The death of Royal Academy (1987 b h by Nijinsky x Crimson Saint, by Crimson Satan) due to the infirmities of old age brought back a flood of memories. Even more to the old horse’s credit, they are all good ones.
As a Keeneland July yearling, Royal Academy was purely one of the best and most beautiful young athletes I’ve ever seen. Although he wasn’t a half-brother to Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew like record sales yearling Seattle Dancer (Nijinsky x My Charmer), who sold for $13.1 million, Royal Academy was even better looking.
Typical of the Nijinsky stock, and much like his older male-line kinsman Seattle Dancer, Royal Academy possessed great scope, but he also had finesse, presence, and flair. Yet he brought only $3.5 million. That is actually an awful lot of money; the price difference compared to the wildly expensive Seattle Dancer is due to psychological and economic factors.
One reason Royal Academy didn’t sell for more money, if reason there need be, is that the economy had already had a hiccup and was to experience a major depression due to tax-law changes that unduly affected racing and breeding, among other sectors.
Another knock on Royal Academy was that his glorious dam Crimson Saint was 18 when the colt was born, and some buyers refuse to purchase yearlings out of older mares, no matter how good the youngsters look.
Such considerations, of course, did not concern Vincent O’Brien, who had purchased Nijinsky as a yearling and trained him to win the English Triple Crown. O’Brien purchased the grand colt later named Royal Academy for $3.5 million on behalf of the Irish-based ownership group called Classic Thoroughbreds Plc.
As a racehorse, Royal Academy proved quite good. He trained up light and appeared elegant but immature at 2, when he won a maiden commandingly, then finished in the ruck for the G1 Dewhurst. That proved his only finish out of the money.
At Ballydoyle over the winter, Royal Academy filled out his generous frame and justified the high hopes held for the handsome colt. As a 3-year-old, he won three of five starts, including the G1 July Cup and G3 Tetrarch Stakes. He was also second in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and perhaps more importantly in the G1 Sprint Cup to his contemporary Dayjur (b h by Danzig x Gold Beauty, by Mr. Prospector).
Both Dayjur and Royal Academy crossed the Atlantic to participate in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup at Belmont Park, and they provided two of the most dramatic races on the card.
Dayjur, beautifully conformed and freakishly fast, was set to win the BC Sprint when he jumped a shadow near the wire and lost the race to the dead-game Safely Kept.
In the BC Mile, Royal Academy used his own finesse and his jockey Lester Piggott’s uncanny ability to read races to win the Mile by a head. Breaking from the rail, Royal Academy either broke slowly or Piggott walked him out of the gate, then the jockey deftly maneuvered the light-footed bay colt through traffic to a contending position on the outside of the field as they went down the backstretch of the turf course at Belmont.
Giving ground around the turn but not breaking his momentum, Royal Academy rallied from six lengths back at the stretch call to win and guarantee himself a premium place at stud. The significance of the colt’s speed shown against Dayjur and subsequent success at a mile in deep international company cannot be overestimated for his stallion career.
In 1990, 20 years after Nijinsky had won the Triple Crown, the great racehorse and stallion had only one son at stud who had produced first-rate results, and that was Coolmore’s Caerleon, who had sired 1990’s star English juvenile colt Generous (who was to win the Derby, Irish Derby, and King George the next season).
In a contemporary column, the highly perceptive bloodstock writer Tony Morris wrote: “There is a prejudice against Nijinsky horses, which is inevitably working against his long-term influence, but there is still time for perceptions to change. A move in his favour may well occur before long.”
The move was closer than anyone could have predicted, with Caerleon’s best season coming in 1991 and with the success of Royal Academy to follow.
[I will follow up with a separate post on the stud career of Royal Academy.]