NORTHAMPTON COUNTY - From the side of HIghway 158, only feet from the histoncal marker honoring the horse, you can see down the gravel road that leads to what was once Mowfleld Plantation. The original house, with its striking second-floor balcony that was the subject of a Hopper watercolor still sits at the end of the path, now a private residence. And somewhere on that property most likely lies the body of the greatest horse North Carolina has ever known.
Just a few miles west of )ackson, the great Sir Archie stood at stud at Mowfield Plantation from 1818 until his death at age 28 in 1833, creating a legacy that extends to this very day.
Of the 20 runners who will take to the track for todays Kentucky Derby, each has Sir Archie somewhere in its pedigree.
The legend of Sir Archie, as he’s known, popuLarly -- or Sir Archy, officially in the stud book -- is hardly lost to the mists of time.
There’s a book about him (“The Life and Times of Sir Archie,” by Manly Wade Wellman and
Elizabeth Blanchard, published In 1958 by the UNC Press), a mural depicting him on the side of
the Northampton County Museum and he was a charter inductee of the Thoroughbred Racing
Hall of Fame when it was founded in 1955.
But it’s still hard to believe, almost 200 years after he died, the impact this one horse had on the development of thoroughbred racing.
Nearty every race horse foaled in America is related to him, often through the legendary sires Bold Ruler and Native Dancer, both of whom are great-great-great-great-great-great-great- great-great grandchildren of Sir Archie. Of today’s Derby horses, Z Humor is the closest connection, as a great-grandson of Native Dancer.
This is nothing new. Barbaro, Cigar, Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Seabiscult, Man O’War -
- all of them were among Sir Archie’s descendants. Of the 11 horses to win the Thple Crown, only Citation, in 1948, dId It without Sir Archie’s genes somewhere in his DNA.
Sir Archie’s racing career was brief, but It wasn’t his fault. By the time he was 3, no one was willing to challenge the great horse. After losing his first three races, he won four of the next five, at the grueling distance of four miles, more than three times as long as the Derby is today.
His children would go on to dominate American racing, and their children and their children as well. His bloodline, primarily through his prolific grandson Boston and great-grandson Lexington, would go on to become the Rosetta Stone of thoroughbred breeding on this continent.
“He was not only a distinguished racer but as a stallion he stands upon higher ground than any other horse that has covered in America and may rank with the best stallions in England,” Frank Forrester argued in his 1871 survey of horsemanship in North America.
Even quarterhorses, the sprinting breed popular in the Southwest, are part of his legacy, through a son named Copperbottom who just happened to belong to Sam Houston and begat a long line of his own.
Sir Archie was born just west of Richmond, Va., and the Goochland County Historical Society has erected a marker that purports to represent Sir Archie’s final resting place, although it’s more likely he was buried where he died, 100 miles from Raleigh at Mowfleld Plantation.
Moving the body of a horse that big - he stood more than 5 feet tall at his shoulders, as big as Secretariat or Seattle Slew -- would have been a logistical nightmare in 1833, but a UNC archeological professor’s dig in 1958 failed to find the grave at the plantation.
That’s not all that has been lost since then.
Although North Carolina still has a thriving horse industry, including a descendant of Sir Archie standing at stud in Catawba County, racing itself was outlawed in 1942 after decades of decline. But before the Civil War, when fast horses became prized for something other than racing, it was big business. And no one was bigger than Sir Archie.
Turns out that’s still the case today.
Legacy of champions
Thoroughbred Sir Archie (also known as Sir Arctiy), who died in 1833, is related to all 20 horses in today’s Kentucky Derby. Most race horses foaled in America are related to him in some way. Here is a list of some of the most noteworthy:
MAN OWAR: Born in 1917, won 20 of 21 races after World War I.
SEABISCUIT: Popular champion of the late 1930s who became subject of several books and films.
NATIVE DANCER: 1954 horse of the year. Z Humor, who will run in today’s Derby, is great-
BOLD RULER: 1957 horse of the year, sired Secretariat.
SECRETARIAT: Won 1973 Triple Crown
SEATTLE SLEW: Won 1977 Triple Crown
CIGAR: Won 16 races In a row in mld-1990s.
BARBARO: Won Derby in 2006, but broke leg in the Preakness. Eventually died of complications.
Sir Archie’s family ties
All of today’s Derby horses related to 19th century N.C. sire
LUKE DECOCK, staff Writer