Lexington, Native Dancer Bloodlines Run Deep in Travers
By Lily Pierce | 08/22/2013 04:39 PM ET
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of racing at Saratoga Race Course, the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and the Saratoga 150 Committee established the Hoofprint Walk of Fame, located at the Wright Street entrance to the racetrack.
The Hoofprint Walk of Fame honors 30 of the greatest horses to ever have raced at Saratoga, 14 of them winners of the Travers Stakes, which will be run for the 144th time on Saturday.
Research into the breeding of the 14 Travers winners honored in the Hoofprint Walk of Fame shows a common denominator running through the winners of the Travers: the bloodlines of the great sires Lexington and Native Dancer.
This year's running of the Travers continues the influence of those powerful thoroughbred families.
The Triple Crown stars - Kentucky Derby winner Orb, injured Preakness winner Oxbow and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice - all trace back through Native Dancer to Lexington. So do Haskell Invitational winner Verrazano and Jim Dandy runner-up Will Take Charge.
"There is no doubt that endurance was Lexington's most important quality as a sire, as many races in his era were four miles long, and he produced horses that could win at that distance," said sportswriter John Eisenberg, author of the book "Native Dancer: The Grey Ghost: Hero of a Golden Age."
Lexington was born in 1850 and raced a total of seven times at ages 3 and 4, winning six times and placing once. He was retired to stud in 1855 due to blindness, a condition also suffered by his sire, Boston.
Lexington sired nine Travers winners, three of whom are members of the Hoofprint Walk of Fame: Kentucky, winner of the first Travers in 1864; Harry Bassett, 1871; and Duke of Magenta, 1878.
The 1894 running of the Travers was won by Henry of Navarre, whose sire and dam both traced to Lexington.
The success of Lexington's bloodlines continued into the 20th century through one of his daughters, Aerolite, who was born in 1861. Her son, Spendthrift, easily won the 1879 Belmont Stakes. In 1893, Spendthrift sired Hastings, who won the 1896 Belmont and raced carrying weights as high as 140 pounds.
In 1905, Hastings sired Fair Play, who was successful on the track but even more so at stud. One of his sons from the year 1917 was Man o' War, winner of the 1920 Travers and widely considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time.
After a brilliant racing career, Man o' War went to the breeding shed and sired Seaplane, grand-dam of 1939 Travers winner Eight Thirty.
Since the mid-1900's, Lexington's bloodlines have been carried forward by the bloodlines of the brilliant champion Native Dancer.
Native Dancer traces back to Lexington through Fair Play, who, in addition to siring Man o' War in 1917, also sired the 1926 Preakness winner Display.
Display, notoriously fiery before his races, sired Discovery, the brilliant 1935 Horse of the Year. As a stallion, Discovery sired the filly Geisha, who was bred to Polynesian in 1950. The offspring was Native Dancer, a big, gray horse who often came from behind to win his races with an overwhelming finishing kick.
Owned by Alfred G. Vanderbilt II and nicknamed "The Grey Ghost," Native Dancer won 21 of 22 career starts, including the 1952 Hopeful and Saratoga Special at age 2 at Saratoga, as well as the Preakness, Belmont Stakes and Travers the following year. His only loss came when second by a head in the Kentucky Derby.
He was the first horse made famous by television and appeared on the cover of Time magazine in May 1954.
Retired to stud in 1954 due to a foot injury, Native Dancer went on to become one of the most influential stallions in racing history. He sired 43 stakes winners from 306 foals, and, particularly through his son, Raise a Native, and his grandsons, Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer, became the dominant influence in many modern racing champions.
Raise a Native, who had a short but successful racing career, sired Mr. Prospector, 1978 Travers winner Alydar, and Majestic Prince. He also is the grandsire of Triple Crown winner Affirmed (disqualified winner of the 1978 Travers), 1989 Travers winner Easy Goer, as well as the great-great-grandsire of champion Zenyatta.
Mr. Prospector, a brilliant sprinter retired early because of injury, also has been a dominant influence on the breed, and his male-line descendants have included Travers winners Thunder Gulch (1995) and Point Given (2001).
Orb's sire, Malibu Moon, is out of a Mr. Prospector mare. His dam, Lady Liberty, traces from a Raise a Native-Mr. Prospector family. Palace Malice can be directly traced to Native Dancer in a tail-male sequence (a continuous unbroken chain of stallions) from Curlin to Smart Strike to Mr. Prospector to Raise a Native to Native Dancer. Will Take Charge's sire, the late Unbridled's Song, hails from the Raise a Native-Mr. Prospector line, as well.
Northern Dancer is a grandson of Native Dancer who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in 1964 and sired 147 stakes winners during an extremely successful stud career.
Northern Dancer's sire was Nearctic, a son of Nearco, who "was unbeaten in 14 starts in Europe and became one of the two or three greatest sires of the 20th century", according to John P. Sparkman, author of the book "Foundation Mares: How Outstanding Female Families Shaped America's Breeding Industry."
Nearco's great-grandmother, Sibola, won the 1899 running of the One Thousand Guineas, "a race roughly equivalent to the Kentucky Oaks nowadays in Europe," Sparkman said.
Sibola was the great-granddaughter of Maiden, who won the second running of the Travers in 1865 - and is the daughter of none other than Lexington.
Native Dancer also is an ancestor of Danzig, sire of the 1985 Travers winner Chief's Crown, the only horse to be favored in all three Triple Crown races and not win one of them.
The other three Hoofprint Walk of Fame Travers winners do not trace their bloodlines to Lexington and Native Dancer.
The rich bloodlines of Lexington and Native Dancer show no signs of tiring. They should be influences on Thoroughbred racing - and the Travers - for years to come.