National Treasure #160: Northern Dancer

This is post #808 in this blog.

A horse? Yes, a horse.

But what a horse. In 2014, Maclean’s published a list of “10 surprising facts” about Northern Dancer. I admit I don’t follow horse racing or jumping, so almost any fact could surprise me. But look at these two.

#2 – Northern Dancer was the first Canadian-bred and -owned horse to win the Kentucky Derby. (Ed’s note: In 1964, hence the 2014 article on the 50th anniversary.)

#10 – Almost 50 years after Northern Dancer won the Kentucky Derby, his influence on the thoroughbred racing world is evident. All 20 horses in the 2014 Kentucky Derby had Northern Dancer in their pedigree.

What? “All 20 horses in the 2014 Kentucky Derby had Northern Dancer in their pedigree.” Are they kidding? Apparently not. And that pedigree thing doesn’t just apply to the Kentucky Derby.

In 2004 all 18 starters in Europe’s most famous race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, had Northern Dancer’s blood in their pedigrees.

He was, apparently, a super horse. A strong racer . . .

Known for his stamina, Northern Dancer was also very fast – only Secretariat has bettered his Kentucky Derby record of 2 minutes flat for the 1-mile course.

. . . and a strong sire.

Retired to stud, Northern Dancer became the greatest stud horse in history. By the time of his death, 467 of his 635 registered foals had won races and over 150 had won stakes races. Many of today’s best thoroughbreds trace their lineage to him.

Here’s what the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame has to say about what happened after he won the Kentucky Derby.

The mayor of Toronto awarded him the key to the city, billboards acknowledged his feat, Canada’s sportswriters voted him Athlete of the Year and he was deluged with fan mail. Two weeks after the Derby, Northern Dancer won the second event of the Triple Crown, the Preakness at Pimlico. Three weeks later, attempting to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948, he finished a tired third in the Belmont Stakes at Aqueduct, N.Y. Returning to Woodbine, Northern Dancer won the Queen’s Plate, which would turn out to be the last race of his career. A bowed tendon prompted trainer Horatio Luro to stop the racing career of the son of Nearctic”“Natalma. He would be named Canada’s Horse of the Year and the top 3-year-old in North America.

This photo isn’t of Northern Dancer, but it’s as close as I can come from my collection, and I offer it in tribute to a horse who earned the keys to the City of Toronto. And then some.

Close-up of brown horse with white blaze.

This is not Northern Dancer.


Thanks to Marilyn Smith for suggesting Northern Dancer.








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2 Responses to National Treasure #160: Northern Dancer

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    I guess you probably remember that for the fourth of his Gulliver series of books, Jonathan Swift made his ideal society a society of horses. (He described humans, by contrast, as “yahoos”.) There may be something to it — his characterization, I mean. I’ve been told that horses will never turn away a stranger; she has to take her place in the pecking order, of course, but she will be accepted into the herd, regardless of origins.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – I think I may have given Gulliver a pass, although I’m familiar with the broad outlines. I hadn’t heard that about horses, and wonder whether many pack animals might be similar: A place for everyone, and everyone in their place.

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