Dahlia Changed the Face of International Racing

In the last blog, the differences between U.S. and European racing were discussed. There was a time, long before the Breeders’ Cup, when foreign horses came to the U.S. for one special event, like the Washington D.C. International, and then returned home. But, then, along came Dahlia, and international racing changed forever.

Unlike your typical tomboy type, Dahlia was able to compete with and defeat the world’s best males, despite being extremely refined and feminine, and having as kind a disposition as you’ll ever see in a Thoroughbred. Before Dahlia came along in 1973 and ’74, Europeans and other horses from across the globe would ship to America for the D.C. International and that was the last Americans saw of them. But Dahlia, after winning the International in 1973, returned the following year for a fall campaign in North America, the first time a European had attempted that. After returning to her home base in Chantilly and competing in Europe for most of 1975, she was sent back to America for the third time later that year and stayed for good, racing as a 6-year-old and starting 15 times under the care of Charlie Whittingham.

By the time Whittingham took over her training, Dahlia already was the first European horse to win the Man o’ War Stakes (then the championship event for American turf horses), the first European to win the Canadian International Championship, the first filly to win the Washington D.C. International, and the only horse (male or female) to win group or grade I stakes in five different countries – England, France, Ireland, United States, and Canada.

Nelson Bunker Hunt’s remarkable filly most certainly must be regarded as the equine pioneer of international racing. At a time when transatlantic travel was generally limited to a single round-trip flight from Europe to the United States, mostly for the D.C. International, Dahlia logged an incredible 26,000 miles during her career, competing in six different countries. Along the way, she defeated no less than 10 classic-winning colts, including English Derby winners Grundy, Roberto, and Snow Knight; Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners Rheingold and Star Appeal, plus the winners of the French and Irish Derbys, the Irish St. Leger, Grand Prix de Paris, and Belmont Stakes. And those are just the classic winners.

It was Dahlia’s success in America that paved the way for a massive French invasion, with many of the invaders being fillies – Waya, Flying Water, Nobiliary, April Run, Trillion, All Along, Pebbles, Estrapade, and Miss Alleged, among others. Following Dahlia’s victory in the 1973 D.C. International, French-trained horses captured seven of the next 10 runnings of the race.

Before we get into Dahlia herself, let’s look at the origins of modern-day international racing. The roots trace back to 1923 when English Derby winner Papyrus was sent to the U.S. to compete in a match race against Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Zev. The match race was the brainstorm of Joseph E. Widener, with the Westchester Racing Association paying all expenses for shipping Papyrus to America. Advance sales were so high that a special ticket office had to be opened on Broadway to accommodate the demand.

Unfortunately, three days of rain turned the Belmont track into a sea of slop, and, despite the urging of American trainers to use mud caulks, Papyrus’ trainer, Basil Jarvis, insisted on running his colt in his customary smooth plates. Papyrus never got hold of the wet track and was beaten eight lengths by Zev.

What was gratifying to many Americans was that it came just a few years after the British Jockey Club passed what became known as the Jersey Act, which branded a great majority of American-bred Thoroughbreds “impure” and denied their entry into the British Stud Book.

Although anticlimactic, the Zev--Payprus match race set the stage the following year for what was a unique series of races. Simply called the International Specials 1, 2, and 3, it lured M.P. Wertheimer’s French-trained and French-bred Epinard. In a period of less than two months, Epinard competed at six furlongs, one mile, and 1 1/4 miles, finishing second to Wise Counsellor in Special 1; second, beaten a nose by Ladkin, in Special 2; and second again in Special 3 behind Sarazen, who broke the track record by more than a second.

Other ideas, most of them outlandish, cropped up over the years in an attempt to lure European horses. But none ever came to fruition until Laurel president John Shapriro came up with the concept of the Washington D.C. International. The race, first run in 1952, became a rousing success and proved to be one of the world’s great races. It received its first major boost in 1958 when European superhorse Ballymoss made the trip, finishing third to Sailor’s Guide. In 1964, the International decided Horse of the Year when Kelso got his revenge on his archrival Gun Bow, shattering the course record. This followed three straight second-place finishes by Kelso, behind T.V. Lark, French-trained Match II, and Mongo. In 1967, Fort Marcy defeated Damascus by a nose in what proved to be a battle of future Horses of the Year.

In 1973, racing in America meant one word – Secretariat. Big Red proved to be a sensational turf horse, winning the Man o’War and Canadian International, but was retired following the Woodbine race, passing up a shot at the D.C. International.

That was disappointing to Dahlia’s trainer, Maurice Zilber, who was looking forward to proving that his filly was the best horse in the world. Although Dahlia was unable to handle her archrival Allez France over the softer courses in France, and never ran a lick in the Arc de Triomphe, Zilber was convinced she could beat Secretariat, based on her spectacular victory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, as well as her victories in the Irish Oaks and Prix Saint-Alary and another win over the colts in the Prix Niel. Dahlia’s trademark was her brilliant turn of foot, which is why she usually was not at her best over soft and yielding courses.

In the King George, run over good (firm) ground, Dahlia demonstrated an explosion of speed and power rarely seen anywhere. With one electrifying burst, the 3-year-old filly blew away the winners of the English, Irish, and French Derbys and subsequent winner of the Arc de Triomphe, drawing off to a jaw-dropping six-length victory.

When Dahlia arrived at Laurel for the International, that performance was overshadowed by her disasters at Longchamp. But Europeans knew that was not the real Dahlia, and they tried to explain that the filly had wrenched a leg muscle in the Prix Vermeille and should never have come back two weeks later in the Arc.

