by Murray Brown
My good friend Jack Darling asks about the numerous people that I have observed looking at yearlings over the years.
What are their habits, their requirements, their idiosyncrasies?
Which ones do you like and respect? Are there others that you dreaded seeing?
Here are some of both, with more to follow in next week’s column.
If there are others you’d like to ask about, please do not hesitate to do so.
Billy Haughton: Perhaps my all-time favorite and a breeder’s dream. Billy’s glass was never half empty. There was rarely a person or horse that he couldn’t say something nice about. He would just about always look at every yearling in the Hanover Shoe Farms consignment.
I recall a day when he was so hard pressed that he couldn’t stay over. He looked at 189 yearlings on the floor that day. He would look at them on the lead strip before inspecting them on the floor. The only ones he wouldn’t look at were the rare fillies who swished their tails on the lead strip. That was a no-no for him. Every yearling’s throat was inspected by the finger test and its tail was pulled. A limp tail was also a no-no.
Here’s my favorite WRH story: Billy made it a habit to visit all of the major farms to look at all their yearlings before the sales and make notes on them.
One year, a week or 10 days before the sale, he was going to California to race. Somehow his catalog got lost.
As would be expected, he was distressed.
He offered a $5,000 reward for its return — huge money back then. It was never found. Would you believe that the following week, he went back to all the farms and did it again?
That was WRH.
Ned Bower & Jim Hackett: I’ll group these two together because they only came one time that I recall. They showed up together late on a Monday morning. They said they had been sent by their owners to scout out the Hanover yearlings and that they would be staying the entire week to get that done. That was the last we saw of them! Each morning thereafter we’d hear tales from various bars in town of their deeds the previous evenings. We never saw them again until the following Sunday in Harrisburg.
Trust me, it was a long time before they were forgotten in the Borough of Hanover.
Howard Beissinger: A true professional who sometimes could be a scary guy. I both loved and respected him immensely. I first met him when he was the contract trainer/driver for the Miron Brothers racing stable in Canada. We hit it off immediately. He wanted things done one way — his way. He was a great believer in leading yearlings to pony. He made it a point to not evaluate a yearling until after he had seen it led to pony. He did not have a whole lot of patience and did not like to be kept waiting. From my first yearling sale at Hanover, he bought one of the greatest leading trotting colts I have ever seen. He was named Galahad Hanover, which he purchased for the Antonacci and Lomangine families. I remember him coming to me after he had bought the colt and asking, “What is wrong with the colt? I thought I’d have to pay twice as much for him as I did.” I answered that Mr. Gaines and Mr. Owens were prepared to buy him at virtually any price, but they asked Dr. Steele to look at him for them. He turned the colt down because he didn’t like his hocks. Howard responded, “Damned vets. What the hell do they know?” They changed his name to Lindys Pride. He not only won the Hambletonian, but also the Triple Crown and what was then known as the Big Five. I also remember him buying a great leading Hanover filly, whose original name I forget, but the name became Somolli and she became the dam of the great Speedy Somolli.
Dan Altmeyer: A great guy and an excellent horseman whose daughter Heather and son-in-law Mike Wilder are also among the finest horsepeople and just plain PEOPLE around today. They prove that pedigree counts. There are not too many people as nice as Danny and Ruth around either. Our sport would be in far greater shape than it is, if there were. They come to the farms every year. They let you know beforehand that they are coming and it has always been a pleasure to host them.
Casie Coleman: Another true professional. She looks at a lot of horses and really puts her time in. Every success she has attained has been well earned. She first looks at as many pacers as could possibly interest her. I have never seen her look at a trotter, although I realize she has trained a few. She is very diligent and demanding of the yearlings in which she is interested. Her long list gets sharply reduced and then the ones that really interest her get shown in the paddock. Based on their performance the list gets reduced even more. Come sale time, she is perhaps the most disciplined bidder in the business. As she puts it “I’m usually spending my own money and I’m cheap.”
Claude Bardier: This is a name that might surprise you. This young man started coming to Hanover Shoe Farms only a few years ago, although he and his brother Normand Jr were always a presence at Harrisburg.
Recently, he has been the advance man for Serge Godin’s Determination as well as a few other Quebecers.
He is an extremely well organized, well prepared young man as is his wife who accompanies him and serves as his note taker.
He might not be well known, but I would not hesitate to rely on his opinion.
Determination: The most professional crew out there today. In my opinion, they deserve all the success that they have recently received. They first send out their advance scout Bandier, who looks at all the trotters and a few of the pacers that they might be interested in. Then their trainer Luc Blais shows up. He is a most polite, undemanding, yet hard-working trainer who looks at the ones which I presume Claude has liked, with a few that he has added. I might add that he is not adverse to also looking at some that are recommended to him. Then Dr McCarvill arrives in company with Luc. I assume that he narrows the list down even further. The ones that they REALLY like are then x-rayed and scoped. The last two years we were also privileged to have Monsieur Godin also lend his expertise to the process.
Stanley Franklin Dancer: A great horseman who knew exactly what he wanted. Usually in late spring I’d get a call from Stanley asking me which yearlings I liked and questions about the ones that he particularly was interested in. This was among the greatest compliments I could possibly receive. Imagine, one of the world’s great horsemen asking a shnook like me for advice? He’d come to the farms with a list of the few that he was interested in and would see them lead and look at them on the floor.
If he liked them, chances are that he would buy them or he would make someone pay dearly for the privilege of doing so. We also had a terrific personal relationship. Many were the times when I’ve broken bread with him away from the racetrack.
John Cashman Jr: John had as good an eye for a horse as anybody I have ever known. He was one of the exceedingly rare people who once he saw a horse it was usually embedded in his memory forever. He did not buy yearlings per se, but he was a great scout for those who did. If you put yourself in his hands, you would generally be getting good advice.
Harold Dancer, Sr.: Perhaps the most persnickety yearling buyer that I’ve ever observed. He would make several visits to the farms. On his first visit he might like several yearlings. As time went on, he would lower his list until he ended up with maybe one or two that he really liked. He’d keep looking at those over and over again. Eventually, he might find something minute that he didn’t like. More often than not, by the time the sale came, his list was down to zero. His favorite expression when looking at yearlings was “Look down before you look up”. He also had several absolute no-nos. Among them was he would immediately strike a bay horse that didn’t have black points and he wouldn’t even consider a horse that didn’t have a nice head. “I’m going to have to look at it every day” he would say.
Vernon Dancer: A great gentleman in every sense of the word. He’d come to the farms with a list of those in which he was interested. He quickly narrowed his list down to just a few. Then he would constantly perseverate on these few. “Which one of these two (or three) do you like best?” he would ask of me and I am sure others. “How much do you think it will bring?” My answer would sometimes be, “I don’t know.” “You have some idea,” he might respond. I would guess that more times than not, he would end up getting the ones that he wanted. One that he didn’t get that he dearly wanted and was the under bidder on was Bret Hanover. “I just ran out of ammunition” he said.
PET PEEVE OF THE WEEK
This is directed to the horse trainers who don’t do their due diligence and are being grossly negligent by not either going to the various farms pre-sale or getting someone you trust to do so. You are being grossly unfair to them and to yourself.