The seventeenth Lord Derby was one of the most successful Thoroughbred breeders in history. His love for the sport began early in his life, taking an active role in his father’s racing and breeding operation. There have been many exceptional horses stemming from the Earl’s breeding program such as Phalaris, Swynford, Chaucer, Fairway, Watling Street, Canterbury Pilgrim, Alycidon, Coronach, Sansovino, Scapa Flow, Stedfast, Tide-way, Selene, and her great son Hyperion. The list is a who’s who of influential progenitors.
Foaled on April 18, 1930, Hyperion was a chestnut horse by Gainsborough – Selene by Chaucer. Bred by Lord Derby at Side Hill Stud, Newmarket, he grew to stand only 15.1 hands. His sire Gainsborough was the English Triple Crown winner in 1918 and was bred by Lady James Douglas. Gainsborough’s sweep of the Triple Crown was the first by a horse that had been bred by a woman. He was the leading sire in the UK in 1932 and 1933 and was considered a great source of stamina to the breed.
Selene is one of the elite broodmares in history. She was also the dam of Sickle, Pharamond, the very good Argentine sire Hunter’s Moon, and is a tail female ancestor of Sir Tristram. Selene was big in breeding success but not in physical size. Her dam Serenissima was also on the small side, and since Gainsborough was only of average height, it was not a startling revelation that Hyperion would be as small as he was. Since Selene was named after a moon goddess, Hyperion acquired his name from the Greek sun god.
Hyperion’s pedigree was top notch. He had the great sire St. Simon 4 x 3 in his ancestry as Gainsborough’s dam was by St. Frusquin, by St. Simon. Selene was by Chaucer, a son of St. Simon. Hyperion was known to have a kind disposition and was loved by all who got to know him. In fact his docile manner was thought to be the source of his laziness and therefore his trainer, the Hon. George Lambton had to work him very hard in order to get him fit enough to race.
But race he did and with great success as well. Lambton brought him to Doncaster in May 1932 for his first race in Lord Derby’s famous black silks with white cap. The change in scenery seemed to suit the small colt as he went off in the race with an unseen to that time energy which he had never shown in his morning works. He only finished fourth in the race but he learned his lessons well and came back for his next race, the New Stakes at five furlongs of Ascot turf to beat twenty other starters by three lengths. Hyperion set a new course record for the distance.
Lambton absolutely loved Hyperion and would spend as much time as he could with him. Perhaps he could foresee the greatness that was to come from the little chestnut or maybe it was just that he needed to push him in order to get the most out an obvious talent. Regardless, Lambton and Hyperion formed a strong bond.
In the six furlong Prince of Wales Purse for juveniles, his next start, he would dead heat for the win. The race was run over very soft ground at Goodwood. This may have taken a little too much out of him as his third place finish to the good colt Manitoba in the five furlong Boscawen Post Stakes at Newmarket might suggest. The seven furlong Dewhurst Stakes also at Newmarket was his next adventure and he won over heavy ground by two lengths. Hyperion was rated fourth on the free handicap at season’s end behind Manitoba and the star fillies of the year Myrobella and Brown Betty.
Hyperion thrived over the winter to his three year old year. He matured a great deal but had not grown much in height so was still small compared to other top colts in training. Lord Derby did not nominated him to the 2000 Guineas because of his lack of stature so Lambton waited until the Chester Vase in May to unleash his three year old campaign. Hyperion won this race but his jockey had to shake him up because of a very lackadaisical start. The win was impressive enough for the bookmakers to install Hyperion as the favourite for the upcoming Derby.
Morning training gallops were still too slow and arduous for his connections but Hyperion was ready for the big stage at Epsom. He won the Derby for his owner’s second victory in the race named after his family ancestor. Hyperion’s win was by four lengths in Derby record time. Some observers of the day estimated that the margin of victory was actually more than the official assessment of four lengths. Regardless as to what the actual margin was, a new star of the turf had arrived.
Hyperion’s next start at Royal Ascot was the thirteen furlong Prince of Wales Stakes. There would be no dead heat in this Prince of Wales encounter as he won by two lengths over soft ground carrying 131 lbs. Hyperion was not without injury troubles as a he had a dislocated patella on more than one occasion. This injury was to return following his Ascot victory and temporarily take him out of training for the St. Leger.
