Henry of Navarre: A Tale of Triumph & Determination

Racehorse Henry of Navarre (1891, by Knight of Ellerslie) rival of Domino, Clifford
Henry of Navarre from the Keeneland Library Hemment Collection. Photo used with permission & should not be copied.

Horse racing saw many great stars during the early 1890s. Among them was a chestnut colt known for his speed, stamina, unwavering courage, and determination. This colt won 29 races and finished in the top three of all but two races in his entire career. These exploits and his ability to defeat some of the most powerful horses from his time thrust his name into the spotlight over and over again.

This is the story of Henry of Navarre.

Early Life & Pedigree (1881 - 1882):

Henry of Navarre was bred by Lucien O. Appleby of Silver Brook Stud.

A partnership of Appleby and Johnson purchased Knight of Ellerslie, the 1884 Preakness Stakes winner, for $10,000 after the colt finished 2nd in the Belmont Stakes. Knight of Ellerslie was a descendant of Leamington, a champion racehorse and very influential sire. Appleby admired these bloodlines, as well as the sheer courage and strength that he displayed in finishing 2nd in the Belmont; despite showing up to Jerome Park coughing, Knight of Ellerslie put up a breathtaking fight in a stretch battle with Panique that left him beaten by only half a length.

It was these bloodlines and qualities that Lucien O. Appleby wanted to pass down to his foal when he bred Knight of Ellerslie to his mare Moss Rose (The Ill-Used).

The resulting foal from the breeding of Moss Rose and Knight of Ellerslie, Henry of Navarre, was born in 1891 at Appleby’s farm in New Jersey. Henry of Navarre and the other Silver Brook foals grew into strong yearlings and, in 1892, they were all sent to auction at Monmouth Park.

“There was great crying and drying of eyes the morning the colts and fillies [the first crop bred at Silver Brook] were led away to the paddocks at Monmouth Park, where, in sight of the home of their birth, they were put up at auction and sold to the highest bidder.” (TBHeritage.com)

Henry of Navarre was purchased by Byron McClelland of Kentucky for $3,000. Byron McClelland was from a family of horse trainers and had trained with much success for names like H. Price McGrath. He later opened his own stable in partnership with Dick Roche and then went out on his own in 1890. McClelland found success immediately by purchasing a filly he named after his wife, Sallie McClelland, that won the 1890 Spinaway among other stakes races.

McClelland was still freshly out on his own when he purchased Henry of Navarre at the auction, but he was already known for his talent of acquiring horses with great potential for affordable prices. Henry of Navarre would become another horse that proved McClelland’s power.

Two-Year-Old Season & Three-Year-Old Season (1893-1894):

Henry of Navarre began his racing career in 1893 under McClelland's green and gold silks. McClelland worked as the trainer of his horses too. The chestnut colt won 6 of his 10 starts as a two-year-old, including the Breeders’ Stakes, Dash Stakes, Golden Rod Stakes, and Algeria Handicap. Though he had a fantastic season, the star of his crop that year was a speedy colt named Domino, who was undefeated in 9 starts and earned a record $170,790 compared to Henry of Navarre’s $10,785 (racingmuseum.org).

Early in Henry of Navarre’s three-year-old season he met Domino for the first of five times in the Withers Stakes. Domino prevailed by just a head. Henry of Navarre continued on to have a stellar three-year-old season. He won 13 of 20 races that year, nine consecutively, including the Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes, Foxhall Stakes, Iroquois Stakes, Manhattan Handicap, Dolphin Stakes, Spindrift Stakes, and the Bay Stakes.

In September, Henry of Navarre and Domino met for the second time in what was billed as “the race of the decade”. In 1893 it had been clear that Domino was the better of the two horses, but by mid-1894 it was beginning to look like Henry of Navarre could really give Domino a ‘run-for-his-money’ as the best horse of the season.

“This spring, however, the Knight had grown into a beautiful specimen of a Thoroughbred, possessing great length, a smoothness of contour that filled the eye, and dazzling speed that carried him over the ground like a champion,” a writer described Henry of Navarre in The Sun. “He demonstrated to the satisfaction of everybody that he was game to the core by his magnificent efforts in the Brooklyn and Suburban Handicaps, for which he was beaten after races that will go down into history as being hard fought from end to end.”

