• “It was as if a bomb had dropped,” said longtime general manager Joe Hickey at the announcement that Windfields Farm would cease Maryland operations effective Aug. 31. Some changes had been anticipated in the aftermath of Northern Dancer’s retirement the previous year, but news of the farm’s imminent closing caught everyone, including the farm’s 60 full-time employees, completely off-guard.
“When bloodstock prices were high and we had Northern Dancer yearlings to sell, we could absorb the overhead in Maryland,” stated Windfields president Charles Taylor in a printed release. “With today’s market, that’s no longer the case. . .” Quick into action was Allaire duPont, who with other prominent local horse people, among them Richard Golden, formed an ad hoc committee in an effort to keep the 12 Windfields stallions in Maryland.
• Pensioned 27-year-old stallion Northern Dancer, who would remain at Windfields to live out his life, had his final full crop of yearlings sell at the Keeneland select sale. Seven of his offspring went through the ring at an average of $945,714. It marked the 12th time that the great stallion topped the list of sires at the sale.
The most expensive of the Northern Dancer offerings was a colt out of European champion Detroit (Fr), purchased by Darley Stud Management for $2.45 million. The sale’s top-priced filly was his daughter out of Betty’s Secret, sold by Windfields to Robert Sangster for $1 million.
• The most outstanding juvenile to make his debut in New York over the summer was the Maryland-bred Seattle Slew colt Houston, winning his first start by 12 1/2 lengths at Belmont Park for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who purchased him for $2.9 million the previous year at the Keeneland select sale. Racing in the colors of L.R. French Jr., the colt elicited the following from the Washington Post’s Andy Beyer: “The consummate ease with which Houston did it had to make even the most jaded specators feel a shiver of excitement.” A son of champion Smart Angle, Houston was bred by Eleanor Sparenberg’s Ross Valley Farm in Sparks.
• The first Maryland-bred juvenile stakes winner of 1988 was David and JoAnn Hayden’s homebred Safely Kept. Trained by Carlos Garcia, the big-bodied Horatius filly aired by 7 1/2 lengths in Pimlico’s Playpen Stakes July 24.
A “big, elegant, attractive, correct” filly, Safely Kept was the “best foal we’ve ever had on our farm–ever,” said David Hayden after the score. “If she can run to her looks, she’ll be a champion.”
A bit of trivia: future graded stakes winner Houston and Eclipse Award-winner and Hall of Famer Safely Kept were foaled on the same day–April 7, 1986.
• “The last vestige of the old Sagamore Farm regime was swept away this summer, with the death of Alfred G. Vanderbilt’s aged but still active stallion Restless Native,” reported the Maryland Horse on his death July 2.
Bred and owned throughout his life by Vanderbilt, the 28-year-old son of Vanderbilt’s champions Native Dancer and Next Move had been officially pensioned at the end of the 1987 breeding season, but returned to action to cover 12 mares in 1988, with nine examined in foal. With crops still to come, his best runners included Grade 1-winning fillies Dismasted and Twixt.
• The recent accomplishments of stakes winners Due North and Smart ’n Quick highlighted the operation of Maryland breeders John and Kitty Merryman at their The Orebanks farm in Sparks.
“What’s happpened with their horses is a beautiful example of the fact that you don’t have to spend a fortune in the business,” said their daughter and longtime trainer Katy Voss. “But it shouldn’t be taken the wrong way. Pedigrees and crosses are something they’ve dealt with all their lives.” The couple’s four foundation broodmares were purchased in the 1960s and early ’70s for a total of $10,700. Among the descendants were Merryman runners Twixt, Lady Lyndy (dam of Smart ’n Quick), Due North and Pistol White. The Merrymans were awarded the 1987 TOBA award in recognition of their success racing homebreds.
• Disaster was narrowly averted at Glade Valley when the farm’s stallion barn caught fire after being struck by lightning. Six stallions were inside at the time–among them leading sire Rollicking, Shelter Half and Spring Double–all were led to safety.
“We’re depressed about losing the barn,” said farm manager Larry Murray. “But the only way to look at it is that it could have been a whole lot worse.”
The basic structure of the barn was saved, and plans were to rebuild it exactly as it was, according to Murray.