Nijinsky, named after the celebrated Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, had the distinction of being the last horse to win the three most coveted races on the British horse racing calendar, the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger, collectively known as the “Triple Crown”.
An imposing bay colt, who grew to stand 16.3 hands high, quite unlike his diminutive sire, Northern Dancer, Nijinsky was owned by Charles Engelhard and trained by Vincent O’Brien at Ballydoyle, Co. Tipperary. In his juvenile season, in 1969, he was unbeaten in five starts, culminating with an easy victory in the Dewhurst Stakes, over 7 furlongs, at Newmarket, when ridden for the first time by Lester Piggott.
Consequently, Nijinsky started odds-on favourite, at 4/7, for the 2,000 Guineas back at Newmarket the following May and, again, won easily by 2½ lengths from Yellow God. In the Derby, he started 11/8 favourite and beat main market rival Gyr by 2½ lengths in the fastest time since Mahmoud in 1936 and, in the St. Leger, he justified odds of 2/7 by beating Meadowville by a length, without ever being asked for maximum effort. In so doing, Nijinsky became the first Triple Crown winner since Barham in 1935.
Nijinsky tasted defeat just twice, on the last two starts of his career. On his penultimate start, in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, he was beaten a head by the rallying Sassafras, ridden by Yves Saint-Martin. On his final start, in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket – where he was particularly fractious before the start – he ran below par and was beaten three-quarters of a length by Lorenzaccio, ridden by Geoff Lewis. All in all, Nijinsky won 11 of his 13 races and over $670,000 in prize money.
At the end of his three-year-old campaign, Nijinksy stood at Clairborne Farm, Kentucky, where he became a leading sire until his death, as a 25-year-old, in 1992. He had been plagued with chronic leg problems and was humanely euthanised to prevent further discomfort.