Northern Dancer

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Northern Dancer
Northerndancer2.jpg
Sire Nearctic
Grandsire Nearco
Dam Natalma
Damsire Native Dancer
Sex Stallion
Foaled May 27, 1961
Windfields Farm
Oshawa, Ontario
Died November 16, 1990(1990-11-16) (aged 29)
Windfields Farm
Chesapeake City, Maryland
Country Canada
Colour Bay
Breeder Edward P. Taylor
Owner Windfields Farm
Colors: Turquoise, gold dots on sleeves, gold cap
Trainer Horatio Luro
Record 18: 14–2–2[1]
Earnings $580,647[a]
Major wins

Summer Stakes (1963)
Coronation Futurity Stakes (1963)
Remsen Stakes (1963)
Flamingo Stakes (1964)
Florida Derby (1964)
Blue Grass Stakes (1964)
Queen's Plate (1964)

American Classics wins:
Kentucky Derby (1964)
Preakness Stakes (1964)
Awards
U.S. Champion 3-Yr-Old Colt (1964)
Canadian Horse of the Year (1964)
Canadian Champion Two-Year-Old (1963)
Canadian Champion Three-Year-Old (1964)
Leading sire in North America (1971, 1977[b])
Leading broodmare sire in North America (1991)
Leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland
(1970, 1977, 1983, 1984)
Honours
Canada's Sports Hall of Fame (1965)
Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame (1976)
United States Racing Hall of Fame (1976)
Canadian postage stamp (1999)
Northern Dancer Blvd. in Toronto, Ontario
Northern Dancer Dr. in Warwick, Maryland
Life-size statue at Woodbine Racetrack
Northern Dancer Turf Stakes at Woodbine
Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill
Northern Dancer Plate at Hyderabad Race Club (India)

Northern Dancer (May 27, 1961 – November 16, 1990) was a Canadian-bred Thoroughbred racehorse who won the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and became one of the most successful sires of the 20th century. He is considered a Canadian icon, and was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1965. Induction into the Racing Hall of Fame in both Canada and the United States followed in 1976. As a competitor, The Blood-Horse ranks him as one of the top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred champions of the 20th century. A sire of sires, he is the leading male-line progenitor of modern Thoroughbreds.

At age two, Northern Dancer won the Summer Stakes and the Coronation Futurity in Canada and the Remsen Stakes in New York, and was named the Canadian Champion Two-Year-Old Colt.

At three, he started the year with wins in the Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. Northern Dancer then became the first Canadian-bred to ever win the Kentucky Derby, following up with a win in the Preakness Stakes. With a chance at the American Triple Crown, he would finish third in the Belmont Stakes. Returning to Canada for a hero's welcome, he then won the Queen's Plate in his last race.

Northern Dancer retired to stud in 1965 at Windfields Farm in Canada. He was an immediate success when his first crop reached racing age in 1968, but it was the success of his second crop, led by English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky II, who brought his name to the international stage. Northern Dancer was relocated to the Maryland branch of Windfields Farm, where he became the most sought-after sire of his time.

Background[edit]

Northern Dancer was a bay stallion, sired by Nearctic and out of the mare Natalma, whose sire was Native Dancer.[4] Northern Dancer's paternal grandsire was the English-based horse Nearco, two-time Leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland.[5] In 1952, Edward P. Taylor, Canadian business magnate and owner of Windfields Farm, attended the December sale at Newmarket, England, where he purchased the Irish mare Lady Angela, a daughter of six-time leading sire Hyperion. In 1953, Taylor had Lady Angela bred to Nearco before bringing her to his farm in Canada, where she foaled Nearctic in early 1954. Nearctic was Canadian Horse of the Year in 1958,[6] a feat that Northern Dancer would match in 1964.[7]

Despite his strong pedigree, Northern Dancer was a diminutive horse and did not find a buyer at his $25,000 reserve price at the yearling sales. As a result, Northern Dancer stayed in the Windfields Farm racing stable.[7] Northern Dancer had powerful quarters, plus excellent balance and agility. While officially listed at 15.2 hands (62 inches, 157 cm), most horsemen personally familiar with Northern Dancer estimated his height as between 15 hands (60 inches, 152 cm) and 15.1 hands (61 inches, 155 cm).[3]

Like Nearctic and Nearco before him, Northern Dancer had a dominant and sometimes unruly temperament. "He wasn't mean, but he would wheel and do some tricks," said Joe Thomas, who later managed the Dancer's stud career. Trainer Horatio Luro originally wanted to geld the colt but Taylor refused.[8]

Sportswriter Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times wrote: "Northern Dancer is the kind of colt who, if you saw him in your living room, you'd send for a trap and put cheese in it. He's so little, a cat would chase him. But he's so plucky there's barely room in him for his heart. His legs are barely long enough to keep his tail off the ground. He probably takes a hundred more strides than anyone else, but he's harder to pass than a third martini."[8]

Racing career[edit]

1963: Two-year-old season[edit]

On August 2, 1963, Northern Dancer made his debut at Fort Erie Race Track in a 5 12 furlong maiden race for Canadian foaled horses. He was ridden by apprentice jockey Ron Turcotte, who was instructed not to use the whip but gave the colt a tap at the sixteenth pole anyway, whereupon Northern Dancer "exploded".[9] He beat seven 2-year-olds for a purse of $2,100.[10] Turcotte would later recall, "We won that race by eight lengths. He was a bold horse. Brave. He could handle anything. The grass. The mud. Anything."[11]

His next start was on August 17 in the Vandal Stakes, for which Paul Bohenko was his jockey since Turcotte was committed to another horse, Ramblin' Man. Northern Dancer entered into a speed duel at the start of the race, setting up the race for Ramblin' Man to win. After the race, Turcotte is quoted as having told Luro, "the Dancer was definitely the best two year old in Canada, maybe in the world."[9] He next entered the Summer Stakes on August 24, then at a distance of 1 mile on the turf at Fort Erie. The track condition was described as 'bog-like', and the horse is said to have almost fallen. Despite struggling with the ground, Northern Dancer led from the start and hung on for the win.[9]

His next start was in the 1 116 mile Cup and Saucer Stakes on September 28 on the Woodbine turf course, where he was assigned the top weight of 124 pounds. Ron Turcotte was back as his jockey and took him to an early lead, but Northern Dancer tired and fell second to long-shot Grand Carcon by 34 of a length.[9] On October 7, he returned in the Bloordale Purse at 1 116 miles where he was again the top weight at 122 pounds. His main rival Northern Flight carried 117 pounds while other horses carried as little as 112 pounds. Northern Dancer broke well but allowed Northern Flight to take a commanding lead. At the half way mark, Dancer was third on the rail, 15 lengths back, but gradually closed the gap on the far turn. Down the stretch, the two battled for the lead before Northern Dancer pulled away to win by 1 12 lengths, with the rest of the field some twenty-five plus lengths behind Northern Flight.[9]

On October 12, the Dancer faced a field of 14 rivals in the Coronation Futurity, the richest race for Canadian two-year-olds. He settled in fourth at the start, then took over the lead at the halfway point, drawing away to win by 6 14 lengths. It would be Turcotte's last ride on the Dancer as Luro feared he could not maintain sufficient control of the headstrong colt. On November 7, Northern Dancer followed up with a win in the 7 furlong Carleton Stakes at Greenwood on a muddy track, but came back to the barn bleeding from the beginning of a quarter crack. It was thought that the injury was a result of his heavy race schedule - seven races in three months.[9]

Nonetheless, the colt was shipped to Aqueduct to prepare for the Remsen Stakes. He entered the Sir Gaylord Purse, ridden by Manuel Ycaza, and won by eight lengths. However, the quarter crack became more pronounced, so he was fitted with a bar shoe on his left front hoof to stabilize the foot. On November 27, he won the Remsen by two lengths in wire-to-wire fashion.[9]

His record of seven victories in nine starts earned Northern Dancer the Canadian Juvenile Championship. He was rated at 123 pounds on the Experimental Free Handicap for American juveniles of 1963, 3 pounds below co-champions Raise a Native and Hurry to Market. He was the high weight on the Canadian Free Handicap for 2-year-olds of 1963 at 126 pounds, 5 pounds above second-rated Ramblin Road.[3]

