Sex Appeal – Unraced Matriarch to a Dynasty

Unraced female Thoroughbreds have historically had more value than their unraced male counterparts. In many cases throughout the Thoroughbred history of breeding, an unraced mare has produced champion offspring and became heralded matriarchs of prosperous families. There is no finer example of this than the great Windfields broodmare Sex Appeal.

Bred in 1970 by Anne Forsyth in Kentucky, the chestnut daughter of champion Buckpasser, already known then as a great sire of broodmares, out of the Traffic Judge mare Best In Show came into the world on May 12 of that year. She was an attractive filly, a bit narrow and slightly back at the knee, but had an exquisite feminine quality and a solid pedigree. Windfields founder and President E.P. Taylor liked her at the 1971 Keeneland July Yearling sale and purchased her for $52,000. Her clever name Sex Appeal is an obvious take on her dam’s name Best In Show.

Taylor was buying the first foal from one of the emerging top families in breeding with this purchase. Best in Show, a stakes winner, would later produce Irish champion Malinowski, Kentucky Oaks winner Blush With Pride and stakes winners Gielgud and Monroe. Furthermore daughters of Best In Show lead to quality stakes winners such as Better Than Honour, Rags To Riches, Jazil, Smolensk, Xaar, and Masterclass.

Sex Appeal herself was in bred to War Admiral 3×4 and to the great matriarch La Trioenne 4×5. She also had a 5×5 inbreed to another matriarch of substantial merit, Selene. Sex Appeal added some significant additions to the class quality of the family, but not through her own track achievements.

The most notable of her offspring was undoubtedly El Gran Senor. One of the finest horses sired by Northern Dancer, El Gran Senor was an agonising nose away from being undefeated. That defeat however came in the 1984 Derby Stakes at Epsom to fellow Northern Dancer son Secreto, who was also bred by Windfields Farm. El Gran Senor, he was named in honour of his sire’s trainer Horatio Luro, was part of an exceptional crop in Europe which also included another Northern Dancer son and champion Sadler’s Wells, and a champion daughter named Northern Trick. Other outstanding runners from the 1981 crop, but not ND sired, included the likes of Darshaan, Rainbow Quest, Pebbles, Chief Singer, Commanche Run, Lear Fan and Lashkari.

El Gran Senor was the top of the heap, being named as the best juvenile in 1983 and the best three year old in 1984 in Europe.  He was actually bred in partnership between Windfields and Coolmore, more on that later, and raced under the famous blue and green silks of Robert Sangster. He was retired to stand his first season at stud at Windfields Maryland farm. However his fertility was somewhat low and the news spread like wild fire throughout the breeding world. El Gran Senor was transferred to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky where, with the help of emerging new ultrasound technology was able to have a limited but productive stud career.

Undefeated until his Derby Stakes attempt, El Gran Senor had already won the 2000 Guineas earlier in the year and then reclaimed his superior form when he won the Irish Derby. Many breeders were of the opinion that El Gran Senor could become the most notable heir to Northern Dancer’s exalted sire line. If he did not suffer from his low fertility, he might have done so. While he did not get great numbers of foals, he did get many world class offspring. El Gran Senor sired 55 stakes winners from only 399 named foals. That equates to 13.8% stakes winners from foals. This is an impressive strike rate.

The quality of El Gran Senor’s get is reflected in the likes of champion sprinter Lit de Justice (Breeder’s Cup Sprint), dual classic winner Rodrigo de Triano (English and Irish 2000 Guineas, Champion Stakes etc), Belmez (King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes), Le Triton, Saratoga Springs, Spanish Fern, Al Hareb and Corrazona. However his sons were not successful in keeping the name of El Gran Senor moving to future generations. That responsibility fell to El Gran Senor’s outstanding daughter Toussaud. A Grade one winner on the track (Gamely Stakes), Toussaud has been one of the all time great blue hen mares in racing. Her influence is too vast to include here, so I will direct you to my article about Toussaud’s remarkable life and accomplishments.

