Because he was shorter than the mares he would mount, Northern Dancer was led up a plywood ramp with a no-skid surface in the breeding shed.

"He was a very enthusiastic stallion who covered as many as 36 mares a year," Hunter said. "He was high energy, with the mentality of a dominant herd stallion. He wanted things his way and woe to you if he thought you were out of line."

Once, he was led from his stall to meet visitors at the farm. The horse had other expectations.

"When he realized he wasn't going to the breeding shed, he reared up, clopped the groom on the head and opened a gash that took 20 stitches," Hunter said.




Northern Dancer was a handful to the end, said Ben Miller, manager of the stallion division at Windfields for 20 years until it closed in 1987.

"He was a bouncing ball, a stick of dynamite, the Jack Russell Terrier of thoroughbreds," Miller said. "He was always trying to get into something. Once fed, the greatest sire of the 20th century would put his front feet in those tubs that hung 31/2 feet off the floor and look out of his stall at you, like he was taller than he actually was. Or he'd get hung up in his hay nets. Nothing he did was laid-back, on or off the track."

His tomfoolery spilled into the paddock, said Alan McCarthy, the veterinarian who treated Northern Dancer.

"When a group of equine science students from Delaware came to look at the stallions, one girl got too close to the fence. The horse grabbed her by the back of her jacket and snatched her 3 feet up in the air," McCarthy said.

By 25, Northern Dancer had lost his oomph to breed. Few stallions serve past 20, the vet said. But this one was never sick until felled by colic at 29.

On Nov. 16, 1990, McCarthy euthanized the old pensioner. He was placed in a satin-lined oak casket, lifted into a refrigerated van and driven to Canada for burial. In 1999, that nation issued a postage stamp in Northern Dancer's honor.

He's remembered in Maryland as well. At Northview Stallion Station, where Windfields Farm once stood, the main thoroughfare is Northern Dancer Drive.

His DNA? That's gone viral.

"You'll find his pedigree in most top horses today," Hunter said. "No one could have anticipated the explosive impact that Northern Dancer had. Of all well-bred horses with great racing records, four out of five will just plain fail at stud, and one in 10 will become a pretty good stallion. Northern Dancer was a once-in-a-century phenomenon.

"He didn't just produce a lot of stakes winners, he took the whole breed and swung it in another direction."

With everything he had.

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com