The History of Hanover - Part 1

H arper D. Sheppard and Clinton N. Myers, who had rescued the Hanover Shoe Company from oblivion, had no grandiose plans when they formed the Hanover Shoe Stables in the early 1900s. Buy or breed a few standardbreds, race them on the Pennsylvania Fair Circuit, maybe send a colt on to the Grand Circuit if one of that caliber came along. It remained for Sheppard's son, Lawrence Baker Sheppard, a junior partner in the venture to supply the drive, the fire, the vision, to transform the stables into the Hanover Shoe Farms, the world's leading and largest standardbred breeding establishment. The transformation began in 1922. The elder Sheppard and Myers took a vacation at the same time, leaving Lawrence in charge of their racing interests. When they returned, their barn was empty. Lawrence had sold the lot of their horses.

Young Sheppard was directed to reconstruct the stable. And he did, replacing Hanover's modest, mediocre stock with some of the finest racehorses of the era, Baron Worthy and Peter Manning among them. But it was in 1926, when Lawrence Sheppard boldly bought a 69-horse package from the estate of A.B. Coxe, that Hanover truly burst upon the national scene. In one fell swoop, the stable became "the largest combined breeding and racing establishment in the world," according to Trotter and Pacer, a leading racing journal of the day.

For the next 32 years, Lawrence Sheppard was hell-bent to keep Hanover in that lofty position. He got no argument from the woman he married, a San Antonio belle named Charlotte Cassin Newton, who shared his great love of horses. And his constant quest for excellence was certainly part and parcel of John F. Simpson, an incredibly successful young horseman whom Sheppard had chosen as his successor at the helm of Hanover.

Only Lawrence Sheppard had possessed the foresight and the derring-do to buy the Coxe horses en masse. The $150,000 price tag was staggering for the period, but his father told him flatly, "Young man, you will never do a better bit of business than you have done today." Included in the package were some of the best stallions, broodmares, yearlings and young racehorses of the era.

Hanover's lone all-purpose barn was hardly adequate to house the Coxe horses, however, and expansion was imperative. Soon there were a stallion barn, three broodmare barns, and dozens of paddocks and pastures spread across some 600 acres of rich and rolling Southeastern Pennsylvania farmland. Hanover's never-ending growth was under way.

But the Shoe Farms' debut in the sales arena was hardly a harbinger of what was to come. Consignments of six yearlings were sent to the sales in both 1926 and 1927, and they averaged but $253 and $225 respectively. In 1928, no yearlings were offered for public sale. The sparse crop, mostly fillies, was kept by the Farms and turned over to Tom Berry for racing.

One of the youngsters from the Class of'28 was Hanover's Bertha, a Peter Volo daughter out of Miss Bertha Dillon (Miss Bertha Dillon was one of the top prizes in the Coxe package and a vital key in Hanover's subsequent success). Hanover's Bertha not only presented the Shoe Farms with their first Hambletonian and Kentucky Futurity victories, but with working capital and sorely needed publicity as well.

Despite that welcome notoriety - and the fact that Calumet Chuck and Mr. McElwyn were added to the Hanover stallion team - colt sales remained undistinguished as the Great Depression settled across the land. In 1933, however, the Farms eamed headlines when it sold Lawrence Hanover, a full brother to Hanover's Bertha, at auction for a dazzling $6,800.

H anover's annual yearling consignments had grown to as many as 48 head by 1934, although the 1935 group totaled only 34. Among them, however, was a youngster called Dean Hanover from the final crop of Dillon Axworthy. And Dean Hanover's impact upon the sport of harness racing would be profound.

The colt went to amateur reinsman H. Stacy Smith on his high bid of $410. Lawrence Sheppard longed to have the colt back about the time that Smith was changing his name to Mr. Watt and sending him on to a sensational early career at the races. Sheppard declined one opportunity to retrieve him for $6,000, only to pay $20,000 for the young trotter in 1937. But Dean Hanover, with his original name restored by Sheppard, would have been a bargain at any price.

Hanover trainer Henry Thomas handled Dean through most of his remaining races, although an unlikely candidate was in the sulky during his most memorable performance. Alma Sheppard, petite and precocious 11-year-old daughter of Lawrence and Charlotte Sheppard, drove him to a 1:58 1/2 time trial at Lexington late in 1937. It was the fastest trotting mile ever by a woman driver, still on the books 30 years later.

