Posts Tagged ‘Big Towner’

Folklore has it that Gene Abbe was foaled in the infield at the Putnam fairgrounds in Ottawa, in Ohio.

The Abbe

The Abbe, grandsire of Gene Abbe.

He was a son of Bert Abbe who is a son of The Abbe. The main siring son of The Abbe was of course Abbedale, who left sons Dale Frost and Hal Dale and the rest is history.

Bert Abbe  was a fast racehorse himself (1.59 in the 1920s) and his second dam was a daughter of the famed Dan Patch. He must have done an okay job as a sire. But as a sire of sires, Bert Abbe left Gene Abbe, and that was it.

Gene Abbe’s dam Rose Marie took a record of 2:05 in 1927 and produced 9 racehorses from 11 foals, but Gene Abbe was clearly the standout.

So you can see there was speed from Bert and toughness from Rose, and that just about sums up Gene Abbe.

A foal of 1944, as a 2yo he won 14 of his 16 starts – for a total stakes of just $2,940, but remember that was wartime and 70 years ago.

He raced successfully through his career until he was a 6yo, then retired to stud. 151 starts, 49 wins 46 places, $51,239 lifetime earnings, and a huge reputation.

But that was just the start.

As a sire he did something no other has achieved – he was the horse that kick-started artificial insemination, thanks to the work of Hal S. Jones who managed Pickwick Farms in Ohio in the 1950s and 60s.

Jones, now in his 80s, played a major role in developing the use of artificial insemination in Standardbreds during his years at Pickwick Farm near Bucyrus. The demand for the services of the stallion Gene Abbe was so great that Jones had to find ways to inseminate multiple mares each time Gene Abbe was bred. That resulted in experiments that proved successful and soon led to the widespread use of artificial insemination in breeding trotters and pacers. A native of Kentucky, Jones served in World War II and then assisted his father in managing Mac-Dot Farms, a Standardbred breeding and training facility outside Columbus, in the late 1940s. He moved to Pickwick Farm in 1951 and stayed there for almost two decades, establishing an enviable reputation for his work ethic and horsemanship. That led him to a position at Blue Chip Farms in New York in 1969, then getting established as a breeding facility. Jones took the 25-year-old Gene Abbe to Blue Chip with him despite the fact that many people felt the old stallion would not adjust well. Gene Abbe sired his best performer, Big Towner, at age 29, a year in which he served 32 mares at Blue Chip. Gene Abbe continued to breed mares into his mid-30s. (Extract from US trotting article 2012)

Jones developed an artificial insemination technique in which Pickwick stallion Gene Abbe was bred to 181 mares.
This innovation made Gene Abbe the first stallion of any breed to register more than 100 foals in one breeding season.
Jones’ method changed Standardbred breeding forever. (http://www.recordonline.com/article/20100705/Sports/7050328#sthash.ULByePgA.dpuf)

In a Hoof Beats article in 1984,  Hal Jones himself threw a bit more light on what drove the innovation, and it wasn’t the need for standardbred breeding diversity:

(Pickwick Farm owner Walter Michael) was interested in the quantity of mares we bred, not necessarily the quality of mares we bred….He wanted to know how many mares a stallion was breeding, not how good they were.

Gene Abbe photo USTA

Gene Abbe, photo USTA

In spite of this attitude, or perhaps because the numbers, Gene Abbe was a successful sire of good racehorses, both male and female, and his longevity in that role meant he appears in the forefront (i.e. the first 4 generations) of so many good horses today.

Before following his legacy as a sire and broodmare sire, let’s give a big tip o’ the hat to Gene Abbe the racehorse.

In a conversation with Fred Parks this summer, the New York state reinsman who had Gene Abbe prior to his purchase by the Kniselys, he stated that Gene Abbe was the safest free-legged pacer he had ever handled or seen for that matter-had to be literally knocked off his feet to make a break. Fred drove him to his 11/2 mile victory over Grattan McKlyo and Indian Land when the Bert Abbe pacer came from dead-last after being run into and won going away. Gene Abbe raced better than 2:00 several times and whipped his share of the 2:00 brigade also, still ranking as the top money-winning stallion by Bert Abbe. We noticed in a visit last summer that Gene Abbe goes right into a pace when just walking from his stall. Possessed of terrific whiz from his two-year-old form, Gene Abbe is out of a free-legged mare, Rose Marie 2:05 (hmt) and her first five foals all took marks of 2:081/4 or better on the twice-arounds. She was by the 2:021/4 sire, Martinos 2:121/4 (half-brother to the 2:00 sire, Peter Henley 2:021/4) and carries real racing pacing inheritance back of that. We always used to root for this gallant pacer at the races, having a weakness for the free-legged variety, and feel sure that he will be another 2:00 siring son of Bert Abbe before the books are closed.
Extract from Barn To Wire.com 1952 Harness Horse: Eventime Farm, Ohio, where Gene Abbe first stood after retirement from racing. 

