Nasrullah 2

Bred by the Aga Khan III in Ireland, Nasrullah was out of Mumtaz Begum by Blenheim II. He was a direct grandson of the Aga Khan’s foundation mare Mumtaz Mahal. Looking very much like his sire being a very dark brown almost black in colour with a white star on his forehead, he possessed tremendous speed and a very ornery temper to mach. Muscular, powerful, talented and head strong, Nasrullah on the track displayed brilliance or bewildering disappointment.

He was trained by Frank Butters, who entered Nasrullah in the Wilburton Stakes for his racing début. He finished third. The Coventry Stakes was his next assignment, which was a step up in class and with Gordon Richards in the irons, he won defeating the future Derby winner Straight Deal in the race. After next winning the Great Bradley Stakes, Butters rested Nasrullah for the autumn running of the Middle Park Stakes. He was beaten by a short head to Ribbon. He ended his two year old season as the top weighted colt, one pound below Lady Sybil.

Nasrullah was made the winter book favourite for the 1943 Derby which was to be held at Newmarket due to the war. Epsom being just south of London, where Hitler was attacking with his aerial warfare, was deemed too unsafe to subject large Derby size crowds. The Chatteris Stakes, which he won handily, was his first race as a three year old. He “acted up” prior to the race however, causing concern for his connections.

Butters fitted him with blinkers, or as the English refer to as a rogue’s badge, for his next start the 2000 Guineas. The new headgear did not help as he again gave Richards a hard time when leading him to the post. He finished a fading fourth of nineteen runners, after leading for the first five furlongs.

For the 1943 Derby, Sir Gordon Richards had his choice of three entrants to ride. He elected to ride Nasrullah even though the colt’s unpredictability was a major concern. In the race Nasrullah would not keep a straight course, despite the immense riding ability of his acclaimed jockey, and finished third to Straight Deal. His stable mate Umiddad was second.

There was no doubt of his quality as a runner of superior class and speed but his erratic personality always come into question, compromising many of his races. He won the Cavensham Stakes but still Richards had to work hard on Nasrullah when he was reluctant to continue after he made the lead a furlong from the finish line.

After finishing sixth in the St. Leger again displaying his roguish behaviour, Nasrullah then won the ten furlong Champion Stakes, beating Kingsway and Umiddad. This race, the last in his career, was perhaps his smoothest performance of his career.

Nasrullah went to stud at Barton Stud, Suffolk and then on to Brownston Stud, County Kildare, after Joseph McGrath bought him for 19,000 pounds. He became, like his sire Nearco, an immediate success. Bull Hancock of the expansive and fabled Claiborne Farm had unsuccessfully tried to purchase him at this time. He would be successful however six years later on his third attempt to bring him to Kentucky.

During his six breeding seasons in England and Ireland, Nasrullah sired Nathoo (Irish Derby), Nearula (2000 Guineas), Belle of All (1000 Guineas), Musidora (1000 Guineas), and Never Say Die (Derby and St. Leger) who was one of my father’s all time favourites. Nasrullah also sired Noor during this time. Noor was exported to the U.S. and beat Citation four times, with the Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup among his many stakes wins.

One of Nasrullah’s stakes winners in England was a horse named Zucchero. Winner of the Coronation Cup, the Princess of Wales Stakes and the Blue Ribbon Trial Stakes, Zucchero was perhaps the one offspring of his sire who over typified his sire’s eccentricities more than any other. Although very talented, Zucchero was also very stubborn and unruly. My father would tell me of watching this thoroughbred at Newmarket when at the start of the race and the field sped off, Zucchero refused to move, despite his jockey’s frantic urging. Zucchero became another of my father’s favourite horses as in his words; “He was an absolute nut case.” The jockey was a teenager by the name Lester Piggott.

Bull Hancock had tried a second time to acquire Nasrullah for his Claiborne Farm in 1949. He organised a syndicate with Harry Guggenheim, William Woodward and E. P. Taylor to purchase the stallion for $100,000. Taylor was the link to make the actual purchase and an agreement was reached as long as the purchase was made in pounds, not dollars. However just before finalisation of the deal was to take place, Taylor was informed that since English currency was to be devalued in world markets the next day, Nasrullah’s owner was not inclined to complete the sale.

