Ask any knowledgeable Standardbred owner, trainer, driver, or groom who is considered the founding sire of the Standardbred breed and they'll quickly answer "HAMBLETONIAN". But ask them who sired Hambletonian and you'll probably get a blank stare and a "I don't know, that's a good question".
Abdallah, -- Abdallah 1, of the Trotting Register, was the sire of Hambletonian 10 and his story as told in The American Trotter by John Hervey is heartbreaking and enlightening into the harshness and realities of early American existence. There was a need for strong, fast horses that could go mile after mile, day after day, over all types of terrain. The light-harness horse became a necessity of life in this era and these horses helped build America by providing early Americans with a faster means of transportation. As a service sire, Abdallah helped to improve the driving stock of America and profoundly contributed to the American Standardbred breed of horses that still exists today. His story is presented here as taken from The American Trotter by John Hervey.
Abdallah was foaled in 1823 and bred by John Tredwell, of Salisbury Place, Queens County, Long Island, New York. Abdallah was a son of the Thoroughbred, Mambrino (a son of the famed Thoroughbred Messenger), out of the mealy chestnut mare, Amazonia, who's origin and breeding remain unknown and lost in the fog of history. She was described by her owner as a "much admired and celebrated trotting mare", and Abdallah was considered to be "his mother's son" as his Thoroughbred father, Mambrino, was not a noted trotter. Much of Abdallah's often criticized physical characteristics he seemed to have inherited from his mother: rat-tail, and a long thin sharply pointed ear. His horrid disposition has been attributed to his Thoroughbred father.
Since there were no camera's in the early 1800's people had to rely on words to describe a horse to those who had never seen him, (an artform that is sadly lost in today's journals where the almighty picture rules the day) and Alden Goldsmith, a noted horseman and judge of horseflesh, at the time, gave this description:
Abdallah was in color a very dark bay or brown; in height 15.3 hands; rather leggy, with a slim body. He had a clean, bony head, rather large, but his clear, full eye made it expressive. It was set on a long and very finely formed neck, and this fine neck was joined to as high, thin and blood-like looking shoulders as were ever seen on a horse. His shoulders were very deep, which gave him great heart room; he was what horsemen call flat-ribbed --hips very long and fair width, the muscles well set down towards the hock, but laid on flat, which, without careful examination, gave him the appearance of being light quartered. His tail was very thin and light and high set; when in motion he carried it high.
When led out of his stall he seemed to be all nerve and energy; his gait was long, low and sweeping. Some would say that he lacked knee action, and that his hind legs were too straight to become a sire of great trotters. Although, taking him all in all, he was probably the most remarkable trotting sire ever produced on this continent, the breeders of Orange County (NY) rejected him, and he was taken away from the county because he would not pay expenses.
The objection to him was that his get were nervous and lacked brain balance.
I must mention one other feature about him, which was his ear; this was long, exceedingly thin and very sharp -- a feature so marked in its shape as to stamp any ear of like form as being an Abdallah-ear.
John Hervey offers a further description of him as a: "deep, rich bay with black points, marked by a small star in the forehead and the off ankle white. He stood 15 3/4 hands tall and ran up well on the withers."
To these descriptions of Abdallah we may add that in his old age he became really grotesque. His large and heavy head, together with his "cat-hams" and rat tail, his hollow back, and his light middle-piece, made him look like an animal with two fantastic ends joined by an attenuated cylinder and more than one witness has characterized him as the "ugliest horse they ever saw." This impression was heightened by his ferocious temper. The stallions of the Messenger line, including the immediate male ancestors of that illustrious progenitor, were none of them celebrated for their docility, but Abdallah seems to have been the fiercest of them all. He could never be broken to harness because of his determined intention to the contrary, his teeth and heels he regarded as weapons of offense to be freely used upon slight provocation, he was as ill-natured in the stable as he was out of it and many grooms refused to care for or exhibit him, and the older he grew the more of a mauvais sujet (bad subject) he became. On the other hand, the error should not be made of obtaining a false impression from these details. It has been justly observed that we have no intimate knowledge of Abdallah until in his later years after he had passed through many and obviously very rough hands, and seen much hard usage, doubtless sufficient to have soured the disposition of nay high-lived stallion. He seems to have been readily broken to saddle and was ridden a great deal, showing what was considered great speed at the trot. As was the custom in that day with service stallions, he was never trained or raced.
