La Branche Plantation in Louisiana is the final resting place of Nordlicht, one of the great German racehorses of the mid-20th century. Bred by Gestut Erlenhof, Nordlicht (chestnut horse 1941-1968, by Oleander x Nereide, by Laland) was unbeaten, with his victories including the Derby in both Germany and Austria.
Confiscated as a “spoil of war” by the US Army in 1945, Nordlicht was exported to the States and was sold at auction by the Army Remount Service in Virginia for $20,300 to a syndicate that included Christopher Chenery, owner of The Meadow and breeder of champions Hill Prince, Cicada, Riva Ridge, and Secretariat.
Chenery bred the first winner by the German Derby winner, the 2-year-old Nordoff, winner at Aqueduct on June 13, 1950.
Despite his outstanding race record in Europe, Nordlicht was a dismal failure at stud in the US. From 102 foals, the stallion sired two stakes winners: Cartagena and Travertine, both geldings.
Of the two, Travertine was the more successful, winning 16 races and $107,045. His best efforts came as a second in the San Felipe and a third in the Santa Anita Derby in 1954, then won the Peninsula Handicap the following year.
Chenery also bred Travertine, but Dormar Stable claimed him at 2 for $8,000. After Travertine showed massively improved form in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby the next season, Dormar sold him for $23,500 at a paddock sale at Santa Anita in 1954 to Travis Kerr, for whom Travertine won the Peninsula.
In between Travertine’s birth and his greatest success, the gray gelding’s sire had moved from Virginia to Louisiana. Walter Mattingly had acquired the stallion and stood him at Idle Hour Farms in Kenner, La., eventually buried him at La Branche Plantation.
Aside from apparently siring a lot of horses with a bad case of the slows, the principal difficulty in using Nordlicht as a breeding animal is that the Jockey Club refused to register him. This was not rare among the offspring of horses “sold” to the Nazis at gunpoint or believed to have too strong ties to members of the German elite, but in the case of Nordlicht, his offspring were registered for racing purposes.