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Heffering, Hochstetler On COSA TV

Published: April 11, 2021 5:15 pm ET

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David Heffering, owner of Tara Hills Stud Farm, and harness trainer Jay Hochstetler joined the special Sunday (April 11) edition of COSA TV to remember the life of Kadabra, while Heffering also talked of other memories from Tara Hills.

Also appearing on the show early was trainer Jay Hochstetler, son of Kadabra's original trainer Homer Hochstetler. Jay talked with hosts Greg Blanchard and Mark McKelvie of Kadabra's beginnings, and how "You couldn't really draw it up in any more of a storybook way."

"His mom was trained by my dad as a yearling and two-year-old, and she was owned by a lady named Mrs. [Beulah] Dygert who was very prominent owner and she operated a racetrack in Illinois," Jay Hochstetler said. She fell down on the road crossing the street to get to the track at Maywood Park and she broke a knee. Mrs. Dygert just gave her to my family, and then the stallion — Primrose Lane — he was my grandfather’s horse. And when it came time for him to retire, he gave him to my mom and dad as a stallion.

"We combined the two and the third foal was Kadabra. Dad had bought a Pennsylvania bred the same year—paid good money for him — and Kadabra just kept beating this thing like a drum every training mile coming down. Dad said ‘Either I’ve got a really good Illinois bred or I bought a really bad horse from out East.’ And that horse actually wasn’t that bad, it’s just the fact that he kept going against Kadabra as a yearling and two-year-old training down. It couldn’t have been drawn up any better for us."

As a two-year-old, Kadabra, named by Jay after his favourite character from the Pokémon franchise, coasted through the Illinois circuit to win 10 races from 14 starts — a string of time from which Hochstetler holds many memories.

"He won nearly every race he was in that year, but the moment that sticks out most to me is the American National at Balmoral," Hochstetler said. "He had been facing Illinois competition and just throttling them most of the year. And then the American National came and he dead-heated for the win. It’s still a great honour to dead-heat in a Grand Circuit race, and my parents were ecstatic, but me being the nine-year-old—I didn’t understand what a dead-heat meant. I hadn’t seen him lose in so long that the winner’s circle photo shows me — I’m in the driver’s seat — with tears in my eyes. And it’s not happy tears, I was very upset he didn’t just outright win the race. That just speaks to what kind of horse he was. He was just so dominant as a two-year-old. That’s the part that really sticks out to me."

Following his two-year-old campaign, Kadabra continued to race with the Hochstetlers until a life-changing offer came to them to purchase the Primrose Lane stallion for a hefty sum.

"The other part I remember that year was when we sold him, my parents had to break the news to my young self that his favourite horse was going to have to go away," Hochstetler also said. "They tried to explain the amount of money to me — and it’s obviously life-changing and everything — [and] I looked at them and I ended up telling them and everyone involved ‘Well, they all got a bargain.’ I ended up being right, but at the time it seemed pretty silly."

Peter Heffering, breeding magnate and father of Dave Heffering, was among the people involved in the purchase of Kadabra, which he saw as a potentially breed-changing investment.

"I think Peter, my father — he was always on the lookout, looking for already-made racehorses," Dave Heffering said. "That was kind of his thing in the business, what he had been doing and what made him successful in the business. He had been doing some business with Ernie Martinez, and Ernie Martinez I think put everybody together and got Peter out to Illinois to look at the horse and got Jimmy [Takter] to go out there and sit on the bike. Peter kind of kept it to himself a bit of what he was doing and everything like that. It wasn’t until he got back and told me what he was doing and what he was paying for the horse.

"I remember somehow the article got leaked in the paper — the price or something got leaked in a paper in Chicago — and that remembered in the newsfeed somewhere. I remember nobody had known a different type of breed and everything like that, but that’s what my father was looking for. I remember a friend of mine, Danny Phillips, phoning me up and saying ‘Has [your dad] lost his mind?’ As soon as he saw that horse, he loved that horse. He was just that kind of a horse. And that’s what we were looking for: something different.

"At that time in Ontario, it’s interesting [because] that year of racing was a tough year. He was racing against Andover Hall and Like A Prayer every weekend. There was a lot of pressure there. We had already brought Mr Lavec into Canada — he was a little bit of a different breed at the time. But my brother and my father at the time were looking at purchases that would hopefully eventually become stallions, and that was always the end game — that a horse would be good enough to come into the farm and be a stallion."

Then in the hands of trainer Jimmy Takter, Kadabra enjoyed a season worth just over $1.5 million, highlighted by victories in the $1 million Canadian Trotting Classic and in the Breeders Crown.

"I always kept telling dad, because he drove him — I would always kind of elbow him and said ‘Well, you could’ve done that!’ That was my thing with him, but just watching [Kadabra] perform… we had the whole family and everything, so it was great to see a horse I knew win on the biggest stage like that," noted Hochstetler. "Because I have never seen anything like that before. Just that alone was just an honour, even at that young of an age, and it’s only gotten better the longer I’ve been in the business and the older I’ve gotten."

Although Kadabra built the resume for a potentially lucrative breeding career, the exact location of where he'd stand stud was at first unknown. For the success he had on the track, Heffering said that the ownership team had thoughts of standing Kadabra in Pennsylvania, but the failure of a slots-at-racetracks bill in the state's legislature helped to bring Kadabra to Ontario.

