10/15/2015 2:41PM

At 29, Clever Trevor living out a dream life

Mary Rampellini
Tess Von Hemel spends time with 29-year-old Clevor Trevor, who lives at her family's farm in Oklahoma.

PIEDMONT, Okla. – Clever Trevor immediately makes his way to Tess Von Hemel when she enters his pasture at her family’s 10-acre farm a half-hour from Remington Park. Yes, he’s interested in the treats she bears. But when the goodies are gone, he’s content to simply keep the company of the 16-year-old he’s watched grow up.

Clever Trevor, who in 1992 retired to the home of Donnie and Robin Von Hemel, is now 29. Born during the Reagan administration, Clever Trevor was a foal when fuel was less than a dollar a gallon. He even raced in the inaugural season at Remington Park, the site of a race named in his honor Nov. 6.

Clever Trevor knows what it is to run in the Kentucky Derby, battle Easy Goer in the Travers, and capture the most important race in his home state of Oklahoma. But above all, Clever Trevor has had the love, respect, and commitment of the McNeill and Von Hemel families from Day 1.

“I’m jealous I didn’t get to see him run,” said Tess Von Hemel. “The first thing I ever remember telling everyone at school was that my dad trained a famous racehorse and we have him out in the pasture.”

Donnie Von Hemel was just 27 when Clever Trevor put his training career on the fast track by developing into one of the top young horses in the country. The 3-year-old crop of 1989 was an unforgettable one, led by Sunday Silence and Easy Goer.

“It was one of the premier 3-year-old classes, for decades,” said Ryan McNeill, whose late father, Don McNeill, bred and raced Clever Trevor. “There’s been markers along the way to remind us of its influence, headlines about peers in his class that have passed along the way.”

Clever Trevor has outlived both Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, among others. He’s quietly spent the last 23 years at the Von Hemel farm under the care of Robin. Clever Trevor, still owned by McNeill Stables, was deliberately sent to Donnie Von Hemel’s farm after closing out his career a Grade 1 winner and earner of $1.3 million.

“It never occurred to my dad to separate the two,” said Ryan McNeill. “He felt a fondness for how the Von Hemels care for their animals. I think if Clever Trevor wasn’t feeling well, you might catch Robin outside his stall in a sleeping bag!”

Robin Von Hemel rarely spends more than a night away from the farm as part of her dedicated care to Clever Trevor in his advanced age. She keeps Clever Trevor’s schedule constant in an effort to minimize stress. Robin Von Hemel has him on a nutrient-dense, high-fat feed that is easy to digest. She also arranged for a pasture buddy for Clever Trevor, her 29-year-old Quarter Horse, Nick. The result is a bright-eyed Clever Trevor who boasts a healthy coat and has surpassed the average Thoroughbred life span of 25.

“We’re grateful for every day,” said Robin Von Hemel. “He’s just been so good to us. I think he probably put Oklahoma horse racing on the map, and he definitely brought Donnie a lot of recognition. We still appreciate it to this day. It makes all of us pretty emotional.”

Life became a whirlwind for the McNeill and Von Hemel families on March 18, 1989, when Clever Trevor won the inaugural Remington Park Derby. He proved three-quarters of a length best under regular rider Don Pettinger.

“The day was a big day, of course, a big crowd, and the first really, truly big race that had been run at Remington,” said Donnie Von Hemel. “If I remember right, we had a D. Wayne Lukas horse or two in there, maybe a California horse or two, and something from Oaklawn. It was the most exciting thing that I’d been associated with up to that point in my career.”

The stakes would get higher, with Clever Trevor second to Dansil in the Arkansas Derby and 13th to Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby. Clever Trevor then paired up blowout wins, taking the $315,000 St. Paul Derby by seven lengths at Canterbury and the Grade 1 Arlington Classic by nine lengths in July.

“He went to the lead, and in both races, he was farther in front every pole,” Donnie Von Hemel said. “He was just very dominant in both races. That brought us to the point of going to Saratoga.”

“The high-water mark was the Travers and his race against Easy Goer,” said Ryan McNeill, 38. “That was all a dream for our family. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it was neat to see how Dad got to ride on the wings of a dream.”

Clever Trevor stood up to the East Coast’s prized 3-year-old for a long time in the stretch.

“I think he ran the best race of his life that day at Saratoga,” Von Hemel said. “He gave us quite a thrill. He took over the lead, and Easy Goer ran at him, and we held him off for quite a while. I think that probably would be his defining race. He ran a spectacular race and got beat by one of the best horses of that era.

“I’m very thankful to Clever Trevor and to the McNeill family for entrusting me with a horse of that magnitude. He took us all over the country and performed well. Just the kind of horse a young trainer needs to get his name out there and get some notoriety, and I’m very thankful he was that horse for me.”