Soaring and Sailing - by Dan Liebman

Bobby Spalding is right. More often than not, we tend to overanalyze, overreach, even overreact. It leads to brain overload.

When it comes right down to it, Spalding said, “They are just horses; treat them like horses.”

They are words every farm manager should live by, imparted to Spalding by his first boss in the industry, Brereton Jones, owner of Airdrie Stud.

“It was 1980, I was a 21-year-old kid, and Janice and I had just gotten married,” Spalding recalled Oct. 26, the day after horses raised at the farm he manages, Stonerside, had won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) and Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). “I grew up around horses, but not Thoroughbreds. Janice was going to school in Midway, so I was looking for a job in the area. The governor (Jones served as Kentucky governor from 1991-95) gave me a chance to learn by getting my hands dirty.

“He told me to take care of them, keep them happy, don’t make it too complicated, keep it simple.”

For 28 years now, Spalding has been following that advice, at Airdrie, Manchester Farm, Wimbledon Farm, Elmendorf Farm, and for the past 12 1⁄2 years, at Stonerside.

Spalding followed the Elmendorf-owned mares when they were purchased as a package by Bob and Janice McNair, who until recently owned Stonerside. The farm and nearly all its breeding and racing stock were sold this fall to Sheikh Mohammed’s expansive Darley operation.

“You might say I got lucky,” a reflective Spalding said. “But I have always felt God grants you one thing, and he granted me and my family Bob and Janice McNair. They are fantastic people; they have been so good to us.”

Spalding said losing the McNairs as owners and breeders “is sad for horse racing,” but less than a minute later, added, “John Ferguson is a very sharp man.”

With the strong record of Stonerside in the relatively short period in which it had been breeding and racing, Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed’s racing manager, was quick to retain the staff at the 2,000-acre Stonerside Stable near Paris, Ky.

That staff also includes Stonerside’s racing manager, John Adger, who arranged to purchase the Elmendorf mares for the McNairs and also worked with Ferguson to consummate the latest Sheikh Mohammed mega-deal.

Speaking a few days after Midshipman won the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I), Adger said, “Wouldn’t it be neat if he became Sheikh Mohammed’s first (Kentucky) Derby (gr. I) winner?”

There are six months to wait and see if that happens, but Midshipman quickly made good on the package deal by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. By Unbridled’s Song, Midshipman is out of the multiple graded stakes-winning Avenue of Flags mare Fleet Lady, who was purchased privately by Stonerside following her racing career for her breeder, the late John Mabee’s Golden Eagle Farm.

Stonerside sold Darley an interest in Raven’s Pass after he won his first three starts last year. Having won the Iveco Solario Stakes (Eng-III) and run third in the Darley Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I), he was the fourth-ranked juvenile in England. Winless in his first five starts at 3, the son of Elusive Quality won his next two, the Celebration Mile (Eng-II) and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I).

On Oct. 25, Raven’s Pass won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, leaving Horse of the Year Curlin among those in his wake in his second start racing solely for Darley.

Raven’s Pass is out of the graded stakes-winning Lord At War mare Ascutney, who was purchased by Stonerside for $775,000 at the 2000 Keeneland January sale carrying eventual graded stakes winner Gigawatt, by Wild Again.

Yes, they are just horses. But, as Spalding also pointed out, “You have to have the horseflesh.”

That is not something that should be overlooked.

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