Bill within the Crosby household. The idea of a race track at Del Mar enthused Bing Crosby to no end and not long after, the Del Mar Turf Club was founded in a board room at Warner Bros. Crosby was elected chairman, his brother Everett Crosby treasurer, Hardy secretary and O’Brien vice chairman, while Quigley himself became general manager of Del

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937
Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937

Mar. Cooper, who a year later was to decline the leading role in Gone with the Wind, accepted a place on the board. The shares were $100 apiece and the Hollywood in-crowd dug into their pockets. Funding and schedules were in place. Now just the track itself was missing.

It took some juridical quibbling to get started, but after a while the construction was underway. To that end local San Diego architects Sam W. Hamill and Herbert Louis Jackson were engaged. The idea was to build in the style of Spanish colonial splendor, which was so much part of the architecture in Southern California.

“To the initial idea of the Spanish colonial style they soon began to add elements of Venice and Versailles including canals, lagoons and formalistic gardens.”

The architects were given a free hand and to the initial idea of the Spanish colonial style, they began to add elements of Venice and Versailles including canals, lagoons and formalistic gardens. Soon enough the money was gone. Unfazed, Crosby and O’Brien borrowed against their life insurances and each lent $600,000 interest-free to the project. The architects, however, no longer had a free hand.

At that time, Southern California was thinly populated and mainly considered a place for summer holidays.
At that time, Southern California was thinly populated and mainly considered a place for summer holidays.

Quigley was intimately connected to the events in Arcadia, California, where in 1934 Santa Anita Park had reopened to the public thanks to the initiative of film mogul Hal Roach. That track had developed into a major success with the Santa Anita Handicap, aka The Big Cap, as its main attraction. The Santa Anita meetings were held during winter, and Quigley planned to fill the space between those winter meetings with a summer meeting at Del Mar.

At that time, Southern California was thinly populated and mainly considered a place for summer holidays. The Del Mar project more or less depended on the Santa Anita crowd being willing to travel 60 miles to the new track.

On July 3, 1937, the track opened for business, but the stables and the paddock were makeshift arrangements. The employees had difficulties finding their way round the area and had to take measures to avoid the wet paint on most surfaces. Still, the horses were in place and so were the news boys. Crosby himself was at the turnstiles to greet the first fan through the gate.

After a Quigley- like change of clothes, Crosby went to the judge’s box, picked up the microphone and in his characteristically laid back and spontaneous manner announced:

“We hope you all enjoy the meeting… and have a measure of success at the payoff windows.”

An estimated 15,000 spectators turned up that first day. Crosby, Quigley and O’Brien held court. Hardy was honorary official, and Bette Davis, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, W.C. Fields, Una Merkel, Jack Dempsey, Walter Connolly and Mary Carlisle mingled. All agreed Del Mar was a success.

An innovation that became a game changer for the entire sport also debuted that day. Prior to the grand opening, Crosby contacted Lorenzo del Riccio, an optical engineer for the research department of Paramount Pictures, and commissioned him to develop a photo finish camera. He installed the camera at the cost of $300,000, which was an enormous amount of money at the time.

The first photo it took at Del Mar was hardly necessary. High Strike, a 2-year-old gelding sent off at odds of 2-1, immediately went to the front in a maiden race and stayed there. He carried the Crosby colors of blue and gold, which went down well with the crowd, and the horse came home to whooping and applause. Several races later, Stanwyck crowned the winner in the day’s main event, The Inaugural Handicap, and the cheering knew no end.

When a crowd of 18,000 turned over close to a quarter of a million dollars on the second day, everybody thought big time racing had come to stay at Del Mar. The heady days didn’t last, however. Del Mar averaged 5,000 visitors for the remainder of the 22-day meet. The weak point in Quigley’s project was of a logistic nature. The trip from Los Angeles was a pain: the trains went slow, the roads were bad and regular flights were nonexistent.

The project’s financial aspect aside, the atmosphere was good at Del Mar in the summer of 1937. The environment was pleasing. The sounds of the Pacific Ocean’s waves were pleasing. Crosby himself had a soothing effect. A columnist wrote that the singer had to be the most laid back person ever to live. The style was easy going and relaxed and word had it that only the horses were in a hurry at Del Mar.

Bing Crosby himself took tickets on opening day.
Bing Crosby himself took tickets on opening day.

During the mornings, or what counted for mornings, the in-crowd dozed at the beach and analyzed the afternoon’s events together with the regular mortals. At night, the stars danced at the Old Del Mar Hotel or hung out at the town’s only watering hole, La Tienda, which only closed when Bette Davis had had her share. Weekends culminated with the notorious “Bing’s Saturday Night Parties.” Those kicked off at eight in the evening and stars performed at their leisure. It may not only be for religious reasons that Sunday was a blank on the racing calendar during the early years of Del Mar.

The parties that launched each race meeting became legendary, too. The festivities started right after the compulsory walking-the-course and accommodation was at the Old Del Mar Hotel. They were boozy affairs, greeting dawn with red rimmed eyes. Al Jolson, Abe Burrows, Jimmy Durante, Joe Frisco, the Ritz Brothers, Danny Thomas, Tony Martin, Donald O’Connor and Lou Holtz took care of the entertainment.

During one such party, Durante forgot the mini piano he used to pick apart as a part of his act. Instead he rocked a proper piano, and piece by piece threw it from the terrace to the patio below. Pete Townsend of The Who would repeat that feat 30 years on, but the rest of that night at Del Mar the entertainment was strictly a capella.

Journalists often complained of hangovers lasting for days after those parties. Even so, they were back the following year. As for Durante, he was such a regular, the track eventually named its turf course in his honor.

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937
Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937

The Crosby movie Sing, You Sinners was a Paramount musical set in a racing environment and had its world premiere at Del Mar during the opening day of the 1938 meet. Crosby also succeeded in persuading NBC to broadcast his radio show, the Kraft Music Hall, which at the time was the most popular in the States, from Del Mar for half an hour on Saturday mornings. The concept was simple: short interviews from the race track, rounded off by a couple of songs by the singer himself.

It was during one of these broadcasts in 1938 that Crosby first sung the tune that would forever define Del Mar. Mrs. Herb Poleisee, the wife of one of Crosby’s staff writers, came up with the phrase “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.” The singer and Johnny Burke came up with the rest of the words, while James V. Monaco set them to music. The refrain goes like this:

Where the turf meets the surf/
down at old Del Mar/
Take a plane, take a train, take a car/
There’s a smile on every face/
and a winner in every race/
Where the turf meets the surf/
at Del Mar.

Crosby sang it live before the races that year and even nowadays “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” starts and ends racing at Del Mar.

As an attraction the presence of Hollywood stars at Del Mar races cannot be overestimated. Still it took two four-legged stars to spread the track’s appeal nationwide in its second year. Charles S. Howard had one of the most successful stables in America, and the legendary Seabiscuit was its star. Howard’s son, Lin, had a racing stable with Crosby under the name BingLin Stables. They had imported an Argentinian top performer by the name of Ligaroti, and Quigley suggested a match race between the two horses.

Seabiscuit, with his tremendous fighting spirit, was the darling of American racing and had been named the 1937 Champion Handicap Male. He had, however, disdainfully lost two “Big Caps” and now rumor had it, he was not quite the same anymore. Howard was of a different opinion and challenged his son to a side bet. His $15,000 against his son’s $5,000.

Quigley’s brainchild of a match race combined with Crosby’s wide network had made Del Mar known from coast to coast.

The press monitored the race like a title match, and the news teams loaded their film cameras. From the roof of the grandstand, Crosby and O’Brien commented on the event to a nationwide radio audience. An estimated crowd of 20,000, many sporting paraphernalia for their pick in the $25,000 winner-take-all event, showed up for the race.

After the match race between Seabiscuit and Ligaroti. Bing Crosby with, George “Ice Man” Woolf and Noel “Spec” Richardson.

Seabiscuit was ridden by George “Ice Man” Woolf and the South American horse by Noel “Spec” Richardson. Race riding at this time was no Sunday School event and this race was no exception. Seabiscuit was in front coming around the final turn, but Richardson grabbed his saddlecloth at the top of the stretch and later went for Woolf’s wrist. Reports claim that in retaliation, Woolf grabbed Ligaroti’s bridle about 20 yards from the wire and didn’t let go until the race was over. Richardson later said Woolf was whipping Ligaroti, which is why he grabbed his wrist. To this day, no one quite knows exactly what happened, except that it was a roughly run race to say the least.

It is known that the crowd loved the spectacle. In the end, Seabiscuit held on by a nose and shaved four seconds off the track record in the process, even though he was carrying 130 lbs to Ligaroti’s 115 lbs. The stewards, however, were livid and declared the race void and warned off both Richardson and Woolf. It took a while of negotiating before the result was allowed to stand and the jockeys got away with a one week suspension each.

Even if the jockeys were not best friends after the race, the atmosphere at the track was electric. Quigley’s brainchild of a match race combined with Crosby’s wide network had made Del Mar known from coast to coast.


Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd
Del Mar, CA 92014
Tel (858) 755-1141

Major races

Pacific Classic (G1), Eddie Read Stakes (G2)
Del Mar Oaks (G1), Bing Crosby Stakes (G1)
Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1)
Del Mar Debutante (G1)
Del Mar Futurity (G1)

Getting there
City of Del Mar is on the I-5 20 miles north of San Diego or 100 miles south of Los Angeles (downtown). Amtrak and Coaster have trains to Solana Beach from where there are free shuttle buses to Del Mar.

Bing Crosby on horseback at Del Mar. “Laid-back” seems like a fitting description.
Bing Crosby on horseback at Del Mar. “Laid-back” seems like a fitting description.

Ann Sheridan, Paulette Goddard and Joan Bennett were some of the celebs to turn up in Del Mar’s winner’s circle that summer. Rumor even had it that Greta Garbo was there, though nobody saw her. Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and Red Skelton definitely were there, though, and it had become important to one’s film carrier to be seen at Del Mar.

If the second year at Del Mar was a success based on media coverage, crowds and betting turn-over, the next couple of seasons hardly made the shareholders dance in the streets. The net profit for 1939 landed on a modest $69. The real economical breakthrough had to wait until 1941, when the Pacific Highway (US 101) had been expanded and the air traffic to the San Diego area intensified.

Everything came to an abrupt halt, however, in December 1941 when the United States entered the Second World War. Between 1942 and 1944, the track was closed and the grounds were initially used for training by the United States Marine Corps, then as a manufacturing site for parts to B-17 bombers.

Del Mar was back in business as a racetrack in July 1945, but without Quigley, who had passed away after a short time of bad health. A crowd of more than 20,000 turned up on the reopening day, and the rest of the year was a formidable success. The upward trend continued the next year and after nine years Crosby and O’Brien at last had their investments back. Crosby sold his shares and left the board, and he was soon followed by O’Brien.

In spite of that, the Hollywood crowd continued to go racing at Del Mar. Santa Fe Railroad contributed to the effort with a special train from Los Angeles to Del Mar. The “racetrack special” debuted in 1947, and when the train first came into view, a tremendous cheering broke out. That cheering became a tradition for years to come.

The horses that put Del Mar on the map went on to greater things. Seabiscuit headed east, where he trounced War Admiral in the epic match race at Pimlico and was named the 1938 Horse of the Year. He capped off his career by winning the Santa Anita Handicap at long last in 1940.

Ligaroti won the 1938 Del Mar Handicap but like Seabiscuit was a disappointment in the breeding shed. It was not for lack of effort, though, as he ended his days collapsing on top of a mare named Midge. The resulting foal was suitably named Last Bang.

Gary Cooper, who had turned down Gone with the Wind because he felt it would be a resounding flop, could after its premiere in Atlanta 1939 and eight Oscars later note that he had made a serious error of judgment.

Lorenzo del Riccio turned his back on Paramount Pictures and went all in on the new and lucrative photo finish business. The company wanted its share of the pie and sued him, but unabated he continued to install photo finish cameras all over the country with Paramount’s lawyers snapping at his heels. He managed to keep one step ahead and somewhere along the line he disappeared altogether as a wealthy man.

Bing Crosby visited the track one last time in 1977. He died of a heart attack the following year, but the style and spirit he created at Del Mar still lives on. The Bing Crosby Stakes, which was inaugurated in 1946, is run to this day and is a Grade 1 race.

Pat O’Brien kept his movie carrier alive until he in 1983, like his old partner in crime, died of a heart attack. He too has a race named after him at Del Mar. First held in 1986, today it is a Grade 2 event.

Del Mar remains one of America’s most beloved racetracks to this day.
Del Mar remains one of America’s most beloved racetracks to this day.

Today, Del Mar is revered as one of America’s most iconic tracks, and in 2014, it was announced the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, one of Thoroughbred racing’s most prestigious international events, would be held there for the first time in November 2017. Next year, the world’s best will gather at the timelessly beautiful track at the edge of the Pacific Ocean or, as it says in the song, “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.”

The Triple Crown

Three races that bring racing to the front pages

Camilla Osterman NYRA, NYRA/Adam Coglanese, Jim mcCUE/MARYLAND JOCKEY CLUB,, Churchill Downs

In the world of horse racing, the Triple Crown is the title awarded to a racehorse who wins the biggest three races on the flat for 3-year-olds. In most European countries, those races are local runnings of the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger. But in the USA, where the Triple Crown is viewed as the Holy Grail of racing, the races the 3-year-olds must conquer are the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

The horse that wins all three earns the title of Triple Crown winner.


The expression ‘The Triple Crown‘ is used in a number of different contexts, however, the definition has been used in England since 1830 to describe horse races. The jewels in the English Crown are contested over distances ranging from 1,600 meters to 3,000 meters and take place from May to September.

In the United States, it was the racing journalist Charles Hatton who began using the expression regularly in 1930, even though it had been used earlier during the 1920s.

Like the English version, the American version is raced over three different distances at three different racecourses.

The big difference?

The entire race series takes place over five weeks, not five months.

A horse who manages to win the U.S. Triple Crown is clearly a real “tough guy.”

The Kentucky Derby, the first and most famous of the three races, is 1 ¼ miles (about 2,000 meters) and takes place on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. The Preakness Stakes takes place two weeks later at Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland. The race is 1 3/16 of a mile (1,900 meters) and is the shortest of the three races. Then, three weeks later the Belmont Stakes takes on New York and clocks in as the longest of the three races at 1 ½ miles (2,400 meters).

Each race has its own history and traditions, however flowers, singing and drinking figure highly in all three instances. The Triple Crown races are famous for their party atmosphere and appeal more to the general public than all other American races.

On June 6 2015, a talented bay colt went to the front of the 1 ½-mile contest and never looked back. With his victory, American Pharoah became the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed in 1978.
(Click here for the full story of all 12 winners)

The Kentucky Derby

The grandstand was built in 1895 and with the two twin spires, a famous symbol known throughout the United States and beyond.
The grandstand was built in 1895 and with the two twin spires, a famous symbol known throughout the United States and beyond.

Churchill Downs opened in 1875, the first year the Kentucky Derby was run. The grandstand was built in 1895 and with the two twin spires, a famous symbol known throughout the United States and beyond.

It came about that The Kentucky Derby (pronounced Durby, not Darby) served as a great advertisement for the state’s main “export” apart from bourbon: thoroughbred racehorses! During his travels in Europe, Colonel M. Lewis Clark visited England and after attending the Epsom Derby, realized that this was precisely what Kentucky needed.

Not to mention, the event could even be used to market and sell bourbon. Mint juleps, which contain bourbon, mint, sugar and water, form an important part of the Derby tradition to this day.

Another beloved tradition involves giving the winner a blanket of roses, which is why the race is also known by the moniker the Run for the Roses.

Track: Churchill Downs
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Date: 1st Saturday in May
Distance: 1 1/4 miles
Purse: $2 milllion
First run: 1875


In 1980, ABC Sports commissioned folk singer Dan Fogelberg to write a song by the same name. However, the quintessential Kentucky Derby song is “My Old Kentucky Home.” The tune, which also serves as Kentucky’s state song, is played during the post parade and has a reputation for making even the hardest of hard boots tear up. It is also one of the few days at American racetracks where ladies are expected to show up in their finest hats.

The Kentucky Derby is also known as the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” a nod to the approximate length of time it takes to run the race. It is the longest continually held sporting event in the United States and is America’s most popular race.

The Preakness Stakes

The Preakness Infield has developed into a major music event.
The Preakness Infield has developed into a major music event.

The story of how the Preakness Stakes came about isn’t as serious as the Derby. At a dinner party following a race meeting at Saratoga Springs in 1868, Maryland’s Governor, Oden Bowie, announced there would be a race for that year’s foals in Baltimore in two years’ time. In 1870, Pimlico Race Course had been built, the Dinner Stakes was staged, and the losing owner had to pay for dinner.

The race was won by a horse called Preakness.

In 1873, the first Preakness was contested. The race hasn’t always been held at the same time of year, over the same distance, or even the same day of the week. From 1891-1893, the race wasn’t run at all. However, it is now well-established as a race at Pimlico held always on the third Saturday in May each year.

The music that is played before the Preakness Stakes is “Maryland, My Maryland,” and the official drink is known as a Black-Eyed Susan, named after the flowers that decorate the winning horse. The drink is made up of bourbon, vodka, orange juice, and sweet and sour mix. Unfortunately, these flowers aren’t in blossom during May in Maryland.

Three ladies fill their days before the race fastening flowers to the blanket and painting black pistils onto yellow daisies.

Track: Pimlico Race Course
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Date: 3rd Saturday in May
Distance: 1 3/16
Purse: $1 million
First run: 1873 

Since 1909, the Preakness winner has also gotten another honor at Pimlico. As soon as the race is declared official, the weather vane is repainted in the colors of the winner’s silks, and it remains that way until the next running.   

The Belmont Stakes

The Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the Triple Crown races.
The Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the Triple Crown races.

The third race, the Belmont, is held at Belmont Park on Long Island just outside New York City.

Belmont Park is named after the banker August Belmont.  His son – August Belmont J:r built Belmont Park and is also know for having bred the legendary Man o’War.

Track: Belmont Park
Location: Elmont, New York
Date: 3 weeks after the Preakness Stakes
Distance: 1 1/2 miles
Purse: $1 million
First run: 1867


First run in 1867, the Belmont is the oldest of the three races and was contested at other courses before Belmont Park was founded in 1905.

The first time the race was staged at Belmont, it caused New York’s first real traffic pile up. The roads that led out to Long Island weren’t really suitable for so many horse drawn carriages and people flocking to see America’s finest 3-year-olds compete. Although it is the oldest of the Triple Crown races, the Belmont was not contested in 1911 or 1912.

There is of course a special drink associated with the race – a mixture of whiskey, sweet sherry and mixed fruit juices known as the Belmont Breeze – but can you really beat a Manhattan? And the song sung by one and all before the races is, of course, “New York, New York.” The winner’s blanket is made with white carnations.

Since 1931, the order of Triple Crown races has been the Kentucky Derby first, followed by the Preakness Stakes, and then the Belmont Stakes. Prior to 1931, the Preakness Stakes was run before the Kentucky Derby 11 times, and twice it was run on the same day!

(Click here for the full story of all 12 Triple Crown winners)

The Triple Crown Winners

12 horses that made history

Camilla Osterman

Each year in May, the racing world is asking the same question: Will we have a Triple Crown winner this year?
Will one three year old horse win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes?
After the Kentucky Derby the chances are always there. If the winner then goes on to win the Preakness in Baltimore the tickets for the final race – the Belmont Stakes in New York – will sell out.
But in the 98 years that have passed since Sir Barton won all three races, only another twelve horses have managed to do so. Here are their stories:


Sir Barton.
Sir Barton.

Sir Barton, 1919

The first horse to win all three races was Sir Barton in 1919. It happened before one used the expression “The Triple Crown” – but already by then the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont were considered to be the most important races for 3-year-olds, at least to those east of the Rocky Mountains.

The fact that Sir Barton even raced in the Kentucky Derby was down to his owner, a Canadian named Ross, who also owned the races’ favorite, who required a pace-maker. This is how it was that Sir Barton, who had never previously won a race, made his 3-year-old debut in the Derby.

Sir Barton proved to be a more than effective pacemaker, holding the lead right to the finishing line. He won the Derby by five lengths. Four days later he won the Preakness, again by sheer speed alone, by four lengths. Before taking the Belmont, he also ran and won the Withers Stakes. This all took place in the span of 32 days. A real “heavyweight” of a racehorse, in other words.

Gallant Fox.
Gallant Fox.

Gallant Fox, 1930

Eleven years later, in 1930, another Triple Crown winner left his mark in the history books. This time, he was already an established star, and therefore his success was less of a surprise. Gallant Fox was trained by James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, who during his career trained over 2,275 winners, and owned by William Woodward’s successful Belair Stud. His jockey, Earle Sande, had lost a considerable sum of money in the Wall Street crash of 1929 and came out of a two-year retirement to ride him.

Gallant Fox won two of his starts as a 2-year-old, though this success was to prove just a taste of greater things to come. As a 3-year-old he won nine of his ten starts, including all three Triple Crown races. As it happens, he won the Preakness first, as it was held before the Derby that year. He is the only Triple Crown winner to win the races “out of order” as it were. It was also during his campaign that the term “Triple Crown” came en vogue.

He burnt off the opposition with his sheer speed and scared them with his right eye, which had extra white around the pupil. This feature, called a wall-eye, supposedly used to “spook” the other runners when he glared at them. Additionally, it is said that he stopped during races to look up at passing airplanes in the sky.


Omaha, 1935

Five years later, in 1935, history would repeat itself. Almost the same gang – Sunny Jim, William Woodward and one of Gallant Fox’s sons, Omaha – repeated the feat. And by now the concept Triple Crown was on everybody’s lips.

Sunny Jim followed the same route with Omaha as he had done previously with Gallant Fox. Firstly, a 2-year-old campaign to teach him his trade. Because Omaha was a gigantic horse, he required an especially build horse box, and he didn’t have the respect his father did on the track.

Omaha won just one of his nine races as a juvenile, but it was enough. After a few prep races, it was the Kentucky Derby that counted. Omaha took the lead on the turn for home and held it to the line. The following week he won the Preakness by six lengths. Before the Belmont, the colt finished second in the Withers Stakes, and doubt set in again. No matter, he was good enough to win the Belmont Stakes by one and a half lengths.

One of only 18 foals out of Gallant Fox’s first crop, Omaha is the only Triple Crown winner not to garner Horse of the Year honors. However, he and his sire remain the only father-son team to take the Triple Crown.

War Admiral.
War Admiral.

War Admiral, 1937

In 1937, it was time again! War Admiral, who more recent followers of horse racing will know as the horse beaten by Seabiscuit in a match race, was first a Triple Crown winner. War Admiral’s father – the legendary Man o’ War – won both the Preakness and the Belmont in 1920, but he never had the chance to win the Triple Crown, as he was never entered to run in the Derby. This was because his owner, Samuel Riddle, was not a fan of racing in Kentucky and also felt the race’s distance was too far to ask a 3-year-old to run that early in the season.

However, the Triple Crown had gained prestige by the time War Admiral came around, and the colt was one of the best of his generation. So, after he won his first start as a 3-year-old, Riddle decided to give the Derby a chance. War Admiral was given a “pipe opener” four days before the Derby, winning a lesser race at Churchill Downs. On Derby Day there were no doubts about the way he won, easily taking the Derby by two lengths. A week later, he won the Preakness by a short head.

In the Belmont, War Admiral almost fell at the start and cut himself so badly that he left blood all the way around the track. Despite this, he won the race by five lengths. As a result of his injury, he had a break until the autumn when he notched two further big wins. He won all eight races that year, making him only one of two Triple Crown winners to post an undefeated 3-year-old season.

The following year, War Admiral met Seabiscuit in the famed match race, where he was beaten by four lengths, largely due to the skills of his foe’s jockey, George Woolf. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Seabiscuit also set a track record that day.


Whirlaway, 1941

Whirlaway, or Mr. Longtail as he was also called, was owned by Warren Wright’s Calumet Farm. Wright had sold his Calumet baking powder business to General Foods for almost $30 million and invested his personal fortune into racehorses.

Wright was a perfectionist, and Calumet Farm was a model establishment. Everything was painted white and devil red, and the personnel were handpicked with high demands made upon their work activities and orderliness. It would become one of the most historic farms in American racing lore.

As for Whirlaway, he was a special fellow with much more going on in his mind than just racing. In order to help focus his mind, his trainer, Ben Jones, applied a pair of blinkers which prevented Whirlaway from seeing beyond the outside rail. Without this assistance, the colt was likelier to end up in the grandstand than winner’s enclosure. Whirlaway’s unusual behavior, however, endeared him to the racing public, and he became a big favorite. Will he race around the track or won’t he, they must have often wondered.

Jones used one of the world’s top jockeys, Eddie ‘Banana Nose’ Arcaro for his difficult colt. Arcaro had a very special style of riding, with his right stirrup very short in the saddle and the inner, left stirrup significantly shorter. He was the first jockey to successfully steer Whirlaway around turns without him disappearing out at the periphery. His technique was to take a long rein and use his bodyweight and to leave the reins alone and see how it worked!

Together, the team around Whirlaway – with God’s will and under the guidance of the whip – helped the colt keep his act together during the Triple Crown races. He took the Derby by eight lengths and in record time. A week later took, after winning the Preakness by five and a half lengths, Arcaro described his experience in that race as akin to riding a tornado. He finished the Triple Crown with an easy victory in the Belmont.

Whirlaway may have been a difficult colt, but his team and his talent led him to be named Horse of the Year both in 1941 and 1942.

Count Fleet, 1943

The next Triple Crown winner came as soon as 1943, during the Second World War. As a sign of the times, a sign stood beside the finishing line at Belmont Park that read: “In case of Air Raid – Keep Calm.” Count Fleet did do things calmly and was one of the most superior Triple Crown winners ever seen.

For all his talent, Count Fleet was a backward horse. He didn’t show a great deal of ability as a young horse, and his owner almost sold the ornery runner not once, but twice. The first time they were unable to find a buyer, and the second time Johnny Longden, the horse’s jockey, persuaded them to keep him. Having ridden over 6,000 winners, Longden realized that Count Fleet was the best horse he had ever been on.

Count Fleet’s style of racing, which was to go to the front, then little by little increase his lead, meant that he won the Derby by three lengths, the Preakness by eight and the Belmont Stakes by an eye-popping 25 lengths.

That Count Fleet won the Belmont so easily was largely down to the fact that connections of the better horses around at the time didn’t dare take him on. Instead, the opposition was made up of largely mediocre horses, knowingly in competition with each other for second and third place prize money. None of this of course should belittle Count Fleets’ achievement. If he hadn’t been so good, the better competition would have been brave enough to line up against him.

Assault, 1946

Texas! That is the key word for the 1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault. The colt came from one of the biggest cattle ranches in Texas, and in Texas, big means big. The land area of King Ranch is bigger than that of the entire state of Rhode Island. Assault’s trainer, Max Hirsch, was also a Texan and was King Ranch’s private trainer right up until his death in 1969.

As a young horse, Assault trampled on a land surveyor’s stake and damaged his right front hoof, which was never the same again. He became known as “the clubfooted comet” as a result. Although he could certainly run, he would never win any beauty contests for either his movement or overall general appearance. Assault was a frail horse in other ways too. He developed problems with his liver, and after his racing career was over, he proved himself to be sterile at stud.

Like many other Triple Crown winners, Assault was no 2-year-old star, but as a 3-year-old, he came into his own. Following a calamitous Derby Trial, he bounced back and won all three Triple Crown races. He won the Derby by eight lengths and was sent off as the favorite in the Preakness. He managed to take the second leg of the Triple Crown by a desperate neck. In the Belmont, Assault stumbled at the start but ended up pulling away from his rivals by three lengths.


Citation, 1948

Calumet Farm, Triple Crown winner with Whirlaway in 1941, had continued its investment in thoroughbred breeding to become the best. By the time Citation came along, Wright had achieved his goal, and Calumet was one of the USA’s leading breeders and owners.

Jones, the operation’s trainer, had a set theories when it came to training horses: “Give them what they need, when they look as though they need it.” It’s as simple as that! His son Jimmy, who took over the trainer’s license after his father became ill, was also in tune with horses, saying, “It isn’t just about a horse’s speed, stamina and breeding lineage. It is also about his personality – they are like people. You know?”

Arcaro had been taking things a lot easier since 1942, after he had been banned from riding for a year. He had been aggravated by another jockey and he had retaliated. At the inquiry into the incident, he was asked if he had intended to injure the other jockey. To this Arcaro answered calmly, “No, I wasn’t trying to injure him; I was trying to kill him.” Wrong answer!

As for Citation, he is considered one of the best racehorses America has produced. The talented colt possessed both stamina and speed, and his racing style was like a game of “cat and mouse.” He won eight of nine races at age 2 and won 19 of 20 races at age 3. The Triple Crown was a cake walk for the mighty runner. Little did anyone know, racing would have to wait 25 years for its next Triple Crown champion.

Wright died in 1950, and his last wish was that Citation should become the first racehorse to earn more than $1 million in prize money. His wish was fulfilled, as it usually was. In 1951, at age 6, Citation’s earnings passed that magical level to become the first equine millionaire ever.


Secretariat, 1973

Time magazine is renowned for its front cover. A portrait of a person making news usually adorns the front page. But on June 11, 1973, appeared the portrait of a horse – Secretariat. The handsome chestnut colt had became so popular, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated also featured him on their respective covers the same week. Would Secretariat become the first Triple Crown winner since 1948?

A portrait of a person making news usually adorns the front page. But on June 11, 1973, appeared the portrait of a horse – Secretariat.
A portrait of a person making news usually adorns the front page. But on June 11, 1973, appeared the portrait of a horse – Secretariat.

The odds against this happening had changed since those days. In Citation’s age group there had been 6,000 horses, in Secretariat’s 25,000. But Secretariat was one of a kind. Seldom had a horse captured people’s imagination the way that he did.

Secretariat was the bluest of bluebloods, by of one of the most successful sires of his time, Bold Ruler, and from a mother with genuine racing merits too. When owner Penny Chenery saw the homebred colt for the first time, she wrote one word in her diary: WOW!

Although known for his Triple Crown feats, Secretariat also made the history books when he was awarded the Horse of the Year title in 1972 as a juvenile. In the decades since, only one other horse has been given that honor as a 2-year-old.

Heading into the Kentucky Derby, however, Secretariat had a big problem: his appetite. He ate enormous amounts, and when he felt he hadn’t been fed adequately, he let everyone around him know about it.