We first hear of Abdallah through a certificate given by his breeder, John Tredwell, on April 27, 1830, stating that he had then sold him to Isaac Snedecor (or Snediker) and Richard Morrell; that he was seven years old; that when three he had covered eight mares and got six foals and when four he was taken, fat, without exercise and unshod, to the old New-market track, near Jamaica (NY), and trotted a mile in 3:10. His daughters Lady Blanche (subsequently famous as a trotter and as the dam of several fast ones) and Lady Spot are referred to in glowing terms, and "his beautiful and substantial bright bay brothers, a pair, fullup 16 hands high, long, strong and smooth made, with most peculiarly made strong black hoofs, with wide heels, which is characteristic of the Mambrino stock." This shows that Amazonia had two other foals by Mambrino, own brothers of Abdallah, but aside from this one tantalizing glimpse of them, they remain unknown to history.
Aside from the six foals got by Abdallah as a three-year-old he seems to have got no more until sold to Snedecor and Morrell in 1830, who placed him in public service at a fee of $10, he standing that season at Flatbush, Long Island, NY. All through the 1830's he continued to stand either on the Island or just across in New Jersey, under Snediker's management for the most part, at small fees. Though he is said to not have made any large seasons, his get were such fast natural trotters that they became in demand and brought the highest prices. Finally, in the winter of 1839-1840 John W. Hunt of Lexington, KY, decided that the time was ripe to introduce into the Blue Grass some strains of the Messenger blood that was producing so many famed trotters in the North, for the purpose of improving its light-harness stock. Up to that time the Kentucky breeders had done nothing along that line, concentrating wholly upon Thoroughbred and saddle horses, with a few importations of heavy draught stallions from the East for the getting of farm animals. While numerous Canadian and other pacers had also been brought in, they were not used for getting driving horses, but for saddle purposes. But by now the pikes that were later to make Kentucky famous in American road building were beginning to be constructed, and the need for fast roadsters was felt.
Colonel Hunt, who was among Lexington's leading citizens and horsemen, was the first to realize this and to endeavor to meet it. Kentucky had not at that date a true trotting stallion worthy the name, so he opened negotiations with William T. Porter in New York and empowered him to purchase two of the best obtainable and forward them to him. The Spirit editor's selections were Abdallah and Commodore, both sons of Mambrino, son of Messenger, for whose blood Porter had a partiality. And here it may be of interest to introduce a fact about the sons of Mambrino that previous trotting historians have overlooked. It has often been commented that, while three different sons of Mambrino made enduring names for themselves, those being: Abdallah; Mambrino Paymaster, (he the sire of Mambrino Chief 11); and Almack, no others left deep marks and few seem to have been kept for service. One explanation of this provided by Porter, who, when announcing the purchase of Abdallah and Commodore to go to Kentucky, stated:
By-the-bye, entire sons of Mambrino are becoming very rare; we do not think there are more than two or three of much promise remaining, if so many, either in New Jersey or on Long Island. Some ten years since, twenty-five were bought up at one time, for the British Government, and shipped to the West Indies to improve the breed of cavalry horses, while constant drafts have been made annually upon those in this vicinity, for the western part of this state, Vermont and Maine. It is notorious that the carriage horses from these states command 20 percent more in the markets of the Atlantic cities than those from any other section.
Abdallah and Commodore started from New York for Kentucky in the depth of winter, February 1840, and were roaded overland all the way under saddle (roughly 700 miles). En route Abdallah was lamed and arrived at Lexington in bad condition. Of the two horses, Commodore made an instant success, as he was a big, showy horse, over 16 hands, very stylish in harness, and attracted great attention. On the other hand, Abdallah, though brought in to sire driving horses, could not himself be driven. His big head, hollow back, and rat tail were ridiculed, and the Blue Grass horsemen found little about him to favor. He was placed in the hands of Dennis Seals, a Negro, who tried to break him to drive but gave it up after protracted battles and, it was said, "used to turn him out at night with the crupper under his tail in order that he might indulge his fancy for kicking to his heart's content." He stood at the Hunt farm on the Leesburg pike, about a mile out of Lexington; and according to one story, served about fifty mares- according to another, very few and got only eight or ten foals. Two of these, however, were Frank Forester 2:30, and O'Blennis 2:30, both foaled in 1841 and the first two 2:30 trotters in history that were got by the same sire. As for Commodore, he was the most popular light-harness stallion in and around Lexington for many years and left a large progeny, but got nothing speedy of note, nor did any of his sons. Several of his daughters, however, became celebrated as broodmares, and one of them produced the stallion Stevens' Bald Chief, he the sire of one of the greatest of all trotting broodmares, Minnehaha, she the dam of Beautiful Bells 2:291/2 and Eva 2:23 1/2, from each of whom has come a family of champions and sires and dams of champions.
