Kincsem, Hungarian for "My Treasure", the liver chestnut thoroughbred and unbeatable race horse (sire: Cambuscan, dam: Waternymph, English Thoroughbreds) was born 141 years ago on March 17, 1874, at the Hungarian National Stud, whose patrons included the leading horsewoman of her day, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. The best of the best were bred there; it was the home of Hungarian thoroughbreds destined for immortality. She was raised in Tápiószentmárton, Hungary, at the mare farm of Ernő de Blaskovich. When de Blaskovich was selling the colts and fillies born in Kincsem's year as a lot to Baron Orczy, two of them were rejected - and Kincsem was one of the pair as being "too common-looking." So it was that Kincsem remained under de Blascovich's ownership.
Running with a group of 50 horses on the grounds of her owner's ancestral Hungarian home, she was lanky and ungainly. She would stand with her head low and eyes half-opened.
One tale about Kincsem's early life consistent in everything written about her is that she was stolen by gypsies from de Blascovich's stable. In fact, she was the only horse missing. When located by police in a gypsy camp, the thief was asked why he snatched such a plain-looking horse, when there were so many better to choose from?" "Because," replied the gypsy, "this filly may not be as handsome as the others, but she will prove the greatest of them all."
De Blascovich started her at two years of age in Germany, but worried she might bring shame to his stable and reputation. She went to post on June 26, 1876. In the absence of a starting gate, she wasn't forced to fly. So she waited awhile. But when Kincsem finally decided to run, it was all over for the rest of the field: she won by 12 lengths. In her second start, she was sent off against a field that included Germany's best colt, Double Zero. Kincsem won. She ran eight more races, winning them all, and finished her 2-year-old races with 10 wins in 10 different cities and 3 different countries. The average rest between races was slightly more than 14 days and in her debut year, Kincsem won at distances from 4 to 8 furlongs.
The filly was quickly becoming a Hungarian notable. No one cared she wasn't dazzling, she overflowed with personality and her antics won her the love and admiration of all who saw her. In one of her last races at 2, she walked to the start like an old gal with rheumatoid arthritis, ears flapping and neck bobbing. She wasn't thinking about racing, as her young jockey, Elijah Madden, a native of Manchester, England who rode her for 42 of her races would later confess: in fact, she was thinking about grazing. At the start, Kincsem found a succulent plot and began to munch away. After several attempts to get her into line, the starter gave up and let the field go. Kincsem just stood there, chewing thoughtfully and watching the other horses recede into the distance. Then, suddenly, she decided it was time to move and was off after them. She won with ease - and the crowd went wild.
As she was led into the winner's circle, de Blascovich unwittingly added still another quirk to his already quirky filly's repertoire by fastening a bouquet of flowers to Kincsems's bridle. In all of her subsequent races, Kincsem would refuse to enter the winner's circle until she had received her customary flowers. On one occasion, de Blascovich forgot them and she refused to be unsaddled until he hurried off to buy some.
Kincsem loved the travels by rail, watching from her box as field and town rolled by. Throngs of admirers greeted her, and she acknowledged their affection with a regal dip of her head. Of course, she had her own railway car, which she welcomed with a spirited neigh. But she refused to board it without the company of her two very best friends: a stableboy named Frankie, with whom Kincsem shared a deep loving bond, who accompanied her everywhere, caring for her every need (Frankie who was known to the racing public as Frankie Kincsem and when he died, this was the name that appeared on his tombstone); the other was a cat named Csalogány.
The cat was no less important to the filly than was her human companion. An anecdote illustrates the point.
When Kincsem disembarked from the ship that had carried her over the English Channel from Dover to France following her victory in the Goodwood Cup, the then-4 year-old filly refused to board her railway car because Csalogány was missing. Kincsem stood on the pier for 2 hours, feet firmly planted and ears pinned back, making it clear that she wasn't leaving without her feline friend. Finally the cat emerged, sauntering down the gangplank. Kincsem turned her head and muttered a greeting, at which point Csalogány jumped up onto her back. Together, cat, filly, and Frankie entered the railway car.