Dahlia’s jockey Bill Pyers did not want Zilber to run her at Laurel, feeling she was far below her best form. The European press firmly believed Dahlia could beat any horse in the world, but they also weren’t sure whether she’d be at her best. British turf writer Richard Baerlin observed her and said. “She appears to be within 10 percent of herself. That won’t get it.” Even Zilber admitted that Dahlia was “not completely back to her summer form.”

It was hard to make believers out of the Americans, who were just beginning to come down from the Secretariat high that had lifted the entire nation into a state of euphoria. With Big Red scheduled to depart for Claiborne Farm the day after the International, the main hopes of America rested on the tiny shoulders of Tentam, who had won the Metropolitan Handicap on dirt, the United Nations Handicap on grass, and was second to Secretariat in his record-breaking victory in the Man o’ War. Also in the field were the classy American horses Big Spruce and London Company, Champion Stakes winner Hurry Harriet, Irish St. Leger winner Conor Pass, Eclipse Stakes winner Scottish Rifle, Grand Prix de Deauville winner Card King, and Preis von Europa winner Acacio d’Aguilar.

When Dahlia was made 8-1 on the morning line, Irish race caller Michael O’Hehir kept telling anyone who would listen that Dahlia was “truly a great horse,” adding that “if she had skipped the Arc, as she should have done, she’d be 2-1.” When Americans mocked O’Hehir for mentioning Dahlia in the same breath as Secretariat, he asked, “How can you compare Secretariat to Dahlia when you haven’t seen her run?”

Scottish Rifle’s trainer John Dunlop said, “Dahlia is truly a wonderful filly – one of the best I’ve ever seen. If she comes up with her top effort, she’ll win.”

When it was over, Americans had witnessed the greatness of Dahlia. After turning for home, at the three-sixteenths pole, Pyers had Dahlia hopelessly trapped behind horses. All he could do was wait for Big Spruce and Scottish Rifle to clear him, so he could swing Dahlia to the outside. With her explosive acceleration she could get back in the race in a matter of seconds.

In the final furlong, Big Spruce and Scottish Rifle bore down on Tentam and took over the lead in tandem. Pyers snatched Dahlia to the outside, and in a flash, Nelson Bunker Hunt’s familiar light and dark green silks appeared seemingly out of nowhere. It was as if the horses up front suddenly were moving in slow motion, as Dahlia charged by them so quickly she was three lengths in front in the blink of an eye. Despite the deep, yielding course, she still came home her final quarter in :23 2/5.

The following year, Dahlia, who often needed a few races early in the year before finding her best form, rattled off consecutive victories over the colts in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, another win in the King George, and the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup (now the Juddmonte International Stakes).

Following a third in the Prix du Prince d’Orange at Longchamp, it was decided to send Dahlia back to America for an unprecedented three-race fall campaign, consisting of the Man o’ War, Canadian International, and Washington D.C. International.

Dahlia’s trip back to the States did not start off very well, as she had a terrible experience in the antiquated Clifton, N.J. quarantine facility, prompting Zilber to publicly complain about his filly’s condition after being released from quarantine. Zilber described her experience as “a harrowing mess,” and “a thing of horror.”

Despite the poor conditions and losing weight during her stay, Dahlia still was able to defeat the best turf horses in America in the Man o’War only two days after leaving quarantine. She came right back 15 days later and won the Canadian International Championship, coming from 21 lengths back to defeat Big Spruce by a length. Big Spruce, who had finished second in the Canadian International to Secretariat the year before, had twice knocked off the mighty Forego in ’74 in the Marlboro Cup and Governor Stakes.

Returned to the States, Dahlia was back in action only 13 days later in the D.C. International. This time, she was victimized by a snail-like pace, set by super filly Desert Vixen, who crawled the first three-quarters in 1:17 1/5 on a firm course. Although Dahlia still rallied from far back and closed her final quarter in :22 4/5, she could only finish third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths by fellow French horse Admetus. So, Dahlia had won two grade Is and was third in a grade I all in the span of 28 days.

Normally, a 4-year-old filly who had accomplished what Dahlia had, racing 24 times in five different countries, 16 of those races against colts, would have been retired. But, amazingly, Dahlia’s career was only half over. She would race 24 more times over the next two years, and although she was never as brilliant as she was at 3 and 4, she still managed to win the 1975 Benson & Hedges Gold Cup, defeating that year’s Arc de Triomphe winner Star Appeal, finish second in the Grand Prix de Deauville, and third in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes to Grundy and Bustino, in what was called “The Race of the Century,” inspiring a book of the same name. In her third attempt at the Canadian International, she came from 11 lengths back to finish fourth, beaten two lengths by Snow Knight.

By the time she joined Whittingham’s barn for her 6-year-old campaign she was a shell of her former self. Racing almost exclusively in grade I company against colts, she did win the grade I Hollywood Invitational Handicap, defeating major stakes horses Caucasus and Pass the Glass, and was third in the grade I Century Handicap, and fourth in the grade I Hollywood Gold Cup on the dirt.

Dahlia finally was retired with arguably the most amazing collection of championships ever: Horse of the Year in England in 1973 and ’74; Champion 3-year-old in England in 1973; Champion older mare in England in 1974 and ’75; Champion 3-year-old in Ireland in 1973; and Champion grass horse in America in 1974.

