Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame

Sword Dancer

1959 Horse of the Year

Foaled April 24, 1956 in Virginia, Sword Dancer was later described by Charles Hatton of the Daily Racing Form as "...a bright chestnut, light and airy of frame, his demeanor eager and full of joie de vivre." The chestnut was a son of Sunglow, who had won the 1951 Widener Handicap, and Highland Fling, the daughter of 1944 Champion Three Year Old Colt By Jimminy. Highland Fling's second dam was Speed Boat, a daughter of Man o' War, a full sister to War Relic, and the dam of Level Best, who was named Champion Two Year Old Filly of 1940 and won the Coaching Club American Oaks the following year. Speed Boat's dam, Friar's Carse, had been the champion juvenile filly in 1925.

The little chestnut colt, who measured only 15.3 as a three year old, raced for his breeder, Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane's Brookmeade Stable, and was conditioned by Elliott Burch. The fact that the trainer shared a last name with Hall of Fame trainers Preston Burch and W.P. Burch was no coincidence. Thoroughbred racing was a family tradition, and Elliot Burch was following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

Sword Dancer failed to burn up the track as a juvenile. It took him no fewer than eight tries to break his maiden. When he met stakes company for the first time, it was as a 82 to 1 longshot in the World's Playground Stakes. The little chestnut did get a stakes win at two, taking the Mayflower Stakes at Suffolk Downs. He was in no way a threat to The Meadow's First Landing, however, who received divisional honors after winning the Hopeful Stakes, the Champagne Stakes, the Garden State Stakes, and the Saratoga Special.

At age two, Sword Dancer had three wins in fourteen starts, with two seconds and three thirds. His earnings totaled $60,531.

After recovering from a fever, Sword Dancer began his three year old campaign in March, finishing fifth behind Easy Spur in the Hutcheson Stakes. The colt was tentatively offered for sale. The highest offer was $175,000, made after Sword Dancer's two length victory in the mile and seventy yard Polk City Purse at Gulfstream. The offer was declined, and when no one met the asking price of $200,000 following a close second to Easy Spur in the Florida Derby, the Sunglow colt stayed at Brookmeade.

Sword Dancer was a steadily improving horse, and a week before the Kentucky Derby he won the Stepping Stone Purse by a length. Citation's sensational daughter Silver Spoon suffered her first defeat in the race.

Come Derby Day, First Landing was the favorite, but the stretch drive proved to be a hotly contested match between Sword Dancer and the English bred but California trained Tomy Lee. Sword Dancer had command at the head of the stretch, and the two bore out throughout their stirring battle for the lead. Tomy Lee finished with his nose in front, and Bill Boland lodged a claim against Bill Shoemaker, who had ridden Tomy Lee, that took the stewards seventeen minutes to disallow. Brookmeade Stable held no grudge against Tomy Lee's rider, however, for Shoemaker rode Sword Dancer two weeks later.

Sword Dancer just missed at Churchill Downs

Sword Dancer was second again in the Preakness Stakes, this time behind Royal Orbit. Two weeks later, Sword Dancer met older horses for the first time in the Metropolitan Handicap, winning by three and a quarter lengths and running the mile in 1:35 1/5.

Next came the Belmont Stakes, and Sword Dancer dealt handily with a sloppy track, catching Bagdad at the head of the stretch and drawing away steadily to win by three quarters of a length. Royal Orbit was another twelve lengths back in third, and an exhausted Tomy Lee was back in California. Sword Dancer clocked the mile and a half in 2:28 2/5.

In July, Sword Dancer met older horses again in the mile and a quarter Monmouth Handicap. He once again handled a sloppy track, and escaped traffic problems to go to the outside and catch the Amerigo and Talent Show in the stretch, winning by two lengths.

In the Brooklyn Handicap, Sword Dancer was assigned high weight of 124 pounds and met the excellent Bald Eagle, who had just won the Suburban Handicap, for the first time. Sword Dancer and rider Bill Shoemaker got off to a rocky start when the colt broke prematurely and galloped out a sixteenth before the race. Following the break, Sword Dancer swerved and when he finally got his act together he finished strongly, but couldn't get by longshot Babu in time. The Brookmeade Stable colt was beaten by three quarters of a length, finishing second. Bald Eagle was fourth.

Manuel Ycaza was up on Sword Dancer at Saratoga for the Travers Stakes. The field included Belmont Stakes runner-up Bagdad, as well as the good filly Resaca, who had beat Silver Spoon in the Delaware Oaks and denied Quill a NYRA Triple Crown in the Coaching Club American Oaks. Neither proved a threat, however. Sword Dancer saved ground while Nimmer, a son of Sun Again, led the field to the head of the stretch, then moved outside and won going away. Middle Brother, a colt by Hill Prince who had won the Bernard Baruch Stakes and later won the Lawrence Realization as well as the Discovery Handicap, was second.