In his chapter on Gene Abbe in Modern Pacing Sirelines, John Bradley traces his career from that very good 2yo season to being a tough and successful racehorse – “a three-year odyssey which would take him from coast to coast and to Canada, racing against the nation’s best Free-for-allers and holding his own.”

It is a breeding and CV based on toughness and durability rather than sheer speed.

Gene Abbe has one of the longest stud careers on record, standing commerically from 1951 to 1977, with a total of 1073 foals for 871 starters (81% starter ratio). His biggest crops were in the early 1960s, when he was second only to Adios on the money-winning pacing sire listing (although with greater numbers on the track than Adios).

He was a sire of good tough racehorses like himself. One of his best was Rex Pick, an ultra tough pacer who did battle with our great Cardigan Bay in FFA events in North America.

Blaze Pick was a good son of Gene Abbe – he took a record of 1.59 and stood at stud but only had three progeny in 2.00 from a small number of foals. One of his non-record mares was J.R. Amy who turned out to be an amazing broodmare. She left 13 winners from 14 foals including four in 1.55, and one of them was the very influential sire and broodmare sire Jate Lobell (by No Nukes).  I won’t start to list his impact in this blog – it is a huge one. Another of J.R. Amy’s foals was Jiffy Lobell (by Oil Burner) who shows up  in New Zealand breeding (after being imported here) via her daughters Rebecca Sunrise and Georgina Lobell. Interestingly, a mare like blog follower Brian Cowley’s Black Raider (Safely Kept X Secret Passion) combines both these influences from Gene Abbe/Blaze Pick/J.R. Amy in her pedigree.

One of Gene Abbe’s best daughters was Poplar Wick who won over $100,000 – her full brother Wejover was brought out here (New Zealand) as a sire in 1973 by Roydon Lodge, who had high although understandable hopes for him:

“His oldest stock are three-year-olds, and while there haven’t been many winners by him yet, this is not unexpected as the Gene Abbe offspring are usually four before they develop into mature racehorses. We know from stock we have that he will produce some good winners in 1979….None other that Jim Harrison, famed United States blood line expert, said of Wejover, whom he knew very well: “He had extreme early speed lasting through his career. As a sire he is an outstanding outcross. He should not only be a good sire, but I believe should be an exceptional sire of fillies.” (extract from The Roydon Heritage by Sir Roy Mckenzie, p156)

Hindsight is a great thing. Wejover was not a success here at stud and later moved to Australia but had very poor results there a sire as far as I can see (please let me know if I have missed something here).

One of Gene Abbe’s other daughters, La Byrd Abbe, has had a longer influence in New Zealand pedigrees, being the dam of the great American racehorse Nero. Nero’s best performing full sister sister Marquess De Sade was imported to New Zealand halfway through her breeding career and was bred (by R D Stewart, Mrs G E Stewart, J A Bracegirdle) to Smooth Fella, Holmes Hanover and others for mixed results in the longer term. Nero’s other full sister Skipper’s Romance leads us (via her daughter Sheba Hanover) to very good performers here like Bit Of A Legend and Smooth Ice/Classy Filly, and (via her son Seahawk Hanover) to Blossom Lady.

It is the “fate” of some great racehorses and sires like Gene Abbe and Tar Heel to struggle to find a prolific siring son or sons to carry on their branch.

This quote from John Bradley’s Modern Pacing Sires sums it up well:

Gene Abbe was one of those stallions who appeared to be ahead of his time, given his modest pedigree and his lack of opportunity with the sport’s best mares until very late in his career. It’s amazing what he did accomplish against some strong competition and he certainly rates as a legendary sire as far as the pacing breed is concerned. Let’s hope one of Big Towner’s sons can keep this line going.

