In time, the grand manse served as public house and ticket office for travelers seeking stage or ferry. Its watercourse still a vibrant trading hub the year a young country warred with England, 1812, the Cecil County town officially became Port Deposit.
By the mid-1960s, another prominent family held the prominent cliff-top at Anchor and Hope. To 500 grassy acres, John B. Merryman brought a prized collection of Guernsey dairy cows, a string of homemade racing Thoroughbreds and a taste for deal-making. Grandson Louis Merryman, born 1977, lived in the stone estate with its wood box-office relics, milked how many cows, tiptoed the Susquehanna’s stony shallows to river islands and made a splash on horseback too, dashing through pony races and breaking young runners.
The Merrymans typically made tracks for horses, and horses for them. At their principal farm, The Orebanks in Baltimore County, John and Kitty had raised six children; five became trainers. Louis, trainer Edwin’s son, began handling stallions as a teenager: from Murmur Farm in Harford County to Kentucky, South America, Australia, Pennsylvania, Maryland again. When he deemed it time to birth another Maryland stud farm in 2017, Louis went home with new wife Grace and revised the sprawling saga of Anchor and Hope.
Horsemen know the perils. Even now, the 2000s, diseases, mishaps, shifting market whims can blindside herd and farmer anytime. Blindside, not derail: In his 30s, Louis had his thyroid gland removed for a cancer diagnosis and one more zapping bout of Lyme disease. At Heritage Stallions, Louis’ previous partnership, promising studs Seville (Ger) and Tritap died as they rose. Then, amid bristling stud-farm competition and Thoroughbred birth rates barely half their 1997 yield, Louis launched Anchor and Hope in granddad Merryman’s free-wheeling image.
Beneath the shade tree of a kind August day, Louis and Grace shared their theories and ambitions as stallion ranchers, detailed a whitewater ride at once calculated and capricious, exhilarating and exhausting, rewarding and relentless. For more than three hours, they traded playful barbs and tender praises, spoke of pedigrees equine and human, aired insights into farm studs Bourbon Courage, Imagining, Holy Boss and Long River and certain quirky broodmares they razzed and lauded. More than once, they explained why well-tended-but-unspoiled foals, “the kids,” ultimately do better in the waiting world.
Come see, Grace said.
Upslope to a spacious paddock, one embodied St. Francis of Assisi: A gang of friendly weanlings, sucklings and mares shambled over and nuzzled a mint-less stranger, adjusted his shirt collar, inspected notebook scrawls, expressed joy in being.
Four days later, the barn that housed them and two stallions was destroyed by fire.
For all the exacting judgments that accompany potential stallion acquisitions, pointed analyses of pedigree, conformation, racing traits, cost and marketability, a trivial decision coaxed heroic action that saved the Anchor and Hope horses.
Monday, August 12, shortly past noon. Barn manager Heather Cellinesi, the only person left on the property, thought she’d drive up the road for a sandwich. She got in her car but never left.
Heather sat in the driver’s seat a few minutes, glanced right for no good reason and saw mares and foals, lips raised, striding fitfully. More curious than alarmed, she left the car.
Inside the split-level main barn, she heard Imagining holler in a way uncommon. Looking up, what she’d first considered airborne dust now rose as smoke, though she smelled nothing. Heather dialed 911, hurried into the barn and reached Imagining first. Flames lapped a wall of his stall; he was desperate to flee.
She unpinned his door, turned him loose, did the same with Bourbon Courage, ran upstairs and released the remaining occupants, 10 yearlings, three mares and their foals. Eighteen horses freed, Heather too got out unharmed.
Fifty firefighters drew 60,000 gallons from a farm pond, tamed the blaze in an hour, prevented it from reaching other structures.
All the horses corralled but one, Louis returned, probed the woods and found Imagining, who showed minor burns and major thanksgiving at the reunion. The University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton veterinary center released him after a few days.
“If [Heather] runs up the road to get a sandwich or something, if she had done that that day . . . none of the horses would be here,” Grace said. “We’re just incredibly grateful that, even though the barn burned down, every human and every horse got out of it. Everyone is still here.”
