How is it that in 2017 Northern Dancer appears in the family tree of every Thoroughbred in the winners’ circle of the world’s most important horse races?
One reason relates to a preponderance of nervous energy. A small horse with a short, choppy stride, when Northern Dancer raced he ran a hole in the wind. Like a Maserati, he could go from zero to 60 in a split second. While his explosiveness drove our little champion from victory to victory, I would learn that working with a horse brimming with that sort of combustibility would present countless challenges.
My teacher was Val d’Argent. Initially it didn’t occur to me that, as he was injected with Northern Dancer blood on both sides of his pedigree, he might prove even more challenging than his feisty great-great grandsire.
By the time Val d’Argent became a permanent fixture in our lives he’d been gelded, raced at two, endured an operation to remove cataracts, and spent several months convalescing in a round-pen. Midway in his 3 year old year he suffered the equine version of a nervous breakdown and was pitching himself again the walls of his stall at the track.
At this point my friend, the late Judith Mappin, and I opted to bring him back to the farm. In retrospect two things were obvious: the horse was dangerous; and we had no idea what we were getting into.
This story, incidentally, has a happy ending. It just took a long, long time to get there. The countless challenges also were a factor in researching and writing the story behind the story of Northern Dancer: Dark Horse: unraveling the mystery of Nearctic.
… to be continued