Big Towner Photo Monica Thors

Big Towner, Photo Monica Thors

Right at the very end of his siring career, he produced Big Towner – one of the most underestimated influences in our modern breed. A great racehorse and Gene Abbe’s best siring son by far, Big Towner pretty much followed in the same mould, and has done the same great job as his dad.

But it’s there that this siring line has faltered, swamped by the wave of Meadow Skipper line sires. However the Gene Abbe influence continues because of Big Towner’s huge success as a broodmare sire and in some quirky ways where Big Towner’s sons have also left a brief but enduring mark.

Perhaps the most successful son of Big Towner downunder was Walton Hanover, although he stood in Australia and  was not a big player at all in the New Zealand siring scene. Walton Hanover is the sire of Totally Ruthless (who also stood in New Zealand and Australia but with little top level success) and damsire of New Zealand breds Arden Rooney ($NZ225,093), the Kaikoura Cup winner just recently, and Georgetown who won over half a million dollars before being exported to America, as well as being the damsire of the mare Secret Potion $NZ285,312. Walton Hanover’s live foals-to-winners statistics in Australia seem to be just over 50% which is really good for this part of the world.

Several other descendants of Gene Abbe and Big Towner on either their sire or dam line have also played a big part in the Australian stallion scene including Towner’s Big Guy, Broadway Express, Jet Laag, Pacific Fella, JC’s Suprimo and his close relation Aces N Sevens, Stature, Sandman Hanover, Northern Luck, Brioso Hanover.  Their siring was almost all done in Australia rather than here, and I’d be interested to get some readers’ comments on how their various contributions are viewed in hindsight by Australian breeders.

Man Around Town, a grandson of Big Towner, stood in New Zealand through the 1990s and into the first decade of this century, and sired some very good individuals – mainly tough top mares like Robyn Blue, Imagine That, Kym’s Girl and Royal Rascal; the latter is the dam of Fiery Rascal and Twilight Rascal.

None of Big Towner’s sons or grandsons have really kept the Gene Abbe siring line alight vigorously at the top level. But that in no way diminishes the overall contribution of Gene Abbe and Big Towner to standardbred breeding overall – right down to the present day.

Gene Abbe and Big Towner are both what I call an engine room sire.
The “genes” passed on are tough, durable and deliver quality, just like Gene Abbe himself.


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I was browsing through one of Alabar’s newsletters from November 2013 and came across an article about Big Jim’s first foals in New Zealand (which were just arriving) and a related article “Doubling up Big Towner a good thing”.

Here’s some of it:

There’s now strong evidence to suggest the duplicating Big Towner in pedigrees can lead to positive results and that could be a pointer for Big Jim given he is out of a Big Towner mare. Big Tonwer was a great stallion who topped the North American Sires Premiership at one time, He was a leading broodmare sire and it is through his daughters that his legacy lives on. Many successful stallions possess a dose of Big Towner in their maternal line….Art Major mares look ideal for Big Jim as not only do you get the Big Towner connection but also Artsplace, which shoud suit Big Jim down to the ground. Other potential sources of Big Towner include Walton Hanover, Pacific Fella, Aces N Sevens, Jet Laag and Northern Luck.

The rest of the article was mainly noting the stallions who have Big Towner in their maternal line – Art Major, Always A Virgin, Allamerican Native, Pacific Fella – and how some of their best performers have duplicates of Big Towner.

These sires/broodmare sires are more relevant to Australia rather than New Zealand. So it has been harder for NZ breeders to take obvious advantage of duplicating Big Towner with a sire like Big Jim or more recently Sportswriter and Always A Virgin who again have Big Towner prominently in their maternal line. Our most obvious choice might be Man Around Town mares (like Kym’s Girl and Imagine That) but they are few and far between, and Big Towner sits as the grandsire of Man Around Town rather than on the immediate maternal line. After that we are looking in quite obscure places like daughters of the beautifully bred (but perhaps not suited here) Union Guy.

Big Jim

Big Jim a modern champion 2yo pacer with a damsire born in 1974. (Photo Lisa)

It is very interesting to see that up-close influence of Big Towner is still so THERE in the breeding of modern top racehorses and successful sires. These are very modern horses who have Big Towner (born in 1974) as a damsire or grandamsire. Even more remarkably, the sire of Big Towner, Gene Abbe, was born in 1944.