He still made the start in the final classic of the year with little training under his belt. This St. Leger race may have been his finest performance in his distinguished career because of the training he had missed. Three months after his resounding triumph at Royal Ascot and with no other race in between, Hyperion trounced his competition by three lengths in the fourteen plus furlong event. Among the horses he beat were the very good Felicitation, Scarlet Tiger and King Salmon. He was then put away for preparation for his four year old season.
Events during the off season leading into Hyperion’s four year old campaign were to have an effect on him in his preparations and training. Lord Derby had decided that his trainer Lambton should retire due to his age and failing health. Lambton was not in agreement of this and so after a very successful forty year association they parted ways somewhat acrimoniously. Lambton, obviously hurt by Derby’s decision went on to train for another ten years for other owners. The two rather stubborn Englishmen did however reconcile their differences later. No need to destroy a forty year friendship over one difference of opinion.
Lord Derby named Colledge Leader as his new trainer to his fine stable.
Now even though Lambton had advised Leader of Hyperion’s laziness, he still had a great affection for the champion, Hyperion did not display the same brilliance under the new “guvnor”. He made his first start in the March Stakes at Newmarket carrying one hundred and thirty-eight pounds over ten furlongs. He won by only a neck with Felicitation third, carrying six pounds less. Next came the twelve furlong Burwell Stakes, also at Newmarket, which he won over King Salmon, each carrying 136 lbs.
He missed the Coronation Cup after pulling up lame from a training gallop. So then it was on to the Ascot Gold Cup. In the parade ring before the race Hyperion spotted his former trainer, by then in a wheel chair, and he refused to move from his sight. This was a wonderful display of affection between horse and human. Lambton would “visit” Hyperion in order to give the horse the attention he was seeking and get him to then put his mind back to the task at hand.
A heavy rain prior to the running of the two and a half mile Ascot Gold Cup made the course a complete quagmire. Felicitation beat Hyperion by ten lengths, with Thor II coming in second. In his next and last race the Dullingham Stakes back at Newmarket, Hyperion faced only one other runner. Carrying 142 lbs to 113 lbs for the three year Caithness, he finished second by a head after a stirring stretch duel.
Lord Derby wanted to retire Hyperion from racing as a winner in his final race but, though a noble idea, in his attempt to do so the result ended in greater disappointment to many of the champion’s admirers. Oddly one of Hyperion’s great descendants Nijinsky would also end his brilliant career in the same manner. Hyperion was then retired to stud with a record of nine wins from thirteen starts, once second and twice third. His only off the board finish was his début when he finished fourth.
When Lambton was asked to assess Hyperion to his other great horses he trained he could only rank him as third best saying; “Although he was my favourite, I would have to say Swynford was the best as I never knew how good he could be, but pound for pound I knew how good Hyperion was”. He also considered Fairway to be a better runner than Hyperion.
Lord Derby’s Woodland Stud became Hyperion’s new home in 1935, where he began his legendary career as a sire. During World War II he was moved to Thornton Stud in Yorkshire after the breeding season, to get away from perceived bombing target locations in and around Newmarket which had many airfields in the area. He loved to watch the birds and air planes flying over head while he was in his paddock.
Hyperion would go on to lead the English/Irish sire list six times, be second four times and third once. He led the broodmare sire list two times while placing second twice. Hyperion sired five hundred and twenty-seven foals of which three hundred and forty-seven became winners (66%) and one hundred and eighteen became stakes winners (22%). He sired eight winners of thirteen classic races including Pensive, who was victorious in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. In a curious twist, many of the get of Hyperion were headstrong individuals, with displays of temper and obstinacy if not getting their own way. Hyperion was strong minded but in a passive manner, where as his offspring that had stubbornness tended to be more aggressive and demonstrative.
It was not just the sheer numbers of Hyperion’s sire record that is to be admired but the amount of outstanding sires he sired as well as the amount of champions and good sires his daughters produced. Not since St. Simon had one particular stallion sired as many influential sires as Hyperion. And like St. Simon, his sons and daughters were scattered to all corners of the Thoroughbred world.