For a filly to have raced so often (48 times), mainly against the boys, while traveling all over the world, there was doubt about Dahlia’s proficiency as a broodmare. Residing at Hunt’s Bluegrass Farm and then Allen Paulson’s Brookside Farm, Dahlia proved as great a producer as she was a racehorse.

Of 11 foals to race, Dahlia produced six graded stakes winners -- four grade I winners and two grade II winners, as well as a grade I-placed horse and a listed stakes-placed horse.

My daughter virtually grew up with Dahlia, visiting her at Windfields Farm (where she sent to be bred on a couple of occasions) when she was 11 months old, then again when she was 3, and years later at Brookside. I can fill an album with just the photos I have of Mandy kissing Dahlia, who remained one of the sweetest horses you’ll ever be around. It was hard to believe being around her that she was one of the most feared amazons who ever did battle with the boys.

She was a remarkable racehorse and producer, and lived until the age of 31.

So, from now on, whenever you see top-class European fillies competing in international events, or any European horse sent to America to campaign, just remember the brilliant, durable, and indefatigable chestnut filly with the pretty face and gentle disposition who started it all 35 years ago.


Leave a Comment:


Dahlia was a beauty.  I have a book called "Champions" which features mostly 1970s horses, and she has a nice section in there with some beautiful photos.  I like the way you sometimes write about older horses that younger fans may not know much about. :)

28 Jul 2009 8:32 PM

I am glad that you have remembered one of the greatest race mares of the ages.  She was amazing.  NBH should be praised for letting the public watch such an awesome horse.

28 Jul 2009 8:32 PM

Dahlia was truly a great filly and a trendsetting globetrotter, but I do not believe any horse was going to beat Secretariat at that distance no matter the surface.

28 Jul 2009 8:35 PM
Phil Rynn

Dahlia was a great one, and when you look back at that racing record, it's mind-boggling to think about how durable horses used to be.  Her connections never dodged a race, either.

I was in Europe at the time of the her rivalry with Allez France, and it's true that that latter had her measure at Longchamp -- Dahlia was not the same horse there.  And it's true that Allez France needed soft ground to be at her best...I was at Longchamps in late June 1975, when Allez France was upset in the Prix D'Ishaphan (sp) by Ramirez --run on a tight track that would have been much more to Dahlia's liking (Allez France's loss was so remarkable that things got ugly when she returned to the saddling enclosure -- spectators were jeering and throwing their rolled-up Paris Turf newspapers at Yves Saint-Martin (her jock) -- I will never forget that scene).

Here's an interesting side-piece:  on the morning of Santa Anita Derby day in 1992, I was down at Clocker's Corner watching the morning works..and I struck up a conversation with another racing fan from Switzerland....this guy had been all over the map, visiting farms, and famous horses, and so on..and we were joined in the conversation by Alex Solis' agent (forget his name)....this Swiss guy starts showing us pictures that he had taken, of famous horses...and a photo that he took of Dahlia in her stall, with a foal (I dont know which) by her side ...well, Charlie Wittingham was walking by, and Solis' agent called him over to have a look at the photo....Charlie Wittingham, a man of few words, came over and took a good long look at the photo....and he said: "She got fat!".

Funny how things turn out...Dahlia's French nemesis Allez France finally makes her way to SoCal, in 1976 I believe, for one final race, on the dirt, in that "special" race (name escapes me now), and totally floundered...that was a bad idea.

She had been so good in Paris, though.

28 Jul 2009 9:21 PM
John T.

Dahlia was indeed a great filly.In

1973 when she won the Irish Oaks the filly who finished second,

Mysterious had just won the two English filly classics,The 1000 Guineas and Oaks.In Dahlia,s next race the King George Rheingold would finish second and he went on to win the Arc that year with Dahlia,s old nemesis Allez France finishing second to him.Dahlia,s record in North America was almost

unbelievable considering the amount of travel that was involved.

I had the great pleasure of seeing her win in the flesh in the 1974 Canadian International when that great master of pace Lester Piggott

timed it to perfection.

28 Jul 2009 9:29 PM

My family has two female cats -- Ruffian and Dahlia.

Thank you for your appreciation of a magnificent mare.

28 Jul 2009 9:42 PM

I truly loved watching her when ever I could.  She was an amazing filly.

28 Jul 2009 9:56 PM

Dahlia was one of my favorites when I first started following the sport.  I was crushed when she lost that 1974 DC International.  Thanks for bringing back the memories.  one minor correction: I believe the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup is now known as the (Juddmonte) International Stakes, not the Irish Champion.

28 Jul 2009 10:05 PM

Dahlia was a truly great horse, not just a filly.  When thinking of the greatest horses Europe has ever offered the top two have to be Ribot and Nijinsky II.  I am under the old belief that great horses must win at least 10 or more races or at least race that many times.  Sea Bird is overrated and the Brits have tough times not putting him down his 145 timeform rating is a debacle and should be correctly adjusted to a more fitting number maybe a 138 or probably even less than that. It just wasn't that impressive.  Overrated horse that was glorified by the European aristocrats of the oval.  I feel so bad for Nijinsky time and again he is not mentioned amoungst the great horses Europe had to offer. Point in fact is this horse did something no horse did in 35 years and something no horse has done since, not just because trainers are afraid to run their "sprint" horses in the St. Leger distance but also because they can't run the St. Leger distance.  :  ) His only loses came to elders when his trainer had publicly said prior to both races that the horse was not right and lets not forget he lost the Arc de Triomphe by a nose.  He was simply a tired horse and had he had the proper rest after the St. Leger as his trainer had said he needed he would have surely been undefeated and known as the greatest horse ever to set foot in Europe. Still Nijinsky retired with an incredible 13starts, 11 wins, and 2 shows.  There really isn't much to say about Ribot other than - PERFECTION. 16 for 16, and back to back Arc's by open lengths to boot.  These two horses Europe's greatest.

28 Jul 2009 10:17 PM
Abbie Knowles

Thanks Steve, Dahlia is my all time favourite racemare!

Slightly query your comment about her temperament she could be sweet but also very temperamental.  I have Champions and Decade of Champions!  Plus newspaper cuttings.  I followed her career since I fell in love with her when she slammed Mysterious in the Irish Guiness Oaks.  She was most certainly the most beautiful racemare ever too with that lovely head!

I shall print off your aricle in the morning to KEEP!

God Bless you for this and all your writing!

Best Wishes


28 Jul 2009 10:19 PM

Fantastic article Steve, thank you!

28 Jul 2009 10:26 PM

Excellent writing Steve and I can tell by your passion that you really adored Dahlia. I watched her run in the Hollywood Invitational. I think I bet Caucasus that day, he was a true tiger on the turf but like many horses he ran a dud now and then. Dahlia was truly remarkable. To globe trot the way she did, always give an honest effort and to be able to beat the boys as often as she did was amazing. She was truly was of the best grass horses of all time, male or female. Ouiga Board reminded me a little of Dahlia, not sure why though must have been extensive travel.

Thanks as always Steve...........

Can we maybe anticipate an article  on the great South American race horses? Forli was one of my favorites and I think he would have been one of the greats if not for injury.  

28 Jul 2009 10:27 PM

correction Nijinsky's record was 13 starts 11 wins and 2 PLACE not show too late to be up typing

28 Jul 2009 11:19 PM

She was one of the big reasons racing was so incredible in the 1970s when we all got spoiled.

Only Swain has managed to match her feat of winning the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes twice. Now that was a special 3YO filly.

28 Jul 2009 11:33 PM


29 Jul 2009 12:16 AM

I remember Dahlia;  great mare.!

29 Jul 2009 12:21 AM

Thanks for the memories - she was really special. Everyone makes such a fuss about fillies racing against "the boys" these days, but mares like Dahlia just prove it's not that big a deal - talent is talent.

29 Jul 2009 12:33 AM
Matthew W

Steve I was privledged to see Dahlia up close, at Hollywood Park, and she beat my horse Caucasus by 1/2 length in (I believe) The Hol Turf Invitational, at 1 1/2....Shoe moved to soon, I thought, he made the lead on the backstretch, and Hol those days had a closers turf course, slightly uphill last 1/16, but Shoe was tops at coaxing it all out of a horse....That alone isn't such an interesting story, but I was kicking myself for betting Caucasus against her, because just weeks prior, Dahlia had savaged Caucasus at the 1/8 pole and he would not pass her....here, again, in front of me, true class told....Dahlia simply wanted it more...from three to six, she was all class....Another from the crop of 1970, probably the greatest....

29 Jul 2009 12:44 AM
Matthew W

Hey Deacon---I got a chuckle outta readin' your post---seems you, too bet on Caucasus that day! I also bet on him--I wanna say 76 but was it 77??...I was at The Track Of The Lakes And Flowers most Sundays in 76/77/78, and remember so many things! I also bet on Caucasus in the 77 Gold Cup, won by Crystal Water, by a neck, oner "Cascapedia The Filly...", by na neck, over Caucasus, by a few, Ancient Title Fourth!...Weeks later, I was at the Del Mar starting gate, when Crystal Water practically came over to say hello, in a drastic dwelting break, and my beloved 'Title won for fun at 7-1!!! Ca Ching! I still love saying I had Ancient Title at 7-1!!

29 Jul 2009 12:55 AM
Matthew W

OK, Deacon, here's another memory of greatness in SoCal Racing in the 70's....For pure stayers, that is, 1 1/2 and beyond...there were none better than (bitter rivals!) Astray and La Zanzara, the great grey filly of Charlie's....and there may have been better but there was NO FILLY as hard knocking as Susan's Girl...and Quack's Gold Cup was one of racing's greatest performances...and Tizna and Bastonera and Lucy Manet are forgotten gems of fillydom...and Ancient Title, a sprinter, gave everything everytime....

29 Jul 2009 1:09 AM

 Two corrections: the Benson and Hedges is now the Juddmonte International, and Baerlin's quote (DRF 11/10/73) was that she was "within 10 percent of herself" -ie 90 percent of her best.

29 Jul 2009 2:26 AM

A true blue bona-fide great racehorse...

29 Jul 2009 7:03 AM

Another great article Steve.

29 Jul 2009 8:31 AM

I always get such an education reading your stories and blogs Steve. I can't imagine one of today's so called greats racing 48 times while traveling around the globe. What an amazing mare. However, I have to agree with ABZ. I doubt any horse was going to beat Big Red at that distance on any surface. According to Ron Turcotte. Secretariat was better on turf than on dirt if one can imagine that.  

29 Jul 2009 8:41 AM

Great article about a great mare who changed the sport!

Remember she was by Vaguely Noble and from the great FRIZETTE family!

The family has given us Seattle Slew and Mr P thanks for the trip the scenery was beautiful!

