NIJINSKY – The last Triple Crown winner ?

 

NIJINSKY – The last Triple Crown winner ?

 

WHEN Nijinsky landed the Triple Crown in 1970, many judges suspected he might be the last horse to achieve this magnificent treble. Poignantly, his brilliant racecourse career mingled triumphs with moments of great sorrow for his thousands of fans.

Nijinsky, born on 21 February, 1967, was bred by Edward P.Taylor in Ontario, Canada. Sired by the great Northern Dancer out of Flaming Page, a Canadian Classic winner of nervous temperament, Nijinsky was bought by Charles Engelhard at the Woodbine Sale in Toronto for Can$84,000 (a Canadian yearling record) and sent to be trained by Vincent O’Brien in Ireland.

A powerful, bright bay colt with three white feet and a large heart-shaped star on his forehead, Nijinsky stood 15.3½   hands high as a yearling and grew to 16.3 hands as a two-year-old.

After a winning debut in the Erne Stakes at The Curragh, Nijinsky returned there to take the Railway Stakes, the Anglesey Stakes and the Beresford Stakes. He was partnered each time by Liam Ward, who rode him in all his races in Ireland, while Lester Piggott had the mount in England and France. Nijinsky’s final race of the season was the Dewhurst Stakes, and his convincing three lengths victory ensured him top spot in the English and Irish Free Handicaps.

The following April, Nijinsky reappeared in the Gladness Stakes at The Curragh, beating the Irish St Leger second Deep Run by four lengths. He followed up in the Two Thousand Guineas, effortlessly accounting for Yellow God.

Doubts about Nijinsky’s stamina for the Derby allowed him to start 11-8 favourite, the only time he went off at odds against in his 13-race career. The pick of Nijinsky’s rivals were Gyr, winner of the Prix Daru and Prix Hocquart; Stintino, winner of the Prix Lupin; and Approval, winner of the Observer Gold Cup and Dante Stakes.

In the descent to Tattenham Corner,Meadowville and Long Till led Gyr and Great Wall with Nijinsky going easily behind the leaders.With a furlong and a half to go, Gyr took up the running, pressed by Great Wall, Stintino and Nijinsky. A furlong out Nijinsky burst through between the leaders and came away to win by two and a half lengths from Gyr, with Stintino a further three lengths away third. It was an emphatic victory and one that answered every question. Nijinsky’s time for the race was 2 min 34.68 sec, the fastest since Mahmoud in 1936.

Nijinsky went on to win the Irish Sweeps Derby by three lengths from Meadowville and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes by two lengths, from the plucky Blakeney. He then won the St Leger from Meadowville (see below), with consummate ease, so completing a historic Triple Crown.

Sadly, he never won again. The attack of ringworm he suffered before the St Leger may have taken its toll, but at the time his head defeat by Sassafras in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was put down to his extreme nervousness and fretting throughout the preliminaries, while his loss to Lorenzaccio in the Champion Stakes was clearly a case of going to the well once too often.

At stud Nijinsky did superbly, getting three Derby winners – Golden Fleece (1982), Shahrastani (1986) and Lammtarra (1995) – plus the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand. He was Champion Sire in 1986 and sired the Champion Sire of 1988 and 1991 in Caerleon. After a long struggle against laminitis, Nijinsky was put down on 15 April, 1992 and buried at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky.

Charles W. Engelhard, Jnr. (1917-1971) was a multimillionaire minerals industrialist from New Jersey. His colours of ‘green, yellow sleeves, scarlet sash, green cap’ made famous by Nijinsky, were also carried by Indiana (1964 St Leger) and the brothers Ribocco and Ribero, who in 1967 and 1968 respectively, won both the Irish Sweeps Derby and the St Leger.

When asked how he wished to be remembered, Engelhard, one of the richest men in the world, said simply, “As the man who owned Nijinsky”.

He died at his home in Boca Grande, Florida on 2 March, 1971 after a heart attack.

 

For more Racing History see Michael’s Books for Sale.

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