Canterbury Pilgrim

Great foundation mares are like rare gems; they are not found often and they tend to have qualities unique unto themselves.  So it is with Canterbury Pilgrim, whose peerless impact as an inbreeding tool has given us some of the greatest runners and progenitors of all time.  The daughter of Tristan came by this ability naturally, for her own dam Pilgrimage was also a well-used inbreeding instrument, being responsible via the doubling of her blood for Reine-de-Course Selene, the classic winning full siblings Ferry (One Thousand Guineas) and Sansovino (Derby Stakes) and One Thousand Guineas winner Tranquil.

Though Ferry was nowhere near as important as Selene, her brother Sansovino is a wonderful cross for that Reine-de-Course, as his pedigree is very similar:  Both are by sons of Canterbury Pilgrim – Selene by Chaucer, Sansovino  by Swyford and while Sansovino is out of Gondolette, Selene is out of Gondolette’s daughter Serenissima.  Sansovino is not all that difficult to find, and one commonly sees him in pedigrees via Reine-de-Course Sansonnet, a half sister to Fair Trial out of Lady Juror and the dam of Tudor Minstrel.  Other good daughters of Sansovino include Reine-de-Course Fille de Salut and Sans Lumiere, a daughter of Reine-de-Course Black Ray.

Crosses of Selene/Sansovino have resulted in some storied runners, namely major winner and sire Be My Guest, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Trempolino and the ill-starred Go For Wand.  Major sire Gone West is a good source of Tudor Minstrel (Sansonnet/Sansovino) blood and indeed his best runner, champion Zafonic, is by The Minstrel, who carries Northern Dancer’s rich Canterbury Pilgrim/Selene bloodlines.

That the majority of the important horses mentioned above were owned and bred by Lord Derby is significant because they were, in fact, bred with the express purpose of inbreeding to Pilgrimage.  It is further significant that having acquired Canterbury Pilgrim for a racing prospect in 1894 and having bred and stood at stud her two major sons Chaucer and Swynford, Lord Derby then acquired Serenissima in 1912 because her pedigree contained a son strain of Pilgrimage via Loved One.  Lord Derby thus found himself in a most fortuitous position to use not only Pilgrimage but Canterbury Pilgrim for inbreeding and the above results speak for themselves.

The purchase of Canterbury Pilgrim was made upon the advice of John Griffiths, whose services Lord Derby had engaged from the Duchess of Montrose, and it was at that lady’s dispersal that Canterbury Pilgrim was purchased.  Canterbury Pilgrim would have piqued the interest of any student of pedigrees, for her dam Pilgrimage had been a brilliant runner.  After winning both the One and Two Thousand Guineas, she was odds on to win the Oaks as well when she broke down and was retired to the breeding shed.

Bred to the hardy Ascot Gold Cup winner Tristan, a son of Hermit from a Stockwell daughter (and thus bearing the large heart gene of Pocahontas), Pilgrimage got the tiny Canterbury Pilgrim, whose common looks belied a heart as good as gold and legs and feet as sound as a bell.  Described as “small, with a short neck and very low in the withers”, Canterbury Pilgrim was slow to come to hand, winning only once from five trips postward as a juvenile.

At three, Canterbury Pilgrim blossomed into a classic winner of the highest order, taking the Oaks, the Park Hill Stakes (the “fillies’ St. Leger) and the Jockey Club Cup. Once retired to stud, she foaled two major stallions in Swynford (whom trainer George Lambton claimed was better than Hyperion) and Chaucer, a tiny fellow who missed his classic season due to illness but whose daughters would write his name in Thoroughbred history for all time to come.

Canterbury Pilgrim’s best daughter, Glasconbury, died in training, but while she will always be best known for producing Swynford and Chaucer, our friends in Australia would bridle considerably should we offer the opinion that they produced nothing of note.  As a matter of fact, Canterbury Pilgrim’s daughter St. Victorine, is the sixth dam of the incomparable Star Kingdom, king of Australian sires.  But Star Kingdom is not merely a tail-female descendent of Canterbury Pilgrim, he is 4 x 4 x 6 to Canterbury Pilgrim’s three children Chaucer, Swynford and St. Victorine.  Yet his unique linebreeding does not stop with Canterbury Pilgrim, but rather extends to three lines of Loved One, a son of Pilgrimage, so Star Kingdom ends up with three daughter crosses of Pilgrimage via Canterbury Pilgrim and three son crosses via Loved One for a total of six in all.

Other good horses to descend from Canterbury Pilgrim in tail-female include the good New Zealander Passive; double Melbourne Cup winner Rain Lover; Ribblesdale S. winner Queen Midas; July Cup winner Merry Madcap; Two Thousand Guineas winner Mon Fils; Champion Stakes winner Silly Season; and Prix Ganay winner Saint Andrews.

Nonetheless, it is the Swynford/Chaucer cross which is so prevalent in inbreeding patterns and which is easiest to find today.  Consider the major horses bred on this cross:  *Nasrullah and his three-quarter brother *Royal Charger; *Gallant Man and his relations; leading sire Heliopolis; and most important of all, Nearctic, sire of Northern Dancer and Icecapade.  Icecapade has four crosses of Canterbury Pilgrim on a 5 x 5 x 5 x 7 cross, but Northern Dancer has the really beautiful pattern:  He is 5 x 5 x 5 x 7 x 6 to Chaucer and Swynford.  No wonder the folks Down Under were glad to bring some Northern Dancer blood to their part of the world.  Consider the possibilities of Northern Dancer’s potent Canterbury Pilgrim crossing with all their Star Kingdom blood!