1964: Three-year-old season[edit]

After the Remsen stakes, Luro gave Northern Dancer some time off to heal and had a vulcanized rubber patch applied to the quarter crack. Northern Dancer recovered quickly and reentered training in January. His first race at three was in a six-furlong prep under a new jockey, Bobby Ussery, who was instructed to take it easy and not use the whip. Northern Dancer was bumped at the start and fell to the back of the pack. He recovered and steadily advanced up the rail, only to become trapped behind several horses and get bumped again, eventually finishing third. Despite the instructions of Luro, Ussury had taken to his whip in the final strides of the race, which led the trainer to publicly criticize the rider.[9] "I believe in being very patient with my horses," said Luro. "I don't want punishment—under no circumstances."[12]

For his next start in the Flamingo Stakes on March 3, Northern Dancer was ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker and went off as the even-money favorite in a field of eleven. He settled into second and moved to the lead in the stretch after some gentle urging by Shoemaker, winning by seven lengths. His time of 1:4745 was excellent for a three-year-old in March. He then entered the seven-furlong Mrs. Florida Purse at Gulfstream Park as a prep for the Florida Derby. Shoemaker was unable to ride due to a previous commitment, so Ycaza got the ride. Northern Dancer won easily by four lengths, equaling the track record of 1:2225.[9]

In the Florida Derby on April 4, Northern Dancer was the heavy 3-10 favorite in a field of eight. With Shoemaker back up, he raced in mid-pack behind a slow pace, then started to make up ground on the rail. Shoemaker waited until the half mile pole then urged the colt on without using the whip. Norther Dancer quickly took the lead at the head of the stretch and then held off a challenge by The Scoundrel, eventually winning by a length. Shoemaker said later that the colt was improving.[13] However, his time was a disappointing 1:5045, which caused some concern. Joe Hirsch of the Daily Racing Form would comment "It did not appear that Shoemaker had a lot of horse left at the wire."[9]

Before the running of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, Luro asked Shoemaker to commit to riding Northern Dancer in the Kentucky Derby. But Shoemaker chose a colt he had never ridden named Hill Rise as his Derby mount. The unbeaten Hill Rise had won the San Felipe Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby in California. Shoemaker campaigned hard to get Hill Rise as his mount, believing the colt represented his best chance for a Derby win. As a result of Shoemaker's decision, Bill Hartack would become Northern Dancer's jockey for the remainder of his career.[9]

In the Blue Grass Stakes on April 23, Northern Dancer with his new jockey faced only four rivals, and was made the 4-5 favorite. He rated in second under a tight hold until the head of the stretch when he coasted to the lead. Another horse made a run down the stretch so Hartack released his grip and Northern Dancer crossed the finish line in front by half a length. The small margin of victory contributed to making Hill Rise the favorite for the Derby.[9]

Bidding for the Triple Crown[edit]

For the Kentucky Derby on May 2, Northern Dancer drew post position 7 in a field of 12. As the field reached the track, Northern Dancer gave a huge buck when the band started to play "My Old Kentucky Home", but then settled.[9] After the break, he settled into good position on the rail around the first turn. Down the backstretch, Hartack guided him through a narrow hole into the clear and started to make up ground on the leaders. He got the jump on Hill Rise, who became tangled up in traffic as the front-runners started to fade. With a quarter mile to go, Hartack urged his colt on; the Dancer responded by running the next furlong in a very fast 11 seconds. He had a lead of about two lengths, but Hill Rise had gotten in the clear and started to make up ground.[14] Author Kevin Chong would later write of Northern Dancer's "short, powerful legs making like a hummingbird's wings"[15] as he ran down the stretch. Hill Rise closed with giant strides, but Northern Dancer prevailed by a neck in a new race record of 2 minutes flat[14] that stood until Secretariat broke it in 1973.[8]

Northern Dancer became the first Canadian-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby, making front-page headlines across Canada.[16]