Of course my quirky old heart-throb Grinfromeartoear does a similar thing by bringing Storm Damage (born 1977)  as his damsire. But he can’t beat the Gene Abbe factor. That is a quite an exceptional “back to the future” element in modern pedigrees.

What really impresses me about Big Towner and his sire Gene Abbe is how current and recent they remain in a number of commercially successful sires – not just as a one-off, a freak.

I’ve blogged about Big Towner before, please check it out if you haven’t read it before.

In my next blog I will go into a bit more depth about Gene Abbe. What an interesting horse he is!

And then I’ll return to the present and see what breeders in New Zealand are doing, or might do, to get the best from the sires that carry these genes.

As always your perspectives from different countries, or from personal experience, are welcome. Send your thoughts to bee.raglan@xtra.co.nz or use the comments/rsponse option at the end of this blog.


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Here’s another blog about one of those hard working broodmare sires that add so much value to pedigrees, particulary when they have specific compatibilities to the mare/family.

As I mentioned in my blog about Overtrick, Big Towner is part of a Hambletonian “stub” – one of those Hambletonian lines that struggled to keep extending its siring line. But the Gene Abbe “stub”  has continued to thrive and to drive many of the best aspects of standardbred racing through its potent influence in damsires, much like Tar Heel has done for another “shortened” line of Hambletonian. Thank heavens for the maternal lines of our pedigrees – many of these damsires have enduring influence on the quality of our current and future stock.

Big Towner

So for me, Big Towner makes it to my list of all time greats in terms of contribution to the cause. Just for a start, look at his influence as the granddamsire of Art Major, Perfect Art, Real Artist and Panspacificflight.

Why? The primary reason is that he ADDS something. He doesn’t just lurk around as a ‘nice to have’. What he adds through the maternal lines appears to be heart size (x factor) but also speed. Yes, these are linked, but not always so. Not automatically so.

I’ve mentioned Big Towner’s contribution in some of my other blogs, for example in looking at Big Jim as a potential sire. And in a recent blog about Overtrick, Tony Dickinson examined his foundation mare Ballie Hanover and her Barbara Direct lineage – but Ballie Hanover also has Big Towner as her damsire, potentially adding quite a bit of value there.

Here is a lovely summary of Big Towner’s contribution, made by another blogger very recently – that’s serendipity!! – (and particularly signals Big Towner’s contribution as an outcross sire/damsire for mares with a lot of Meadow Skipper):


I’d also like to reference John Bradley’s Modern Pacing Sire Lines for some insight into this great damsire – and give him a tip o’ the hat as an amazing racehorse in his own right :

As a racehorse, Big Towner was a precocious colt right from the start, as was seen when he made his two-year-old debut at Maryland’s Rosecroft Raceway (then a half mile track) on May 7th 1976. Big Towner  drew post four and made a break right before the start. But in a preview of what was to come, the colt got back on stride, made up lost ground and raced second all the way until the stretch when he took command and pulled away to a twelve-length win in 2:09.3.

Bradley goes on to describe this horse as “a tough, game and fast colt”. After his 3yo season, trainer Lee Broglio said, “Big Towner is better than his record – he didn’t have too many opportunities over a big track last season – and definitely a fast horse.”  And he became a brilliant racehorse – winning his last 9 races over 6 different New York tracks, and  in 14 of 16 starts that year having the lead at the three-quarter pole and refusing to give in.

That is speed underscored by a big heart, toughness and a will to win.

Oh, and did I mention his own damsire is Shadow Wave? And his maternal line goes back to Nedda Guy and Nedda? With a good injection of Volomite in that lineage? Well, check back over my past blogs on Shadow Wave and my series of blogs on Nedda to see why I think Big Towner had a fantastic contribution to make to the engine room of many compatible pedigrees, ready to stoke the coals and keep those lines fired up.

He was a top race horse (48 starts, 31 wins) but is making much more of a contribution along the maternal lines of modern standardbreds.