“My dad always says, ‘What would Merrymans do if horses didn’t run around a circle?’” Louis said. “I don’t know what else to do. There’s a lot of emotion there, but we’ll roll our sleeves up, we’ll build a barn, we’ll be up and running for foaling season. Next January will be just like last January.”
With newly imposed detours. Beyond talks with insurance reps, building contractors, debris removers, the Merrymans had to revamp their yearling-sale plans. Absent suitable shelter, eight homebreds – six Bourbon Courages, an Imagining and a Mineshaft – would lack the polish to present well at their scripted destination, fall yearling sales in Timonium and Lexington, Ky.
Instead, Louis and Grace started peddling them off the farm, using social media and other means to spread the ad-libbed word. Their hands forced, the Merrymans grabbed levity by the lead shank and called their sellers “firesale yearlings,” Louis giving Grace creative credit.
When he’d left Murmur Farm in his teens, Louis went to work for power consigner and Highclere Farm founder Jeffry Morris in Kentucky. Morris’ son, Stuart, a Kentucky bloodstock agent, spent the last days of August aiming to get two or three Anchor and Hope yearlings to a sale there.
From their 2018 birth, the Merryman yearlings had been dressed for the show, only to lose the spotlight. On that sparkling day before the fire, with sure-fire repartee both enlightening and comic, Louis, 42, and Grace, 33 this month, had engaged a lively verbal volley regarding their young horses. The conversational duet:
Louis: “I do not spoil my foals. But I have my hands on every foal every day. We take and chart temperatures. If a yearling or a 2-year-old gets sick, you have to go after it; you have to treat it. If not, if you’re slightly behind the 8-ball, man, they go downhill fast. Every foal every morning temped, feet picked out, medicated if they’re on medicine. Any sign of anything, we pull blood here; I don’t have to call a vet in.”
Grace: “We raise Spartans. We’re not allowed to coddle them.”
Louis: “I have to yell at people around here when they’re hugging and kissing and giving too many peppermints.”
Grace (pointing): “You know who’s the biggest offender of that?”
Grace: “We’re hyper-vigilant when a foal starts to look at you crooked. Like, we’re on it.”
Louis: “You go to the sales, and you see the horses, they just stick out to me, the ones that fell through the cracks. They are behind; they’re immature looking. If they fall through the cracks here, it was a serious illness . . . or it’s genetics. It’s just what they were gonna be. But they don’t fall through the cracks on worms or pneumonia or something like that.”
The prospect of a mostly auction-less autumn shook the Merryman family tree. Regarding public sales, the Merrymans’ near-century-old catalog swells in deed and volume.
In 1925, Louis’ great-grandad and namesake, Louis McLane Merryman, established a family livestock auction firm that would become the world’s largest. (Four years later, he co-founded the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.)
Business acumen, sure, but Louis McLane Merryman also had the means and bearing to make it big. His father, E. Gittings Merryman, was a member of the Maryland Livestock Sanitary Board, and his mother’s uncle, Robert Milligan McLane, a former Maryland governor, senator and congressman.
The growth story, however absolute, always featured horses in the subplot. Louis McLane Merryman’s son, John, foxhunted, showed, rode point-to-points and won his timber-race debut at 17 by guiding Monty R. to a My Lady’s Manor victory over Blockade, three-time winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup. The surprise ending made the The New York Times front page of April 14, 1940.
John B. Merryman married Katharine “Kitty” Warfield, granddaughter of former Maryland governor Edwin Warfield, in 1947 and bought The Orebanks, then 350 acres in Sparks. He’d taken over the Guernsey sales company by then, shortened the name to the Merryman Co., furthered its upward trajectory.
In 1966, a year after he finessed a cheap purchase of Anchor and Hope Farm, John B. Merryman attended the Maryland mixed fall sale and spent $2,000 on a Quarter Deck broodmare prospect. Not a plunge for Merryman, maybe, but an investment nonetheless for a man who more than occasionally drew value from free broodmares. That knack Louis tabbed, and replicated.
Forgettable as a runner, Eveleen drew notice in motherhood. Her third foal, by Sagamore Farm homebred Restless Native, produced a filly that jazzed the Maryland racing landscape like no other. Twixt, born 1969, became the protagonist in a Disney-worthy family adventure that almost didn’t happen.
