The making of Western Hanover, Part 2
by Murray Brown
Part 1 is here.
Western Hanover grew to become the type of yearling that Dr. Peter Boyce and everybody else at Hanover Shoe Farms thought he might become. He was stunning — not perfect, but stunning nonetheless.
He had the capped hock that I believe had been part of him all his life. He wasn’t the biggest colt, but I would disagree with anyone who would consider him to be too small. He might not have been especially tall, but what there was of him was sturdy and strong. He had a certain elan about him. You might refer to it as a swagger. It was almost as though he knew he was special and was telling everyone that he was.
He was placed in String A at the Hanover Fairgrounds and placed in Row A in Harrisburg. The folks at Hanover thought he was their best pacing colt and wanted everyone to look at him.
His caretaker was Dennis King who for many years took care of the top string of pacing colts.
A young and beautiful (she still is) Dr. Patty Hogan, then 25 and in her third year of vet school at the University of Pennsylvania, was a part-time worker at Hanover. She helped farm manager Dr. Boyce in a variety of ways, including showing the yearlings on Row A at Harrisburg.
Now a world renowned equine veterinary surgeon, Dr. Hogan says this about her part-time pupil Western Hanover: “His conformation was absolutely perfect. He was a gorgeous specimen and had a great mind for a yearling.”
Nevertheless, not everybody liked him. There were some that told Hogan, “He’s too small. Put him away.”
The Harrisburg Hanover yearlings were normally brought to the Fairgrounds at or around the week after Labor Day. At that time, they weren’t even broke to halter. They were a wild lot, but it wouldn’t take too long for them to become civilized.
It was the custom of George Segal to come to Hanover with his trainer Gene Riegle to get a preview of the yearlings and to evaluate the Farms’ yearlings before he spent his money in Kentucky. The visit usually took place the day after the Little Brown Jug. They would hitch a ride on the Hanover plane and come see the yearlings.
Riegle evaluated the yearlings that they might be interested in, even though they didn’t look near as good as they would a month or so down the road. He was nevertheless Gene Riegle, arguably the best “yearling picker” the sport has ever known.
Riegle did not need to look at one for long. About a minute or so was the norm. He did not say much, but Segal would sometimes venture an opinion, which often was “too small.” I cannot guarantee that he said that about Western Hanover, but I would wager that he did.
I would later learn from speaking with Segal that Riegle told him to buy whatever he liked in Kentucky, but to be sure to save enough money to buy that No Nukes colt at Hanover.
Overall, one would say that Western Hanover was quite popular with the buyers. However, there were more than a few who said, “too small” or “I’m afraid of that capped hock.” Of the former, I might agree with those who like a big, strapping colt. Western Hanover was definitely not that. But he was correct and acted as though he thought he was big. Of the latter, regarding the capped hock, I would say one word: Nonsense.
I’ve been in this business 66 years and have seen literally thousands of horses, albeit only a few that had a capped hock. I’ve been exposed to some of the greatest horses and horsepeople of most of the last century. Never have I heard of a horse having issues due to a capped hock.
Segal went about his business at Lexington. He bought a few yearlings including a pair of pacing colts.
In Harrisburg, Hogan showed Western Hanover to many prospective buyers. Most liked him. Some did not.
The two folks that apparently liked him the most were two of the greatest horsemen of recent times —Riegle and Brett Pelling.
Riegle on behalf of Segal and Pelling for the account of Alan Katz of the Three Brothers Stable. Katz bid $100,000. Segal went to $105,000 and bought Western Hanover. I don’t know this for a fact, but I would guess that Segal might have gone much further if he had to.
Western Hanover was initially shipped to Riegle’s headquarters in Greenville, OH. Bruce Riegle, Gene’s son remembers the first time he saw Western Hanover. He was at Greenville supervising the feed for the almost 60 head they had there. His dad said, “Come see the colt I bought at Harrisburg. I think he’ll become a champion.” Yes, Gene said that about a colt who had never even seen a harness. He didn’t normally say things like that. But he was not often wrong.
