Who Was Native Dancer?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Native Dancer, also known as the Gray Ghost, was a famous American racehorse who became one of the first equine television superstars during his period of fame in the 1950s. The distinctively colored gray horse stood out from the field in his 22 starts, and he only lost once during his racing career. In addition to distinguishing himself on the track, Native Dancer also proved to be quite valuable at stud. Numerous accomplished equine athletes can trace their lineage back to Native Dancer.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

The horse was born in 1950 on Scott Farm in Kentucky. His mother, or dam, was Geisha and his sire was Polynesia; many of the Gray Ghosts offspring have Asian and Hawaiian themed names as a result. Through Geisha, Native Dancer is related to Man o' War, another famous racehorse; his great grandfather, Fair Play, sired Man o' War. Shortly after birth, Native Dancer was transferred to Sagamore Farm in Maryland, where he was raised and trained. He also later lived at Sagamore while standing at stud.

Native Dancer only raced for three years, forced into early retirement by a foot injury. During his short career, the horse succeeded in distinguishing himself as Horse of the Year in 1952 and again in 1954. As a two year old, Native Dancer won the Eclipse Award, a highly coveted recognition for two year old thoroughbreds.

On television, Native Dancer's gray coat made him easy to distinguish from the rest of the pack, endearing him to fans. The horse also tended to come up from behind to win races, hanging out in the middle of the pack until the last minute. This tactic only failed him once, during the Kentucky Derby, when he was fouled twice but still managed to pull ahead, losing by a nose to Dark Star. Despite this loss, Native Dancer proved himself to be a powerful and dedicated athlete, and he probably would have had an even more astonishing career on the track if he had not been injured.

After his foot injury, Native Dancer retired to stud. His many offspring proved themselves to be accomplished and distinguished champions, and they often pop up in well known races in the United States and abroad. Northern Dancer, for example, a celebrated stallion in his own right, is the grandson of Native Dancer. In 1963, Native Dancer was added to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, and the famous American racehorse died four years later. He is buried at Sagamore Farm.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I was born and raised right outside Louisville, Kentucky, where the Kentucky Derby horse races take place each year in May. I am kind of embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Native Dancer until reading this article.

I honestly haven't even heard of his much celebrated grandson Northern Dancer, but this all happened before I was born, so that may be why I do not know much about them.

That is sad that the horse ended up with a foot injury, as I am sure that had to hurt a lot.

I always wonder if horses love to race, or if they hate it. Or if some love to race and other horses hate to race. Call me silly, but that has always been a question of mine.

I would hope that some horses actually like racing, as some spend the first few years of their life primarily racing and training for races.

Post your comments
Forgot password?