From a remarkable Canadian duo to a ‘spotted wonder’ in Europe in the 20th century, there have been some amazing grey racehorses in the annals of turf lore. Here is a small sampling of some of these horses of a different colour.
It was one of the most stunning upsets in the history of racing at the legendary Saratoga racecourse. Ontario-bred Runaway Groom was a grey blur as he ran past a Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner in the 1982 Travers Stakes under Woodbine jockey Jeff Fell at the odds of 13 to 1.
Albert Coppola’s exciting stretch runner came from more than 15 lengths behind Derby winner Gato del Sol, Preakness winner Aloma’s Ruler and brilliant Belmont Stakes winner Conquistador Cielo to win the famous race under wraps.
As the last yearling to go through the important Fasig-Tipton Kentucky yearling sale in the summer of 1980, Runaway Groom perhaps did not bring the price that breeder George Gardiner of Caledon East had hoped for. The steel grey son of fancy American sire Blushing Groom (Fr) from the stakes winning mare Yonnie Girl was bought by Coppola for $39,000 (US).
Trained by John DiMario in Kentucky, Runaway Groom won his first four races of his career before he was shipped to Woodbine for the Queen’s Plate. The colt ran a close second to Son of Briartic before galloping away with the next two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales and Breeders’ Stakes, both on the grass.
Runaway Groom was named Canada’s Champion Three-Year-Old Colt of 1982 and in 2001 he was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. He had a long and successful stud career and died at the age of 28 at Vinery Farm in Kentucky.
The story of the incredible Canadian-bred gelding Frost King begins with his name, obtained by owners Ted Smith and Bill Marko
A discarded refrigerator lay on the side of the road with its brand name easy to spot – Frost King. And so, the two gentlemen had a name for a light grey youngster bred by Smith and foaled in 1978.
The son of Ruritania- Native Flower was bought back by Smith from a 1978 Kentucky mixed sale as a weanling and the 1979 Woodbine yearling sale, both times not reaching his $10,000 reserve.
Marko took on the training rein for the gelding and from the moment Frost King set foot on the track, it was clear he was a horse of a lifetime.
Frost King could win anywhere; as a juvenile he won the Cup and Saucer Stakes at Woodbine and the Winnipeg Futurity at Assiniboia Downs. As a sophomore he won the Canadian Derby at Northlands Park in Edmonton in addition to a slew of stakes events at Woodbine. Smith and Marko sent their star runner on an ambitious trip to the Japan Cup at the end of his 3-year-old season and watched him finish second, just a length behind top American mare Mairzy Doates.
Frost King carried weight, a lot of it. He won the Bold Venture Stakes and Bunty Lawless at the age of 4 with 132 pounds on his back including regular rider Lloyd Duffy.
The gelding retired with 21 stakes wins and 27 wins overall in his 55 races. He earned four Sovereign Awards including 1982 Horse of the Year and is in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
In the first 129 runnings of the Queen’s Plate, heading into the 1989 edition, only one grey horse, Acara in 1944, had won the famous Canadian race. But more than 32,000 fans including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, expected Kinghaven Farms’ exciting colt With Approval to romp in the 130th edition.
It wasn’t exactly a romp as With Approval and jockey Don Seymour edged Sam-Son Farms’ Most Valiant by just a nose, but the son of grey stallion Caro (Ire) simply loved having his picture taken.
With Approval, affectionately known as ‘Snoopy’ for his habit of posing for the camera, went on to win the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie in similar heart-stopping fashion, getting his head in front of arch rival Domasca Dan.
Once he switched to his favourite surface, the grass, the long-striding grey/roan powered his way to a Breeders’ Stakes romp, becoming the first Canadian Triple Crown winner in 26 years and only the third Crown winner since its inception in 1959.
With Approval went on to be a graded stakes winner and world record setter on the grass. He won the Grade 2 Bowling Green and Tidal Handicaps in New York as a 4-year-old, setting a world record for 1 3/8 miles on turf of 2:10.26 in the former.
