Northern Dancer (May 27, 1961 – November 16, 1990) was a Canadian-bred Thoroughbred racehorse that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and became the most successful sire of the 20th century. As a competitor, Blood-Horse magazine ranks him as one of the top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred champions of the 20th century. As a sire, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association calls him "one of the most influential sires in Thoroughbred history".
A bay stallion, Northern Dancer was sired by Nearctic through the mare Natalma, whose sire was Native Dancer. Northern Dancer's grandsire was the English-based horse Nearco, two-time British Isles Sire of the Year. In 1952, Edward P. Taylor, Canadian business magnate and owner of Windfields Farm, attended the December sale at Newmarket, England, where he purchased the Irish dam Lady Angela, a daughter of six-time British Isles Sire of the Year Hyperion. In 1953, Taylor had Lady Angela bred to Nearco before bringing her to his farm in Canada, where she foaled Nearctic in early 1954. Nearctic was Canadian Horse of the Year in 1958, a feat that Northern Dancer would match in 1964.
Despite his strong pedigree, Northern Dancer was a diminutive horse and did not find a buyer at his $25,000 reserve price at the yearling sales. As a result, Northern Dancer stayed in the Windfields Farm racing stable—an inauspicious start to a racing dynasty.
Northern Dancer was ridden by Ron Turcotte in his first victory as a two-year-old at Fort Erie Race Track. He won the Summer Stakes and the Coronation Futurity in Canada and the Remsen Stakes in New York. His record of seven victories in 9 starts earned him the Canadian Juvenile Championship.
At three, Northern Dancer won the Grade I Flamingo Stakes and Grade I Florida Derby with jockey Bill Shoemaker aboard. Before the running of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, trainer Horatio Luro asked Shoemaker to commit to riding Northern Dancer in the Kentucky Derby. But Shoemaker chose a colt he had never ridden named Hill Rise as his Derby mount. The unbeaten Hill Rise had won the San Felipe Stakes and the Grade I Santa Anita Derby in California. Shoemaker campaigned hard to get Hill Rise as his mount, believing the colt represented his best chance for a Derby win. As a result of Shoemaker's decision, Bill Hartack became Northern Dancer's permanent jockey and guided him to victories in the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby, winning the latter race over a fast-finishing Hill Rise in a record time that stood until Secretariat broke it in 1973. Hartack and Northern Dancer won the Preakness Stakes and finished third in the Belmont Stakes to Quadrangle and Roman Brother. After the Belmont, Northern Dancer won Canada's Queen's Plate by seven and a half lengths before tenderness in his left front tendon ended his racing career. He was named both North America's champion three-year-old colt of 1964 and Canadian Horse of the Year.
In his two years of racing, Northern Dancer won 14 of his 18 races and never finished worse than third. In The Blood-Horse ranking of the top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred champions of the 20th century, he was ranked #43.
Northern Dancer stood at stud at Taylor's Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario, until 1969, when he was moved to Windfields' Maryland farm, where he remained until his death. He was the most successful 20th-century Thoroughbred sire. His offspring earned more money and won more major stakes races than those of any other sire, including North American, Japanese, Australian, and European champions, until the 1990s era of shuttle stallions. He sired 147 stakes winners, including Nijinsky, winner of England's Triple Crown; The Minstrel; Shareef Dancer; Secreto; Northernette; El Gran Senor; Lomond; and Fanfreluche.
He has been named the 20th century's best sire of sires, producing multiple champions in the United States and the United Kingdom. According to the Thoroughbred Times, at least 11 sons of Northern Dancer became outstanding sires: Be My Guest, Danzig, El Gran Senor, Fairy King, Lyphard, Nijinsky, Northern Taste, Nureyev, Sadler's Wells, Storm Bird, and Vice Regent. Northern Dancer's influence extends to Japan, where Northern Taste stood at stud at the Yoshida family's Shadai Stallion Station and was the leading sire in Japan for 10 years. By early 1980, Northern Dancer and his son Nijinsky II had combined to sire the winners of almost US$20 million in stakes. He also became the grandsire of 1991 Canadian Triple Crown winner Dance Smartly, who became the richest filly at that time with 12 wins from 17 career starts, including the 1991 Breeders' Cup Distaff and purses of over $2 million. She was also a success as a broodmare.
Northern Dancer is a four-time British Isles Sire of the Year, a feat achieved two times by his grandsire Nearco, six times by his damgrandsire Hyperion, one time each by his sons Be My Guest and Nijinsky, 14 times by his son Sadler's Wells, two times by his grandson Caerleon, three times by his grandson Danehill, and five times by his grandson Galileo – a total of 38 British Isles Sire of the Year achievements by stallions in just the direct grandsire to grandson bloodline of Northern Dancer (30 in 43 years, from 1970 to 2013, in just the direct Northern Dancer to grandson bloodline).