Aureole was perhaps his best son since he was the leading money earner for Hyperion and then went on to be a champion sire (twice) in his own right. Aureole was bred by His Majesty King George VI in 1950 and raced for his daughter Queen Elizabeth II. Aureole, who was out of Angelola by Donatello II, became a crowd favourite racing in the royal silks. He would go on to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a prestigious race named after the parents of the popular young monarch.
Aureole did not inherit his sire’s easy going disposition however and was known to act up on occasion. His trainer Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochfort did not deem this to be a problem though as he preferred his charges to have” some fire in their belly”. His chestnut coat, which was as fiery as his temper, made him stand out in a crowd. He stood 16.0 hands.
As a sire, Aureole stood at Wolferton Stud, Suffolk. Among his best horses he sired was St. Paddy (Derby), St. Crespin (Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe), Aurelius and Provoke (St. Leger) and Vienna, sire of Vaguely Noble, who won the Arc defeating the exceptional Sir Ivor in 1969.
It is through Vaguely Noble that this branch of the Hyperion male line had continuity as Vaguely Noble sired the wonderful race mare Dahlia, a champion in England, Ireland, Canada and the US. Others of note by Vaguely Noble are Empery (Derby), Exceller (US Hall of Famer), Mississippian, Gay Mecene; Royal and Regal, Estrapade (Arlington Million), and Lemhi Gold (Jockey Club Gold Cup).
Owen Tudor was another of Hyperion’s very good sons on both the race track and at stud. The 1941 Derby and 1942 Ascot Gold Cup are two of his important accomplishments as a racer. At stud Owen Tudor sired the 2000 Guineas winner Tudor Minstrel, sire of Tomy Lee (Kentucky Derby) and What a Treat, champion three year old filly and dam of Be My Guest by Northern Dancer. Tudor Minstrel is also the sire of Tudor Grey, Sing Sing, Right Royal and Tudor Melody who all became useful sires.
Abernant, another son of Owen Tudor, won the Champagne Stakes, the July Stakes (twice) and several other important sprint stakes races, and became a very good stallion as well. Abernant’s dam was Rustom Mahal, a daughter of the great producer Mumtaz Mahal. A champion sprinter, he got amazingly fast sprinters himself, but unfortunately for his connections, no sons to carry on the line with noteworthy continuation.
The aforementioned Pensive was retired to Calumet Farm and had a hot start to his breeding career. In his first crop was Ponder who was able to emulate his father by winning the Kentucky Derby. Not only did Ponder duplicate his sire on the track but then he sired his own Kentucky Derby winning son from his first crop as well in Needles. A very rare trifector for the family. Unfortunately Pensive died young and did not have a chance to fulfil his early stud promise.
Khaled, whose dam Éclair by Ethnarch (a son of The Tetrarch) was sold to the Aga Khan while Khaled was in utero, became a first rate sire. Undefeated in three starts as a two year old, Khaled could not stay with the classic colts at three. He was second in the 2000 Guineas but then developed breathing trouble to which many horsemen suggested that he became a roarer. He was able to win the St. James Palace Stakes, albeit over a weak field, but his unplaced Derby showing and his subsequent third place in the Eclipse Stakes prompted the Aga Khan to retire him to stud duty.
Standing his first season in Ireland he was not well supported so when American horseman Rex Ellsworth made an offer of $160,000 for him, the Aga Khan quickly accepted. Ellsworth brought him to his ranch in California and put him back into training. He won an allowance race at Santa Anita in January from three starts and then Ellsworth stood him at stud.
Following his first season of stud duty in California, Ellsworth had Khaled returned to training. He finished last in an allowance race, likely because he preferred his other life as a stud, and was retired for good.
His first crop, sired in Ireland produced absolutely nothing of merit but his second crop (first crop in the US) was full of precocious speed balls. He would go on to sire sixty-one stakes winners (12% of foals). His get did not follow any particular pattern as he sired good sprinters as well as good handicap horses. Among the top horses sired by Kahled were Hillary and New Policy, both decent sires, El Drag a very fast sprinter, and CCA Oaks winner A Glitter.
