(Edited press release)
Horse advocate John A. Hettinger, a member of the Board of Trustees of the New York Racing Association and Chairman Emeritus of the Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation, died Sept. 6 at his Akindale Farm in Pawling, New York after a lengthy illness. There will be no public ceremony.
Born Dec. 18, 1933, Hettinger attended Yale and earned a degree in American History in 1955.
Fascinated by the language and culture of Mexico, he spent eight years in Mexico City working in sales and marketing for the Celanese Corporation, which produced chemicals and chemical fibers. After a two-month visit to Spain, he and his wife, Betty, relocated there and he began a career in real estate. He purchased 450 acres of land about five miles east of the Rock of Gibraltar, developed vacation homes, built a road and a beach club and later, sold it all to an investment bank.
The sale of the development allowed Hettinger to return to the United States in 1973 after 17 years abroad and he took over Akindale Farm about 75 miles north of New York City. His father had purchased the 18th century farm house and 55 acres many years before, and Hettinger expanded the property to 800 acres.
Akindale Farm campaigned such stakes-winning horses as Chase the Dream, Genuine Regret, Jazzing Around, Lady D’Accord, Move It Now, Prospector’s Flag, Up Like Thunder and Virgo Libra. Akindale also stood such stallions as D’Accord, Personal Flag, Stacked Pack and Sir Wimborne.
Hettinger’s big horse was Warfie, who he said gave him his biggest thrill as an owner when she won the Long Island Handicap in 1989.
Hettinger also stepped in at a crucial period in the history of Fasig-Tipton, North America’s oldest Thoroughbred auction company. In December of 1991, Hettinger personally supplied 40 percent ($2.4 million) of the firm’s $6 million recapitalization plan, and then supplied another $1.2 million from trusts benefiting his sons, James and William. Most of the funds were used to pay off Fasig-Tipton’s debt, and in exchange, the Hettingers were given high voting rights; in fact, Hettinger held about 58 percent of the voting control of Fasig-Tipton.
Winner of the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2000, Hettinger was an outspoken opponent of horse slaughter and founded Blue Horse Charities to abolish the mistreatment of horses and to set up adoption for many after their racing careers were over.
Asked in one interview why he was so devoted to the cause, Hettinger said: “All of my best friends have four legs.”
In addition to his wife and sons, Hettinger is survived by his three grandchildren: Caroline, Charles and Lilly.