Majestic Prince, 1969

Charles Hatton on Majestic Prince from the 1970 American Racing Manual.


The American turf in 1969 was bereft of a bright ornament when Majestic Prince, favored to place himself above history and become the first unbeaten Triple Crown winner, blasted the exalting hopes he had inspired to a nightmarish renewal of the Belmont. He was finally betrayed by unsoundness and, as if that were not enough, he got an ingenuous ride. He had worked faster than the Belmont was run, moreover in the Derby and Preakness had stared down the Belmont winner Arts and Letters in breathlessly exciting stretch struggles.

The diminutive Arts and Letters then seemed the only horse capable of putting Majestic Prince on his mettle. Their vendetta engaged the rapt attention of the fans as it had not been since Zev and In Memoriam, or mighty Hourless and demure little Omar Khayyam divided the public’s loyalties.

Close observers were profoundly impressed—and at the same time alarmed—when Majestic Prince rose bravely to the occasion and came again to win the Preakness despite some conjectural soreness. Trainer John Longden advised forfeiting the Belmont, but such an opportunity to flout precedence had never come before, nor would again for Majestic Prince. Owner Frank McMahon was understandably tempted.

In the end, the magic Celtic luck and sleight of hand which had attended McMahon’s far-flung racing ventures deserted him. The Prince’s edge had been blunted and Arts and Letters, his foil of the Derby and Preakness, proved to have been tempered of stronger steel, despite his cow hocks, pony size and severe races.

Their photo finishes in the first two classics were vivacious close-ups, informed with great intensity and penetrating deep into their characters. These finishes also were subjects of learned didactics and bombastic debates in turf circles before the Belmont, with its sardonic reversal of the form. By season’s end, this was all so many dreams ago that the Prince was a forgotten horse, having quit the scene in June.

Retirement Major Loss to Racing

Not only did Majestic Prince’s defection desolate his admirers, it was a major loss to racing the last half of the season. His status in history became ephemeral, destined to be always a subject of wonder, like those of Dice, Thingumabob, White Hackle, Inchcape, Luke McLuke and others cut down in their prime. They might beat a watch but could not elude the Fates. Each was exceptional but strutted all too brief an hour to admit any turgid comparisons one can feed into a computer.

The Prince now is retired to stud, a wise course we are sure, for history teaches that “they never come back.” Many a patched-up horse has bowed in his good leg favoring the bad one.

This applied even to Old Rosebud, who was meant for a super horse of sorts. He came in a vintage crop including Roamer, Stromboli, Little Nephew, Hodge, The Finn, Black Toney, Pennant and the dappled brown Luke McLuke. At speed conducive Douglas Park, a few days after “Buddy” won the Derby in a record 2:03 2/5 in greasy going, Luke McLuke beat older rivals in the Kentucky Handicap in 2:02 4/5, then the fasted 10 furlongs in Kentucky turf history. Behind him were the previous Kentucky Handicap winner Rudolpho, Latonia Derby winner Gowell, Kentucky Derby winner Donerail and Louisville Cup winner Clubs. And yet Old Rosebud had been handicapped to give Luke 18 pounds, which may suggest something of his capacity.

The Applegate and Weir gelding came back to carry topweight and set records in front of horses not yet foaled when he won the Derby. But he never could quite recover his maximum powers.

$250,000 Keeneland Yearling Purchase

We dare say Majestic Prince is a very valuable property as an entire horse though he will not again sport silks. McMahon acquired the colt for $250,000 at the Keeneland yearling sales. Introduced to competition late in his two-year-old form, the colt won both his baby races. He continued unbeaten through the Los Feliz, San Vicente, San Jacinto, Santa Anita Derby, a prep race at Churchill Downs, Kentucky Derby and Preakness before coming a cropper at three. He tallied nine firsts and a second from 10 starts and earned $414,200 in his explosive career.

Majestic Prince was not merely exciting to watch, he had presence and an aesthetic appeal bound to seduce the horse lover’s eye. This along with his spot-resistant record gave him charisma and made him inexhaustively fascinating for sports followers everywhere.

After studying the thoroughbred species with relentless avidity more than half a century—beginning with the corn-fed progeny of Hastings, Kingston, Ben Brush, Salvator, Falsetto, Himyar, Emperor of Norfolk, Hamburg and Domino—one does not succumb easily to the subliminal charms of a horse of symphonic contours and flashy coloration. So many are less than genuine, like Longfellow’s handsome rival Harry Bassett, or so historians of an earlier generation have implied.

