Search

Born to Trot

June 09, 1958
June 09, 1958

Table of Contents
June 9, 1958

The Fatal Gamble
Spectacle
Designing Women
U.S. Open
Tip From The Top
Horse Racing
Baseball
Boxing
Trotting
Lady Liz
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over
Acknowledgments
Pat On The Back

Born to Trot

Breeding tells in a baby foal who will one day be hitched to a sulky and test his graceful gait against other trotters

The little fellowon the opposite page is only a month old. Already, however, in the carelessinnocence of infancy, he is rehearsing his role in life and, in a sense,demonstrating one of man's triumphs over nature. Clearly, he is on the trot, agait innate to him through generations of careful breeding of his ancestors forthe purpose of pitting him against other trotters in races.

This is an article from the June 9, 1958 issue Original Layout

This breeding hasnow made it a commonplace for youngsters like him to be seen trotting or pacing(another racing gait) alongside their dams in open pasture. And nowhere is thisphenomenon more evident than at the locale of these pictures—the verdant,rolling 2,000 acres of Hanover Shoe Farm, largest horse-breeding establishmentin the nation and one devoted solely to the trotting and pacing standardbredhorse.

Eleven miles northof the Mason-Dixon line, in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country ofshnits an' nep and shoofly pie and a long stone's throw from PresidentEisenhower's acreage, Hanover is remarkable for its clean, fresh beauty even inthis area of traditionally well-kept farms. Twenty-five miles of fence,requiring 20,000 gallons of whitewash for a single annual coat, surround andcrisscross the farm into 40 paddocks to accommodate a horse population thatruns as high as 900 in May, as low as 500 in December and averaged 745 all lastyear. Indoors, these sucklings, yearlings, mares and stallions are bedded downin 700 stalls in 40 barns and on 1,000 tons of straw—where last year they ate50,000 bushels of oats and 1,200 tons of hay. Each year, too, it takes 300 tonsof lime and 140 tons of fertilizer to keep their lush, bluegrass pastures greenand growing.

All in all,obviously a huge operation. Yet Hanover's glory is not the quantity ofhorseflesh produced, but its quality. The records of the sport of harnessracing would be empty ledgers if the speed and money-won marks set by Hanoversires and their progeny were erased. A look at the results of last season'sHambletonian and Little Brown Jug—the two top harness classics—is enough todemonstrate this dominance. Horses sired by Hanover stallions won $91,479 ofthe Hambletonian's net purse of $108,903. And practically all of the remainderwas won by trotting sons of Hanover-bred stallions. Hanover-sired pacers wonmore than $68,000 of the $73,000 Little Brown Jug purse; the first seven horsesin the final summary were by Hanover sires. All heat winners in both races(Hickory Smoke and Hoot Song in the Hambletonian, Torpid and Meadowlands in theJug) were by Hanover sires: respectively, Titan Hanover, Hoot Mon, Knight Dreamand Adios.

At this stage ofthe current season there are three logical favorites in the 1958 Jug, to beraced September 18: Painter, Thorpe Hanover and Raider Frost. All three are byHanover sires, the first two by Tar Heel, the last by Adios.

There are threefavorites in the 1958 Hambletonian, to be raced August 27: Mix Hanover, GangAwa and Sharpshooter. The first two are by Hanover's Hoot Mon, who won theHambletonian in 1947 in 2:00 (still the record for this event) and who hasalready sired two Hambletonian winners. Sharpshooter is by Castleton's WorthyBoy out of—no surprise—Muriel Hanover.

This kind of thinghas been going on ever since the farm was founded in 1926. A typical year,1955, saw Hanover-bred colts and fillies win 2,700 races and $3,900,000 fortheir owners. It is little wonder that the owners and trainers of all the largetrotting stables, and many of the smaller ones, too, make it their business tobe in Harrisburg, Pa. in mid-November, when Hanover sells its annual crop ofyearlings. Since 1926 the farm has sold 1,910 yearling trotters and pacers—for$5,367,290.