No matter. While winning the Run for the Roses, Secretariat set a track record of 1:59 2⁄5, which remains in place to this day. In fact, only one other Derby winner, Monarchos in 2001, has finished the contest in under two minutes.

After winning the Derby, when most horses wouldn’t feel like eating much, Secretariat ate up everything he was served. His trainer, Lucien Laurin, once told his stable hand: “This food here will take him three days to eat up.” Half an hour later the trough was empty. Now that’s a real horse.

Secretariat captured the Preakness with ease, but it is his Belmont performance that lives on in the minds of racing fans. It also led to one of the most famous race calls of all time: “Secretariat is widening now. He is moving like a tremendous machine!” track announcer Chick Ander-son yelled. “Secretariat is all alone…he’s going to be the Triple Crown winner. An unbelievable, an amazing performance. He hits the finish 25 lengths in front!”

Anderson was off by a few lengths. The final margin of victory was 31 lengths, in a world-record time of 2:24 for the 1-1/2 miles. A total of 5,617 winning tickets on Secretariat that day were never redeemed. Instead, they became the ultimate souviner.

As part of his first crop at stud, Secretariat sired Canadian Bound, who was the first thoroughbred yearling ever sold for more than $1 million when he fetched $1.5 million at the 1976 Keeneland July sale. He was a dud as a racehorse.

And in general, as it usually happens, Secretariat’s offspring were unable to live up to extremely high expectations. Risen Star came the closest, winning both the Preakness and the Belmont, but he could only manage third in the Derby. Among Secretariat’s other notable foals were 1986 Horse of the Year Lady’s Secret and 1990 Melbourne Cup winner Kingston Rule.

Perhaps Secretariat’s foremost contribution to thoroughbred bloodlines came through his daughters. He is the broodmare sire of such breed shaping stallions as A.P. Indy and Storm Cat.

To this day, Secretariat holds the track record for each of the three Triple Crown races.

Seattle Slew.
Seattle Slew.

Seattle Slew, 1977

Karen and Mickey Taylor from Washington were relatively new to horse ownership when they went with veterinarian Jim Hill to Kentucky in order to buy a horse. They had a budget of between $12,000-$13,000. When the bidding on the colt they wanted exceeded their budget, Karen persuaded Mickey to continue bidding because she was so taken with him.

In the end the colt, later named Seattle Slew, was theirs for $17,500. It was a good decision, as the horse earned more than $1.2 million on the track and countless more millions at stud.

Seattle Slew was put into training with a young trainer called Billy Turner, who took things very carefully with the colt. The solid bay runner, who also became known as “Baby Huey” after the clumsy duck cartoon character, proved his talent on the track and was named champion 2-year-old.

Turner continued his cautious approach with Slew, and the horse entered the Kentucky Derby undefeated. He remained so after the Preakness and Belmont, too. As a result, he is the only Triple Crown winner to enter and exit the series undefeated.

Seattle Slew would not end his career undefeated, but continued racing after his Triple Crown success. Two months before he was retired in 1978, Slew defeated the heir to the Triple Crown, Affirmed, in the grade 1 Marlboro Cup.

As a stallion, Seattle Slew sired more than 100 stakes winners including the likes of A.P. Indy, Swale, and Slew o’ Gold. Seattle Slew died on the 25th anniversary of his victory in the Kentucky Derby, May 7, 2002. When he passed, he did so with his head in Karen Taylor’s arms. With his death, he left the United States without a living Triple Crown winner for the first time.


Affirmed, 1978

Just one year after Seattle Slew, Affirmed claimed the Triple Crown for his own. Affirmed was bred by Louis Wolfson and his wife Patricia at Harbor View Farms in Florida. His trainer was the veteran Laz Barrera, who had been one of Cuba’s best trainers before coming to the U.S. in 1971 after many years working in Mexico.

Jockey Steve ’The Kid‘ Cauthen completed the team around Affirmed. Partnering Affirmed, Cauthen became the youngest ever jockey to win the Triple Crown, as he turned 18 just a few days before the Kentucky Derby.

For all that, it is another name always associated with Affirmed: Alydar. The duels he had with Alydar, second in all three Triple Crown races, are that of racing legend. Alydar came from the Calumet stable, which by then was a shadow of the organization that had produced Whirlaway and Count Fleet.

The rivalry between the two horses began as 2-year-olds. Alydar first met Affirmed on the track on his racecourse debut, which was Affirmed’s second race. Affirmed won and Alydar came fourth. It would prove to be the only time that they raced against one another where they didn’t occupy first and second finishing places.

At the beginning of his 3-year-old season, Affirmed raced in California, while Alydar competed on the East Coast. Not surprisingly, each horse dominated their respective coasts.

In the Derby, Cauthen positioned Affirmed in third place and then halfway up the home straight swept into the lead, winning the race by one and a half lengths. Alydar came with a strong, late rally, but he couldn’t reach Affirmed in time.

In the Preakness, Affirmed took up the lead earlier, with Alydar hunting him all the way up the home straight. He was never able to quite reach him, and Affirmed won by a neck.

Then came the Belmont. Almost directly, Affirmed went to the front of the field, but by the end of the back turn Alydar had caught up. From there they battled head to head for almost 1 1/4 miles. Affirmed raced on the inner rail and won by a head.

It was an extraordinary show of strength and power from both horses and a true spectacle for the spectators. It was the essence of horseracing at its absolute best.

The rivalry did not end there. Though Affirmed finished first in the Travers, he drifted in front of Alydar in the stretch. After an inquiry, Affirmed was taken down and Alydar placed first. By the end, the two faced each other a total of 10 times, finishing first and second in nine of them. Affirmed usually won.

Affirmed had a respectable career as a stallion before dying in 2001 at the age of 26. But perhaps Alydar got one final victory, as he is widely considered to have been the more successful stallion.

American Pharaoh.
American Pharoah. ©Sue Kawczynski/EclipseSportswire

American Pharoah, 2015

It would take another 37 years until it happened again. By then, many people believed that winning the Triple Crown had become an impossible feat. Thirteen horses had completed the first two legs, only to fall short at the Belmont Stakes.

Then American Pharoah came along. Bred by Ahmed Zayat, he was born at Stockplace Farm near Lexington, Kentucky in 2012. As a yearling, the colt was offered at the Fasig Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearling sale, but he didn’t sell. The Zayat’s were not willing to take any less than $1 million for him, and when the highest bid didn’t even reach a third of that, they decided to keep him and race him instead. As it turned out, it was a good idea.

When American Pharoah failed to catch the eye of a new owner in Saratoga, he was sent to Florida to McKathan Brothers Farm near Ocala to begin his training. On August 9, 2014, American Pharoah made his debut in California for trainer Bob Baffert. He lost.

However, the colt figured out the racing game that day and won nine of his next ten starts, eight of them in Grade 1 company. The horse with the misspelled name (is it supposed to be Pharaoh) ended his juvenile season a dual Grade 1 winner and was named the 2-year-old champion colt that year.

On May 2, 2015, American Pharoah started as the favourite in the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby. He and jockey Victor Espinoza lived up to the punters’ expectations and crossed the line one length in front of Firing Line. Two weeks later, they led the Preakness Stakes field from start to finish on a wet and sloppy track, winning by seven lengths. With the Triple Crown within reach, American Pharoah came to Belmont Stakes as the odds-on favourite. 90,000 fans had gathered at Belmont Park. In front of the roaring crowd, American Pharoah cruised to a 5.5-length wire-to-wire victory, becoming the 12th American Triple Crown winner in history.

In October that year, American Pharoah shipped to Keeneland and ran in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he challenged older horses for the first time. It did not prove a problem for American Pharoah. He won by 6.5 lengths, becoming the first Triple Crown winner to have won “The Grand Slam,” as the Classic was first run in 1984, and the last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978.

After the Breeders’ Cup, the Triple Crown hero retired to Coolmore’s American division Ashford Stud in Kentucky, and his first crop was born in 2017. He receives thousands of visitors every year.

See Triple Crown


Amanda Duckworth Junji Fukuda, shingo naka, Frank Sorge, Tomoya Moriuchi/

Twenty five years after his greatest moments on the racetrack, Sunday Silence remains a cautionary tale about bias and a story of triumphant victory. The near black runner claimed some of America’s greatest races, but he never did manage to win the hearts or respect of many in his homeland.
But in Japan he became a legend!


What the United States didn’t want, Japan was willing to take a chance on, and it dramatically changed the course of that country’s racing industry. Twelve years after his death, Sunday Silence’s name remains one that cannot be silenced on a global scale.

Sunday Silence out dueled Easy Goer in the 1989 Preakness Stakes. Their battle remains one of the most memorable in America’s racing history.
Sunday Silence out dueled Easy Goer in the 1989 Preakness Stakes.
Their battle remains one of the most memorable in America’s racing history.

A Rough Start

Even Sunday Silence’s early life was one of difficulty.

The future champion was foaled March 25, 1986, at Arthur B. Hancock III’s Stone Farm near Paris, Kentucky. His sire, Halo, was the farm’s top stallion, and his dam was a graded stakes winner named Wishing Well.

Sunday Silence was bred in the name of Oak Cliff Thoroughbreds. The operation’s managing partner, Tom Tatham, had selected Halo as a foundation stallion and was the one who moved Halo from Windfields Farm in Maryland to Stone Farm. Halo was known for being a tough horse, and Sunday Silence followed in that mold.

As a weanling, Sunday Silence almost died. He contracted a freak virus in late November, and on Thanksgiving, a day when most Americans are sitting down to a turkey dinner, Dr. Carl Morrison was at the barns giving Wishing Well’s offspring 18 liters of fluid just to keep him alive.

The strong-willed colt pulled through, in what turned out to be just the first of many times his fierce determination to succeed against the odds would be necessary.

The next summer, the colt was entered in a yearling sale at Keeneland. When bidding was at $10,000, Hancock joined in to help get the number higher, but when the hammer fell at $17,000, he was the one left holding the ticket. Tatham did not want the colt he had bred, and so that is how Hancock ended up owning the horse who was born on his farm the spring before.

As a 2-year-old, Sunday Silence was again entered in a sale, this time in California, and again was rejected by the industry. This time the bidding stalled out at $32,000.

On his way back home to Kentucky and Stone Farm, Sunday Silence once again looked death in the eye and refused to blink. Somewhere in Texas, the van driver had a heart attack and died. In a nightmare situation, the van overturned, killing some of the horses and injuring the rest.


“On his way back home to Kentucky and Stone Farm, Sunday Silence once again looked death in the eye and refused to blink”


The black colt was one of the survivors

That trip to California did end up proving valuable though. Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham was intrigued by Sunday Silence, and ended up making a deal with Hancock. He would train the colt in return for 50 percent ownership. He then ended up selling half of his stake in the horse to Dr. Ernest Gaillard, which is why Sunday Silence ran in the name of H-G-W Partners.

When he made it to the racetrack as a juvenile in October 1988, Sunday Silence ran well, finishing second by a neck in a maiden special weight contest at Santa Anita Park. By his second start, the colt had the game figured out, and began to show what was in his future as he demolished the field by 10 lengths in a rather snappy time 1:09 2/5 for six furlongs.

The world didn’t know it yet, but a future Hall of Fame runner had just tasted victory for the first time.


Taking Sides

In the spring of 1989, Sunday Silence won his stakes debut by taking the Grade 2 San Felipe Handicap. Then, in his next start, he waltzed away from his rivals, winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby by 11 lengths.

The colt no one had wanted was Kentucky Derby bound. However, he was still just an after thought.

History now links the names of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer together, but even before their fateful meetings on the track, the two colts were tied together in a way that goes beyond a simple horse race.

Easy Goer entered the Kentucky Derby as the favorite, and he deserved to be. He had already won three Grade 1 races and was named the champion 2-year-old colt the year before. He also happened to be born down the road from Sunday Silence and was everything his future rival was not.

Far from being unwanted, Easy Goer did everything right and hailed from one of the most powerful racing stables in the world. A beautiful chestnut colt, he spent the beginning of his life at historic Claiborne Farm and raced as a homebred for the powerful Phipps family, which has long been connected with Claiborne’s Hancock family.

Yes, the same Hancock family that Sunday Silence’s owner, Arthur Hancock, belongs to.

When Bull Hancock died, it was widely assumed his eldest son, Arthur, would take over the family business. That didn’t happen. A three-man committee that included Ogden Phipps advised the executors of the estate that the younger son, Seth, should be put in charge.

So, Arthur established Stone Farm just a few miles from his family’s legendary property, and he got a little of his own back when he became the first Hancock to win the Kentucky Derby. He did so in 1982 with Gato del Sol, two years before Claiborne claimed the roses with Swale.

The two farms still exist side-by-side to this day, and much of what happened in the past is simply water under the bridge now, but it certainly added a bit of drama to the Triple Crown in 1989.

On May 6 of that year, racing was blessed with the beginning of a rivalry powerful enough to divide families. Easy Goer was sent off as the favorite, but it was Sunday Silence who emerged the victor, easily winning the Kentucky Derby by 2 ½ lengths over his chestnut nemesis.

“I like a horse who defeats trouble,” said Whittingham after the race. “This is a good horse. He trains good, and I thought his record was just as good as Easy Goer’s.”

With Sunday Silence’s victory, his owner also bested the man who had a say in whether or not he inherited his family’s legacy. In fact, the Phipps family would have to wait until 2013 to finally win the Kentucky Derby. Like Easy Goer, Orb was born and raised at Claiborne and trained by Shug McGaughey.

The thing is, Sunday Silence’s victory came over a muddy track, and Easy Goer had already shown he didn’t care for an off surface when he ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs the year before under similar circumstances. If you think Easy Goer’s connections have gotten over that by now, they haven’t.

After Orb won over a muddy track, McGaughey stated: “A day like today might have cost me one Kentucky. I’ve come to the Derby two times when I thought I had great big chances, and it rained both times. The rain wasn’t quite as wet today as it was in 1989.”

Two weeks later it was on to the Preakness and most people, from racing fans to media, were willing to give Easy Goer a free pass for his Derby performance. In fact, one report said 97 out of 100 sportswriters expected the East Coast wonder to exact revenge over his West Coast rival.

They were wrong, but just barely.


Sunday Silence changed Japan’s breeding industry forever.
Sunday Silence changed Japan’s breeding industry forever.

In a race that remains one of the greatest ever run, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer were glued together during the entire stretch run of the Preakness. It was more than just stride-for-stride. It was eyeball-to-eyeball, breath-to-breath, nose-to-nose, black legs churning against copper red ones.

The race was too close to call to everyone but Sunday Silence’s jockey, Patrick Valenzuela, who waved his whip in victory after the wire. He was right. Sunday Silence had won by the most desperate of nostrils.

“I thought I had put Easy Goer away, but Easy Goer came back and gave it all he had, and had me by a neck,” said Valenzuela in the aftermath. “Then my horse came back and gave it all he had. My horse had the momentum. The last five strides I put the whip away. I knew we would win.”

Jockey Pat Day, who had the mount on Easy Goer, gave his horse every chance, but Sunday Silence would not be denied.

“I turned my horse’s head out because he’s competitive, and I wanted him to keep looking at that other horse,” said Day. “It was just an attempt to keep him trying. He tried, but it didn’t work.”

By now, even the most casual race fan had picked their favorite runner. Liking them both simply wasn’t an option. It was one or the other. Even this writer remembers her father and brother arguing over which colt was superior.

