SPORTS WATCH

A proud legacy of Northern Dancer

Eveiybody is talking about Izvestia, not so much because of his Triple Crown win as because of the manner in which he achieved it

TRENT FRAYNE September 3 1990
SPORTS WATCH

A proud legacy of Northern Dancer

Eveiybody is talking about Izvestia, not so much because of his Triple Crown win as because of the manner in which he achieved it

TRENT FRAYNE September 3 1990

A proud legacy of Northern Dancer

SPORTS WATCH

TRENT FRAYNE

Being here from the bluegrass hills of Kentucky, Susan Rhodemyre says she does not want to be disrespectful of the great Canadian thoroughbred Northern Dancer, but that when she watches her husband David’s horse run, she thinks her husband David’s horse looks a lot like Northern Dancer.

Her husband David’s name is David Willmot, and he has a pretty good horse, no question about that. This horse’s name is Izvestia, who last week ran away and hid on the rest of the best three-year-olds in this country in a big race called the Breeders’ Stakes. This won him Canada’s Triple Crown, the Queen’s Plate, the Prince of Wales Stakes and the Breeders’ Stakes and added $1 million to his nightly bag of oats, a Triple Crown bonus courtesy of the Bank of Montreal seeking a few mentions here and there.

Currently, everybody who talks about thoroughbred horses is talking about Izvestia, not so much because of the Triple Crown win as because of the manner in which he achieved it—all kinds of tracks, all kinds of weather. Like winning the Queen’s Plate by 13 lengths on a dirt track and setting a record for that mile-and-a-quarter race. Like winning the Prince of Wales by better than six lengths on a dirt track and setting a record for that mileand-three-sixteenths race. And like winning last week’s Breeders’ by another six lengths at a mile and a half on long, thick, soaking-wet grass that made record-setting next thing to impossible.

Among the people talking most about Izvestia is the aforementioned Susan Rhodemyre, whose husband shares ownership of Kinghaven Farms with his dad, Bud Willmot. The latter is the retired board chairman of a big conglomerate called Molson Industries. The Willmots have been successful breeders and owners of thoroughbreds for 20 years and more, and last year their charger, With Approval, also won the Triple Crown series.

In these marital circumstances, you might

wonder what does Susan Rhodemyre, who is a dark-haired, slender, pert young woman, know about horses that her husband or her father-inlaw haven’t told her, and the answer is, as it happens, plenty. Before she married David, Susan Rhodemyre was the editor of an old and authoritative magazine, the now-defunct Thoroughbred Record, which was published in Lexington, Ky. Currently, she is consulting editor of the Aurora, Ont.-based monthly magazine called Canadian Thoroughbred.

One night, at a time before Izvestia had become this year’s sensation, Susan and David were at home watching a CBC television program that included a clip of Northern Dancer winning the 1964 Kentucky Derby, the first time a Canadian-bred steed had ever stunned the 100,000 or so occupants of Churchill Downs in such fashion. “David, look how that horse runs,” Susan said. “Look at that energy. Doesn’t he remind you of Izvestia? He really does, doesn’t he?”

People who were shouting their brains out at Churchill Downs that May day in 1964, including your agent, will never forget Northern Dancer holding off a big, rangy horse from California, Hill Rise, in the stretch and winning the Derby. The Dancer was built like a middle-

weight boxer (although he had one or two more legs). There was a dramatic intensity about his every restless movement. He gave off a sense of excitement. He was compact and muscular and broad of chest and ran with quick, short, chopping strides, straining all the time, and he had great acceleration.

Well, Izvestia is something like that. He is a grey, of course, whereas the Dancer was a rich brown, not quite chestnut, with a black mane and tail. He is on the smallish side, as the Dancer was, a little blocky and with that same remarkable smooth acceleration.

“I hesitate to make the comparison,” Susan Rhodemyre said, recalling the night she watched the Derby on television. “I mean, our horse is certainly not a legend. But I really did think of Izvestia’s style that night watching Northern Dancer.”

Some people find the fascination of thoroughbreds not in the betting of the mortgage money on them but in their breeding, and here it is perhaps more than coincidence that a similarity is evident between these two champion race horses. That is because they share a bloodline. There is actually some Northern Dancer in Izvestia.

Izvestia’s sire is Icecapade. His dam is Shy Spirit. Shy Spirit’s dam is Cool Mood. Cool Mood’s daddy is—here it comes—Northern Dancer. When your agent mentioned to Susan Rhodemyre this connection between the two horses, she immediately went one better. “Icecapade is by Nearctic, isn’t he,” she said in that diplomatic way of hers, the implication being that naturally I’d know that, “and of course Northern Dancer was by Nearctic, too.”

Susan sometimes talks to another admirer of Northern Dancer, the gifted painter Noreen Tomlinson, about the great old stallion, now a greying swaybacked oldster of 29 in residence at Windfields Farm in Maryland. Windfields is owned by Noreen’s husband, Charles Taylor, the son of the architect of modem Canadian racing in Ontario, Edward Plunket Taylor, who died in 1989.

Though 29, Northern Dancer has lost little of his pride and arrogance, Noreen reports. “Charles and I saw him last week, but when we went to look at a different stallion, he was just furious,” she said. "How dare we! As soon as we gave him our total attention, he was happy. If I saw that muscled body on a woman in an aerobics class, I’d think, ‘Gosh, she works out a lot.’ Apart from the swayback, he looks wonderful.”

I asked Noreen if she thought Izvestia was as good as the Dancer when the latter was racing. She smiled. “I try to be just as diplomatic as Susan,” she said. “We don’t know yet just how good Izzy Wonderful is. He has been raised in a different situation, you know, racing against the top horses here. Northern Dancer raced against the top guys on American tracks. There are excellent horses here, but in the States there are many more of them.”

How good is Izvestia? Noreen Tomlinson puts into context this question that everyone who follows thoroughbreds is asking.“Hmm,” she says, “we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?”

Everybody is talking about Izvestia, not so much became of his Triple Crown win as became of the manner in which he achieved it