Looked and Played Part Well

But we think we may say, unequivocally, that Majestic Prince “looked the part,” as well as playing the part so well. Bodily, that is, for some critics always were rather questioning about the state of his underpinning.

These things involve personal taste and it is well to “let every eye negotiate for itself.” The casual observer might do worse than remember the horse who fills the eye usually carries a lot of flesh, or excess lumber as it is called, and may be overtopped. This sort are the beautiful and doomed, exemplified by the rivals Yankee and Nasturtium, and more recently by Burgomaster, Bubbling Over and Roguish Eye.

It is non sequitur to speculate on the comparative merits of performers, as performers who were foaled decades apart. But it is perfectly permissible to compare them as individuals. The writer has seen all the Derby winners since Old Rosebud’s time; indeed, several before that are dimly remembered. Majestic Prince compared with any of them on the score of individuality. A possible exception is Regret, a filly of remarkable physical accoutrements.

Few things are quite what they used to be and it is sometimes contended this applies to the thoroughbred. It is somehow significant that contemporary champions are likened so often to turf idols of the past.

We have heard Man o’ War termed coarse, Equipoise lacking in scope, Tourbillon and Pharis crooked behind, and Epinard overlong—these comments made in each horse’s own time. But they gave the writer a thrill while helping to spoil him a little by supplying him also with a frame of reference to which few horses can conform. At the same time it is cheerfully conceded the critic must forgive any horse something. “Blossomed there ever the perfect flower?”

For that matter The Manager was both a champion on the course and the show ring while the handsome if surly Ornament won the Latonia, St. Louis, Oakley and International Derbys and a Brooklyn. Both failed to transmit either their physical excellence or racing capacity. “One never knows how a horse is going to breed,” Warren Wright reflected drily when he retired Whirlaway.

Many of trainer John Longden’s contemporaries looked at Majestic Prince and shuddered, much as George Odom did when Busher entered the paddock and he exclaimed: “Look what we’re 8-5 to beat!” It might be useful here to quote the whole catechism of The Prince’s vital statistics, but no comprehensive record has been made, though Longden’s curiosity led him to measure the colt at the points he considered especially intriguing and essential.

Stands 16.1 at Withers

The former champion jockey found his charge stands 16.1 at the withers. He girths fully 77 inches and his uncommonly low hocks come to 39 inches of leverage from hip to hock. This is important, though The Tetrarch and Purchase had long cannons and consequently long tendons, while Commando had not much length from hip to crooked hock. Majestic Prince had nine inches of bone below the knee. He is wide between the eyes, nine inches to be precise, while his overall length from the poll to the croup is 96 inches.

Most thoroughbreds are deficient behind the saddle, the particular which is The Prince’s conformational chef d’ouvre. John Hertz used to complain Reigh Count “had no quarters.” He distinguished himself at home and abroad and yet we think that everyone likes a horse with what Linus McAtee called “a lot of dig.” Possibly the gross sprinter Osmand was as wide across the loin as is Majestic Prince, and he had even more bone, but we do not recall he had such sensational length of pelvis. In the McMahon colt’s instance this appears equal to the distance between the withers and coupling. Moreover, he stands over a lot of ground.

One would scarcely guess it from his measurements but for all this length of top line, Majestic Prince’s back affords barely room enough for a saddle, while the loin is slightly arching. There is a swell of muscle along either side of the spinal column. He has superb balance throughout, with absolutely no angles, and his tout ensemble is a confluence of curving lines rather than plane surfaces. He came equipped with tremendous muscling about the stifle and gaskins and at the bow of the quarters.

His chest development also is abnormal. He forks up nicely, neither too wide nor with both forelegs coming out the same hole, while the scapula and humerus are well laid and the femur drops into flat hocks set on well down straight hind legs. His pasterns are unexceptionable and his hoofs well turned, one being imperceptibly smaller than its mate.

His color is that attractive hue which identified Aristides for all time as “the little red horse.” He has white socks about halfway to the hocks behind, a filigree of white behind one coronet in front and a small, inhibited star as his only marking. We suppose you know a lot of white is anathema to veteran horsemen. A white hoof is supposed to be porous, but it always gets cleaned.

