Stallion Dynasties: Nureyev
By Kaitlin Free
Every son of Northern Dancer has a certain quality that is unique to them. Nijinsky was a large, striking colt that was extremely gifted on the track, while Lyphard was a spitting image of Northern Dancer and seemed as if he would live forever. In every family, there always is someone who is dealt a tougher hand than the rest. Our next entry in the Northern Dancer dynasty was a horse that often fell down on his luck, but will always be fondly remembered for his accomplishments as a stallion and as a racehorse.
Bred by the legendary Claiborne Farm, a bay colt with a white blaze and a single white sock was given life on May 2, 1977. He was a beautiful foal that came from a rich lineage. Sired by Northern Dancer out of the Forli mare Special, he had highly sought after blood running through his veins. He descended from a female family that produced the champions Thatch, Moccasin, Gamely, and Ridan. The dam Special was already well known in both Europe and the United States as she had just produced the Irish Champion 2YO Filly, Fairy Bridge. Fairy Bridge went on to create a dynasty of her own, a story that will be saved for another time. As much as the Hancock family and staff at Claiborne loved the colt, they knew he would fetch a handsome price at auction and would carry the Claiborne-bred flag internationally.
The son of Northern Dancer was consigned by his breeders and sent to the 1978 Keeneland July Yearling Sale. The bidding started slow, the opening bid being a meager $20,000. It soon picked up speed and sparked a well known bidding war between Joss Collins of the British Bloodstock Agency and the BBA Ireland. The bid reached a staggering $1.25 million, and Collins gave the nod to $1.3 million shutting out the latter group. The price of $1.3 million was by far the highest of the sale and was the highest price paid for a yearling since 1976 when Secretariat’s son Canadian Bound sold for $1.5 million. Adjusted for inflation today, the price for the Claiborne-bred colt was just over $5 million. Joss Collins had purchased him for a well known client, Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos.
Behind every truly great horse is a great name. A purchase so high must have a name worthy and fitting. Niarchos and all who had the privilege to own a horse by Northern Dancer would usually name them after someone or something that correlated with dancing. The striking colt with the blaze and lone sock was named Nureyev, after the famed Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Now armed with a name fit for royalty, Nureyev was ready to begin life as a racehorse. He was went to England to be trained following the sale but was soon transferred to French trainer Francois Boutin. Boutin took his time with the horse and would train Nureyev his entire career.
After wintering in France and training most of his 2YO season, Nureyev would make only one start as a juvenile. He made his debut in the G3 Prix Thomas Byron at Saint-Cloud Racecourse in November, where he shrugged off his competition and won by six impressive lengths. His sole effort at 2 was good enough to be ranked the co-second highweight 2YO in France on the French Free Handicap scale.
Nureyev reappeared on the track as a stronger sophomore colt in April. He took the listed Prix Djebel at Maisons-Laffitte in hand for his first start back. This race was designed as a prep, with connections having a bigger rebound in mind. Nureyev was shipped to Newmarket Racecourse to contest the English 2,000 Guineas against the highly regarded English and Irish horses. French colts have won the Guineas, but the race is historically won by a more local horse. The 2,000 Guineas seemed as if it would be a coming out party for Nureyev. In the early stages, he was held tightly by jockey Philippe Paquet, before pushing his way through a wall of horses like a battering ram. As he bobbed and weaved his way through the field, the pair interfered with several other competitors. In the final quarter of a mile, he won the race in a dog fight with the great Juddmonte runner Known Fact. Posse went on to finish a gallant 3rd after suffering the worst of the interference by Nureyev in the early part of the race. The stewards took a lengthy look at the race, and eventually awarded the victory to Known Fact, thus disqualifying Nureyev to last place.
The result in the Guineas was not in vain and the connections remained undeterred with their colt. The Niarchos family and Boutin had their sights set on the Epsom Derby, the second leg of the English Triple Crown. Nureyev had been prepping for the race exceptionally, but his string of bad luck reared its ugly head yet again. The horse had come down with a very serious virus and would miss valuable training time. Nureyev would miss the Epsom Derby, and never fully recovered from the sickness. He never raced again.
Although he missed out on the glory and the money in the 2,000 Guineas, the French still very much celebrated Nureyev’s accomplishments in his short career. He was fondly remembered for his killer turn of foot. He was awarded French Champion 3YO Colt in 1980. Nureyev retired with earnings of $42,018.
