Kadabra just as impressive in the breeding shed as he was on the track
story by John Sacco
The only thing that could derail Kadabra, the 2002 Trotter of the Year, from becoming a superstar on the track in 2003 was an injury, and that is exactly what happened.
The 4-year-old stallion sustained a suspensory injury in his right hind leg while preparing for a free-for-all event at Woodbine Racetrack prior to the Breeders Crown. That is when he commenced his stud career.
Kadabra, however, would not be denied an opportunity to make his mark in the breeding shed. For almost two decades, the son of Primrose Lane –Quillo has been one of the most prolific stallions in the sport. His progeny had amassed more than $92.20 million as of Dec. 31, 2020.
An injury, however, also curtailed Kadabra’s second profession.
Last November, the stallion suffered an injury to his right hock, the same leg where the suspensory injury occurred. The attending veterinarian at Tara Hills Stud, where the horse stands in Port Perry, Ontario, advised Kadabra should be placed on stall rest for at least two months. The farm suspended breeding to the stallion and announced his retirement on Jan. 14.
“I have been privileged to work with the best trotting stallion ever,” said Matthew Harrison, farm manager at Tara Hills Stud. “He is a very big horse. He could be difficult to work with at times. But he is completely professional and prolific in breeding. Kadabra is a wonderful horse. He’s kind and has a great personality. He’s a generational horse.”
David Heffering, owner and general manager of Tara Hills Stud, said it was Ernie Martinez who suggested buying Kadabra to David’s father, the late R. Peter Heffering. Martinez was bullish on the horse. He flew to Chicago to meet Jimmy Takter and look Kadabra over.
The horse dominated his division in Illinois, his home state, as a 2-year-old in 2001. He earned $341,683 and compiled a record of 14-10-2-0, competing as a homebred for the Hochstetler family. Homer Hochstetler conditioned and steered Kadabra his entire freshman season.
Prior to his sophomore season, Kadabra was sold privately for $800,000 to a consortium of harness racing’s top owners, including R. Peter Heffering, Irv Storfer’s Banjo Farms, Lee, and Linda DeVisser, Irving Liverman, and David McDuffee—the newly-formed Abra Kadabra Stable.
“I’m always looking for horses that catch my eyes,” Martinez said. “I’m looking for horses that have something special. Kadabra has such conformation to him. I come from the cattle business—sheep, cattle and horses. You learn the basics about how the skeleton works.
“Kadabra, to me, was night and day when it came to conformation. I called Peter. When I called Peter, he knew it was for the right horse. I met Takter in Chicago. Jimmy jogged the horse and said, ‘He’s good.’
“I called Peter back the next morning and told him I took the wrong guy. The phone went quiet. Peter said, ‘What time Wednesday?’ I went back to Chicago and Peter saw Kadabra. He stepped around behind me and he said, ‘We’re buying him. What’s the price?’ I told him $1 million.”
Martinez said the two left Chicago and it wasn’t long before Peter called him to ask if the Hochstetlers would sell the horse for $800,000.
“I called (Homer) and asked if he’d take $800,000 in cash for the horse,” Martinez said. “He told me we had a deal. I called Peter and he said to call the bank for the $800,000 and tell (Homer) he’ll have the money in 20 minutes.”
David Heffering said the five partners each owned a 20-percent interest in the horse.
“They all stepped up,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. Then he was brought here, and the rest is history.”
Kadabra’s legacy as a stallion remains impeccable:
- Leading sire in Canada (every year since 2006)
- Top-five sire in North America (every year since 2006)
- Eight millionaires
- $97,788: average earnings per starter
- 76.2 percent winning starters
- 14: $750,000 winners
- 29: $500,000 winners
- 87: $250,000 winners
- Bee A Magician 3,1:51 ($4.05 million), 2013 Horse of the Year and selected for entry into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame last year
- Forbidden Trade 3,1:51 ($1.31 million), 2019 Hambletonian winner
Kadabra sired five O’Brien Award winners in 2018 and his offspring earned $6.97 million, excelling in trotting contests all over the continent. In 2019, his progeny earned $7.63 million, and in 2020, he was responsible for 200 starters who collected $4.45 million.
