Stallion Dynasties: Sovereign Dancer
By Kaitlin Free
The Northern Dancer Dynasty has so far provided us with a wealth of stories. We have reached a point in the family tree where we will soon be branching out into the extended grandsons and great-grandsons of Northern Dancer. For now, we have one more son to chronicle that is most deserving of the recognition. We have covered the lives of the ones destined for breeding greatness, such as Nijinsky, Lyphard and Nureyev. The underdog stories of Unusual Heat and Northern Taste make us realize how powerful this line has been over time. This next stallion’s story falls somewhere in the middle. He was bred to be a champion by one of America’s strongest racing families but had modest success on the track. When he returned to the United States he found the Triple Crown sire fame that his own father never achieved. Unfortunately when Northern Dancer’s sons at stud are discussed, this guy is often forgotten. This Classic sire simply accomplished too much to fade into obscurity.
Born on January 24, 1975, this Northern Dancer foal was one of the first of the year for racing royalty’s Phipps family. Ogden Mills Phipps bred this colt to be one of his best yet, sculpting him from a rock solid female line. The colt’s dam was graded stakes winner Bold Princess, a stylishly bred daughter of Bold Ruler. Her dam was the incomparable broodmare Grey Flight. Grey Flight was a blue hen and probably the top mare in the United States in the 1950’s and 1960’s. She is the dam of G1 winner What a Pleasure, who happens to be a full sibling to Bold Princess. Two time champion and 1963 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year Misty Morn as well as stakes winners Full Flight, Gray Phantom, Misty Flight, Misty Day, and Signore are also among her progeny. Grey Flight herself descends from breed shaping mare La Chica, who was a top producer in the 1930’s.
Combining Northern Dancer with the Bold Ruler line is a recipe for greatness. This cross provides both stamina and speed, not to mention class upon class. Phipps hoped this strong, well balanced colt would carry his stable’s colors to big things. This foal resembled his father, but had straighter hind legs and was very well boned. His midline, however, came from his dam’s side. He had the signature sloped croup that began with his great grandfather Nasrullah, a trait that has long marked his descendants. The prized colt certainly was a beautiful specimen and everyone knew exactly where he came from.
Like most horses that the Phipps family have bred in the past and present, they breed for keeps. This Northern Dancer colt was no exception, a trend that he has bucked compared to the last horses in this series. He absolutely would have garnered a hefty price tag, but that simply isn’t part of the game for these connections. Since he was not being sold as a yearling, the young colt would soon enter early training and was in need of a name. Every horse in the Phipps Stable is Classic bred and always lands a classic name. This one would soon be known as Sovereign Dancer. The Sovereign part was just a classy touch without a particular meaning, but the Dancer of course comes from his sire.
Sovereign Dancer entered training with lofty expectations. His pedigree and beautiful shape indicated that he could be any type. Connections soon realized though, that Sovereign Dancer would be slow to develop and would need extra time learning the ropes of racing. Everyone was eager to see this horse hit the track but that unfortunately would have to wait until his sophomore year at age three. Sovereign Dancer simply was not ready to debut at two and wouldn’t debut until June 4 of 1978 at Belmont Park. After finishing a disappointing eighth in his first try, Sovereign Dancer attempted to break his maiden two more times in a span of a month. Those results were very similar, finishing a seventh and a sixth respectively both at Belmont Park again. Sovereign Dancer was back in the entries six days later in another maiden special weight at the same track. This time around he showed a bit more and finished a respectable second. Because his three year old season was less than spectacular, not a lot of information is available about Sovereign Dancer as a sophomore. He would have to wait a little longer to get his first win, connections elected to give him a bit more time and put him away until age four.