Chaucer, who was seven years Swynford’s junior, was by the incomparable St. Simon and was said to have the “heart of a lion”.  Unfortunately, despite winning the important Gimcrack Stakes at two, he did not win at all in four starts at three, succumbing to a stable infection that prevented his running to his ability.  Nonetheless, it was Rock Sand’s Triple Crown year and Chaucer might well have found himself with his hands full even had he been at his best.

Chaucer developed some nervous habits at four but improved somewhat at age five, winning the Doncaster Spring Handicap.  He returned to race at six and won the Liverpool Cup before bowing a tendon and retiring with eight wins in 35 starts.

Chaucer had two things to overcome at stud – his small size (he stood only 15.1) and his seemingly mediocre race record.  However, despite having to compete with his top-class brother, Chaucer seemed able to impart his courage, and no horse can do better for the breed than that.

Through his daughters, Chaucer is responsible for many of the major sire lines which have impacted the breed in this century.  Selene, for instance, produced Sickle (great-grandsire of Native Dancer); Pharamond II (grandsire of Tom Fool and thus great-grandsire of Buckpasser); and, of course, Hyperion.  Then there was Scapa Flow, dam of Pharos and Fairway.  There is also Reine-de-Course Poet’s Star, whose branch of the Quiver line produced Chefs-de-Race Right Royal and Wild Risk.  Also of note is that some of Chaucer’s male line is still with us via *Gallant Man, who descends from Chaucer via Prince Chimay-Vatout-Bois Roussel-Migoli.

Swynford, foaled in 1907, was by the Isonomy-line sire John o’ Gaunt, a not particularly sound specimen.  Foaled in January, Swynford was a big, plain horse who was described as “an ugly customer” but who was also said to be “strong as a bull and full of courage, though at the same time good-tempered”.

The colt showed some of his dam’s tendency as a two year old to lust too much for the lead at the expense of saving himself for the last, best furlongs.  He developed a minor problem and was stopped on, probably saving his classic season in the bargain, for he became a great stayer – but not before he tried his trainer’s patience.

Difficult to train at best, Swynford finally began coming around in June of his classic season, and though he was tried in the Derby, he ran horribly in it.  Nonetheless, Swynford had an excuse.  During the running, a colt had run up on his heels and he returned with the skin peeled off one of his hind legs from hock to fetlock.

Two weeks later, Swynford began to find himself at the Royal Ascot meeting, running third in the one mile St. James Palace Stakes and winning the 12-furlong Hardwicke Stakes.  It was a preview of things to come, as before the year ended, Swynford captured the St. Leger at 14 furlongs 132 yards.  In the process, the colt defeated that year’s Derby winner and Guineas second Lemberg.

The big colt returned the following year to add to his laurels, winning several 1 1/2 mile cup races before shattering a forelock during exercise.  It is one of the first great veterinary successes that the horse was saved for stud.  He went to the breeding paddocks with the best of recommendations from trainer George Lambton, “I knew to a pound how good Hyperion was, but after he reached his best form, I never knew how good Swynford was.”

Swynford’s major contribution to American pedigrees came in the form of Blenheim II, a grandson by Blandford.  Other Swynford-line horses who stood in this country include Challenger II and St. Germans.  Today, he is most commonly found via Blenheim II’s Reine-de-Course daughter Mumtaz Begum, dam of Nasrullah and via relatives of *Mahmoud, but his other Reine-de-Course daughters Sweet Lavender (dam of Lavendula) and Sarita (dam of Sister Sarah) have also contributed an enormous amount of quality to runners throughout the racing world.

Although the names in Canterbury Pilgrim’s family will sound unfamiliar and old, anyone can recognize the quality:  She was linebred to Derby winner Emilius through two daughters and Derby winning colt Priam (who is doubled).  St. Leger and Ascot Gold Cup winner and great sire Touchstone and his half sister Jocose are 4 x 5 x 4.  Jocose’s representation is via her great son Macaroni, winner of the Derby and Two Thousand Guineas.

Cowl is 5 x 4 and is a son of the great runner Crucifix, winner of the One and Two Thousand Guineas and the Oaks Stakes.  And of course, Canterbury Pilgrim’s female family was impeccable, as her wonderful dam traced to the great mare Prunella via her equally important daughter Problem.

Despite the antiquity of the names, there is nothing old or unusual about Northern Dancer, *Nasrullah, or *Heliopolis – these are common names that can be used to linebreed to Canterbury Pilgrim and Pilgrimage along with the offspring of Selene.  Anyone can own some of this wonderful bloodline and properly combined, it can result in a Star Kingdom or a *Royal Charger.

This is, then, a family with a strong characteristic in that it is most definitely a ‘sire source’ family, particularly when inbred to.  It will probably be difficult to find daughter lines of the family, but if you can find one from a viable branch (and they are most commonly found in Australia, South Africa and Europe), then by all means use it to stockpile the wealth of the remarkable Canterbury Pilgrim and her equally marvelous dam, Pilgrimage.

New Reines-de-Course are Pilgrimage, Canterbury Pilgrim, Wife Of Bath, St. Victorine and Pilgrim’s Way.  Savor them; they are the priceless efforts of one of racing’s great breeders, Lord Derby, and they place us in touch with the very genesis of the classic Thoroughbred.

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