While Kadabra had a strong record on the track, he reached another echelon of racehorse as a trotting stallion. He has sired eight millionaires including Bee A Magician ($4,196,145), Emoticon Hanover ($2,044,663), Daylon Magician ($2,013,887) and 2019 Hambletonian winner Forbidden Trade ($1,487,980). The success of his offspring — as well as Forbidden Trade's upset victory in the sport's classic trotting race — have been high points for both Hochstetler and Heffering.

"Obviously it’s always nice to cheer for the underdog," Hochstetler said of Forbidden Trade's Hambletonian win. "Obviously everyone had coronated Greenshoe that year — even the announcer kind of thought it was a forgone conclusion down the stretch that Greenshoe was going to get there. So to watch Forbidden Trade do that and know that was finally Kadabra’s first one to win the Hambletonian, I was pretty loud cheering for him down the stretch. I actually had a couple dollars on him too just taking a shot. It worked out pretty well for me in my heart and in my pocketbook as well.

"I always have a special spot in my heart for ones where the horse is beat and they come back and win," Hochstetler also said. "I think that speaks to Kadabra as a breed. He was so tough, one of the absolute toughest racehorses you’ve ever seen in your life. So to see him pass that type of toughness to his offspring is something you hope for when a stallion you’re connected to start producing. Some great horses just don’t seem to do that, and it’s just incredible that Kadabra was able to do that."

"We were hanging that day... I didn’t have a television with me and the day had gone," Heffering said. "I remembered getting a phone call, I can’t remember who phoned me that day, and just yelling and screaming. It was [emotional]. Because to me, that was the pinnacle. For us, to have a sire win the Hambletonian."

Kadabra was one of the sires that helped to establish Tara Hills as a legitimate stallion station according to Heffering. Another, the Matts Scooter son Mach Three, became another important horse for the farm.

"When we got the horse and got the deal together, it felt real lucky to have this happen," Heffering said. "I don’t know if a lot of people realize this or not, but we always had a little bit of a gut feeling about how things were going to go with a horse because the farm that we’re on was originally named the Ontheroadagain Farm; Gordon Rumpel had this farm. And the sire of this horse, Matts Scooter, trained here at this farm. So we just had a little history there and maybe a good feeling that a son of Matts Scooter was going to come back to the farm and be here, maybe we’d have a little bit of luck. You just had to know when you looked at the horse. We basically bet the farm on it, for sure.

"When his first yearlings sold, they didn’t sell well at all; his averages were terrible," Heffering also said. "It wasn’t until Somebeach[somewhere] came along and won at [the Battle of] Waterloo that got everyone talking. Of course, owning a stallion farm, you really got thinking ‘This is going to be the one.’ It gave us a lot of credibility as a stallion farm to have something like that. And for me, being a breeder, I was so happy to see other people succeed and do well with the offspring. And then to possibly be able to go on and have another horse that’s a sired horse by Mach Three, and end up being one of the greatest sires of all time… there’s nothing better."

Heffering also talked about the founding of Tara Hills Farms, which he operated alongside his father Peter Heffering up until his passing in 2012. Still holding a prominent role at Tara Hills, Heffering talked about some of the trials and tribulations that come from working with his father as well as what helps to keep the farm successful.

"It’s hard working with your father. I mean, it was like oil and water a lot of times with he and I," Heffering said. "My father would drive in at six o’clock in the morning and want to know what I was going to be doing that morning and whatever else. There would be times the staff would be backing away because there were certainly times that we were shouting a lot of ‘F yous!’ at one another, and we were right into it. I know that there were times that he said—he used to sit across the desk — and sometimes he’d say ‘you know what, sometimes you’ve got to say WTF and go for it.’ And I’m not sure what he would think.

"As anybody knows, I don’t have the horse sense and the ability that he had, or that even my staff does," Heffering also said. "One thing he always did was surrounded himself with good people that knew what they were doing and knew how to get the best out of everything. And that’s what came to me, and that’s what I’ve learned. That I give my staff hopefully what they need to do what they need to do. I’ve got wonderful staff. From Matt Harrison, who’s my farm manager, to Jen who runs the office, and to Marissa who looks after the stallions. All these for all these years, that’s what made Tara Hills so successful. I’ve been able to put the deals together to get the stallions here, and we’ve had lots of people who have followed us, the clients and everything like that.

"Peter was really lucky. I mean he was smart, but he was really lucky. You look at the early years and the horses he had early on: Precious Bunny, Riyadh, Pacific Rocket, a lot of those horses. He had a horseshoe up his butt a lot of times I think, that people live a lifetime to have just one of those horses like Kadabra. But for me, I’ve been so lucky to come here, live on this farm. Like I said, I don’t do a lot with the horses on a daily basis. I’m more of the farming type. When business kind of went awry in 2012, we really diversified more. We grow a lot of hay, so we sell hay, we farm a lot more land. I have help from a gentlemen named Bruce Brinkerhoff, who helps us with our breedings and things like that. We’ve changed our philosophy in how we do things on the breeding side of things, and we’ve had a lot of luck. My wife looks after the books and tries to keep everything on the straight and narrow, so that’s how I’m blessed."

Heffering also talked about some of Tara Hills other prominent sires as well as one of its newest comers Green Manalishi S. He recounted the story of how the farm worked the deal to stand the son of Muscle Hill in Ontario and also touched on his thoughts for the future of Tara Hills.

The full episode of COSA TV is available below:

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