The year was 1938 and the great breeder Tesio had watched his colt win the Longchamp Grand Prix. The brilliantly talented colt Nearco was then sent to France for the Gran Prix de Paris but with war looming in the air it was an unsafe time in Europe. Nearco was sold and moved to England, where he set about a new career in the breeding shed. He sired *Nasrullah, the sire of a dynasty of Thoroughbreds around the world. His bloodlines run through great horses like Sunday Silence, Mill Reef, Blushing Groom, Vaguely Noble, Riverman, Alydar, Mr Prospector, Seattle Slew and many more.
In 1953 a Hyperion daughter named Lady Angela was bred to Nearco. Once pronounced in foal she and her foal at side boarded a freighter for Canada. She was five months pregnant. The foal she was carrying became one of Nearco’s most famous sons, who looked like Nearco. He was named Nearctic. At two Nearctic was sent to New York to race. He was no match for Bold Ruler and other top horses, but had some success on the track. He tended to be a little speed crazy. In the hands of a team with infinite patience and a great deal of time Nearctic retired with 21 wins in 47 starts and earnings of $152,384 – pennies compared to today’s purses but remember the time frame of the late ’50s. He attracted a nice book of mares including a daughter of “America’s horse” Native Dancer. Natalma had talent but also had problems, with a calcium deposit on her knee being the retiring factor. Her first foal was that son of Nearctic. On May 27, 1961 a small bay colt was born. A late foal Native Dancer made an impact nevertheless. He was muscled with powerful hindquarters and evaluated as a colt his breeder, E.P. Taylor, didn’t really want to part with unless he received top dollar. No one wanted to do so. He was short – race horses need size! On August 2, 1963 Northern Dancer won a 5-1/2 furlong maiden race at Fort Erie. He then was second in the Vandal stakes before winning at a mile on the grass.
His jockey for four of six of his races was a young man named Ron Turcotte, better known years later as the jockey of the great Secretariat. Northern Dancer won the Flamingo, the Florida Derby and a sprint race between them. Today’s runners would not think of that kind of a schedule going in to the Triple Crown! Bill Hartack and Bill Shoemaker had some starts on Northern Dancer, and the Kentucky Derby loomed. Northern Dancer flew in the face of critics of hsi height – he not only won the Kentucky Derby by a neck over a bigger California based challenger but he did it in record time – a flat 2:00. The Preakness set up to be a return for the Californian, Hill Rise. Experts must have been stunned when the little bay Canadian colt won the Preakness…a live contender for the Triple Crown and he defied the “normal”. It had been a long dry spell since Citation won the Triple Crown in 1948 and some good horses had won two of the three races. The Belmont at 1-1/2 miles loomed for the bay colt. In the Belmont fought trying to wait for speed and in the end Quadrangle revelled the distance and won by a couple of legnths over Roman Brother, who’d also passed a tired Northern Dancer. Returning to Canada the plucky bay colt dominated the Queen’s Plate by seven legnths. He was pointed towards the American Derby and the Travers Stakes but while preparing for those races he strained a tendon. A layoff was in order with no guarantee the tendon would heal well enough to race as hard as he did. Northern Dancer returned to Canada, officially with 14 wins from 18 starts and $580,647 in earnings. He was Horse of the Year in Canada and champion three year old in the U.S.
Northern Dancer needed some help in the breeding shed – that size issue again. A special section in the breeding shed was set up with the clay floor rearranged so he could breed taller mares. His first crop exploded Northern Dancer into the racing world in a way even his racing success hadn’t. Viceregal was undefeated at two and Canadian Horse of the Year. Northern Dancer was truly a creature of habit. Horses tend to be animals of routine, and arguably stallions are more so. Northern Dancer got his breakfast at 6 a.m. and a half hour later they began being led to the paddocks. It didn’t take Northern Dancer long to figure out what it meant when his handler came out to get him from the paddock. Eager to breed any mare on the farm Northern Dancer was a handful – once returning to the barn he’d get a bridle put on his head and groomed to go to the breeding area. One day some guests came to see the regal colt as well as a magazine photographer. Anyone who has tried to explain “no” to a horse with mares on his mind knows it isn’t a welcome word. When coming out of the barn Northern Dancer had zero interest in guests or photographers…he wanted MARES. When he was turned away from the breeding barn he got frustrated, and his handler was frustrated at keeping people waiting. Northern Dancer reared up and struck the handler in the head with a foot. He was not happy with guests. Once the visit was completed and Northern Dancer was returned to the stall his handler removed his cap – and the blood poured out.
Northern Dancer could be difficult but he was successful. King of the breeding world he sired four internationally highly regarded sires – Nijinsky II, Danzig, Nureyev and Sadler’s Wells. His grandson Storm Cat is still today one of the most highly regarded sires in the world. Northern Dancer initially stood for $10,000 fee, quite a sum in the 1960’s. In the 1970s he was syndicated for $2.5 million – and by the time he was 21 years old an offer of $40 million was suggested. The farm, Windfields, in Maryland was sold during the 1980s but a section was saved so Northern Dancer could be in familiar surroundings. At the age of 26 in 1987 he was retired from breeding. He was one of the best known Thoroughbreds in the world, the jagged white streak down his face as distinctful as the stamp he put on his offspring. Three years later with age and surgery out of the question a colic attack hit the little giant hard. The champion was euthanized and the racing world felt the loss of a truly great horse.
Nijinsky II was the gallant horse’s first Epsom Derby winner – The Minstrel (1977) and Secreto (1984) also achieved the win. Aside from those horse the list of sons include some of the greatest horses in the game – and his legacy is continued today in horses like Royal Academy, Atticus, Joyeaux Dansuer, Theatrical (IRE), El Prado (IRE), Gate Dancer, Louis Quatorze, Storm Cat, Forestry, Hennessey, Storm Boot, Tabasco Cat, Summer Squall, Touch Gold and many more.