Belmont hopeful Hard Spun enjoys a snack at the track days before the big race.

Belmont hopeful Hard Spun enjoys a snack at the track days before the big race.

Barbara D. Livingston

Carver in Hog Heaven With Hard Spun

Three years ago, Bob Carver asked trainer John Servis to help find him a horse. From that innocent conversation, the Arkansas automobile dealer ended up on the Triple Crown trail.

“I was in John's tack room at Oaklawn when he introduced me to Rick Porter and he told Rick he was trying to find me a horse,” Carver said Thursday morning on the Belmont Park backside. “Rick said he was thinking of taking in a minority partner on some horses.”

So, Carver bought 5% of 20 horses that race in the name of Porter’s Fox Hill Farms including Hard Spun. The Danzig colt ran second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and finished third in the Preakness (gr. I). On June 9, he will enter the starting gate in the Belmont (gr. I).

“People try to get in the Triple Crown races their whole lives. I’ve been in the business three years and have a piece of a horse like Hard Spun. Yes, I know I got real lucky,” Carver said. “I sure never thought when I bought a piece of the horses I would be at the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont.

Besides a love of horses, Carver and Porter have something else in common. They are both in the car business, Porter in the Delaware valley and Carver in his native Arkansas.

In the late '60s, after his parents sold their butane and propane business, Carver signed on with the new owners, but after six months was looking for something different to do. A chance meeting in the local post office led to his purchase of a car dealership in his hometown of Mena, Ark., about 70 miles west of Hot Springs on the Oklahoma border.

He has owned Bob Carver’s Cars and Trucks for 37 years, selling Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles.

And, for the past 36 years, he has been doing something else that he also takes great pride in—spotting for the radio broadcasts of University of Arkansas football games at both home and away contests.

The Arkansas alum watches the game through binoculars, looking for tacklers and other things the play-callers, who are mostly keeping their eyes on the ball, might not see. He attends all the defensive strategy sessions so he is familiar with the formations.

On his left hand, Carver wears a large ring awarded the Razorbacks after they won the West Division of the Southeastern Conference in 2002.

Carver said Heisman finalist and first team consensus All-American running back Darren McFadden is the most talented Hogs player he has seen during his tenure associated with the team, but former quarterback Clint Stoerner had “the most heart of any player I’ve seen.”

The color commentator on the radio network is Keith Jackson, the former NFL Pro Bowl player and College Football Hall of Famer and All-American (at Oklahoma) whose son, also named Keith, is on the current Arkansas squad. The play-by-play announcer has not been decided for this year. Last summer, announcer Paul Ells was killed in an automobile accident.

It was also last summer that Carver got a call from Porter to discuss the horses. “He said we’ve got one that might really help us all,” Carver said. That horse is Hard Spun, who has earned nearly $1 million, taken his connections to all three Triple Crown races, and now had his breeding rights sold to Darley.

Pretty heady stuff for a guy whose first exposure to horses was a pony his grandfather bought he and his brother when Carver, now 71, was 8 or 9 years old. That same guy is loving every minute of it.

“Rick (Porter) has been great to deal with and first John Servis and now Larry and Cindy Jones (who train Hard Spun) have treated me like family. I'm having a great time.”

As for how much fun Carver is having, well, as they say in Razorback Stadium…SOOOOOOOOOOE!