The incredible tale of one of the greatest stallions in modern history.
by Murray Brown
Last week I wrote about the Yiddish term “beshert” as it applied to me as a person (full story here). Today, I will address it as it applied to one of the greatest breed-changing stallions in the history of our sport.
As I previously explained, beshert means pre-destined or meant to be.
I’ll start at the beginning, or as close to it as this sometimes failing memory allows me to.
Many years ago, Hanover Shoe Farms retained a number of its best-bred fillies to train and eventually enter its broodmare band.
This didn’t sit too well with its customers. The feeling, perhaps justifiably, was that Hanover was keeping what they thought were their best fillies and only offering to sell the leftovers.
One of the few good ideas I came up with in my years there was to offer ALL of the Farms’ fillies to the buying public.
The trick was to still be able to come up with some extra well-bred fillies to replenish the broodmare band.
The plan was to put together a group of well-bred fillies and pair each with a filly of reasonably comparable quality.
Each pair would enter the ring together. The winning bidder would have his choice of one of the two fillies. The one not chosen would remain the property of Hanover.
This, theoretically, would solve the dilemma. The Farms’ customers would have their choice of every filly being sold and Hanover would still be able to retain several choice fillies to become members of its broodmare band.
The plan created a great deal of interest and was very successful. It was abandoned when Hanover decided not to train any more yearling fillies and instead buy older mares either privately or at public auction and offer all of their fillies individually at auction.
In 1984, a member of one of the pairs was an Albatross filly by the name of Wendymae Hanover. She was chosen and purchased by Bill Perretti, if my memory serves me correctly, for the price of $425,000.
She was, as her price would indicate, absolutely drop dead gorgeous. Not only was she beautiful, but she could fly on the lead strip. She could pace alongside the lead pony faster than any lead pony we had could run.
There was very little doubt, at least in my mind, that she would be the filly of that pair chosen and bought.
She went into training.
There was a problem. Although she exhibited ability, she soon came down with a nagging respiratory problem. It wouldn’t go away.
So, they decided to turn her out and bring her back at 3. As a 3-year-old, her problem still persisted. She looked great, but she couldn’t get her air properly.
Mr. Perretti’s patience gave out and he decided to sell her.
He called John Simpson at Hanover. In his inimitable manner, Wild Bill told him that the filly Hanover had sold him was no good. They discussed (argued) price and I believe the number of $200,000 was arrived at. It wasn’t near what Perretti had paid, but was still a pretty darn good price for a non-record, coming 4-year-old filly with no earnings.
Mr. Simpson decided to put her into training and to try to get a record on her. She exhibited high speed but the breathing problem persisted and she wasn’t much of a race mare. She did take a time trial record of 1.56.2, which was pretty good for those days.
Back then, Hanover rarely bred to stallions that they didn’t stand. But they had bought a couple of shares in one of the greatest pure speed horses these eyes have ever seen — No Nukes.
The decision was made to breed Wendymae Hanover to No Nukes.
The resultant foal was a beautiful, dark, but medium small colt that they named Western Hanover.
Western Hanover grew into a beautiful yearling. His only blemish was a capped hock.
George Segal, accompanied by his trustful trainer and yearling picker, Gene Riegle, would visit Hanover, almost always, on the day after the Little Brown Jug to get a line on the Hanover offering right before the Kentucky sales.
Back then, Hanover had an airplane and Gene and George would hitch a ride with us to get an inkling of what we had to sell.
Bear in mind that the Hanover yearlings had just been in for a couple of weeks and were just barely civilized at the time.
But Riegle, arguably as good a yearling picker as there ever was, did not need a horse to look spit and polished to pick a good one out.
One of the remarkable things about Riegle that I found distinguished him from most other trainers was that there was no template that described what he would like in a yearling.
Although he was very picky, he could find horses big or small, short or tall that he liked or more often did not like.
Segal later told me that on the ride home that Riegle said to him words to the effect that, “Whatever you buy in Lexington, George, save some money for that little No Nukes colt at Hanover.” Segal then asked him, “What about the capped hock and isn’t he too small?”
Riegle said, “Don’t worry about either. He will be alright.”
Segal ended up buying him for $105,000. The underbidder was Alan Katz of the 3 Brothers Stable. If Katz would have got him, he would have been trained by Brett Pelling.
Western Hanover was shipped to Brittany farms before he went into training at Ben White Raceway in Orlando.
Art Zubrod told me that the first few times he was turned out in the paddock at Brittany, he cleared the fence. He didn’t run away. He just decided that he liked the grass on the other side better. He also did this the second and third times, even after he had been given a tranquilizer, before he got the idea that he was supposed to stay where he was.
When they bought Western, Zubrod had very much suspected that they had bought a great athlete. Now he knew it for sure.
Shortly afterwards, he was shipped to Riegle’s stable.
All winter long, Western Hanover was afflicted with the same problem that had affected his mother when she was a 2-year-old. He was mildly sick. Nothing serious. But it was a nagging respiratory problem that didn’t go away until the end of winter.
Consequently, he was brought along slowly.
He didn’t even qualify until early August. But that didn’t stop him from winning the richest and then most prestigious Canadian Stakes event for 2-year-olds, the Prix de l’Avenir at Blue Bonnets Raceway, the next week.
From that point forward, just about all he did was win. Despite the late start, he was still voted the freshman pacing colt of the year for 1991.
