Santa’s reindeer work hard. They have to pull his plump frame, along with literally billions of toys, in a sled across the entire planet, all while racing against time to complete their journey before sunup around the world. It’s a truly incredible feat, and it is enough to make one wonder how Santa’s sled-pullers would fare on the racetrack.
While we will never get to put Santa’s reindeer to the test against Thoroughbreds, due to rules of most racetracks as well as the laws of physics and reality itself, we can take a peek throughout history to see how various racehorses that shared Santa’s reindeer’s names fared.
Foaled in 1932, Dasher was the winner of the Great American Stakes at Aqueduct in 1934, a five-furlong race for 2-year-olds with a purse of $2,610. Dasher won by six lengths and was the 7-10 favorite. That was early on in his career, however. He went on to race a total of 35 times, with only four lifetime wins, including the Great American.
A number of horses have had the name Dancer, or something close to it. Perhaps the most accomplished of the horses simply named Dancer was foaled in Argentina in 1970, but didn’t debut in the U.S. until 1974. Dancer ran 52 times and won 13 races, but none of them was a highly regarded stakes race. Most of Dancer’s wins were at the allowance level. His best result in a stakes race came in the 1977 running of the Bowie Handicap at Bowie Race Course in Maryland. Dancer led for most of the way before fading to third. There was, of course, a famous Northern Dancer bred in Canada who has a memorable career on the racetrack and at stud, but that would be bending the rules.
Prancer was foaled in 1979 and spent the better part of three years racing mainly at Thistledown near Cleveland, Ohio. During that time he raced 44 times and never once broke his maiden. He retired winless with only $2,698 lifetime earnings.
Sired by Any Given Saturday, Vixen was a $180,000 yearling and showed a great deal of promise. She started out in Southern California with Bob Baffert before she was transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen for her third and final race. After coming up a bit short in a pair of maiden special weight races, finishing third and fourth at Del Mar and Santa Anita, respectively, Asmussen entered her in a maiden race at Fair Grounds, where she finished last of 10 and subsequently was retired.
Not sure what happened to Comet I, but Comet II was owned in the early 1940s by the Gaffers and Stattler stovemaking firm as part of their formidable West Coast racing stable. Comet II raced 58 times and won seven, mostly in claiming races. His closest brush with fame was when he managed to slip into the field of the New Year Handicap at Golden Gate in 1941. The race was initially scheduled for Jan. 1 (natch) but torrential rain postponed the event to February. That gave the stovemakers time to mull it over and enter him into the race. He surprised the fans and snuck up for second in a crowded stretch run and paid $8.20.
Most contemporary racing fans should know the gray Cupid. If you don’t, a refresher: born in May 2013, Cupid was purchased for $900,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale and went on to earn more than $1.7 million over his three seasons of racing. He was a leading contender for the 2016 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands before trainer Bob Baffert pulled him off the Derby trail for breathing problems after the horse ran 10th in the Arkansas Derby as the betting favorite. After some recuperation, however, Cupid went on to win the Indiana Derby, West Virginia Derby, and the 2017 Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
From 1996 to 2001, Donner put in yeoman’s work racing the southwest circuit, from Arapahoe Downs in Colorado to Sunland Park in New Mexico, and plenty of places in between. He ran 58 times and won 4 races. The longest feather in his cap is probably his back-to-back wins in the Con Jackson Claiming Handicap in 1999 and 2000, a 1 13/16-mile race held every year at Albuquerque Downs. The race is a fan favorite, and Donner never lost.
Of all the Blitzens to ever race, the best ever is probably the Japanese-bred Blitzen foaled in 2006. Blitzen raced 37 times in a long six-year career and won six times, including the Lord Derby Challenge Trophy, a Group 3 turf race. Despite only six wins, he finished in the money enough to earn more than $2 million over the course of his career.
There are a number of Rudolphs, but honestly none of them ever did much to speak of. And I have to admit that I’m glad for that, because Rudolph isn’t really one of Santa’s reindeer anyway. He was invented in 1939 by Montgomery Ward, while the O.G. eight have been around since 1823 when “Twas the Night Before Christmas” came out. I suppose I’m a reindeer purist. Or maybe I’m just suffering from fatigue. This list was a lot longer than I anticipated.
In the final analysis, I think it’s clear that Cupid takes the prize for the most accomplished of this list. But every horse has had a unique career on different surfaces at different racetracks during different eras. The only thing we can really conclude is that Santa would do at least as well, if not much better, if he used Thoroughbreds to pull his sleigh instead of deer.