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On This Date in Sports May 2, 1964: Great White North

in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

 Northern Dancer ridden by Bill Hatack prances around the track at Churchill Downs, winning the Kentucky Derby in two minutes. The two minutes set a record in the Kentucky Derby, as Northern Dancer is the first horse bred in Canada to win the run for the roses. Northern Dancer would win the Preakness Stakes but fell short in Belmont in the pursuit of the Triple Crown. 

Northern Dancer a Canadian icon was foaled on May 27, 1961, at Windfields Farms in Oshawa, Ontario. His sire Nearctic was the Canadian Horse of the Year in 1958. A bay stallion owned by Edward P. Taylor, that was smaller than most thoroughbreds and had trouble finding a buyer, leaving Windfields Farms to hold on the horse when he began racing with Horatio Luro serving as the trainer. 

Northern Dancer had his maiden race at Fort Erie in Ontario, winning by five and half lengths on August 2, 1963. He was ridden by Ron Turcotte, who would later ride Secretariat.  In his first nine races, Northern Dancer finished either first or second. Under racing rules, horses’ birthdays are on January 1st. This meant when Northern Dancer entered the major stakes races, he was younger than the rest of the field. Northern Dancer finished third in his first race as a “3-year-old” on February 10, 1964, at Hialeah Park in Florida. Two months later, Northern Dancer won the Florida Derby with Bill Shoemaker in the saddle, which paved the way for his entry in the Kentucky Derby.

Bill Hatack rode Northern Dancer for the first time on April 23rd when he won the Bluegrass Stakes two weeks before the Kentucky Derby. At the Kentucky Derby, Northern Dancer drew the seventh post in a field of 13 horses. Shoemaker had a chance to ride the Canadian colt but chose to ride Hill Rise, the pre-race favorite. Hatack was a veteran at Churchill Downs, winning the Kentucky Derby in 1957 on Iron Liege, 1959 with Venetian Way and in 1962 on Decidedly. Decidedly won the Derby in a record time of 2:00.4. That record would fall as Northern Dancer ran the mile and quarter race in two minutes flat, beating Hill Rise by a neck, while The Scoundrel finished third. 

Two weeks later, Northern Dancer collected the second jewel of the Triple Crown, winning the Preakness Stakes in a time of 1:56.8. The same three horses finished in the money with The Scoundrel, placing second while Hill Rise crossed the finish line third in a six-horse race. Going for the Triple Crown on June 6th in the Belmont Stakes, Northern Dancer was the favorite. The race was held at the Aqueduct Racetrack, as Belmont Park was undergoing a massive renovation. Northern Dancer would come six lengths short of history, finishing third in the Belmont Stakes as Quadrangle played spoiler and won in a time of 2:28.4. Roman Brother would finish second, as Northern Dancer’s lack of size seemed to come into play in the mile and a half race. 

Despite falling short in the bid for the Triple Crown, Northern Dancer was haled as a hero in Canada, with a parade in his honor in Toronto two days after the race. Northern Dancer’s final race was in Toronto two weeks later a win in the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine Racetrack. Northern Dancer would pull lame in a workout in July and never ran again.   He would go on to be one of the most successful sires over the next two decades.