Native Dancer nicknamed the Gray Ghost, was one of the most celebrated and accomplished thoroughbred racehorses in history, the first horse made famous through the medium of television.
Born at Scott Farm near Lexington, Kentucky, the gray colt was raised and trained at owner Alfred G. Vanderbilt II's Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Maryland. A son of 1945 Preakness Stakes winner Polynesian out of the mare Geisha, in his first season of racing Native Dancer won all nine races he entered, thrilling crowds with his come-from-behind running style. He was voted the Eclipse Award as Champion 2-year-old for 1952 with two of the three major polls naming him Horse of the Year.
In his three-year-old campaign, the undefeated racehorse received a great deal of media attention leading up to the 1953 Kentucky Derby. He won both the Gotham Mile and the prestigious Wood Memorial en route to racing's most prestigious event but at the Derby, Native Dancer lost for the first time. Although jockey Eric Guerin was roundly criticised in the press, the horse had in fact been fouled twice during the race but recovered to barely lose to Dark Star. To date Native Dancer is still one of only two "Dual Classic Winners" ever to come from the state of Maryland (the other was Kuai King) and one of only eleven Maryland-bred colts to win a Triple Crown race. Eight of those eleven have won the Preakness but only he and Caveat have won the Belmont Stakes from the "Old Line State."
Following his loss at Churchill Downs, Native Dancer quickly reestablished himself as one of the best horses in America. He won the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes, and the Travers Stakes, a feat accomplished until then only by Duke of Magenta, Man o' War, and Whirlaway, and by only two other horses since. Native Dancer never lost again that season and was named Champion Three Year Old Colt.
In 1954 Native Dancer won all three races he entered and was scheduled to be shipped to France to compete in the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. However, he had to be retired as a result of a recurring foot injury with a record of 21 wins out of 22 lifetime races. Voted the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year for 1954, he appeared on the May 31 cover of Time magazine.
As a Sire
At stud, Native Dancer was a highly successful sire, and is an ancestor of countless modern champions. One of his daughters, a mare named Natalma produced the great Northern Dancer. His tail-male descendants, particularly through his grandson Mr. Prospector, have come to dominate many U.S. Triple Crown races.
Native Dancer is also the grandsire of Sea Bird II, considered by many racing experts to be the best post-war European racehorse. His wins include the 1965 Epsom Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Sea Bird II earned 145, the highest Timeform rating in history.
Native Dancer was inducted in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1963. He died on November 16, 1967 and was buried at Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Maryland.
In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th century, Native Dancer was ranked #7. In the Associated Press rankings of the greatest racehorses of the 20th century, Native Dancer ranked #3, tied with Citation, behind only Man o' War and Secretariat.