With Approval saved one of his most remarkable runs for his 4-year-old finale when he battled a soft turf in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Belmont Park and led until the final 70p yards before he was caught by French based In The Wings.
With Approval stood at stud in Florida and England before his death in 2010. He is the broodmare sire of this year’s Woodbine Mile winner World Approval, also a grey.
Owned and bred by Steve Stavro’s Knob Hill Stable, the big grey gelding Benburb was the curator of the “upset for the ages”, a phrase coined by Woodbine track announcer Dan Loiselle.
The son of Dr. Carter – Rosedon was the king of stunning racing fans, saving his best efforts when most of the racing world was watching.
Incredibly, Benburb came on to the scene just two years after the magnificent greys of Kinghaven Farms, With Approval and Izvestia, swept the Canadian Triple Crown.
And Kinghaven looked as if they had another superstar in ’92 with Alydeed, winner of the Derby Trial at Churchil Downs and a close second in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico racecourse. The brilliant colt came back to Canada and won the Queen’s Plate by 11 lengths and was 1 to 20 to keep his Triple Crown quest going in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie.
When heavy rains turned the track to slop, however, Alydeed’s trainer Roger Attfield knew Alydeed might be vulnerable. In a stretch run that will be remembered by many for years, Benburb and jockey Larry Attard battled past a slipping and sliding Alydeed to win the ‘Wales in what was deemed one of the biggest upsets in modern Canadian racing history.
Less than two months later, Benburb did it again, this time in the Molson Export Million, run on the Woodbine dirt track. Facing American stars such as Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, Benburb and jockey Richard Dos Ramos blew away the field at 32 to 1.
Benburb was named the Canadian Horse of the Year in ’92 and he eventually retired to Old Friends racehorse Retirement home in Kentucky before his death in 2012.
‘The Grey Ghost’ was Thoroughbred racing’s first television star as his racing career coincided with the introduction of TV to American households in the early 1950s.
And only was Native Dancer a brilliant racehorse and considered one of the sport’s all-time greats, he was also responsible for one of the most influential stallions in horse racing history.
Native Dancer was bred and raced by Alfred G. Vanderbilt of Maryland. Unbeaten in all nine races as a 2-year-old in 1952, Native Dancer rolled through his spring 3-year-old events and was odds-on to win the ’53 Kentucky Derby. His dark grey colour and almost-black tail was easy to spot on television sets around the country as he made his way to the gate for the Derby. With millions watching, Native Dancer and jockey Eric Guerin got into trouble early in the 1 ¼ mile classic, lost ground and had to swing wide on the turn for home. The colt’s late charge came up a neck shy of Dark Star in one of the biggest upsets in Derby history.
The colt would not lose again in a career that spanned 22 races.
In the stud, Native sired sired more than 35 stakes winners but it was his grandsons who took over the Thoroughbred breed. As the sire of Natalma, Native Dancer is the maternal grandsire of the legendary Northern Dancer, Canada’s greatest horse and stallion. He is also the grandsire of Mr. Prospector, one of racing’s most dominant sires.
So dominant was Harry Meyerhoff’s dark grey colt Spectacular Bid in the late 1970s that in one particular Grade 1 race, the Woodward Stakes, the ‘Bid’ was the only runner. The 1980 Woodward, in which a field of only three was entered and then two were injured, was watched by millions on national TV. Spectacular Bid ran 1 ¼ miles in 2:02.40 by himself. It would the last race of the great horse’s career.
Trained by Buddy Delp, Spectacular bid was born with a brown coat but he became a dappled grey by the time he began his career in 1978. A $37,000 yearling purchase, the son of Bold Bidder had brazen speed and endless stamina.
As a 2-year-old he won the Champagne Stakes and Laurel Futurity and in the spring of his 3-year-old season, won five major stakes races before the Kentucky Derby. With teenager Ronnie Franklin riding, Spectacular Bid coasted to victories in the Derby and Preakness.
