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

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


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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horses, heroics, and memories of Windfields part 2

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…

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horses, heroics and memories of Windfields

Someone once told me that certain horses possess the power to instantly captivate us.  Like falling in love.  We are smitten.  I know Winnie Taylor would agree.  Wife of Eddie (EP) Taylor, master of the magnificent Windfields Farm, Winnie was in the foaling barn the morning after Natalma had given birth to a tiny, bay colt with a narrow white blaze running the length of his face.  The angle gave him a cheeky, impudent look.  Winnie was immediately captivated.  Frequently after dinner she would bring him dinner mints.

Val d’Argent

She named him Northern Dancer and he would grow up to win the Kentucky Derby in record time, and the hearts of Canadians from coast-to-coast.  As a stallion he was considered more valuable than gold.  Throughout it all, the special bond between Northern Dancer and Winnie Taylor never wavered.

Years later I was at Windfields and wandering down a tree-lined lane en route to the farm office.  Off in the distance a bay colt caught my attention.  He was at the gate, bouncing from hoof to hoof, like a boxer at the start of a match.  The closer I got to him, the more he reminded me of Northern Dancer.

I had recently sold the option to the rights to my book, Northern Dancer: the legend and his legacy, to a Canadian film company.  While the bouncing colt didn’t have the crooked blaze, from the perspective of body-type, he appeared perfect to play the role of a young Northern Dancer in the movie.

Named Val d’Argent, his dam French Influence, was a Northern Dancer granddaughter.  His sire, Silver Deputy, a great grandson.  I would learn, the hard way, that this colt not only resembled Northern Dancer in physical appearance, but in his volatility.  Still, little did I know it at the time, but I was hooked.

The movie didn’t materialize – not yet – but this one horse has taught me more than I’ll ever know

…. to be continued

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Irish War Cry

Will Irish War Cry win the Belmont tomorrow?  He certainly has the credentials.  Genetically he is a powerhouse.  Researching my new book, Rivers of Gold, I discovered today’s champion Thoroughbreds, the world over, will find their ancestors in 4 distinct genetic streams.  More significant, to me at least, is they all were found flowing across the Canadian landscape.

From magnificently-bred aristocrats like Nearctic (sire of Northern Dancer), to Bunty Lawless, horseracing’s version of a street fighter, to US blueblood mares brought to Canada to avoid conscription, the bedrock of these streams is composed of an interesting, if not eclectic, collection of remarkable horses.

Irish War Cry’s family tree on both sides features the aristocrat Nearctic.

Irish War Cry’s exceptional sire, Curlin, features mightily in the Rivers of Gold saga.  And Irish War Cry’s dam, Irish Sovereign, a great, great Northern Dancer granddaughter, carries the tenacity of our Canadian hero.

I am, incidentally, not a great handicapper.  On race days, back when I was editor of Canada’s horse racing magazine, people would ask me for my selections so they could eliminate those horses from their bets.  I have, however, picked many winners.  Or more accurately, they chose me.  Often it happens in the walking ring prior to a race.  Some horses are just that spectacular.  I distinctly recall the afternoon I spotted the great mare, All Along.  What an amazing athlete.  She literally took my breath away.  As did Nijinsky and Vice Regal and so many others.

Leading up to the 2017 Kentucky Derby, I was immediately taken with Irish War Cry. Besides winning the Wood Memorial by almost 6 lengths, to me he had the look of a winner.  Yet the Kentucky Derby proved a bit of a disaster for any number of horses.  Among them, Irish War Cry.

Starting for post 17, hence auxiliary gate, Irish War Cry broke poorly and ducked to the inside.  Then he slid across the muddy track toward the rail.  In the meantime, Thunder Snow took to bucking like a rodeo bronc.  At one point his jockey, Christophe Soumillon, appeared to be at right angles to the saddle.  How he managed to stay aboard is a miracle.  Indeed, considering the condition of the track and use of the auxiliary gate, which appeared to propel horses toward the centre of the track, it is an even greater miracle there wasn’t a serious accident.

Needless to say, I am among those joining Hall of Fame jockey, Gary Stevens, in calling for a limit of 14 horses in the Kentucky Derby, thus eliminating the need for the auxiliary gate.

Professional handicappers have chosen Irish War Cry to win.  And while winning the 1-1/2 mile Belmont is no mean feat, Irish War Cry surely and the talent and the guts and the breeding to take him to the Winners’ Circle.

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