Dean Hanover was easily Lawrence Sheppard's all-time favorite - "There has never been another like him and there never will . . ." - and his influence upon standardbred breeding continues to the present.

T he late 1930's were big and busy years for Lawrence Sheppard and the Hanover Shoe Farms. Sheppard not only headed the Farms, but the Hanover Shoe Company as well. And he was also involved in a myriad of community projects, carrying on a tradition started by his father and Clinton Myers.

The long and dreary depression, which had diminished harness racing and everything else in its path, was grinding to a halt. Hanover's yearlings, from such sires as Calumet Chuck, Guy McKinney, Peter The Brewer, and Mr. McElwyn, averaged $1,113 at auction in 1937, $1,130 in 1938, and $1,327 in 1939.

Racing also received a much-needed shot in the arm in late 1938, when standardbreds named Billy Direct and Greyhound
commandeered the public's interest with mind-boggling miles at Lexington. Billy Direct, with Vic Fleming driving paced a mile in 1:55 against the clock. The very next afternoon,Greyhound, racing's immortal "Grey Ghost," trotted a 1:55 1/4 time trial for Sep Palin.  Both records would stand for decades.

No one was more captivated by the performances than Lawrence Sheppard. As a practical matter, he was more interested in Billy Direct. Greyhound was a gelding; Billy a stallion, a fine sire prospect. He wheeled and dealed with the horse's owner and his lessee, finally getting a commitment to move him to Hanover. Eventually he bought the stallion outright, giving Hanover its first pacing sire.

Billy Direct's stallion career was to be short but glittering. He died of heart failure in 1947 at the age of 13, but not before siring 186 offspring. His daughters became some of the most valuable broodmares in the industry. Sixty-one of his sons went on to stallion careers of their own. One of them was Tar Heel, a pacing sire who would be instrumental in keeping Hanover at the top of the breeding mountain.

Harness racing's escape from the doldrums was all too brief. America was soon forced into World War II, and racing, like every other sport, slowed to a jog as the nation's young men traded jeans and pegged pants for uniforms of olive drab and navy blue.

O ne of them was John F. Simpson, a young, third generation horseman out of Chester, South Carolina, whose budding career was interrupted in 1942. Simpson had been doing well - he was the youngest man ever to drive a two- minute mile - and he wondered whether that prosperity would continue when the war ended and a host of talented trainers were freed to compete for owners and horses.

He needn't have worried. By the late 1940's, he was embarked upon a racing journey that would net him 1,467 victories, 92 two-minute drives, and $4,717,021 in purses before it was over. The horses he would develop would include Bullet Hanover, Ayres, Torpid, Thor Hanover, Timothy T, and Hickory Smoke. The classic races he would win would fill a book. And a berth in harness racing's Living Hall of Fame was awaiting him.

Lawrence Sheppard was only one of several top owners who had noticed the rising young star. But Sheppard was more persistent than the rest. In 1951 he hired Simpson as general manager of both Hanover's racing and breeding interests, with the firm understanding that his new 31-year-old executive would retire from racing and settle at the Farms when Sheppard deemed it necessary.

Lawrence Sheppard, as always, was wrapped up in a wide variety of interests - they included the presidency of the U. S. Trotting Association - and was looking ahead to the day when he could shed some of his responsibilities. Simpson agreed to the demand, but hoped that day was well into the future. He simply enjoyed racing, particularly colt racing, too much to give it up.

W hen John Simpson joined the Hanover team, he was enlisting in an organization that had grown like an enlightened, controlled Topsy over the years. There were barns, paddocks and pastures enough to house more than 750 horses. And there was more of everything on the way.

Sheppard and Simpson were agreed that Tar Heel and Solicitor, co-holders of the 1:57.2 world record for 3-year-old pacers, were the most promising stallion prospects in the land in 1951. The pair of pacers, part of the W. N. Reynolds Estate, were due to be sold at auction in Harrisburg, and Sheppard decided to buy both.

At first it was felt both pacers could be secured for a total of $125,000. But Clinton Myers, still a Shoe Farms partner in 1951 (Harper Sheppard had died earlier that year), advised Sheppard to purchase the pair "whatever the cost." Sheppard, grumbling all the way, had to pay $125,000 for Tar Heel and $100,000 for Solicitor, shattering records for prices paid at auction.

