When Northern Dancer was foaled on May 27, 1961, at Windfields Farm in Ontario, no one could have imagined that thoroughbred racing had been changed across the world. He was from the very first crop of the unproven Canadian sire, Nearctic, and the first foal of his dam, Natalma, who was bred at three following a career-ending injury. When he was offered for sale as a yearling, he was barely 15 hands tall, and failed to reach his reserve price of $25,000.

Thus owner/breeder E.P. Taylor was forced to keep Northern Dancer and race the colt himself, whereupon he won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Queen’s Plate, along with 14 of 18 lifetime starts before heading for the breeding shed. Northern Dancer’s first crop of 21 foals produced an incredible 10 stakes winners, his second crop produced English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky II, and after four crops he was moved to Windfields Farm in Maryland by popular demand. The rest is now history, as he produced a record 146 stakes-winners and more then 100 sons at stud who also produced stakes winners.

In recent years, inbreeding to Northern Dancer has become more and more frequent, as in the case of undefeated European champion Frankel — who is inbred 3×4-Northern Dancer. In 2018, in particular, we have seen an explosion of multiple linebreeding to Northern Dancer, often with four, five, or six strains of Northern Dancer in the pedigree of major stakes winners.

All of which came to a head in this year’s American Triple Crown, where the winner, Justify (Scat Daddy), shows six strains of Northern Dancer blood, three from each parent. Even the English Derby winner, Masar, is 4x5x6-Northern Dancer. His sire, New Approach (Galileo), also won the English Derby.

This trend continued through the recent Breeders’ Cup, which saw eight winners from the 14 races who showed multiple linebreeding to Northern Dancer.

The two stars of Breeders’ Cup Day were probably Enable and Accelerate, as they won the Turf and Classic to close the program. The phenomenal filly Enable features a remarkable 3×2 cross to Sadler’s Wells, and a somewhat unusual 4x3x6 linebreeding to Northern Dancer. (Note that Sadler’s Wells himself is similarly linebred 3x6x6-Nearco.) Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Accelerate, is a somewhat more modest 5x5x5-Northern Dancer.

Other Breeders’ Cup day winners included:

  • Expert Eye (Acclamation),
    5x5x7x6x5-Northern Dancer
  • Monomy Girl (Tapizar),
    6x5x6-Northern Dancer
  • Stormy Liberal (Stormy Atlantic),
    4x4x5-Northern Dancer
  • Newspaperofrecord (Lope de Vega),
    6x5x5-Northern Dancer
  • City of Light (Quality Road),
    5x6x5x4-Northern Dancer
  • Line of Duty ((Galileo),
    3x5x5x5-Northern Dancer

From the theoretical standpoint of breeding science, it might be noted that such multiple linebreeding further back in the pedigree offers some of the advantages of closer inbreeding, with fewer of the dangers of genetic defects, which history certainly attests to.

Another pattern of note was the unusual dominance of chestnut racehorses throughout the year, culminating with the Breeders’ Cup where we saw two year old Bulletin winning the Juvenile Turf Sprint in the very first race Friday, followed by Juvenile Turf winner, Line Of Duty who was also a very impressive winner. Saturday, likewise, ended on a high note, with chestnut filly Monomoy winning the Distaff — all capped off by chestnut Accelerate winning the Classic.

And just for the icing on the cake, Kitten’s Joy is now headed for leading sire of 2018, with Giant’s Causeway leading the broodmare sire list.

All are handsome chestnuts, most with flashy white markings on forehead and feet. While students of breeding don’t usually pay much attention to coat-color, Native Americans have long believed that animals like bears, wolves, and horses are indeed linked by a larger spirit that connects them all simultaneously, and 2018 was surely The Year of the Chestnut.