Hall of Famer
Inducted in 1965
1st place - Fort Erie, New York and Remsen Stakes
1st place, Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah
1st place, Florida Derby, Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, Queen's Plate
First Canadian-bred horse to win Kentucky Derby
In 1965, Canada's Sports Hall of Fame enshrined an athlete who had almost single-handedly raised Canadian thoroughbred standards to the international level. This induction was met with some surprise, however, as the athlete in question was neither a man nor a woman. But the Selection Committee agreed that as the first Canadian-bred and owned horse to win the Kentucky Derby and gain significant fame for the nation in the world of horse racing, Northern Dancer was as deserving of this honour as any homo sapien. Northern Dancer's sire, Nearctic, was owned by E.P. Taylor at his stables in Oshawa, Ontario. He was a seasoned sprinter but rarely won at a distance of more than a mile. After being retired to stud, Nearctic was bred with Natalma, a fine race horse whose competitive career was cut short by injury. Natalma foaled her first colt on May 27, 1961, and thus began the life that was to become a legacy in Canadian horse racing. Northern Dancer's brilliant future, however, was not readily apparent at first. Taylor's racing manager Joe Thomas was disappointed in the young horse: "He was so short and so damned chunky - and he had cracked heels." So, at what in hindsight appears to be a bargain price of $25,000, Northern Dancer was passed over in the 1962 yearling sales and turned over to Horatio Luro, trainer for the American division of the Taylor stables. Recognizing the little horse's potential, Luro trained him to control and maintain his tremendous speed. In August 1963, when he was entered in his first race at Fort Erie, Dancer easily took the race by seven lengths. With several more wins under his belt, Northern Dancer began to attract the notice of the racing world. In his first appearance on an American track, in November 1963, he won by eight lengths. A few weeks later, despite a quarter crack in his hoof, Dancer took the Remsen Stakes. Nineteen-sixty-four was the most important and fruitful year of Northern Dancer's racing career. As a three-year-old, he was competing at the highest level against the world's top thoroughbreds. In his first major success of the season, he became the first Canadian-bred horse to win a $100,000 race at the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah. He followed this up with victories at the Florida Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Northern Dancer's crowning moment came May 2, 1964, when he became the first Canadian-bred and owned horse to win the Kentucky Derby, setting a record of two minutes flat for the mile and a quarter, a mark which stood for nearly ten years. When Dancer claimed the Preakness Stakes two weeks later, it was widely thought that he would win the coveted Triple Crown with one more victory at the Belmont Stakes. It was not to be, however, as Dancer was relegated to third place behind Quadrangle and Roman Brother in the final race. After this disappointing finish, Northern Dancer returned to Canada to reclaim his champion status with one last tremendous victory: he won the Queen's Plate by seven lengths. In early November, owner E.P. Taylor announced the horse's retirement to stud. Even off the race track, Northern Dancer's worth remained high, if not higher. He soon became one of the leading sires in horse breeding, with yearlings selling for more than $10 million. A great number of his offspring enjoyed significant racing success, the most prominent being Nijinski II, who won Great Britain's Triple Crown in 1970. Dancer produced over 400 winners, including 150 stakes winners by the time of his death in 1990, making him the most successful stud in horse racing history.