The manresponsible for all these impressive statistics is a smallish, Crosby-eared60-year-old named Lawrence Baker Sheppard. His portrait on the opposite page isa true one in the sense that it shows him with cigaret in hand, coatless andopen-collared and with horses near by. These are details—especially thelast—which are essential to Sheppard's comfort and well-being, and which arenot always available to him through the daily demands of a busy schedule. Inaddition to owning the farm and directing its myriad activities, Sheppard ispresident of the $12-million-asset Hanover Shoe manufacturing and retailingcompany, was for eight years (until just a few months ago) president of theU.S. Trotting Association and is still one of its directors, and participatesin a host of other business and philanthropic affairs including a bank, anewspaper and a hospital. But horses, and trotting horses in particular, havebeen the abiding interest in his life since childhood.

At 16, already aveteran of the saddle and the sulky, he went out to Wyoming where he got a jobcaring for a string of 10 animal-; used to carry tourists through theYellowstone wilderness. For two happy years the young Sheppard enjoyed the lifeof a $3-a-day horse wrangler and guide, and he left it for a reason whollytypical of the man and his love for the outdoors. One day in 1915 he sat hishorse on a peak overlooking the meeting of the north and south forks of theShoshone River and looked down on the first automobiles driving up the roadtoward Yellowstone. They had never been allowed there before. As he recalls itnow: "It made me sick to see cars being driven into that wonderful virginland. I turned away and never went back. I'll always remember Yellowstone as itwas on horseback."

The Sheppards hadalways owned and raced trotters, and starting the farm was a natural extensionof this interest. Lawrence was an original participant in the venture, with hisfather and C. N. Myers, longtime friend and business associate of the family.With the passing of both his partners, he became sole owner, and is chieflyresponsible for assembling the farm's present vast acreage and the 11 premierstallions and 200 brood mares which have made it so successful. For years, too,he was an active amateur driver; in 1937, he drove Dean Hanover to victory in athree-heat trotting race in 2:00¼, 2:00¾ and 2:00¾, a world record that stillstands. In the same year Sheppard's 11-year-old daughter Alma drove Dean to his3-year-old mile mark of 1:58½, a feat that may never be duplicated, or evenattempted, again.

Sheppard'sstewardship of the USTA covered the recent years of trotting's explosive growthand saw him and the sport itself often the subject of violent publiccontroversy. This was nearly always the result of that growth: conflict betweenthe new and the traditional in trotting as it was swiftly transformed from arural pastime into a vehicle for public parimutuel betting. Sheppard is apatient, generous man, apparently ideal for bringing together and conciliatingopposing viewpoints, and he seldom replied to the critics who accused him ofruling the sport like a czar—behavior impossibly alien to his character. But heis also a stubborn man, unyielding in determination to preserve thelong-established conduct of harness racing. He stuck to his guns and wouldstill be manning them if the demands on his time and health hadn't forced himto quit this year. But it is also true that he had already won most of thecrucial battles; the rules he fought to preserve still govern the sport today.And it may well be that their perpetuation will be a more valued memorial tothe man than all of Hanover's bloodlines.

Still aninveterate race fan, Sheppard rarely misses a big event—never a classic likethe Hambletonian. You won't find him, however, in the box seat reserved forhim. Look for a slight, shirtsleeved figure in the group of grooms and horsetrainers on the edge of the track near the paddock drawgate. There, coveredwith dust or mud depending on the weather, and in the company of the men whoselanguage he talks and whose love of a sport he deeply shares, he'll be watchingthe big race. Chances are he'll be watching another Hanover colt come homefirst.

PHOTOJOHN G. ZIMMERMANFRESH BEAUTY of Hanover's pastures and paddocks shows in this partial aerial view.PHOTOJOHN G. ZIMMERMANYOUTHFUL TROTTER exhibits the gait that may bring him fame when he is full-grown.PHOTOJOHN G. ZIMMERMANHANOVER'S MASTER, lean, leathery Lawrence Sheppard perches on one of paddock fences that crisscross farm.