29 Jul 2009 8:46 AM
Bill Daly

Thanks, Steve, for a wonderful reprisal of the truly great Dahlia and the equally great DC International.  That race was the baby of John Shapiro who should be remembered as the father of international racing in the U.S.  Mr. Shapiro saw to it that the race became a success by paying the travel expenses of the international contestants. Now, that's amazing! I vividly remember how special that race was and the caliber of horses that competed in the race. The fields were comparable, if not better, than the BC Turf Classic. I will never forget seeing Dahlia and Maurice Zilber. The press had a field day with him as he was quite a character - the kind you might run into at Rick's Cafe in Casablanca.  Those horses of that era were truly remarkable: Dahlia, April Run, All Along, etc. were cut from a different cloth than what we have today.  Rachel Alexandra, in some small way, reminds me of them if only because she beat the boys in the Preakness.  We need somehow to return to those days. I only wish...

29 Jul 2009 8:59 AM

Wonderful article, Steve!  I feast on all the details and insight you have provided here, especially since I've just re-read the short version on Dahlia in my 100 Greatest Moments book.  It's just so cool to learn from you, and the information you include by having your daughter growing up with such an accomplished mare truly adds to this reader's enjoyment.  Thank you!

29 Jul 2009 9:09 AM
Steve Haskin

Duh, of course, the Juddmonte International. What the heck was I thinking? Thanks, I fixed it.

29 Jul 2009 9:33 AM

Please scratch the word "reprisal" from my post above.  I don't want anyone to think you were in some way exacting revenge against Dahlia or the DC International.  Better word: "retelling".  My apologies.

29 Jul 2009 9:33 AM
Steve Haskin

tesio, I had a couple of brain freezes. I have no idea why I wrote Irish Champion, but I fixed it. I had the correct quote and simply wrote it down wrong. Too much going on in my head at once I guess...or maybe not enough going on.

29 Jul 2009 9:40 AM

A beautiful mare and a beautiful story - made more lovely by your personal encounters with her greatness. Thanks, Steve!

29 Jul 2009 9:47 AM
Cowboy Bob

I was rubbing a horse running in the Man of War one of the years Dahlia ran. I was he product of the 1970's Belmont backside and had seen some pretty fancy horses. When Dahlia entered the paddock she took my breath away,so elegant, so graceful, she made the rest of the field look like a bunch of plow horses. She lost that day but she had the same elegant presence leaving the track as she did walking into the psddock. Now we have Jackson cherry picking his way to a championship with RA, no doubt a wonderful filly but 50 years from now based on current racing tactics she will be just a footnote. I think about Dahlia commanding the paddock at Belmont Park often. I have a picture of her gliding back to the barn after her defeat. Next to tne picture I have this quote. "It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is face is marred by dust sweat and blood; who strives vallantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid soles who know neither victory nor defeat." Teddy Roosevelt  Dahlia was a warrior, and a perfect elegant lady in either victory or defeat. Thanks Steve for reminding us of a truly great race mare.

29 Jul 2009 10:26 AM
Bob Hope

Great Stuff Steve and all without a litany of prices & payoffs! to add some interesting points, Sailors Guide traveled 9 days in a crate on the deck of a ship in stormy weather from Australia.

You overlooked Youth and Hipodamia, two fine Bunker Hunt stakes winners.

I walked the course with Lester before Dahlia's Woodbine win after blowing out a quarter in 21 crossing the dirt on the marshall Turf course. Her speed was misunderstood and cost at least 2 races in Cal until Charlie and Bill caught on that she had to come from behind.

Allez France was more a bad shipper than needing a racecourse

Steve, you might want to carry on to when you can when Mareseatoats, April Run and Half Iced traveled to Japan to with that country's Cup.  traveling those distance was unheard of then.

29 Jul 2009 10:48 AM
Steve Haskin

Bob, or should I say Mr. Hope, Sailor's Guide is a story by itself. I only mentioned fillies who made a major splash in America. Youth was a colt and I dont believe Hippodamia won any major races in the U.S. but I could be wrong. Wasn't she the Hunt mare who was kidnapped in Italy?

Allez France, as you said, was not a good shipper. She had a pet sheep named "Steve." They were afraid of what would happen when Allez France went to the U.S. and had to leave Steve behind. Well, she was fine, but the sheep was a basket case. I was at Longchamp when Allez France won the Arc -- I loved her, too, because she was by Sea-Bird. How she won that day, by a hard-fought head, with Yves Saint-Martin riding her with a broken leg also is a story in itself. Allez France also was a truly great filly.

29 Jul 2009 11:07 AM
Cowboy Bob

Mr. Bill Daly, Mentioning Dahlia and RA in the same paragraph has to be some sort of crime. She ran in more Grade 1 races against way better horses than RA, Zenyatta and lets thrown in Ruffian combined. She ran  anywhere aganist everybody.

29 Jul 2009 11:23 AM

Steve--thank you thank you!!  Your passion and fervor revitalizes my thirst for more.  You capture the essence of racing and give us little known facts that make your articles personal and special.  Thanks again!

29 Jul 2009 11:28 AM
sweet terchi

Thanks for the memories Steve! I remember Dahlia at Holly Park. Hanging out with my friends in the backstretch, when she would walk by, she was so smooth. What a time! Now I'm going to look through my old photo albums and see if there is a picture of her in there.

29 Jul 2009 11:32 AM
Steve Haskin

Just to nip this in the bud, let Cowboy Bob's comment end any comparisons between Dahlia and Rachel Alexandra. This is about Dahlia, and I really don't want it to deteriorate into yet another Rachel vs Zenyatta or Curlin vs. Big Brown debate.