Nureyev grew into an impressive specimen of equine brilliance after his retirement. He was a muscular type, with strong hindquarters and very strong legs. He was light boned and had a longer back than most of the other Northern Dancer sons at stud, as well as his sire himself. Nureyev stood at 15. 2 ½ hands and was registered as such.
Nureyev began his stud career in 1981 at the Niarchos family’s Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard in Normandy, France. He covered a nice book of mares his first season, but his stay in France would be short lived. Several other farms and bloodstock experts had taken a fond liking to Nureyev, and set out to purchase him. Master horseman Alec Head was one of the first to spot the young stallion’s true potential. At the same time, John Jones Jr., co-owner of Walmac-Warnerton Farm in Kentucky was looking for his own son of Northern Dancer. Head was aware of this and soon recommended Nureyev to Jones. Jones decided he badly wanted the horse, and put together a syndicate with an offer that his owners could not refuse. Nureyev was purchased and syndicated by Jones in partnership for a whopping $14 million in the summer of 1981. He was relocated to Kentucky in 1982 at Walmac Farm where he would remain the rest of his life.
Nureyev was not an easy keeper. He was a kind horse, but was spirited and energetic, which often landed him in trouble. As a stallion, he was so playful with his groom and handlers that he was almost dangerous. Once again, trouble would find Nureyev. In May 1987, he was flying around his paddock and collided with the fence. Nureyev had shattered his right hind leg just below the hock, with the leg turned completely backwards in a swivel motion. He underwent surgery immediately and was outfitted with four screws as well as a cast. The problems continued as screws began to break off, leaving him extremely uncomfortable. Nureyev also was plagued with a respiratory infection and mild colic. He was given less than a 10% chance of survival. Doing everything they possibly could, veterinarian Dr. J.D. Howard and Jones were determined to save his life, and they did. Miraculously, Nureyev survived the injury without any lasting effects. His fertility remained intact and he stood the following season as planned. Nureyev was housed in a specially designed barn, with direct access to his own breeding shed. He was never allowed to run free in a paddock again, and was hand walked for exercise. The first mare Nureyev would breed following his accident was the Riverman mare Histoire. The resulting foal was a filly by the name of Oumaldaaya. She was named Italian Champion 3YO Filly in 1992.
Nureyev’s first crop of foals were his only crop born in Europe. That first crop saw 8 2YO winners from a cop of 24. The magnificent Theatrical was among those in that first crop. Theatrical’s potential was not realized until he was an older racehorse. He would be one of Nureyev’s top runners, capturing the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 1987 as well as six other G1’s that season. Theatrical arguably should have been American Horse of the Year that year, but was awarded Champion Turf Male.
Nureyev sired many stand out runners, but another fondly remembered by the public all across the globe was the wonder mare Miesque. She had already cemented herself as the top female in Europe by 1987, but connections were eager to test her against American horses in the newly minted Breeders’ Cup. Miesque is one of the greatest horses to win a Breeders’ Cup race, and is one of the best Breeders’ Cup stories ever told. Miesque captured back to back runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 1987 and 1988, both won in different but spectacular fashion. The versatile mare earned the Eclipse Award for Champion Turf Horse in both years. She also captured seven championships in France and the United Kingdom during her career.
Nureyev sired more than twenty champions in his career as a sire. Aside from the three mentioned above, he sired Sonic Lady (European Champion 3YO Filly), Zilzal (English Horse of the Year), Spinning World (Champion in France and Ireland), Peintre Celebre (European Horse of the Year), Reams of Verse (English Champion 2YO Filly), Stravinsky (European Champion Sprinter), and Fasliyev (European Champion 2YO colt).
Other notable horses sired by Nureyev : Robin des Bois, Polar Falcon, Unusual Heat, Crystal Music, Alwuhush, Atticus, Good Journey, Joyeux Danseur, Skimming, Soviet Star, Special Ring, Stately Don, and Wolfhound.