A year later however, Hancock’s pursuit of Nasrullah would finally pay off. This time the price was $340,000. Nasrullah was coming to Kentucky, thanks in large part to the dogged pursuit and extreme faith in the horse of Bull Hancock.

Hancock was so happy when Nasrullah arrived at his farm that he took home movies of the occasion. Movie star or not Nasrullah soon demonstrated his personality traits on his new handlers. As frightening as he could be though, he was still one of the pre-eminent sires in the world and was soon to stamp his mark in American breeding.

Nashua was by Nasrullah – Segula by Johnstown. Nashua came from the first crop sired by Nasrullah in Kentucky and also one of the best of his sire’s sons on the track. He was a muscular bay of 16.2 hands at full growth, and possessed much of his sire’s demeanour as well. Champion two year old, he became the Horse of the Year as a three year old despite his narrow loss to Swaps in the Kentucky Derby which cost him the Triple Crown. Nashua was an accomplished sire getting seventy-seven stakes winner (13%) and is best remembered in today’s pedigrees as the broodmare sire of Roberto and Mr. Prospector.

Nasrullah also sired Bold Ruler. Bred by the Wheatley Stable, he was out of Miss Disco by Discovery. He became the champion three year old in 1957 during a year of exceptional three year olds which included Round Table, Gallant Man, Barbizon and Nearctic.

At stud Bold Ruler led the North American sire list eight times, siring eighty-two stakes winners, a 23% rate from total foals, of which eleven were divisional champions. Among the champions he sired is the great Triple Crown winner Secretariat, two times Horse of the Year and acclaimed as one of the greatest horses in history. Secretariat’s performance in the 1973 Belmont has become legendary with his thirty-one length victory in a world record time of two minutes and twenty-four seconds flat on a dirt surface.

Other exceptional progeny of Bold Ruler include Bold Bidder (sire of the great Spectacular Bid), Wajima (champion three year old), Bold Lad (champion two tear old), and the champion fillies Lamb Chop, Gamely, and Queen Empress. Two of Bold Ruler’s minor stakes winners were Boldnesian, sire of Bold Ruckus (Canadian champion sire) and Bold Reasoning, sire of Super Concorde (Grand Criterium, Prix Morny) who is the sire of six time leading German sire Big Shuffle, while another son of Bold Reasoning is the great Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Bold Ruler also sired Reviewer who in turn sired Revidere (Eclipse Champion Three Year Old Filly) and the great but ill-fated filly wonder filly Ruffian.

Bald Eagle by Nasrullah was another high strung son of his sire who became a champion. Beginning his racing in England under the tutelage of Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, Bald Eagle was an incorrigible colt and only raced when inclined to do so. He won three stakes races while in England. His owner Harry Guggenheim brought him to the U.S. where he found success in Woody Stephen’s barn. Although still tough to deal with, Bald Eagle won the Washington D.C. International twice as well as the Metropolitan Handicap, Suburban Handicap, Widener Handicap and several other top class handicaps at Saratoga, Gulfstream, and Aqueduct. Bald Eagle was named as the champion older male horse in 1960. He was equally adept on grass and dirt tracks.

Red God a chestnut by Nasrullah was bred by the Cain Hoy Stable in Kentucky. He began his racing career in England as a two year old and won the Richmond stakes. Returned to the U.S. for his three year old year he was injured after his winning American début and did not race again until the following year. As a four year old he won the Roseben Handicap and was retired and sent to Ireland to begin stud duty at Loughton Stud, County Kildare. His career record was five wins from fourteen starts.

Red God became another of Nasrullah’s influential sons at stud, as he sired fifty-eight stakes winners. His best offspring by far is Blushing Groom, 1976 champion two year old in France, winner of four group one races as a two year old and at three he added two more group one wins to run his total winning streak to seven. His next race was the Epsom Derby where he finished third to The Minstrel. The Prix Jacques Marois was his final race. He finished second. Blushing Groom has kept Red God in many of today’s top winning pedigrees.

Never Bend, bred by Harry Guggenheim and foaled at Claiborne Farm, is from the final crop by Nasrullah. He was the Eclipse Award Champion two year old in 1962 and became the leading sire in England/Ireland in 1971 when his remarkable son Mill Reef won the Epsom Derby. Mill Reef set down a very important sire line standing at the National Stud in England getting the likes of Shirly Heights, Doyoun, Entitled, Fairy Footsteps, Milford, Glint Of Gold, Acamas, Diamond Shoal, Lashkari, and Creator among his most notable get.