29 Jul 2009 11:34 AM

Matthew W:   I was there that day at Hollywood Park and I did bet on Caucasus. Shoemaker did it to me again. I also loved Ancient Title, I was at Santa Anita when he ran second to Royal Glint in 1976 caught on the rail by a head. He was pretty good odds that day as well. They sure don't have races or horses like these anymore it seems. Everyone seems so testy these days about my horse is better then your horse. The sport has become somewhat disconnected and folks are angry. I love the sport for the purity of it. Horses like Dahlia, Susan's Girl, John Henry, Forego, Kelso, and even Gamely, these were hard nosed race horses who traveled and won everywhere they went. I have said many times in blogs that we live in a one and done industry pretty nuch. A horse wins an important race and off to the breeding shed.

Back in the day California racing was primo. We had some great ones out here. Hey Matthew W. remember Vigors and his Big Cap win in 1978 coming from about 30 lengths back.........  

29 Jul 2009 12:07 PM
Bob Hope

thanks for the additional notes Steve.  We were in quite a few places at the same time.

Your recall of history is rare now days and is much appreciated.  Remembering Angel Penna's wins with two 3 y.o. fillies in the Arc and with Pawnese' win in the King George Queen Elizabeth stakes.  I was in the paddock for these as well.  You might provide a little of what horseracing really was !

29 Jul 2009 12:46 PM

Sorry Steve, but I think the Canadian International Championship back then was a G-2.

In the meantime, great story.  I was at Woodbine the day she won the Championship.  On that day I don't think there was a horse in the world that would have defeatd her.

29 Jul 2009 12:56 PM

Steve....Great story on racing of  past marvelous horses... now... where can I find a picture of that beauty Dahlia...

29 Jul 2009 1:24 PM

Dahlia was simply awesome, shipped everywhere, and competed against and beat the best.  Dahlia vs. Secretariat - what a race that might have been!  The only title I can think of that Dahlia missed out on - but richly deserved - was Broodmare of the Year.  Thanks, Steve, for sharing a great story about a great racemare.  She was one of a kind, both on the track and as a producer.

29 Jul 2009 2:08 PM
Little Guy Breeder

Dang it, Steve!  You made me cry!

Dahlia was one of my all time favorite horses - ever!  I haven't seen a horse of her caliber in a very long time and doubt we will again, with the poor pedigree practices of today.

People, if you don't believe Steve, try to hunt down videos of her races and then tell us she wasn't, truly, one of the greatest horses to look through a bridle.  Then look at her produce record and know she was also God's gift to the foaling stall, too.  

Truly a gift to Racing on so many levels.

29 Jul 2009 2:49 PM
Brian A.

That was great Steve, Dahlia was always one of my favorites.  That has to be one of the toughest campaigns ever, male or female and she more than held her own.  Dahlia vs. Secretariat would have really been something!  Thanks so much for this article, it was inspiring.

29 Jul 2009 3:27 PM
Steve Haskin

The charts didnt list grades back then, but I believe the CIC was a grade II before Secretariat won. At least that's what I recall reading.

Bob, I was at Epsom when Pawneese won the English Oaks in a romp -- Another great filly. She looked and ran like a gazelle. She then won the French Oaks 9 days later.

29 Jul 2009 3:39 PM
Cowboy Bob

Aye,Aye Sir!

29 Jul 2009 4:39 PM

Here's Dahlia's run in the 1974 Man o'War Stakes. www.youtube.com/watch

These are her two King George Queen Elizabeth runs. www.youtube.com/watch

29 Jul 2009 4:56 PM

I'm with you Lazzmannick - right after reading your tale of Dahlia, Steve, I went racing around the net to find a picture of her so as to see this great mare...my search had me reminded she is #50 on the BH's 100 top Thoroughbreds of the 20th c. book.  Lovely name, lovely filly, just as you described her - thanks for the story Steve!

29 Jul 2009 5:01 PM

Steve great writing again. You put so much life into your works.It makes me feel like I'm there sometimes living these events with these great horses. It's like we get "The Rest of The Story." Thank you.

29 Jul 2009 5:40 PM
Abbie Knowles

Dahlia will always be my favourite racemare then Rags to Riches then Intrepidity (Epsom Oaks Winner!)then ZENYATTA!

I love Rachel Alexandra but for me ZENYATTA is the classier of the two but we are all entitled to our opinion!

Have printed off this article in it's entirety with 50 comments!

Thanks so much Steve but as a racemare Dahlia could be a proper madam particularly on the gallops where she could go completely mad at times with her bucking!

She may have mellowed by the time you and Mandy met her!

Great, great writing though.  Thanks so much!

Seattle Slew and Dahlia rule ok!

29 Jul 2009 7:00 PM
Abbie Knowles

Thanks Tiznowbaby!  

The American Commentator got it right her name is pronounced DARLIA not Daylia!

Now isn't she the most beautiful mare you ever saw folks?!!!!!!!!!!

Many thanks

God Bless

Best Wishes


29 Jul 2009 9:27 PM

 Carnauba, an Italian Oaks winner, was the kidnapped Hunt mare. She was found in a stable near a butcher shop.

30 Jul 2009 2:15 AM
Matthew W

Deacon I was there for Vigors, "The White Tornado", in 78 Big Cap---McHargue's sixth win of the card, he hit the side of the gate and fell way back---I was right at the wire, along the rail, and it was noisy!