Returning to the offspring of our subject Sex Appeal, we now look at her first foal sired by Northern Dancer, second foal overall, and find the 1977 champion juvenile in England and Ireland, Try My Best. Sold by Windfields to Robert Sangster’s group, which included the master trainer and horseman Vincent O’Brien, Try My Best seem a sure lock to win the 2000 Guineas but became injured in the race thus finishing last. Sangster had already syndicated Try My Best for stud and so the colt was retired. While he was also doomed to fertility trouble like his younger brother El Gran Senor, Try My Best was able to sire a couple of sons that have moved the line along to future notables.

Last Tycoon was a very good sprinter/miler and counts the King’s Stand Stakes and the Breeder’s Cup Mile among his eight victories from thirteen races. At stud he sired some very good ones such as Bigstone (Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, Prix d’Ispahan), Lost World (Grand Criterium), Mahogany (Horse of the Year in Australia), Ezzoud (Eclipse Stakes, International Stakes x2), and Marju (Craven Stakes, St. James Palace Stakes). Marju in turn has sired Soviet Song, Sil Sila (French Oaks), Bethrah (Irish 1000 Guineas), and is the dam sire of five time group one winner Canford Cliffs.

Another son of Try My Best who did his best to move the sire lines along was Waajib. While not among the elite stallions of his generation, Waajib sired Middle Park Stakes and Haydock Sprint Cup winner Royal Applause. This one has become a top source for precocious speed and counts Acclamation as one of finest sons. Acclamation in turn has sired Expert Eye (Breeder’s Cup Mile), Equiano (King’s Stand Stakes) and the speedy grey Dark Angel, who is currently one of the best sire sources for speed in Europe. Dark Angel has sired the likes of Mecca’s Angel, Battaash, Raging Bull, Pursuasive, and sprint champions Lethal Force and Harry Angel.

Sex Appeal met up with Northern Dancer several times and the two had seven foals from their partnerships. When Try My Best was wowing them at Coolmore during his two year old campaign, they sent an agent to Windfields Maryland to scout Sex Appeal’s bay son by Northern Dancer in the paddocks. The agent was absolutely entranced with the colt and reported back to his bosses. Soon Sangster and his team were in negotiations to purchase the colt once he had been weaned from his mother. A deal was struck, which has been reported as being for a cool one million dollars.

The colt was given the name Northern Guest and as he developed, he took on a remarkable resemblance to his sire. Whereas Try My Best was a chestnut, Northern Guest was a bright bay with a blaze and three white socks, ala Northern Dancer. However fate would deal the young colt a devastating blow when he crashed into a fence on the Ballydoyle gallops early in his training and had a piece of the wood fence skewer his ankle. He was repaired surgically but, like his mother, he would never race. Northern Guest walked for the rest of his life with a pronounced limp in his stride.

Northern Guest would become one of the great breed shaping stallions in South African history. He has in hindsight become one of only a handful of unraced stallions to have influential success on the breed. He won three sire titles, ten broodmare sire titles and has spread his potent blood line throughout the southern hemisphere.  Northern Guest did not suffer from his brother’s fertility troubles, and has created a dynasty. Here are some of the highlights: Angus (J&B Metropolitan), champion sprinter Senor Santa, Imperious Sue (Fillies Guineas, J&B Metropolitan), Northern Princess (November Handicap), Travel North (SA Derby), and Gentleman Jones (Administrator’s Handicap).

As a broodmare sire Northern Guest has been absolutely remarkable. The following daughters produced turf stars of unquestionable excellence in South African breeding: Golden Apple (Fillies Guineas) is the dam of champion three year old Pomodoro (SA Derby, Durban July Stakes), Majestic Quest produced sprint champion JJ The Jet Plane, Northern Gale produced Power King (Durban July Cup), Perfect Guest gave the world Crimson Palace (Beverly D Stakes in the US.), while First Arrival produced In The Fast Lane (Cape Fillies Guineas, Woolavington 2000), and Look Sharp is the dam of Group One winner The Mouseketeer. Further along the female line we see the likes of Capetown Noir (Cape Derby, Cape Guineas, SA Queen’s Plate) who is a current successful stallion, and Variety Club (Cape Guineas, SA Gold Cup Challenge, Sha Tin Champions Mile, etc).

