09/12/2008 12:00AM

Hettinger remembered as royalty


New York Thoroughbred breeding has lost one of its anchors with the death of John Hettinger at age 74.

He died last Saturday at his Akindale Farm in Pawling, N.Y.

An example of his contribution to New York involved the stallion Personal Flag. Hettinger, in partnership with Howard Kaskel of Sugar Maple Farm and others, brought Personal Flag to the Empire State stallion ranks in 1989.

A full brother to Personal Ensign, Personal Flag was the first millionaire retired to stud in New York. Personal Flag earned $1,258,924 on the track, and his victories included the Suburban and Widener handicaps, both Grade 1 events. He went on to sire top New York-breds like Say Florida Sandy, Ave's Flag, and Richmond Runner.

Hettinger's career was marked by such investments in New York breeding. He also stood stallions such as D'Accord, Stacked Pack and Sir Wimborne at Akindale Farm.

New York trainer Mike Hernandez was a colleague of Hettinger and his family for some 40 years. He trained at Akindale Farm for a few years in the early 1980s, and saddled the family's Mithrandir to victory in a division of the New York Stallion Stakes in 1987.

"He was one of the greatest men you could know," said Hernandez. "He cared for the people and the horses, and was loved by all who knew him. It is hard to lose a man like John Hettinger."

One of Hettinger's favorites was Warfie, whom he bred and who captured the Grade 2 Long Island Handicap in 1989. Warfie, by D'Accord, earned $418,490 in her career, which also included a placing in the Grade 1 Ladies Handicap. She became the grandmother of New York-bred Gold Joy, winner of the historic Tremont Stakes in 2004.

Hettinger also took pride as the breeder of Lady D'Accord. Another filly by D'Accord, she earned $590,138 and twice captured the Grade 2 Bed o'Roses Handicap along with multiple Grade 1 placings. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito trained Warfie and Lady D'Accord.

Zito's longest association with an owner was with Hettinger.

"They don't make them like that any more," said Zito. "Words can't express what a great man John Hettinger was. He was a king, and I mean that. He hired Nick Zito 28 years ago, when it wasn't popular to do so. He was the ultimate in class and integrity, and I am so blessed to have known him and been with him. I owe him so much."

Akindale Farm also campaigned New York-bred stakes winners Chase the Dream, Genuine Regret, Jazzing Around, Move It Now, Prospector's Flag, Up Like Thunder, and Virgo Libra.

Hettinger supported one of the main concepts of the legislation that created the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund in 1973. The idea was to save and recover agricultural land in New York by stimulating growth in the Thoroughbred breeding industry. Hettinger oversaw the expansion of Akindale Farm to 775 acres, on land originally purchased by his father in 1944.

His service to the racing industry included memberships on the New York Racing Association board of trustees, The Jockey Club, the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Blue Horse Charities, and the Eastern and New York Thoroughbred Breeders associations.

Hettinger was also instrumental in saving the Fasig-Tipton sales company in 1991. He supplied $3.6 million during a critical reorganization of the nation's oldest Thoroughbred sales company.

Winner of the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2000, Hettinger became a passionate foe of horse slaughter during the last few years of his life.

Sez Who leading the way

Sez Who Thoroughbreds tops state breeders in earnings through Aug. 31 at $2,869,012. The top performer for Sez Who Thoroughbreds is Premium Wine.

In second place at $1,877,961 is Flying Zee Stables, led by graded stakes winner I Lost My Choo. Next is Becky Thomas and Lewis Lakin at $1,142,877, with their top performer being Goodday.

Chester and Mary Broman are also over the million-dollar mark at $1,117,793, led by Motor Patrol.

Rounding out the top five are Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey at $783,476, led by Almighty Silver.

Statistics are provided to the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund, courtesy of the Jockey Club Informations Systems.