Isidore Jules Bonheur
Isidore Jules Bonheur (French, 1827-1901)
KINCSEM, WITH MICHAEL MADDEN UP
Bronze, 29 1⁄2” x 34”
Signed, with a Peyrol Foundry stamp
$20,000. – 30,000.
KINCSEM: THE MYSTERY AND MAJESTY OF AN IMMORTAL
Excerpts from an article by Abigail Anderson, THE VAULT: Horse racing past and present
The tale of The Ugly Duckling is a family classic. A swan who was mistaken for a duck and who had to learn that he wasn’t so much an unacceptable duck as he was “a bird of a different colour.” Kincsem’s story is much like the tale of the little cygnet who transformed into a swan.
Something went awry when Kincsem was conceived: her dam had been booked to Buccaneer (1857) but was mistakenly covered by Cambuscan (1861) instead.
Born at the Hungarian National Stud, some said she was downright ugly. ”She was as long as a boat and as lean as a hungry leopard … she had a U-neck and mule ears … she had a tail like a badly-used mop … she was lazy, gangly, shiftless … a daisy-eating, sleepy-eyed and slightly pot-bellied hussy …” (Beckwith in “Step And Go Together”)
It is said that Mr. Ernest von Blascovich, Kincsem’s owner and breeder, attempted to sell all of the colts and fillies born in Kincsem’s year as a lot, to Baron Orczy. Orczy took all but two — Kincsem and another were rejected as “too common-looking.” By an intervention of fate Kincsem remained under de Blascovich’s ownership.
One tale about Kincsem’s early life is that she was stolen from the National Stud but police eventually located her at a nearby gypsy camp. When asked why he had stolen such a plain-looking horse, the man replied: ”Gypsy gold does not chink and glitter. It gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark. This filly may not be as handsome as the others, but she will prove the greatest of them all ” Kincsem’s name reflects the impact that the gypsy’s prediction had on her owner: it translates to “my treasure” or “my precious one.”
Kincsem’s first race was in June of 1876: the filly wasn’t forced to fly, so she waited, when she finally decided to run, it was all over: she won by 12 lengths. In her second start, the field included Double Zero (who won the German Derby later that year), Kincsem won by daylight. She concluded her 2 year-old campaign, with 10 wins in 10 different cities in 3 different countries. The filly was quickly becoming a Hungarian favorite and no-one cared that she wasn’t as dazzling as Eclipse.
Kincsem habitually walked to the start looking like “… an old gal with rheumatoid arthritis,” ears flapping and neck bobbing. On one race day, she wasn’t really thinking about racing, as her young jockey, Elijah Madden, would later confess: she was thinking about grazing. At the start, Kincsem found a succulent plot and began to munch away. After repeated 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 seemed to decide that it was time to move and was off after them. She won with ease — some said with a mouthful of grass still hanging from her lip — and the crowd went wild. As she was led into the winner’s circle, Blascovich unwittingly added another quirk to his already-quirky filly’s repertoire by fastening a bouquet of flowers to Kincsem’s bridle. In all of her subsequent races, Kincsem refused to enter the winner’s circle until she had received her customary flowers.
Kincsem became a veteran of railroad travels, which she seemed to love. Throngs of admirers appeared to greet her and Kincsem acknowledged their affection with a regal dip of her head. She had her own railway car, which she welcomed with a spirited neigh but refused to board without the company of her two very best friends: a stableboy named Frankie and a cat named Csalogany. Kincsem shared a deep, loving bond with Frankie who accompanied her everywhere. Known to the racing public as “Frankie Kincsem,” this was the name that appeared on his tombstone. Csalogany the cat was just as important to the filly who once refused to board her railway car in France because Csalogany was missing. Kincsem stood unmoving for 2 hours, until finally the cat emerged, she neighed a greeting, at which point Csalogany jumped up onto her back. Together, cat, filly and Frankie entered the railway car.
The 1878 Goodwood Cup marked Kincsem’s only trip to England where she raced the only two horses dared to meet her: Pageant and Lord Falmouth’s Lady Golightly (both multiple stakes winners). The race was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm, but when Kinscem arrived in Dover shaken and sickly-looking from her voyage, many predicted that her first defeat was at hand. Kincsem shuffled to the start, her head hanging and her neck bobbing crookedly; the crowd of thousands 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 and gained what looked to be an insurmountable lead, before Kincsem, like a lightning bolt, was off after the leader. Kincsem won by 3 lengths, going away. At first, the crowd was stunned into silence, then the applause and shouts began, until the roar was deafening. Kincsem pulled herself up and headed back to the winner’s circle to receive her bouquet of flowers. It is claimed that the Prince of Wales attempted to buy Kincsem. Blascovich refused, telling the future king, ” If I sold Kincsem I would not dare return to my native soil.”
The Entourage made their way to France where Kincsem won the Grand Prix de Deauville. In 1878 she won at distances from 8f – 20f carrying an average of 144.9lbs. In 1879 she went 12 for 12 running distances from 12f – 18f carrying an average of 153.3lbs. Kincsem ended her career on the turf undefeated, a perfect 54 for 54. Kincsem proved a very successful broodmare, only adding to the legendary status that Europe and particularly her homeland had conferred upon her. Kincsem suffered a severe bout of colic and less than a day later, the champion was gone. Like everything else about her life, even her untimely death was marked by the kind of “sign” one expects to find in a fairy tale or myth: Kincsem died in 1887 on March 17, the same day on which she was born. A circle had closed. Hungary lost more than a great thoroughbred when Kincsem died: they lost a quirky and majestic figure who had raced right into their hearts. In her homeland, her passing was officially mourned for three days. Flags stood at half-mast and the borders of Hungarian newspapers were framed in black. Frankie, her beloved friend, died 39 days after Kincsem.