Kadabra’s O’Brien Awards winners in 2018 include Emoticon Hanover (older trotting mare), who won her second Breeders Crown title; Will Take Charge (older trotting horse), who topped $1 million in career earnings the following year; Ontario Sire Stakes winners Forbidden Trade (2-year-old trotting colt) and Run Director (3-year-old trotting colt); and Illusioneesta (3-year-old trotting filly).
In 2019, Forbidden Trade was named Canada’s Horse of the Year and 3-year-old colt and gelding champion.
“They’re [trying] to determine if he’s going to injure himself further,” Heffering said. “The next injury to that area could be catastrophic. They’re keeping the leg stable, so all we can do is see. It’s a progression of the consequences from the injury that retired him from the track.”
But what a career it was.
Kadabra dazzled as a sophomore. He captured the $180,000 American- National Stake at Balmoral Park, the $721,035 Canadian Trotting Classic at Mohawk Park, the $542,500 Breeders Crown final at Woodbine Racetrack, and the $226,764 Matron Stake at Dover Downs.
The colt compiled a record of 14-11-2-0 and earned more than $1.2 million. He was selected as Canada’s top 3-year-old colt and gelding trotter and was the Trotter of the Year and divisional Dan Patch Award-winner that season.
As a 4-year-old, Kadabra, once again, was lightly raced. He won the $200,000 Cutler Memorial at The Meadowlands and the $200,000 Titan Cup over the same surface. The stallion had a record of 8-4-0-2 that year and collected $249,600 in purse money.
Kadabra retired with a career record of 36-25-4-2 and banked more than $1.8 million.
“He was a very classy horse, on the track and off,” said David Miller, who drove Kadabra in most of his significant victories. “The horse had an almost human-like personality. He was rock solid on the track. He is beautifully gaited and ultra-tough. You never had to worry about him making a mistake.
“I could have seen him racing well at 8 and 9. He probably would have doubled his lifetime earnings. He had speed, endurance, and manners. Kadabra was just a great racehorse.”
Liverman, the syndicate manager, said he was convinced of Kadabra’s greatness when he saw the horse win the Matron as a 2-year-old. The colt, however, was disqualified and placed seventh.
“I knew he was a great, great horse,” Liverman said. “He had the heart of a champion. He never disappointed as a racehorse.
“Just before he got injured at The Meadowlands, he looked like he could go forever. He was so big, strong and powerful. He’s probably the strongest horse I ever had.”
Kadabra’s performance in that same event also caught Takter’s eye.
“I saw him race in the Matron,” Takter said. “I had Malabar Maple, my best 2-year-old. I won an elimination. I thought my horse had a great chance in the final. Kadabra crushed him [despite the DQ]. When he was for sale, I knew I had to have him.”
Miller believes Kadabra would have accomplished much more as a racehorse, had he remained sound.
“Jimmy [Takter] campaigned Moni Maker, so I could see Kadabra traveling around the world to race,” Miller said. “I had a breeding on him that I got to use until the last three or four years. I was grateful to have it as long as I did. He doesn’t owe anyone anything. I know they’ll do right by him.”
Kadabra’s most recent injury is attributed to general wear and tear. The stallion has been wearing a specially designed brace for more than a year to help lend support to his limb.
“There’s no telling what he would have done (on track),” Martinez said. “He was so sound. Today, when I see his sons and daughters doing great, it’s all about the conformation. Kadabra would have re-written a lot of stakes records. But his legacy is that what he’s done has been fantastic for Canada. He made Canada competitive.”
Takter has the utmost respect for the horse.
“He was maybe the most honest trotter ever,” Takter said. “He was depressed when he lost.
“He would have been in history books. He could have gone over and won any kind of race in Europe. Kadabra was one of my big favorites.”
The horse also holds a special place in Heffering’s heart.
“It is with great sadness that we announce Kadabra’s retirement from stud duty,” Heffering said. “Kadabra leaves a great legacy and influence on the Standardbred breed, not only in Ontario but industry-wide. It has been a great honor for us to have cared for and managed Kadabra throughout his stallion career. Thank you for your support over the years.”
John Sacco is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania. To comment on this story, email us at email@example.com.