“You’re way off, buddy!”
Jim Steele, stallion manager at Maryland Stallion Station, tells Bowman’s Band, tugging gently on the horse’s halter until the deep brown sire dismounts from the mare. “Come on!” In the world of high-stakes horse breeding, sometimes even stallions need a little help with what usually comes naturally.
It’s a bit more than a week into the mid-February-to-early-July thoroughbred breeding season, and the five sires who “stand” at Maryland Stallion Station — Seeking Daylight, Outflanker, Jazz Club, Rock Slide and Bowman’s Band — have begun to “cover” a trickle of incoming mares. The pace increases dramatically from March through June, with stallions sometimes reporting for duty to the farm’s breeding shed three times a day. By the time the season concludes, the quintet collectively will have mated with more than 300 broodmares.
Located on 100 acres of rolling pastureland just off Greenspring Avenue in Glyndon, near the site of each spring’s Maryland Hunt Cup, the stallion station opened last January. With its arrival, the state has bolstered its longtime position as a regional powerhouse for thoroughbred sires.
“We want to develop young male horses into successful stallions after their racing careers,” explains Don Litz, 58, president of the operation, whose sprawling office overlooks the two-acre paddocks that enclose the farm’s five stallions. “That way we can provide breeders in the Mid-Atlantic area an alternative to going to Kentucky. Bringing in these stallions creates a lot of new revenue for the state because we’re attracting a lot of mares from out of state — Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Virginia.”
Unlike Maryland’s best-known thoroughbred farms — Northview in Chesapeake City, Country Life in Bel Air and Murmur in Darlington, which, variously, board mares, deliver foals, prepare yearlings for auction sales, break and train young thoroughbreds, and provide R&R for horses on hiatus from the racetrack — Maryland Stallion Station functions solely as a venue for mating, the only one of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic, according to Litz. This means the business requires less land, fewer employees and lower initial capital outlay.
Framed by woods, a country road and two open fields, the farm consists of just two buildings: a large, cream-colored barn-like main structure with a forest-green gabled roof that contains MSS’s offices and spacious indoor stalls for the five sires; and, nearby, the smaller, similarly designed breeding shed, where the farm’s real business transpires.
The idea for the station began percolating in Litz’s mind in the late 1980s, back when he briefly managed historic Sagamore Farm, across the road from MSS. Owned by thoroughbred racing mandarin Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Sagamore was one of the breeding industry’s leading farms in the mid-20th century, home of both Discovery and his grandson, the legendary Native Dancer, who won 21 of 22 career races, including the 1953 Preakness. Their names appear in the bloodlines of virtually all influential contemporary stallions, and both horses are buried at Sagamore. Not insignificantly, the land leased for Maryland Stallion Station once was part of Sagamore, where many of the broodmares board before and after coupling at MSS. According to Litz, MSS has already had a positive financial impact on the once-moribund Sagamore, which closed briefly in the early 1990s, and is now back to running at 50 percent of its boarding capacity. “This stallion station is so well supported, it will cement Sagamore’s future,” he says.
Using the Sagamore legacy as a launching pad, Litz, who since the late 1970s has worked as a bloodstock agent, buying and selling and managing thoroughbreds for others, formulated a business plan for the new farm. While backers include a mix of Wall Street investors and veteran Maryland racing families, the key to establishing MSS’s bona fides has been partnering with Kentucky-based behemoth Lane’s End Farm, home of super-sires A.P. Indy and Kingmambo, as well as 2003 Horse of the Year — and Rock Slide’s full brother — Mineshaft. “They [Lane’s End] are our eyes for new stallion prospects,” says Litz.
Together, Lane’s End and MSS selected the farm’s five stallions, with plans to add another six as the operation grows. Stud fees range from a high of $7,500 (Rock Slide, Outflanker) to a low of $3,500 (Jazz Club), and a mating is arranged by phoning MSS office manager Amanda Bedford, who, in effect, oversees each sire’s procreative dance card. The fees are competitive with other breeding operations in the Mid-Atlantic, but a bargain compared to what some Kentucky horse breeders charge. (By comparison, Mineshaft commands $100,000 at Lane’s End.) MSS’s stud fees will rise, of course, depending upon how successfully its stallions’ offspring compete.
Litz admits that his operation’s association with Sagamore gives the lifelong horse-lover goose bumps. “It’s a surreal feeling,” he says. “When we bring these stallions out we show them in an oval that overlooks Sagamore and the entire valley. It’s just so dramatic to show your stallions off in that setting.”
Litz even thinks his horses, whose indoor stalls face Sagamore’s iconic white barns and ruby gabled roofs, sense something of the farm’s legacy, too. “They look out over that valley and they connect with it,” Litz claims. “I’ve seen it.”
Maryland Stallion Station, 3301 Tufton Ave., Glyndon, 410-771-4894, http://www.marylandstallions.com