01/26/2006 12:00AM

Carrying on the family business

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Bobby Scanlon (above) came to the United States from Ireland and became a trainer before opening a training center in Ocala, Fla. He died last October at age 57, and his son David is now in charge of the family operation.

For juvenile consignor David Scanlon, this sale season is about continuity. Scanlon will be bringing about 70 juveniles to auction, but this time he'll be doing it without his father. Robert "Bobby" Scanlon, a fixture on the 2-year-old auction scene since the early 1990's, died of cancer at the age of 57 last October, just as many of this crop of sales candidates were arriving at his training center in Florida as yearlings.

The elder Scanlon left an impressive legacy. He broke or sold such standouts as 2005 champion 3-year-old Afleet Alex and 2005 juvenile champion Stevie Wonderboy; 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Unbridled's Song; 1999 champion sprinter Artax; Grade 1 winners Songandaprayer and Lion Heart; and numerous other talented runners. At last year's 2005 Fasig-Tipton Calder sale, he sold a world-record Tale of the Cat colt, now in the Darley stable of Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum and named Ever Shifting, for $5.2 million. In the past 10 years, Scanlon had built a client list that included the two top racing organizations in the world: Darley and Coolmore.

Now it's up to David, 36, to carry on.

Scanlon has several important assets to work with, starting with the facilities already in place at the Robert Scanlon Training Center in Williston, Fla. The 125-acre center has 170 stalls and a three-quarter-mile dirt track whose stability and quality, Scanlon said, was a major attraction in the decision to buy it in 1999.

Then there's his own background. David has managed the family's training center since 1993, and his long experience with his father's training and operation methods has helped make the transition smoother. But not painless.

"I've been involved in the business with my dad as long as I can remember," Scanlon said. "When I was a little kid, I would go to the track with him on weekends, and when I was 11 or 12 I went to the track rubbing horses to help him out on my summer vacations. When he moved down here to Florida and started breaking babies, after I finished school I came to work for him.

"After working for him so long, he was kind of the wheels and the mind of the business and I was the backbone, the working part. I had a lot of experience with the staff, the daily operations, and the intricacies of what it took to make the farm work. Now, I spend a lot more time on the telephone. That was a part of the business my dad was really good at. He had a great demeanor with clients and was a good deal maker. I'm learning more about that.

"It was really fun with my father," Scanlon said. "This has been a challenge. But it's also been a blessing. We're just very lucky that he created something for us and we're left to carry on the name. More than once every day I think about him. You look around, and he's in everything here. It's a good reminder."

The Scanlons started on a small scale in the Thoroughbred business. Bobby emigrated from Ireland and eventually became a farm operator in Ohio and a racehorse trainer in Ohio and New Jersey before finally deciding to open a training center near Ocala, Fla. He moved to his first Florida farm, Sunnyside, in 1993, starting with 25 horses in a rented barn.

"And that was all we had at our height, was 25 horses," David Scanlon recalled. "We struggled to keep that barn full. And then a couple of things happened, and we got our big break."

The horse who contributed the most to the Scanlons' move from one barn at Sunnyside to 170 stalls at the Scanlon Training Center was Unbridled's Song. The Scanlons got him in late 1994 thanks to owner Ernie Paragallo and his bloodstock advisor, Buzz Chace.

Paragallo, then a brash new owner, had asked Chace to find him a place to break Unbridled's Song. Chace, who had known Bobby Scanlon when Scanlon was training horses at Monmouth Park, spotted a chance to help out an old acquaintance and also get some good early education into the horse. He introduced the two men, and within months Paragallo had sent a total of 40 horses to Scanlon. Several years later, Paragallo encouraged Scanlon to make the natural transition to yearling-to-juvenile pinhooking.

"You have to look for somebody that understands the value of your horse and that knows horseflesh," Chace said. "I thought Bobby deserved a shot, and he took advantage of it and did very well. We're all going to miss him at the sales. David went to work with him, and David's a good horseman, too."

The Scanlon secret, Chace said, isn't anything especially mysterious. It comes down to hard work and good horses.

"They show up every day and go to work," Chace said, "and they work hard."

By the time Bobby Scanlon bought the Williston property in 1999, David was his right-hand man. (Another son, Robert, is an apprentice jockey at Turf Paradise.) From his position as manager, David had a privileged view of what his dad did best.

"My father was really highly skilled with young horses," he said. "That was his true talent. He was very patient, and he was able to look at a horse and see what potential the horse had before anybody else could. The other thing he had was great basic horse skills, and he was very adamant about that when I was growing up."

David Scanlon said he and his father worked together to develop the farm's training program and its procedures for placing horses in particular groups according to their training needs. Sale horses are on a different, more accelerated routine than horses being broken for their owners' racing stables, and they are grouped accordingly.

"Each horse is on its own path, and they're divided into groups where they're with horses who are all doing the same things," Scanlon said. "Horses that are being sent to Fasig are all in one barn together, and when those horses move out, all the horses headed for the March sale are brought in together. It helps us focus. When you have horses at various stages, that system helps you maintain control."

But it's also important, Scanlon said, to balance each horse's individual needs.

"If you're not taking each horse on a specific basis, you're not doing the job," he said. "When you watch them go every day, six days a week, you start to know how they go and you see certain things. If they're not doing right, you can tell.

"I really enjoy seeing the changes in horses. I like seeing a young horse develop into a really good racehorse."

Scanlon said his father emphasized paying attention to detail, and, in keeping with that, he has maintained the farm's ratio of one groom for every five horses. In addition, the farm, managed now by Bennie Betts, employs 14 riders and four barn foremen.

"We've got a fantastic staff," Scanlon said. "It's been an easier adjustment because of the quality of my staff and how great they've been to step up.

"This year, we don't have quite as many sale horses as we usually would. I've got about 65 or 70 to sell. We usually sell around 100 or 110, and we'll probably climb back up into the hundreds in the next couple of years.

The drop in number is directly related to the absence of his father, Scanlon said.

"He was the real specialist at going to the yearling sales and picking up RNAs," Scanlon said, referring to sale horses who failed to bring their seller's minimum price in the auction ring. "He'd lobby those people to sell those horses as 2-year-olds. And also, the yearling market was so strong, it was just harder to buy horses. It seemed like there were no RNAs!"

The sale numbers might be down somewhat, but Scanlon intends to keep working full throttle, sticking to the business model that brought his father success. He aims to pinhook about half the horses and sell about half for clients. He'll continue breaking horses for Darley, and Coolmore also remains a client.

And, for the time being, Scanlon also plans to keep the training center's name.

"It was a known succession," Scanlon said. "During his illness we spoke of it. There was a certain point where he said, 'This is definitely what you want? Do you want to do it?' For me, it was something I'd been groomed to do. There was never a thought that I wouldn't continue."