Some of the racing community were sure that Domino was the better horse after he defeated Henry of Navarre by a head in the Withers Stakes, but others argued that Henry of Navarre was the superior horse at any distance longer than one mile. The two horses had never gotten the opportunity to race against one another after the Withers Stakes, so a match race seemed the best way to decide who was indeed the better horse.

Henry of Navarre vs. Domino: The Race of the Decade (1894):

The race was set for September 15, 1894, at Gravesend Racetrack in New York. The horses would run 1 mile and a furlong for a purse of $5,000. 25,000 people made their way to the New York track, each one of them eager to see these two great Thoroughbreds square off. “Henry of Navarre was the first of the contestants upon the track for his preliminary gallop. His silken mane was braided and knotted as dainty as the tresses of any woman in the grandstand, and his chestnut coat glittered like polished bronze,” The Sun published.

“A thousand men followed him into the paddock and walked about in the circle admiring him and expatiating upon his many beauties.”

Domino did not show up on the track until the bugle called the horses to the post at 4:20pm. Henry of Navarre followed just seconds behind him. The “race of the decade” was about to commence and no patron dared to miss it. The betting ring was completely deserted by the time the two horses stepped onto the track and the throngs of people were all clamoring for the perfect spot to view the entirety of the race. “Horse and rider received an ovation such as is to accord to kings and emperors. Domino is a horse which impressed the onlooker with his power, but as a beauty he cannot be compared with Henry of Navarre, and the public voted the chestnut horse the handsomer as soon as they ranged side by side in front of Mr. Rowe.” When the flag fell the two powerful Thoroughbreds rocketed forward side by side. Henry of Navarre started on the rail, but soon enough Domino shot past him and claimed a position on the rail, a length or a length and a half ahead of the McClelland trainee. The two raced around the track this way, Henry of Navarre’s nose at the end of Domino’s flying tail. Though the pace was not hot, the excitement of the crowd was welling with every stride the horses took.

Finally, with about a half a mile to go, jockey Samuel Doggett asked Henry of Navarre to pick up the pace. The chestnut colt ate away at Domino’s lead with ease, coming eye to eye with him as the horses moved around the final turn. The pair came into the homestretch together, their bodies practically blended as they tore towards the wire. The crowd became frantic watching Domino and Henry of Navarre approach the finish together, practically inseparable.

By the end of the mile Henry of Navarre had thrust his nose past Domino’s flaring nostril, then past his neck. The crowd erupted with excitement; hats and coats went flying into the air, some spectators showing more emotion than they ever had in their lives. But the race was not over yet -- Domino possessed just as much gameness as his chestnut rival. He fought back mercilessly until he was once again eye to eye with Henry of Navarre and they came across the finish together.

It was impossible for the crowd to tell who had won and the judges seemed to struggle just as much -- the race was declared a dead heat. “What pen can describe the last fifty years of that struggle? What painter can portray on canvas the grandeur of that race?,” published one writer. “The memories of the spectators - and fortunate, indeed, was the man or woman who was present - can alone retain a correct picture of the scene when the superb warriors fought out the last strides nose and nose.”

The result of the race was shrouded with controversy. Bettors were enraged at the judges for calling the race a dead heat, especially since, according to some newspaper writers, there was an uncanny number of dead heats in 1894 that “lined the pockets of bookmakers”. One writer suggested that Domino’s jockey Fred Taral felt that his horse had won the race by a head, another suggested that Doggett felt the same. Regardless of everyone's feelings, the purse was split between the two horses and the bets on the race were divided among the people.

“Yesterday’s decision was unsatisfactory both to the partisans of Domino and to those of Henry of Navarre,” the New York Tribune published. “The excited arguments that arose will never be settled until the two meet in another race and decide once for all the question of superiority between them.”