Coming up:

In another blog soon (hopefully this weekend if my chooks behave and I don’t get too distracted by housework and walking on my favourite beach at Raglan), I want to look at out-crossing in the pacing breed, and what it means ‘down under’ i.e. Australia and New Zealand, compared to North America. Because In The Pocket (mentioned in the” Skipper, Skipper everywhere”  blog link above, now deceased and semen no longer available) became a huge influence on our breeding in New Zealand, and his son Christian Cullen is making a longterm impression here as a racehorse, sire, a damsire and potentially as a sire of sires. From a one-season venture as a sire in North America, his subsequent small number of northern hemisphere foals have just had highly successful 2yo season, and they are a hint of what outcrossing can offer different breeding “pools” when such a quality stallion is involved.

If you have ideas to share on that topic, contact me at email: b4breedingblog@xtra.co.nz (sorry this email addresss appears not to be working yet, so use my contact email at bee.raglan@xtra.co.nz

– or just add a comment to this blog.)

Other links on Big Towner, summaries of his career and contribution:


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This blog continues looking at the two new sire sons of Western Ideal that are being offered to New Zealand breeders this year.

Both Alabar and Nevele R have taken a punt on a son of Western Ideal for the coming breeding season – Big Jim for Alabar and Vintage Master for Nevele R.  How do these two new siring sons of Western Ideal compare? In the previous blog I looked at Vintage Master on pedigree and type and suggestedwhat mares might suit him. Now it’s Big Jim’s turn.

Big Jim is a big black stallion who will be sold as a sire on his speed, particularly his precocious 2yo speed. Whereas Vintage Master couldn’t win a race at 2 and take a record of only 1.57.4 as a 2yo, Big Jim not only won plenty of 2yo races but took a time of 1.49.2. But as we know, sires with great speed themselves may or may not leave it in their progeny.

What gives Big Jim hope in this regard is the strength of his maternal line. He has the medium sized, very fast Big Towner as his damsire, and on both his maternal lines goes back to the speedy trotting mares Nedda Guy and Nedda (see my blogs on them).  His dam Bold Pink reflected that breeding in her own ability, taking a mark of 1:51.6 herself and leaving four sub 1:55 foals, although Big Jim is by far the biggest earner in stakes. The strength of his maternal genetic structure is, in my view, similar to Vintage Master. It’s very good proven quality, solid rather than spectacular. His dam, grandam and great-grandam all won over $100,000 in stakes, in some decent times, and all produced good performers from a range of sires – a sign of quality heart genes being passed down the female line.

However he was not sound, and in the end niggles forced his retirement before the end of his good 3yo season. It appears the problem was in his ankles and was found to be bone bruising, and started to cause problems even before the end of his 2yo season. Whether the soundness factor is something breeders will take into consideration is uncertain – we do tend to rate speed so highly these days and be willing to take the consequences. People will say: genes don’t get sore. That’s true, and I don’t know enough about what might cause bone bruising in ankles to make any comment on whether it signals anything more than the pressures of racing on a young physical skeleton.

There’s been little doubt in Canada where his first book is full and closed.

Big Jim in full flight

He is a big powerful stallion. In terms of mares here who may suit Big Jim, I would look for pedigrees that would be compatible with his Big Towner factor. I think Big Jim could be very compatible for Falcon Seelster mares, for type and genes, as would Christian Cullen mares be. Also Elsu mares, but for a different reason than Falcon Seelster. Going outside the square,  Dream Away mares could be okay, especially smaller ones – there’s a double up to Sonsam which I don’t mind at all and he added value/speed into both sires’ maternal lines. Big Towner of course has my old mate Shadow Wave lurking close behind, and that opens up mares from the quality maternal lines of Shifting Sands such as Grin, Red River/Rustler Hanover –  although many of these were bigger mares and it will be a while before we see if Big Jim stamps his size.  Mares with plenty of Albatross and Meadow Skipper blood will find Big Jim an option, but Big Towner (an outcross sire with no Meadow Skipper) again provides a way of avoiding just too much of a good thing.

And yes, Art Major mares (eventually) would be a very interesting match.

At $4500 Alabar have, like Nevele R with Vintage Master, gone for a price that is affordable for breeders without attracting too many ‘back paddock mares’ desperate for a miracle.

As you can see from this and my previous post, I’m seeing these sires less in terms of the Western Ideal factor, and more in terms of what their overall pedigree might find compatible in our likely broodmare pool, particularly how breeders might build on the strengths in these sires’ maternal lines, which are well structured and have shown speed.

I’d be happy to have any comments from others on what they think of this approach and what matches they think might work.

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