Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A short walk to Native Dancer

Frank Mitchell's recent blog on the influence of Native Dancer (read here)reminded me of the story behind the great gray son of Polynesian.

My house at Pillar Stud, which I managed during the 1980s was located on what had once been Gallagher Stud, and I lived in what was known as Gallagher House. Gallagher was directly across Russell Cave Pike from Dan and Alice Scott's farm. Dan was the son of Harrie B. Scott Sr., manager of Faraway Farm, where Man o' War and War Admiral stood, for the Riddle and Jeffords families. In the 1940s and '50s Dan and Alice, both wonderful people, boarded Alfred G. Vanderbilt's mares, including Native Dancer's dam Geisha, by Discovery.

Alfred Vanderbilt had purchased Discovery as a three-year-old in 1934, and he developed into one of the best horses of the Depressioin era, gaining renown as a great weight carrier and earning Horse of the Year honors in 1935. Discovery was a good but far from great sire of racehorses, but his daughters eventually occupied a unique place in Thoroughbred breeding history as the dams of top racehorses and/or sires Native Dancer, Bold Ruler, Intentionally, Traffic Judge, Hasty Road, and Bed o' Roses.

Discovery was Vanderbilt's foundation sire, and, as a result, Vanderbilt's self-confessed breeding strategy was to breed a Discovery mare to anything. Didn't matter very much to him.

Vanderbilt's maiden winner Geisha produced the decent filly and good producer Orientation, by Questionnaire, in her first season at stud, but she had been difficult to load on the van to take her down Iron Works Pike to Greentree Stud where Questionnaire stood. She was scheduled to go back to Questionnaire in her second season at stud, but she categorically refused to get on the van and could not be covered.

As it happened, Vanderbilt's cousin Gertie Widener stood her 1945 Preakness winner and '47 champion sprinter Polynesian at Gallagher Stud, then owned by Ira Drymon and his son Jimmy, who managed Mrs. Widener's mares. Since Polynesian was a first class racehorse, an excellent specimen, and right across the road, Dan Scott suggested to Ralph Kercheval, Vanderbilt's manager, that Geisha should be walked across Russell Cave Pike and covered by Polynesian, instead of risking life and limb to get her on a van.

The result, of course, was Native Dancer.

When I lived at Gallagher House during the 1980s, I bought a gelding by Crimson Satan out of Raise a Pocket, by Raise a Native, as a riding horse for my daughter Cassie. Named Satan's Pocket, he had been useless as a racehorse because of a breathing problem. Satan's Pocket was not a big horse, but he looked very much like his maternal grandsire Raise a Native, Native Dancer's best sire son.

Satan's Pocket definitely had a mind of his own, like his great-great grandam Geisha, and set yours truly off on his backside more than once. Let's just say he had a talent for "stumbling" at awkward moments.

Satan's Pocket and my son's half-Shetland pony from Tennessee were stabled side by side in what had once been the two-stall stallion barn behind Gallagher House where Polynesian once stood.

Somehow that seemed appropriate.


  1. that was a great story John. Thanks! I love the history and the comedy.

  2. John,

    This is a fabulous story. Coupling the idiosyncrasy of Vanderbilt's breeding plan with Geisha's dislike of loading on the van tells us just how much "planning" gets us on the road to breeding a great horse.

    And of course, the mare got nothing else that could outrun me.

    Do you recall what else stood at Gallagher Farm in that two-stall barn?

    Cheers and well done,

  3. Walking is good.

    This approach beats my own method of placing stallion pedigrees on the cellar steps and tossing mare pedigrees to see which stallion they land on.

    I am currently poring over several maps and drawing circles with my drafting compass to see which stallions reside within walking distance of my mares.

    Thanks to my favorite curmudgeon for a good story and a fresh idea.

  4. Thanks Frank....No, unfortunately I do not recall who else stood alongside Polynesian, but it is highly probable that it was a Widener horse. Nothing from that era comes immediately to mind.

    I'm sure we could look it up in the Times library....If I were there!

    1. John, though this is a very old blog I read it for the first time today (4/28/16). If I remember correctly, Challedon was Poly's stable mate. Sheldon finished 2nd in the Derby and won the Preakness (not eligible for the Belmont). Polynesian was a rather mean-spirited stallion and once bit my grandfather on the shoulder and it didn't heal properly for months. Ira Drymon was my grandfather and I have many fond memories of Gallagher Farm.

    2. Hi Joseph, great to hear from you. I simply don't have time or energy to keep this up to date.

      Challedon makes sense. I think he ended up back in Maryland, but I think you're right that he started out in Kentucky and Gallagher would have been a logical spot.

  5. Excellent post, John. Thanks.

    And quite reminiscent of the famous Brigadier Gerard story.

  6. John,

    Wonderful story.....reminds me of how Gildoran, two time Gold Cup winner at Royal Ascot came about. His dam, Durtal, a very fast Group winning filly by Lyphard (and half sister to future Arc winner Detroit) was proving to be impossible to get in foal. Her first season passed with nothing but failed attempts. In her second season she was being covered by all the fashionable stallions at Coolmore, with no success. Finally, in June, Robert asked JM who the most potent stallion at Coolmore was. JM replied that it was the highly unfashionable Rheingold. Robert told JM to send her to Rheingold......and she got in foal on one pop...... Some heavy thinking went on with that mating.

  7. Thank Mark....Looks like Rheingold cured her of her difficulty getting in foal, since she had 11 more after that! None were as good as Gildoran though. Is Perfect Truth Ben's or is Whisperview another Magnier pseudonym?

  8. ae there any u.s sires that are free of native dancer these days? theres only a handfull in G.B these days.

  9. If Polynesian,Geisha and Native Dancer were all born in Kentucky,why is Native Dancer considered a Maryland Bred?

  10. If Polynesian,Geisha and Native Dancer were all born in Kentucky,why is Native Dancer considered a Marylan Bred?

    1. That is determined by the state where a horse is born. Kentucky-bred means the horse was born in Kentucky, Maryland-bred, Maryland, etc.