For John B. Merryman, transactions lurked past every corner; out came one in plain sight. He received a $12,000 offer for Twixt her 2-year-old season, pondered the profit margin, leaned toward the sale. But a gravel stone brought the filly a bruised foot that spring, 1971, hobbling the deal.
John later sold an interest to his cousin, John Merryman Franklin, and wife Emily, gave the filly to daughter Katy Merryman Voss to train and exercise and watched Twixt bring victories and riches like none before her. From four racing seasons, the two-time Maryland-bred champion retired with 18 stakes victories and $619,141 in purses, then unmatched among racing state-breds.
John’s son, Edwin, who’d assisted sister Katy , eventually oversaw daily operations at Anchor and Hope, managing cattle and horses as expansions continued. In 1977, John B. Merryman auctioned all but four of the 66 best-selling Guernsey bulls in North America.
The Merrymans counted Holsteins among their dairy cows, but not enough to brace for changing market appetites. By the mid-1980s, Holsteins had overtaken Guernseys for their superior output and lower milkfat content.
A Marine Corps fighter pilot who’d ejected safely during World War II, John B. Merryman made another daring exit. Again, he landed safely.
“So I was 10 years old, and I broke my leg,” Louis said. “I broke my femur playing football, and I had to be in the hospital in traction. Basically, when I went in, we were an operating dairy farm. And when I came out, the cows were gone.”
Granddad John sold most of the cattle and all but 75 of Anchor and Hope’s acres, refocused on Thoroughbreds. In 1988, the year homebred Smart ’n Quick and co-bred Due North won two stakes apiece, John B. Merryman was named Maryland breeder of the year by the Kentucky-based Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
“Grandpa was a big pedigree guy; he just devoured pedigrees,” Louis said. “And it didn’t really matter if it was cattle, horses. . . He was one of the old-time farmers that culled and improved, culled and improved.
“A lot of the new hybrid theories are really based on the old-school ideas of line-breeding and whatnot. Basically, what they’re trying to do is capture the most positive strains and eliminate the most negative.”
Trainer Ann Merryman, John’s daughter, said Louis’ links to his grandad transcend blood and pedigree. She smiled before speaking.
“The deal-making,” Ann said. “It skipped a generation.
Her words echoed two weeks after the barn fire, when TK Kuegler of Wasabi Ventures Stallions announced that Grade 1-winning millionaire Force the Pass, a son of Speightstown, would stand the 2020 breeding season at Anchor and Hope. Louis said the refurbished stallion barn would accommodate the coming arrival of Force the Pass. The farm otherwise had no investment in the stallion, he added, but he’d gladly consider any offers.
By the early 1990s, Louis Merryman the teenager had learned things in school, like the benefits of expulsion.
“I used to periodically, intentionally get suspended so I could go work at Murmur and make a few extra dollars,” he said. “I was a hard worker, for sure, but I also was in trouble all the time.”
Allen and Audrey Murray spotted glimmers of brightness in the self-described “dirty little kid.” In time, Allen entrusted Louis with Murmur’s stallions.
“That was it,” Louis said. “Stallions –
that’s where I’m most comfortable.”
Still in his teens, he left Murmur to handle broodmares and yearlings for Jeff Morris at Kentucky’s Highclere, then managed stallions Lil E. Tee, Defensive Play and others as assistant manager at Old Frankfort Stud.
Athletic and 6-foot-5, Louis cut a discernible figure as word riffled through the Bluegrass: The stallion-handling world could use a guy with size and knowhow.
He got a job with Coolmore Stud’s Ashford division, which gave him access to Thunder Gulch, Woodman, Lure, and took him to Australia. There, news arrived that Louis would get back to Kentucky in time for the arrival of Fusaichi Pegasus.
The handler instinctively expects trouble from powerful, headstrong, hotshot stallions, traits Fusaichi Pegasus showed as a racehorse.
“So we’re in Australia, knowin’ we’re comin’ home to this guy,” Louis said, “and we’re like, ‘Oh, man.’ Well, he was a freakin’ pet as a stallion. He was so easy.”
Not so Southern Halo. The Halo clan, even Derby-Preakness winner Sunday Silence, often warred with humans. Louis well remembered Southern Halo’s offensive, Grace again embellishing the commentary:
Louis: “I’ve seen stallions that, to no fault of the handlers, were man-eaters. Storm Bird hurt a lot of really good guys . . . Southern Halo got me in Argentina. He had a muzzle on. And if he didn’t have a muzzle on, it would have been really bad.”
