Australia’s most influential racing figure
I am a keen breeding enthusiast who loves nothing more than sitting down with a coffee or a glass of red and sifting through endless breeding statistics. This particularly exciting personal character attribute often puts me near the top of the guest list for most social functions looking for a bit of extra oomph, as […]
I am a keen breeding enthusiast who loves nothing more than sitting down with a coffee or a glass of red and sifting through endless breeding statistics.
This particularly exciting personal character attribute often puts me near the top of the guest list for most social functions looking for a bit of extra oomph, as well as making me a potentially suitable candidate for Hard Quiz on the ABC.
Recently, while looking at the final Australian Sires Tables for 2019-20, it finally dawned on me that the most influential figure in Australian racing in the past 50 years was not Bart Cummings or Winx or even Peter V’landys, but in fact the Canadian stallion Northern Dancer.
Some people believe that all of humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. I’m still weighing that one up, but I am convinced that virtually all Australian racehorses now have Northern Dancer somewhere in their pedigree. And this extraordinary level of influence has been generated from just over 600 live foals.
Northern Dancer was born in 1961 at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, east of Toronto. As a late May foal (equivalent of Christmas in Australia) he was far behind most in his year in development, and at around just 14 hands at the time, was passed in at the yearling sales. Stroke of luck number one for his owner Edward Taylor.
Stroke of luck number two for world breeding came when Taylor refused to allow trainer Horatio Luro his wish to geld his unruly colt.
Still not much bigger than the equine equivalent of Ronnie Corbett, Northern Dancer went on to become a champion racehorse, winning 14 of 18 starts and the first Canada-bred horse to win a Kentucky Derby.
Upon his retirement he was inducted virtually immediately into the Canadian Sporting Hall of Fame, alongside Canada’s leading ice hockey players and curlers.
But it is for his work in the breeding barn that he will forever be remembered around the globe, made even more incredible by the fact that his average book size came in at around 35 to 40 mares.
Nowadays our leading stallions frequently enjoy the company of upwards of 200 consorts in a season. Over more than 20 years Northern Dancer produced less than a third of the live foals that say Redoute’s Choice or Encosta De Lago have.
This supply-demand equation saw his advertised stud fee rise to a truly stratospheric US$500,000 (A$697,000) in 1984, with services rumoured to have changed hands in his final years at up to US$1 million (A$1.375 million).
According to my legendarily careful analysis, in the 2019-20 season, an incredible 97 of the top 100 stallions in Australia carried Northern Dancer somewhere in their pedigree. Some 64 of those stallions were direct male-line descendants. That’s almost beyond my modest comprehension. And we thought coronavirus spreads rapidly.
The great Danehill, grandson of Northern Dancer, is the most prominent of those passing on the Dancer’s genes, but there are many, many others.
Of the three Northern Dancer free stallions on the top 100 list, Street Cry, sire of Winx, is easily the most prominent. But don’t worry, Winx has Northern Dancer appear twice in her pedigree on her dam’s side.
And our other two freak racehorses of the past 20 years, Black Caviar and Makybe Diva, are direct male-line descendants of Northern Dancer as well.