Swaps would not only turn out to be Khaled’s best on the track but also his best son at stud. Swaps captured the Kentucky Derby over Nashua in a classic duel, and then went on to win Horse of the Year honours as a four year old. Swaps began his stud career at Ellsworth’s ranch and then was transferred to Darby Dan Farm in Kentucky. He spent his final five years at Spendthrift Farm where he died and is buried there. He sired Chateaugay, winner of the 1962 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and the great filly Affectionately.
Khaled’s top daughters were Track Medal, a full sister to Swaps, who was a broodmare of the year. Candy Dish, dam of Preakness winner Candy Spots, by the very good Argentine sire Nigromante. Bushel-N-Peck is the dam of Breeder’s Cup Classic winner and a leading sire Wild Again, by Icecapde.
Alibhai became another very good sire by Hyperion. Unraced as he bowed both front tendons in training at two, he was purchased by movie mogul Louis B. Meyer from the Aga Khan as a yearling for 3,200 guineas. Put into stud at three in Meyer’s California farm he became an immediate success. Alibhai was very much in his sire’s image as he was a smallish, though not as small as Hyperion, bright red chestnut with three white socks a long body with a noticeable dip in his back.
Alibhai sired Kentucky Derby winner Determine, Traffic Judge, Honey’s Alibi (dam sire of Dahlia), Your Host (sire of five time Horse of the Year Kelso), and Bardstown. His top daughters were champion handicap mare Bornastar and the good Flower Bowl, dam of the very good sires Graustark and His Majesty, both by Ribot. Another daughter Bowl of Flowers produced the top Australian sire Whisky Road by Nijinsky.
Heliopolis was from Hyperion’s first crop of foals and was bred by Lord Derby. His dam was Drift by Swynford, which makes him inbred to Canterbury Pilgrim 4 x 3. His full sister Sun Stream won the 1000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks. Heliopolis won five of fourteen races and was third to Blue Peter in the Derby. He was sold to C.B. Shaffer and stood at Coldstream Stud in Kentucky.
Heliopolis led the North American sire list twice eventually siring 15% stakes winners. His best sons where Belmont Stakes winner and champion High Gun, Helioscope, Summer Tan, Ace Admiral, Greek Song and Olympia. Top distaff runners sired by Heliopolis were Berlo, Aunt Jinny, Grecian Queen and Parlo who were all champions. Athene and Princess Turia were also top class race mares he sired.
High Hat by Hyperion was a minor stakes winner but, he did sire three classic winners and a respectable 9% stakes winners in total. His son High Line won the British Jockey Club Cup three times and the Geoffrey Freer Stakes twice. High Line’s son Master Willie won three group one races in the Coronation Cup, Benson and Hedges Gold Cup and the Eclipse Stakes.
Aristophanes is our next stop on the Hyperion line. A two time winner of the Doncaster Cup as well as the Scarborough Stakes and the Arlington Stakes, Aristophanes was imported to Argentina for stud duty where among his many winners was the unbeatable (in his native land) Forli. Purchased by “Bull” Hancock for his Claiborne Farm, Forli won the Coronado Stakes and an exhibition race before finishing second in the Citation Handicap with a career ending injury.
With his life on the line, Forli had to be kept stall bound for two months until he thankfully recovered. He went on to a successful career at stud siring sixty stakes winners which included Posse, Gay Fandango, Home Guard, Thatch and the mighty Forego. Forego proved to be his best at the races as he won an impressive eight Eclipse awards, including three times as Horse of the Year, during his distinguished career. His dam Lady Golconda by Hasty Road was inbred 4 x 4 to Teddy through his sons Sir Gallahad III and Bull Dog. Forego was gelded due to his formidable size, so we will never know if he could have passed on his exceptional ability.
Forli as a broodmare sire is influential through his daughter Special, the dam the exceptional Nureyev by Northern Dancer. Special’s daughter Fairy Bridge by Bold Reason produced the ground breaking Sadler’s Wells, also by Northern Dancer.