$1 million stud fee and world record offspring prices
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association calls Northern Dancer "one of the most influential sires in Thoroughbred history." At the time of his 1990 death, his offspring and further descendants had won more than 1,000 stakes races.
With this penchant for siring winners, Northern Dancer's stud fee reached $1 million, an amount four to five times that of his rivals and a record amount that, as of 2009, has not been equalled.
On twelve occasions between 1974 and 1988, Northern Dancer yearlings led the Keeneland July Selected Yearling Sale by average price. In 1984, 12 yearlings by Northern Dancer sold for an unrivaled sale-record average price of US$3,446,666 (about $7.9 million adjusted for inflation). Combined over a period of 22 years, the top 174 Northern Dancer offspring at the Keeneland Sales sold for a total $160 million.
As of 2014, the top ten horses on the list of top auction prices were sired by – or further descended from – Northern Dancer. This includes Northern Dancer's son Snaafi Dancer, who became the first $10-million yearling when sold by Winfields Farms at the 1983 Keeneland Sales horse auction.
Although he has been dead for nearly 25 years, more Northern Dancer-line horses are Breeder's Cup winners than from any other horse. According to France Galop, since 1994, the male bloodline of every Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner goes back to Nearco, his son Nasrullah, and his grandson Northern Dancer.
Northern Dancer is also the paternal grandsire of several prominent stallions, including Storm Cat, Deputy Minister, El Prado, and Danehill. 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. Northern Dancer is the great-grandsire of Australia's superstar mare Makybe Diva. 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 the great-grandsire of California Chrome, winner of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and 2014 Preakness Stakes, and also appears in the fifth generation of his pedigree. He is the great-great-grandsire of Sea the Stars. Undefeated racehorse Frankel is inbred 3 x 4 to Northern Dancer, meaning Northern Dancer appears once in the third generation and once in the fourth generation of his pedigree. American Pharoah, winner of the 2015 U.S. Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes), is 5 x 5 inbred to Northern Dancer, through Storm Bird and El Gran Senor. Northern Dancer is the great-great-grandsire (all paternal) to undefeated Australian mare Black Caviar.
In 1964, Northern Dancer was the American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse and the Canadian Horse of the Year. In 1965, he became the first horse voted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame (joined in 1996 by Canadian Equestrian Champion Big Ben). In 1976, Northern Dancer was an inaugural inductee to the new Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and was also inducted into the United States Horse Racing Hall of Fame. In 1977, Northern Dancer won three world sires' premiership titles for the number of: international stakes winners; international stakes wins, and; total stake earnings of his progeny.
He was retired from stud on 15 April 1987 at the age of 26, living at a Windfields Farm property in Massachusetts. After an attack of colic, he was euthanized on 16 November 1990 at the age of 29, and his remains were brought back to Canada for burial at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario. Windfields Farm has subsequently been sold to the University of Ontario, and Northern Dancer's burial site is not publicly accessible.
Northern Dancer was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. In 1999, Canada Post honoured the horse with his image placed on a postage stamp. A residential street was named after Northern Dancer on the former site of the Greenwood Race Track in east-end Toronto. Also, a life-sized bronze statue of the horse was placed outside Woodbine Race Track in northwest Toronto.
Over the decades, a number of books have been written about Northern Dancer. The 2006 book American Classic Pedigrees (1914–2002), by respected pedigree authority Avalyn Hunter, recounts how Northern Dancer and his sons have established a royal dynasty that has profoundly dominated the international bloodstock market.
In 2011, the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame held an induction ceremony; Canadian saxophone instrumentalist Matthew James Poulton performed his tribute song, entitled "Northern Dancer", from his latest album, Generations. The ceremony included a 50th-anniversary tribute for Northern Dancer.
In 2012, Breyer Animal Creations released a portrait model of Northern Dancer sculpted by Jeanne Mellin Herrick.
|Lady Angela (IRE)||Hyperion||Gainsborough|
|Sister Sarah||Abbots Trace|
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- Lennox, Muriel Anne. Northern Dancer: The Legend and His Legacy (Hushion House Publishing Ltd: 1995) ISBN 0-9699025-0-6
- Hunter, Avalyn. The Kingmaker : How Northern Dancer Founded a Racing Dynasty. (Eclipse Press : 2006) ISBN 1-58150-137-4
- Gamble-Arsenault, Debbie. Great Canadian Race Horses: The Incredible Feats of Northern Dancer and other Speed Demons (Altitude Publishing : 2006) ISBN 1-55439-000-1
- Article on Northern Dancer by the Thoroughbred Times, a division of the New York Times, entitled "Canada's Northern Dancer is the 20th century's best sire of sires"