Rivers of Gold: the launch

How exciting to launch Rivers of Gold at the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame this Sunday amid all the installations celebrating Canada’s remarkable horses and their humans… and on Canadian International day.

Writing Rivers of Gold was incredibly challenging.  And rewarding.

I have been writing about horses most of my life – as a magazine editor, feature writer for Japan’s Gallop magazine, a heap of books including Northern Dancer’s biography, and, of course, I was privileged to spend all those years with Eddie and Winnie Taylor at Windfields, home of the most dominant bloodlines in history.  Yet, Rivers of Gold showed me a new way of seeing the world of Thoroughbreds.

Last evening I checked the fields for both the E.P.Taylor and Pattison International stakes.. and yes, every one of these magnificent horses will find their ancestors in our Rivers of Gold.

So not only will I be signing books (and helping raise money for the Hall of Fame) all I will have to do is wander over to the Walking Ring to gaze upon the outstanding horses in these big races… and marvel at how this story has turned out.

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the Eddie Taylor approach

One of the many things Eddie Taylor taught me was when you set out on any sort of enterprise, everything will invariably take longer, cost more, and be more frustrating than you imagined.

My latest book, Rivers of Gold, is a stellar example.  Initially I thought I’d polish this one off in a few months.  I was, of course, wrong.

Indeed, the first draft of the book was complete and we were engrossed in triple-checking the names of horses when I stumbled upon the story behind the story of Sherriff’s Deputy, dam of the mighty Curlin.  We stopped production and the entire manuscript was put on hold until we could include this part of the saga.

Taylor took these sorts of complications in his stride.  When the project was finally complete and ready to fly, he took great enjoyment in selling whatever it was.  Indeed, I distinctly recall the afternoon he returned from the races at Saratoga where he spent his afternoons selling shares in The Minstrel.  “You’re really going to like this one,” he said. “He’s so much like Northern Dancer…”

It did not bother him that he sold the flashy chestnut colt as a yearling for $200,000, only to pay $4.5 million for a half-interest after The Minstrel won the 1977 English Derby.

Rivers of Gold will be officially launched at the Horse Racing Hall of Fame pavilion at Woodbine, on 15 October, the day of the Pattison Canadian International, the E.P.Taylor Stakes, and the Nearctic Stakes.

With all the beautiful horses, at the track that Eddie built, surrounded by photos and memories of so many of the horses and humans in Rivers of Gold, and in the steps of my mentor, I too will enjoy every minute.

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what would Eddie Taylor do?

Nijinsky as a yearling.
Peter Winnants photo

Often when mired in indecision I ask myself “what would Eddie Taylor do?”  And am immediately rewarded with memories of the man’s eternal and cheerful optimism.

When he set out to breed great horses in Canada his Kentucky friends, to a man, warned him he was on a fool’s mission…too much snow and ice.  Taylor, of course, paid them no heed.

Eddie and his wife,Winnie, were in the stands in 1948 when the mighty Citation was anointed US Triple Crown honours.  That same afternoon Eddie was inspired to breed the next Citation.

Instead of driving back to Canada they went to Kentucky for the sales.  They purchased 5 yearlings.  In years to come, two of these youngsters would become distinguished as the maternal grandparents of British Triple Crown winner, the magnificent Nijinsky.

Nijinsky’s sire, of course, Northern Dancer.

… a continuing reminder of Taylor’s cheerful optimism… and the magic therein..

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Windfields memories …

Most weeks I post a ‘Dancer of the week on the “Northern Dancer: legend and legacy” Facebook site.  This past week I was drawn to the mare You’resothrilling via her offspring, a filly named Happily.  It wasn’t long before I discovered You’resothrilling is equine aristocracy and further evidence of Windfields Farm’s extraordinary influence on today’s Thoroughbreds.

Sister to Giant’s Causeway, Europe’s Horse of the Year in 2000.  Her offspring include Marvelous, winner of the Irish 1000 Guineas and Gleneagles, Cartier Champion Two Year Old Colt 2014.

Both sides of You’resothrilling’s ancestry boast Windfields bloodlines: exceptional mares like South Ocean, Glorious Song, Natalma, and Ballade.  Eddie Taylor would have been pleased.  His mission was to breed great horses and to that end he likely spent several fortunes investing in the finest fillies and mares on either side of the Atlantic. 

Between the Taylor’s farms in Oshawa and Maryland, there were hundreds of mares roaming the lush paddocks.  Indeed some of my fondest memories were the hours I spent, camera in hand, doing little but watching and photographing the mares and their babies.

This is a Coolmore photo and the little foal next to You’resothrilling would grow up to be named Happily and she would win the G1 Moyglare Stakes at The Curragh last weekend.  Happily.