After the thrilling display of determination in the Preakness, the Belmont ended up being a bit of a let down.


“It was more than just stride-for-stride. It was eyeball-to-eyeball, breath-to-breath, nose-to-nose, black legs churning against copper red ones”


Easy Goer finally got the better of Sunday Silence, and he did it with ease. He won the Belmont by eight lengths, while Sunday Silence checked-in second.

The racing world would have to wait for five months before the two would meet again. In the meantime, Easy Goer reeled off four straight Grade 1 victories while racing at home in the East. Sunday Silence, meanwhile, only made two starts. He was upset in the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes then won the Grade 1 Super Derby.

When the two lined up against each other once more, it was in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic. The contest was billed “The Race of the Decade” and Easy Goer was once again made the favorite. The public, once again, was wrong.

If you listen to the race call though, the silent belief Easy Goer was the better horse is there: “Sunday Silence is bracing for the oncoming power of Easy Goer, who is right at his neck… The stage is set with three furlongs to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic… Coming to the final furlong, Sunday Silence surges to the front… Easy Goer with one final acceleration… Sunday Silence holds on, and he wins by a desperate neck… Easy Goer was too late.”

No matter what anyone thinks about who was the better horse, the record shows that they faced each other four times, and Sunday Silence only lost once. The unwanted horse finally got the accolades that had been withheld from him, as he was named Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old colt, but even those were given begrudgingly.

“That 19 people voted against Sunday Silence, though, reflects something more about the past season. Had the question on the ballot been, ‘Who is the better horse, Sunday Silence or Easy Goer?’ a lot more than 19 would have voted against the champ,” wrote Steven Crist in the New York Times after the Eclipse Awards.

Additionally, Sunday Silence had established a record for the most money earned in a single season with his 1989 earnings of $4,578,454.

That, as it turns out, was a bigger deal than many realized.


Global Sensation

Although it was hoped the two rivals would meet again, it was not be. Sunday Silence had to undergo surgery in late 1989 to remove a bone chip and didn’t return to the races until July 3, 1990. As it turns out, that was the day before Easy Goer made his last career start. An injury led to his retirement, and he returned to Claiborne Farm.

Sunday Silence would add the Grade 1 Californian Stakes to his resume and finished second by a head in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. However, a tear in a ligament in his left front leg was discovered in early August, leading to his retirement.

The reigning Horse of the Year once more shipped home to Stone Farm, and originally he was supposed to stand his first season for $50,000 in 1991. It never happened. Syndication of the champion did not go well, and American breeders were not very interested.

Easy Goer, a son of the mighty Alydar, was welcomed into the stallion ranks by breeders. Sunday Silence was not. Easy Goer would live out his days where he was born. Sunday Silence would not. Easy Goer took up residence in a stall that once homed the likes of Bold Ruler and Secretariat. Sunday Silence was dismissed from the country.

An announcement was made in September 1990 that Zenya Yoshida had purchased the near-black colt for approximately $10 million, and he would instead begin his stud career at Yoshida’s Shadai Farm in Japan.

To this day, Hancock freely admits Sunday Silence saved his farm. He had been expanding Stone Farm, but in the late 1980s the bottom fell out of the market for both racehorses and real estate. Sunday Silence’s earnings on the track helped, but his sale saved it all.


“Syndication of the champion did not go well, and American breeders were not very interested”


Hancock even recorded a Bluegrass album entitled Sunday Silence, giving credit to his unruly but immensely talented horse. The title track begins: “When all the dreams I dream do not come true, and the friends I have turn out to be so few, when it seems the world is closing in on me, Sunday Silence soothes my soul and sets me free.”

The first foals by Sunday Silence started racing in Japan in 1994. His first starter was his first winner, and he was represented by his first stakes winner just about one month later. It was a good start, for sure, but it was just a drop in the ocean compared to what he would go on to do as a sire.

Although he had been rejected as a stallion in the United States, Sunday Silence was Japan’s leading juvenile sire his first year at stud. When his first crop was 3-years-old, in 1995, he shot to the top of the leading sire list.

Sunday Silence ended up siring five grade 1 winners from his first crop: Fuji Kiseki, Genuine, Tayasu Tsuyoshi, Dance Partner, and Marvelous Sunday. By 2000, he had changed the landscape of Japanese breeding forever. His progeny earned $53,672,791 that year alone, meaning collectively they earned more than $1 million a week.

Only death was powerful enough to remove Sunday Silence from the top, and even then, it needed five years to do it. Although he died in 2002, Sunday Silence was the leading sire in Japan from 1995 until 2007.

In August 2002, word spread throughout the world that Sunday Silence had died. Much like his life, it wasn’t an easy death. Three months before, he had contracted a leg infection. Three surgeries and world-class care were not enough to hold off laminitis, and although Sunday Silence battled on, he succumbed to heart failure caused by his other ailments.

“With illness, in any living creature, there are just things that one must accept, but at 16 years of age, normally one would expect to look forward to many more years of active service,” said Teruya Yoshida. “It’s terribly unfortunate. I think it is not only a great loss to the Japanese breeding industry but to the entire world of racing. From here on, I will endeavor to see that the great number of offspring that Sunday Silence has left behind will carry his blood forth for many generations to come.”

It was not just the Yoshida family who mourned the loss of Sunday Silence. His death was a major blow to anyone with an interest in racing in Japan.

“It is with deep regret that we witness the passing of Sunday Silence, who has given us so many outstanding racehorses, and whose name is known not only in our country but throughout the world,” said Japan Racing Association president Masayuki Takahashi at the time. “I pray for the success of those he has left behind, for the success of his sons and daughters in racing and in breeding.”

Both Yoshida and Takahashi got their wish. Sunday Silence’s progeny have won almost every single major race in Japan, including 20 out of 22 JRA Group 1 contests as well as top international races like the Hong Kong Vase, Hong Kong Mile and Dubai Sheema Classic.

Even so, when Sunday Silence died, many in the United States rationalized the loss to the American gene pool by saying he was a big fish in a small pond. That if he had stayed at home, he would have failed. That Easy Goer was still the better horse.

Deep Impact won the Japanese Triple Crown and is now the country’s leading sire.
Deep Impact won the Japanese Triple Crown and is now the country’s leading sire.

Perhaps part of that belief was the result of Easy Goer dying tragically young. In 1994, at only 8-years-old, he died of an anaphylactic reaction to an undetermined allergen and also had cancerous tumors in multiple organs.

But as the years pass, and racing becomes even more global, the belief Sunday Silence was one of the best stallions the world has ever known is becoming accepted. He wasn’t a great sire in Japan. He was a great sire—period.

It would be impossible to list the accomplishments of his offspring, but numbers help. On the track, his runners have earned more than $785 million. More than 20 of his sons have sired Group/Grade 1 winners the world over, while more than 20 of his daughters have produced Group/Grade 1 winners.

At this year’s Dubai World Cup, the dominance of Sunday Silence’s genes was on display through his grandson Just a Way, who smashed the track record while taking the Dubai Duty Free, and his granddaughter Gentildonna, who added the Dubai Sheema Classic to her long list of accomplishments.

With his victory, Just a Way vaulted to the top of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings when given a rating of 130. That number equals the highest ranking given out in all of 2013, when Black Caviar and Treve both reached that mark.

Just a Way is by Heart’s Cry, while Gentildonna is by Deep Impact. Both stallions are two of Sunday Silence’s greatest sons. Deep Impact won seven Group 1 races, including the Japanese Triple Crown, and is now the leading sire in Japan. Heart’s Cry is best known for winning the Dubai Sheema Classic and finishing third in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in Britain.


Sunday Silence’s grandson Orfevre won the 2011 Japanese Triple Crown and was voted Horse of the Year. He is also known for finishing second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe--twice.
Sunday Silence’s grandson Orfevre won the 2011 Japanese Triple Crown and was voted Horse of the Year. He is also known for finishing second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe–twice.

All of this is to say that Sunday Silence’s influence is far from over. The champion runner and champion sire is a horse who should have died before the world ever knew his name, and instead, his name continues to live on long after he left this world.

“It’s terribly unfortunate. I think it is not only a great loss to the Japanese breeding industry but to the entire world of racing. From here on, I will endeavor to see that the great number of offspring that Sunday Silence has left behind will carry his blood forth for many generations to come.”

Perhaps the story of Sunday Silence was summed up best in one of the many eulogies that were written for him 12 years ago:

“They say he fought to the end, which is really no surprise,” wrote Jay Hovdey in the Daily Racing Form. “He deserved a better fate, filled with green pastures and pampered retirement. But that was not in his nature, and that is why his name will last.”

The thing is, both Sunday Silence and Easy Goer were champions. The runners, so different and yet so similar, have both been inducted in to racing’s Hall of Fame, and their races against each other changed the game for the better. Even if no one liked them both at the time, 25 years later, everyone is grateful for them both now.


Sire: Halo Dam: Wishing Well
Record: 14: 9-5-0
Earnings: $4,968,554

• 1989 Horse of the Year
• 1989 Champion 3-year-old colt
• Hall of Fame member
• Leading sire in Japan 1995-2007

Best Progeny (a sampling):

Deep Impact (JPN) 2002, bay
Wind in Her Hair(IRE) – Alzao(USA)
2005 Japanese Triple Crown winner

Neo Universe (JPN) 2000, bay
Pointed Path(GB) – Kris(GB)
2003 TOKYO YUSHUN (Japanese Derby)

Agnes Flight (JPN) 1997, chestnut
Agnes Flora(JPN) – Royal Ski(USA)
2000 TOKYO YUSHUN(Japanese Derby)

Dance In the dark (JPN) 1993 brown Dancing Key (USA) – Nijinsky II (CAN)
Japanese Champion 4-Yr-Old Colt (1996)

Admire Vega (JPN) 1996, bay
Vega(JPN) – Tony Bin(IRE)
1999 TOKYO YUSHUN(Japanese Derby)

Special Week (JPN) 1995, dark brown Campaign Girl(JPN) – Maruzensky(JPN)
1998 TOKYO YUSHUN(Japanese Derby)

Tayasu Tsuyoshi (JPN) 1992, dark brown Magaro (USA) – Caro (IRE)
1995 TOKYO YUSHUN(Japanese Derby)

Zenno Rob Roy (JPN) 2000, dark brown Roamin Rachel(USA) – Mining (USA)

Matsurida Gogh (JPN) 2003, bay Paper Rain(USA) – Bel Bolide(USA)
2007 ARIMA KINEN (The Grand Prix)

Heart’s Cry(JPN) 2001, bay
Irish Dance(JPN) – Tony Bin(IRE)
2005 ARIMA KINEN (The Grand Prix)

Manhattan Cafe (JPN) 1998, brown Subtle Change(IRE) – Law Society(USA)
2001 ARIMA KINEN (The Grand Prix)


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.



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.



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.
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.



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.



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.



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.


The Classic Races

Björn Eklund, Nalle Rosenkjær 1851—Jean Louis Théodore Géricault. Painting at Le Louvre in Paris

In racing, you’ll often hear expressions like “The Classics” or “the Classic races.” To be a Classic winner is extremely meriting to a racehorse and has a huge impact on its marketing–especially in the auction catalogues. So what is hiding behind those phrases?


Like much else in racing the classic races origins from the 18th century in England, when the races were open to all age groups and mostly run over long distances. As a result, the older and stronger horses usually won, and the breeders grew opposed to see their young horses thrashed. For the sake of future breeding as well as being able to sell their youngsters, the St. Leger was instituted in 1779. It was to be run in the autumn over 3200 meters (2 miles) and for 3-year-olds only.

Three years later, it was followed by a somewhat shorter race for 3-year-old fillies only. The race run over 2400 meters (1½ miles) was named the Oaks and was to be run at an earlier stage than the St. Leger. Just one year later this new race was followed by the Derby. Run over the same distance and on the same course as the Oaks, the Derby was, however, open to fillies and colts both.

Some 20 years later the Englishmen saw a need for their 3-year-old colts to have race in the spring. Run over the shorter distance of 1600 meters (1 mile), it was named The 2000 Guineas. An equivalent was instituted the following year for fillies only and named the 1000 Guineas.

Thus there was now a series of five races for 3-year-olds and ranging in distance from 1600 meters to 3200. These were be called the Classics.

The concept has been adopted all over the world, and today the Classic series still consists of five races for 3-year-olds, carrying equal weights, except for the gender allowance given fillies in the three races open to both sexes.

In most countries a Thoroughbred from any country can participate. The idea is that the best should meet the best in what is fundamentally a competition among breeders.

A horse winning the three Classic races for colts and fillies alike–namely the 2000 Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger–is dubbed a Triple Crown winner.

A total of 15 horses have won the English Triple Crown. In our competitive and specialized days, it is nigh impossible, and Nijinsky II was the latest back in 1970. Hoewever, Camelot came close in 2012.

Sometimes you’ll hear of the Filly Triple Crown, which consists of the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St. Leger. It was last won by Oh So Sharp in England 1985.

The American Triple Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness- and the Belmont Stakes. All in all 12 horses have won it. The 70s were a golden decade and produced three of the winners: Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). The first horse to win since 1978 was American Pharoah in 2015 who ended a 37 long wait.


The Classics at a glance:

    • 2000 Guineas – 1 mile (1.600 m)
    • 1.000 Guineas – Fillies only – 1 mile (1.600 m)
    • Oaks – Fillies only – 1 mile 4 F (1 1/2 mile or 2.400 m)
    • Derby – 1 mile 4 F (1 1/2 mile or 2.400 m)
    • St Leger – 1 mile 6 F (1 3/8 mile or 2.800 m)
  • The legendary Frankel won the 2000 Guineas in a performance described as “one of the greatest displays on a British racecourse.
    The legendary Frankel won the 2000 Guineas in a performance described as “one of the greatest displays on a British racecourse.

    2000 Guineas

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:

    UK- 2000 Guineas Stakes (G1) Newmarket (May) 1609 m 1809
    IRE- Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) Curragh (May) 1609 m 1921
    FR- Poule d’Essai des Poulains (G1) Longchamp (May) 1600 m 1840
    GER- Mehl-Mühlens-Rennen (G2) Köln (May) 1600 m 1871
    ITA- Premio Parioli (G3) Capannelle (April/May) 1600 m 1981
    SWE- Jockeyklubbens Jubileumslöpning Täby (June) 1600 m 1922
    TY- Erkek Tay Deneme Veliefendi/Istanbul (June) 1600 m 1956
    JP- Satsuki Sho (G1) Nakayama (April) 1800 m 1939
    UAE- 2000 Guineas (G3) Dubai (Feb) 1600 m 2000
    NZ- New Zealand 2000 Guineas Christchurch (Nov) 1600 m 1973
    ARG- Gran Premio Polla de Potrillos Bueonos Aires (Sept) 1609 m 1895
    CHI- Dos Mil Guineas (G1) Santiago (Sep) 1600 m N/A


    The 2000 Guineas starts off the Classic season in most countries. Run for the first time in England 1809 over 1600 meters,  it’s for fillies and colts both. Some countries allow geldings as well, while other countries—like England—do not. Since the introduction of the 1000 Guineas, which is the fillies only equivalent, many fillies do not compete in this race. The two races are traditionally run within just a few days of each other.

    The 2000 Guineas is named after it’s original purse. A guinea is an old monetary standard, but it is still used in connection with some auctions. One guinea is £1 and a shilling or £1,05. The purse has, of course, swelled during the years, and in 2013 there was  £400,000 waiting at the line of Newmarket’s straight Rowley Mile.