30 Jul 2009 2:35 AM

Matthew W:

Great memories back in the day

30 Jul 2009 10:36 AM

Tiznowbaby, Thank you for the utube sites..this must have been such an awesome horse.  so sorry not to be able to reach out and touch her....wish I had her picture...Thank You...

30 Jul 2009 11:26 AM
sweet terchi

Tesio,thanks for the info on Carnauba. I was always under the impression she had suffered the same fate as Shergar.(not sure if I spelled his name right).

Steve, as I was looking through my old stuff, I came across another filly I was fond of. Miesque (misspelled?). Perhaps she could be a candidate for a future article?

30 Jul 2009 11:41 AM
linda in texas

My British Freshman English Teacher at Boarding School taught us when telling about something, to describe it as if the listener knew absolutely nothing about which you were speaking. That way they would know every detail. So Mr. Haskin, i am sure Gertrude Dodge would surely agree with me,if she were still here, that you tell all of your stories perfectly and leave nothing to question. You would no doubt receive an A+ every time from her and you surely do from me. Thanks again and always. You are pretty awesome and your articles are all such treats. And now i know Dahlia.

30 Jul 2009 2:33 PM
Steve Haskin

Right, Carnauba. I knew it was a Hunt filly. Couldnt think of her name and got them mixed up. Thanks, tesio.

30 Jul 2009 7:04 PM
Abbie Knowles


You were so supportive over Seattle Slew that i would like to do you a painting of Dahlia.

Are you on facebook?

Bloodhorse Publications know my name on facebook and I give them my permission to give it you so that you can let me know your address by leaving me a message on facebook.

Would you be my friend on facebook Ragsy?

God Bless

Kind regards


30 Jul 2009 8:56 PM

Thanks, once again, for your excellent work.  I missed so much of the great racing of the '70s.  However, when you mentioned the flood of French fillies, there was one omission that I would like to add.

One of the most beautiful specimens of horse flesh I ever saw was Zalataia in the post parade for the '83 Oak Tree Invitational.  She was drop dead gorgeous.  A Grade I winner from France, this daughter of Dictus not only had the looks, she defeated the great John Henry that day.  Freddie Head had come to SA to ride her.

However, following that win, very strange events began to happen.  There was a cloudy issue of ownership in France.  As a result, she was placed in Ron McAnally's barn.  Not blaming him for anything, she did not appear to be the same filly the next time she walked in a post parade at HP.  It looked as though she had lost weight.  Heard through the grapevine that Freddie Head had commented on her looks, as well, by saying "What have they done to my horse?"  Whatever had happened, she lost to John Henry, even though she had taken the lead in the stretch.  This was the race which put JH over the 4 million dollar mark.

Madeline Paulson bought her and bred her to Strawberry Road and, thus, Fraise was the result.

Even Estrapade beat the boys in the Arlington Million - Yes, the ladies can run a step or two.

30 Jul 2009 10:16 PM
kelso fan

Always love reading your articles especially about horses of the past.  I remember following so many of those horses even with the limited amount of info available to those of us not in horse racing centers. Please keep in up - I do think a feature on Miesque would be really good.  Thanks again!

30 Jul 2009 10:19 PM

Gee...Abbie Knowles, that would be super fantastic....never been to facebook but.. will look...love to be friends on facebook....WOW!!!


31 Jul 2009 12:39 PM
Mike S

DAHLIA was great, no doubt about it, but she could sure throw in a lot of clunkers. But I'll forgive her for that because she was gorgeous and had incredible ability when she wanted to run. She won 15 of 48 and was in the money 10 times...so she was out of the money 23 times! I was at the track when she won the Hollywood Invitational Turf Hcp, which was very exciting.

In her first American start, the Washington DC International, she was a powerhouse, and she beat a very good field (including BIG SPRUCE). She was only 3 years old at the time! She came back to North America at 4 and was awesome while winning the Man O' War and Canadian International, then finished a flying 3rd in the DC International (the great DESERT VIXEN was 2nd). At 5 and 6 DAHLIA's form deteriorated, though she did pop up with a win here and there.

Someone here pointed out that DAHLIA is ranked #50 on the Blood Horse's list of the top 100 thoroughbreds. If she's #50 then COUGAR II should be #49, at least, because he ran on turf and dirt, at the highest level of competition, winning 20 of 50, and being in the money an additional 24 times, and he was in the money in 30 of his last 31 races, almost always being top weight. Alas, the Blood Horse was remiss in even including COUGAR II on the list.

DAHLIA was great, though, and she remains one of my favorite horses of all time. Her class and ability even carried through to the breeding shed.

Hi Steve...can you write a story about COUGAR II? The race named in his honor is coming up Wednesday at Del Mar!

31 Jul 2009 1:26 PM
Matthew W

Steve that was a real racehorse that ran today at Del Mar---I can tell in the interview harty was blown away by his ability to turf--"Changes everything" was what he said about his options/plans--wide EARLY move into the last turn...opened up and blew them away in FAST time! 'Would've won the Eddie Read, easy! I took a good look at this horse--DIDN'T bet him, but that horse knows what's goin on, does Colonel John.....

31 Jul 2009 10:04 PM
Matthew W

Mike s--I saw Cougar up close several times! Most notably in Winter of '72, Santa Anita, against the likes of Triple Bend and Unconscious! Those were some bad hombres! Cougar was always there, not always winning but carrying top weight and trying the tough guys all of the time!! Ran with his head up--lovely long tail out...chain bridal...would stop and gaze into the crowded grandstand, and the fans would go wild for that, while Shoe sat amused!..."Here comes THE COUGAR", as Joe Hernanzez would say....