After returning to training to attempt a crack at an older horse campaign, connections received an undisclosed offer for Sovereign Dancer. The prospective buyer, French racing magnate Alec Head, was attracted to the horse for several reasons. Sovereign Dancer’s pedigree spoke for itself, but Head also thought he would be a good project for his daughter Criquette, who had just taken out her training license. Criquette was an experienced horsewoman from generations of racing royalty but was just getting started as a trainer in the late 1970’s. She had been her father’s assistant since 1974 when she returned home to France after a stint in Spain. Criquette went solo in late 1978, and had a stakes winner to her credit but was hungry for more. 1979 would be her breakout year, saddling her first G1 winner and Champion Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Three Troikas. The Head family commanded a true family affair of racing in France, and wanted stock by the great Northern Dancer. The Phipps Stable usually does not sell, but gave in as they believed Sovereign Dancer could have better luck on the European turf.
Sovereign Dancer settled into Criquette Head-Maarek’s operation quickly, and was ready to make his French debut in April of 1979 at Maisons-Laffitte Racecourse. He won nicely, and followed that form up with several more on the board finishes before winning his fourth start, an allowance at Evry Racecourse. Racing pretty consistently by this point, Sovereign Dancer had yet to be tested in graded stakes company. He was entered for his graded stakes debut in Grand Prix de Vichy at Vichy Racecourse which had just received it’s graded status. He finished a very respectable second in the mile and a quarter race, to older horse Perouges. This would be Sovereign Dancer’s best result in a race aside from his two previous wins. He began to tail off at the end of 1979 and never found the winner’s circle again. Sovereign Dancer was retired at the end of the 1979 season with 2 wins, 4 seconds, and 1 third in 14 starts. He retired with $50,086 in the bank.
Sovereign Dancer was bred to be a champion, but unfortunately on the track he was anything but. His rich lineage did happen to give him a second chance after his racing career, with hopes he could be a stallion somewhere. There wasn’t much of a market for him in Europe having little success on the track. Also standing in Europe at the time were Nureyev and Lyphard, who would soon follow suit in relocating. With no room for him at the Head’s Haras du Quesnay, they entered him in the OBS January Mixed Sale in 1980. Selling as a stallion prospect only he brought $75,000, a steal for those bloodlines (around $320,000 adjusted for modern inflation).
The buyer was Mark Warner of Warnerton Farm in Florida. He elected to stand Sovereign Dancer that very breeding season at The Oaks in Ocala, with hopes that he could be productive in the Florida market.
Standing his first year of stud in 1980, the expectations for Sovereign Dancer were modest. With his first crop due the following year, the first year takers were few and far between. One of the few mares bred to Sovereign Dancer in his first year was the older mare Sun Gate, a daughter from one of Bull Lea’s last crops. The result of the mating was a Classic winner famous for his ghostly looking hood that he wore during races. That foal was Gate Dancer.
Gate Dancer began his racing career in Nebraska, before being relocated to California to train for the Kentucky Derby. He qualified for the Derby after several on the board finishes in stakes races, racking up his total stakes earnings to claim a spot. Even with his blinkered hood on, Gate Dancer still found trouble in many races. He ran a bang up fourth in the Kentucky Derby to Swale but was disqualified for interference and placed fifth. The jockey was switched from Eddie Delahoussaye to Angel Cordero Jr. for the Preakness, a more aggressive rider to handle the difficult horse. Gate Dancer had a clean start and ran a much easier race in a smaller field of nine compared to the loaded Derby field. He and Cordero Jr. stayed straight and won clear in the second leg of the Triple Crown. Heavily favored Kentucky Derby winner Swale finished in seventh. Gate Dancer contested the Belmont Stakes but the grueling distance was too much, and after a small bid he faded back to sixth.