Hyperion’s influence in Australia and New Zealand is just as impressive as his influence in Europe and North America. Ruthless was out of the very well bred broodmare Correa by Coronach VI. Correa’s sire was by Hurry On and her dam was by three times leading sire Rabelais. Ruthless led the New Zealand sire list five times.
There were two very important sons of Hyperion to Australian breeding. Helios was the leading sire in 1949. The other was Stardust, who never left England. He sired a very fast but small 15.1 hand chestnut colt, looking very much like his own sire, named Star King.
Star King was bred by Richard Ball at his Cloghran Stud, County Dublin. After he finished his racing career, nine wins from sixteen starts, he was sold to Stanley Wootton for 4,000 pounds and sent to Australia. As there was already a Thoroughbred registered with the name of Star King in Australia, his name was changed to Star Kingdom.
Star Kingdom’s new connections did not know of his small stature and were alarmed upon first sight. He stood at Baramul Stud, New South Wales and proceeded to become the leading sire five times in Australia. He led the two year old list seven times and the broodmare sire list three times. His list of great horses read like a roll of honour. Biscay, Todman, Noholme, Kaoru Star, Planet Kingdom, Sky High, and Sunset Hue are just a small sample of the top horses he sired.
In the world today this branch is perhaps the strongest active male-line descending from Hyperion.
Sun Chariot by Hyperion was somewhat moody and erratic but won the Middle Park Stakes against colts as a two year old in an undefeated season of four races. She was bred by the National Stud and raced under a lease agreement by King George VI. At three she lost her first start and then took the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St. Leger Stakes. In her Oaks victory, Sun Chariot caused three false starts and then bolted in the wrong direction at the onset of the race proper. She overcame this disadvantage to win the prestigious race by a length.
Other top daughters of Hyperion were Hycilla who won the Oaks and Champion Stakes. Sun Stream was a younger sister to Heliopolis and won the 1000 Guineas before producing Herculaneum (St. Leger Stakes). Godiva won the war time 1000 Guineas and Oaks in 1940. Hypericum comes from the family of Round Table and was bred by King George VI, won the Dewhurst Stakes and finished second to Khaled in the Middle Park Stakes. She was another of the cranky get by her sire and she held up the start to 1000 Guineas, dumping her rider and running off before the start. Once she was remounted, Hypericum won the race by two lengths. Her antics would return during the Oaks where she finished fourth. As a broodmare, Hypericum produced Highlight a modest stakes placed winner, who in turn produced Highclere for Queen Elizabeth II (1000 Guineas, Prix de Diane). Highclere is the dam of Height Of Fashion, dam of Nashwan, Unfuwain, Nayef, and Sarayir (dam of Ghanaati (1000 Guineas)).
Hyperion’s influence as a sire of broodmares is substantial. Aurora, who was inbred 4 x 3 to the great mare Canterbury Pilgrim, produced the brothers Alycidon and Acropolis by Donatello II, Borealis by Brumeux, and Agricola by Precipitation. Libra was the dam of the full brothers Ribocco and Ribero by Ribot. Barley Corn produced Shantung by Sicambre and Dame d’Atour by Cranach. Neutron bore the 1965 English leading sire Court Harwell by Prince Chevalier.
Broodmares sired by Hyperion that had considerable impact abroad were Suncourt who produced leading Japanese sire Tesco Boy by Princely Gift, a son of Nasrullah. Imitation is the dam of Pretense by Endeavour II. Red Ray was to become the grand dam of Mill Reef. Lady Angela is the dam of Nearctic by Nearco, the sire of Northern Dancer, Icecapade and countless stakes producing broodmares.
This is quite a legacy. Hyperion emerged in Thoroughbred history as one of the most influential sires of all. Some sire lines fade through time. Many of Hyperion’s descending male lines do seem to be overtaken by other lines which are dominating at this time. However, no one can argue with the legacy he founded and brilliance of his many descendants’ accomplishments. Revivals of male lines do occur now and then and I believe the Hyperion lines will resurge some time soon.
Hyperion died in 1960, age thirty. A life size statue of the great stallion now stands in front of the British Jockey Club offices in Newmarket. Perhaps he is watching the birds fly over head, his favourite paddock pastime.
(photo courtesy of Lord Derby Stables archive)