Simpson raced both pacers successfully in 1952, but it was clear Hanover was more interested in their success in the stallion barn. Solicitor's stud career was solid if unspectacular, with the famed Overtrick his greatest claim to breeding fame. Tar Heel's career soared to heights that neither Sheppard nor Simpson could have envisioned.

Through 1977, Tar Heel's children had earned more than $27,000,000, a high mark for the sport by far. One hundred ten of them had taken two-minute records, also a milestone. One hundred thirty five of his sons had become stallions themselves, while his daughters were - and are - among the most treasured broodmares in the industry. And, in 1978, Tar Heel was still turning out champions, still standing at Hanover, still commanding one of the highest stud fees in racing.

L awrence Sheppard was hardly infallible, never claimed to be, and proved it on two occasions when he entertained offers to sell Star's Pride, a trotter he co-owned with E. Roland Harriman. Thankfully for Hanover, the prospective buyers did not meet his price and the son of Worthy Boy wound up at the Shoe Farms, where he proceeded to prove himself the most illustrious trotting stallion the world has known (with 38 trotting youngsters on the two-minute list).

With Tar Heel and Star's Pride under the Hanover roof, Sheppard possessed awesome breeding power at both gaits. But still he wasn't satisfied. John Simpson had convinced him that the Shoe Farms needed Adios, Delvin Miller's dazzling young Hal Dale son, and he set out to land him. The price was steep - the steepest ever at $500,000 - but Sheppard recovered some of those funds by selling one-third interests back to Miller and to fellow Pennsylvania breeder Max Hempt.

Hanover's fortunes, climbing slowly but steadily since the close of the war, suddenly took wings as the products of its new super-sires began to hit the racetracks. Its yearling average topped $5,000 for the first time in 1955. It sailed past $6,000 in 1958. It exceeded $9,000 in 1960, and pushed past $10,000 - a milestone - in 1965.

O ff the handsome Hanover assembly line came champions and classic stakes winners called Diller Hanover, Blaze Hanover, Bullet Hanover, Muncy Hanover, Romeo Hanover, Laverne Hanover, Delmonica Hanover, Ayres, and Japa. And when Hanover itself - or the Sheppard or Simpson families - did not breed them, Hanover's stallions were producing the Adios Harrys, Adios Butlers, Emily Prides, Kerry Ways, Armbro Flights, Nevele Prides, Lindy's Prides, Super Bowls, Savoirs, Steve Lobells and Timothy T's for other breeders.

Only Lawrence Sheppard's failing health kept him from being the totally happy man. It was late in 1964 when Sheppard delivered the ultimatum to John Simpson: Come up and actually run the Shoe Farms or they would be sold upon Sheppard's death. Simpson, shaken, reluctantly agreed, moving his family (wife Helen and four red-headed youngsters) up to Hanover.

Over the next three years, Simpson gently transferred the racing stable to his son, John Jr., whose apprenticeship under the master was nearly complete. Young John, followed later by his younger brother, Jim, was completing his racing education, while his father was learning the intricacies of running the world's leading standardbred breeding operation on a day-to-day basis.

John Sr. was growing accustomed to his new post, when, on February 26, 1968, Lawrence Baker Sheppard died at age 70. Sheppard, probably the single most important figure in the history of harness racing, had been failing for three years, a victim of congestive heart failure and emphysema. Had he lived eight months longer, he would have witnessed Hanover's first $3 million yearling sale, with 177 of the Farms' youngsters bringing $3,222,200.

His death left John F. Simpson Sr. as president and general manager of the Shoe Farms, and Sheppard's widow, Charlotte, the only woman to breed and own a Triple Crown champion (Ayres), as chairman of the board. The harness racing world waited to see whether the new regime would possess the courage and flair of the scrappy, gambling man who had guided Hanover's fortunes for so long. The answer wasn't long in coming.

S impson made his first major move in late 1968, acquiring, the potent young pacer Best of All. In 1970, he added two more champions to the stallion roster-Columbia George, the ultra-game son of Good Time, and Steady Star, whose 1:52 time trial (free-legged) had made him the swiftest harness horse of all time. Two years later, Simpson and Hanover rounded up another pair of sparkling prospects who may well turn out to be "the franchise" in future years-trotter Super Bowl and pacer Albatross.

