Size Doesn't Matter - Evan Hammonds

Just as a good horse can come from anywhere, so too can good horsepeople. That was readily apparent Sept. 10 at the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association’s 31st annual national awards dinner where breeders and owners of all shapes and sizes mingled under a tent at Stonestreet Farm near Lexington.

Honored were some of racing’s titans: Stonestreet’s Barbara Banke, Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation, and Zayat Stables; and some of racing’s smaller breeders, such as Eileen Hartis, Gary and Mary Beth Reis, and Bill and Mary McDowell. The state breeders were honored earlier in the afternoon at a luncheon at Dudley’s downtown.

“I have always been a tiny, tiny breeder,” Hartis said despite raising Thoroughbreds in the expanse of Texas. Her “spread” is limited to 40 acres because “it’s about all I can take of. I feed ’em in the morning. I clean their stalls. I put them out at night. I brush and groom them. I do everything,” she said. She has one colt to sell at the upcoming Keeneland September yearling sale, adding, “I hand walk him myself. My walker is me.”

The Reises made their way to Lexington for the first time from Rhode Island. The Massachusetts TOBA award winners, along with partner Langdon Wilby, were honored for their success with Miss Wilby, one of their stable of eight and a three-time stakes winner last year at Suffolk Downs. Her half brother, All Hands Up, by Gimmeawink, is working toward a maiden start soon at Gulfstream. They were struck, like many others, by the picturesque setting of Central Kentucky in early September, and a trip earlier in the afternoon to Ashford Stud to see the stallions—make that American Pharoah—was “better than a day at Disney World,” according to Gary.

The McDowells made their way to Lexington as the recipients for Arkansas last year and were anxious to return this year. Usually in town only for Keeneland’s January sale, Bill was appreciative of his time in the Bluegrass and also thought the trip to Ashford was an added bonus. However, he was more enthralled with Uncle Mo than American Pharoah. As the sire of 20 stakes winners in his first crop, who can blame him?

Allen Poindexter didn’t make the trip to Ashford, as he was busy looking over his own foals. The Iowa winner has two separate bands of broodmares—one “regional” team and one “Kentucky” group. A repeat winner from the Hawkeye State, he said he “didn’t care about winning but just wanted to raise a good horse.”

Breeding and raising good horses are key goals for breeders from Massachusetts to Washington, but it takes a stronger commitment and deeper devotion outside the breeding centers due to access to bloodstock, stallions, and infrastructure such as the high-end veterinary care we all know the Thoroughbred requires.

Jimmy Bell, president of Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley USA, put things in perspective while accepting the national breeder award on behalf of his employer.

“I had the pleasure today to participate in the luncheon for the state breeders, and it became very obvious to me, and hit me very hard, that there is a common thread that binds us all together,” he said. “And that is the knowledge that we all have on how tough it is to breed a winner, much less a stakes winner, or a graded stakes winner. We all go through our trials and tribulations and our wouldas, and couldas, and shouldas, and yet we’re all in here trying to do the same thing.”

It’s a sport where the size of one’s heart and passion for the horse are the most important attributes.

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