Top stallion Nureyev.

Top stallion Nureyev.

Barbara D. Livingston

From The Blood-Horse Magazine: Remembering Nureyev

Published in the Nov. 10 issue of The Blood-Horse
Nureyev was one of those horses whose stratospheric yearling price of $1.3 million in 1978 and championship status on the racetrack earned plenty of attention. That type of attention was nothing compared to the type of admiration he later earned for his many accomplishments at stud and for coming back from a life-threatening injury.

A son of the great stallion Northern Dancer, Nureyev has sired 130 stakes winners, 20-plus champions, and has a son in Theatrical who ranks as one of North America's top turf stallions. All that while experiencing fertility problems for much of his career.

Nureyev, who stood his first year in France, spent his final 19 years in Lexington, first at Walmac-Warnerton Farm, then Walmac International, prior to his death Oct. 29 at age 24. Under the management of Walmac owner John T.L. Jones Jr., Nureyev developed a lasting reputation as a sire of all types of celebrated grass runners.

"He started out mostly with milers," Jones said. "Then he got an (Epsom) Oaks (Eng-I) winner, an Arc (Fr-I) winner, several 2-year-old (champions), and sprinters. He got results all across the board."

Wowing Them at Keeneland

Nureyev was bred by the Hancock family's Claiborne Farm and foaled five days before Seattle Slew won the 1977 Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Fourteen months later, the smallish colt was part of the Claiborne consignment at the Keeneland July yearling sale and was one of 10 Northern Dancers catalogued. The third foal from the Forli mare Special, Nureyev was a half-brother to Irish champion 2-year-old filly Fairy Bridge and to another 2-year-old winner. The quality in the female family went all the way back to champions Gamely, Moccasin, Ridan, and Thatch under third dam Rough Shod II.

The bidding started shockingly low at $20,000 for a colt that many had figured would fetch at least $275,000. It kept moving up slowly before Joss Collins of the British Bloodstock Agency London took up the chase against the BBA Ireland. The latter group went as high as $1.25 million, but Collins won out with a $1.3-million bid on behalf of Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos. It was the most paid for a yearling since Secretariat's son Canadian Bound sold for $1.5 million at the 1976 Keeneland sale.

Sent to England to be trained, Nureyev later was transferred to French conditioner Francois Boutin. He made his sole start as a 2-year-old in the Prix Thomas Bryon (Fr-III) at Saint-Cloud in November and drew off to win by six lengths. The performance was good enough for a joint-second-place ranking on the French Free Handicap.

Nureyev, who was named for a famous Russian dancer, reappeared the following April and won the Prix Djebel in his 3-year-old debut. His performance in his next start, the English Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I), turned out to be a show of force, as he went through a wall of horses rather than around them, and was disqualified and placed last. It was the first time a Guineas winner had been disqualified.

Niarchos and Boutin next set their sights on the Epsom Derby (Eng-I) in June, but a virus kept Nureyev out of the race. Nureyev never raced again, but that didn't keep French handicappers from assigning him top weight on the 3-year-old Free Handicap for milers.

Nureyev, who retired with $42,018 in earnings, entered stud in 1981 at Niarchos' Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard in France. His stay there was short-lived. Jones, who at that time was general manager and part owner of Walmac-Warnerton, took notice in Nureyev after he was advised about the young stallion's potential by French horsemen Alec Head and Roland de Chambure. In the summer of 1981, Jones spearheaded the effort to acquire Nureyev and syndicated him into 40 shares worth a total in excess of $14 million.

As events unfolded, Nureyev turned out to be "a North American stallion" in name only. With the exception of Theatrical and several others, Nureyev's offspring overwhelmingly distinguished themselves in Europe in group I championship-bearing races. It turned out to be quite a run for a stallion that many thought was a physically moderate individual.

European Foals

Nureyev's first full crop (he had one foal from a test mating as a 3-year-old) included eight 2-year-old winners from 24 foals. Theatrical was one of them, but it wasn't until his 5-year-old season that he found his best stride. Theatrical, who received a boost of stamina in his pedigree by way of his Arc-winning broodmare sire Sassafras, captured the 1987 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) over that year's Arc winner Trempolino in one of his six grade I victories that year. He was an easy choice for champion grass male.

Theatrical, who earned $2.9 million in his career, hasn't missed a beat during his years as a stallion. He has sired 56 stakes winners, and his 2002 fee of $80,000 at Hill 'n'Dale Farms near Lexington ranks with the top turf stallions.

The same year Theatrical won the Turf, Nureyev's daughter Miesque won the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) in course-record time. A homebred for Niarchos, she scored a repeat win the following year, and during her career earned two Eclipse Awards as well as several championships in France and England. Her offspring as a broodmare include classic winner and major sire Kingmambo, plus champion East of the Moon.

The year 1987 also marked a turning point for Nureyev. He fractured his right hind leg just below his hock during breeding season. Walmac veterinarian Dr. J.D. Howard later told The Blood-Horse that the injured area "was just like a swivel. It just flopped. I thought, 'There's no way.' "

Nureyev underwent surgery in which four screws were inserted and he was outfitted with a cast. His chances for survival were pegged at 10%, but that was before additional problems surfaced--screws broke off, discomfort in the injured areas, respiratory infection, fears of colitis, etc. Doing everything possible, Howard and his team managed to save Nureyev, and the horse was able to stand the following year's breeding season.

Nureyev's foals born in the 1990s included many stars, but it was Spinning World and Peintre Celebre who stood out. Spinning World, a champion in France and Ireland, won four European group I mile races and took the 1997 Breeders' Cup Mile in course-record-equaling time a year after running second in the race.

Peintre Celebre won the 1997 Arc de Triomphe at 1 1/2 miles in course-record time and earlier took the French Derby (Fr-I) at the same distance. He was France's champion 3-year-old. Nureyev was France's leading sire that year by progeny earnings.

Nureyev's Epsom Oaks winner also came along in 1997. Reams of Verse, who was England's champion 2-year-old filly the year before, captured the 1 1/2-mile race.

Nureyev's other career champions include English Horse of the Year Zilzal, Sonic Lady, Fasliyev, Soviet Star, and Stately Don, who won the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) and a division of the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) in the U.S. One of Nureyev's sons, Robin des Bois, is the sire of Walmac stallion Gentlemen.

The list of Nureyev's North American standouts also runs deep. His son Skimming has won the last two runnings of the Pacific Classic Stakes (gr. I), and another, grade I winner Atticus, set a world record for a mile on grass. Nureyev's percentage of stakes winners stands at 18%.

Nureyev was buried at Walmac near two-time Arc winner Alleged and dual U.S. classic winner Risen Star.