With the Preakness Stakes being run just two weeks later, Luro was concerned that Northern Dancer would find the next race more demanding, especially because the track at Pimlico was deep and taxing. Accordingly, he used long gallops of between two and three miles to build up stamina. Then on the Friday before the race, he "blew out" the Dancer with a 3-furlong workout in a brisk :3535 to sharpen his speed.[17]

For the Preakness on May 16, Northern Dancer went off as the second favorite to Hill Rise in a field of six that included the top five finishers from the Derby. Northern Dancer settled into third place with Hill Rise tracking just behind. Quadrangle moved to the lead down the backstretch and Northern Dancer started to make his move around the far turn. Hartack had yet to ask Northern Dancer for his run, while the jockeys of both Hill Rise and Quadrangle were working hard to maintain their position. Turning into the stretch, Hartack hit Northern Dancer once and he surged to a commanding lead. Near the finish line, Northern Dancer started to tire but Hartack was not overly worried. "If he was tired, the horses behind us would be even more tired," he explained. The Dancer would win by two and a half lengths. Hill Rise finished third,caught at the wire by The Scoundrel who claimed second.[17]

Northern Dancer celebrated his actual third birthday on May 27 and was presented with a cake of carrots adorned by Canadian flags. He also received hundreds of cards wishing him success in the upcoming Belmont Stakes. Taylor felt that the horse would not mind the extra distance, believing that Hartack would be able to judge the pace and conserve energy. Luro though was more worried, believing that the Dancer's best distance was between eight and nine furlongs, but hoped Northern Dancer's class would be enough to carry him the extra distance.[18]

With a Triple Crown at stake, eight horses showed up for the Belmont Stakes on June 6, run that year at Aqueduct, with Northern Dancer going off as the 4-5 favorite. With Northern Dancer under a tight hold,[16] he and Hill Rise tracked each other for the first mile behind a slow pace set by outsider Orientalist. Quadrangle was in second, relaxed and saving ground with excellent position on the rail. After a mile in 1:3915, Quadrangle's jockey made his move, confident his horse had enough stamina to outkick the others. Hartack on Northern Dancer and Shoemaker on Hill Rise appeared to underestimate Quadrangle and did not at first respond, allowing Quadrangle to build a substantial lead into the stretch while Roman Brother moved into second. When finally asked for run in the stretch, Northern Dancer lacked his usual burst of speed and finished third, some six lengths behind.[19]

Aftermath[edit]

In spite of the loss in the Belmont, the mayor of Toronto declared June 8, 1964 to be "Northern Dancer Day", which included a ceremony held at city hall. (The idea of a ticker-tape parade down Bay Street was nixed due to the colt's high strung temperament.)[16] E. P. Taylor was presented with a key to the city—carved out of a carrot. Taylor in turn presented the key to Northern Dancer when he arrived at Woodbine a few days later, who promptly ate it.[9]

On June 25, Northern Dancer was the heavy betting favorite in the Queen's Plate at odds of 1-7 in a field of eight. He raced from off the pace, then swept past Langcrest to win by 7 12 lengths. Hartack never needed the whip.[20] Northern Dancer completed the race in 2:0215, which, although more than 2 seconds off his time in the Kentucky Derby, was just 15 of a second off the race record set by Victoria Park.[9][21] He remains the only horse to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Queen's Plate.[3]

Northern Dancer injured himself during a workout at Belmont in July[22] and the bowed tendon did not respond to treatment, ending his racing career.[23]

Northern Dancer was named the American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse of 1964 in the United States. He was also three-year-old champion in Canada and Canadian Horse of the Year. In addition, he was named Canadian Athlete of the Year.[7] He was the high weight at 128 pounds on the Daily Racing Form's Free Handicap for American 3-year-old males of 1964, 1 pound above Quadrangle and Roman Brother. He was also the high weight at 132 pounds on the Canadian Free Handicap for 3-year-old males of 1964, 12 pounds more than second-rated Langcrest.[9]

In his two years of racing, Northern Dancer won 14 of his 18 races and never finished worse than third. In The Blood-Horse listing of the top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred champions of the 20th century, he was ranked #43.

