In the early stages of writing Northern Dancer: the legend and his legacy I had the good fortune to receive advice from Jenny Dereham, the highly-respected British editor. At the helm of Michael Joseph publishers, Dereham’s most renowned client was former champion jump jockey and author of countless best-sellers, the late Dick Francis.
I had begun working on Northern Dancer in September 1990 and traveled to Maryland at the beginning of October to spend with the subject of my biography. Beyond what he had accomplished, I wanted to attempt to understand his essential nature. What made this pint-sized dynamo run a hole in the wind?
“… There was something about his restless patrolling that gave one the sense of an animal in the wild guarding his territory, a feeling that to challenge him would prove dangerous. Ever on the alert he behaved more like a wild stallion than a horse that had been pampered and fawned over all his life.”
Just sitting on the grass beside his paddock, doing absolutely nothing but observing this, the stallion of stallions, was fascinating and I planned many more visits. Instead, 6 weeks later, following a severe bout of colic, Northern Dancer was euthanized. I was devastated. On all fronts. I wasn’t certain how to go forward.
The best piece of advice Dereham imparted was borne of my responsibility to the readers. To that end, I was to take them on a journey throughout the life of this remarkable animal. In other words, keep him alive until the very last chapter.
When talking this over with Al Kerr, Windfields stallion manager, he suggested I become acquainted with Northern Dancer great-grandson, Silver Deputy. The young stallion was standing at the Oshawa farm at the time. Kerr assured me Silver Deputy was the most like Northern Dancer he had experienced.
So it was that throughout the writing of the book I spent many hours sitting under the maple tree next to Silver Deputy’s paddock as he helped to keep the memory of his mighty ancestor alive.
Years later, when Val d’Argent, the yearling colt bouncing from hoof to hoof, caught my attention, I had no idea of his breeding. All I saw was a Northern Dancer lookalike. Eventually I would discover that his sire was my old friend Silver Deputy.
…. to be continued…