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"Golden Bachelor seeks soulmate for long walks and beautiful sunsets.”

If Xtra Classic, 19, created an online dating profile, it would read something like that. And Dance for Jan, now 30, is the much older woman who swiped right.

Xtra Classic, a son of Regal Classic and the Distorted Humor mare Thira, has lived at Belle Grove, the Chestertown, Md., farm of Andrew and wife Marva Jones Pons, for the past 16 years. A hip injury kept him unraced, and he’s been Andrew’s mount since his arrival. Solid, strong and affable, “he’s a Cadillac,” according to Andrew. But when his longtime pasture mate passed away, Andrew and Marva were left with a grieving senior Thoroughbred in need of consolation and company.

“Andrew said Marva wanted a field companion, preferably chestnut, ASAP when Xtra Classic’s buddy suddenly passed leaving him seriously bereft,” according to sister-in-law Ellen Pons of Country Life Farm. 

“We got Dance for Jan from Rick Abbott in 2014 when he got out of the breeding business,” added Christy Holden, Country Life’s general manager. “We bred her to Freedom Child to get him started at stud in 2014 and 2015 but then we retired her in 2016.”

The Abbotts’ Charlton Bloodstock purchased Dance for Jan, then 13 and in foal to Pioneering, from the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic December mixed sale for $5,700. The year before, she was a $45,000 RNA at Keeneland’s November breeding stock sale while in foal to Cat Thief. 

Of her 10 foals to race, eight were winners led by stakes winner Jo Jo Dancer and $216,703 earner Kings Challenge. That broodmare career came after a racing career with eight wins and $159,109 earned. Bred by John Jones Jr., the daughter of Citidancer and the National Zenith mare National Charmer spent her racing career with owner Janice McKee Jones and trainer George Morrison. All 31 starts occurred in the Mid-Atlantic, and among her wins were Pimlico’s Smart Halo Stakes, Laurel Park’s Bold Queen Stakes and, in her final outing Sept. 21, 1997, Charles Town’s Charles Funk Memorial. 

Dixie Abbott remembered Dance for Jan’s time at Charlton in Pennsylvania: “She was the gentle, smart girl in the crowd. Stayed out of everyone’s way and just wanted to be peaceful.”

A peaceful existence was clearly her primary objective. She became pretty skilled at staying out of everyone’s way, so much so that, later in life, catching her became a monumental challenge. 

“The biggest thing I remember about her is that she was one of the toughest horses to catch in the field that I’ve ever dealt with,” Holden said. “She knew when you were coming for her and she would just take off. There was no trickery or grain that could catch her if she didn’t want to be caught, and if you brought a bunch of people to try and trap her in a corner of a field, she wouldn’t go near the fence lines. That was the main reason we couldn’t use her as a babysitter for the weanlings like we do our other retired mares, because she would get them all running.”

Late in 2020, Marva lost her Appaloosa gelding and Xtra Classic his best friend of many years. 

“So we called home and asked if they had anything they could send down,” Andrew said.

Holden immediately thought of Dance for Jan.

“I figured she’d be much happier in a small farm situation where she can just live her life,” Holden said, “and not need to come in every day with the rest of the herd.”

The plan was made for Josh and Ellen Pons to drive Dance for Jan down to Andrew and Marva on a Sunday afternoon in January 2021. Ellen recalls being concerned that the mare would be too difficult to catch for them to actually get her on the van. As luck – and perhaps fate – would have it, that wasn’t the case. It was almost as if the old girl knew what awaited.

“Dance for Jan fell into an absolute amazing soft landing at the end of her breeding days,” Ellen said.

Truer words were never spoken. Andrew and Marva grew up in the Thoroughbred industry. Marva’s family owns Belle Grove. Both worked in Kentucky in the 1980s, Andrew at Spendthrift Farm and as an exercise rider before taking out his trainer’s license. Marva worked for The Blood-Horse. The couple returned to Maryland in 1985 and were married at Country Life Farm in 1986.

“I got sober in 1991, changed careers in 1993 and left the horse business behind,” Andrew said. “Two years ago, I retired from working for the state as an alcohol and drug counselor, but I still do that part-time.”

Dance for Jan’s arrival still makes him laugh, as does Xtra Classic’s reaction.

“As soon as X saw her, that was it,” he said. “There was no hesitation at all, and they’ve been inseparable ever since. And for 30, she still looks pretty good.”

“Jan spends her days following X around their paddock. These two geriatrics couldn’t be more different in their personalities and physical characteristics,” Marva said. “Jan is really tough to keep weight on despite her consumption of 10 pounds of feed each day. Teeth are an issue, whereas X stays fat on air.”

Dance for Jan still hates being caught, but Andrew and Marva figured out how to work around that too. She’ll go into her stall in their large run-in shed for feed time, and the door gets closed so she can take her time eating while Xtra Classic chows down in the stall beside her. The gelding waits patiently until she’s finished, and Andrew puts a shank on her and leads her out of her stall.

“He’ll go in and clean up whatever she leaves behind,” Andrew said. “A lot goes in, but a lot falls out of her mouth, too. So I’ll hand-feed her some more grub while he’s in there.”

They’ve even discovered how to outsmart the mare a bit. 

“If we really need to catch her,” Andrew said, “we’ll get Marva’s niece’s kids to come over. She’ll walk right up to a child.”

That’s a pretty cool assignment for any child. Belle Grove’s 30-plus acres are at their disposal, and the farm next door has given them carte blanche to hack out there as well. While Dance for Jan is completely retired, Xtra Classic still happily packs the children around. 

“The night Dance for Jan arrived, Marva sent a pic of Xtra happy with his new chestnut four-legged security blanket,” Ellen said. “Almost every conversation I have with Marva is about how amazed they are that Jan is still thriving.”

The matchmakers got this one right.

“The minute this mare stepped off the van, X had stars in his eyes,” said Andrew. “So this has worked out well for everyone.”


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