by Dean A. Hoffman
On a cold winter’s night 50 years ago in southwest Ohio, a horse was born who would change the trotting world in North America and whose influence continues to felt around the world.
Speedy Crown was foaled on the Beissinger family farm near Hamilton, OH on January 29, 1968. His influence has spread wherever trotters are raced.
Even in France, where America trotting blood was once castigated as “planting weeds in your rose garden” you find Speedy Crown three times in the pedigree of Readly Express, last weekend’s Prix d’Amérique winner. He appears in the pedigree of his sire — the phenom Ready Cash — and appears twice in the pedigree of the Prix d’Amerique winner’s dam.
It’s virtually impossible to find a trotter in North America that doesn’t carry the blood of Speedy Crown. With the passage of a half-century, Speedy Crown’s name is often well back in current pedigrees and just as often you’ll find it multiple times.
That’s a remarkable legacy for a horse that attracted little notice and no rave reviews during his two-year-old season. But he blossomed in his sophomore season and then dominated older rivals as a 4-year-old.
Yet it was in the breeding shed that he exercised his greatest influence. Both his sons and daughters were prolific producers of trotting talent and they carried his legacy forward.
Speedy Crown’s first season in the stud barn was as unremarkable as his first season on the track. There were no superstars or standout stakes champs in his first crop, and — perhaps the greatest irony — the fastest performer in his first crop was a pacer.
Officially, Speedy Crown was bred by Ann W. Beissinger, but it was her husband, Hall of Famer Howard Beissinger, whose steady and professional hand made the greatest imprint on Speedy Crown’s success.
Beissinger’s involvement in the family of Speedy Crown went back to 1955 when he bought a yearling filly named Worth A Plenty in Lexington. He raced her with modest success as her owner, then got a free breeding to Florican at Castleton Farm in Kentucky. Always mindful of money, he used the free breeding in 1961 and Worth A Plenty delivered a filly in 1962 named Missile Toe.
Beissinger was training privately in the mid-1960s and could not race his own horses, so he gave Missile Toe to Ohioan John Hague, who raced her primarily at the fairs with his son Dale driving. Missile Toe was a good filly in the limited world of the Ohio fairs and earned $22,362 and got a mark of 3, T2:05.2.
Like many Floricans, she didn’t have much knee action in front, so Beissigner bred her in 1957 to Speedy Scot, the elbow-booted “Castleton Cannonball” that dominated the stakes of 1962-63. What Missile Toe lacked in her front stroke Speedy Scot had in abundance.
When it came time to name the first foal by Speedy Scot from Missile Toe, Beissinger turned to his interest in rodeo and named him Headin And Healin after an event officially called team roping.
Headin And Healin when to Florida in the fall of 1969 to begin his lessons in harness, Beissinger was coming off a stellar season in which he’d won the Big Five of trotting with Lindy’s Pride. Those events were the Hambletonian, Kentucky Futurity, Yonkers Futurity, Dexter Cup, and Colonial.
Early in 1970, Beissinger sold Headin And Healin to Frank Antonacci, a Long Island patron of his stable. The price was $25,000 with the understanding that Beissinger would continue to train the colt.
Speedy Crown was delayed by a splint problem as a 2-year-old and his freshman season was nothing spectacular. He was driven often by Beissinger’s standout assistant Mike Zeller, who followed the dictates of his boss by racing the colt conservatively.
It was a different story in 1971, however, as Speedy Crown began to show promise in some early starts at Scioto Downs and simply got better and better. He won the Hambletonian easily but was not eligible to the Kentucky Futurity.
Speedy Crown was a remarkably reliable trotter and Beissinger said he could not recall him ever making a break even in a training mile. The Hall of Fame horseman, however, cringed every time he thought of the second heat of the Hambletonian when one of Speedy Crown’s front feet hit the wheel of Hoot Speed near the quarter-pole. Yet Speedy Crown never made a bobble. He was voted champion of his class.
As a four-year-old, Speedy Crown took on the best older horses in North America as well as invaders from Europe in international events and earned Trotter of the Year honors. (Horse of the Year honors in 1972 went to Albatross.)
Speedy Crown went to stud at Lana Lobell Farms in Pennsylvania and it seemed obvious that he was suited well for mares by Star’s Pride, then the dominant trotting sire in the breed. Yet his first crop to race in America’s Bicentennial year was a disappointment.
Everything changed the following year when the brilliantly fast Speedy Somolli appeared on the racing scene. Like his sire, Speedy Somolli was trained and driven by Beissinger, who said that the colt was the fastest trotter he’d ever driven — or would ever drive. Somolli occasionally made mistakes when he tried to get into high gear too fast but he could flat-out fly on the trot and won the Hambletonian in world record time.
Speedy Somolli opened the floodgates of stars by Speedy Crown. Then came Smokin Yankee, Jazz Cosmos, TV Yankee, Fancy Crown, Crowning Point, Why Not, Prakas, Workaholic, Armbro Devona, Torway, Royal Prestige, Britelite Lobell, Armbro Fling, Crown’s Best, Armbro Goal, Embassy Lobell, Giant Hit, and David Raymond.
Speedy Crown saved his best for last. When he was 25 years old, his daughter Moni Maker was foaled and she carried his blood to trotting glory in North America and by winning the Prix d’Amerique and Elitlopp in Sweden and more than $5.5 million in her career.
The influence of his sons and daughters on trotting pedigrees around the world is far beyond the scope this tribute. It could fill volumes.
From his humble birth a half-century ago, Speedy Crown was clearly the most influential trotting stallion in the world when he died at age 32 in 2000.
Speedy Crown – Across The Pond
Europeans are mad about trotters and, of course, they hold Speedy Crown in perhaps even higher reverence than many in North America do. His descendants have exerted enormous influence on European pedigrees. Thanks to my friend Sturla Pettersen, the European pedigree guru, for providing an overview of Speedy Crown’s influence in Europe.
One of his first sons to go to Europe was Choctaw Brave, a Grand Circuit competitor who went through the sales ring as a ridgling after his stakes schedule was complete. After starting his breeding career in Finland, his other testicle dropped. When that testicle descended, Choctaw Brave ascended to the top of the Finnish sire list.
Gus Lobell was another Speedy Crown son that enjoyed success in Finland.
In Sweden, Crowntron sired only two crops, but they remarkable. His stiff-legged little chestnut daughter Queen L won the hearts of horseman all over Europe.
Smokin Yankee stood at Menhammar in Sweden and his offspring were outstanding on the track. By contrast, Self Confident was far less successful.
Workaholic, winner of the first Breeders Crown event ever contested, stood briefly in the United States with limited patronage, but when he was exported to France he was extremely desirable to French breeders. His book was routinely oversubscribed, and Workaholic became very successful. Workaholic appears twice in the first four generations of Ready Cash, the champion French trotter and stallion.
Peter Haughton Memorial winner Why Not landed in Denmark and got the standout Rudolf Le Ann, and another good Danish stallion by Speedy Crown was Little Devil. Carmody Lobell sired three winners of the Danish Darby.
Lord Of All and Harvard Yard, both brothers to Speedy Somolli, went to Europe. Lord Of All sired Remington Crown while Harvard Yard accomplished little.