The Queen’s comeback: Hannelore returns

by Dean A. Hoffman

The reigning queen of North American harness racing, Hannelore Hanover, makes her return to the racing wars on Saturday in a Meadowlands qualifier.

This will be after a winter and spring in which she was kept in training while being bred to Southwind Frank. The plan was to get an embryo that can be transferred into a recipient mare, allowing Hannelore to do double duty in 2018.

She’s the first older trotting mare to be Horse of the Year since Moni Maker in the late 1900s. Some pundits, including myself, would love to see her emulate Moni Maker and tackle the European trotting wars. The bigger the track the better for Hannelore, and I’ve thought that the huge oval at Vincennes, where the Prix d’Amerique is contested, would be well-suited to her talents. I also think she could hold her own in the Elitlopp in Sweden, but the 5/8-mile track there might be a bit too cramped for her best effort.

Before she invades Europe, however, she will get a tightener at the Big M.

Hannelore’s highlights last year included a thrashing of the best older male trotters in the Breeders Crown at Hoosier and the fastest mile ever by a trotting mare (1:49.2) at Red Mile.

I should add that I have a special affection for Hannelore Hanover because I requested that specific name from Hanover Shoe Farms as way to honor a German friend, Hannelore Wurzinger of Bavaria. She was a champion woman amateur driver in trotting races with 470 victories.

It was altogether fitting and proper (to steal a term from an American president who spent 14 years in Indiana), for Hannelore to win her biggest prize in the Hoosier State. She is a daughter of the Indiana stallion Swan For All and Hannelore’s early races were in Indiana-sired events.

As she matured, Hannelore simply got better and better. She elbowed her way into open competition and proved that she could mix it up — and prevail — with distaffers by the big-name stallions.

When you examine the pedigree of the reigning queen, you see that she is a granddaughter of Andover Hall and shares a female heritage with the vaunted Mack Lobell.

It’s well known that her dam High Sobriety was on the cull list at Hanover Shoe Farms after her first few foals. Instead of selling her, Hanover leased High Sobriety to a breeder who reportedly mated her with Quarter Horse stallions.

When Hannelore began making headlines, Hanover got High Sobriety back and bred her to Muscle Hill. She was due to foal earlier this week.

Hannelore’s sire Swan For All raced only 11 times in two seasons, but won eight of those races and was second twice. He’s certainly been a dominant stallion in Indiana-sired trotting events. Hannelore was not the only Breeders Crown headliner for Swan For All as he had another Breeders Crown winner in Fiftydallarbill.

Not surprisingly, Swan For All’s yearlings were in demand last fall, averaging $36,737 at the Hoosier Classic, for example. He had the sale topper there at $87,000.

Swan For All’s sire Andover Hall was the all-conquering juvenile trotting champion of 2001 and seemed destined to be the best of the famed Band of Brothers — Conway Hall, Angus Hall, and Andover himself. But Andover got a late start in his road to the 2002 Hambletonian and yet his prowess was such that he went off as the odds-on favorite in the final.

He got in a jam in the first turn and began cantering, effectively eliminating himself. It was a bitter disappointment for trainer owner Erkki Laakkonen, trainer Bob Stewart, and driver John Campbell.

Interestingly, in the first three generations of Hannelore’s family, you find three other stallions that came up short in the Hambletonian:

• Lindy Lane, sire of the dam of Swan For All, was edged out in the epic ’96 Hambletonian by the filly Continentalvictory.
• Pine Chip, whose son Dream Vacation sired the dam of Hannelore, was beaten in the ‘93 Hambletonian by rival American Winner.
• Royal Prestige, sire of the second dam of Hannelore, was the odds-on favorite and upset by Nuclear Kosmos in the ‘86 Hambletonian.

Martine Lobell, the third dam of Hannelore Hanover, was a half-sister to the meteoric Mack Lobell, surely one of the best trotters on the international scene in recent decades. Mack had a mind of his own, but he also had an extra gear of his own — when Mack’s mind was on business, no trotter in the world could match him for sheer speed.

Mack broke a long jinx in the Hambletonian for colts from the Victory Song male line. Many of the colts were contenders for the Hambletonian crown, but stumbled along the way.

Mack’s own sire Mystic Park was the 3-10 favorite in his elimination of the ‘82 Hambletonian. He showed the way into the stretch, as expected, by then jumped it off and missed the final.

Mystic Park’s sire Noble Gesture had been the fastest juvenile trotting colt of 1970 (and the third-fastest 2-year-old trotter ever). His 1:59.1 mile at age two at DuQuoin was faster than two of the three heats contested in the Hambletonian the very same day.

Soundness problems as a sophomore derailed Noble Gesture’s path to greatness.

Noble Gesture’s own sire Noble Victory came into the 1965 Hambletonian with a 21-race winning streak — and then was defeated three straights heats in one afternoon. That Hambletonian was contested on a boggy track and Noble Victory’s bar shoes anchored him to the DuQuoin clay and impaired his ability.

Nineteen years earlier, Noble Victory’s sire Victory Song won the opening round of the ‘46 Hambletonian, but got bumped offstride in the second round. In the third heat, Victory Song broke at the start and still barely missed catching the winner Chestertown.

In 1929, Victory Song’s sire Volomite was simply no match for his more talented stablemate Walter Dear but picked up a healthy check for being second both heats.

Hannelore Hanover begins her 2018 season with a big target on her back, but she’s reportedly coming into her qualifier sharp and ready for action.

Let the trotting wars begin.