It’s a well-worn story at this point in time, like a paperback with softened, dog-eared pages, but Western Ideal’s improbable comeback from a devastating injury bears repeating, as it profoundly altered the course of harness racing history.
Moreover, another chapter will open on July 1, as he will join the ranks of stallions honored by induction into the Living Horse Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y.
Brittany Farms’ general manager Art Zubrod vividly remembers the day in Lexington when the budding 2-year-old superstar severed his tendon “50 percent through.”
“We already knew that he was an outstanding horse at 2,” said Zubrod. “There was no doubt about that and we had been kind of saving him until Lexington, and it was just crushing. But it was fortunate he was in this town, you know. I made a couple calls as soon as I saw what had happened and we had an ambulance there within 20 minutes and they had the operating table ready at the equine hospital. He was on the table, prepped, and they were working on him within two hours of the accident happening.”
That quick action in the short term was followed by considerable patience, and it would be 11 months before owner Brittany Farms would send Western Ideal (Western Hanover – Leah Almahurst) back into training. When he returned at 4, he would become a world champion and the sport’s fastest 5-year-old pacer.
“If he didn’t go on at 4 and prove himself to be a super horse, he wouldn’t have had the stud career he’s had,” Zubrod said.
In that case, the harness world would never have known some of its most noteworthy pacing champions over the last two decades, beginning with Hall of Famer Rocknroll Hanover and Western Ideal’s 11 other millionaire offspring. The overall list of champions features the winners of close to $125 million, including stallions American Ideal, Vintage Master, Artspeak, Big Jim, and Always A Virgin, as well as world champion mares Krispy Apple and Cabrini Hanover, among many other stars.
As a broodmare sire, Western Ideal has sired the dams of winners of more than $58 million to date, with five millionaires, including McWicked, State Treasurer, See You At Peelers, Fear The Dragon, and Solar Sister.
Even more incredibly, Western Ideal accomplished all of the above from a limited number of bookings.
“Unfortunately, he only has one working testicle,” said Zubrod. “The other testicle is blocked. There’s an operation to unblock it, but one of the risks of unblocking it is that you could block the other one and not unblock the bad one, so he’s fertile enough to handle about 100 mares a year.”
Despite that challenge, his Hall of Fame credentials as a sire were never in doubt.
“I always liked that line. Always did. You know, American Ideal, Western Hanover . . . Even today, it’s a very strong line,” said Jimmy Takter, who trained both Vintage Master and Cabrini Hanover. “He passed on really good sons that became sires. He’s been an absolutely fantastic pacing sire.”
Western Ideal is also the grandsire of Always B Miki, racing’s all-time fastest pacer, who Takter also trained.
For Hanover Shoe Farms, where Western Ideal has stood since 2012, he was the full package.
“He was fast; he was game. He was by the right stallion, one that we were partial to, in Western Hanover,” said Jim Simpson, president and CEO of Hanover. “He’s another horse that became the kind of stallion we’re looking for. Both his colts and fillies were great. That’s also something that you look for, a sire that can sire both and is not known a lot for colts and not fillies or vice versa. That’s always good. And now he’s 23 and still going.”
Along the way, he passed on more than speed to his subsequent generations.
“I’m not sure he did it better than other horses, but he certainly gave that determination and heart,” said Zubrod. “His champions have maybe not been the fastest horses on the ground, but they maybe had more heart than the other horses. That’s something our breed needs more of, with less attention paid to raw speed.”
According to Zubrod, everyone at Brittany Farms was especially proud that Western Ideal and Cantab Hall, who was also owned by the farm, were being inducted into the Hall of Fame in the same year.
“It made us feel pretty good,” he said. “A lot of stallions come and go and have brilliant three- or four-year careers and then downhill, but people are still interested in breeding to and buying these yearlings and training them—and that’s just the best thing.”
Lauren Lee is a freelance writer living in Ontario. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.