Northern Dancer, 1964

In response to popular demand, I continue this series with Charles Hatton’s description of Northern Dancer in 1964 from the 1965 American Racing Manual.


A charming little bay colt called Northern Dancer holds the Kentucky Derby record of 2:00 flat under 126 pounds and is very probably the best racehorse ever bred in Canada.

He was a late foal, like his resolute rival Roman Brother, and was not yet three, when he won the Derby on May 2. He had been foaled on May 27, 1961.

Whatever his stature, or lack of it, under the standard, this signal success, along with others in the Preakness, Blue Grass, Florida Derby and Flamingo, gained him the highest order of rank among 1964’s three-year-olds.

Unfortunately, Northern Dancer bowed shortly after his smashing victory in the Queen’s Plate and was retired. It will be disappointing if racing’s loss does not prove the stud’s gain, as he is a colt of impeccable breeding and demonstrable class.

Small in Size and Stout of Heart

Throughout his all too short career, much was made of Northern Dancer’s small size, as a distinguishing physical characteristic. That he does not conform to the received ideas of “the classic type” becomes academic and picayune in the light of his ability.

Gallant Man, War Admiral, Sarazen, Black Gold, Seabiscuit, Round Table, Sword Dancer and Northern Dancer’s ancestor Hyperion, who became a legend in his own time, all were under 15.3 when they made their marks.

Given the “will to win” a thoroughbred may be not only small but overcome a degree of infirmity to earn fame.

Dark Secret won a Jockey Club Gold Cup on a broken leg and McWhirter broke both forelegs in a St. Louis race which he won anyway and was immediately interred in the innerfield, though this sort of impediment is not advocated.

If one concedes there is some tremendous disadvantage in not standing 16 or 17 hands, then it follows there is all the more credit owing the little horses who run big races.

Before anyone accuses us of proselytizing to make out a case for Northern Dancer, we hasten to add that most racing men prefer their horses life size. At the same time, none of our acquaintance would decline to have Northern Dancer or Roman Brother, though the prejudice against undersized animals is such the former did not make a reserve of $25,000 as a yearling.

Dr. M. A. Gilman explored Mr. and Mrs. E. P. Taylor’s colt’s glistening exterior with a tape measure last July and supplied the following data:

Height                                 15 hands, 1 3/4 in.

Point of shoulder to pt. of shoulder          17 ”

Girth                                                               73″

Withers to pt. of shoulder                    26 1/2 ”

Elbow to ground                                            37 ”

Point of shoulder to pt. of hip               43 1/2 ”

Point of hip to pt. of hip                                27 ”

Point of hip to pt. of hock                      39 1/2 ”

Point of hip to buttock                                  24 ”

Poll to withers                                                38 ”

Buttock to ground                                   51 1/2 ”

Point of shoulder to buttock                         64 ”

Circumference of cannon under knee     8 1/4 ”

Height at rump                         15 hands, 1 3/4 ”

These are the dimensions of a vest-pocket Hercules. Comparisons are odious, but to afford you an idea of Northern Dancer’s development it is interesting Kelso at five stood 16 hands and girthed no more than 73 inches. Carry Back at four stood about 16 hands and girthed 72 inches.

Thus it will be seen that Northern Dancer has the heart and lung room of a much larger horse, without having to implement so much bodily weight.

Also it will be noted that he is very level and beautifully balanced, standing precisely as high at the croup as at the withers.

In the thoroughbred species, the length from the hip to the hock corresponds to the driving shafts of a locomotive. Given the muscle of the Taylor’s colt, 39 1/2 inches come to a great deal of propulsive power, in fact a degree almost unique considering this in ratio to the rest of his frame.

A few exceptions, such as Commando, have managed nicely with no very pronounced distance from hip to hock, nevertheless it is detrimental in that it foreshortens a horse’s action.

The forelegs serve as the axis in support of the weight carried rather than as an impetus. Since they receive most of the strain and concussion of the running horse, it is natural enough more horses go wrong in the front than behind. That is elementary.

Blaze Extends Into Left Nostril

Regarded in the round, Northern Dancer is a lovely individual, albeit he is fashioned more along the lines of the speedball than the stayer. He is bay with black points, a blaze which extends into the left nostril, white stockings behind and a white pastern in front.