A Triple crown romp seemed imminent.
But in the challenged 1 ½ mile Belmont, Spectacular Bid could not keep up to longshot Coastal and finished third. The loss was just one of four the Bid incurred in his career.
As an older horse, Spectacular Bid carried over 130 pounds in several events that he won including the Santa Anita Handicap. He set track records wherever he went and retired with 26 wins in 30 races.
The ‘Iron Lady’ might have been small in stature, she weighed only about 900 pounds, but she was a fierce competitor. Regarded as one of racing’s all-time great racehorses, Lady’s Secret was the best offspring of the legendary Secretariat.
Raced by Eugene Klein and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Lady’s Secret rarely missed a major stakes race.
As a 3-year-old, she won 10 of 17 races including races such as the Test, Ballerina, Ruffian and Beldame Stakes, and at four, she beat the boys in the prestigious Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on her way to winning 10 of her 15 races.
Lady’s Secret, much like another amazing grey mare trained by Lukas, Winning Colors, used her blazing speed and stamina to win 25 of her 45 races. She did not produced any major winners as a broodmare.
The aptly named Greyhound, an almost white Standardbred born in 1932, is considered by some historians as one of the greatest equine competitors in any discipline. The remarkable trotter set 25 world record records at distances from a quarter of a mile to 2 miles on half-mile tracks, one-mile tracks and he set them in harness or under saddle.
Greyhound was produced from the grey mare Elizabeth, who was owned by Henry Knight of Chicago. Gelded as a young horse Greyhound was then sold at auction for $900 as money was scarce during the Depression years. Raced by Colonel E. J. Baker, Greyhound won 71 of 82 heats or 33 of 37 races during his seven years on the track. He lived until the age of 32.
Harness racing fans in Ontario had 10 years of love for the light grey pacer by the name of Admirals Express. From 1999 to 2009, the ‘Grey Gladiator’ was in action virtually every Saturday night at Woodbine or Mohawk racetracks and had a knack for luring fans to the races just to see him in action.
Born in Michigan, Admirals Express arrived in Canada just before the turn of the century and raced for Ed Sayfie and Laurel and Gary Gust of Michigan. Trained by Mike Hales, Admirals Express was popular for his consistency and desire (and his looks) more than for major races that he won. He raced 353 times and won 86 races while placing in 97 others.
At the age of nine, Admirals Express set his own lifetime mark of 1:48.20. He was inducted into the Canadian Horse racing Hall of Fame in 2013.
Named for the unusual spots on his coat he boasted as a young horse during his racing career The Tetrarch won all 7 of his races as a juvenile in England for owner Dermot McCalmont. The ‘Spotted Wonder’ did not race again, however, as he was injury plagued.
Sent to stud, The Tetrarch, a descendent of the Byerly Turk, has been one of horseracing’s most influential stallions. Each of the 2017 Kentucky Derby entrants traced back to the mottled grey stallion.
One of The Tetrarch’s daughters, Mumtaz Mahal was a top class racehorse and an even better broodmare. “The Flying Filly” was a champion on the track with seven wins in 10 starts and she is the granddam of the great stallions Nasrullah, Mahmoud and Royal Charger. Nasrullah is the sire of Bold Ruler, the sire of Secretariat.
‘Dessie’ was a cult hero in England from 1984 to 1990 as a hurdler and steeplechaser. The snowy-white gelding won 17 major steeplechase races on the track and 34 races in total. The gelding was said to have ‘hooves of Pegasus’ and a ‘heart of a lion’ and his colouring, talent and enthusiasm for his job made him a fan favourite.
He won the King George Chase a record four times and upon his retirement, drew crowds when paraded for various events at the tracks he frequented. Among his keenest followers was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who greeted him following a race in 1989. Desert Orchid had a website and a line of merchandise and his popularity never waned through his passing as the age of 27.
Join us at Woodbine on Sunday for our first ever Grey Day featuring the Grade 3 Grey Stakes and the running of the inaugural Grey Handicap!