In this week’s edition of Ontario Racing’s ongoing feature The Horse That Changed My Life, learn what horse was critical in establishing David Heffering’s Tara Hills Stud of Port Perry, ON.
by Dave Briggs
David Heffering said he will never forget the phone ringing late one night just before U.S. Thanksgiving in 1995. It was his brother Richard on the phone with a simple message: “Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas. Go pick up the horse.”
The horse was trotting stallion Mr Lavec, a horse that would prove to be a game- and life-changer for David and Tara Hills Stud of Port Perry, ON. The farm was in its infancy at that time and has grown to become one of the biggest standardbred breeding operations in Canada home to such stallion stars as Kadabra, Mach Three and Sportswriter.
“Mr Lavec was standing at Blue Chip Farms in New York,” David said. “We needed a horse badly up in Canada and my brother bought out the lease on the horse after a whole day of negotiations with Mr. Kimelman.”
Trouble was, David had never trucked a horse up to Canada from the United States before and the trip was anything but smooth. Along with Mr Lavec, David brought back a tank loaded with Precious Bunny’s frozen semen and some Christmas lights.
“I didn’t claim the semen and I got in trouble and the truck and trailer and horse were impounded for nine hours. It was a simple misunderstanding,” David said, adding that not claiming the Christmas lights also riled the border guards and caused the situation to snowball out of control. “We got the horse back to Canada finally on that day, but it took us awhile. I can sit back and laugh at it now, but at that time it wasn’t that funny. I was in one of those rooms calling people… I used some of it as my bonding time with Mr Lavec, but the rest is history for us. We got him to the farm and Armstrongs called and came in and bought 10 per cent of the horse. They used all their breedings. It really helped put us on the map.
“Mr Lavec was the first big time horse we had… He is this big, dark horse. A strong horse, gorgeous horse. He has French bloodlines in him. He was something different and we clicked. He never produced that Hambletonian winner, but Ontario was a good spot for him at the time because the (Ontario) Sires Stakes program was just starting to get rolling. I think we had 15 years of full books to that horse.”
Mr Lavec sired the winners of more than $41 million. He is now 25, in good health, and living in luxury at Tara Hills in their immaculate stallion barn and access to his own paddock.
“He was syndicated and when wasn’t worth paying his bills anymore, I basically bought the horse for $1,” David said. “I said he would always have a place to live. He’s in great shape. He looks great. He’s not ornery. He likes the kids when they go out. When they walk around the track, he comes right up to them. He just wants his head rubbed. He’s a great horse… Who knows how long he will live, but you look at this horse and his feet are in great shape. He has no lameness issues.”