Aside from being one of the top sires of his generation, Nureyev is known for being one of the best broodmare sires of all time. A few of his daughters in particular have gone on to create incredible lines that are rich in championships. He was named Champion Broodmare Sire in 1997 in Ireland and Great Britain. Nearly every year in his later years at stud, he made the top 10 list of broodmare sires in nearly all European countries, Japan, and the United States. His spectacular daughter Miesque has the best known family tree. Miesque was the dam of three top runners – Mingun, East of the Moon, and Kingmambo. While Mingun has not done much past racing, her son Kingmambo went on to become a popular sire worldwide, and produced several champions of his own. Another son of Miesque, Miesque’s Son, produced Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Miesque’s Approval. Her G1 winning daughter East of the Moon has carried on the lineage through her daughter Alpha Lupi, dam of recent champion Alpha Centauri. Other daughters of Miesque have also produced into the family including Monevassia and Moon Is Up. Monevassia is the dam of champion Rumpelstiltskin, who in turn sired top runners John F Kennedy and Tapestry. Both Rumplestiltskin and her daughter Tapestry are in foal to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah this season. Monevassia also produced the unraced mare Loves Me Only, who is the dam of Japanese champion Real Steel. Moon Is Up is the dam of the mare Sun Is Up, who produced Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Karakontie.
Nureyev also is the broodmare sire of Halwa Sweet, who is currently the top broodmare in Japan. Halwa Sweet has gone on to produce three top horses from five to race. Her son Cheval Grand upset last year’s Japan Cup. Her two daughters, Verxina and Vivlos, are multiple G1 winners and champions.
Nureyev is also the broodmare sire of : Peteski, Bago, Spinning Queen, Desert King, Zabeel, Big Brown, Manistique, Fantastic Fellow, Somali Lemonade, Jungle Pocket, Gold Tribute, Souvenir Copy, Cougar Mountain, To the Victory, Gold Allure, Rainbow View, Northern Afleet, Iffraaj, Farraaj, Niigon, Sightseek, and Tates Creek.
Through his top sons at stud, Nureyev is a stallion we can certainly consider a sire of sires. Some of his best sons at stud include Theatrical, Soviet Star, Zilzal, Polar Falcon, Unusual Heat, Peintre Celebre and Stravinsky. Champions themselves, Theatrical, Soviet Star, and Spinning World went on to prove themselves at great lengths. Theatrical often had fertility issues, but still managed to sire 18 G1 stakes winners of his own. Soviet Star moved around to many stud farms in his days, farms in England, Japan, New Zealand, and Ireland. While standing, he sired to runners Freedom Cry, Starcraft, Starborough, Ashkalani, and Soviet Line – nearly all foaled or bred in different countries. Spinning World did some of his best work in Australia where he sired top runners Heavenly Glow and Thorn Park. Thorn Park is now a top stallion in his day and has since produced the champion Ocean Park.
Two surprising sons of Nureyev to succeed at stud were Polar Falcon and Unusual Heat. Polar Falcon himself went on to be a modest sire, but enjoyed success through his son Pivotal who went on to be a titan. Pivotal was quite spectacular as a stallion, siring countless graded stakes winners including Megahertz, Halfway to Heaven, Sariska, Izzi Top, Farhh, Immortal Verse, Buzzword, Siyouni, and African Story. Pivotal is still active today and is known as perhaps the best broodmare sire in the world. Unusual Heat is the epitome of determination and success as a stallion. He was a decent runner, but wasn’t enough for his owners to keep and eventually slipped into hard times. Unusual Heat went on to be known as “The King of the California Turf” after finding home at stud in California. Unusual Heat will be the first grandson of Northern Dancer to be chronicled in Stallion Dynasties.
A horse that many somehow thought would always beat the odds, Nureyev eventually did show his age and begin to slow down. In 2001 at age 24 he developed a rapidly advancing tumor in his front hoof. Nureyev had not slowed down as a stallion, so the farm made an effort to save him. He underwent surgery to remove the mass in September of the same year. Sadly, several complications arose from the surgery. A month later on October 29, Nureyev had passed away. He is buried at Walmac Farm where he stood every year of his career at stud except for his first – in his favorite grazing spot. Arc winner Alleged and Preakness and Belmont winner Risen Star are buried on either side of him.
Nureyev will always be remembered for his accomplishments on the track and in the breeding shed. More important than that, racing fans and his connections will remember a horse with a spirit that could never be broken.
Next Installment – Stallion Dynasties : Unusual Heat
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