Mike Sherman, who built Farnsworth Farm into a Florida powerhouse breeding establishment, died May 7 at his North Miami, Fla., home. He was 71.
Farnsworth was started in the 1950s after Sherman’s father, Isidore, had a man-to-man talk with his son. The younger Sherman planned to attend graduate school and study business at Columbia University and later start a brokerage firm.
“We were on vacation during my senior year in college,” Sherman told The Blood-Horse years later. “The conversation came around to, ‘What would you like to do with your life if you became successful in the brokerage business?’ I said I would like to breed Thoroughbred horses. He asked me why, and I told him about the tax advantages, and I told him Florida was a growing place in the industry. A couple of days later he said, ‘Why wait until you’re 50 to do what you really want to do—why not do it at the beginning?’ So, he bought the farm and I have run it since it started.”
Farnsworth, started in the early 1960s and located near Ocala, concentrated on breeding horses instead of racing them. The farm’s chief stallion during the early days was Bolinas Boy, who sired many of the farm’s initial stakes winners.
Farnsworth, which bred about 220 stakes winners alone and in partnership and raced a few, regularly appeared in the list of the nation’s top breeders. The farm was honored with a 1996 Eclipse Award as outstanding breeder.
Jewel Princess and Mecke were the big runners that year representing Farnsworth. Jewel Princess, who was voted 1996 champion older mare, won five graded stakes that year, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) and the Vanity Invitational Handicap (gr. I). Mecke, by farm stallion Maudlin, scored major wins that year in the Arlington Million Stakes (gr. IT) and the Early Times Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT).
Farmsworth also was the breeder of 1999 Eclipse Award winner Beautiful Pleasure. A full sister to Mecke, Beautiful Pleasure was voted champion older female after winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and two New York grade I stakes.
Farnsworth’s other major runners over the years include grade I turf winners Jackie Wackie and Powder Break (bred in partnership), plus numerous other graded winners, including grade II winner Imperialism , who finished third in the 2004 Kentucky Derby (gr. I).
Jim Scott, a former Farnsworth manager who now manages the Steinbrenner family’s Kinsman Farm near Ocala, remembered Sherman as a genius and a great businessman. “He would call me in the middle of the night, and we would talk for hours,” he said. “That was all Mike wanted to do.
“We had a system in place where we knew the exact cost of what it took to raise a horse. And believe me, if the horses made it through our system, they were good race horses. We’d have as many as 30 to 40 in a paddock.
“Mike’s philosophy was to take all the 2-year-olds to the sale. If they didn’t sell, or if they didn’t bring what it cost to get them there, we’d take them home and race them.
“Mike loved the 2-year-old sales. Every trainer knew him, and they would come over and say ‘What have you got?’
“Jewel Princess didn’t get sold at a sale. She broke her maiden at Calder (Race Course), and was later sold privately.”
Scott praised Sherman as a man with vision.
“Mike had a plan and stuck to it,” Scott said. “He was very good at picking the right kind of stallions for Florida. Those stallions probably would have done well anywhere, but they was especially good in Florida. The stallions he stood might have gotten lost in the shuffle somewhere else, but we bred a ton of mares to them and they sired runners.
“People would call Mike a nicking genius. They’d say, ‘You take these oddball horses, and they come up with racehorses. What’s your secret?’ But he’d never tell them.
“The reason he didn’t tell them because there was no nicking secret. His secret was that (at the time) he had nine stallions, and his best mares went to his best stallion. If stallion ‘A’ was busy, Mike sent the mare to the ‘B’ stallion. And if ‘B’ were busy, Mike sent her to the ‘C’ stallion.
“Mike wasn’t a horseman; he was a businessman, and he let us horsemen do our jobs. He took good care of his people, and they loved him for that.
“The farm wasn’t always pristine and the grass might have been kind of long at times, but those were minor issues. We did all the things that needed to be done right—feeding, proper blacksmithing, worming, and vaccinations, things like that.
“The farm resembled a factory, and Mike liked to refer to himself as a McDonald’s—‘A million served, he would say’—instead of a Lane’s End.”
In 2005 Farnsworth announced a drastic reduction in operations for estate planning purposes and shut down its operation. The farm and the bloodstock were sold.
Farnsworth now is owned by Robert and Myron Miller, who breed and race in the name Farnsworth Stables. Farnsworth is represented this year by graded stakes winners Cherokee Queen and Toocleverforwords. Last year the outfit won the Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. I) at Calder with Jessica Is Back.
Sherman’s survivors include his wife, Barbara, and children Gena, Lee, and Ryan.