08/05/2001 11:00PM

Darley Stud to purchase Jonabell Farm

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Darley Stud has announced that it will buy Jonabell Farm near Lexington, Ky.

The four stallions who currently stand at Jonabell - Holy Bull, Gold Legend, Cherokee Run, and Old Trieste - will remain at the farm under the management of Jimmy Bell. Bell is the son of the farm's founders, Mr. And Mrs. John A. Bell III, who established the farm in 1954.

"In the short term, the plan is for Jonabell to continue as it has in the last few years," Darley bloodstock representative John Ferguson said Monday. "Our mares will remain where they are at the moment. There are some things we would like to do with the facilities at the farm."

Ferguson said that sometime after Darley takes possession of the property at the end of the year, the mares will move to Jonabell, which covers about 800 acres. He declined to say whether Sheikh Mohammed also would stand stallions there, but he said Darley is keeping its options open.

Currently, Darley's mares are spread out among several Lexington-area farms. About 50 are at Wimbledon Farm, 25 are at Fred Seitz's Brookdale Farm, and others are at Shadwell Stud and Gainsborough Farm, the central Kentucky nurseries owned by Sheikh Mohammed's brothers Sheikh Hamdan and Sheikh Maktoum, respectively.

Darley also keeps yearlings at another Lexington farm, Raceland, which it purchased in 1998.

"We feel that having our mares and foals at Jonabell and yearlings at Raceland will put us in a strong position for the future," Ferguson said.

Jonabell, whose stallion roster included 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed until his death earlier this year, has been a successful stallion and commercial breeding farm. At last year's Keeneland September yearling sale, the farm sold Essence of Dubai, a $2.3 million Pulpit colt out of the Bells' homebred champion Epitome, to Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation.

"It's business as usual," said Jimmy Bell. "This is a win-win situation. I've been fortunate enough to be in the management of Jonabell for 25 years and I look forward to continued success with the help and support of Darley."

Darley in Florida

Darley stallions already have a presence in the United States at Wycombe House Stud near Ocala, Fla. Sean and Barbara Kelly bought the farm, previously owned by the late Georgia Hofmann, and relocated their successful commercial breeding program there last year from England.

Before the 2001 breeding season, Darley sent the Kellys' two stallions, Worldly Manner and Comeonmom, the first Maktoum-owned stallions to stand in Florida. It appears that Wycombe House will remain a stallion location for Darley.

"They've committed to us that any horses they stand with us will remain in Florida if they are successful," Sean Kelly said. "They've been very supportive and are keen to continue to use us as a stallion base."

In addition to standing the stallions, Wycombe House also boards mares, sales-preps yearlings, and acts as a selling agent. The farm is making its Saratoga yearling sale debut this year with a pair of fillies, one by Darshaan selling Wednesday and one by Gulch that sells Thursday.

The global nature of the select Thoroughbred market has meant that the Kellys, whose Raffin Stud was a prominent seller at English sales, are offering their horses to many of the same buyers they used to see in Great Britain. But Florida's weather has made sales preparation much easier, Kelly said, allowing yearlings to spend more time outside in paddocks.

Wycombe House has about 30 mares at the moment, and most of those are what Kelly called "European-style horses" whose pedigrees allow them to be sold on either side of the Atlantic. "That gives us more diversity for marketing," said Kelly, who added that he'd like to attract another 10 or so mares for the 200-acre farm.

"It's much the same everywhere," he said of the yearling market, which has become increasingly international and selective in the past decade. "The good-looking, athletic horses are making money, and everybody is on the nice horses. They're not forgiving. You're still trading with the same people, no matter what country you're in."