(second in a series)
The potent influence of Nearco became personified in America by his talented but tempestuous son, Nasrullah.
Foaled at the Aga Khan’s Sheshoon Stud in Ireland in 1940, Nasrullah earned an impressive reputation as a champion racehorse in Europe. Though he would not duplicate Nearco’s unbeaten record, he won five of ten stakes races and placed in three others. The bay stallion also won a notorious reputation at the track for being unruly, unpredictable and unmotivated.
Bill Nack, in “Secretariat – The Making of a Champion” describes how Nasrullah was “a rogue at the barrier and a rogue sometimes in the morning.” Sometimes to motivate the horse to run, his handlers popped open an umbrella behind him.
This was a horse with an attitude, as this blog post by John Sparkman of “The Pedigree Curmudgeon” colorfully illustrates. He describes Nasrullah’s behavior at his first start as a three-year-old:
“He refused to leave the paddock; he refused to break into a trot; he refused to respond to the blandishments of the friendly hack sent out on the course to kid him; he refused to do anything except behave like a spoiled child. ….Could the catcalls and cries of derision which greeted this un-Thoroughbred-like behavior have been heard by [his sire] Nearco across at Beech House Stud…it might have had a serious effect on his fertility.”
Nasrullah’s jockey, Sir Gordon Richards, described the horse as “very, very difficult to ride.” In a Sports Illustrated article of 1954, Richards attributed some of Nasrullah’s unruliness to wartime restrictions (World War II) “which forced many horses to compete at one track for such a long time that they became bored with the whole business.”
Nasrullah’s difficult behavior convinced the Aga Khan to sell him instead of standing him at stud. Irish trainer Joseph McGrath purchased Nasrullah for a reported $50,000. At McGrath’s Brownstone Stud, Nasrullah soon distinguished himself as a top sire of champions. He caught the attention of Arthur B. “Bull” Hancock, Jr., of Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, who was seeking to infuse new blood from the Nearco line into his horses.
Hancock tried twice to purchase Nasrullah with no success. Finally, in what Bill Nack called “a masterstroke in American breeding,” Hancock put together a syndicate in 1949 which purchased the Irish stallion for $340,000. Its members comprised a “who’s who” of Thoroughbred breeding: Harry F. Guggenheim, Henry Carnegie Phipps of Wheatley Stable, Marion du Pont Scott and several others.
Like a conquering hero, Nasrullah arrived on America’s shores in July 1950. (see video) http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid13320747001?bctid=89522948001
His star status had soared after his son Noor defeated the great Triple Crown winner Citation in four stakes races. Noor was named champion older male horse, as well as top money winner that year. As Nasrullah settled into his paddock at Claiborne Farm, the stallion in the adjoining paddock was also having a very good year. His name was Princequillo. His son, Hill Prince, out of Chris Chenery’s Meadow Stable mare, Hildene, had won the 1950 Preakness and beaten Noor in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup that year. (More on Princequillo in a future blog post.)
Nasrullah excelled in the breeding shed, siring 98 stakes winners. Among his most famous are:U.S. Racing Hall of Fame horses Bold Ruler, Noor and Nashua. His most famous grandson, of course, was Secretariat, who was also the grandson of Princequillo on his dam’s side. Nasrullah topped the American sire list five times. Experts say he invigorated the blood of the American racehorse with new fire and speed.
Nasrullah died at Claiborne on May 26, 1959 at the age of 19. Thirty years later, his grandson Secretariat would die at age 19 at the farm.
In his book on Secretariat, Nack related how the stallion grooms heard Nasrullah nickering in his paddock just before he died. Knowing that the bay stallion never nickered, they realized something was wrong and rushed to him. Just as the vet arrived, Nasrullah toppled over, dead from a burst ventricle in his heart. His son, Bold Ruler, went wild in his adjoining paddock, screaming and racing up and down the fence line.
The “Irish rogue” was dead, but his inextinguishable fire burned brightly in the blood of his son.
And it would spark an American legend.
Our next blog post will be about Bold Ruler, sire of Secretariat. Coming soon in our Secretariat’s Ancestors series: Princequillo, Discovery, Imperatrice, Somethingroyal.
(photo of Nasrullah from Claiborne Farm website)
By Leeanne Meadows Ladin
and “Riva Ridge – Penny’s First Champion”