Stud record[edit]

Northern Dancer retired to stud in 1965 at Taylor's Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario for an initial fee of $10,000.[16] A ramp was built in the breeding shed to allow the Dancer to service mares who were larger than him.[24] His first crop reached racing age in 1968 and "came out running."[8]

"His first crop, he had a horse named Viceregal who was undefeated and was horse of the year in Canada," said Ed Bowen, former editor of The Blood-Horse. "His first foals ran so well. Northern Dancer had that aura about him right away." As a result of his success, he was relocated to the Maryland branch of Windfields in 1969, where he would remain until his death in 1990.[8]

He was the leading sire in North America in 1971, and also in 1977 when international earnings are included.[2] His progeny were highly sought after in Europe, where he became the leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland in 1970, 1978, 1983 and 1984.[25]

Lyphard resembled his father closely[26]

He was one of the 20th century's most successful Thoroughbred sires.[27] According to Jockey Club records, Northern Dancer sired 411 winners (63.7%) and 147 stakes winners (22.8%) from 645 named foals.[3] Most of his progeny resembled him in size and shape: Nijinsky, who stood over 16 hands, proved the exception.[28] They also generally had excellent balance and acceleration.[3] His major stakes winners include:[29]

With the success of his offspring, Northern Dancer's stud fee rose, slowly at first: from $10,000 (live foal) in 1965, to $15,000 (live foal) in 1969, to $25,000 (live foal) in 1971 to $35,000 ($10,000 of which was non-refundable) in 1975 to $50,000 (no guarantee) in 1978. His published fee, with no guarantee that a live foal would result, then started a rapid increase: $100,000 in 1980, $150,000 in 1981, $250,000 in 1982, $300,000 in 1983 and $500,000 in 1984. For his final years at stud (1985-1987), his breeding rights were privately negotiated,[16] with one season selling at auction for $1 million[42] — an amount four to five times that of his closest rivals.[43] By contrast, the highest North American stud fee in 2016 is $300,000 for Tapit.[44]

When Northern Dancer was 20 years old (an advanced age for a stallion), a European syndicate offered US$40 million for him. The offer was turned down.[3] Northern Dancer's entry into stud service was ranked #28 in Horse Racing's Top 100 Moments, a review of racing in the 20th century compiled by The Blood-Horse and released in 2006.[3]

Sales records[edit]

Former Keeneland chairman Ted Bassett wrote in his autobiography that between 1974 and 1988, the sons and daughters of Northern Dancer fetched the highest prices of all sires at the yearling sales 12 times, "and that constitutes a record that may last forever."[8] Northern Dancer's yearlings also led the Keeneland July Selected Yearling Sale by average price 12 times in the same period. In 1984, 12 yearlings by Northern Dancer sold for an unrivaled sale-record average price of US$3,446,666 (about $7.9 million adjusted for inflation).[45] Combined over a period of 22 years, the top 174 Northern Dancer offspring at the Keeneland Sales sold for a total $160 million.[43] The bidding duels between John Magnier and Robert Sangster of Coolmore Stud and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Darley Stud became legendary.[46][47]

As of 2014, the top ten horses on the list of top auction prices were descended from Northern Dancer. This includes three sired by Northern Dancer himself and sold at Keeneland: Snaafi Dancer, who became the first $10-million yearling when sold to Sheikh Mohammed for $10.2 million in 1983;[46] a colt out of Ballade later named Imperial Falcon, who sold for $8.25 million to Sangster in 1984;[48] and a colt out of Fabuleux Jane later named Jareer, who sold for $7.1 million to Darley Stud.[49]

Sire of sires[edit]

In 1990, the New York Times would call Northern Dancer "the dominant progenitor of his breed."[43] His leading sire sons include:

  • Be My Guest - leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland (1982)[25]
  • Danzig - leading sire in North America (1991-1993). also a sire of sires, including Danehill, leading sire in both Europe and Australia[50]
  • El Gran Senor - sire of 55 stakes winners, also an important broodmare sire[39]
  • Fairy King - leading sire in France 1986. also a sire of sires, including Encosta de Lago in Australia[51]
  • Lyphard - led the French sire list in 1978 and 1979, American sire list in 1986, also an outstanding broodmare sire[26]
  • Nijinsky II - led the English sire list in 1986, when he placed second in North America as well. leading American broodmare sire in 1993 and 1994. sire of sires including Caerleon[31]
  • Northern Taste - ten-time leading sire in Japan, also a leading broodmare sire[52]
  • Nureyev - led the French sire list in 1987, also a leading broodmare sire[36]
  • Sadler's Wells - thirteen-time leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland. also a sire of sires, including Galileo.[41] Sire of 12 English Classics winners[53]
  • Storm Bird - sire of 62 stakes winners, including leading American sire Storm Cat[54]
  • Vice Regent - led the Canadian sire list thirteen times[55]

Although Northern Dancer never sired a winner of any of the American Triple Crown races, his sons made up for this shortfall. Their American Classic winners were:

He also was the grandsire of 1991 Canadian Triple Crown winner Dance Smartly, who also became the first Canadian-bred to win a Breeders' Cup race, the 1991 Breeders' Cup Distaff. A Hall of Famer in both Canada and the United States, she was also a success as a broodmare.[56]

Northern Dancer was a four-time Leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland, a feat achieved one time each by his sons Be My Guest and Nijinsky, 14 times by his son Sadler's Wells, two times by his grandson Caerleon, three times by his grandson Danehill, and seven times (as of 2015) by his grandson Galileo – a total of 32 champion sire titles in just the direct Northern Dancer to grandson bloodline. Adding his great-grandson Danehill Dancer, who was the leading sire in 2009, the Northern Dancer sire line accounted for every champion sire title in Great Britain and Ireland from 1990 to 2015 inclusive.[25]

Although he has been dead since 1990, more Northern Dancer-descended horses are Breeder's Cup winners than from any other horse.[57] According to pedigree consultant John Sparkman, 35 to 40 percent of American graded stakes winners of 2013 were male line descendants of Northern Dancer. In Europe and Australia, the percentage is well over 60 per cent.[27]

Northern Dancer's impact continues well into the 21st century. In North America, American Pharoah, winner of the 2015 U.S. Triple Crown is 5 x 5 inbred to Northern Dancer, through Storm Bird and El Gran Senor.[58] California Chrome, winner of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and 2014 Preakness Stakes, is inbred 4 x 5 to Northern Dancer on his dam's side. Other American classic winners that are inbred to Northern Dancer include: I'll Have Another, winner of the 2012 Derby and Preakness; Animal Kingdom, winner of the 2011 Derby; Union Rags, winner of the 2012 Belmont and Drosselmeyer, winner of the 2011 Belmont.[59] Shackleford, winner of the 2012 Preakness, is a 4th generation descendant in the male line via Storm Cat.[60] In 2009, Northern Dancer was an ancestor of the winners of all three U.S. Triple Crown races: Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby, Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, and Summer Bird in the Belmont. Northern Dancer is the great-grandsire (on both the sire and dam side) of Big Brown, the winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.[59]

Makybe Diva is a descendant of Northern Dancer

In Australia, the undefeated mare Black Caviar traces to Northern Dancer both in the direct sire line through Nijinsky and in the broodmare sire line through Danzig. An earlier Australian champion, Sunline, was bred on the reverse cross.[61] The great mare Makybe Diva, three-time winner of the Melbourne Cup, is inbred 4 x 4 x 4 to Northern Dancer.[62] In Japan, although Sunday Silence's line dominates the leading sire lists, many of his best runners were out of Northern Dancer line mares. This includes Japanese Horses of the Year Orfevre,[63] Deep Impact and Gentildonna.[64]

In England, Northern Dancer's bloodline is pervasive.[47] He is the paternal grand-sire of a record 29 different English Classic winners — the next closest in this regard is St. Simon with 23.[53] Undefeated racehorse Frankel is inbred 3 x 4 to Northern Dancer, meaning Northern Dancer appears once in the third generation and once in the fourth generation of his pedigree.[65] As for the Epsom Derby, every winner since 1998 has had Northern Dancer in his pedigree,[66] almost all through the male sire-line. Galileo, High Chaparral, Motivator, New Approach, Sea the Stars, Camelot, Australia, Golden Horn and Harzand are included in this number.[40]

Inbreeding[edit]

Because of the prevalence of Northern Dancer's bloodline, a certain degree of inbreeding to him is becoming common, especially in Europe and Australia.[67] Whenever this happens, there is a concern that the inbreeding will weaken the breed, making horses more prone to injury and potentially leading to inbreeding depression. Statistical studies have shown that inbreeding has increased by a small but significant amount in the last 50 years, partly because of the larger number of foals that a successful stallion will now sire each year compared to in the past.[68] To illustrate this last point, Northern Dancer produced 645 foals[3] in 20 years at stud, whereas his grandson Danehill sired 2,499 foals[69] in 14 years at stud.

