Working Their Way

A beautiful spring day is giving way to the dark clouds of an advancing thunderstorm. But in the paddocks of picture-perfect Stonerside Farm near Paris, Ky., the radiant glow from the faces of owners Robert and Janice McNair is powerful enough to warm most of Central Kentucky. The McNairs are feeding treats to their mares and stroking the impossibly cute foals that surround them. You can't turn around without being awed by a Mr. Prospector baby here, a Storm Cat there, a Seattle Slew one field over. A visitor, trainer Bob Baffert, says, "This is like a kid going to Toys R Us."

In the Thoroughbred business only six years, the McNairs have already enjoyed enormous success. They've been said to possess the Midas touch; have been called, with some accuracy, "lucky." Consider their track record:

  • Stonerside's initial purchase was the racemare Southern Truce. Wearing the green chevron colors of the McNairs first out, she captured the Miss America Handicap (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields.

  • Stonerside's second purchase was a piece of the colt Strodes Creek, with partners Arthur Hancock III of Stone Farm and trainer Charlie Whittingham. He promptly finished second in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and third in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

  • Stonerside took a 25% ownership position in Touch Gold just before that colt won the Belmont in 1997.

  • Stonerside partnered with Stuart Janney III in the ill-behaved but talented Coronado's Quest, just as surgery corrected the horse's breathing problem. The bad boy got good in a hurry, winning four graded stakes, including the grade I Haskell and Travers Stakes.

  • The McNairs paid $875,000 for a filly by first-year sire Cherokee Run. Not only did Chilukki give her sire his first winner, she went on to win an Eclipse Award as the top juvenile filly of 1999.

  • In partnership with Hancock, Stonerside acquired the broodmare Angel Fever, who several years later would produce a Mr. Prospector colt that sold for a sale-topping $4 million. The colt turned out to be Fusaichi Pegasus, winner of the 2000 Kentucky Derby.

  • Early in 1999, National Football League owners voted 29-2 to award Los Angeles a franchise pending the city's presentation of plans for a new stadium. Later that year, the same owners voted 29-0 to award the franchise to Houston. The new team's owner? Robert McNair.

Luck in a business like Thoroughbred breeding and racing, unlike the luck of, say, winning the lottery, doesn't just fall out of trees. Nobody stays on top for any period of time due to continual random good fortune. Having money, as the McNairs surely do, doesn't hurt. But just ask Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale or last year's Los Angeles Dodgers--throwing money around does not ensure success. To borrow one of Robert McNair's favorite expressions: It just doesn't work that way.

So it would be wrong, no matter how convenient, to chalk up the stunning success of Janice and Robert McNair's Stonerside operation simply to luck. Or money. Since its inception, the stable has, with uncanny timing, bought into productive racehorses and broodmares. Yet behind fortuitous timing are old-fashioned factors like teamwork, trust, and inspiration.