The 1878 Goodwood Cup was the only trip and race she ran in the UK. Only two horses were prepared to face her, the 7-year old Pageant and Lady Golightly. The buildup was tremendous. Crossing the English Channel had been the demise of many a seasoned sailor, and it was Kincsem's first, and only, adventure at sea. She stepped off the ship in Dover shaken and sickly-looking. The press seized on this and speculated that Kincsem was doomed. When she appeared at the track on August 1st , the day of the race, she did little to dispel the feeling. Kincsem shuffled to the start, her head hanging so low that her nose seemed to scrape the turf, her neck bobbing crookedly. The crowd of thousands was thrilled to see her, but most had no idea that Hungary's National Treasure always went to the post this way. As usual, she stalled at the start, gazing at the heels of Pageant and Lady Golightly as they sped away. She was deciding whether or not the race held any interest for her. Then, in a streak resembling a thunderbolt, she was off after the leader. She ran low to the ground, keeping her head down until she hit the finish, ears whirling like eggbeaters. This manner of running, combined with her long body, cut down on resistance and allowed her to eat up the ground in bounding strides as she accelerated.
Kincsem won the 1878 Goodwood Cup by a solid 3 lengths. The crowd was stunned into silence by what they had seen. Then the applause and shouts began until the roar was deafening. Kincsem, who always seemed to know when a race was over, just as she would calculate how far to let the other horses run before she went after them, pulled herself up and headed back to the place where she would be presented with a bouquet of flowers by her delighted owner.
The claim that His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales attempted to buy Kincsem may be true. But Ernest de Blascovich refused, telling the future king, "If I sold Kincsem, I would not dare return to my native soil."
Filly, cat, Frankie and the rest went from Goodwood to France and won the Grand Prix de Deauville. Her remaining 13 races in 1878 were run in Austria (5 times), Hungary (7 times) and Germany once.
A consummate traveler at this point, Kincsem was as fussy about certain rituals and traditions as a thoroughbred queen. When she was on the road, the filly would only eat the food and drink the water from her home, Tápiószentmárton. At Baden-Baden, she did not drink for two days because her home water supply ran out. Desperate, someone (most likely Frankie) discovered a well in a town near Baden-Baden where the water had the same earthy taste as the water from the farm. To everyone's relief, Kincsem consented to drink it. To this day, that well carries the name "Kincsem's Well" and is a treasured Baden landmark.
1879 was Kincsem's last racing year. She ended her career undefeated, with 54 wins, including 3 consecutive wins in the Grosser Preis von Baden and an equal number in the Hungarian Autumn Oaks, her final race. Her retirement was a worldwide event. Over the span of four seasons, she had won a total of 379,805 gold marks in prize money, making the owner very rich.
Kincsem was a very successful blood mare. She produced 5 foals in all, including the fillies Budagyöngye (1882), Olyan Nincs (1883), the colt Talpra Magyar (1885), a colt named Kincsőr (1886) who was found dead in his stall at age 3, and her last foal, Kincs (1887). (One of Kincsem’s descendents is still racing in Germany today.)
Shortly after the birth of Kincs, Kincsem suffered a severe bout of colic. Less than a day later, the champion was gone. She died on her birthday, March 17, 1887. Her passing was officially mourned for three days. Flags stood at half-mast and Hungarian newspapers were framed in black. As fate would have it, her English trainer, Robert Hemp, died 39 days after Kincsem.
In 1942, sculptor György Vastagh Jr. modelled the wonder mare based on measurements of the animal's skeleton, contemporary sketches and photos. Prepared at the request of the Blaskovich family, the statue has several copies, two of which (one in plaster, the other of bronze) can be seen at the museum of Hungarian Agriculture, Budapest.
A film about Kincsem is currently being produced in Hungary.
Sources: 1. THE VAULT: Horse racing past and present: Kincsem, the Mystery and Majesty of an Immortal, Sept. 30, 2013. 2. Fehér Dezső: Kincsem, a Magyar Csoda, 1998. 3.Állatorvos-Tudományi Könyvtár
Éva Wajda is a member of Magyar News Online Editorial Board.