Our subject has a refined and expressive head. The profile is fairly straight, the ears neatly pricked, the muzzle small, the forehead broad, the jowls flat, masculine and widely spaced, and the eye large and luminous. For the most part he was quiet as any lead pony, though he could be willful when things did not suit him, and he was quick to express displeasure.

This last is understandable to anyone familiar with his dam Natalma, who was sometimes difficult to saddle, while his sire Nearctic comes of the imaginative Nearco line and was got speed crazy in his early training.

We suppose a horse has to have some fire about him to be a successful performer.

Northern Dancer has a stout, breedy neck of moderate length, extending smoothly into his withers and short back. The windpipe is large. He forks up nicely in front and his shoulder is of neither the round nor mutton variety. The forearms are very well developed, the knees fairly flat.

He proved susceptible to splints and quarter cracks but the bone is large for an individual of his height and the pasterns and hooves shapely and correct. Our subject seems to have an excellent constitution for he held his flesh exceptionally well and suffered no lapse of form from the Derby to the Preakness, though his race at Louisville was severe and taxing.

Northern Dancer has a wonderfully broad, flat back and loin and his hind legs are quite straight through the hocks, the galloping kind of equipment. There is no very precipitate droop about the croup and his flag is set on high.

Northern Dancer’s action is not particularly long and stealthy, like that of his hand taller rival Quadrangle, but very clever and collected. His ability to accelerate instantly may have won him the Derby, for he extricated himself from a pocket and was off and gone while the leggy Hill Rise was collecting his stride.

Only Question Related to Stamina

The Canadian did not seem to differentiate too much in the matter of track conditions. and he handled his weight better than some larger animals. The only question anyone seems to have had concerning him related to his stamina. Trainer Horatio Luro confided to friends just before the bugle blew for the Derby he was not sure how Northern Dancer would get over the final furlong. It developed he was perfectly capable of a brilliant mile and a quarter, though that appeared to be about the end of his tether in the mile and a half of the Belmont.

Northern Dancer raced in blinkers but was unflinching in a drive. Anybody could ride him, and he and Bill Hartack got on famously, even when that rider pulled his whip, a gesture the colt had seemed to resent in Florida.

Northern Dancer is the happy result of an harmonious medley of bloodlines combined in the interests of breeding the best to the best.

Nearctic was an untried sire when Northern Dancer was conceived. The stallion is by Nearco from the 100 per cent producer Lady Angela, by Hyperion, and he was imported in utero. He comes of the burgeoning family founded by Pretty Polly.

Nearctic is a 16 hands brown with white heels behind and is very typical of Nearco in conformation, color and markings. He won 21 races including the Saratoga Special and Michigan Mile and One-Sixteenth campaigning from two to five and was a Canadian Horse of the Year. He was meant to be one of the topnotchers in this country, but so much use was made of his gift of sheer zip before he came under the care of Senor Luro that he became impetuous and could not be rated properly.

That has happened to a lot of horses, including even mighty Domino.

Natalma is by Native Dancer, who is, of course, Native Dancer, the winner of 21 of 22 starts and a progenitor of international magnitude. Taylor purchased Natalma for $35,000 at the Spa Sales and she was a nice filly if somewhat flighty. She is a bay of exquisite quality whose legs set on perfectly. She is out of Almahmoud by Mahmoud. Almahmoud won the Vineland and Colleen and has been a successful producer, foaling also Cosmah, the dam of the champion filly Tosmah.

It is rather extraordinary that Almahmoud should be the granddam of both the champion three-year-old colt and filly of 1964, and she has been awarded broodmare honors in recognition of this dual success.

It is particularly remarkable since Almahmoud is out of Arbitrator, one of C. V. Whitney’s culls, by Peace Chance from Mother Goose. Arbitrator was one of the sorriest sisters on the Whitney Farm, where her dam was considered somewhat disappointing in the sense she failed to reproduce herself.

Mother Goose Belmont Futurity Winner

As the veriest tyro knows, Mother Goose and her brother Whichone both won renewals of the Belmont Futurity for H. P. Whitney. They were by the irascible Chicle out of Flying Witch, by Broomstick. The next dam we well recall, a stately dark chestnut called Fly-by-Night II. She was by old Peter Pan out of Dazzling, by St. Leonards.