Before the Woodward Stakes, Dr. M.A. Gilman took a measuring tape to Sword Dancer, confirming that he was indeed a mere 15.3 hands. He also found that the Brookmeade colt measured 70 inches around the girth, 37 inches from elbow to girth, 44 inches from shoulder to hip, and 24.5 inches across the hips. In comparison, later champion Affirmed also stood 15.3, but measured 48 inches from shoulder to hip and possessed a 73.5 inch girth.

Despite his lack of size, Sword Dancer got the job done on the racetrack. In the Woodward Stakes he only met three other horses, but two of them were Hillsdale and Round Table.

Hillsdale had ten stakes wins to his credit already in 1959, including the San Fernando Stakes, the Californian Stakes, the American Handicap, and the Hollywood Gold Cup. He had two weeks earlier carried 132 pounds in winning the Aqueduct Handicap, and only been beaten twice all year, running second in the San Antonio and the Santa Anita Handicaps, both times to the exceptional Round Table.

Previous Horse of the Year Round Table, in the meantime, had racked up victories in the San Marcos Handicap, the Citation Handicap, the Stars and Stripes Handicap, the Arlington Handicap, the Washington Park Handicap and the United Nations Handicap that season. He had carried 132 pounds to victory four times, and had carried 136 pounds in the United Nations Handicap.

The Woodward was weight-for-age, so Sword Dancer gained little advantage in that department, getting only six pounds. He did have the advantage of Eddie Arcaro in the irons, however, and the veteran rider rated his mount while Hillsdale battled Round Table to the head of the stretch. Sword Dancer made his move, and in a tough stretch drive got his head in front. It was a stirring, and important, victory.

Sword Dancer fortified his position as the top horse in the country a month later, beating Round Table by seven lengths in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Having earned $537,004, Sword Dancer was the season's leading money winner. He was named Champion Three Year Old Colt and Horse of the Year, based largely on his Woodward Stakes triumph. He was also named Champion Handicap Horse by the turf writers, but that title was given to Champion Grass Horse Round Table in the Thoroughbred Racing Association poll. With eight wins and four seconds in thirteen starts, however, Sword Dancer was undisputed as Horse of the Year.

As a four year old, Sword Dancer made his season debut in Florida, running a disappointing fourth in the seven furlong South Atlantic Purse in February. Eddie Arcaro had flown from California for the race, but defended his mount despite the loss, stating that Sword Dancer was really a distance horse, and we was "going to win a lot of races."

Despite the rider's bold words, Sword Dancer was unplaced behind Bald Eagle and On-and-On in the Widener Handicap at a mile and a quarter.

Bill Hartack was in the irons for Sword Dancer's next effort, an allowance event at a mile and a sixteenth, after which the former Horse of the Year finally saw the inside of a winner's circle again.

He still hadn't reach peak form, though, for Shoemaker and Sword Dancer finished fourth in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, again behind Bald Eagle.

Sword Dancer then left Florida, and his form improved. He met former champion First Landing in the Grey Lag Handicap at Aqueduct and won by a neck. He then ran out of ground in the mile long Metropolitan Handicap, finishing a fast closing fourth behind Bald Eagle, First Landing, and Talent Show.

Next came the Suburban Handicap. Despite giving three pounds to First Landing, Sword Dancer overcame traffic problems to win by a half length in an impressive effort. He set a new track record of 2:01 3/5 for the mile and a quarter in the race.

After finishing out of the money in the Brooklyn and Arlington Handicaps, Sword Dancer finished a strong second to T.V. Lark in the United Nations Handicap while giving the good turf horse seven pounds. Third in the race was Preakness winner Bally Ache.

Sword Dancer won his second Woodward Stakes, finally handing a defeat to Bald Eagle and shaving two-fifths of a second off his previous time, then retired after a third place finish in the Man o' War Stakes, in which he injured an ankle. His lifetime earnings totaled $829,610. At four, he had scored four times in twelve starts, earning $232,075.

Syndicated, Sword Dancer first stood stud at Darby Dan Farm, then was leased and sent to France. He sired the great Damascus and the champion mare Lady Pitt, as well as thirteen other stakes winners from 282 foals.

Sword Dancer entered the Hall of Fame in 1977, three years after his son Damascus, and passed away at the age of twenty eight in 1984.

Sword Dancer's Race Record

Year Starts Wins Seconds Thirds Earnings
Lifetime 39 15 7 4 $829,610

Sword Dancer, 1956 chestnut colt

Sunglow Sun Again Sun Teddy Teddy
Hug Again Stimulus
Rosern Mad Hatter Fair Play
Rosedrop St. Frusquin
Highland Fling By Jimminy Pharamond II Phalaris
Buginarug Blue Larkspur
Breakfast Bell
Swing Time Royal Minstrel Tetratema
Speed Boat Man o' War
Friar's Carse


Recommended titles include: Champions from the Daily Racing Form, Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 of the 20th Century from Blood-Horse, and Man O' War: Thoroughbred Legends #1 by Edward L. Bowen, as well as Seabiscuit on DVD .
Seabiscuit DVD

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