Gate Dancer followed up his Belmont Stakes attempt with a pair of wins to start the fall. After successfully returning to the winner’s circle, connections immediately garnered interest in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic. His second place finish and fighting stretch drive in the Classic with Wild Again and Slew O’ Gold has become one of the most famous of all time. Once again, Gate Dancer was disqualified for interference in a Classic race and was placed third. His trainer Jack Van Berg was awarded the Eclipse for Outstanding Trainer in 1984 for Gate Dancer and his stable’s efforts. In 1985 at age four, Gate Dancer started a total of ten times, winning only once but finishing on the board in nearly every finish. His victory in the Cornhusker Handicap set him up for another tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He ran cleanly in the race but finished yet another second, this time behind winner Proud Truth. Connections brought Gate Dancer back at age five, but after three lackluster starts he was retired in the Spring of 1986. He retired with over $2.5 million in the bank and went down as one of the most famous ‘bridesmaids’ in racing history.
As Gate Dancer’s racing career was wrapping up so was his father’s stint at stud in Florida. His son’s success led to Sovereign Dancer relocating to Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky for the 1986 breeding season. Sovereign Dancer’s value at stud exploded with a Classic winner in his first crop. Also with the newfound interest came better mares. Among those mares were the dams of Champions and multiple G1 winners Itsallgreektome and Priolo. Itsallgreektome won the Hollywood Turf Cup, Hollywood Derby, and finished two big seconds in the Breeders’ Cup Mile and Turf in consecutive years. He won the Eclipse Award for Champion Turf Male in 1990 for his efforts that season. He also is known for equaling the track record for nine furlongs on the Keeneland turf course. Priolo, also born in Sovereign Dancer’s first Kentucky crop, did not stay
in the United States. He was based in France and ran all over Europe at ages three and four. He won the Prix Jean Pat, Prix Jacques Le Marois, and Prix du Moulin de Longchamp at the G1 level. During his three year old season, he finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile behind Royal Academy and the aforementioned Itsallgreektome. He was awarded Champion 3YO colt in France, and the following year was crowned Champion Older Male in both France and England.
As you can see, no matter where he stood Sovereign Dancer was the kind of stallion that had the power to ‘move mares up.’ Most mares got their best foals from him, and most were sturdy boned and durable like their father. Sovereign Dancer sired 56 stakes winners in his time at stud, and one of his last was perhaps his best. Louis Quatorze was foaled in 1993 and his talent was recognized early on. In contrast to his father, Louis Quatorze was quick to start his career, debuting as a two year old in the Spring. He won his first two starts that year before finishing second in both the G1 Hopeful Stakes and Futurity Stakes. After those four starts as a juvenile, Louis Quatorze was freshened for a long time over the winter and didn’t return to training until March of his three year old season. He quickly got back into form with an allowance win and moved back up to graded stakes company to prepare for the Kentucky Derby. He shipped to Keeneland to run in the Blue Grass Stakes, where he finished second behind future Hall of Famer Skip Away. Louis Quatorze had a disastrous Kentucky Derby. He broke badly and got caught wide in traffic around the first turn, finding himself nearly trailing the field. He was used to being on the pace or right behind it so he never recovered from the early mishaps in the race. Louis Quatorze finished sixteenth in a field of nineteen in the Derby with plenty of excuses. Trainer Nick Zito and his owners believed there was a legitimate shot for Louis Quatorze in the Preakness, and fully expected him to vindicate his Derby run. Jockey Pat Day guided him to the lead to allow the colt to settle and soften the pace. The pair dictated every fraction step for step, hanging on by one length in the end over Skip Away, Belmont Stakes winner Editor’s Note, and Kentucky Derby runner-up Cavonnier. Louis Quatorze is said to have defeated one of the strongest Preakness fields of all time.
The talented sophomore was given a break after his credible fourth place in the Belmont Stakes. He returned to win the Jim Dandy at Saratoga that summer, following that win up with a second in the Travers Stakes and a third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The allure of the hefty purse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic secured Louis Quatorze’s entry. He went off at odds of 18-1 and was piloted by usual rider Pat Day. Louis Quatorze ran another race of his life, fighting on gamely to finish second to the gray Alphabet Soup. In finishing second, Louis Quatorze knocked out his most notable opponent yet, the great Cigar. He retired to stud following the Classic. Sovereign Dancer is also the sire of : Bolshoi Boy, Compton Lady, Conte Di Savoya, Dins Dancer, Double Orphan, Leo Castelli, Moment of Glory, Reign Road, Scat Dancer, Show Dancer, and Wall Street Dancer.
