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Hot To Trot
Demmie Stathoplos
September 15, 1986
Manfred Hanover is the Don Juan of the harness racing circuit, wooing fans at the racetrack and mares in the breeding shed
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September 15, 1986

Hot To Trot

Manfred Hanover is the Don Juan of the harness racing circuit, wooing fans at the racetrack and mares in the breeding shed

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Manfred Hanover, the world's hottest trotting horse and one of the trotting world's hottest lovers, stood in his paddock stall before the eighth race at Saginaw (Mich.) Valley Downs on Father's Day doing his impersonation of a mule. The 6-year-old horse's front legs were splayed, his tongue was hanging out of the side of his mouth and his oversize ears were doing 180s, scanning the area like surveillance cameras. Manfred Hanover's head bobbed frantically as his groom and assistant trainer, Tina Bennett, peered intently at his right forehoof.

Meanwhile, the horse's co-owner, John Szczepanski (sha-PAN-ski), stood a few feet away, chain-smoking and doing his impersonation of a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Sure, Manfred Hanover—a.k.a. Manny or Mr. Fred—had won 16 straight races and $197,850 this year, but the trotter had lost his last race, nine days earlier, because he had broken stride. Then, just an hour and a half until post time, the colt was doing it again, breaking stride on the sloppy Saginaw track during his warmups for the feature race.

"I don't know what's wrong with him," Szczepanski said worriedly. Then Bennett, six months in foal to her husband, cannily spotted the problem, a nail that had been driven too high into Mr. Fred's hoof. A blacksmith promptly replaced the nail with a shorter one, and driver Mark Jordan climbed into the bike and headed toward the track. It was race time.

Saginaw Valley Downs, which can only be described as rustic—unless you want to be downright insulting—seats 2,400. But on this June evening 3,258 men, women and children packed the wooden stands and overflowed onto the sparsely vegetated grounds to watch the famous trotter in a $15,000 invitational mile. And they couldn't even take a plunge on the horse. Manfred Hanover's winning ways have made him such a hot favorite that tracks across the country have been stuck with minus pools, the result of big spenders betting heavily on him to show, thereby leaving track managers with their pockets hanging inside out. So at Saginaw, as elsewhere, there was no wagering on Manfred Hanover.

His fans didn't seem to care, though, and Manny didn't disappoint them. When race caller Lenny Calderone yelled, "Here they come!" Jordan and Manfred Hanover went immediately to the lead, taking a sharp left turn from the outside post and cutting in front of the field of four to set the pace. Manny handled the wet racecourse just fine, winning by an easy 4½ lengths while setting a track record of 1:59[1/5], his 29th sub-two-minute mile, three more than any other trotter in history.

O.K., so much for the race. The real reason all those fans came out to Saginaw Valley Downs to see Manfred Hanover is that he's not only a top athlete but a famous lover as well. Mr. Fred is a superstud. About three hours after winning the race at Saginaw, he was loaded into a van and shipped 100 miles to his home at Equinox Farms in Clare, Mich., where a bevy of equine beauties awaited him.

It is extremely rare for a standardbred, and unheard-of for a thoroughbred, to do time in the breeding shed while he is still racing. Not since the great Dan Patch, some 80 years ago, has a top trotter done such double duty—and with good reason. Most trainers believe that a horse can't give his best performance on the track and in the hay. And questions of stamina aside, a horse that has stood at stud tends to think of little else and is often fractious when he's brought back to the track. The threat to other horses posed by an unruly stallion long ago gave rise to a very strong convention—an unwritten rule of racing, if you will—that bars from the track horses that have bred.

Manfred, however, is the exception that makes the rule seem almost foolish. "He's very well mannered," says Szczepanski. "Most stallions get crazy when you breed them, but that wasn't our problem. In 1984 we were racing him, assuming that any day on the track could be his last, because anything can happen to a horse in a race—injury or illness. We were test-breeding him at the time, to see how he was in the shed, and he didn't get crazy. Sure, every time he jumps on a mare we worry about injury. But we had an overwhelming response [from owners of mares] when we started breeding him, and we couldn't just back out. And we could only maintain his racing condition by racing him." So, of course, they did both.

Which seems to suit the macho Manny just fine. His services don't come cheap, either. His stud fee is a hefty $5,000, and he's got 68 mares on this season's dance card. That's a potential $340,000 to add to whatever he wins on the track—a figure that has already brought his earnings to $689,495 for his career. Besides making love by the light of the moon and then going out to score on the track the very next day, Mr. Fred is also a personality kid who guzzles Gatorade.

Manfred Hanover didn't get to this enviable station in life without some setbacks. He was born with a silver bit in his mouth, foaled at the famed Hanover Shoe Farm in Pennsylvania by Super Bowl out of Miss Sue Hanover, and the first time the colt went through a sales ring, the late Billy Haughton, the renowned trainer and driver, put down $75,000 for him, which was big bucks for a standardbred yearling. But the horse never made it to the races at two and started only once as a 3-year-old, finishing seventh. So Haughton gave up on Manny, and back to the sales ring he went.

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