Fifty years ago, an unwanted Canadian yearling came close to sweeping America's Triple Crown, and later became even more influential as a stallion. In fact, every runner in today's Preakness Stakes carries the blood of that horse - the great Northern Dancer.
Bred in Ontario by E. P. Taylor at his Windfields Farm, the son of Nearctic and Natalma (her sire being the famous Sagamore Farm stallion Native Dancer, who also won the Preakness) failed to meet his $25,000 reserve at the yearling sale and thus joined Taylor's racing stable. Small in stature (the colt never grew beyond 15.2 hands), Northern Dancer nonetheless possessed speed, stamina, class, and heart and won 14 of his 18 starts. He was champion at two and three in Canada, and Horse of the Year in his homeland, and champion three year old
male in the United States. His winning time in the 1964 Kentucky Derby was the fastest in history until Secretariat's in 1973, and still ranks third of all time. He added the Preakness, but was third in the Belmont before returning home to finish his career with a win in the Queen's Plate at Woodbine.
Sire of England's last Triple Crown winner in Nijinsky, Northern Dancer once commanded a stud fee of $1-million. His influence extended further through such important male-line descendants as Sadler's Wells, Danehill, Storm Cat, Galileo, and Danzig, but that just scratches the surface of the mark made on today's Thoroughbred by the Windfields sire. From 635 foals, he sired 147 stakes winners; his yearlings fetched more than $175-million at auction and fueled a world-wide interest in his offspring.
Northern Dancer raced in Maryland just one time, but he returned here in 1969 to stand at Windfields' Chesapeake City farm. Retired from breeding in April of 1987, he died on November 16, 1990 and his body was transported back to the Oshawa farm of his birth.
Following the death of both Taylor and his son Charles, the Oshawa property was sold off and developed, though the horse cemetery and stallion barn area were among the parcels set aside to be preserved. However, the site has been the victim of neglect and controversy, and plans for its future preservation are still pending as urban sprawl has overtaken the once bucolic pasture land. The Chesapeake City farm has also been sold and divided, but in 2013, two Maryland horsemen formed Heritage Stallions on part of the former Windfields land, standing six stallions this year, including 2005 Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness-placed Giacomo.