Never Bend is the sire of Riverman (Poule d’Essai des Poulains), a two time leading sire in France who has in turn sired one hundred and twenty-nine stakes winners. Among Riverman’s leading get are Irish River, champion at two and three in France with six group one wins to his credit, the tough and durable mare Triptych, who won nine group one races including the Champion Stakes twice, a pair of Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winners in Bahri and Lahid, and two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winning fillies Gold River and Detroit.

Never Bend is also the sire of J. O. Tobin, champion two year old in England and handed Seattle Slew that one’s first loss. Never Bend’s daughter Courtly Dee produced eight stakes winners including champion Althea. She is the grand dam of current top sire Green Desert, and is the matriarch of many world class champions. Courtly Dee has continued the name of Never bend in top class pedigrees with distinction. Never Bend sired fifty-eight stakes winners, 16% of his foal count, in his distinguished career as a sire.

Grey Sovereign was another influential son of Nasrullah. A minor stakes winner he too was known for his hot temper, like many of Nasrullah’s get. Grey Sovereign later set forth a very important branch of the Nasrullah sire line in his career at stud siring Sovereign Path, Grey Monarch, Sovereign Lord, Zeddaan and Fortino, the latter being the sire of the influential stallion Caro. Zeddaan also sired future important sires Kalamoun and Nishapour.

Nasrullah has been one the most prolific of Nearco’s sons. The main branches of this male line still in top fashion today go through A: Bold Ruler to Boldnesian to Bold Reasoning to Seattle Slew and then to recently retired A. P. Indy and on to Pulpit and Tapit. B: Red God to Blushing Groom to four separate branches of Rahy, Rainbow Quest, Candy Stripes and Nashwan. C: Never Bend to Mill Reef to Shirley Heights to Darshaan, as well as the Riverman branch to Irish River. D: Grey Sovereign to the branch of Fortino to Caro and his sons With Approval, Crystal Palace, Cozzene and Siberian Express, and the branch of Zeddaan to Kalamoun to Kenmare. From Kenmare comes the branch of Highest Honor, as well as the branch of Kenmary to newly emerging sire Kendargent.

Nasrullah would eventually sire ninety-nine stakes winners, a 24% strike rate from total foals born, in his illustrious breeding career. He led the North American sire list five times, the England/Ireland list once and sired sons who would lead sire lists around the world. Nasrullah died in 1959, age nineteen, of a ruptured blood vessel. He is buried in a place of honour at Claiborne.

Born over seventy years ago, the male sire lines of Nasrullah still reverberate in the thoroughbred breeding community. Surely even Bull Hancock, who had the utmost faith in Nasrullah to become a top sire, could never have envisioned this lasting influence.

(Photo courtesy of Claiborne Farm)


  • He was a great horse. Thanks for the great read. Terrific blog. I will keep coming back!!

  • My father George Duffin was involved in a minor roll in the purchase of Nasrullah , he worked for Mr. Berty Kerr and Mr. Joseph McGrath . I believe he may have accompanied Nasrullah accross the Atlantic tu U.S. as he did for many more major thoroughbreds on their way there. I fell asleep many nights hearing my Dad glorify Nearco , Nearco !!!!!.

  • Great article. Nasrullah is a legend. It seems to me that by saying he was influential is actully an understatement. He may have been tough to love but I love him in a pedigree.

  • I have read many articles and write ups in books about Nasrullah none as thorough and enjoyable to read as this. Colin you have a gift and this web site is fantastic. Keep up the great work you do. I look forward reading your latest work.

  • Lisa Sutherland-Fraser

    Loved this fabulous write up! One thing that surprises me with Nasrullah is how few photos of him there are. The one in your story is the most seen but for a horse who was so wanted by Bull Hancock there are almost zilch! I did see a fabulous video of him coming to Claiborne and sadly it has disappeared from the net!! I so would have loved to have seen this magnificent horse!

  • Wow, your are dropping names I’m so familiar with as I live in Britain through the 1940s. RIBBON, STRAIGHT DEAL (owned by Dorothy Paget I believe. Every horse mention feel like I personally. Toss in BIG GAME and the marvelous SUN CHARIOT.

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