Bruce thought Western was beautiful, but like some others he thought he might have been a little small — especially for $105,000. It would be a month before they would be going to Florida. Bruce suggested they ship Western Hanover to Segal’s Brittany Farms in Kentucky for some R and R before shipping to Ben White Raceway in Orlando. When he was first put in a paddock at Brittany, he jumped over the fence. After he was retrieved, he did it again.
“I knew right then that George had bought an athlete,” said Brittany manager Art Zubrod.
After about a month in Kentucky, Western Hanover was shipped to Orlando where he encountered a problem. Much like his dam, Wendymae Hanover, Western Hanover was affected with respiratory issues. Bruce recalls him not even being in their top set for most of the winter. But Gene never changed his opinion on him. Western Hanover was going to become a champion. He was nursed along until springtime when his respiratory problems finally were resolved.
He was brought along until early August where he made his first start in a qualifier at The Meadowlands. He won that quite easily and looked good enough to be shipped to Montreal to race in the Prix de l’Avenir at Blue Bonnets. He won that race and went on to eight wins in 14 starts, with earnings of $697,332 at 2.
Bruce remembers his dad warming him up for the Breeders Crown at Garden State Park. Gene went three trips with him. Bruce could tell he was really smoking in the last one. He asked his dad how fast he had gone. The response was 2:04, last quarter in :27.
“He’s ready,” Gene said.
He took his 2-year-old record of 2:00.4 in winning that race.
He was voted Two Year Old Pacer of the Year of 1991. Just think of that, a colt that didn’t start racing until August becoming the divisional champion. He is not the only one to do it. It actually happened this past year with Volume Eight becoming the Two Year Old Trotter of 2022. But one would be safe in saying that it is far from a normal occurrence.
At 3, Western Hanover was looking to repeat his feats from the previous year. One would not be wrong to say that he succeeded, perhaps even beyond that. He won 19 of 28 starts earning $1,844,315 on his way to being voted the Three Year Old Pacer of the Year for 1992.
He won numerous Grand Circuit and classics events including the Messenger and the Cane. Unfortunately it was the two races that he didn’t win which some people remembered him most — The Meadowlands Pace and The Little Brown Jug.
In the Meadowlands Pace he won his elimination impressively and was the favorite for the final. He was run into in the final, eliminating all his chances. In the Jug, he won the first heat and lost the final by the slimmest of noses. There were many who thought he was the best colt that day. But Bill Fahy may have forgotten a maxim about Delaware, OH. If you are the best, don’t let anyone go.
Midway through his 3-year-old season Segal began thinking of places where to stand his champion colt. Before we enter that realm, we need to go back several months in time.
Hanover Shoe Farms were in the market for a quality son of No Nukes to add to its stud barn. They had entered into a gentlemen’s agreement with Mickey Chasanoff, who with his brother Allan owned half of the top pacing colt Die Laughing together with Marty Granoff. Right before the final papers were signed, the Chasanoffs “put a wheel” under the deal. They came up with a clause with which the folks at Hanover could not live. The agreement subsequently blew up.
Segal’s first thought as to where to stand his No Nukes colt went directly to Hanover Shoe Farms. He contacted Paul E. Spears and yours truly. We met him for lunch at the Union Square Cafe in Manhattan. The terms of an agreement were ironed out. Western Hanover was to be syndicated to stand at Hanover Shoe Farms beginning with his 4-year-old season. The agreed-upon syndication price was to be $2.5 million.
In addition to Hanover and Brittany’s interests in the horse, shares were to be offered to all the leading commercial breeders in North America.
One would think that it would have been quite easy to syndicate a horse who had been the leading horse of his age and gait at both 2 and 3 for what the principals believed to be a most reasonable price. That was not the case. Shares were offered to virtually all of the leading breeders in North America.
With the exception of one share purchased by All American Standardbreds, no one else was interested. Had we miscalculated the horse’s value? This scribe does not believe that. Rather, I believe that Western Hanover was the subject of a campaign of derision by some who referred to him as “Little Ralph,” a reference to Ralph Hanover who was also a great 3-year-old pacer, but who failed miserably in the stud arena. The implication was that Western was to be doomed to the same result as befell Ralph Hanover.
To be continued.