Tar Heel finds his footing as a stallion, Part 2

by Murray Brown

Part 1 is here.

“Johnny, the best thing you could do at Hanover is to make a gelding out of Tar Heel. I’ve trained a few and I don’t like them all, especially the fillies. They are bad gaited and nasty. They kick so hard that they can kick the stars out of heaven.”

Those were words spoken to John Simpson by Stanley Dancer after congratulating and wishing Simpson well on being made the general manager of Hanover Shoe Farms.

Dancer was not unique in expressing such views after the first few crops by Tar Heel had been to the various training centers and racetracks.

A few of the old timers at Hanover recalled George Sholty’s arrival at the Fairgrounds one fall morning. At the time, Hanover published its own yearling catalog with the yearlings in it arranged by sire. The first thing Sholty did after getting his book was to make a show of tearing out all the Tar Heel yearling pedigree pages and throwing them in the trash saying: “I don’t want to ever see or be around another one of them again.”

Sholty had trained a few Tar Heels and had bad experiences. He had one named Gar Hanover, who could go a little, but had the bad habit of falling down with Sholty in the bike. Little did Sholty know that before the next year was done, he would change his tune after becoming the regular driver behind Tarquinius and Bengazi Hanover.

The tale of Tar Heel at stud was that of two entirely different stallions. For his first five years, the majority of the mares he received were by trotting sires. The type of individuals generally produced by those matings were big, plain and coarse. They could often go fast, but their gaits were not the most desirable and their manners were often found to be lacking.

But that didn’t mean that they were no good, far from it. They showed promise from the get-go.

His first crop numbered only 17 foals. Fourteen of them were out of trotting-sired mares. They included stakes winner Nyland Hanover and the filly Sweetmite Hanover, his first of many fillies destined to become multiple stakes producing broodmares.

His second crop was much bigger and better. From just 31 foals, he produced such accomplished stakes performers as Tar Boy, Thorpe Hanover, O’Brien Hanover, Painter and the fast filly Traffic Lady. All of them from mares by trotting bred sires. Once again, the majority (19) were out of mares which were sired by trotters.

From afar, to this neophyte student of breeding, it appeared as though the management of Hanover were doing with Tar Heel what they had done with his sire Billy Direct. They were breeding him almost entirely to trotting-bred mares. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that the management just hadn’t replenished their pacing broodmare ranks.

His third crop numbered only 25. Once again, the mares were mostly trotting sired. Fifteen of the 25 were by trotting sires. They included the good colt Carloader and a pair of stakes fillies, Honick Rainbow and Brenna Hanover. Brenna Hanover, of course, was destined to become the dam of the great Bret Hanover.

The next crop numbered 33 and their dams were the first where pacers outnumbered trotters. Eighteen were out of pacing sired mares. They included the stakes colts Doc Hobbs and Chipmans Heel and one of the first very consequential horses out of a pacing bred mare, Romola Hanover, a mare who several, including this scribe, believe to be the greatest ever of all pacing broodmares. She was out of the Hal Dale mare Romola Hal. The first of a great paternal line, extending from Hal Dale himself, to Adios and Good Time, to excel after having been bred to Tar Heel.

A note about Romola Hanover: John Simpson, who trained her, believed her to have had more pure speed than any other horse that he had ever trained or sat behind. Unfortunately, her manners did not always correspond to her ability. She had the bad habit of sometimes laying down on the racetrack.

Crop number five numbered 34. They were equally divided at being out of pacing and trotting-sired mares. Included among them were the first of many 2:00 performers to come out of an Adios mare, the colt Tarport Jimmy, and, most importantly, the horse that many consider to have been Tar Heel’s greatest performer, the colt Tarquinius. To appreciate how great Tarquinius was, you had to see him in action. He was big and strong and fast, very, very fast. Sadly, we were never to realize how great Tarquinius really was as his life ended after undergoing intestinal surgery at Cornell in 1965.

Tar Heel’s foals of 1959 numbered 43, 23 of the mares were by pacers, only the second time that the pacers outnumbered the trotters. He had seven in 2:00, the most he had previously sired in a single season. Included were Gamecock, Emory Hanover, Buxton Hanover, Jeremiah Hanover, Mighty Tar Heel, Tarport Boy and the filly Ritzy Hanover.

Crop seven numbered 36, 24 out of pacing-sired mares. Included were the colts Steady Beau and Sly Yankee and the fillies Lady Heel and Lantana.

In the eighth crop were Bengazi Hanover, Newport Tarzan and the filly Sand Tart.

Tar Heel was to have 19 more crops of foals, yes 19, for a total of 27. Included in those numbers were Laverne Hanover, Nansemond, Kentucky, Isle of Wight, Otaro Hanover, Keystone Pat, Penn State and the ultra-fast filly Hazel Hanover.

All told, Tar Heel sired 1,368 foals equally divided between colts and fillies. His racetrack performers earned a total of $39,085,461.

This story would be incomplete if I were to not speak about Tar Heel, the horse and his remarkable and unique personality.

Tar Heel was a big, strong horse, but his nature did not match his stature. If one were to describe him with one word, that word might be “wuss.” For a big, strong, manly horse, he was somewhat of a sissy. 

He was great around people and especially appreciative of treats. He was especially glad to be given mints. But one had to be careful in giving treats to any of the studs. Mr. Simpson hated the practice, believing that it encouraged bad behavior and sometimes led to injury to the stallions.

There was one group of people that Tar Heel hated. He was able to instinctively smell them out. They were veterinarians and especially Hanover’s resident vet Dr. Garner Greenhoff, as nice and sweet a man as has ever been this scribe’s pleasure to know. But Tar Heel did not think so. The term “smell” might be very literal. Dr. Greenhoff might be just around the corner and Tar Heel would know he was coming, quickly retreating to the far corner of his spacious stall.

In the breeding shed, Tar Heel was very fertile. Each ejaculate would produce upwards of 200 ccs of the highest quality semen, which would live for as much as three or four days after collection. Although his semen was of the highest quality, being able to collect it might be somewhat of a challenge. He was extremely picky of the mares which he was to service. Several mares in heat were brought to the shed and Tar Heel would search them out and pick the one he wanted. Occasionally there were none that matched his needs and that day would result in his not being collected.

He was also a wuss in the breeding shed. This scribe remembers one day when there was a gray mare in the shed. She so frightened Tar Heel that he wasn’t able to be collected for the remainder of the week. From that point on, gray mares were to be kept out of Tar Heel’s sight on breeding days.

Next week: Tar Heel as a broodmare sire and his influence on the breed.