Remarkable Horses of Canada: Nijinsky
By Margaret Evans
In the July/August 2017 issue of Canadian Horse Journal, we celebrated Canada’s 150th anniversary with stories of 20 exceptional horses that have reflected our values and fired our national pride. One of those horses was Nijinsky.
Canadian-born, Irish-trained Nijinsky (by Northern Dancer out of Flaming Page) was bred at E.P. Taylor’s Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario, and foaled on February 21, 1967.
The 16.3 hand bay Thoroughbred with a white star and three white feet was from the second crop of foals sired by Northern Dancer, winner of the 1964 Kentucky Derby and acclaimed as the most influential sire of the 20th century. Nijinsky’s dam, Flaming Page, was also a highly successful mare, winning the 1962 Queen’s Plate.
Nijinsky was sold at the Windfields Farm annual yearling auction to industrialist Charles W. Engelhard, Jr. for $84,000. His wife, Jane, named the colt after the celebrated Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, said to be the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century. The colt was shipped to Ireland where Vincent O’Brien trained him at Ballydoyle, County Tipperary.
Nijinsky ran and won for just two seasons in the UK and Europe. In 1969 he was the champion two-year-old in England and Ireland. A multiple stakes winner in 1969 and 1970, including the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby, he became the first English Triple Crown winner (St. Leger, Two Thousand Guineas, Epsom Derby) in 35 years. His earnings of $677,177 were a European record. Named Europe’s Horse of the Year in 1970, he was syndicated for $5.4 million, a world record at the time.
In the summer of 1970 he came down with ringworm, a virulent skin disease that caused so much hair loss that he was bald over most of his body and unable to wear a saddle for more than ten minutes without bleeding. Naturally, this delayed his training and racing schedule. He ran, and lost, his last race in the Champion Stakes in October and was retired to stand at stud at Claiborne Farm near Paris, Kentucky.
In the US, where he was registered as Nijinsky II, he became a legend, siring 155 stakes/group winners. He was the only sire to have a winner of the Kentucky and Epsom Derbies in the same year. The documentary film, A Horse called Nijinsky narrated by Orson Welles, was produced in 1970 chronicling his racing career. O’Brien named Nijinsky and Sir Ivor as the best horses he had ever trained, putting Nijinsky in first place for brilliance.
Nijinski suffered from laminitis in 1985 and was euthanized in April 1992. He is buried at Claiborne Farm between two Kentucky Derby winners Riva Ridge and Secretariat.
(Photos courtesy of Horse Racing Hall of Fame)
This article was originally published in the July/August 2017 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.