The next foal from Sex Appeal was another son of Northern Dancer. This one, also a bay, was named Compliance. His claim to fame comes in the form of a pair of full brothers he sired in New York, Fourstars Allstar and Fourstardave. The former became the first American based horse to win the Irish 2000 Guineas, while the latter went on to become one of the most beloved local horses at Saratoga, and is honoured with a grass stakes race at the spa.

Coolmore purchased Sex Appeal’s chestnut filly sired by Halo at the Keeneland yearling sales the same year as they bought Northern Guest privately. Given the name Solar, she went on to win the Railway Stakes and the C. L. Weld Park Stakes going undefeated in her juvenile campaign. Solar did not race after that year due to an injury. She is the second dam to six stakes winners, with the most notable being group one Nunthorpe Stakes winner Bahamian Pirate.

Sangster and his team scooped up another daughter of Sex Appeal in 1980, a chestnut filly by champion The Minstrel and named her Carillon Miss. Unraced, Carillon Miss produced four stakes winners in Blu Carillon, Blu Air Force, Blu Air Gun and Try My Segnor.

The Coolmore group coveted Northern Dancer and by now Sangster and his team was convinced that Sex Appeal would produce something of supreme merit from this mating. This is when they purchased a half share in the mare, price undisclosed, and in partnership with Windfields had her bred to Northern Dancer four more times. A filly named Northern Prancer was the first, followed by El Gran Senor, and then two more fillies Golden Oriole and Bella Senora.  Following the birth of Golden Oriole, Sangster purchased Sex Appeal outright and bred her under his Swettenham Stud banner.

There are a few stakes winners that come from the three full sibling sisters. Northern Prancer is the third dam of the very good Chinchon, who is inbred to Sex Appeal 4×4 as his sire is Marju, a grandson of Try My Best. Golden Oriole is the dam of Castle Gandolfo (Beresford Stakes) and Bella Senora is the dam of stakes winners D’Arros and Napoli and second dam of Domedriver (Breeder’s Cup Mile).

Sangster bred Sex Appeal to Nijinsky II for three consecutive foals and then twice to Nureyev. From all of these breeding liaisons, nary a stakes winner was produced. But, the last of these foals, a Nureyev filly named Lotta Lace bred in 1992 has done the family proud in the breeding arena. To a cover by Sunday Silence she produced group one stakes winner Fusaichi Pandora (Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup). Fusaichi Pandora in turn has produced from a cover by Lord Kanaloa, the sensational Almond Eye. Winner of the Japanese Filly Triple Crown, Almond Eye has taken the turf world by storm when she defeated a very classy field of older horses in the Japan Cup and then travelled to Dubai to capture the prestigious Dubai Turf Cup.  She is currently one of the top horses in training at time of writing.

Sex Appeal passed away in 1993 and has left a remarkable imprint on the Thoroughbred landscape. Three of her sons have carried her name to future generations, while her tail female line has continued stakes winning black type in the sales catalogues. There are undisputed champions, such as El Gran Senor and Almond Eye as direct descendants, and many more excellent racers that have the name Sex Appeal close in their pedigrees.

When a filly is purchased as a yearling, the buyer is not only looking and hoping to have racing success, but is also looking ahead to when this purchase is sent to the breeding shed. If the filly does not make it to the track, so be it. The hope is for her to produce stakes winners and make a name for herself as a broodmare. Sex Appeal did this to the highest degree.

Sex Appeal, catchy name, great broodmare.

(Photo of Sex Appeal courtesy of Tony Leonard Collection)

Photo of El Gran Senor courtesy of Ashford Stud)

(Photo of Northern Guest courtesy of Summerhill Stud)


  • Fantastic article! I really enjoyed it! Thank you.

  • KELLY gregg DUNCAN

    Love going back in the history books.

  • Although I’m drawn to sire lines and an eye to Federico TESIO’s, 3 generational thoughts, your insights and revelations with regards to the female lineages (especially of a Canadian orientation) cause me to pull out old books that I have to further explore your information. Thank you for bringing up the names of Try My Best and Northern Guest. Selene and a reread of Toussard have my attention. Looking forward to your book release – this September?

  • What a wonderful article about a great family, Northern Dancer will always be remembered for his offspring.

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