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Happy 50th Birthday Bret Hanover

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Published: May 19, 2012 11:22 am ET

Last Comment: May 19, 2012 12:28 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

On this day in 1962, one the greatest horses to ever look through a bridle was born in Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Hall of Famer Dean Hoffman penned the following story on Bret Hanover for ustrotting.com.


This Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of Bret Hanover’s birth. Alas, he won’t be around to enjoy it but no one should shed any tears for Bret Hanover because he lived a charmed life until his death at age 30 in 1992.

I always thought of Bret Hanover as the kid in high school who was prom king, star quarterback, and valedictorian. All honors fell to him. When Bret retired with a mark of 1:53.3 and earnings of more than $900,000, he was the fastest and richest Standardbred in history.

Bret Hanover was harness racing’s brightest star in the 1960s when the sport basked in unbelievable support from the public and the media. He really made headlines wherever he raced. His career is extensively documented and I will just touch on some of my memories of him.

It’s well known that Bret won the first 35 races of his life, many of them on half-mile tracks. He was not “managed” to keep that streak alive; Bret just raced and bowled over his opponents.

Bret Hanover was named Horse of the Year for three consecutive seasons (1964, 1965 and 1966).

Everyone knew that the streak would end, and it did after 35 consecutive wins at the highest level of the sport. The end came on a hot summer day at Springfield, Illinois, when Adios Vic sat off the pace and then took dead aim on Bret in the stretch. Adios Vic could flat-out fly on a straightway and he shocked Bret and the harness world with his upset win.

Bret and Vic met again at the Indiana State Fair over the Labor Day weekend and I recall my father and I traveling from our home in Cincinnati for a few days of spectacular Grand Circuit action at Indianapolis.

In the opening round of the Horseman Futurity pace, the field of five was led by Bret into the stretch and he kept on rolling until he tripped the timer in 1:55. It was a remarkable mile and it equaled the fastest race mile in history set a decade earlier by the 4-year-old Adios Harry.

Bret was back -- and better than ever. Or was he?

In the second heat, Bret once again set the fractions, but this time Jim Dennis had Adios Vic close to the pace and the pace was slower. In the stretch, Vic zipped by Bret to win in 1:56.3, sending the Horseman into a raceoff.

To everyone’s shock, Adios Vic went to the front in the raceoff. That was customarily Bret’s position. But this time he was the trailer and he was no match for Adios Vic in the stretch.

For the first time in his life, Bret Hanover left the track without visiting the winner’s circle. With the Little Brown Jug just a few weeks away, Bret suddenly seemed vulnerable. The pacing world had turned upside down.

When Jug Day dawned in Delaware, the track was a quagmire from rains and it looked as if the race would be surely postponed. Legendary horseman Curly Smart, a trainer who doubled as the track man at Delaware, walked onto the backstretch and stuck his pocket knife into the wet clay. He looked around and asked onlookers, “Do you think all this rain will be good for my sweet potatoes?”

Smart was testing to see how far the moisture had penetrated. He then set into motion what became known as the “Miracle at Delaware” in which the track surface was peeled off and racing went on.

And Bret went on, too, setting world records in winning the Jug. His time of 1:57 was the fastest mile ever on a twice-around. When he made a three-wide move at the half, my father leaped to his feet and yelled encouragement to Bret’s driver Frank Ervin: “Go with ‘im, Frank! Go on with that big freight train.”

The big task awaiting Bret Hanover as a four-year-old was to lower the existing world record of 1:54.3 held by Adios Butler. He did that first in a time trial at Vernon Downs in 1:54. But trainer Frank Ervin wanted another bite at the apple over The Red Mile.

On Kentucky Futurity Day that fall of 1966, Bret’s effort against time was planned with the precision of a space shot. Ervin checked the track over and over again. He conferred with track officials. Finally he brought the muscular bay stallion to the track for the supreme test.

Bret did it once again with a mile in 1:53.3 and the big bum bowed to the crowd as he returned to receive their applause.

Bret was a legend, an icon, a hero -- call him what you wish, but he was truly one of the greatest harness horses ever.

May 19, 2012 - 12:28 pmA well-deserved tribute to

Lynne Magee SAID...

A well-deserved tribute to this amazing horse. I wish that I had been more tuned in to harness racing back then but I was enamoured with the thoroubreds. Did he look a little like SBSW on the track? Seems to have that same "attitude" that said "this is mine" or "catch me if you can". Head up and powerful strides to the wire.


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