As surprisingly successful as Sovereign Dancer was as a stallion, few of his sons carried on their father’s legacy. Top sons Itsallgreektome, Priolo, Conte Di Savoya, and Dins Dancer were all basically failures at stud. Gate Dancer wasn’t wildly successful, but did sire 27 stakes winners that unfortunately did not achieve anywhere near what he did. Leo Castelli and Louis Quatorze did the best of Sovereign Dancer’s sons at stud. Leo Castelli floating around many farms as a stallion, between two farms in Kentucky, two farms in Texas, and a farm in Russia. He sired five champions, all of them coming in Middle and South America. Leo Castelli’s greatest success came from his daughter Soviet Sojourn, who was the dam of G1 winner Indian Charlie. Indian Charlie unfortunately did not have a long stud career before he died, but he was successful in his own right. That success was transferred to his powerhouse son, Uncle Mo. Louis Quatorze was retired to Murmur Farm in Maryland, where he stood his entire stud career. He sired multiple G1 winner and Champion Bushfire, as well as multiple graded stakes winner Choctaw Nation and Repent. Repent unfortunately passed away in 2018, but not before his son Discreet Lover won a shocking edition of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Sovereign Dancer’s strong suit certainly was his ability to sire good colts. He sired few daughters that lived up to their potential, on and off of the track. His daughter Bolshoi Comedy is the dam of Kela, a multiple graded stakes winner and leading midwest sire. Another sprinter sired by a Sovereign Dancer mare was the multiple G1 winner Disturbingthepeace. Disturbingthepeace was a hard knocking gelding with a lot of heart. He came back from several injuries, racing at the highest level until age six. He won the Triple Bend Handicap, Bing Crosby Stakes, and two editions of the Pat O’Brien Stakes. Disturbingthepeace is currently retired at Old Friends Farm, where he is a popular equine ambassador. Aside from Bolshoi Comedy and Regal Riot, few other daughters of Sovereign Dancer produced much as broodmares. Their daughters however, did pass on some of the strong family genes. Sovereign Dancer’s female line is still alive today and occasionally appears in current pedigrees through his granddaughters.
Sovereign Dancer was still chugging along at the top level as a stallion at the time Louis Quatorze was foaled. He was in his heyday at age eighteen, and was breeding some of his highest volume books. Despite a history of strong legs and the bones that were their very foundation, one of them began to betray the middle aged stallion. Sovereign Dancer began to show signs of discomfort during the 1993 off season. His health got progressively worse as winter approached, and the staff and Lane’s End feared that the horse would suffer through the cold months. The decision was made to euthanize Sovereign Dancer on Christmas Day in 1993, a week before he would turn nineteen. He is buried in the Lane’s End stallion cemetery. Sovereign Dancer sired a total of 592 named foals in his stud career, 387 of them would go on to be winners with a staggering win percentage of 64.5%. 56 of them became stakes winners, with a percentage of 9.5% according to the Jockey Club and BloodHorse registries.
Despite what history has shown, Sovereign Dancer had a stud career that simply cannot be ignored. His progeny win percentage is the highlight of a successful career, boasting one of the highest of all stallions living or dead. Unlike many stallions, Sovereign Dancer did not suffer infertility or declining sperm quality. He sired his two Classic winners far apart, one in his first crop and one in his next to last. Sovereign Dancer will go down in thoroughbred history for doing what his father could not do, sire a Classic winner. He and Danzig remain the only two sons of Northern Dancer to sire more than one. Sovereign Dancer’s story is certainly one of redemption when given a second chance.
Next Installment of Stallion Dynasties: Sadler’s Wells
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