Grace: “He tells the story. The horse had, I call it, his Hannibal Lechter mask on. The horse, with his Hannibal Lechter mask in one hand and your baseball bat in the other – that’s how you traveled with him.”
Louis: “It was a hickory stick that I would hang on my belt. And he hurt some good guys in Kentucky. There’s a friend of mine, Larry, that basically had his whole forearm bitten out. Anyway, I was givin’ him a bath one time. He got me down and got his knees on top of me. I had the imprint of the muzzle all down the side of my neck.”
The favorable ending got better: Louis came home to Maryland, landing a position with Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City and eventually managing heralded sire Not For Love. An Ogden Mills Phipps-bred full-brother to 2-year-old champion and Travers winner Rhythm, Not For Love (Mr. Prospector—Dance Number, by Northern Dancer) retired without a stakes win for Northview owner Richard Golden yet earned Maryland Stallion of the Year honors 13 times and sired 36 Maryland Million winners, both unmatched. The takeaway, Louis said: Conformation, while important, can breed exceptions.
“Not For Love had very straight
stifles,” he said. “And what I noticed was that he didn’t throw that flaw very often. And his good horses, they didn’t get that hind leg.”
As a stallion owner, would he have pursued Not For Love and his physical imperfections?
“I would say they probably would have been a deal-breaker,” he said. “You know, Richard Golden gambled on the horse. He saw the pedigree, and he was trying to import a Phipps family. And he was right.”
With Northview’s Pennsylvania expansion, Louis brushed with regional sensation Jump Start, too, the exposures bringing insight into stallions’ strengths and regional racehorse owners’ needs. Thus, the logical 2014 creation of Heritage, a Chesapeake City stud farm that encompassed part of legendary Windfields Farm.
Louis partnered with Brooke Bowman and later Brooke’s dad, veterinarian Tom Bowman, named Heritage for the state’s rich horse-racing history and growing financial prospects for investors.
“I had always wanted to do something on my own,” Louis said, “and I felt like the timing was right.”
Circumstance was not.
For the 2015 season, Heritage turned the Mid-Atlantic abuzz by landing Tritap, a son of sire deluxe Tapit, and Seville, the first son of European champ Galileo (Ire) to stand in the region.
Tritap “was a big, strong, fantastic-
looking horse,” Louis said. “And I think his kids were pretty fantastic looking.”
Stallion owners know the perils. During his second year at stud, spring of 2016, Tritap went down with colic. Louis said he and Brooke had transport ready to drive him to New Bolton, but the 7-year-old died where he foundered.
One of his first-crop fillies, My Star Potential, won the 2018 Maryland Million Lassie.
A year after Tritap perished, Seville met disaster in an open field.
“Seville was an absolute handful in the barn, in the stall; he was very hard to get settled down,” Louis said. “I would have to change the location to breed him. It wasn’t that he lacked libido; it wasn’t that he was a shy breeder. His mind was just on other stuff, and we used to have to do some tricks with him: breed him outside, keep movin’ him. But in his paddock, I mean, he would go out and go to sleep under the sycamore trees, close to the driveway.
“I left the farm 5 in the afternoon, and I got 20 minutes down the road, and my guy Jose called me and said, ‘You gotta come back. I’m certain Seville just broke his leg.’ And he saw it happen. He said the horse was just bein’ funny, and he put his [rear] leg through the first and second board of the fence, and he was kind of like itchin’ his hock. And he went to pull it out, and the cap of his hock caught on the second board, and he panicked a little bit and lost his other three feet, and he just fell.”
Seville suffered five breaks through the hock and hind cannon bone, the injuries too acute to repair. He was 9.
“The only time I was really comfortable with him was in his paddock,” Louis said. “Every other time, I was like, ‘Man, this horse is an accident waiting to happen.’ ”
Seville became a stakes-winning sire in February when Las Setas won the Wide Country at Laurel Park for trainer and co-owner Katy Voss, Louis’ aunt. Voss and partner Bob Manfuso bred the 3-year-old filly.