    One guinea is £1 and one shilling or  £1.05.

    The 2000 Guineas is regarded as a great opportunity to see which horse may become the stars of the rest of the season. Punters are often offered good value for their fancies, as many of the horses have been but lightly raced so early in the season. One often has to rely on the 2-year-old form, which can be tricky in itself. In 2012 Camelot was the latest to pull off the English 2000 Guineas/Derby double.

    The second oldest 2000 Guineas is the French Poule d’Essai des Poulains, which was run at Champs de Mars for 17 years before it became a fixture at Longchamp in 1857.

    Lovely Zarkava won the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches ("1000 Guineas") and the Prix de Diane ("Oaks") before ending her racing career by wining the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as a three year old to do so in 24 years. Here with her 2016 colt by Invincible Spirit! (Photo Aga Kahn Studs)
    Lovely Zarkava won the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (“1000 Guineas”) and the Prix de Diane (“Oaks”) before ending her racing career by wining the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as a three year old to do so in 24 years. Here with her 2016 colt by Invincible Spirit! (Photo Aga Kahn Studs)

    1000 Guineas

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:
    UK- 1000 Guineas Stakes (G1) Newmarket (May) 1609 m 1814
    IRE- Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) Curragh (May) 1609 m 1922
    FR- Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (G1) Longchamp (May) 1600 m 1883
    GER- German 1000 Guineas (G2) Düsseldorf (April/May) 1600 m 1919
    ITA- Premio Regina Elena (G3) Capannelle (May) 1600 m 1981
    SWE- Dianalöpning Täby (June) 1600 m 1944
    TY- Disi Tay Deneme Veliefendi/Istanbul (May) 1600 m 1956
    JP- Oka Sho (G1) Hanshin (April) 1600 m 1939
    UAE- 1000 Guineas (L) Dubai (Feb) 1600 m 2000
    NZ- New Zealand 1000 Guineas Christchurch (Nov) 1600 m 1973
    ARG- Gran Premio Polla de Potrancas Buenos Aires (Sept) 1600 m 1895


    The first ever 1000 Guineas was run in England, five years after the introduction of the 2000 Guineas under the direction of Sir Charles Bunbury. Same course and same distance, but for fillies only and for half the purse. Equality has since caught up, though, and today the purse is the same in both races. Traditionally the two races were run with only four days between them. Four fillies have managed to win both races, nevertheless. Crucifix in 1840, Formosa in 1868, Pilgrimage in 1878, and the last to do it was Sceptre in 1902. Nowadays the two races are run on consecutive days making that an impossible feat.

    Same course and same distance, but for fillies only and for half the purse.

    Again France was the first country to follow suit, staging the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches in 1883.

    In Sweden, the 1000 Guineas. is called Dianalöpning. This is rather confusing, as that name indicates the Oaks in both France and Germany.


    Ouija Board (owned by Lord Derby) won the Oaks in bort Ireland and the UK. She later went on to win two Breeders' Cup and The Hong Kong Vase.
    Ouija Board (owned by Lord Derby) won the Oaks in both Ireland and the UK. She later went on to win two Breeders’ Cup and The Hong Kong Vase.


    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:

    GB- Oaks Stakes (G1) Epsom (June) 2400 m 1779
    IRE- Irish Oaks (G1) Curragh (July) 2400 m 1895
    FR- Prix de Diane (G1) Chantilly (June) 2400 m 1843
    GER- Preis der Diana (G1) Düsseldorf (aug) 2200 m 1857
    ITA- Oaks d’Italia (G2) San Siro (June) 2200 m 1920
    SWE- Svenskt Oaks Jägersro/Malmö (July) 2400 m 1950
    TY- Kisrak Veliefendi/Istanbul (June) 2100 m 1956
    JP- Yushun Himba (G1) Tokyo (May) 2400 m 1956
    UAE- Oaks (G3) Meydan (Feb) 1900 m 2000
    USA- Kentucky Oaks (G1)* Churchill Downs (May) 1800 m 1875
    BRZ- Grande Premio Diana (G1) Rio de Janeiro (May) 2000 m 1932
    AUS- Australian Oaks (G1) Randwick/Sidney (April) 2400 m 1885


    The Oaks was established in 1779 as the second of the Classic races. The S:t Leger being the first. Run at Epsom Downs for fillies only, it was the brainchild of the 12th Earl of Derby. The race was named for a house Lord Derby leased in Epsom because it was devised during a dinner party at the estate. Lord Derby succeeded in  winning the first edition with Bridget. The black and white colours were to win the race again in 2004, when Ouija Board scored for the 19th Earl of Derby. The Oaks and its counterpart the Derby, are both run over 2400 meters, and three fillies have won both, with the latest being Fifinella back in 1916. As the two races now are run on consecutive days, she may well be the last, too.

    The 100,000 spectators make it the second biggest race day in the States.

    The Oaks and the Derby are the only of the Classic names to win acclaim in the USA. There are quite a few races run under the name of the Oaks to choose from, but the Kentucky Oaks first run in 1875 is undoubtedly the Oaks. Run one day prior to the Kentucky Derby, its 100,000 spectators make it the second biggest race day in the United States. The original distance of 1½ miles has since been cut to 9 furlongs, and it can be argued that the shorter distance makes it more of a 1000 Guineas than an Oaks.



    The Derby

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:

    USA Kentucky Derby* (G1) Churchil Downs (May) 2000 m 1875
    UK Epsom Derby (G1) Epsom (June) 2400 m 1780
    IRE Irish Derby (G1) Curragh (June/July) 2400 m 1866
    FR Prix du Jockey-Club (G1) Chantilly/Paris (June) 2100 m 1836
    GER Deutsches Derby (G1) Hamburg (June) 2400 m 1869
    ITA Derby Italiano (G1) Capannelle (May)2200 m1884
    HK Hong Kong Derby** Sha Tin (March) 2000 m 1873
    JP Tokyo Yüshun (G1) Tokyo (May/June) 2400 m 1932
    AUS Australian Derby (G1) Randwick/Sidney (April) 2400 m 1861
    NZ New Zealand Derby Auckland (March) 2400 m 1860
    UAE UAE Derby (G2) Dubai (March) 1900 m 2000
    CHI El Derby (G1) Vina de Mar (Feb) 2400 m 1885

    *one of several **4-year-olds


  • The St. Leger and the Oaks were huge successes in England, and so in 1790 the race whose name was destined to be connected with other sporting events of high dignity was instituted. The Derby. In everyday language a Derby can be anything from a showjumping competition to a game between two local football sides. However, a Derby proper is a race over at least 2000 meters for 3-year-olds Thoroughbred colts and fillies.While some countries allow geldings, some like Great Britain consider the Derby such an important race for determining breeding value that they are not allowed.The decision to create the Derby was taken during the party after the first Oaks had been run in 1779. One year later, the world’s first-ever Derby was run at Epsom. It was won by Diomed with Sam Arnull up. As the Derby just as well could have been named the Bunbury, it’s the irony of fate that the proud owner was a certain Charles Bunbury.There are two different tales being told about how the name of the Derby came to be.One is that Lord Derby and Bunbury rode a match between themselves, and the new race was to be named in the honour of the winner. The other is that the two friends tossed a coin. Whatever the true story, Lord Derby won and was imortalized through the name of the race.The Derby is also sometimes dubbed the Blue Riband. This expression is English, too, and derives from the famous The Most Noble Order of The Garter. The colour of it’s riband is blue, and it was the English prime minister Benjamin Disraeli who came up with it in a letter to George Bentinck.

    Whatever the true story, Lord Derby won and was imortalized through the name of the race.

    Bentinck was one of the bigwigs in English racing, and he is reputed to be behind the introduction of racing colours as well as numbercloths.

    Everyone in racing dreams of winning the Derby, but to most it stays a dream.

    Bentinck had in vain tried to win the English Derby his entire life, and in 1848 his Surplice won.Unfortunately, while he bred the horse, he also sold him as a yearling and was devastated. It was in a commiserating letter to his friend that Disraeli first called the Derby “the Blue Riband of the Turf.”

    The Derby concept was exported at an early stage, and in 1866 Ireland was the first country to follow suit. It crossed the Atlantic, too, and in 1875 the first edition of what was to become one of the most media-exposed horse races in the world was ridden in Kentucky.

    Originally the Kentucky Derby was contested at the traditional 1 1/2 miles, but in 1896 it was reduced to 1 1/4 miles and remains that distance to this day. Like the Kentucky Oaks, the Derby is held at the beginning of May, whereas Derby time in most other countries in the Northern Hemisphere is either June or July.


    Around 1800 Thomas Rowlandson produced four watercolours showing the various stages of an early St Leger - The world's oldest Classic Race.
    Around 1800 Thomas Rowlandson produced four watercolours showing the various stages of an early St Leger – The world’s oldest Classic Race.

    St. Leger

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:
    GB- St. Leger Stakes (G1) Doncaster (Sept) 2937 m 1776
    IRE- Irish St. Leger (G1) Curragh (Sept) 2800 m* 1915
    FR- Prix Royal Oak (G1) Longchamp (Sept) 3100 m* 1861
    TY- Deutsches St. Leger (G3) Dortmund (Sept/Oct) 2800 m* 1940
    ITA- St. Leger Italiano (G3) San Siro (Sept) 2800 m* 1921
    DK- Dansk St. Leger Klampenborg (Sept) 2800 m* 1937
    NO- Norsk St. Leger Øvrevoll (Oct) 2800 m 1960
    SWE- Svenskt St. Leger Bro Park (Oct) 2800 m 1927
    PL- Nagroda St. Leger Warzaw (Sept) 2800 m N/A
    TY- Ankara Stakes Ankara (Sept) 2800 m 1950
    JP- Kikuka Sho (G1) Kyoto (Oct) 3000 m 1938
    CHI- St. Leger (G1) Santiago (March) 2200 m 1886


    The St. Leger may be the least known of the Classic races, but it is, in fact, the oldest. The first ever St. Leger was ridden at Doncaster in 1776. Thought up by Colonel Anthony St. Leger, a former member of Parliament, the race was meant to give the 3-year-olds their own race. Arranged by Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquis of Rockingham, it was to be run in the autumn over a distance of 3200 meters.

    When the race was to have a name, someone suggested The Rockingham Stakes. The Marquis declined and claimed it should be named after his friend St. Leger, who had, after all come up with the idea. The first edition was won by Allabaculia, who was owned by the Marquis of Rockingham, while the second-placed horse belonged to St. Leger.

    The original distance of 3200 meters was later to be altered to 2937 meters (1 mile 6 furlongs and 132 yards), while it’s run over 2800 meters (1 mile 6 furlongs) in most other countries. Run at the back end of the season, it is nowadays a chance for the late developers to show their staying power. In this day and age, with breeding leaning more toward speed, many countries have found it necessary to open The St. Leger up to for 4-year-olds to secure a strong field.

    Run at the back end of the season, it is nowadays a chance for the late developers to show their staying power.

    As most of the world’s big races are run over distances between 2000 and 2400 meters, some, however, think that extreme staying merits work to the disadvantage of a sire. Long distance races have lost a bit of their status, and so has the St. Leger, though in England it carries a bigger purse than either the 1000 and the 2000 Guineas. In many of the big racing countries the real top notch horses tend to avoid the St. Leger and seek their fortune in the French Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe instead.




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:
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
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.

BLACK CAVIAR – the wonder mare

Amanda Duckworth Steven Dowden/, Bronwen Healy/

Her name is Black Caviar. During the four years between April 18, 2009 and April 17, 2013, the wonder mare affectionately known as Nelly left her mark not just on Australia’s racing scene, but the world’s. After all, even the hardest of hard boots has to be impressed by a race record that reads 25: 25-0-0.


Four days prior to her somewhat unexpected retirement, Black Caviar stepped onto the track at Randwick for the TJ Smith Stakes, and a sell-out crowd of around 24,000 people was on hand to watch what turned out to be her swan song.

With her dominant win, Black Caviar pushed her record to a perfect 25-for-25 and her Group 1 victory tally to 15, surpassing the record held by the re­vered Kingston Town. Race fans the world over celebrated the talented mare. Rumors ran rampant about a possible return to Royal Ascot, followed by a date with England’s unbeaten champion Frankel.

Then, with a press conference, the ride came to an abrupt end. “At the end of the day we believe she’s done everything we’ve asked her to do and she could possibly have done no more,” said trainer Peter Moody.  “It’s a job well done, and something we can all be extremely proud of. She really gave her all and we thought what else can we achieve? She’s been a great shining light for racing.”

Usually the old  “there was nothing left to prove” line will make fans, industry types and the media collectively roll their eyes. But in Black Caviar’s case, the words rang too true to object to them. Nelly had done everything asked of her—including traveling halfway around the world and back—and no one could begrudge this particular champion for going out on top.



The Early Days

Black Caviar arrived on the scene Aug. 18, 2006 at 5:20 a.m. at Gilgai Farm in Nagambie, Victoria. She was the first born out of the unraced mare Helsinge and spent her foal days on the Goulburn River property before heading to Swettenham Stud in December 2007 for a 10-week yearling preparation.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Australia, long-time friends Colin and Jannene Madden, Gary and Kerryn Wilkie and Neil Werrett were enjoying a holiday on a hired houseboat. It is tradition for the friends. That February of 2007, Werrett convinced the group they should buy a racehorse together. In 2008, they did. The merry band of longtime chums had no idea that their holiday lark would result in owning one of the best racehorses of all time.

At the time the decision was made, trainer Peter Moody had just purchased an unnamed filly for AUS$210,000 at the Mel­bourne premier yearling sale. Werrett had horses with Moody, and the trainer suggested he form a syndicate to own the recent purchase. He took his advice, and the group expanded to include Jannene Madden’s sister, Pam Hawkes, as well as one of Gary Wilkie’s mates named David Taylor, and his wife, Jill.

Hawkes, who has a penchant for seafood, came up with the name Black Caviar for their new acquisition. After all, the Bel Esprit filly’s grandmother was Scandinavia, which is the home of salmon roe, a form of caviar.

Continuing the group’s camaraderie and nod to the delicacy, Wilkie’s daughter came up with the colors for the filly’s silks—salmon with black spots. And yes, the spots are meant to represent caviar.

In 2009, an unheralded second race at Flemington served as Black Caviar’s racing debut. No one could know at the time that the 2-year-old who galloped away to an easy five-length victory would go on to be one of the greatest stars the sport has known. However, her performance that day was certainly good enough to garner some respect. It was the first—and only—time her odds would be anything other than odds-on.

A few weeks later, Black Caviar got the first bit of black type on her resume with an easy score in the Blue Sapphire Stakes. Even an awkward start could not stop her from prevailing by six lengths to close out her juvenile campaign.

When Black Caviar returned to the track months later for her 3-year-old debut in the William Crockett Stakes, she was ridden for the first time by jockey Luke Nolen. Moody’s stable jockey would be her partner for the majority of her historic career, and an easy victory there had her primed to take on the boys in the Group 2 Danehill Stakes.

“At the end of the day we believe she’s done everything we’ve asked her to do and she could possibly have done no more”

Defeating males became routine for Black Caviar, but she did it for the first time in her first attempt at group company as she gamely defeated Wanted, her own stable-mate. Wanted would go on to be a Group 1 winner in his own right. Black Caviar, unfortunately, tore a chest muscle while breaking from the gate and was sidelined for the rest of the spring.

