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Breeders Cup 2015
Kentucky Derby 2017

One Great Canadian

With a close proximity to Canada, a country where many of my relatives reside, and a place where I spent many summer afternoons venturing to the track with my father, I thought I'd give this current blog post a taste of some North-of-the-Border flavor.  Canadians, one and all, can be proud of their horse that won the 90th running of the Kentucky Derby in 1964. A true champ indeed. His name? Why of course, NORTHERN DANCER. In 1963, as a two-year-old at Fort Erie Race Track, Northern Dancer was ridden by Ron Turcotte in his first victory. He then won the Summer Stakes and the Coronation Futurity in Canada and the Remsen Stakes in New York. His record of seven victories in nine starts earned him the Canadian Juvenile Championship.

At three, Northern Dancer won a pair of Grade 1 stakes, the Flamingo Stakes and the Florida Derby with jockey Bill Shoemaker aboard. Before the running of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, trainer Horatio Luro asked Shoemaker to make a commitment to ride Northern Dancer in the Kentucky Derby. But Shoemaker chose a colt he had never ridden named Hill Rise as his Derby mount. The unbeaten Hill Rise had an impressive campaign in California, winning the San Felipe Stakes and the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. Shoemaker campaigned hard to get Hill Rise as his mount, believing the colt represented his best chance for a Derby win. As a result of Shoemaker's decision, Bill Hartack became Northern Dancer's permanent jockey and guided him to victories in the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby, winning the Derby over a fast finishing Hill Rise in a record time of 2:00 minutes.  That record stood until it was broken by Secretariat in 1973. (Secretariat's record still stands today). Hartack and Northern Dancer won the Preakness Stakes, and finished third in the Belmont Stakes to Quadrangle and Roman Brother. After the Belmont, Northern Dancer won Canada's Queen's Plate by seven and a half lengths before tenderness in his left front tendon ended his racing career. He was named North America's champion three-year-old colt of 1964,  and Canadian Horse of the Year. In his two years of racing, Northern Dancer won 14 of his 18 races and never finished worse than third. In the Blood-Horse Magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, Northern Dancer was ranked number 43.

Northern Dancer stood at stud at E.P. Taylor's Windfields’ Farm in Oshawa, Ontario until 1969, when he was moved to Windfields' Maryland farm, where he remained until his death. Northern Dancer was the most successful 20th century Thoroughbred sire. He has been named the 20th century's best sire of sires, producing multiple champions in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

In 1965, he became the first horse to ever be voted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. On its formation, he was part of the first group of inductees into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga in 1976. He was retired from stud in April 1987 at the age of 26. He died in 1990 and is memorialized at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario. In 1999, Canada Post honored the horse with his image placed on a postage stamp.

A residential street was named after Northern Dancer on the former site of the Greenwood Race Track in east-end Toronto. There is also a life size bronze statue of the horse outside Woodbine Race Track. 


Two great jockeys were aboard great horses when the gates opened on 1964 Derby.  On Hill Rise was Willie Shoemaker, and on Canadian-bred Northern Dancer was Bill Hartack. Both jockeys had tons of experience, and both were multiple Derby winners. The overflow crowd suspected that the race was going to be a good one. They were not disappointed.  The winner would win in the fastest time yet recorded for a Kentucky Derby.The track was fast. As the horses broke from the starting gate, Northern Dancer stayed close to the inside, with Hill Rise, the favorite, behind him. Then the two horses were even, behind a wall of horses--and abruptly Hartack moved decisively with Northern Dancer at the five-furlong pole,  taking Shoemaker and Hill Rise by surprise. The two horses had been running side by side behind a wall of three horses. Hartack eased his horse away from the rail and Northern Dancer spurted in front of Hill Rise and to the outside. And he was just about gone. Shoemaker could not get his horse to contain Northern Dancer's nimble escape. But the race wasn't over. Hill Rise mounted a charge and closed ground,  but his rally was not quite enough. Northern Dancer won by a neck.

NOTE: This was the very first Kentucky Derby I ever watched on television. It is ironic that in 1963, the year Northern Dancer debuted at Fort Erie, it marked the very first year my father took me there to the races.


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Older Comments about One Great Canadian...

Thank you for the information Vic. Much appreciated.
The Hall of Fame depends upon donations and projects to raise money. Recnetly Northern Dancer items have been on sale. One can buy them at the on-line sotre a the Hall of Fame web site.
EP if you write to Linda Rainey, she might be able to put you in touch with the effort to keep Northern Dancer's origins alive. linda.rainey@horseracinghalloffame.com is here address.
I now see, via the link, that the proceeds are for the Canadian Hall of Fame itself.
But I promise I'll not be naughty and will be overly nice Vic.
Northern Dancer calendars are a nice idea. After reading the post though, I can't tell who/what benefits from the proceeds of the sale. I frequently purchase equine calendars, but prefer those that are for the direct benefit of the horses. (At least a decent percentage of the sales price.) For that reason I usually buy from Old Friends, Cloud Foundation, etc.
not at $30.00 a pop
Okay Vic. Now I know what you can buy me for Christmas. Ooops Walmart. It's okay to say Christmas isn't it?
Northern Dancer calendars are available now. They were created by the staff of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame (Linda Rainey coordinator, and review, within the pages all the great accomplishments of the horse. Clsing weekend they will be available IN the Hall of Fame. Woodbine Gift Shop next to the Hall of Fame Wednesday - 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm Friday - 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Saturday & Sunday 11:00 am - 5:30 pm (cash sales only). As part of the planning committe, I will be helping the sale on Saturday and possible Sunday. The Hall of Fame is worth the visit at the Western entrance, ground floor of the grandstand at Woodbine.
Methnks that oshawapilot sits on the Cnandian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and has dark hair and glasses
A group of us is trying to save what is now left of Windfields Farm in Oshawa, resting place of Northern Dancer. Come lend your support at www.savewindfields.com and our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WindfieldsFarm - Thanks!
Try reading the book on Northern Dancer. He was an amazing horse! One of the legends of all time.
Thanks for your wonderful support slaintefolks & Anna K regarding the Northern Dancer blog post...truly appreciated
Chapeau TRACKMAN !! I like your blog. What a horse Northern Dancer was...I have traveled around the globe to see and stroke his babies. Nijinski, Sadlers Wells, Carleon, Be My Guest etc. Even the last son of Nijinski, Lammtarra I was kuddleing as a foal. I just love them...TRACKMAN keep going and Rock the Blog !!
And by the way Trackman, a very nice read, veryvery cool that you only missed Northern Dancer by seconds at Fort Erie.
This is so painful. They seem to think that they're hitting gambling and rich owners and God knows what exploitatable vices THAT brings, but what they're really slicing into are generational farmers and the entire web of rural life. Are there no farm kids in this gov't? Who do they think started racing in the first place and subsequently maintain it? wealthy royals?? Country folk of course, & not much has changed in 100s of years labour wise. So they're cutting 60,000++ people grappling for money and the threadcount they represent in rural livelihood. Such Such idiots.
Agreed Vic. A sad day for racing in Canada. Things were working well for the industry up north. Now they will be getting transitional funds only because the liberal govt is afraid they will lose an election. I think New York racing better lookout too. Given the budget deficits in NY, taking that money from slots at NY would be hard to resist. After all Cuomo did publicly say that the percentages of slots revenue needs to be adjusted and he felt that the laws giving tracks any slots money need to be revisited. I am afraid this is the start.
death rattle for racing in Canda announced today: http://www.windsorstar.com/technology/Grit+decision+called+death+blow+horse+raci\ ng/6501575/story.html
Man O' War.
Good year to start!

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