Henry of Navarre vs. Domino vs. Clifford (1894):

Henry of Navarre’s nine-race win streak in 1894 had been ended by none other than Clifford, the Champion Three-Year-Old colt of 1893. He had already finished ahead of the older horse when he came home second in the Brooklyn Handicap at the start of the season, but Clifford handed Henry of Navarre defeat by a nose later in the season, though not for any lack of Henry of Navarre’s courage.

“...and when the two hit the homestretch, Clifford’s action was the easier, Henry of Navarre, however, struggled stoutly and sturdily, boldly and bravely, but Clifford had him beaten all the way up the homestretch, although by a slight margin only,” The New York Tribune described.

This race left even more questions about how Henry of Navarre and Domino stacked up against each other. Domino had defeated Clifford in a match race shortly before his match with the McClelland trainee, but Clifford defeated Henry of Navarre while carrying 122 pounds as opposed to Henry’s 112. There was only one way to settle the arguments amongst horseplayers - another match race between Henry of Navarre and Domino, this time including Clifford.

Another huge crowd of 25,000 made their way to Morris Park on October 6, 1894, to watch the epic showdown that was bound to ensue. The race would be run at 1 ⅛ miles, weight for age, for a purse of $5,000.

The race began with Domino in the lead and Henry of Navarre just behind him. Clifford trailed two lengths behind them in third. As the horses reached the final turn, however, Clifford moved up with ease and the horses were all just heads apart. Domino’s jockey Fred Taral asked his horse to move away from his foes, but to the surprise of the crowd, Domino had exhausted all of his speed.

Henry of Navarre pushed past Domino and Clifford chased right behind him, the two horses moving further and further from Domino with every stride. The crowd screamed with shock and excitement as they watched Henry of Navarre muster up all the strength and courage he had to turn away Clifford and win the three-horse race by one length. Domino came home 11 lengths back from his competitors, his front foot injured. It would be his last race as a three-year-old.

“I thought I had a good horse in Clifford -- I still think so, but this Henry of Navarre -- he had Domino take him by the head -- and there's no faster one -- and when he had shaken Domino off, Clifford came at him; but he shook Clifford off too,” Clifford’s trainer Jack Rogers said after the race. “Any horse that can shake off two such horses as they, in separate attempts, must be a race-horse of the first water."

Henry of Navarre, Thoroughbred racehorse, rival of Domino, Clifford
An image of Henry of Navarre in an article about the U.S. Remount Service (1917).

Four-Year-Old Season (1895):

The following year Henry of Navarre won 8 of his 10 starts. After two victories in Kentucky and a win in the Country Club Stakes in Ohio, Byron McClelland sold his star colt to August Belmont II for $35,000 - $32,000 more than what he had originally paid for the colt as a yearling.

Henry of Navarre was transferred over to the hands of John J. Hyland for training and immediately finished second to Rey El Santa Anita in the Twin Cities Handicap on September 2. It wasn’t long before Henry of Navarre and Domino met again in a special race at Sheepshead Bay on September 11, this time including Rey El Santa Anita. It looked like Domino was certain to win the race at the top of the stretch, but the speedy colt seemed unkeen to try his hardest in the final furlongs. Henry of Navarre, who is always brave and gallant, flew past him to win by a half-length. Rey El Santa Anita was squarely beaten.

One turf writer attributed Henry of Navarre’s win to his hard battle with Rey El Santa Anita eight days prior. “Mr. Belmont’s colt had the important advantage of having had a severe struggle with Rey El Santa Anita at a mile and a quarter on September 2,” The New York Tribune published the day after the race. “Rey El Santa Anita defeated Henry of Navarre on that day simply because Henry of Navarre had not had enough hard racing this year to do his utmost in a heart-splitting struggle in a violent finish.”

That same writer criticized Domino’s connections for not preparing him with hard races and declared that if Domino is too unsound to win, he should be retired immediately. “He [Domino] needed plenty of hard racing to fit him for his meeting with Henry of Navarre yesterday. But he did not get it. Horses don’t win races against other horses of high class if they are wrapped up in purple and fine linen and put in a glass case in a hothouse. If anyone wants to win races he must race his horses. Horace Greely said: ‘The way to resume is to resume’.”