In January 2010, Black Caviar re-appeared on the track for the Group 2 Australia Stakes. It was her first chance at older horses, and she didn’t miss a beat. However, bad luck came after that race and injury put her back on the sideline until October.

Upon her return to the track Black Caviar added two more Group 2 triumphs to her resume in the form of the Schillaci Stakes and Moir Stakes. It was decided it was time for the undefeated filly to step up her game and take on Group 1 company.

On Nov. 6, 2010, Black Caviar lined up for the first of what would turn out to be 15 Group 1 victories. She strolled home in the Patinack Farm Classic. It was quite a way to end the year.

Black Caviar at Royal Ascot. In what turned out to be a true nail-biter!!
Black Caviar at Royal Ascot. In what turned out to be a true nail-biter!!

”Additionally, she was named Sportswoman of the Year by the Daily Telegraph. Not horse of the year. Sportswoman of the Year. Even though Australia had been well represented at the 2012 Olympic Games”

The following February witnessed the wonder mare add the Group 1 Lightning Stakes to her growing list of accomplishments, but it was her next race that really started bringing in the accolades.

During the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap, Black Caviar set a modern-day weight-carrying record for a mare. She went to post with 58kg, surpassing the 56.5kg carried by Maybe Mahal in 1978. With that victory, she also became the first Australian horse to win their first 10 career starts at metropolitan tracks.

A star had truly been born.

• Black Caviar retired with a perfect record of 25-for-25. All but one of those races came in stakes company, and an Australian record of 15 of them came in Group 1 company.

• Her total winning margin is 79.7 lengths.

• Black Caviar’s stable name is Nelly. She is 16.2 hands tall and weighed approximately 620 kg during her racing days.

• When Black Caviar raced at Royal Ascot in England, more than 32,000 people watched the race on big screens in downtown Melbourne.

• Black Caviar was bottle fed as a foal, and while racing had an egg in her feed every day.

• Although Luke Nolen is known for being Black Caviar’s regular rider, 16-year-old apprentice Jarrad Noske rode the future wondermare in her first two races.

• Collingwood footballer Dale Thomas has a picture of Black Caviar tattooed on his backside. He bet one of her owners, David Taylor, that the mighty mare would not win 20 in a row. He lost.

• In the 2012 Lightning Stakes, Black Caviar ran her fastest ever 200m split in 9.98 seconds. She was the first horse in Australia to break 10 seconds for a furlong in an official Thoroughbred race, giving her a top speed of 72.14km/h or 45.09mph. For context, human sprinter Usain Bolt’s world record for 200 meters is 19.19 seconds.

• The shortest price Black started for in a race was $1.04 in the Patinack Farm Classic. This means you had to bet $33 to get a return of $34.

• Black Caviar won over five furlongs (1,000 metres) six times, six furlongs (1,200 metres) 18 times and seven furlongs (1,400 metres) once.

• Black Caviar and Frankel are very distant relations on the dam side. Her 21st dam, Prunella (dam of 1804 Epsom Oaks winner Pelisse), is the 18th dam of Frankel.

• Helsinge, Black Caviar’s dam, was unnamed when purchased by Rick Jamison at the Inglis Easter Broodmare Sale. She was first named Oh Billy Oh before being renamed Helsinge.

• Australia’s racing queen is a modern girl. She is a phenomenon on Twitter and Facebook, with over 70,000 followers.

• Black Caviar holds the modern day international record for consecutive victories at the top level. She broke the mark with her 20th victory, surpassing Zenyatta, who achieved 19 wins before losing.

• When she was named to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame while still actively racing, Black Caviar was only the second horse to receive such an honor. Sunline was the first.


The later days

As her career progressed, Black Caviar traveled Australia, compiling win after win. Record crowds appeared wherever she did, bets were placed and the grand mare never disappointed. On April 28, 2012, she posted her 20th consecutive victory while winning for fun in the Group 1 Robert Sangster Stakes.

That victory pushed her passed the previous Australian record for consecutive metropolitan wins set by Desert Gold and Gloaming early last century. It also broke the modern-day international record set by the United States’ Zenyatta in 2010.

Although Black Caviar belonged to Australia, by now her international appeal was quite broad. For all of her amazing feats in her homeland, perhaps what she will be best remembered for is her 22nd victory. The one that came in England at Royal Ascot.

Wearing a specially designed compression suit, and after a 30-hour, 11,000 mile flight, Black Caviar landed in England take on her biggest challenge yet… racing away from home. Nothing would go her way, and yet the champion proved in every possible way why she bears such a title.

Wonder mare Black Caviar used o suit form oz company Hidez on her journy to Englnd . A completet suit is about Euro 470/$600.
Wonder mare Black Caviar used a suit from oz company Hidez on her journey to England.
A complete suit is about Euro 470/$600.

Thousands of Aussies helped make up the crowd of 80,000 at the track, while thousands more stayed up past midnight at home to watch their grand mare race. In Melbourne, they went so far as to set up a big screen in Federation Square for anyone who wanted to watch.

Gasps could be heard when inexplicably her faithful partner, Nolen, stopped riding in the final strides of the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Everyone had to wait to hear if the darling mare had pulled off the task. As it turns out, she did. By a desperate head.

“I underestimated the testing track of Ascot,” Nolen admitted.  “She’d had enough and that big en­gine throttled right down. It’s unfortunate, because we’re going to talk more about my brain failure than the horse’s fantastic effort. We won, but it may have over­shadowed what was a fantastic effort by the horse. We got away with it.”
Following Black Caviar’s victory, none other than Queen Elizabeth II herself was there to give a pat to the queen of the track in the winner’s enclosure. It was an international iconic moment for any who loves the sport of horse racing.

Later, it was also revealed later that it wasn’t just Nolen’s accidental error that kept Black Caviar from being as dominant as many hoped. She also suffered severe leg and back muscle injuries during the race and yet persevered.

Many thought that injury might be the end of the grand mare’s campaign, but it wasn’t. She returned home to Australia and in the early parts of 2013 posted three more victories in Group 1 company. Her first start back came in none other than the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes, and winning wasn’t enough. She also had to break the long-standing 1,000 meters track record at Flemington.

On March 22, she cruised to victory at a packed-to-capacity Moonee Valley while contesting the Group 1 William Reid Stakes. Perhaps track announcer Greg Miles said it best, proclaiming, “This is brutal power, wrapped in an elegant machine.”

“It’s been a great honor to call Black Caviar 19 times,” Miles told Racing Victoria. “It has been extraordinary to watch the sight of the crowd from our lofty vantage point. The sea of salmon and black is not just a figment, it is real. It is amazing. As her legacy continued to grow, and crowds became bigger and bigger, it was just an enormous sight. Ever­yone came decked out for one reason and to support one horse. It was quite a unique feeling.”

Then came the April 13 TJ Smith Stakes and her unparalleled 25th victory. In doing so, Black Caviar demolished a few more of Australia’s racing records. Not only did she score her 15th Group 1 win, but she ended her career with eight Group 1 wins in succession, besting the record previously held by Bernborough set in 1946.

In all, Black Caviar won at seven tracks and raced over five, six and seven furlongs during a four-year campaign. In addition to her perfect race record, she also retired with more than AUS$7.95 million in prize money. But perhaps most importantly of all, she went out a champion, in front of the people who loved her best.


Beyond the races

Perfection is hard to come by in life, much less in sports. Per­haps that is why Black Caviar struck a chord with so many around the world. Horse racing is a sport that is constantly look­ing for an equine hero, and in Black Caviar, it found its perfect heroine.
The Wonder from Down Under was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, and regularly filled any racecourse she visited to capaci­ty. She has her own merchandise line, her own website, and of course a healthy following on Twitter and Facebook.

Her list of accolades is a long one but perhaps four things serve as the best reminders of the power of Black Caviar. On Feb. 21, 3013, even though she was still running, Black Caviar was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. It is only the second time the Australians have bestowed such an honor on one of their own.
Furthermore, for all the debate about England’s Frankel versus Australia’s Black Caviar, the European racing set officially ac­knowledged how talented the mare was. During the Cartier Racing Awards, Black Caviar was named 2012 European Champion Sprinter based on her one appearance at Royal Ascot. It was the first time a horse trained outside of Europe was so honored.

Additionally, she was named Sportswoman of the Year by the Daily Telegraph. Not horse of the year. Sportswoman of the Year. Even though Australia had been well represented at the 2012 Olympic Games.
For all that, it was never more clear that Black Caviar was pop­ular beyond the racing sphere then when she graced the cover of Australian Vogue. In doing so, she became the first horse to appear on the cover the fashion magazine. Joining her on the cover of the December 2012 issue was Australian model Julia Nobis.01
“Black Caviar certainly knows when the lens is focused on her, and it’s terrific to celebrate her beauty, rather than just her speed,” said editor-in-chief Edwina McCann.

Black Caviar’s owners have long understood that while they owned the mare, she also held a large space in the hearts of the Australian public at large. Photos of her spending time with her goat during a spell or swimming in the ocean regularly appeared during her career.
So, it is not surprising they arranged a farewell for the grand mare. Three days after the retirement announcement came, Black Caviar was paraded for one final time at Caulfield.

“One of the great things about Black Caviar and what she has brought to the racing industry is a deeper engagement of the community, and the community better understanding what the beauty of the Thoroughbred is all about and understanding the horse,” said Racing Victoria’s CEO, Bernard Saundry, during the farewell.  “That is the real thing that has hit home to me.”

A crowd of several thousand turned out to pay tribute and were rewarded for their efforts. Black Caviar paraded for an hour in the pre-parade ring, while her handler, Donna Fisher, allowed fans to pet the mighty champion and take photos to their hearts’ content. Their beloved Nelly wore a rug that read “Farewell Black Caviar, Thanks for the Memories.”

Following that, Nolen mounted his mighty steed one final time and took her for a canter up the Caulfield straight. Her saddle cloth read: BC25. It is almost certainly the last time Black Caviar will feel a saddle on her back, and it was definitely the final time her famed salmon and black silks will be seen on the track, as they were retired along with the champion.

What the future holds for Nelly as a broodmare, no one knows yet. But one thing will be as true 20 years from now as it is today: Black Caviar owes racing nothing, while racing owes Black Caviar far more than could ever be repaid.

About Black Caviar on Wikipedia

On September 13, 2014, Black Caviar gave birth to her first foal, a bay filly by Exceed and Excel. The foal is named Oscietra and is currently in training with the Hayes/Dabernig stables.
On 23 September 2015, Black Caviar gave birth to her second foal, a colt by Sebring. On September 18 2016, Black Caviar gave birth to her third foal, a filly by Snitzel.




- Equine drag racing

Amanda Duckworth Ruidoso Downs, Dan Dry, American Quarter Horse Association, Los alamitos

Drag racing on horse back. Pure speed. All horse. If you are looking for the fastest equine on Earth, look no further than the quarter horse. At their swiftest, racing quarter horses can exceed speeds of 55 miles per hour, meaning the only faster animals on the planet are the cheetah and the Pronghorn antelope. Of course, as the name implies, they are only at their best for a short distance.


Rest assured, a quarter horse is 100 % equine. The “quarter” refers to their preferred running distance, not their pedigree.
The first quarter horses were bred in the late 1600s and early 1700s in the American colonies in what is modern day Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Because those areas were heavily forested, there was no real space for horse racing. As a result, horses either raced down village streets, or they raced on a “quarter path” of about 440 yards that had been cut through the forest.

Champion caliber quarter horses can sprint 440 yards in 21 seconds, starting from a flat-footed standstill.

As result, colonists began breeding horses to run this distance. Many of the matings took place between mares they got from Chickasaw tribes and “blooded” stallions from England, which were the forerunners of the thoroughbred. The Chicksaw mares were of Spanish blood and traced back to Mexico and Spain.
This mix of Spanish and English blood more often than not resulted in a stocky, heavily-muscled horse that could sprint a quarter-mile faster than its competitors. The best of them were called the “Celebrated American Quarter Running Horses” and were the ancestors of today’s American Quarter Horse. As colonists moved west, the wild Mustang was added to the mix.

Where there is quarter horse racing you often find paint horse racing. The American Paint Horse is basically the same breed, but allow multi-colored horses with large parts of white coat.
Where there is quarter horse racing you often find paint horse racing. The American Paint Horse is basically the same breed, but allow multi-colored horses with large parts of white coat.

In 1940 a registry was formed to preserve the American Quarter Horse breed.
Through the passing decades, the American Quarter Horse has drawn the attention of horsemen the world over. Currently more than 30 different countries have full-fledged quarter horse associations that are affiliates of the American Quarter Horse Association.
“There are always exceptions in any breed, but quarter horses tend to have good, tractable dispositions, they are easily trainable, and they tend to be much more ‘people horses’ than other breeds,” the AQHA’s Richard Chamberlain explained. “Part of it is also the cultural aspect. One of the American icons known around the world is the cowboy. If you are interested in that kind of stuff, you are probably going to get a quarter horse.”


■ If you want to know what it is like to ride reigning world champion Cold Cash 123, visit, type in ColdCashWork7 22 12, and go along for the ride as the champion works 220 yards in 10:87.

■ The American Quarter Horse Associa­­tion is the largest equine breed registry in the world. It has registered more than 5 million horses since its inception in 1940.

■ There are 17 recognized colors of American Quarter Horses, including the most prominent color of sorrel (brownish red). The others are bay, black, brown, buckskin, chestnut, dun, red dun, gray, grullo, palomino, red roan, blue roan, bay roan, perlino and cremello.

■ Unlike thoroughbred breed registries which require foals to be the result of a “live cover,” the AQHA does allow artificial insemination and embryo transfers.

■ The breed has a smaller market share and smaller average purses that the thoroughbred market, meaning the average race-bred quarter horse yearling sells for less than $20,000 at auction. In 2011, a total of 16,724 horses started in an official quarter horse race in North America.

■ The current world record for the classic distance of 440 yards is: 20.274, set by First Moonflash in 2009. The record was set during the Grade 1 New Mexico Cham­pionship Challenge at Sunland Park.


Built for Speed
Racing quarter horses are bred for one thing: speed. Champion caliber quarter horses can sprint 440 yards in 21 seconds, starting from a flat-footed standstill.
“It is drag racing with horses,” said Chamberlain. “It is an all out sprint, and it is a pure test of speed. There is no laying back and waiting to make your move or any of that. They are the fastest horses on Earth, period. It is a different type of horse for a different type of racing.”

One of the easiest ways to understand the differences between a quarter horse and a thoroughbred is to think of Olympic runners. Picture a gold medal-winning sprinter like Usain Bolt, and now imagine a champion distance runner like Mo Farah. Both men are amazing athletes, but physically, they are completely different. Such is the difference between a typical quarter horse and a typical thoroughbred.

One Dashing Eagle won the 2012 All American Futurity. At that time the race was worth $2.4 million and is expected to carry a purse of $2.6 million in 2013.
One Dashing Eagle won the 2012 All American Futurity. At that time the race was worth $2.4 million and is expected to carry a purse of $2.6 million in 2013.

“The first thing most people notice is the fact quarter horses are much more heavily muscled, and they have a much heavier hip,” said Chamberlain. “That is where the engine is. Those first few strides are powered from the back. In human terms, the thoroughbred is like the guy that is a distance runner: long, lanky, skinny.”

