For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Black Beauty

Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel Black Beauty is one of the most popular books of all time. The modern day film adaptations were also wildly successful. Aside from energizing the animal welfare movement in nineteenth century England, the story inspired worldwide love for a black stallion. In the Standardbred world, where folks often split hairs when it comes to distinguishing colors, black is an outlier. Blacks don’t represent a large percentage of trotters and pacers, but have played a key role in the development of the breed, nonetheless.

The most important sire of the modern era is Meadow Skipper. He was brown, but his daddy, Hall of Famer Dale Frost, was black. He won the Geers and Meadow Lands Farm Stake at two and earned more than $200,000. But this black stallion, who was handled by Delvin Miller and Jimmy Arthur, made himself an immortal by siring Meadow Skipper. Other productive sons were Fulla Napoleon, Mountain Skipper and Goodnuff.

Tar Heel, a jet black stallion, came along three years earlier than Dale Frost. Lawrence Sheppard paid a record $125,000 for the Little Brown Jug winner as a three year-old. And unlike Dale Frost, who passed after breaking his leg at age 17, and left behind a small number of offspring, Tar Heel was a siring machine: Hanover got 27 crops out of him. Many of his get were homely as sin and sour as a lemon, but they knew how to win races.

His sons did not sire on; he had no Skipper. However, his legacy on the track is deep. Horse of the Year at two, three and four, Laverne Hanover, won the Fox, Little Brown Jug and Tattersalls Pace. He won 61 of 98 starts. The full brothers, Nansemond and Isle Of Wight, beat the mighty Albatross a combined eight times. And the former won the Jug. Keystone Pat, Otaro Hanover, Tar Boy and Sunnie Tar are a few of the others. And the coal black giant, Tarquinius, who took over the FFA division for a stretch in 1964, was another standout.

The Tar Heels changed over time; there’s a striking difference between Tarquinius, who was out of a Corporal Lee mare, and Laverne and Nansemond, both of whom were out of Adios mares. Bob Marks points out that the son of Billy Direct got a steady diet of trotting mares prior to the success of Steady Beau and Sly Yankee, while the Adios mares that followed gave him smaller, better gaited individuals.

Tar Heel’s daughters were responsible for the Triple Crown winner, Ralph Hanover, as well as Praised Dignity, In The Pocket, Colt Fortysix and Forrest Skipper. Tar Heel mares produced the top performer for most of the sires they were bred to. Adios’s top son, Bret Hanover; Dancer Hanover’s best, Romeo Hanover; and Columbia George’s best, Le Baron Rouge, are three examples.

Widower Creed was a top notch black FFA pacer for Howard Beissinger in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The son of Jimmy Creed did not distinguish himself as a sire, but he did produce Miss Creedabelle, the dam of Bret’s nemesis, Adios Vic.

Continentalvictory, the brilliant daughter of Valley Victory, who passed three months ago at age 22, was another black star. The last filly to win the Hambletonian, the Hall of Famer, earned $1.6 million, and took the Yonkers Trot and World Trotting Derby.

Scotland, the progenitor of Muscle Hill, via Rodney, Speedy Scot, Speedy Crown etc., was a black horse. As was his son Hoot Mon and that one’s daughter Hoot Song, the filly who beat the boys in the 1957 Yonkers Trot and finished second behind Hickory Smoke in the Hambletonian. Caleb, a black son of Hoot Mon, was second in the 1961 Hambletonian. Hoot Mon, who is one of three black horses to win the Hambletonian—Park Avenue Joe and Continentalvictory being the others—was the sire of Hambletonian winners AC’s Viking and Blaze Hanover, as well as Capetown, the sire of Overcall, and Thankful, the dam of Nevele Pride.

Earl Laird, Jimmy Cruise’s FFA project, who was chronically lame and didn’t race until age six, was black. The brave trotter won the Maple Leaf Classic, United Nations Trot and the American Classic. Flak Bait, a high-end son of Speedy Somolli, who took the 1985 Kentucky Futurity, was black. And Natural Herbie, who surprised everyone in last year’s International Trot Preview, and also won the Vincennes and Chip Noble, is also black.

The 1953 Horse of the Year, world record holder Hi Los Forbes, was black. As is Rock n Roll Heaven’s sophomore filly, Band Of Angels.

There are only three mainstream black sires in North America: hitting the reset button in Ontario, after an unsuccessful run in New York as a four year-old, Archangel sold out right away up North; Shadow Play was very successful in the Ontario Sire Stakes with his first crop, but ran up against Sportswriter last year; and Winning Mister stood in PA in 2013, made a four race comeback in the fall of that year, and is now apparently permanently retired to stud. The first two will certainly spread that black around. Our world gets more bay and brown every day. We need more ebony, more onyx, and more black beauty.

Joe FitzGerald

No comments: