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Heir To Champagne Dies Unexpectedly

by Bob Funkhouser
Posted March 7, 2002
Like many stallions before him, CH Heir To Champagne’s career was unexpectedly cut short at a time when his place as a top sire was being firmly established. Marked with four white legs and a strip in his face, the 16-year-old son of Champagne Fizz and Hillcrest Enjoli died Friday, February 22 from neurological problems. The James Orr family had owned the world’s champion performer and sire since he was a weanling.

“It’s so frustrating to have put all these years in and seeing it pay off, only to have the rug pulled out from under us,” said Deborah Orr Visser. “He was just a grand horse that gave it his all no matter what he was doing.”

The Orr family purchased Heir To Champagne as a weanling from the Hulse family. They also bought his dam, the Hillcrest Bourbon Stonewall daughter, Hillcrest Enjoli, and she was back in foal to Fizz, carrying a foal that would be named Mr. Million Heir. Heir To Champagne was also a full brother to world’s champions Champagne’s Mr. Perfection and Perfectionheir.

The Orr’s young stallion was started by Sonny Sutton who won the Two-Year-Old and Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited World’s Championships with him. As a junior horse he placed third at Louisville and the following year he was exhibited by Deborah Orr, her first time showing a gaited horse.

“He was a straightforward horse who liked his training,” said Sonny Sutton. “Heir was Deborah's first gaited horse but she was so ring wise and he liked that. I can’t say enough about what a picture they were together. She is an aggressive rider and he loved that. No matter what you were doing with him he would give you 100 percent.

“We started breeding this horse as a three-year-old and he would be fine with that and then go right back to work. He was Jim Orr’s dream horse. We bought him as a weanling and Jim wanted him to be a show horse and then a breeding stallion and he ended up doing both things very well. He was a Kansas City horse and everybody in this part of the country loved him.” The Missourians weren’t the only fans of CH Heir To Champagne. When Deborah took over the reins they stayed locally the first year winning at UPHA Chapter 5, Boone County, and St. Louis. Then in 1992 they ventured east after winning at UPHA Chapter 5 in May. Exploding on the scene at Rock Creek, everyone knew this horse was going to be just as successful as an amateur mount as he was with a professional as a two and three-year-old.

“Dad always said Rock Creek was where we established ourselves,” recalled Deborah. “I think maybe the Fall Classic that year was our best go, but Rock Creek was where we said, ‘We are for real.’”

They won the Amateur Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding Stake at Rock Creek but did not show back because of heavy rains. Louisville was their next stop and they won the Amateur Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding Reserve World’s Championship but then the stallion colicked on stake night and could not return.

“I had my suit already on and everything,” said Deborah. “It just wasn’t meant to happen.” Heir To Champagne recovered from that bout with colic and they went on to the Kentucky Horse Park for the Fall Classic with two spectacular shows before bringing down the house at the American Royal. That season Heir To Champagne was also honored as the UPHA Amateur Five-Gaited Horse Of The Year.

“He was great to show, “ said Deborah. “It was more his decision than yours, you just needed to stay up with him and try not to interfere. You couldn’t be a passenger, but he knew what he was doing and you just had to stay with him. He loved showing.”

Although he had been bred lightly during his show career, it was then time to focus on the second part of the equation, establishing Heir To Champagne as a top sire. He did not disappoint. In fact, the year he was reserve in the amateur stallion/gelding class, a son by the name of Token Favorite was reserve in the Two-Year-Old Five-Gaited World’s Championship. He would go on to win another reserve world’s championship as a junior gaited horse and then win three world’s titles as a gaited pleasure horse.

The list of world title holders as well as expressive national champions grew year after year. Among the early ones were Heir’s Heiress, Heiress To Champagne, Awesome Heir, A Touch Of Heir, Heir Of Honor, Vision Heir, Already Famous, and Heir Balloon.

The Orr family’s vision of Heir To Champagne climbing to the top took another big step recently as he broke into Saddle Horse Report’s Top 20 World’s Champion Sires in eleventh place overall. He was ranked as the number seven sire of five-gaited and three-gaited world’s champions. Some of his 2001 stars included Junior Three-Gaited 15.2 & Under World’s Champion Winefest, Amateur Three-Gaited Park Mare World’s Champion Annie Up, Reserve World’s Champion Amateur Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding I’m A Treat, and Reserve World’s Champion Ladies’ Amateur Three-Gaited 15.2 & Under Heir Balloon.

“It’s special for me to be able show these horses by him and for them to do so well,” said Deborah. “Their attitudes are so great. They seem to be all so willing and that’s exactly what he was, so willing.

“I thought we had a great plan,” continued Deborah. “We had him at the best place [Willowbank] for his breeding career, we had his colts with some of the very best trainers and then it’s gone. We do have frozen straws and that’s what we have to concentrate on now. We can never replace him, but we have to breed for something that will continue this.”

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