Category Archives: Horses

Northern Dancer

There are some athletes so well known that, fan or not, you can place the name without thinking. Gordie Howe, Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan, Northern Dancer.

Northern Dancer wins Preakness, great athletes50 years ago, the little Canadian Thoroughbred Northern Dancer won the Preakness. Two weeks earlier he’d won the Kentucky Derby, setting a record at 2 minutes broken only by Secretariat (1:59.40) in 1973 and Monarchos (1:59.97) in 2001. Three weeks after the Preakness, he finished third at the Belmont so his name is not on that very short list of Triple Crown winners. But his performance on the track made him famous, and a Canadian hero.

He won 14 of his 18 starts, had two seconds and two thirds. He retired due to injury after winning the 1964 Queen’s Plate. He then went on to make his real mark in history, as a sire. His name is in the pedigree of three-quarters of all Thoroughbreds alive today. Of the 635 foals he sired, 80% made it to the track, and 80% of those became Northern Dancer statue at Woodbine wikicommons 2008winners. His progeny also were impressive as sires and dams of great racehorses around the world.

His own breeding was excellent, sired by Neartic with Natalma, but he was a small horse, too small it seemed to be successful on the track. No bidders were interested when he was up for auction as a yearling. So owner and breeder E. P. Taylor, of Windfields Farm and founder of Argus Corporation, kept him. After he had made his abilities clear, Taylor turned down all offers to buy even a part interest in him. Northern Dancer repaid that loyalty, literally, with a stud fee of $1 million and plenty of takers. Northern Dancer lived at Windfields Farms in Oshawa and Maryland, where he died in 1990 at the age of 29. His body was returned to the Oshawa farm for burial.

click for Amazon link to Northern Dancer by Kevin Chong
Click for Amazon link


There are a lot of wonderful books about Northern Dancer and there’s a new one out. Written by Kevin Chong, Northern Dancer: The legendary horse that inspired a nation puts the horse’s story in the context of Canadian culture and collective consciousness in the 1960s. The country was finding its way as a nation, trying to form an identity separate from Great Britain and from the elephant beside us, as Pierre Trudeau called the US. Northern Dancer wasn’t just a phenomenal horse running in the most prestigious races in world, he was our phenomenal horse. And, looking at it the other way around, he wasn’t just a great Canadian horse, he was a great horse among the best of America’s horses.

Throughout Northern Dancer’s two-year-old season, New Brunswicker Ron Turcotte had Northern Dancer photo wikicommonsridden him. But when he went to the US, the horse’s connections wanted a known (read American) jockey. Bill Shoemaker first rode him, then switched to Hill Rise for the Triple Crown races. Newcomer Bill Hartack took over on Northern Dancer, beating Shoemaker and Hill Rise by a neck in the Kentucky Derby. Hartack remained the Dancer’s jockey. Ron Turcotte rode him one more time, for his retirement appearance at Woodbine.  Turcotte went on to become a household name himself. He rode Riva Ridge to victory in 1972’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and, a year later, Secretariat to a Triple Crown.

Northern Dancer created “own the podium” decades before the slogan was test-marketed. His win in the Kentucky Derby was a moment of national pride and self-Northern Dancer Canada Post stamp 1999definition that lasted much longer than the two minutes he took to run the race.

Tomorrow, at Pimlico in Maryland, California Chrome will be trying to match what his great-great (and great)-granddaddy Northern Dancer did in 1964. All Californians, I’m sure, are proud of their home-bred Kentucky Derby winner. So too is this Canadian Northern Dancer fan.

Click to hear a great interview with Ron Turcotte and Kevin Chong on CBC’s The Current.  There is also an excellent post about Northern Dancer’s history and effect on Canada at The Vault: Horse racing past and present.

 

Dressage Top Hat

dorothee schneider diva royal ger-dderosaphotoA requirement for safety helmets to be worn by riders in all equestrian shows is a good idea and, by and large, the helmets look ok.  But dressage needs something that is as elegant as the sport itself.  Something that looks like, well, the traditional top hat.

After watching the Olympics dressage, where some riders wore top hats and some wore crash helmets, I thought can’t technology come top hat helmet by l'Hiverup with a protective helmet with style?  I googled it and, yes, others have thought the same thing.

The helmet on the left looks good.  I’d like to see it on a human head to see its proportions and if it still looks good when on.  The other helmet, below,  does have the shape of a top hat and obviously the protective capabilities of a helmet, but the size that protection makes it also makes it look kinda like The Cat in the Hat.

Megan Rust helmet top hatA serious head injury in 2010 by Olympics dressage rider Courtney King-Dye started the move for helmets for all riders in all disciplines.  Yes, it’s a good idea.  A horse cantering, no matter how elegantly in dressage, is still moving at a good speed and a fall can cause the rider a lot of damage.

But dressage, of all the equestrian sports, is also an art form.  Looks and beauty of movement on the part of horse and rider is an Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro 2012 Olympic dressageimportant element.  Riders wearing a standard shaped crash helmet may as well complete the look by wearing snowmobile pants.

In show jumping and eventing, the crash helmet somehow doesn’t look as bad.  These are more clearly “sport” even though there is artistry in what horse and rider are doing.  But in dressage, the athleticism involved is hidden from view in order that the beauty of the movement can be seen.  Like in figure skating, circus performance and dance.  You know these are superb athletes but you don’t want to see the strain of muscles pumping.  You want to see the beauty and fluidity of motion.

If dressage riders are going to wear standard issue crash helmets, you might as well reiningdemand ballerinas wear knee and elbow pads.  Please, scientists, keep working on a helmet that preserves the elegance of dressage as well as the heads of riders. While you’re at it, a protective cowboy hat for reining would be good.  The look of that hat is important too.

Congratulations to Team GB for winning gold in team dressage and show jumping.  And thanks to all competitors for incredibly exciting and beautiful performances.