“It is true that Domino has a ‘mushy’ leg and a split hoof,” the writer continued. “But if these defects prevent his taking part in a sufficient number of hard races to get him thoroughly fit to meet racehorses of the class of Henry of Navarre, then the proper place for Domino is in the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled.”

“The glorious cripples of the turf are worthy of honor…They deserve enthusiastic tributes for their triumphs in past years. But they ought not to be put in the forefront of the battle against the picked soldiers of the turf, the Henry of Navarres, whose legs are not shattered or scattered, and whose feet are still unbroken.”

Nevertheless, Domino and Henry of Navarre rematched again at Gravesend Racetrack on September 17. Clifford, Rey El Santa Anita, and a horse named Sir Walter were to join them once more. Domino delayed the start of the race for ten minutes and when the flag finally dropped, it was Sir Walter that took the lead. Rey El Santa Anita was second, Henry of Navarre third, Clifford fourth, and Domino last. At the head of the stretch Sir Walter was still in the lead, but soon tired and joined the already exhausted Domino in the back of the pack. Rey El Santa Anita soon joined those two, leaving just Clifford to put up a fight against Henry of Navarre.

But Clifford was no match for the chestnut superstar; Henry of Navarre crossed the wire well in front of his foes. Clifford was second, Sir Walter finished third.

Clifford got some revenge for his losses when he defeated Henry of Navarre in the Oriental Handicap. Henry of Navarre then won the Manhattan Handicap while carrying 127 pounds, 20 more pounds than the runner-up Sir Walter.

Five-Year-Old Season & Retirement (1896):

Henry of Navarre raced just twice as a five-year-old in 1896. He first won a purse race before contesting in the Suburban Handicap while carrying the highest weight of 129 pounds. He was said to be injured before this race, but his characteristic bravery and determination got him to the wire first, beating The Commoner and Clifford. His victory received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Years of tough racing had finally taken their toll on Henry of Navarre. The injured horse was retired to August Belmont’s Nursery Stud in Kentucky. He officially ended his career with 29 wins in 42 starts. He finished below the top three in only two races in his entire career. The courageous chestnut had defeated some of the greatest horses of his time period, and of all-time, during his career. He handed his rival Domino defeat three times, finished in a dead-heat with him once, and was lost to him just once.

Retrospectively, Henry of Navarre is considered the 1894 and 1895 Horse of the Year.

Henry of Navarre produced a few stakes winners in America before he was shipped to France to stand stud at Belmont’s international farm. He returned just two years later to be donated to the U.S. Army for breeding cavalry horses. A crowd gathered to watch Henry of Navarre and another of Belmont’s successful racers and stallions, Octagon, arrive back in the United States.

“Henry of Navarre and Octagon stood the voyage splendidly and when they walked down the gangplank their eyes were ablaze with excitement and they tugged at the halters with plenty of vigor,” the Daily Racing Form published in 1911.

“He is one of the most smoothly turned and symmetrical Thoroughbreds that ever stood,” the Daily Racing Form said of Henry of Navarre. “He had had a fair measure of success as a getter of racehorses and he shines when mated with cold-blooded mares of coarse build. Mr. Belmont’s favorite saddle horse is a gelding by Henry of Navarre out of a trotting mare. He is a big-boned, lusty fellow with splendid shoulders and quarters, a big girth, and admirable coupling. His feet and legs are flawless and he never seems to tire. With such a horse under him, the chief of staff might well feel that he was the best-mounted soldier in Uncle Sam’s service.”

Henry of Navarre spent the rest of his life at the Army Remount Depot at Front Royal, Virginia siring horses with enough speed, stamina, and bravery to carry U.S. soldiers into battle. He passed away in 1917 at the age of 26.


Henry of Navarre’s story is filled with inspiring tales of triumph. Time and time again he displayed his heart and courage for all of the world to see, fighting tirelessly in pursuit of victory. His wins - and his losses too - came in some of the most exciting races our sport has ever seen. For that, Henry of Navarre has been immortalized.


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