One rarely sees such an enormous colt with quite Majestic Prince’s finish, though we think we have seen handsomer heads (for instance Peter Pan and Eight Thirty) and we are sure we have seen better ankles and harder cannons.

We suppose some of Majestic Prince’s misfortune, as well as his pulchritude, might be ascribed to his genealogy. At first blush this may seem rather gratuitous, but, of course, our Stud Book is in a sense a catalogue of stallions who could make this same claim.

The parent never knows what particular genes his child will inherit. Display was hailed as “the best bred son of Fair Play,” while Man o’ War’s family was long ostracized as one from across the tracks. And yet they contradicted their genealogical zip codes in training. Breeders can only hope their produce have the character to compensate for genetic frailties. These are nearly unavoidable in any pedigree, not to say highly unpredictable. Spendthrift had loaded shoulders and was light under the knee, but sired the most durable campaigners of his time.

Ancestress of Whisk Broom II

Sallie McClelland gained renown despite lacking a rib, racing 19 times at two, and winning the Alabama before self destruction. By Hindoo out of a sister to the bleeder Iroquois, she inherited the clean, flat bone seen in so many of her sire’s descendants, along with a will to win. At stud she became ancestress of Whisk Broom II, Top Flight, Crusader and many others of note. Hastings had osselets, ringbones and sickle hocks, with the vicious temper of his dam, a big-kneed mare who also produced the evil Plaudit. But he also had resolution, and bequeathed it to many of his descendants.

Unlike The Manager and Ornament, who had everything going for them, Sallie McClelland and Hastings transmitted such virtues as they had.

Someone has said: “Class is the spirit to try one moment more.”

Majestic Prince’s sire Raise a Native, grandsire Native Dancer and great-grandsire Polynesian all showed considerable substance, and their legs did not sustain them comfortably on hard race tracks. Native Dancer developed osselets at two, while Polynesian’s forelegs were appalling, and he would sulk. Raise a Native bowed a tendon in midseason of his two-year-old form. And yet Majestic Prince, Raise a Native and Native Dancer made a total of 35 starts and lost a total of just two races. Two reversals in three generations is nice going, yet it points out another of the bewildering contradictions confounding the most hardened student, as if the various breeding systems were not enough.

W. S. Vosburgh used to say the Bruce Lowe Figure System was “a systematized delusion,” while W. C. Whitney regarded the system as “ . . . a good scheme to sell a book.” Many systems have been devised since, all continging on the sires, perhaps because less research is involved, when every breeder of experience is agreed the dam’s is the greater influence on the offspring.

As we recall him in training, Raise a Native’s pelvis was of astonishing length, but he was less large, less straight through the hocks, and somewhat coarse in contrast to his panther-muscled son Majestic Prince, who is a grand mover. In his walk The Prince recalls Madame Modjeska’s observation when unbeaten Ormonde was paraded for her: “He seems alive all over.”

Majestic Prince’s family has fielded its share of slings and arrows. His dam, Gay Hostess, fell and fragmented a knee in training and was unraced, while her sire Royal Charger was simultaneously one of the most stylish and crooked Nearcos. Alibhai, sire of The Prince’s second dam, bowed before he could be raced. Nevertheless, he too was eminently successful at stud. The family is that brilliant matriarchy which also produced Your Host and Graustark, who were accident prone but could run. Majestic Prince’s ankles were tightened as a precautionary measure before he ran, but eventually the treatment did not hold, while he also developed assorted splints.

No Meanness in His Disposition

He has a charming disposition, free of any meanness. On the contrary, his handlers say he is fun, and fun loving. He has poise, rates dutifully and tries hard without blinkers or undue influence on his rider’s part.

Majestic Prince is not unlike some others of his male line in that he has the conceit to relax once he is in front. He is an all-purpose horse, impartial to the elements and indeed his developer said, before the Derby, “He has not yet caught a really fast race track.”

He has rather a careless, insouciant way of going in the early furlongs of his races, though he can be very dashing and clever away from the gate, and is well able to secure a position and follow any pace. When placed to pressure, his stride lengthens imperceptibly and he puts his head on a level with his back and tail like the high couraged animal he proved.

One leaves him reluctantly with the sure knowledge a magnificent and tragically unlucky racehorse passed his way in 1969.

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