This story starts with the son of two English Triple Crown winners. He only won one race, but John O’Gaunt left much more of a mark on Thoroughbred history than just that. His sire was Isinglass, the magnificent nearly undefeated horse whose other son Star Shoot would sire the very first American Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton. In 1900, they sent the Filly Triple Crown winner La Fleche to Isinglass; she produced the weak-legged bay John O’Gaunt the spring after that. He was offered at auction, but buyers were put off by his poor conformation. It affected his racing; he only raced seven times. In the Derby of 1904, an impressive thunderstorm rumbled the course. John O’Gaunt finished second that day, supposedly unsettled by the clamor.
He stood the majority of his stud career at Blink Bonny Stud, but was moved twice after 1919. In 1924, his euthanization was ordered; not, as is custom these days, for dire injury or illness, but his thinning book of mares. A cruel end for the son of legends, but John O’Gaunt had not had his final word.
His most magnificent offspring came in his first crop of 1907. Swynford was a sturdy brown colt from the get-go, who was born beautiful and grew into an imposing racehorse. His dam was Canterbury Pilgrim, daughter of the violent Tristan and the talented Pilgrimage. One of her first foals was Chaucer, whose greatest contribution to the breed was as the damsire of the great Hyperion. It took a little while for Swynford to hit his best stride, finally starting to win races in the latter half of his three year-old season and his four year-old season. He won the last leg of the Triple Crown, the St. Leger.
Tragedy reared its ugly head in September of 1911. Swynford shattered his front fetlock joint during morning training; the injury left the big colt standing on three legs. But where John O’Gaunt had been callously destroyed, the best of efforts were made to save his son. Swynford survived.
Though his racing career had been cut short, Swynford quickly erased any blemishes on his legacy. His fillies were excellent racers – classic winners Saucy Sue, Keysoe, and Ferry are just a few – but it was the colts who really carried the torch in the breeding shed. Blandford was the most influential. He inherited John O’Gaunt’s bad legs and won only three of twelve races. But he sired four Derby winners, including Triple Crown winner Bahram. And his success didn’t stop there.
Through his sons, Blandford – and Swynford, too – became legendary in many different countries. His son Blenheim is well-known in American pedigree; he sired American Triple Crown champion Whirlaway, the fantastic sire Mahmoud, and Kentucky Derby winner Jet Pilot. He was also damsire of the great sire Nasrullah. Others from Blenheim’s line include Belmont Stakes winner Quadrangle and Filly Triple Crown winner Meld. Another son of Blandford’s was French champion Brantome, who sired a great number of European classic winners. Bahram made his presence known in Europe as well. His great-great grandson Konigsstuhl remains the only horse to win the German Triple Crown; he also sired Monsun, who is the main source of this male line today. Names like Shirocco, Manduro, and Stacelita are all horses who come from this male line.
Swynford had other great sons besides Blandford. Challenger sired two names forever linked with American racing – Challedon and Gallorette, both of whom are members of America’s Racing Hall of Fame. St. Germans sired dual American classic winners Twenty Grand and Bold Venture. Where Twenty Grand failed as a stallion, Bold Venture picked up the slack, siring American Triple Crown winner Assault and classic winner Middleground. Another son, Lancegave, sired Kentucky Derby winner Cavalcade.
This classic success, which treated Isinglass so kindly but skipped over John O’Gaunt, manifested itself all over the world. The Swynford line produced 49 English classic winners and 14 American classic winners. A handful of Triple Crown winners from several different countries makes this list, and who else can boast that, save for the line headed by the mighty Cyllene?
Not only is Swynford’s line talented, it is full of stamina – a throwback to another era. Think of Monsun and his offspring, who run so well over the longer distances. Many from the surviving branches of this line are successful steeplechasers, running at distances of three or four miles without pause. In a Thoroughbred world full of speed and precocity, the horses from this line buck nearly every modern trend we have, especially in America. Like Swynford himself, these horses take a little longer and need a little more ground to do their best work. Isn’t that refreshing amidst all these two year-old flash-in-the-pans?
Swynford died in 1928 during the breeding season; his name continues to hold weight in Thoroughbred breeding. But he may just owe it all to his sire, that poor-legged son of champions, John O’Gaunt.