The stud deaths, Louis said, epitomized Heritage’s star-crossed essence. His own debilitating trials with thyroid cancer and Lyme disease, the challenges of managing two far-flung farms and a flawed business plan conspired against the venture, which ran four years.
“It was probably doomed from the start, from the setup, from the available capital,” Louis said.
Still, he left it with new knowledge, new connections and something more profound.
The meeting had been arranged. Louis drove to Mark Reid’s Walnut Green in Pennsylvania on the third-party hunch he might fancy a worker there, Grace Meagher. An equestrian from Barnstable on Cape Cod, Grace had attended University of Delaware on a pre-vet track but tarried. An equine reproduction class later gave her newfound direction and purpose.
Louis managed the trip north despite his illnesses. Grace looked past them.
Louis: “And it was awesome. Like, I’d meet her at Walnut Green, and we’d foal a mare.”
Grace (sweetly): “Togetherness.”
Louis: “Now, Grace didn’t meet me at the top of my game. So I don’t know if her standards are low.”
Grace: “He’s like, ‘What happens if I get healthy, and you don’t actually like who I really am?’ We started dating in the middle of foaling and breeding season. We were supposed to go out for dinner, and he would call and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got an emergency.’ And two nights later, it’d be like, ‘Nope. I’m stuck here.’ ”
Louis: “I’m substantially better now than what I was. Maybe she’s noticed.”
They wed Aug. 13, 2016, toasted their third anniversary to a backdrop of smoldering ruins.
“We spent it going to visit our horse in the hospital,” Grace said, “and looking at potential barns we might like to build.”
Imagining and Bourbon Courage occupied the main barn during the fire because of stud-barn renovations. Holy Boss and Long River, the farm’s shuttle stallions, stood a continent away in South America.
That Thursday before, the topic Anchor and Hope sires, Louis and Grace had sat on opposite sides of a wooden picnic table, serving verbal fare peppery and filling.
Louis: “One of my rules: Buying a stallion, ignore the current commercial market because it will not be the commercial market two years from now. Just throw it out the window.”
Grace: “We were saying the other day: Pedigree is on the list; it’s not the top of the list. Race talent and record kind of come before pedigree for us.”
Louis: “Grade 1 talent and soundness, precociousness and conformation to me are all equal at the top. They have to have all of them. And then pedigree is just slightly behind that.”
He proffered as evidence Bourbon Courage (Lion Heart—Shine Forth, by Carson City): 25 starts, 18 in graded stakes, $1.1 million in purses. Only won four races, the best a Grade 2, but confronted devilish foes and regularly cursed trips.
Grace: “I’m gonna have to tie a rope to his ankles and pull him down. He will float away talkin’ about Bourbon.”
Louis: “Watch his 2014 Breeders’ Cup Sprint: He’s dead last and eight-wide on the turn, and he makes up [101⁄4] lengths in the stretch. They went in 1:08-and-1, and he was running horses down. He was fourth, but that is Grade 1 talent all day long. That freakin’ horse, his races, he got in more trouble, got cut off, got mugged.”
Grace: “Pushed wide, squeezed, boxed in, checked.”
Their shared conclusion: All that racing misfortune helped make available and affordable Bourbon Courage the stallion prospect. Through mid-September, he ranked first among Maryland’s freshman studs and sires of 2-year-olds.
He and Imagining stood a season at Heritage, had their foals hit the track this year as 2-year-olds with prompt results. Bourbon Courage’s second foal to race, the colt Raging Whiskey, finished third in the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga for California trainer Doug O’Neill.
Out of the Quiet American mare Fullerene, Raging Whiskey was co-bred by the Merrymans and raised at Anchor and Hope. A story went with it:
Louis: “I bought the mare.”
Grace (laughing): “She’s my mare.”
Louis: “I wonder who made the mating decision.”
Grace: “We live in a breeding dictatorship.”
Louis: “I bought Fullerene at Keeneland. Grace was home. She’s in the catalog, and my phone’s goin’ off so much I can barely keep up with her text messages. But, basically, we’re on the hunt for some broodmares. When you’re clickin’ through broodmare sires that you’d like to have in a band, Quiet American comes up. So, from a distance, with the walls in between me and the horse, I see this Greek goddess of a mare. And I’m like, ‘Aw, man, who is that?’ And I flip through the pages, it’s a Quiet American mare. . . ”
Grace: “A [young] Quiet American mare in foal to Flat Out.”
