by Lisa Harkema
Best known as the brother to Alcantara and sire of McKinney, Alcyone was a spectacular individual in his own right.
Alcyone was bred by Dr AS Talbert of Lexington, KY. Talbert was from Liberty, Indiana where he was born in 1821. After residing for some years in Ohio he came to Lexington in 1851 to practice dentistry and lived there until his death in November 1883. Talbert was a horse lover who also bred harness horses at his Inwood Farm just outside of town. He had several good broodmares of historical importance, in particular Jessie Pepper and Alma Mater. But while Jessie’s reputation would grow over time, Alma Mater was a star broodmare from her first foal hit the tracks.
Having bought Alma Mater for $300, Talbert bred her at three to George Wilkes and her first foal was dropped the following year in 1877. That foal was Alcantara who lowered the three-year-old record to 2:23, a fantastic achievement at its time, and he was considered a phenomenon. In 1878, a year after Alcantara, his full bother Alcyone was born.
Several articles provide very different information on Alcyone’s life and in some cases contain somewhat contradictory accounts. Several articles from that time, in particular a lengthy piece in the Courier-Journal on Feb 11, 1883, however, gives much insight into the horse and can be expected to be the historically most accurate.
Alcyone was described in the Courier-Journal article as a «rich dark bay, with one white heel, standing a trifle over fiftheen hands (…) He has a neat, clean head, beautifullly tapering ears, fine throttle, arched neck, fine shoulders, great depth through the heart, immense length of body and although a short, stout back, his muscular power is very fine; his stifles and gaskins cannot be improved; clean hocks, flat legs, long springy pasterns, fine feet; indeed, if one did not know he was a trotter, he would without doubt be taken for a thoroughbred racer. There is nothing superfluous about him; all muscle, sinew and bone, and in size, color and general conformation he greatly resembles the wonderful English race-horse Kingston. As a three-year-old his performances were remarkable, he traveling hundreds of miles by land and water, showing in a fair ring one day and trotting in a race against aged horses the next.»
Alcyone entered stud at two, covering 12 of Talbert’s own mares. At three he was used at stud but also shown at fairs and raced a bit as outlined above. Talbert had turned down offers of $10 000 for Alcyone as a four-year-old in 1882 and instead entrusted him to Frank van Ness for the 1883 season for training to get a good record which would make him even more attractive as a sire. But the plan backfired: Alcyone had back problems but Van Ness raced him anyway and his career was cut short when he was strained across the back and never fully recovered from the injury. But regardless of record, there is no doubt that Alcyone had a reputation. According to a Courier-Jounal article on May 9, 1883, «Alcyone is as yet without a place in the 2:30 list. He is known as one of the finest and fastest young horses in Kentucky. He is a full brother to the famous Alcantara that got his record of 2:23 on this very track. An effort will be made today to give Alcyone a fast record – this is now all he needs to make him of the greatest value for stud uses.»
But it turns out that Alcyone was in demand even without the fast record. After Talbert passed away in November 1883, it seems the horse was only used at stud in 1884 (at Inwood Farm) but not raced. Talbert’s surviving widow sold many of his horses in Lexington on February 16, 1884. Included in the sale was Alicia, the three-year-old full sister to Alcyone, but Alycone himself was not on the selling block. Instead, he was sold at the end of the year. According to a little article in the New York Times on Dec 31, 1884, «for $20 000 the trotting stallion Alcyone passed today from the possess of Mrs AG Talbott to Elizur Smith, of Lee, Mass, who four years ago paid $12 000 for Alcantara, brother of Alcyone.» («Talbott» was incorrect and should have read «Talbert»)
Several sources refer to Alcyone’s early foals showing extreme speed and this certainly explains his high price. There had been a hitch in the sale and transfer of Alcyone until W. H. Wilson, who had a farm near Cynthiana, Ky., guaranteed that Kentucky breeders would send mares to Alcyone. The following year a carload of Kentucky matrons were shipped to Massachusetts. In the shipment of the Kentucky mares that had been sent almost 1,000 miles in 1886, Wilson had elected to send Rosa Sprague, a daughter of Governor Sprague. Her colt was named McKinney and he made his appearance the same year that his sire, Alcyone, died. McKinney started to do stud service at two, a year before he ever faced the starter. He was in service during his four years of racing but won seventeen out of his twenty-four starts. After his retirement he was moved up and down the west coast making three seasons a year, being in service from six to nine months out of the twelve.
Alcyone had been called the handsomest son of George Wilkes. He was a small horse but was such an outstanding individual that he had won a blue ribbon at the National Horse Show. The stallion died two years later, in the Berkshires, at the age of ten. His early death was a loss to the trotting sport as he left only a few foals. He was credited with 55 sons and daughters with records 2:30 or better, of which 21 were 2:20 or better, a spectacular achievement for a stallion that died at 10.