Charles Hatton on 1947 champion sprinter Polynesian from the 1948 American Racing Manual.


There have been a number of confirmed sprinters in recent years who have gained much recognition, but it is doubtful if any has so thoroughly dominated his field as did Polynesian in 1947, the first year in which Daily Racing Form‘s poll included a division for older speed specialists. Among 28 experts canvassed, Polynesian gained 24 points, and only With Pleasure and Spy Song were mentioned as claimants to the title.

Foaled March 8, 1942, at Elmendorf Farm, Lexington, Polynesian was the second and last offspring of his dam, Black Polly, who died the same year. Polynesian was highly regarded by his trainer, Morris H. Dixon, the first time he saw the youngster in a common gallop. As a two-year-old the colt contracted a muscular paralysis which confounded veterinarians and threw the Thoroughbred out of training. The malady, however, disappeared about as quickly as it came.

Polynesian managed to win five races as a juvenile, including the Sagamore Stakes, but did not come into full possession of his potential class until the following season, when he won the Preakness, Withers, and other events.

Though the Preakness was contested at a mile and three sixteenths, the thought persisted among experts that Polynesian was best adapted to the shorter distances–a mile or less, a belief that was further substantiated in 1947 when he shouldered exceedingly high weights and smothered most of his opposition (even Armed) with a grand turn of speed.

It was shortly after Polynesian accounted for the Preakness that he was mentioned as the “Cow’s Milk Champ.” The story goes that his dam, Black Polly, died of colic three weeks after Polynesian was foaled, and the colt was raised on a cow’s milk formula fed from a bucket.

Peter A. B. Widener, owner of Elmendorf Farm, had Polynesian in his own name for about ten days. In the fall of 1943 he came into possession of the colt when the estate of his father, Joseph E. Widener, was settled. He then presented the promising youngster to his wife on the occasion of their wedding anniversary.

When Polynesian come into prominence a lurge number of Turf patrons believed him to be from an “obscure” sire. It was then brought out that Unbreakable had been bred at Elmendorf and was sent to England by his owner, Joseph E. Widener, to race. There he won at two, three, and four, and his scores included the Waterford Stakes (carrying 134 pounds), Richmond Stakes (by three lengths, 133 pounds), Exeter Stakes, Soltykoff Stakes,  and Victoria Cup Handicap. Today he is standing at Elmendorf, where he was foaled.

In physical appearance Polynesian is hard to fault. Many astute judges of conformation, however, have been reluctant to brand him either as a sprinter or stayer, although they readily confess that he is a majestic type. His powerful shoulders and forearm would tend to indicate quick starting and extreme early speed, while his croup and thighs are long and well tapered like that of a long-winded distance campaigner. He has an extremely intelligent head, being wide between the eyes. His strong, sturdy frame is well set over legs that are straight and powerful in appearance.

Though listed officially as brown, Polynesian, like his grandsire, Sickle, often takes on an ebony hue, especially when his body is warm and sweating after a tough race.

Having completed his racing career, Polynesian enters the stud with 27 victories [as well as ten seconds and ten thirds] in 58 starts, during which he earned $310,410. He accounted for a total of 18 stakes and often established new track records while beating the best competition under high weights.


Hatton did not speculate as to Polynesian’s future success at stud (as he did with most other recently retired champions). Truly, I think that Hatton did not have an inkling that Polynesian would become such an “influence” on the breed as the sire of Native Dancer (sire of Raise a Native and broodmare sire of Northern Dancer).

Native Dancer was immensely popular with the general public. The hardboots (Hatton excluded), however, were always somewhat skeptical about Native Dancer. Perhaps that was because he was by the “sprinter” Polynesian and therefore his stamina was questionable (although he did manage to win the Belmont Stakes).

One pedigree theorist from New Zealand went so far as to claim that Native Dancer was by Challedon (not Polynesian). The “proof” he offered in support of this theory was nugatory. The testimony of stud grooms is notoriously susceptible to $100 bills.

The nexus of his “proof” was that Challedon fit his pedigree theories so much better than Native Dancer did. This was a precursor of modern “science.” Develop theories first, then look for “proof” to support them. Real science does the opposite. Examine all data first before developing any theories, then test the theories stringently, NOT ignoring the data that tends to contradict the theories.

At any rate, if you had told Charles Hatton that Native Dancer was by Challedon (not Polynesian), that statement would have been greeted with all the skepticism that it deserved. And then some.

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2 Responses to Polynesian–1947

  1. Bill says:

    Stoneridge (in his chapter on Native Dancer)
    ” Native Dancer created suspense in the foaling barn even before he was born, for he finally appeared one month overdue. Having been carried by his dam for a full year instead of the normal eleven months.” Mr. Hampton saw this a problem.

  2. fmitchell07 says:

    The average gestation for a mare is 11.5 months or thereabouts. So a 12-month gestation is not as far off as it might seem. Many foals are born “late,” and some mares regularly seem inclined to carry near the 12-month mark, rather than the 11. Others tend to deliver earlier, and it’s probably something related to hormonal and physiological conditions.

    No difference, except that late foals tend to be bigger, which can create delivery trouble. Native Dancer was a thumping foal, and one wonders whether his size caused bruising or trauma, requiring his dam to be confined more than her norm, leading to changes in gut motility, colic, and death? All the players are gone, unfortunately.

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