The classic distance for champion quarter horses is 440 yards, but they can runner shorter and longer.
About the farthest you will see a racing quarter horse be asked to go is 1000 yards, but that is almost a novelty event. A “long distance” race for a quarter horse is usually 870 yards, which is about 10 yards short of a half-mile.
“They can be highly competitive at multiple levels,” said Ty Wyant, media relations director at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico. “But purses are much lower at 870 yards than the shorter distances, so you don’t see the high quality horses stretching out. Nobody breeds 870 yard horses, that just doesn’t happen. You would be broke in a hurry.”

Every sport has the end-all-be-all event to win, and for quarter horse enthusiasts, that race is the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs. The 440 yard contest is for 2-year-olds, and from its inception in 1959 it has been the banner quarter horse race. When Galobar won the first edition, it was worth $129,000, making it the richest purse ever offered in quarter horse racing.
Then in 1978 the All American Futurity became the world’s first $1-million race for any breed. The purse kept growing and in 1982, it became the first $2-million quarter horse race. In 2012, it carried a purse of $2.4 million, which was the richest race for a 2-year-old of any breed in North America. In 2013, the race is expected to be worth $2.6 million.

“The All American Futurity is the cornerstone showcase of quarter horse racing,” said Wyant. “It is the race everybody wants to win. We also have the premiere sale going on at the same time, so it is sort of like Keeneland and Saratoga combined. We have all the high priced yearlings and everybody is here.”

Ruidoso is also home to the All American Derby, a race for 3-year-olds, which is expected to have a purse of $2.5 million in 2013.
For those with older racing quarter horses, the race to win is the Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos Race Course in California. The Grade 1 race carries a purse of $750,000, making it the richest event for older horses in the nation. In total 27 of the 40 winners have been crowned World Champions since the race’s inception in 1972.

Some of the legends
Perhaps one of the best known American Quarter Horses of all-time is the great Refrigerator, who won the All American Futurity and is the only three-time winner of the Champion of Champions.

During a Hall of Fame career that spanned from 1990 until 1995, Refrigerator won 22 of 36 starts for his owner, former AQHA president Jim Helzer, and retired as the sport’s all-time leading money earner. In all, he was a champion 10 times and was named the sport’s world champion twice.
The gelding, who was named after William Perry, the defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears, retired in 1996. Tragically, Refrigerator died at the age of 11 after he suffered a traumatic head injury while in rope horse training. He was euthanized in February 1999 and buried during a private ceremony at the Helzer’s JEH Stallion Station near Pilot Point, TX.

Another American Quarter Horse legend is Easy Jet. From 1969-1970, Easy Jet won 27 of 38 lifetime starts and went on to be one of the sport’s most prolific sires. The world champion’s influence is so strong that even though he died in 1992, Easy Jet is still the sport’s all-time leading sire by wins and is No. 6 by money earned.

When it comes to quarter horse stallions, though, a horse named First Down Dash is alone at the top. A world champion runner in his own right, First Down Dash is the sport’s all-time leading sire by money earned.


Nuts and bolts
One of the reasons the American Quarter Horse has gained such popularity is because of the versatility of the breed.
“In general, it is also the greatest cow horse on earth,” said Chamberlain. “There are a few lines in the quarter horse breed that produce extreme speed, and these are the ones we race. But there are other lines in the breed that produce extreme agility and athletic ability. These are the cow horses, the cutting horses, the ranch-type horses. They don’t have the ability to run a quarter mile in :21 flat but they can jump out of a roping box and catch calf or run a barrel pattern. They have quickness as opposed to ultimate speed.”

While many breeds are extremely strict about preserving bloodlines, the AQHA does allow quarter horses to be bred to thoroughbreds.
If a registered quarter horse mare is bred to a registered thoroughbred stallion, or vice versa, the resulting foal still gets quarter horse papers. As a result, the racing quarter horse has a lot of thoroughbred blood in it, but there are some restrictions.
These hybrid quarter horses are “appendix” registered. If an appendix quarter horse goes on to perform well enough to get a register of merit, then that horse is advanced from the appendix registry to the permanent registry.

Perhaps this continued infusion of thoroughbred blood is part of the reason many of America’s best known thoroughbred trainers cut their teeth in the quarter horse world. For example, while Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert are best known for their Ken­tucky Derby victories, they got their start with quarter horses.

In fact, many racetracks in the United States will host cards that feature both thoroughbred and quarter horse races. In some cases, the breeds are allowed to race against each other.
“I can’t give you a number, but I can tell you there are a whole bunch thoroughbred trainers that started with quarter horses,” said Chamberlain. “When you start with quarter horses, it is a much smaller world and there is less money in it. Very often, the trainer is doing it all himself. He is the guy getting under the horse and doing up the legs; he is washing the horse; he is literally doing everything except riding races. It leads to a much more fully developed all around level of horsemanship. You learn a lot.”


of Royal Ascot 2012

Mats Genberg Alan Crowhurst/gettyimages

Royal Ascot is always that … Royal.
But never was it more Royal than 2012.
We don’t talk about the fact that Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee after 60 years on the British throne. We refer to fact that this celebration was highlighted by the King & Queen of the Turf. Frankel & Black Caviar.





The two biggest stars racing has seen in many years. The two highest rated horses in the world. Racing on the same course.
The same week. At the Royalest Ascot ever.

Frankel is ”The King.” No question. No matter what some people in Memphis might think. And even if he (just as the Graceland owner) never has performed outside his own country, the facts speak for themselves.

The King came to Ascot and The Queen Anne Stakes with 10 wins in 10 races and the highest rating in the world. He faced two of the five highest rated 3-year-olds in the world. And he destroyed them. With three furlongs left to go it was clear to all ”The King has left the building.”

Frankel bid the others a good day and went home. Passing the finnish line on the way – 11 lengths before anyone else.

In what has been described as ”possibly the greatest performance in Thoroughbred History.” The result? A rating of 147 by Time-form. 142 by Racing Post. Both are the highest ever given to any horse by each organization. And the day after the victory his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, mentioned that Frankel lost a shoe during the last part of the race. It doesn’t get a whole lot more Royal than that.

Not even at Ascot.

Facts about Frankel


Black Caviar

Unbeaten with 21 wins in Aust-ralia. The thunder from Down Under. The magic mare Black Caviar. The one that makes the country stop when she runs. Still not completely trusted in the UK.

Was she as good as they said?

BC’s trip was covered by Oz media in a way that hasn’t been seen since when Beatles went to the U.S. in the ’60s. Filmcrews watched her get on and off the plane. Cameras followed every step. And thousands of people gathered in front of Jumbo-Trons in Australia to see the Diamond Jubliee Stakes.

Her job was to go out there and win. Odds were 1,3 to 1.

But the 1,200 metres on Ascot were tougher than expected. BC was not in her normal swing, and jockey Luke Nolen didn’t have his best day.

But the biggest remains – she won. By a nose, but she won.

Beating multiple Group 1 winners after a 16,000 km trip. With (as we learned later on) muscle tissue problems. As we see it, that’s about as Royal as it gets.

Facts about Black Caviar



Mats Genberg Andrew Watkins, Stefan Olsson, Mats Genberg

It all started in the Middle East. The bedouins there had a different kind of warfare. Something the crusaders from Europe soon discover – the hard way.


The heavily armed knights on heavy horses were sitting ducks to the swiftly moving bedouins on their fast, purebred Arabians. Not to mention, the bedouins were trained in what can most easily be described as hit-and-run tactics. Why? Because they realized that in order to come out on top in battle one must have the right equipment and the right training.

The equipment – the Purebred Arabian. The training – horse racing.


Clever crusaders from Europe soon realized that those keys to success could be copied. Arabian horses were brought back to Europe in order to add the necessary speed to domestic horses. And thus, what was to become known as ”the Thoroughbred” was created. The concepts of selective breeding and horse racing as a training tool became the norm in the West, too. Long before racing evolved into a spectator sport

But now the original racehorse is striking back. Globally, Arabian racing is quite possibly the fastest growing type of racing.

”Many have the idea of the Purebred Arab being a horse bred for its beauty, but that is completely wrong.” Those words belong to Mohammed Al Nujaifi. Al Nujaifi, who is a Doctor of Agricultural Management at Oxford University, also owns a 20,000 acre farm in the north of Iraq. Here his family has bred Purebred Arabians for some 300 years.

There has never been a tradition of breeding for subjective beauty in this part of the world. That started in the west about 100 years ago when machine guns and motorized armies made the war horse redundant. In turn, rich people found themselves with horses they did not really know what to to do with …

”My research shows that racing has been the primary breeding selection tool for all breeding of Purebred Arabians in this region,” said Al Nujaifi.

In the Middle East, European-style racing took off in the early 20th century. The horses used at the hippodromes in North Africa, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey were often Arabians. And even if racing in Europe primarily became an affair for the Thoroughbred, there was a place for Arabian racing even there._dsc0724

In France, Poland and Russia, Arabian Racing found its place in the regular racing scene about the same time. Later on, Arab horse enthusiasts who were inspired by Poland’s programme managed to get Arabian racing started in a number of other countries. In the ’80s and ’90s, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, started an Arabian racing avalanche in the countries around the Persian Gulf. Today, the International Federation of Arabian Horse Racing (IFAHR) counts more than 20 members.


”Arabian racing can be said to very polarized,” said Genny Haynes, Director of the Arabian Racing Organisation in the UK.

And the expansion is not stopping

”On one hand we have the very wealthy people from the Middle East who are both active as sponsors, owners and breeders. And on the other hand we have the very small private owners who often train their own horses. This has created a very interesting global community feeling that is unlike anything else I have seen in the racing world. And one that itself has led to new people coming to the sport. There is a comradeship that I find quite unique. And where the big players actually help the small to survive – not least through various sponsorship programmes.”

Same but different

Arabian racing is exactly the same sport as Thoroughbred racing, only with another breed of horses. In several countries, a race day features half Arabian races and half Thoroughbred races. But more often than not, there is one Arabian race ”on the card.”

Today Arabian races are a part of several of the biggest race meetings, at the most prestigeous race courses in the world: The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, King George-day at Ascot, Preakness day at Pimlico, Dubai World Cup day at Meydan. They all have Arabian Races on the ”card.”
There are several Arabian races with purses of $ 1 million or more.

Erwan Charpy has been training both breeds for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum in Dubai for many years.

”Arabians are a little bit smaller and about 10% slower than an average Thoroughbred,” he said. ”But a good Arab on a fast track can easily be quicker than a lower rated Thoroughbred on a slow track. The difference is shrinking as the breeding gets better.”

Charpy who grew up at one of France’s National Studs has very warm feelings towards Arabians.

”They can be picky about the jockey, and with one rider on board they won’t run at all, whereas the same horse will go through fire for another rider.”

”They are different from Thoroughbreds,” he said. ”They seem to pay more attention to detail and have more integrity. They can be picky about the jockey, and with one rider on board they won’t run at all, whereas the same horse will go through fire for another rider.”

Many Arabian trainers say that you can’t tell an Arabian what to do. You have to ask it to do it for you.

In return, when an Arabian has taken you into its heart, you are there to stay.

A three-horse photo finish during the inaugural running of the Qatar Arabian World Cup on “Arc Day” in Paris 2008. Today, the race is worth €700,000.
A three-horse photo finish during the inaugural running of the Qatar Arabian World Cup on “Arc Day” in Paris 2008. Today, the race is worth €1.000,000.

Why Arabians?

While Thoroughbreds are allowed to run their first races at the age of 2, Arabians must not race until they are 3-years-old. But on the other hand, it is not uncommon to see a 10-year-old Arabian going to post.

”They are strong horses,” Charpy said. ”Less prone to injury and they are more easily fed. They also seem to be much more adaptable when it comes to distances. You often find the same horse racing from 1,000 to 2,000 meters.”

Many people who train Arabians do it from farms far way from race tracks. Dutch trainer Karin van den Bos does most of her fast work on a beach of the North Sea and races her horses with great success all over Europe.

”They don’t need fancy facilities,” she said. ”On the contrary; I feel that training in a varied environment is the best for them. It makes them strong and keeps them happy.”

In general there are smaller purses in Arabian racing than in those for Thoroughbreds. But, keep in mind the prices for the horses are also lower.

”It is often possible to compete on an international level with a homebred horse,” said van den Bos. ”Stud fees are rarely higher than a few thousand Euro and you can get a very good broodmare for about €10,000.”

Now, new players and more money are rapidly coming into Arabian racing. Sheikhs and organizations from the UAE and Qatar are investing heavily. The biggest event was when Qatar took over the sponsorship of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris on one condition: that there would be an Arabian race on the day. The Qatar Arabian World Cup is now run directly after The Arc – and has a purse of €1.000,000.

”This is our culture,” said Sami Al Boenain, chairman of the IFAHR.

”These horses are our pride and racing is where they show what they are made for. We have 50,000 people at Longchamp who love the Arabian race!”

The racing establishment has sometimes expressed fear that Arabian racing could be harmful to betting and other sources of revenue, but this has been proven to be wrong. In many cases the betting on Arabians is higher than on Thoroughbred races on the same card. In another effort to bring Arabian racing to the West, the Emirates Equestrian Federation in Abu Dhabi has recently sponsored races at classic American racecourses such as Churchill Downs and Pimlico.

”Arabians add that little difference that is needed in order to create an exciting raceday today,” said Neil Abrahams, the head of racing at the federation in Abu Dhabi.

”They are ’horses of a different colour’ – literally speaking.”

It is easy to go international in Arabian Racing.

At least five different sponsorship programmes are at hand to encourage international exchange.

HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nayhan Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival

Inlcudes four different series



A series for the best Arabian horses in 10 cities on five continents. Including Australia.


About 30 races aimed at local owners in 11 countries.



A world series  invited female riders.



A world series  for invited apprentoce jockeys

All  these races have their finals in Abu Dhabi in November, when all participating riders are invited.



This series includes Ireland and Russia and has introduced Arabian Racing on legendary tracks such as Churchil Downs. Purses up to €50,000.


TRUE COLOURS – your design on your horse

Mats Genberg Photo Trevor Jones/, Jon franklin,

Formula 1 cars. Soccer teams. Corporations. Everyone’s got identifying colours today. But the tradition of colours may be the oldest in horse racing. Racing authorities require that every horse owner registers a unique colour-and-pattern combination, called silks. It’s a tradition that was started more than a hundred years ago, and that goes back all the way to the knights.


IIn horse racing, all owners design their own unique silks, which are then worn by the jockeys riding their horses. You make up a colour and pattern, submit your silks for approval with the horse racing federation and wait for approval. If the silks aren’t already being used, you are normally approved and can have the silks sewn up.

You can have one pattern on the chest, another on the arms and a third on the cap. Stars, stripes, rhombi, polka dots and other patterns in different colours. The combinations are endless.

The most desirable are the single-coloured, distinguished silks, especially in the sport’s home country, England. In the UK (where there are auctions for sought after license plates!) there are auctions for the privilege to ride in certain silks in horse racing.

There are those who are willing to go far to get silks in the colours they really want their jockeys to ride in.

Susan Magnier, of the family behind the world’s leading breeding empire, Coolmore, is one of them. In 2000 at a Sothebys auction, she paid 69 000 pounds for the right to race in all pink silks!