The undefeated Frankel is inbred to Northern Dancer

Statistical analysis has shown that inbreeding to Northern Dancer is on average slightly less effective than when stallions of his line are bred to mares who do not have Northern Dancer in their pedigree (referred to as an outcross).[67] However, many successful stallions are inbred, in part because this can make it easier to pass on dominant characteristics. Successful sires that are inbred to Northern Dancer (within four generations) include Oasis Dream, Rock of Gibralter, Hernando, Spinning World, and Redoute's Choice.[70] The undefeated Frankel is also inbred to Northern Dancer, but it is too early to evaluate his success as a stallion as his first crop just reached racing age in 2016.[65]

Analysis of inbreeding to Northern Dancer has shown that best practice is inbreeding "through" the best, which means to use horses that have demonstrated their fitness on the racecourse. In contrast, inbreeding to a descendant such as Danzig for example is viewed as potentially problematic because he was retired from racing due to unsoundness after only three starts.[71] However, Danzig line horses have been crossed successfully with other Northern Dancer line horses, especially Sadlers' Wells.[72]

Outcross bloodlines can still be found, most notably via the German-bred stallion Monsun.[73] Northern Dancer lines were originally outcrossed on descendants of Mr. Prospector or Nasrullah, but this had been done to such as extent that it is increasingly difficult to find horses from these lines without some trace of Northern Dancer breeding.[74]

In North America, Northern Dancer often appears further back in the pedigree of major stallions, which reduces the risks associated with inbreeding. For example, Tapit, the leading sire in North America for 2014-2015, is inbred to Nijinsky 3 x 5 (thus only 4 x 6 to Northern Dancer) and has crossed well on mares from other Northern Dancer lines.[75]

End of life and burial[edit]

Northern Dancer was retired from stud on April 15, 1987 at the age of 26. After a severe attack of colic, he was euthanized on November 16, 1990 at the age of 29, and his remains were brought back to Canada for burial at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario.[7] Windfields Farm has subsequently been sold to the University of Ontario, and Northern Dancer's burial site is not publicly accessible.[76] There is a proposal to designate portions of the Farm, including Northern Dancer's grave near Barn 6, under the Ontario Heritage Act.[77]

Recognition[edit]

Statue of Northern Dancer at Woodbine Racetrack

In 1964, Northern Dancer was the American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse and the Canadian Horse of the Year.[3] In 1965, he became the first horse voted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.[78] In 1976, Northern Dancer was an inaugural inductee to the new Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame[7] and was also inducted into the United States Horse Racing Hall of Fame.[79] In 1977, Northern Dancer won three world sires' premiership titles for the number of international stakes winners, international stakes wins, and total stake earnings of his progeny.[4]

Northern Dancer was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.[80] In 1999, Canada Post honoured the horse with his image placed on a postage stamp.[81] A residential street was named after Northern Dancer on the former site of the Greenwood Race Track in east-end Toronto.[82] Also, a life-sized bronze statue of the horse was placed outside Woodbine Race Track in northwest Toronto.