Louis: “So I didn’t get to see her before she went into the ring, but I saw the top of her. She goes through the ring, I buy her for $16,000, and I run over to meet her coming down to the back ramp, and she starts walking to me, and I said, ‘Oh, God.’ One leg looked like it was put on with a pipe wrench, and I went back and I talked to the people that were at the consignment. They said she got hurt as a yearling, which is why she didn’t run, and she absolutely mangled this front leg. She doesn’t have the prettiest hind end either.”
Grace: “Gotta be every inch of 17 hands. She looks like a Standardbred. Her head is about 3 feet long.”
Louis: “I have grown to actually love the mare.”
Raging Whiskey sold as a yearling for $25,000, Grace said, “on his good looks.”
Louis: “His brain too.”
Grace: “He was so cool.”
Louis: “The Bourbon Courages . . .”
Grace: “We call it the Bourbon brain.”
Louis: “Once you put ’em to work, they’re like, All right, let’s go.”
As Louis had moved to acquire Bourbon Courage, Grace started touting Imagining (Giant’s Causeway—Daydreaming, by A.P. Indy), a Grade 1-
winning Phipps homebred trained by Shug McGaughey.
“Grace was absolutely the first and most diehard fan of Imagining,” Louis said. He liked the stud for potential Mid-Atlantic appeal: Imagining’s third dam, Dance Number, produced Not For Love. Imagining also offered a two-turn turf dimension to a region growingly hungry for grass runners.
As summer dawned, his first two winners sprinted.
Imagining’s nearly $1.2 million racing career reflected patient guidance: He competed five seasons to age 7, totaled just 26 starts.
“If he was not a Phipps-McGaughey combo, with any other owner or trainer he probably would have been duct-taped together for a brilliant 3-year-old campaign,” Grace said. “And then he would have retired and gone to stud at 4. They let Imagining develop naturally, how he wanted, and he was comfortable and sound and healthy.”
“His race record only was a bit of a hurdle that you would have to overcome to sell him,” Louis said. “His looks and his pedigree? Man, they sell themselves.”
Physically, no horse moved them like Holy Boss (Street Boss—Holy Grace, by Holy Bull), an unflappable sprinter the Merrymans bought in 2017, raced twice and retired to stud last year.
Grace: “When we saw him in person, our jaws hit the ground. I mean, he is . . .”
Louis: “Stunning. He’s the best-looking stallion I’ve ever put a shank on.”
Grace: “Thinking of how he ran, you’d think he’d be that short, squat, sprinter-
type. He’s tall and long and elegant.”
Louis: “He looks like a two-turn horse, but he definitely has brilliant 6-furlong speed.”
Long River, a Grade 1-
winning Darley homebred, entered stud this year at Anchor and Hope. The son of A.P. Indy was produced by the Awesome Again-sired Round Pond, winner of the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff-G1.
The Merrymans sent the best of their 30 mares to Long River this year, Grace said, which nudged the question: How many broodmares would you deem ideal?
Louis thought a moment. “Two hundred.”
So began one more pithy discourse:
Grace: “How about last year? I left town in April because my dad had brain surgery.”
Louis: “This is gonna make me sound awful.”
Grace: “All of a sudden, there was another mare here.”
Louis: “I bought a really freakin’ cool Lemon Drop Kid mare out of [George] Strawbridge’s [band].”
Grace: “So I’m going through the QuickBooks in my dad’s hospital room, and I’m like, ‘Hey, what’s this check for?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, um, I bought a mare.’ ”
Louis: “We’ve been compared to grandpa and grandma Kitty multiple times.”
Grace: “Then I come home, and he didn’t mention that he’d gotten the craziest swayback that you’ve ever seen in your whole life.”
Grace: “She has an awesome foal this year. It’s all worked out all right.”
Spouses know the perils. Trials can anger the wind, trouble the current, threaten the journey. The Merrymans have landed together, intact, committed, upbeat. A barn to rebuild, yearlings to sell and studs to promote, they’ve dropped anchor and hoisted hope.n
- Written by Vinnie Perrone