The early crops of Super Bowl and Albatross created a sensation when they arrived at the races, firmly placing their sires at or near the top of every breeding category. Unbelievably, more than half of Albatross' initial crop of 84 cracked 2:05. . .25 percent paced in two minutes or better. . .and one, B.G.'s Bunny, lowered the world record for sophomores to 1:54.

That instant success propelled colt buyers into paying an average of $32,673 for 26 sons and daughters of Super Bowl at the Harrisburg sale in 1977, while 45 offspring of Albatross averaged a staggering $41,767!

Two more stallions were added to the Hanover list in 1977. Warm Breeze, who arrived with history's fastest race mile (1:53.1) on his record, and Songflori, who had time trialed in 1:55.1.

The two were joining a glittering team that included Tar Heel, Star's Pride, Albatross, Super Bowl, Ayres, Best Of All, Bullet Hanover, Columbia George, Steady Star, Hickory Smoke and Speedy Count.

K eeping the Hanover Shoe Farms head and withers above all rivals has meant considerably more than merely adding a stallion or two every couple of years. Broodmares make the breeding game go 'round, too, and no one knows that any better than John Simpson.

Lawrence Sheppard was always game enough to pay princely sums for promising sires, but never grew accustomed to
meeting the steadily rising prices affixed to well bred mares in later years. His reasoning was simple: A stallion could produce 50, 75, even 100 sons and daughters each year; a broodmare, at best, only one. He paid the big price when he had to, but he growled about it every time.

John Simpson resigned himself to the inflationary spiral early on, and never strayed from his avowed goal of maintaining the Hanover broodmare flock as the best in the world, whatever the cost. "No breeding farm is going to reach the top, or remain on top, unless it consistently strives to improve its band of mares," he told an interviewer.

It has cost the Shoe Farms millions of dollars in the past decade to continue its edge in the broodmare derby. Nearly 250 new proven producers and top race fillies have joined the star-studded cast during the period. At the same time, more than 200 have been trimmed from the flock-mares that were valuable additions to most farms, but simply did not meet Hanover standards. "It's been an expensive shuffle," says Simpson, "but the results have made it all worthwhile."

One broodmare who escaped even the most remote possibility of banishment is the venerable Romola Hanover, who rather symbolizes the Hanover name as it is known throughout the world. Bred by Hanover, owned by Lawrence Sheppard, raced by John Simpson, then retired to broodmare service at the Shoe Farms, she is easily the greatest equine producer ever known. Romola's foals have won in excess of $2,300,000, a record for mares of any breed. Her offspring included Romeo Hanover (1:56.1f, $685,505), Romulus Hanover (1:57.1f, $485,000), Romalie Hanover (1:57.3f, $394,385) and Dexter Hanover (1:58.3, $329,050), among other two-minute performers. And she was still hale and hearty in the late 1970s, still sending yearlings to the sales.

I n a little more than 50 years, the Hanover Shoe Farms have grown from a single building on limited acreage on the southeastern limits of Hanover, Pennsylvania, to a conglomerate of 27 farms, 3,000 acres, 1,200 horses at the peak season, 40 barns, 35 houses and apartments, and more than 100 employees.

The first offering of six Hanover yearlings sent to auction in 1926 grossed $1,518, an average of $253. The 1977 collection of 159 youngsters - royally bred trotters and pacers all - brought a record-smashing $4,703,100, or $29,579 per yearling.

Methods and materials used at the Shoe Farms today, from breeding to bedding, from feed to fencing, are as modern as tomorrow.

Dramatic change and a penchant for progress, in fact, have been hallmarks of Hanover throughout the past half-century. In every area, in every department, in every way, that is, save one. Hanover was built upon love and dedication--Lawrence Sheppard's everlasting love of the standardbred horse and his unwavering dedication to the art of bettering the breed. That hasn't changed at all. Not an iota.

Sheppard's adoration of the standardbred and his pursuit of excellence is totally shared by John Simpson, his successor. But, then,who had selected Simpson? Who had gauged him as Hanover material, then courted and enlisted him? Who had passed him the mantle and the torch? Who but Lawrence Sheppard?

That same emotion, that same sense of mission, was also shared by Charlotte Sheppard and by Paul Spears, and now by
Jim Simpson . . . and every member of the Hanover staff. It's a spirit, an aura, a feeling, that pervades every office, every barn, every paddock, every pasture.

You may find a handsomer, a prettier standardbred farm somewhere.
You will not find a better one.