Fly-by-Night II. was sent to England, where she won the Holiday Two-Year-Old Stakes. She also won in the United States and at stud became the ancestress of Notebook, Whaddon Chase, Tweet’s Boy and Witch Sir as well as of Mother Goose, Whichone, Northern Dancer and Tosmah.

Fly-by-Night II. was a tall and racing-like mare of exquisite quality, an ornament in the paddocks of even the Whitney Stud, back in the days it boasted also such as Regret and Swinging.

Fly-by-Night II. was in turn out of J. R. Keene’s Dazzling. This mare was second to Irish Lad in the Special and was favorite for the Futurity, in which she beat Irish Lad, though she was a maiden.

It is a good family.


“It will be disappointing if racing’s loss does not prove the stud’s gain, as he is a colt of impeccable breeding and demonstrable class.”

Mr. Hatton need not have worried on that score.

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3 Responses to Northern Dancer, 1964

    by HorseSister’s Clairese Yuhasz Austin on Monday, 13 December 2010 at 19:07
    So we got a call from a woman crying this week, saying her oldest horse was sick and losing weight and she did not have the money to call the vet. I told her I would put the word out and look for a foster home for him and a good friend was looking to gift herself at Christmas with a horse that needed some extra care to rehabilitate and rehome!! A modern day miracle! When I called the owner back, she began crying again – saying she had been praying so hard and losing sleep, and her heart was so happy for ‘Ben.”

    WE WENT TO GET HIM – AND OH MY LORD – WORST CASE OF STARVATION I’VE SEEN IN 10 YEARS! CHRONIC DIARRHEA. He went right to the Vet – blood panels, fecal & exam, Coggins, and $173 later, on to a foster home, who is caring for him like a baby. But she is not rich, just rich in love. We already have 22 horses, 1 mule and 1 donkey, so our resources are always stretched thin. We could not have helped him without a foster home.

    We need ALL breeders to be responsible – NOT JUST THOROUGHBRED BREEDERS!!! I EMAILED/contacted over 100 Thoroughbred organizations, publications, racetracks and rescues and I have had TWO rescues ask questions about him, but no one offered to help. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS?

    BRED BY ARTHUR I. APPLETON, AND A FLORIDA BRED THOROUGHBRED, He’s called “Pass Or Park It” but his barn name is “Ben” and he was born Feb. 4th, 1992 which makes him just 18!!

    He had 13 starts when racing and Northern Dancer (May 27, 1961 – November 16, 1990 was his great grandfather!!! Northern Dancer is called the most successful sire of the 20th Century. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association calls him “one of the most influential sires in Thoroughbred history.”

    Northern Dancer; bred in Newmarket England, who in 1964 was the very first Canadian born colt to win the Kentucky Derby and in record time – a time that stood until it was broken by Secretariat in 1973. (Secretariat’s record still stands). He won the Preakness too, but came in third in the Belmont. He was named North America’s champion 3-year-old colt of 1964, and Canadian Horse of the Year.

    In the 1980s, Northern Dancer’s stud fee reached 1 million, an amount four to five times his rivals and a record amount that as at 2009 has not been equaled.

    He is the great-grandsire (on both the sire and dam side) of Big Brown, the winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He is an ancestor of the winners of all three U.S. Triple Crown races in 2009 Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby, Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, and Summer Bird in the Belmont. He is on both sides of the pedigrees of Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra.

    He is also grand sire on both sides of “Ben’s” pedigree – amazing.

    Here’s Northern Dancer’s exciting 1964 win and goodbye -

    We need to get the word out there that we need to get this boy back up to par. If you can help, even $5.00 towards his care and feeding, please use our PayPal account,

  2. Northern Dancer’s bloodline is the most influential sires in Thoroughbred history. His impact is indelible. Racing fans are now getting excited when Exceed and Excel will get an opportunity to meet Black Caviar..

  3. BLACK CAVIAR (By Bel Esprit by Royal Academy by Nijinsky by NORTHERN DANCER by Nearctic out of Helsinge by Desert Sun) EXCEED AND EXCEL (By Danehill by Danzig by NORTHERN DANCER by Nearctic by Nearco out of Patrona by Lomond)

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