It was on this day in 1990 that Northern Dancer, the first Canadian-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby, was put down at age 29 after a severe attack of colic.
According to Wikipedia, Northern Dancer was ridden by Ron Turcotte in his first victory as a two-year-old at Fort Erie Race Track. He won the Summer Stakes and the Coronation Futurity in Canada and the Remsen Stakes in New York. His record of seven victories in nine starts earned him the Canadian Juvenile Championship.
At three, Northern Dancer won the Grade I Flamingo Stakes and Grade I Florida Derby with jockey Bill Shoemaker aboard. Before the running of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, trainer Horatio Luro asked Shoemaker to make a commitment to ride Northern Dancer in the Kentucky Derby. But Shoemaker chose a colt he had never ridden named Hill Rise as his Derby mount.
The unbeaten Hill Rise had an impressive campaign in California, winning the San Felipe Stakes and the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. Shoemaker campaigned hard to get Hill Rise as his mount, believing the colt represented his best chance for a Derby win.
As a result of Shoemaker’s decision, Bill Hartack became Northern Dancer’s permanent jockey and guided him to victories in the Blue Grass and the Kentucky Derby, winning it over a fast-finishing Hill Rise in a record time that stood until it was broken by Secretariat in 1973. Hartack and Northern Dancer won the Preakness Stakes, and finished third in the Belmont Stakes to Quadrangle and Roman Brother. After the Belmont, Northern Dancer won Canada’s Queen’s Plate by seven and a half lengths before tenderness in his left front tendon ended his racing career. He was named both North America’s champion three-year-old colt of 1964 and Canadian Horse of the Year.
In his two years of racing, Northern Dancer won 14 of his 18 races and never finished worse than third. In The Blood-Horse ranking of the top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred champions of the 20th century, Northern Dancer was ranked #43.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association calls Northern Dancer “one of the most influential sires in Thoroughbred history.” At the time of his 1990 death, his offspring and further descendants had won more than 1,000 stakes races.
With this penchant for siring winners, Northern Dancer’s stud fee reached $1 million, an amount four to five times his rivals and a record amount that, as of 2009, has not been equalled.
He was retired from stud (breeding) on April 15, 1987 at the age of 29. He died in 1990 and is buried at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ont.
Northern Dancer’s remains were brought back to Canada for burial. Windfields Farm has subsequently been sold to University of Ontario, and Northern Dancer’s burial site is not publicly accessible. Northern Dancer was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. In 1999, Canada Post honoured the horse with his image placed on a postage stamp. A residential street was named after Northern Dancer on the former site of the Greenwood Race Track in east-end Toronto. Also, a life-sized bronze statue of the horse was placed outside Woodbine Race Track in northwest Toronto.
To date, no collector coin featuring Northern Dancer has been issued by the Royal Canadian Mint. However, Canadian Coin News did locate a commemorative medal on a eBay listing, as illustrated. The seller states the medal was released to commemorate the 1964 Kentucky Derby win and was part of a series of Great Canadian Moments medals which was issued in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.