That Abdallah was unpopular in Kentucky is certain; and Colonel Hunt, who had paid $1,000 for him, apparently had a white elephant on his hands when luck came to his rescue. So many of his get had shown so well on the tracks and speedways around New York during that season of 1840 and they were priced so high that a strong desire to get him back there resulted. Before going to Kentucky, Abdallah had passed through various hands and the last was said to have been William Simonson. He, learning that Hunt was in a selling mood, organized a company and bought him back, for a reputed price of $1,365. Thus Hunt made money on his investment after all. Abdallah was then obliged to make the return trip to New York in the same fashion as he had the outward one (another 700 mile trip). Again it was a very hard jaunt, in severe March weather over bad roads much of the way, and he became so exhausted at one stage that it was necessary to lay him up several days before it was safe to go on. As before he arrived at his journey's end in sad shape.
Back again on Long Island, he stood at the Union Course in 1841 and 1842. In 1843 he made his first season in Orange County, NY, at Goshen. In 1844 and 1845 he was at Freehold, NJ. In 1846, 1847, and 1848 he was back in Orange County, this time at Chester, NY, where Ebenezer Seeley stood him. Now twenty-six, in 1849 he was kept at the famous Bull's Head sale stables in New York City, on Twenty-fourth Street, but did not have a single patron except two or three surreptitious ones. Then in 1850 he made his last weary pilgrimage back to Long Island and the neighborhood of his nativity. Once more Snediker took him in charge, and he covered 16 mares. That was his last regular stud service.
Simonson, who was a butcher in Brooklyn, had remained all this time his controlling owner and now took charge of him, and the old horse henceforth shifted largely for himself, receiving little care and often scant food. Finally in the spring of 1854 Simonson gave him to one of his neighbors, a farmer, who agreed to provide him with a good home as long as he lived but, soon repenting of his bargain, sold him for $35 to a fish peddler, who undertook to hitch him to his wagon and ply his trade with him. Upon this Abdallah, his spirit and his heels alike unsubdued by thirty-one years of stormy life, kicked himself loose, demolished the vehicle, and took himself off along the beach, unpursued. Henceforth he roamed at will, spending his days in the open and seeking refuge at time in a tumbledown shack in a lonely neighborhood that he had selected for his habitat. And there, in November 1854, he was found dead. This "last, sad scene of all, in his strange, eventful history" has been vividly described for us by the celebrated painter of the American Indian and the American Racehorse, Henry H. Cross, in the following words:
In November, 1854 it happened that I was at the Union Course sketching a horse that I had received a commission to paint, when a man drove in, bringing the news that old Abdallah had just been found dead on Gravesend Beach. I accordingly drove over with other horsemen to get a last look at this celebrated stallion. The sight that met our eyes was indeed a gruesome one. The old horse had run loose in the wind and weather all the fall, subsisting as best he could upon beach and marsh grass and such other forage as he could pick up. Finally he had taken refuge in an old shanty on the beach, which he had grown too feeble to leave. There he literally starved to death. He had died standing, game to the last. In his struggles he had dug a deep hole with his forefeet, in the endeavor to escape the torments of the sandflies and mosquitoes, and appeared as if half buried, his fore parts being three feet lower than his hind ones. He was, as I have said, on his feet, as he had never lain down. Instead he had leaned against the side of the shanty for support, and in that position had drawn his last breath. I can never forget the spectacle he presented. It was one of the most extraordinary and at the same time the most pathetic I have ever seen - his strange posture, his gaunt, skeleton-like frame covered with long woolly hair and the ghastly surroundings. I believe he was given decent burial and his hoofs, his tail and some other portions of his anatomy were preserved.
Only an outline has been given of Abdallah's stud career. It might be amplified by many interesting details, did space permit. His was a truly checkered existence, matching as it did his individuality in its many striking features. But one fact of primary importance emerges - he was the most successful trotting sire of his generation, siring more race winners than any rival; horses, moreover, that were remarkable for their gameness and whipcord organization, their ability to campaign over long stretches of years and to go long distances to sulky, to wagon, and under saddle.
No less than 22 of his sons sired Standard performers and make up a list, which far exceeds that by any other progenitor foaled so far back as 1823. These include such famous ones as Harold 413, Daniel Lambert 102, Cassius M. Clay Jr. 22, Guy Miller 861, Tramp 308, Abdallah 164 (Goldsmith's) etc., and numerous others of only less note, through which his blood enters into a vast number of the best and fastest pedigrees of the time.
But everything else pales into insignificance beside his one monumental achievement of begetting Hambletonian 10. This alone has placed him in one of the highest niches in the trotting hall of fame. And this he did at the age of twenty-five, when he was near the very nadir of his career, an old and battered outcast, literally despised by the breeders of Orange County, NY; while this most momentous mating of all trotting-horse history only took place because he was standing under the management of Jonas Seeley's brother Ebenezer and it cost nothing for Jonas to send to him his old and broken-down Bellfounder broodmare, for which he had paid $135 and who ended up producing a colt that founded a breed of horses.
So the next time someone mentions how fast, tough, courageous, and versatile a Standardbred horse is, remember Abdallah 1 and those traits that he surely passed on to his son Hambletonian.