Saturday marked 62 years since the Oshawa birth of the legendary Northern Dancer

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Published May 29, 2023 at 9:01 am

E.P. Taylor with Northern Dancer and trainer Horatio Luro. Photo Jefferson Mappin

There was no birthday cake on his north Oshawa grave site but the greatest racehorse in Canadian history, an Oshawa sporting icon and Canadian Sports Hall of Fame member and one of the leading sires in international racing history, turned 62 Saturday.

Northern Dancer, the 1964 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Queen’s Plate winner and a horse who changed the face of the entire horse racing industry, was born 15 minutes after midnight on May 27, 1961 at Windfields Farms in Oshawa.

Born with a crooked white blaze and three white socks, the under-sized colt went unclaimed, despite a strong pedigree, when owner and breeder E.P. Taylor put him up for sale as a yearling for $25,000.

Photo Churchill Downs

Northern Dancer went on to a storied racing career, winning 15 of 19 races and was money for the other four with two seconds and pair of thirds. Los Angeles Times sportswriter once famously said the bay colt, who stood just 15 hands high, has legs “barely long enough to keep his tail off the ground (but) he’s harder to pass than a third martini.”

His racing career aside, Northern Dancer’s greatest legacy was in the stud barn.

His first crop reached racing age in 1968 and included Viceregal, Canada’s Horse of the Year and nine other stakes winners, an eye-popping 47.6 success rate. His second set of children produced only four stakes winners, but one was Nijinsky, who went on to win the 1970 English Triple Crown, the first horse to accomplish this since 1935. Another was Franfreluche, named Canadian Horse of the Year and co-champion three year-old-filly in both Canada and the United States.

His progeny and his kid’s kids have produced more Breeder Cup winners than any other and include American Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify. In fact, every horse that lined up in the 2018 Kentucky Derby carried Northern Dancer blood in their veins.

His DNA is also pervasive in Europe where he was a four-time leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland, with his grandkids and great-grandkids taking that honour a whopping 36 times. Every winner of the Epson Derby – Egland’s biggest horse race – since 2011 has carried Northern Dancer stock.

Northern Dancer continued to be a successful breeder until he was positively ancient at 26 and died three years later on November 16, 1990 after a severe bout of colic.

He was immediately returned to Canada and Windfields Farms in Oshawa, where he still rests today.

A statement from Windfields Farm, News & Notes Facebook site, said the horse will always have “enormous historical important to the city, the province and the country he was born in and returned to when his time was done.”

 

In the spring of 2018 the city designated the gravesite, located on the grounds of the former Windfields Farm on Simcoe Street – now surrounded by housing neighbourhoods and Ontario Tech University – under the Ontario Heritage Act. The university has pledged to look after and maintain the gravesite for many generations to come.

Northern Dancer winning the Queen’s Plate in 1964, the fabled horse’s final race. Photo Frank Lennon

 

1964 Queen’s Plate

 

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