New Horizon

Coffin bone fracture sends Papi Rob Hanover to the breeding shed

story by Hope Ellis Ashburn

Headlines heralded Papi Rob Hanover’s two-year career, as successful finish after finish established the colt’s burgeoning presence in the sport. Racing fans relished his rivalry with Tall Dark Stranger, which brought joy in an otherwise difficult year. All signs indicated a continued trajectory on an already stratospheric rise to the top for the son of Somebeachsomewhere – Panera Hanover.

And then tragedy struck after a world-record performance of 1:47.1 in his $25,000 Delvin Miller Adios elimination at The Meadows on July 25.

How It Happened

Brett Pelling, Papi Rob Hanover’s trainer, had taken another horse out to warm up. When he returned, he had the opportunity to see Papi Rob Hanover finish preparing for his upcoming appearance on the card.

“He looked a little off,” he said. “I’d never seen him like that before. So, I imagined maybe he tripped or stumbled, something like that.”

Up until that time, Pelling described the horse, who is owned by David McDuffee, as being perfect. After looking a little off for that brief moment, there was no reason to suspect that anything was amiss. Papi Rob Hanover demonstrated no signs of lameness scoring down.

In fact, the colt went on to pace an incredible mile. When he crossed the wire, however, he put in a couple of steps and dropped into a canter.

“There’s something wrong when they do that,” Pelling said. “So, that was the first time I knew something wasn’t right.”

When Papi Rob Hanover exited the winner’s circle, he was favoring his right foreleg. But when he entered the spit box, he walked in fine. All of Papi Rob Hanover’s equipment was removed and he received a bath. But by this time he was definitely lame. Pelling described his lameness as a five on a scale of one to five.

“He really did not want to put the foot on the ground,” he said.


With the injury, Pelling was given permission to leave Papi Rob Hanover in the spit box. Having raced in the eighth race on a 15-race card, it was less disruptive to leave him there until after the races ended. It was also easier for Pelling to get a trailer directly to him. Resting for approximately two hours, Papi Rob Hanover recovered enough to walk onto the trailer only slightly lame.

“He walked out of there quite fine on his own steam,” Pelling said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

Pelling was, of course, relieved. Still uncertain about the extent of the injury and located hours from home without his own attending veterinarian, the uptick in the situation made some of the earlier decisions seem wise.

Back at the barn, Papi Rob Hanover continued to rest and have his dinner. Afterward, with the situation not looking quite so bleak, Pelling loaded him on the trailer and headed for home. His gut was telling him that in spite of the improvement, he could be contending with a fractured coffin bone.

Pelling had the horse’s regular veterinarian meet them at midnight. At that point, he was X-rayed. The X-rays were clean, a common occurrence in the early stages of coffin bone fractures, especially when they are non-displaced. He was X-rayed a second time on Sunday morning.

Still, the X-rays were clean. In the meantime, although nothing had been confirmed, rumors were circulating about the exact extent of Papi Rob Han-over’s injuries.

Over a period of days, the investigation into the degree of his injury continued. His veterinarian took a third X-ray on Tuesday.

“By then we were starting to see something,” Pelling said. “And on Thursday (after the elimination), there it was.”

Despite the rumors about the injury being correct, Pelling insists that others were unfounded. Chief among them was that Papi Rob Hanover’s injury occurred over a long period of time. While this may be true of some coffin bone fractures, Pelling remains convinced that this fracture occurred that very day.

Treatment and Recovery

Now certain of what they were dealing with, Papi Rob Hanover’s veterinary team fit him with a specialized bar shoe with clips for added support. These clips helped to prevent the hoof from expanding with movement and acted as a natural cast.

The colt was also taken to Pelling’s home barn for further recovery, away from commotion and activity. The horse stayed there for about a month and Pelling said he became quite sound.

He was then transported to Hanover Shoe Farms in early September, where he was foaled, to begin testing for a breeding career. The facility had announced on Aug. 4 the colt would stand his first season at stud in 2021, but an official announcement about his retirement was not presented.

“When we walked him into Hanover (in September), he was 99 percent sound,” Pelling said.

Hanover’s excellent facilities being what they are, Papi Rob Hanover’s new stall measured 48 x 48, a significant upgrade from a traditional 12 x 12 stall. Excited about his new freedom, the colt pivoted, ran, and bucked in his stall. Even when he was up to his knees in straw, the self-induced exercise brought out some symptoms. As a precaution, he was X-rayed again, and the crack in the coffin bone presented itself.

After Papi Rob Hanover passed his fertility testing, it was announced on Sept. 25 the colt was in the process of being syndicated. Papi Rob Hanover concluded his racing career with a record of 16-7-6-3 and banked $927,979.

Purchased for $130,000 at the 2018 Standardbred Horse Sale, he won the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final, his Breeders Crown elimination, the Matron, and Governor’s Cup as a freshman. He crossed the wire first in the final of the Breeders Crown but was subsequently placed second. He was second in both his elimination and final of the Metro Pace (pacing both last quarters in less than 27 seconds).

As a sophomore, Papi Rob Hanover was third in his Meadowlands Pace elimination from post position 10 with a :26.1 last quarter and second in the final, beaten a neck in 1:47.2 from post position nine.

When he established his world record, he won by 10½ lengths over No Lou Zing, who has won three times since a third-place finish in the $375,000 Adios final, with one of those triumphs in the $252,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final.

Papi Rob Hanover also hails from a quality female family. His dam earned $158,712 and is a half-sibling to JK Panache (Art Major, $662,789) and Philly Hanover (Captaintreacherous, $356,174). His great-granddam is Panned Out, who collected $353,853 on the racetrack and produced 16 foals that banked more than $2 million.

Looking Toward the Future

With Papi Rob Hanover now firmly established and doing well at Hanover Shoe Farms, Pelling, who conditioned Rocknroll Hanover and The Panderosa, reveals how in awe he was of the pacer.

“I can honestly say, with all the great horses I’ve had, if you want to find something, you can find something that isn’t right,” he said. “Papi Rob, however, was just an amazing horse. I’ve never had one that was as complete. I just could never fault him. I was always in awe of him because he was just so perfect, with a flawless gait, manners, and strength. He was beautiful to look at with unbelievable intelligence. He was also fun to be around. He made you feel happy to be a horse trainer.”

It’s those traits that Pelling hopes to see in the stallion’s offspring.

As he transitions from one career to the next, it’s not out of the ordinary to wonder if one career promises to be as great as the other. Though it’s sad we will never know just how good Papi Rob Hanover may have been on the track, so far his future looks promising.

“They’ll probably collect semen off him as we go into this winter,” Pelling said. “There might be a bit of frozen semen that gets sent overseas, but not a lot. We want the first book of mares to be in the U.S. We want the first results, the first top yearlings that we see, to be here.”

Pelling is thankful for the opportunity provided to Papi Rob Hanover by his owner.

“He’s 100 percent looking at quality versus quantity,” he said of McDuffee. “He wants him to have every opportunity, then let him stand on his own two feet. No matter how great some horses are, they are not all stallions. He’ll let us know if he is or he isn’t and [McDuffee] is doing it the right way.”

Hope Ellis-Ashburn is a freelance writer living in Tennessee. To comment on this story, email us at

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