Emery Jones joked as she dumped feed to the five retired geldings lining up at the paddock fence at George Strawbridge’s Augustin Stable near Cochranville, Pa., in late February.
“I always tease everybody that it’s royalty here. I have two princes and a lord, and they’re all aloof. And I really do think they hang out and drink whiskey and smoke cigars. But they make me laugh.”
All jesting aside, Jones’ assessment is right on the mark. Augustin’s old boys network is a major league all-star team with combined earnings of more than $5.2 million. Living in the same 20-acre field are former turf stars With Anticipation and Rochester, along with top steeplechasers Lord Zada, Praise the Prince (NZ) and Irish Prince (NZ). Five classy horses, five distinct personalities, each with a story.
February 2012: Augustin Stable's stakes-winning retirees enjoying the good life (from left): Irish Prince (NZ), Rochester, With Anticipation, Lord Zada, Praise the Prince. Photo by Lydia A. Williams
With Anticipation is decidedly the most iconic and best-remembered, but 19-year-old Lord Zada rules the roost. He’s the biggest, the oldest, and while the entire gang gets along swimmingly, he’s also the Big Kahuna. A Strawbridge homebred by Lord Avie, Lord Zada is the most successful foal produced by the Robellino mare Lanzada. Trained by Sanna Hendriks throughout his long career, he won three stakes on the flat before becoming a stakes-winning jumper at age 7 in 2000. Three hurdle stakes scores included a runaway tour de force in the 2001 Colonial Cup-NSA1. And he was a winner right to the end of his career at age 12, capturing a hurdle race at Middleburg under Strawbridge’s son Stewart in October 2005.
Perhaps his personality stems from all he overcame. An avulsion fracture to the fetlock in a hind leg as a yearling nearly ended any chance of a racing career. Surgery at New Bolton Center in 1994 repaired the damage, but did little to create optimism. A post-surgical opinion by Dr. Dean Richardson said “unfortu-nately I cannot be very optimistic about his prospects for becoming a sound race horse.”
Lord Zada did not run until age 4, but Richardson was happily proven wrong – over and over again.
And while it seems less of a pecking order and more of a gentlemen’s agree-ment among this stellar group, Lord Zada’s position as leader is the obvious unwritten rule.
“The Princes and Lord Zada really just want you to feed them,” said Jones. “I can scratch Praise the Prince’s head, but Lord Zada would take my head off if I tried to do that. He wants you to feed him and get out of the way.”
Lest anyone think he’s a total ogre, Jones added that Lord Zada is all manners and accommodation when he needs to be brought into the barn. He is the grumpy old bachelor in your neighborhood who’ll yell if you ride your bike across his lawn, but he’ll give you the best candy come Halloween.
Rochester, on the other hand, is the social director. Just like Eric Stratton in the movie Animal House, he’s rush chair-man and “damn glad to meet ya.” Jones declared him “the coolest horse ever.” Vocal and affectionate, he nickers and approaches guests as if they’re long-lost buddies. But if any horse has the right to be haughty and stand-offish, it’s Rochester; his resume is a jaw-dropper. The homebred son of Green Dancer and the Midyan mare Central City (GB) made two starts in France for trainer Jonathan Pease before coming back home to Jonathan Sheppard. Rochester won six stakes on the flat, among them repeat wins in the Kentucky Cup Turf-G3 and Keene-land’s Grade 3 Sycamore (he won that one three times). He even placed third in the Kentucky Cup Turf at age 10 in September 2006 before being retired a month later. In 2008, Rochester was back in action as a timber horse, winning both starts for Hendriks.
Now 16, “Rochester is the man,” according to Jones. “He babysits all of my fillies. He’s just a companion and a friend, and he teaches them by example. Rochester comes back and forth on the van with me when I take fillies to Fair Hill; I need a babysitter. But he’s way beyond me having to ride him – he’s much cooler than that.”
Any devoted follower of Augustin runners will argue that no horse has ever been cooler than 17-year-old With Anticipation (Relaunch—Fran’s Valen-tine, by Saros-GB). The sight of the nearly-white gelding cutting a swath down the stretch carrying Pat Day and the green and white Strawbridge silks captivated countless racing fans.
That the turf specialist really didn’t come to form until his 6-year-old season earned him an enthusiastic following. His five Grade 1 victories came in the Sword Dancer Invitational and Man o’ War Stakes in 2001, and back-to-back-to-back scores in the United Nations, Sword Dancer and Man o’ War in 2002. A tendon injury forced his retirement to the farm in February 2004, but “Anti” wanted and needed a job. He got one – as staff horse for huntsman Ivan Dowling at Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds in nearby Unionville.
“He’s one of the horses I’ll always remember. I have some kind of a bond with him because a lot of people did not get along with him. He was tricky,” said Dowling. “But I have to say that, overall, he taught me more than I ever taught him. For some reason I clicked with him. My Irishness and his strong-headedness, we kinda met in the middle. And even though he was very quirky and very opinionated, I still miss him. I go and see him every now and again. He’s a really special horse; I had some great days on him. Without a doubt, he made me a better horse-person – and even a better person.”
Finally retired in 2010, With Antici-pation now does what he wants, when he wants. Let Lord Zada run the show; Anti’s been there, he’s done that, he’s got all the T-shirts. That glistening coat is more brown than white most days. “He’s the dirtiest gray horse in history,” as Jones put it. And nothing makes him happier than a good long roll in the mud.
New Zealand-bred Irish Prince, 13, is the new guy. The son of New Zealand stallion Prince of Praise started five times on the flat before coming to the U.S. Reinvented as a hurdle horse with Hen-driks, he ran with modest success in 2004-2005. After a two-year hiatus, Irish Prince reappeared and took to timber, racking up wins in the New Jersey Hunt Cup, Radnor Hunt Cup and Genesee Valley Hunt Cup, among others. He retired at age 10 in 2009 and foxhunted for two years. Although smallest and youngest of the five, Irish Prince has the grit and gump-tion to occasion-ally assume the alpha role. But the tough-guy facade doesn’t last. He’ll gently and unasham-edly lean his head on an arm, eyes closed, offering his face for a scratch for as long as his visitor is willing to oblige.
By contrast, Praise the Prince is painfully shy. “You can go to him,” Jones explained, “but he will never, ever come to you.”
Now 17, the strikingly hand-some dark bay is a son of Prince of Praise like Irish Prince. The Hendriks trainee “was very, very tough as a racehorse. He had a special padded stall, the remnants of which were still here when I started 21⁄2 years ago,” Jones said.
One of Augustin’s top steeplechasers, he owns seven wins in graded steeplechase races, including the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup, Hard Scuffle Hurdle and Meadow Brook Hurdle. Both he and Lord Zada were Eclipse Award finalists in 2001. Retired at 12 in 2007, Praise the Prince went directly to the field.
“He was always a bit squirrelly and is not very personable. But now he’s dead fine, as we’re not asking him to do anything out of his comfort zone,” Jones defended. But there is one thing about Praise the Prince that is written in stone: “You CANNOT pull his mane. Ever.”
Surveying the group, Jones paused. “It’s important to showcase that there are so many horses here retired and happy. And they look great. I checked to make sure the boss didn’t want them all cleaned up, and he said ‘Absolutely not. Let’s not pretend we’re doing something different; this is what they look like. It’s who they are.’ They are lovely horses to work with. And they really just get to live the life. They have everything they need, and nobody bothers them. It’s a funny group of boys.” /Maggie Kimmitt