Over the decades, a number of books have been written about Northern Dancer. In 2003, Avalyn Hunter's book American Classic Pedigrees (1914–2002), extensively covered the influence of Northern Dancer on North America classic winners around the end of the 20th century.[83] Her later book, The Kingmaker: How Northern Dancer Founded a Racing Dynasty covers Northern Dancer's international legacy.[84] In 2015, Kevin Chong wrote Northern Dancer: The Legendary Horse That Inspired A Nation.[85]

In 2011, the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame held an induction ceremony that included a 50th-anniversary tribute for Northern Dancer. Saxophone instrumentalist Matthew James performed his tribute song, entitled "Northern Dancer", from his album, Generations.[86][87] In 2012, Breyer Animal Creations released a portrait model of Northern Dancer sculpted by Jeanne Mellin Herrick.[88] In 2014, the Canadian Film Centre unveiled the Northern Dancer Pavilion on its Windfields Farms heritage campus.[89]

Pedigree[edit]

Northern Dancer was by Nearctic, who was by leading sire Nearco, considered a "breed-shaping" sire of sires.[90] Nearctic's broodmare sire is Hyperion, who led the sire list eight times.[91] Northern Dancer's own broodmare sire (maternal grandsire) was Native Dancer, who also was an important sire of sires, chiefly through Raise A Native and Mr. Prospector. Northern Dancer was thus an immediate descendant of three of the most important bloodlines of the middle twentieth century.[92]

His female family is equally distinguished, if not as well-known. Northern Dancer's dam Natalma was a stakes-placed mare who was disqualified from a win in the Spinaway Stakes.[93] She was sidelined from racing by a knee chip and was mated to Nearctic to help fill out his first book of mares.[3] Natalma established herself as a "blue hen", producing not only Northern Dancer but three other stakes winners. Her daughters have further extended the family: Arctic Dancer, a full sister of Northern Dancer, became the dam of La Prevoyante, 1972 Canadian Horse of the Year;[3] Spring Adieu became the second dam of leading international sire Danehill (who is inbred to Natalma as he is also a grandson of Northern Dancer); and Raise the Standard is the granddam of important European sire Machiavellian.[93]

Natalma's dam Ahmahmoud produced several other influential daughters including Cosmah, the dam of four stakes winners including three-time American champion filly Tosmah and two-time leading American sire Halo, who would go on to sire Sunday Silence. Another half sister to Natalma, Bubbling Beauty, produced 1977 Prix Ganay (FR-I) winner Arctic Tern, the French champion sire of 1986.[93] The family traces to Mother Goose, who won the 1924 Futurity Stakes and is generally considered the co-champion American juvenile filly of that year along with Maud Muller.[3]

Pedigree of Northern Dancer (CAN), bay stallion, 1961[94]
Sire
Nearctic (CAN)
Br/bl. 1954
Nearco (ITY)
Br. 1935
Pharos (GB) Phalaris (GB)
Scapa Flow (GB)
Nogara (ITY) Havresac II (FR)
Catnip (IRE)
Lady Angela (IRE)
ch. 1944
Hyperion (GB) Gainsborough
Selene
Sister Sarah (GB) Abbots Trace
Sarita
Dam
Natalma (USA)
B. 1957
Native Dancer
gr. 1950
Polynesian Unbreakable
Black Polly
Geisha Discovery
Miyako
Almahmoud
ch. 1947
Mahmoud Blenheim II
Mah Mahal (GB)
Arbitrator Peace Chance
Mother Goose (family 2-d)

Northern Dancer is inbred to Gainsborough (GB) 4S X 5D, meaning Gainsborough appears in the 4th generation of the sire side of the pedigree and in the 5th generation of the dam's side. He is also inbred to Chaucer (GB) 5S X 5S.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The precise earnings total depends on the conversion rate used for the Canadian dollar. Some sources show a total of $580,806. Equibase shows $580,647
  2. ^ The leading sire title for 1977 was given to Dr. Fager by the Thoroughbred Daily Times as at the time they counted North American earnings only. Northern Dancer was given the title by The Blood-Horse as they also included international earnings.[2][3]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Arsenault, Debbie Gamble (2005). Great Canadian race horses. Calgary: Altitude Pub. ISBN 1-55439-000-1. 
  • Hunter, Avalyn (2006). The kingmaker : how Northern Dancer founded a racing dynasty (1st ed.). Lexington, Ky.: Eclipse Press. ISBN 1-58150-137-4. 
  • Lennox, Muriel (1995). Northern Dancer : legend and legacy. Toronto: Beach House Books. ISBN 0-9699025-0-6. 

External links[edit]