11/21/2008 1:00AM

Greentree Stable getting a facelift


LEXINGTON, Ky. – A new era is under way at the historic Greentree Stable training center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Darley Stud owner Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum bought the former Whitney family property from Robert and Janice McNair in early 2007, and this week commuters along Saratoga’s Nelson Avenue saw evidence of the new regime, which is in the process of replacing the two old Whitney-built training barns and relocating the stable office.

Other less obvious changes took place earlier, said Darley USA president Jimmy Bell. Darley replaced the one-mile training track’s dirt surface with Polytrack in 2007 and also leveled out portions of the track infield to allow better viewing, Bell said.

Bell also said that the two original barns, constructed soon after John Hay Whitney bought the property from the Yaddo estate in 1938, were “very much in need of repair. It was not a question of if but when they would need to be totally replaced.”

One barn already has come down, and demolition work has begun on the second. Bell said Maktoum intends to build a pair of new, larger training barns in their place, expanding the stall count from 46 to 92 in time for the horses’ planned return in May 2009.

“There will be two barns right back in the same location,” Bell said. “If you hadn’t seen the old ones go down, you wouldn’t notice the change at all. They will have the same look.”

Bell said the new barns, like the old ones, will be wooden. But they will have a double row of stalls, built back-to-back with a shed row around them, rather than the previous single-row construction. Other than that, they should look much the same as before.

“They will have the same roof design as before,” Bell said. “The hope is to maintain the integrity of the Saratoga feel, the beauty and charm that only Saratoga is so noted for. Sheikh Mohammed was very interested in staying with the traditional buildings that designate Saratoga.”

The Greentree Stable is a beloved part of Saratoga, and the loss of the original barns filled some of its previous occupants with nostalgia.

Dave Wallace, now a trainer in Florida, spent more than a decade working in the Greentree barns during his Saratoga stints as an assistant trainer first with Bill Mott and later with Darley. The barns were state of the art in the 1930s, but by the time Wallace arrived in 1994, they had an antique quirk or two, such as having a single electrical outlet for each barn.

“Whenever we had a horse that needed an X-ray, we had to go through and turn off all the lights and everything to get enough juice to run the X-ray machine,” he recalled.

The hay lofts also had small rooms at one end where grooms throughout history could cat nap, and many had carved their names or initials in the beams, Wallace remembered, prompting visitors to marvel at the legendary horses, from Tom Fool to Cigar, that had passed through the stable workers’ hands.

Despite their age, the barns still suited their purpose, Wallace said. Among their advantages were stalls much larger than those seen today at most racetracks or training facilities.

“When you walked in there, it was just like arriving in heaven, it was so peaceful and beautiful and tranquil,” he said of Greentree.

That won’t change in the new Darley era, says Bell.

“I view it as trying to embrace the charm and the ambience of what that property’s always been, and that was always Sheikh Mohammed’s intention,” Bell said. “They will be the larger structures with the absolute same lines to them. I think the horses will enjoy it, and that’s as important as anything.”