Native Dancer (March 27, 1950 – November 16, 1967), nicknamed the Grey Ghost, was one of the most celebrated and accomplished Thoroughbred racehorses in history and was the first horse made famous through the medium of television. As a two-year-old, he was undefeated in his nine starts for earnings of $230,495, a record for a two-year-old. During his three years of racing, he won 21 of 22 starts.
Native Dancer was foaled at Scott Farm near Lexington, Kentucky. He was raised and trained at owner Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Jr.'s Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Maryland. Native Dancer was a big, solid grey horse by the 1945 Preakness Stakes winner, Polynesian, out of Geisha by Discovery. Geisha also produced Native Dancer's half-sister Orientation; she was the dam of three stakes winners: Initiate ($73,311), Undulation ($52,714) and Citizenship.
In his first season of racing, Native Dancer won all nine starts. He was voted the American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt for 1952, with two of the three major polls naming him Horse of the Year. He topped a poll by Turf and Sport Digest magazine, receiving 110 votes compared to 38 for his nearest rival One Count, and was also named Horse of the Year by the Thoroughbred Racing Association. He had finished second to One Count in a separate poll organised by the publishers of Daily Racing Form.
In his three-year-old campaign, Native Dancer received a great deal of media attention leading up to the 1953 Kentucky Derby. He won the Gotham Mile and the prestigious Wood Memorial, but in the Kentucky Derby, he lost for the only time in his career. Although jockey Eric Guerin was roundly criticized in the press ("he took that colt everywhere on the track except the ladies' room" was one comment), Native Dancer was fouled twice during the race and lost narrowly to Dark Star. To date, Native Dancer is one of only two "Dual Classic Winners" to come from the State of Maryland (the other was Kauai King, who won the 1966 Kentucky Derby and Preakness). Native Dancer is also one of only eleven Maryland-bred colts to win a US Triple Crown race.
Following his loss at Churchill Downs, Native Dancer won the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes, and the Travers Stakes, a feat accomplished until then only by Duke of Magenta, Man o' War, and Whirlaway, and by only two other horses since. Native Dancer never lost again that season and was named Champion Three Year Old Colt.
In 1954, Native Dancer won all three races he entered and was scheduled to be shipped to France to compete in the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. However, he was retired as a result of a recurring foot injury with a record of 21 wins out of 22 lifetime races. Native Dancer was voted the United States Horse of the Year for 1954, beating High Gun by 19 votes to 11 in the Daily Racing Form poll and winning the TRA award for the second time. He appeared on the May 31 cover of Time magazine. Many consider the "Grey Ghost of Sagamore" to have been the first Thoroughbred television star and TV Guide ranked him as a top icon of the era".
At stud, Native Dancer sired 43 stakes winners from 306 foals and is an ancestor of countless modern champions. His tail-male descendants, particularly through his grandson Mr. Prospector, have dominated the US Triple Crown races. He is also damsire of Northern Dancer, arguably the most influential stallion of the 20th century.
Among Native Dancer's offspring are:
- Dan Cupid – won Prix du Bois and other stakes races in France; sire of Sea-Bird (won Epsom Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe). Sea-Bird earned 145, the second highest end-of-year Timeform rating in history.
- Dancer's Image - won 1968 Kentucky Derby (disqualified)
- Gala Performance - won Jim Dandy Stakes: sire of steeplechasers, including West Tip, the winner of the 1986 Aintree Grand National.
- Good Move - won Selima Stakes etc.
- Hula Dancer - raced in France and England where her wins included a British Classic Race, the 1,000 Guineas
- Kauai King - won the 1966 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes
- Natalma - dam of Northern Dancer
- Native Charger - won the 1965 Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby
- Native Prince – won Great American Stakes etc.
- Native Street - multiple stakes wins including the 1966 Kentucky Oaks
- Protanto - multiple stakes wins including the 1971 Whitney Stakes
- Raise a Native - important sire of Majestic Prince, Alydar, Mr. Prospector, as well as Exclusive Native, who sired Affirmed and Genuine Risk
- Secret Step – won King George Stakes and July Cup etc. in England
- Shenanigans - Dam of the champion filly Ruffian
- Street Dancer won Santa Ana Handicap etc.
Native Dancer was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1963. He died on November 16, 1967, following the removal of a tumor on the wall of the small intestine and was buried at Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Maryland.
In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th century, Native Dancer was ranked #7. In the Associated Press rankings of the greatest racehorses of the 20th century, he was ranked #3, tied with Citation, behind only Man o' War and Secretariat.
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- Ahnert (editor in chief), Rainer L. (1970). Thoroughbred Breeding of the World. Germany: Pozdun Publishing. pp. 426–7.
- "Native Dancer Horse of the Year". St. Petersburg Times. 1952-12-20. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
- Roach, James (1952-12-05). "VANDERBILT COLT IS HORSE OF YEAR". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
- "Name One Count Horse of the Year". Greensburg Daily Tribune. 1952-11-24. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
- Simon, Mary (2003). Racing Through the Century: The Story of Thoroughbred Racing in America. BowTie Press. ISBN 1-889540-92-7.
- "Native Dancer Horse of Year". St. Joseph News-Press. 1954-11-27. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
- Roach, James (1954-12-03). "Native Dancer Named Horse of Year". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
- "Native Dancer (USA) - offspring". Australian Stud Book. Australian Turf Club Limited and Victoria Racing Club Limited. Retrieved 9 September 2011.
- Montgomery, E.S, "The Thoroughbred", Arco, New York, 1973 ISBN 0-668-02824-6
- Morris, Simon; Tesio Power 2000 - Stallions of the World, Syntax Software
- Boyd, Eva Jolene (2000), Native Dancer, Lexington, KY: Eclipse Press, ISBN 1-58150-048-3.
- Eisenberg, John (2003), Native Dancer: The Grey Ghost, Hero of a Golden Age, New York: Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-53070-0.