Winx!! Wow!!

Watching Winx claim her 33rd consecutive victory this past weekend reminded me of that time long, long ago when I first became enchanted with Thoroughbreds.


The horse was Northern Dancer, Winx’s great-great grandsire.   When Canada’s courageous and determined colt flew across the Kentucky Derby finish all those years ago, we laughed and we cried tears of joy.

“You’d have thought we had run, and won, that race.  But then, in a way we had.  I believe that a part of each one of us ran with him that afternoon.  Somewhere in the soul, his triumph became our triumph.” (Northern Dancer: the legend and his legacy)

This past weekend as I watched Winx take command of this, her final horse race, once again I cried  tears of joy.  And for the same reasons.



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horses of character: Thunder Snow

Watching Thunder Snow refuse to yield in those final demanding strides of the Dubai World Cup last weekend had me thinking about Northern Dancer.  Of course our great Canadian hero is found many times in Thunder Snow’s family tree.  And of all Northern Dancer’s character traits, it was this very refusal to yield, no matter what, no matter how exhausting, that I recall most vividly.

Northern Dancer

That the little horse from Canada with the short, choppy stride was able to hit the Kentucky Derby finish ahead of the lanky, long-striding Hill Rise was possible solely due to this sheer grit and determination.

Speaking of character, I will never forget Thunder Snow’s brief appearance at the 2017 Kentucky Derby.  After taking but a couple of strides across the soggy track, he realized the race course conditions were not to his liking.  To make his point the tall, lanky colt began a bucking spree that would have dislodged most rodeo riders.  Fortunately his jockey stayed the course and the outriders rallied instantly.

Now, several years later, this extraordinary horse has back-to-back Dubai World Cup victories notched in his girth.  Thanks, in my opinion, to inheriting Northern Dancer’s grit.


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Silver Deputy – deputized

Not long after I set out to write Northern Dancer’s biography I drove to Maryland to spend time with our great Canadian hero.  Sitting on the grass doing little else but watching him for hours on end provided valuable insights into his extraordinary nature. My mission, after all, was to focus on the horse, and not the parade of humans surrounding him.

Silver Deputy
photo: M. Hilliker

Six weeks after my visit Northern Dancer passed away.

I was, of course, devastated.  And on many fronts.  I already knew what Northern Dancer had accomplished, now I wanted to know him.  But now he was gone.

Then one afternoon on the Windfields Oshawa farm I was pondering my dilemma as I wandered along the lanes leading to the various stallion paddocks.  Next thing I knew, Silver Deputy, the latest addition to the stallion roster, ambled up to the fence.  A Northern Dancer great-grandson, Silver Deputy had been injured at two and retired to stud at three.  He was now four and as we stood staring at each other I realized he reminded me of Northern Dancer.  He had not only inherited the powerful back end, but there was something in his eye – that wisdom, or ‘look of eagles,’ we recognize in the great ones.

And so it was that I deputized him to be my Northern Dancer ‘stand in.’  And I spent many hours sitting beneath the maple tree on the lane outside his paddock.

thanks to Monty Hilliker for sending his Windfields photos and reviving old memories


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Rivers of Gold – next chapter

Researching the book Rivers of Gold I became fascinated by the genetic makeup of today’s great champion Thoroughbreds.  I particularly enjoyed discovering the Canadian horses – some famous, some not – that play a role in forming the disposition and physical makeup of our equine warriors.  And, at least for the moment, the results of Canada’s Rivers of Gold show no sign of abating.

Rivers of Gold

Roaring Lion, Cartier 2018 Horse of the Year, hails from good hardy Canadian stock.  In the family of his sire, Kitten’s Joy, we detect Canadian champions – L’Enjoleur, Fanfreluche and Northern Dancer.  Another Canadian champion, Afleet, is in the family tree of Vionnet, dam of Roaring Lion.  Natalma, dam of Northern Dancer appears twice – once as dam of Raise the Standard and that of her most famous son.

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Accelerate and Canadian content

While Enable’s victory in the Breeders Cup Turf surely was the defining moment at this

photo: Darron Cummings AP

year’s equine extravaganza, Accelerate’s win in the Classic was a great achievement, and on many fronts.

But it sure wasn’t a shoe-in.  Initially the chestnut colt refused to enter the starting gate.  In the early stages of the race he appeared mired mid-pack, but eventually, with mud caked to his determined muzzle, Accelerate emerged triumphant and gave trainer, John Sadler, his first Breeders Cup win in 45 tries.

Strolling through Accelerate’s family tree Canadians will find a small herd of familiar names.  Accelerate’s sire, Looking at Lucky, is a son of a Canadian stallion, Smart Strike and his dam, Private Feeling, is a Northern Dancer granddaughter.  We also find another Canadian stallion, Icecapade, in her pedigree, hence the great Thoroughbred patriarch, Canada’s Nearctic sprinkled throughout.

Accelerate’s dam, Issues, is a daughter of Canadian stallion Awesome Again.  Winner of the Classic back in ’98, Awesome Again is a son a Canadian champion, Deputy Minister, and he, of course, traces back to one our all time great Canadian champions, Bunty Lawless.

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Enable – gift from the horse gods and goddesses

Bee Buck photography

Enable’s stretch run in the Breeders Cup Turf surely left we mere mortals gasping for air.  She is grand.  She is elegant.  She is courageous beyond measure.  Surely a gift from the horse gods and goddesses.

We all knew going into the race Enable would not enjoy the soft, uncertain turf and it seems there  was good cause for concern.  After the race Enable’s jockey, Frankie Dettori, explained that she was spinning her tires in the early stages, so he had to take her the long way round and out on the turf less traveled.

With the Irish filly, Magical, flying up the rail like a bullet-train, it seemed almost impossible for Enable to prevail.  But just when I was about to concede, Enable found another gear.  Shades of Nijinsky in the English Derby all those years ago.  But then the memories of the truly great horses are indelibly etched in our memories.

Thank you Enable.


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Wonderful Winx

She did it!   Winx handily added her 4th Cox Plate to her astonishing record.

Winx – 29th

And watching the crowds go wild in the presence of Winx I am reminded of something I wrote many years ago about Northern Dancer.  He was, at the time, Canada’s Winx.  The entire country was cheering him on.  And when he won, we too went wild:

When Northern Dancer won, we laughed, we cried.  We hugged, we danced…you’d have thought we had run, and won, that race.  But then, in a way we had.  I believe that a part of each one of us ran with him that afternoon.  Somewhere in the soul, his triumph became our triumph.”

It’s what horses do for us, isn’t it.  In those brief moments from the sound of the bell to galloping past the wire, they give our souls an amazing ride.

Thank you Winx.


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magical horse

Talismanic.   With his four white stockings and the massive blaze, he surely is a ‘showstopper.’  His name means “producing magical results.”  And he certainly looks magical.


Last year’s Breeders Cup turf champion, Talismanic is slated to return to North America to defend his title.  The post parade is likely to be the highlight of this years races, as Enable, winner of her second Arc d’Triomphe, and queen of European racing, is scheduled to be among Talismanic’s rivals.

As with all the great racehorses these days, Talismanic is fueled with Canadian bloodlines:  Northern Dancer and Nearctic both top and bottom.  Natalma, dam of Northern Dancer makes another appearance via her daughter, Raise the Standard, great granddam of Talismanic’s dam, Magic Mission.

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amazing horse stories

Some horses simply ‘fill your eye.’  In the case of Shamardal, he also embodies the most extraordinary saga.


I was lured into the world of Shamardal by Sheika Reika, winner of the recent E.P.Taylor stakes.  This led to looking at her bloodlines and the discovery of the most amazing story.  Back in 2002 her sire, Shamardal, was dispatched to the Keeneland auction by his Kentucky breeders.  No one was interested so they brought him home.  The following year the colt was diagnosed with a spinal disorder.  Eventually the owners filed an insurance claim and gave ownership to the insurers.  The colt was to be euthanized.  At this point insurance adjuster, Richard Ketch, assured the firm the use of alternative medicine would save the life of the colt.

Whether it was the “energy healing”  or the colt was one of the 10% that make a full recovery, before long the colt was back on his feet and shipped to yet another auction.  This time Newmarket, England where he was incorrectly diagnosed with a breathing problem and was sold to Sheikh Mohammed for 50,000 guineas.

After all this, it seems Shamardal was an exceptional racehorse.  He was named 2004 Champion Two Year Old and the following year he won 3 Group One races before being sidelined by an injury.

And I was reminded of E.P. Taylor, telling me, more than once, that while owning and breeding Thoroughbreds was exhilarating, it was often quite humbling.  Still I know he would like this story.  That this remarkable colt is a great great grandson of Taylor’s Northern Dancer would simply add to the enjoyment.

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the mighty Winx: and why I envy Australians


The mighty Winx has just powered her way to yet another victory – 28 consecutive – but who’s counting?  My Australian friends are following her from track to track, with total devotion… and awe.  And I am totally jealous.

I would love to witness her race, but Australia is a bit of a hike from Toronto.  Still, watching the videos of her races is breathtaking.  How, when it seems all is lost, time and again she finds that next gear.  Like Nijinsky, Winx appears to possess that illusive fifth gear. Furthermore, this mare has such class.  Such dignity. The great ones simply do.

I’m reminded of the glory days of horse racing in Canada.  And how we arranged our lives to make certain we’d be there when one of these super-stars arrived at Woodbine racetrack.   Some, like All Along and Secretariat and Dahlia and Exceller and, of course, Northern Dancer, left an indelible impression.

These days I need to be content with knowing today’s champions are fueled with Canadian bloodlines

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