His 3-year-old season started somewhat the same way as his 2-year-old year ended. He was undoubtedly the best colt out there, but he was beset by misfortune in some of the big races. He didn’t win either the Meadowlands Pace nor the Little Brown Jug. He was still voted the sophomore pacing colt of the year for 1992.
When I think back to him, I sometimes think of this past year’s best 3-year-old pacer Bettors Wish. He was undoubtedly the best, but he didn’t win some of the big ones.
Let’s switch gears and return to the previous year — 1991.
The sport had a great trio of 3-year-old pacers in Artsplace, Die Laughing and Precious Bunny.
Artsplace was the most attractive, but he was all tied up. Segal had decided to stand him at Southwind Farms in New Jersey.
Precious Bunny lacked impressive 2-year-old credentials and was a son of BG’s Bunny who Mr. Simpson did not think that highly of.
That left Die Laughing, who seemingly had it all.
He was very good at both 2 and 3. He was a gorgeous colt. He was a son of No Nukes who was then as hot as a stallion could be and was from a great maternal family.
There was one problem, though. There was an ongoing feud between the Chasonoffs, the half owners of Die Laughing, and John Simpson. Marty Granoff owned the other half, but the Chasanoffs appeared to be the managing partners with Marty having little or no say.
It’s been so long that I don’t even remember the genesis of the feud. But there were definitely hard feelings involved.
Mr. Simpson said, “Jimmy (Simpson) and you can go see them and see if they are interested in working out a deal. I still don’t like them, but I won’t stand in the Farm’s way of getting a stallion that we can use.”
Jim Simpson and I went to visit with Mickey Chasanoff and his son Bobby at their building complex in Jericho Long Island.
We were well received and ironed out the beginnings of a deal that would have brought Die Laughing to Hanover.
A stallion contract was put together. I recall Bobby Chasanoff asking for a list of prospective broodmares that Hanover could breed to Die Laughing. I dutifully sent a list of about 50 mares to him.
Everything appeared to be set. Hanover Shoe Farms was going to be the home of Die Laughing. I recall getting a phone call from Marty Granoff. He was enthused. He said his dream was to have a horse worthy of standing at the greatest name in harness racing.
Then, at the last moment, the Chasanoffs put a wheel under us.
They wanted the right to reject any owner of a mare who for any reason that they did not like from breeding to Die Laughing.
Hanover’s response was, “That’s not the way we do business. Our job is to give the horse the best opportunity possible. We are not about to turn down a good mare or insult our reliable customers, because, for whatever reason, the Chasanoffs do not want us to book their mare to Die Laughing.”
The deal went down in flames.
We know the result. The horse went to stud at Fair Winds Farm in New Jersey. Through no fault of Fair Winds, he turned out to be an abject failure or pretty close to it.
Let’s now return to 1992. Paul E Spears, John Simpson’s successor as president of Hanover Shoe Farms, was at The Meadowlands a few days before that year’s Hambletonian.
I was with him when we were approached by George Segal, who asked us if we were free for lunch the next day.
He had something he wanted to discuss with us.
We met for lunch at Union Square Cafe in New York City.
Segal wanted Hanover to stand and syndicate Western Hanover. We needed a stallion, especially a son of No Nukes, although we had missed out on the one that we most really wanted.
We were interested.
Western Hanover finished the racing year quite well, although with a disappointing loss in the Little Brown Jug that really bothers me to this day.
The job now was to syndicate him and gather as good a group of mares for him as we possibly could.
That proved to be quite difficult.
Western Hanover was regarded as a very good horse, but few thought of him as being a great one.
The expectations were not that high.
A couple of the noted, self-proclaimed mavens of the day derisively referred to him as “Little Ralph”, comparing his future in the stud to the failure of Ralph Hanover.
The general frame of mind was that he’d be okay as a stallion, but not great.
To the public he was regarded as lacking that blazing speed that horses like his father No Nukes and maternal grandfather Albatross possessed.
The only person I remember who felt that the horse would become a great stallion was Hanover’s general manager Dr. Peter Boyce.
Boyce had been a huge fan of the horse from the time he was foaled. His confidence in him never wavered. He was sure that he’d become a great stallion.
Just about every commercial breeder and many mom and pop breeders were contacted about buying shares in Western Hanover. Only one single share was sold, that one to All American Harnessbreds. Everybody else passed.
The huge irony is that many of those breeders first approached, later bought shares in him for multiples of the original buying price.
Hanover and Segal realized that they had a problem.
They would support the horse, but that their support alone might not be enough.
The decision was made to stand him at the low stud fee of $4,000, a price that would be irresistible to some.
Even with that low stud fee, very few commercial breeders bred to him.
His book did fill. But for the most part, aside from Hanover and Brittany, it consisted of average mom and pop mares.
The only maiden mare he got from Hanover and maybe in his entire book was Rich N Elegant. That was before she became RICH N ELEGANT. She was a nice mare that we had bought through Bob Boni for $12,000.
From that mating of course came the top colt Rustler Hanover, sending both Western Hanover and Rich N Elegant on their respective ways to greatness.
From that point in time, Western Hanover was off and running and became one of the greatest sires the breed has ever known.
Do you think that isn’t bashert?
If Hanover had got Die Laughing, there is almost no chance that they would have stood Western Hanover.
We lost out on a horse that we really wanted, who to a great degree would have caused great harm to Hanover’s broodmare band and its reputation. Instead, we got our second choice who turned out to become one of the sport’s greatest all time sires.
That is beshert.
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