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Windfields Farm .. memories

Beyond riding around the estate and surrounding area with Eddie Taylor, some of my most favourite Windfields memories were the times I spent with his wife, Winnifred.  She was charming, intelligent, gracious, all the while blessed with a wicked sense of humour and marvelous spirit.  We often played backgammon.  I doubt I ever won a game.

When Eddie was out of town we’d go to the races in her ancient Rolls Royce, a birthday gift from her husband.  Her standard wager was a $5 place bet on one of the morning line selections.

Every fall Winnie would be found in the den surrounded by all sorts of dictionaries and reference books.  Her job was to name the horses.  Occasionally I was invited asked to assist.  So when the lists of yearlings needing a name came out we were asked to tea.  Always served at 4.  Always accompanied by plates of biscuits.

Winnie, of course, chose the name Northern Dancer.  Which is appropriate, as he was, essentially, her horse.  Indeed, she was one of the very few people our feisty little Canadian fireball actually liked.  A relationship that began when he was a foal and continued throughout their lives.

… to be continued

 

 

 

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more memories of Windfields

The unprecedented success of Windfields Farm was due to a number of factors, not the least of which was Eddie Taylor’s great passion for horses.  His determination to provide his horses the very best of everything included hiring the very best horsemen and women to care for these animals.

Living and working on Windfields estate was like waking up one morning and finding myself in the horse-world version of Narnia.  And to top off the magic, I had the opportunity to learn from these legendary horsemen and women.

Harry Green and Northern Dancer. Windfields 1967 (toronto Star photo)

One such mentor was Harry Green, long-time stallion manager.   Harry was now retired, but fortunately for me, he and his wife lived about a mile from the estate.  And Harry missed being in the company of horses, so almost daily he would arrive in the courtyard by the stables in a car the size of a boat.  Ever offering to help.  No chore was too big, nor too small.  And in the process taught us everything from fixing paddock fences to bandaging.

So much of what I know of the history of Windfields I learned listening to Harry’s stories as we cleaned saddles and bridles in the tackroom.  I will forever be grateful to this remarkable man.

 

 

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horses, heroics and memories of Windfields

As rider-in-residence on the Windfields estate, my main responsibility was keeping the riding horses schooled and to accompany Eddie Taylor whenever he wished  to go for a good gallop.

In the early days of Windfields, he rode almost daily.  Often arriving at his office, a coach house on the north west corner of the estate, on horseback.  Often much to the surprise of his business associates.  And to the horror of his doctors who had advised his to stop riding following an accident aboard one of his retired Thoroughbreds that left him with a fractured pelvis.

When I arrived at Windfields he was in his 70’s.  While he had cut back a little

Eddie EP Taylor his horse, Philip. and me riding The Duchess of Windfields

on his riding, he had no intention of stopping.  Indeed was determined to ride at least until he was 80.

 

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memories of Windfields

Nijinsky:
Windfields equine royalty

Windfields Farm was not only home to equine royalty, but, on occasion, members of the Royal Family.   The most memorable Royal visit, for me at least, was HRH Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.  Among her staff was the Queen’s Piper who’s job was playing the bagpipes at 9:00 a.m. for 15 minutes beneath the Sovereign’s window.

The aspect of this wonderful and moving ritual that will always stay with me was the warming-up of the bagpipes, which, as it turned out, took place for at least 30 minutes beneath my window.

I was not the only Windfields resident taken aback by the early and discordant sounds.  Despite being chained to his kennel, the gardener’s hound took off across the fields.  We eventually found him – still tethered to his dog house.

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horses, heroics and memories of Windfields part 6

Nearctic

Back when Val d’Argent became a permanent fixture in our lives I was writing for Gallop, the popular weekly Japanese horse racing and breeding magazine with a million-plus readers.  My series, titled Supreme, focused on stories of prominent racehorses and their families.  It was a marvelous assignment and I shall be forever grateful to editor-in-chief, Kunio Serizawa and my translator, Jiro Ohara.

When we sent the van to bring Val d’Argent back to the farm I was working on the story of the great Nijinsky for my Japanese audience.  Since I had written Northern Dancer: the legend and his legacy, I obviously knew a lot about Nijinsky’s sire, Northern Dancer.  However, Nijinsky’s grandsire, Nearctic, proved an enigma.  One, I reasoned, could easily be solved.  I was wrong.

Before long I began to understand that the old mystery and my young, crazed horse were somehow connected.  Still finding the truth about Nearctic proved the most difficult assignment of my career.  It was also the most rewarding.

To conclude there were those who did not want this story told, after the publication of Dark Horse: unraveling the mystery of Nearctic, I received hate mail.  Unsigned, of course…

…. to be continued

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horses, heroics and memories of Windfields part 5

Northern Dancer flies to 8 length win in first race. Jockey Turcotte says..”could easily have been 10 or 15..”

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

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