A trio of Marylanders has joined with one of Kentucky's -- and the world's -- premier horse farms to build a thoroughbred breeding center in Maryland that they fervently believe can become the region's leading breeding operation.
The venture, called Maryland Stallion Station, will be situated on 100 acres overlooking the historic and picturesque Sagamore Farm in the heart of Worthington Valley northwest of Baltimore. The partnership with Lane's End Farm near Lexington, Ky. -- and Lane's End's owner, Will Farish, the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain -- lends instant prestige to what could become the most significant investment in Maryland horse breeding in more than a decade.
The ambitious undertaking comes at a time when Maryland's racing and breeding industries are in decline. However, the closely connected industries could become major beneficiaries if slot machines are legalized, particularly if the state approves them at racetracks.
That was not a factor in Lane's End's involvement, said Bill Farish, Will's son and general manager of the opulent Kentucky farm, where chandeliers hang in the visitors' area of the stallion barns.
"We're going into this not expecting or depending on slots," Bill Farish said. "Obviously, if slots were to come that would be a big positive. But we think this is a very sound concept with or without slots."
Plans call for construction of a 10-stall stallion barn, modeled after Lane's End's showcase barns, a smaller breeding shed and paddocks for each stallion. Construction is to begin by the end of the year and be completed next summer.
The group has already acquired five stallions for the upcoming breeding season. For that season they will stand at Shamrock Farms in Maryland. By the 2004 breeding season they would be settled into their new home in the heart of Worthington Valley horse country.
"We see opportunity, where everybody else seems to want to play up the negative," said Don Litz, long involved in Maryland's horse business and the driving force behind Maryland Stallion Station. "We emphasize to people that this is a regional business, not a Maryland business. There's no fence around Maryland. People will send mares from all over the country if we have the product."
Tom Bowman, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said the project is "a huge positive step for the state." It is the first major investment in a new stallion farm in Maryland since Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County was formed in 1988 to fill the void created by the closure of Windfields Farm.
"The fact that a Kentucky-based operation is showing faith and confidence in this regional market is huge," Bowman said. "It could stimulate other breeding farms to step up to the plate and recognize this as increased competition. Increased competition hasn't hurt any industry yet."
Maryland Stallion Station sprang from a long-time dream of Litz, who buys and sells horses and operates a horse-consulting business. Litz managed historic Sagamore Farm for nearly three years after Jim Ward Jr. bought it in 1987 from Alfred G. Vanderbilt.
Litz became captivated by the Sagamore legend. He longed to see the former home of Native Dancer, one of the greatest racehorses and sires of all-time, return to its past glory.
This endeavor begins to fulfill that dream. The new stallion operation will be built on the eastern side of Tufton Avenue on land that was once part of Sagamore. The partners leased 100 acres from the current owner, Edward St. John, for the barn and stallion paddocks.
The rolling, green expanse that was the main part of Sagamore lies on the western side of Tufton. It will be involved peripherally in the new venture.
Ward, who owns the core of Sagamore, has agreed to provide two barns for housing mares that will be bred to the stallions across the road. Additional mares would be boarded at other farms. Ward has also agreed to replace the rundown fencing that outlines the property.
Litz spent years refining his idea, along the way recruiting the Farishes of Lane's End. They stand 19 stallions in Kentucky, including A.P. Indy, one of the country's top sires who commands $300,000 per breeding.
Will Farish is also co-breeder and co-owner of Mineshaft, a son of A.P Indy and the leading contender for Horse of the Year. Mineshaft has been retired and will enter stud at Lane's End next year with a fee of $100,000. His full brother Rock Slide is one of Maryland Stallion Station's initial five sires. His fee will be $7,500.
Once the Farishes teamed with Litz, Bill Farish recruited Herb May, his long-time friend from Maryland -- the two were classmates at the University of Virginia -- and then May recruited his friend, David M. DiPietro. May and DiPietro had worked together in Baltimore as investment bankers. They in turn recruited colleagues who had never invested in horses before.
Finally, Maryland Stallion Station boasted about 30 investors, more than half of whom are new to the horse business. The primary partners declined to reveal the amount of the investment.
The key to success is the link to Lane's End.
"Their ability to identify and find the best bloodstock in the world is probably second to none," DiPietro said. "They're going to give us a powerful opportunity to bring young horses into Maryland."
Maryland Stallion Station won't be a receptacle for Lane's End castoffs, the partners said. The goal is to bring in young stallions and let them develop into stars.
"We have set the highest of standards for ourselves," May said. "Obviously there are a lot of big dreams here. But we think we've put together something very special."