Throwback Thursday: Northern Baby

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Northern Baby died 10 years ago next month, and held the distinction of being the greatest sire in American steeplechase history (modern-day anyway). The success was somewhat accidental, because few – if any – North American Thoroughbred breeders aim for steeplechase success. But he had something, and passed it on to his sons and daughters. The following Throwback Thursday comes from the March 2007 edition of Steeplechase Times, which tumbled off a shelf around here recently.

Northern Baby probably never jumped a fence in his life, but his sons and daughters did – like the progeny of no other North American sire.

Pensioned in 2001, the stallion produced nine Thoroughbreds that each earned more than $100,000 in American steeplechase races, including champions Highland Bud and Warm Spell. At one time had three sons in the top 10 earners of all-time.

The NSA’s computer database listed 79 horses by Northern Baby, dating back to 1988 and continuing today with still-active racers such as timber stalwart Northern Thinking. The retired sire died last month at age 31, ending a life that began in Canada, ventured to England and Canada as a racehorse and Ireland as a young sire, and finished at Kentucky’s Stone Farm, his home for the past 25 years.

Numbers-wise, he sired eight champions and more than 100 stakes horses – flat and jumps – in his 21 crops. He sired champion female turf runner Possibly Perfect, English champion 3-year-old Michelozzo, French champion 3-year-olds Bairn and Thrill Show.

But it was within steeplechasing that the son of Northern Dancer and the Round Table mare Two Rings had his true impact. Through 2006, Northern Baby’s progeny had won 119 individual jump races and amassed $3,369,065 in earnings. And they aren’t finished.

The two champions led the way as Highland Bud (1989) and Warm Spell (1994) would make anyone’s list of greats.

The former won two Breeders’ Cup Steeplechases, once at 4 and again at 7, for owner Margaret Henley and trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Chestnut splashed with white (lots of white), Warm Spell starred for Kentucky owner/trainer John Griggs and drew acclaim for his 1994 battles with Lonesome Glory and Mistico.

The roster extends to It’s A Giggle (a Grade I winner at Saratoga), Summer Colony (a phenom with 10 wins in four seasons), Hudson Bay (a hard-knocking claimer/stakes horse with in excess of $230,000 earned), Moonstruck (a Carolina Cup winner), timber veteran Dr. Ramsey, claiming hero Doubledarn, timber stakes winner Northern Thinking and on and on and on. Addinson and Geaux Beau won 3-year-old hurdle championships. Tough mare Class Yankee placed in a Grade I novice stakes. Salmo won a timber stakes last year.

Owner Arthur Hancock always maintained that his horse’s steeplechase success was purely accidental – and he was half right. Even today, few people actually try to breed steeplechasers but Northern Baby surely made any owner or trainer at least listen when someone talked about an available “Northern Baby horse.” When it came to him, breeding mattered.

And we all noticed. Thanks.

A little more on Northern Baby
He was 31 when he died and was pals with 1982 Kentucky Derby winner Gato Del Sol. Northern Baby was bred in Canada by Kinghaven Farm and sold for $120,000 as a Keeneland July yearling. He raced in England and France, winning the 1979 Champion Stakes and finishing third in the Epsom Derby and Coral Eclipse for Ann-Marie d’Estainville and trainer Francois Boutin. As a stallion, Northern Baby stood his first season at Grangewilliam Stud in Ireland, then moved to Stone Farm. 

Later in 2007, Salmo won the Virginia Gold Cup timber stakes (he repeated that win in 2009) and other steeplechasers Northern Thinking, Dr. Ramsey and In Pursuit Of Love picked up wins. Northern Baby’s daughter Maternity Leave  produced steeplechase winners All The Way Jose (novice champion of 2014) and Confined (filly/mare champion of 2009) for trainer Jonathan Sheppard.