When the British arrange auctions of attractive horse owner silks, you will see prices up to £69,000. That doesn’t include the silks as such, just the right to compete in them.
When the British arrange auctions of attractive horse owner silks, you will see prices up to £69,000. That doesn’t include the silks as such, just the right to compete in them.

Bear in mind that this wasn’t Ms Magnier’s first silks: she already had all-dark blue silks registered. The new pink silks are used only when she has two horses in race – a couple of times per year.

Auction program
Auction program

In 2005 the British Horse Racing Authority put bronze-coloured silks up for auction at Sotheby’s. The starting bid was GBP 60 000, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s sons were willing to pay. The next year, all-grey silks were up for auction for the same amount, GBP60 000.

The auctioneer, Graham Budd, said: ”Each time single-coloured silks are on the market, the request is big. Some of the large horse owners have them, and it’s seen as prestigious to race in them.”

All this began in the early 1760’s, when it became mandatory to register your silks. In 1762 the Jockey Club in England registered 17 different silks, “to more easily be able to recognise the horses in races and even to prevent disputes to begin as a result of not be able to identify the riders.”

In 1766 the use of silks spread to “the Colonies” (now the U.S.A.), when the Philadelphia Jockey Club first registered silks.

Royal Silks

Some of the silks in the world have their own history.

In 1875 the Royal Silks were registered by Queen Victoria: purple jacket with red arms, golden strings on the chest and a black velvet cap with a golden tassel (the golden tassel Her Majesty’s idea). The silks are still seen often, as Queen Elizabeth II is a majoir horse racing enthusiast and owner.

The Queen Elizabeth II in True Colours

In 1788 the 13th Earl of Derby (called Lord Derby) chose his black silks with a white hat. These are still used by the Derby family. The silks actually are not only a black jacket with a white cap, but black with a white button and a white cap. Those details are not registered, but the button has a good story behind it: In 1924 Tommy Weston rode the Lord Derby’s (The 17th Earl of Derby) horse to victory in the English Derby. In that race he wore what appeared to be a white button on Lord Derby’s black silks: in a hurry, Weston had accidentally buttoned the jacket with his white scarf covering one of the buttons. Since that day, the button has always been part of the silks.

Military Influence

Horse racing had its western beginnings in the military: in that sense, uniforms were the de facto first silks.

In Sweden horse racing from its beginning was a sport for officers, and the riders wore their uniforms. By the late 1800s, special jockey silks began to appear and even here some where Royal. All black and a silver tassel on the cap belonged to Prince Gustaf Adolf, father to the current King Carl XVI Gustaf, during the 1920s and 30s, when he successfully rode jump races on his own horses. Prince Gustaf Adolf was actually the second-best amateur rider in 1930, with five victories in jump races!

Who has silks?

All horse owners must have a unique colour combination on their silks. And a combination of owners is considered a new owner. If, for example, Mrs Smith owns a horse, she has her own silks. If she owns a horse with her cousin Mr Jones, and the horse is registered with “Mrs Smith & Mr Jones” as owner then that “stable” must have its own silks, even if it’s only the colour on the cap that is different.

Designing silks is fun. Is a horse owned by a company that has a graphic profile? Are there any symbols or colours that have a special meaning to you? Are the colours you consider visible?

From a long distance, it can be difficult to see the difference between dark green, burgundy or marine blue. But pink and yellow might not suit everyone…

The combinations are plenty, even though there is now a European agreement that prevents too much creativity in the patterns. There’s still some variety: for coloured jackets, 25 different body details are available, plus 10 different patterns for the arms and eight different for the caps. You are also allowed to use any of 23 different colours in the creation of new silks.

John Henry

Everyhorse, for Everyman

Marion E. Altieri Kentucky horse park

Many contemporary equine heroes are the inspiration for sentimental  movies and posters on little girls’ boudoir walls. John Henry, on the other hand, was the archetype, the encouragement, for Everyman.


The story of American Thoroughbred racing legend John Henry is a metaphor for America itself: Brash. Bold. Confident to the point of being arrogant. Charging in. Greatness grown from humble beginnings. Youthful exuberance. Of all the horses who’ve passed through the American equine pantheon, John Henry is the one who most symbolized the virtue of being blue-collar in a gold-collar world—the rough-and-tumble, poorly-pedigreed horse came from obscurity to become the highest-earning Thoroughbred, with more accolades and awards than his owner’s mantle could hold. John Henry was a man’s man. He was a woman’s man. He did life on his own terms and apologized for nothing. He was irascible, nasty and opinionated. He exemplified the term, ”grit”: an aggressive child, he became tougher as he grew into an awkward, smallish donkey of a horse.

If this is your first encounter with the legendary horse, this description may seem harsh-—but it’s an honest assessment. And John Henry, who died at age 32 in 2007 at the Kentucky Horse Park, was nothing if not honest. He raced 83 times and came in the money 63 of those races. He graced winner’s circles 39 times in all. He ran hard and hated to lose.
Truly, he exemplified the notion that anyone, regardless of breeding or advantages, could make it.


The great hero spent the last 22 years of his life being adored by legions of fans at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
The great hero spent the last 22 years of his life being adored by legions of fans at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.


From Humble Beginnings …

He came into the world in 1975, sans fanfare or great expectations. His parentage was nothing special. In a sport that’s pedigree-crazy—millions paid for an untested yearling who happens to be the product of an accomplished sire or dam—John Henry was a disappointment from his inception. His sire, Ole Bob Bowers, didn’t do anything of note on the track. (Although, to be fair, it should be noted here that both Princequillo and Bull Lea were Ole Bob Bowers’ grandsires.) Once Double, John Henry’s dam, wasn’t noteworthy either as a runner or as a producer (although her sire, Double Jay, was a fabulously fast graded stakes winner).

But all-in-all, the little foal who dropped onto the ground at Golden Chance Farm that cold March day had no reason to raise hopes for his breeder or owner: at the January 1976 Keene-land Mixed Sale, he sold for $1,000—a pittance. And the little horse with no name was nothing to look at that day: small and plainly-bred, he was a mess when he stepped into the sales’ ring. He had long hair and a weak chest. Was back at the knee and had blood all over his face from hitting his head in his stall just before he was brought out. It’s a wonder that even $1,000 was paid for the undersized yearling. But John Calloway saw at least something in him, so $1,000 exchanged hands and the nameless horse was on the first leg of the journey that would take him to racing stardom.


”John Henry came into this world doomed. He left it with millions of fans for whom his awkward head had become the embodiment of beauty, itself”


What’s in a Name? Destiny

Calloway is credited with naming the horse after an American folk legend, John Henry, The ”steel-driving man.” The horse, even as a youngster, had a habit of grabbing the steel water buckets off the wall of his stalls and stomping them flat. He was gelded both for his poor breeding and for his temperament. (Obviously the gelding did nothing to affect his attitude.) Did this horse have anger issues? No doubt. Could he be trained to channel that rage into something positive, and breathtakingly beautiful? Absolutely.

(Note here that the human John Henry was black, probably a slave or prisoner. The very fact that a black American hero grew out of 19th Century American mythology – at a time when civil rights wasn’t even a glimmer of a thought – is an indication of the power of the archetype. The power of such an archetype is the defining truth of these two beings who shared a name: that, being of disadvantaged birth, one could become a legend, a folk song, an American Hero. And the other, a racing Champion of monstrous proportion, the yardstick by which other horses are measured.)


No, a Champion, as John Henry proved time and again, is born—not of great parentage, but of spark, guts, spirit and sheer will.
No, a Champion, as John Henry proved time and again, is born—not of great parentage, but of spark, guts, spirit and sheer will.

Conformation of the Soul

His physical conformation never changed, of course: it was his attitude, his heart-—those untouchable attributes that define the difference between a horse who ends up pulling an Amish buggy and one of the greatest Thoroughbred Champions of all time. Lovers of all horse breeds know about heart: it can’t be touched with the hands, but we know it when we see it. John Henry came into this world doomed. He left it with millions of fans for whom his awkward head had become the embodiment of beauty, itself. It was that heart that gave him the drive to run faster, farther than hundreds of competitors. It was something from so far down in the horse’s self that probably even he didn’t understand it, he just went with it.

Eighty-three times John Henry entered a race, and 39 of those times, he chewed up his opponents and spit them out. Eighty-three entries is remarkable, by today’s American racing standards: many American horses who’ve received Eclipse Awards raced no more than five times last year. Most three-year-olds who did reasonably well in 2011 are now retired to stud or broodmare duty. John Henry, being a gelding, had no such lush retirement on the horizon: he raced through his ninth year, and resoundingly won six of his nine entries that year. Proving that Thoroughbreds really do get better with age—at least, that Thoroughbred – he would not be the poster boy for early retirement of a horse.

A Racing Record Par Excellence

From that first sale at Keeneland until Sam Rubin found him, John Henry bounced around from owner to owner until he was three. But then Sam Rubin bought him for $25,000, sight-unseen, in 1978, and the tide began to turn. The three-year-old had achieved a bit on the track at that point, but no records had been broken, no predictions of greatness made. His so-so race record was no doubt attributable to his unstable lifestyle.

Sam Rubin knew nothing about horses—he thought that ”gelding” was a color. Rubin needed guidance and insight from someone who knew horses, including colors. At first the horse was under the tutelage of trainer Robert Donato, who saw the horse’s grass potential. (He was small, but he had big feet.) Donato took the horse successfully to six straight victories that year, for a total of $120,000—and from cheap claimer to stakes winner. This was a tremendous leap for the awkward little horse who had been dismissed at birth.

The next year the owner and trainer had a disagreement on policy and parted company, and John Henry was given to a new trainer, Lefty Nickerson. With Nickerson, he won four of eleven races in 1979, but when the grass season in New York was over, Rubin suggested sending his horse to California. Nickerson believed that his friend, Ron McAnally, should be entrusted with the horse with rising potential. By now John Henry was four, and had earned $239,613. This new arrangement was a match made in Heaven – or at least in the Racing Hall of Fame. The team of McAnally and John Henry won 27 of 45 races, and earned $6,358,334 by the time the 83rd race was run and won. Apparently John Henry trusted McAnally as much as he could trust a human. And the trainer knew how to work with such a horse, to take that powerful rage and properly shapeshift it into the relief of running fast, far and leaving the competition in the dust.

What did John Henry accomplish?

At the age of five – five is the age at which Thoroughbreds are fully grown – John Henry discovered himself. It was as if he’d found his footing, and his role in Life. The lightbulb went off, and he Got It. That year his star shot up into the sky, as he won the Hialeah Turf Cup, San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Rey and the Oak Tree Invitational. In 1980, John Henry won $925,217 and was given the Eclipse Award for named champion male turf horse.

The horse was on a roll: at age seven, John Henry won the first of his two consecutive Santa Anita Handicaps; the San Luis Rey; the inaugural Arlington Million and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. He racked up many honors, including Eclipse Awards for champion male turf horse, champion older horse, and Horse of the Year. His earnings for 1981 totaled $1,798,030.

But at age six, John Henry was far from done—he had races to win, and money to take from his rivals. His eighth and ninth years did not see him slowing down—if anything, he got better with age. This flies in the face, completely, of the American ”wisdom” that dictates that a good horse’s best days are during that third year. As an 8-year-old, he won the American Handicap and the Hollywood Turf Cup. He was also named champion male turf horse. As if to put an exclamation point on his bold statement of superiority, John Henry won—earned–$2,336,650 when he was nine years old. That is absolutely unheard-of in American Thoroughbred racing. In fact, many three-year-olds retire with a bankroll that size after two successful years–and use the figure as bragging rights in the stallion advertising pages. In that ninth, final season of racing, John Henry won the Golden Gate Handicap, Hollywood Invitational, Sunset Handicap, Budweiser Arlington Million, Turf Classic and Ballantine’s Scotch Classic. That year he trounced the competition in these six extraordinary races, and was once again named Eclipse Champion Male Turf Horse and Horse of the Year.


Retirement and the Final Race: Elysian Fields

So how did retirement set with John Henry, whose only documentable moments of joy were known running with the wind in his mane and his back-end facing his opponents? Rather well, as it turns out. The great hero spent the last 22 years of his life being adored by legions of fans at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. From his stall in the Hall of Champions, John could nip those foolish enough to stick their hands through the stall bars and neigh jealously when Cigar or another warrior was being admired. He was as close to his public as he’d ever been—at last, the throngs who’d worshipped him at the track could get (almost) up-close and personal with the one horse in racing who genuinely represented The Average Guy.

With his own (large) paddock outside his backdoor, John Henry could run around, enjoying the luscious Kentucky sunshine, tearing the famous Blue Grass out of the ground and impressing visitors with his prowess. His ability to show off the moves that brought him fame and fortune diminished nary a bit through the years, until the summer of 2007, when kidney problems set in following a vicious heat wave that sapped him of his energy and ability to process fluids correctly. This writer met him in person just four days before he was euthanized in early October that year—and even four days before his end, he was standing; interacting intelligently and genuinely; and eating and drinking with the voracity of a pirate on shore leave. If he was in pain, he didn’t let on—he was true-to-form right to the end.

John Henry was euthanized at 7:05PM on October 8th, 2007, surrounded by many who loved him. Jockey Chris McCarron, who’d ridden the warrior horse in many remarkable stakes races, had the opportunity to spend several hours with him before the veterinarian arrived. He was buried on the night of his death, in front of the Hall of Champions and right in front of his paddock. Above him there is a stone inscribed with these words,
”If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane, I’d walk right up to Heaven, and bring you home again.”

(John Henry may have thought that tribute to be a bit too sentimental for his cavalier taste, but it befits the ache in the hearts of those humans who knew and love him. We fans of John Henry love him because-of and in-spite-of his infamously incorrigible personality.)

There is also a statue of him standing proudly—how else could he be depicted?—holding court, staring at the throngs that flocked to see him wherever he appeared. Engraved under the bronze are the words used to describe his classic brilliance in his 1984 Arlington Million win: ”John Henry, A Living Legend.”

John Henry statue by Nina Kaiser
John Henry’s life siza statue statue at Santa Anita Park by Nina Kaiser. Stand 15.2 hands and weights 1,000 lbs!

John Henry was living, breathing, kicking proof that pedigree doesn’t tell the whole story. Contemporary horse purveyors and buyers would do well to look only as far back as 1975 – 1984 to realize that a horse is as good as he thinks he is. No amount of math, science, ritual or genetic calculations can accurately predict if the mating of This Mare with This Sire will produce That Champion. We have ample examples of horses who brought millions of dollars, only to trip over their own feet the first time they walk out of the stall, and languish with a lifetime of bucked shins.

Anyone can buy pedigree, but no one can buy a Champion if the horse doesn’t have the soul of a predator.

No, a Champion, as John Henry proved time and again, is born—not of great parentage, but of spark, guts, spirit and sheer will. There was no reason, by conventional breeding ”wisdom,” why John Henry should have done anything other than cross the road with some level of intelligence. Truly he represents America more than perhaps many Americans would wish to admit. Many in the US have risen from a birth of ashes to prominence and uncountable wealth—but they work hard to hide the story of their humble start. If anything, John Henry would have them proudly display their blue-collar heritage, because it is that gritty beginning, that hard-knocking, ugly-duckling determination—that is the stuff of a true Champion.


Anyone can buy pedigree, but no one can buy (with any degree of accuracy) a Champion if the horse doesn’t have the soul of a predator. Indeed John Henry was a predator, a hero, an example for Everyman. He was born a serf, and died the Emperor in the Sport of Kings.