31 Jul 2009 10:12 PM
sid fernando

Steve, nice article. I, too, was a fan of Dahlia, as well as of Allez France.

You wrote: "Dahlia already was the first European horse to win the Man o’ War Stakes (then the championship event for American turf horses)," which is correct, but in the sphere and spirit of international racing remember that South African champion Hawaii won the Man o' War in 1969 in record time. Hawaii, of course, was owned by Charles Engelhard, who also owned Nijinsky.

Also, Old-timers in California will remember distinctly the 1963 South African champion Colorado King, who came to California and won the 1964 Hollywood Gold Cup and Sunset Handicap in the same year that Hawaii was foaled in South Africa -- 1964!

31 Jul 2009 10:20 PM

Steve you have such a wonderful way with words.  The only thing missing is a picture of Mandy with Dahlia.

Thank you for this enlightening article about a truely great racemare and broodmare.

01 Aug 2009 3:27 AM
Steve Haskin

Sid, Hawaii was one of the best turf horses I've ever seen and vastly underrated in the grand scheme of things, but he was an American-trained horse when he won the Man o'War. My comment referred to Dahlia as a European invader.

Tairaterces, thank you, I will be posting a pic of Mandy and Dahlia in my next batch of horse photos on Facebook.

Matthew, I thought Colonel John looked super. I'd be sorry if this win prevents him from running in the Woodward, because I would definitely have gone up and covered the race if he were running.

01 Aug 2009 6:57 AM

Yeah, quite a romp by Colonel John - Just missed the track record, but, I believe his time would have beaten the one set by Slew of Damascus in the Wickerr.  Slew was another who "woke up" when switched to the turf.  He had just been on the engine in the Triple Bend.

Wish there would have been more commenting over at TVG about Wickerr.  Bobby Frankel trained and he loved DM - A real horse for a course - I remember a fellow who brayed for a week before one run by Wickerr, that he was going to go to DM and bet him big.  Wickerr won and paid $38.00 - When, I saw the guy the next week, I patted him on the back and said "Nice hit" - Sadly, he told me that he had gone to DM, but, had lost his wad trying to run it up - When the race went off, he was still scrambling for anyone to loan him money. Long trip back to LA. Damon Runyon did not have to make up these characters at the track.  Just another reason why this is the greatest game.

01 Aug 2009 3:09 PM

Is Dahlia from France? trying to find her pedigree....Is Sweet Dahlia from her?...wow...what a wonderful way to spend ones spare time....while waiting for the Diana ...

01 Aug 2009 4:51 PM
Matthew W

Steve I believe colonel John would prefer dirt, and I believe they want another Gr I dirt conquest--Remember he was run up on by Macho Again/lost his action--then battled back---This is a good older horse and I'd like to remind everybody--fillies DON'T beat older males at 1 1/4 (except turf)...I do not recall EVER seeing a filly beat older males at 1 1/4, I'd like more talk about Rachel/Zenyatta in Beldame---Not Zenyatta v Rail Trip, Einstein, Colonel John---no way do I want either filly taking on those hombres at 1 1/4.....

01 Aug 2009 10:05 PM
Rick Barton

Thanks Steve.  I'll print this article and save it.  I worked for Mr. Hunt at Bluegrass Farm. I was around her quite a bit.  It was a great time.  We moved her around a lot, but she spent most of the time at the Airport Farm, or the farm we called the Fayette Farm, which is now part of Shadwell.

One time we had Trillion, Glorius Song and Dhalia in the same paddock

To answer the question,  Dahlia was not from France.  She was foaled at Henry White's farm in Lexington.

02 Aug 2009 3:02 PM
Star Of Florida

Great article but its a pity that when you were writing of the Washington International's history you glossed over the fact Sailor's Guide was an Australian horse with a remarkable record (if a somewhat controversial winner of the DC International).

Pyers was also an Australian jockey.

02 Aug 2009 8:51 PM

Thank You, Rick Barton what a blessed person you are....

05 Aug 2009 11:48 AM
Pakistan Post

70s era was the greatest time in racing from both sides of Atlantic.Dahlia was another bright star of the sky of that decade.

06 Aug 2009 5:56 PM
Dahlia RA

Geez, I've never even heard of this horse! So the most famous female racing horse is named Dahlia?

13 Dec 2009 2:41 AM
pablo reyes

This is a beautiful written article. Thanks for it.

20 May 2010 9:37 AM

Great to discover other people remember Dahlia with as much affection as I do. She really turned me on to flat racing with her spectacular win in the 1973 King George.The next year my dad took me to see her win at York, my first visit to the races. Allez

France was great too of course. It was a little like Zarkava and Goldikova, one the Queen of Longchamp, one the globe-trotting star.

12 Oct 2010 6:12 PM

I always think I know so much about horseracing....til I read one of your stories and get blown away. I didn't know Dahlia til now, thanks to a friend in Zenyatta's diary who provided a link to this story!Great timing too; as I wait patiently for Zenny's little one I will be digging and digging for all the info I can find on Dahlia. Thanks Steve and I sure hope you are working on your thoughts for Zenyatta's story. Absolutely NO ONE else would be able to do it as perfectly as you will:)

03 Mar 2012 12:49 PM

Vic, if you're still around -- perhaps people leave out Nijinsky II because he was born in Canada and stood at stud in Kentucky, so he doesn't come to their minds under the label "European."

04 Mar 2012 11:42 PM

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