11/04/2013 9:58AM

Jay Bergman: Perretti Farms dispersal at Harrisburg marks a sad end to an era

Tom Keyser
Forty Tales headlines the Perretti's new Thoroughbred interests as they depart the standardbred breeding game.

This will be an incredibly sad week for some at the Harrisburg auction. It will mark the final appearance of one of the most notable farms of the last quarter century. Perretti Farms, an institution in New Jersey that has helped paint the canvas of the best trotters and pacers this sport has known, will complete it’s two-year dispersal later this week leaving more than 1,000 acres of farmland without standardbreds.

The passion Bill Perretti showed in establishing the farm and building it to extraordinary heights still seems matched by his son Anthony, who will oversee the painful departure this week.

“It’s emotional,” said Perretti last week.

Indeed it’s been a long and bumpy ride and the Perrettis didn’t make a knee jerk reaction to the problems in New Jersey. Instead they stayed and fought the good fight.

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“Jeff (Gural’s) done a great job building a new grandstand and giving the sport life,” said Perretti. “Unfortunately there have been bills put in place over the last few years that were meant to improve the sire stakes funding.”

Those bills died on the governor’s desk and obviously left Perretti Farms and others in the state struggling to make ends meet and unable to carve out a reasonable future.

“It’s not like we were looking for $15 million to help the sire stakes,” said Perretti. “If we got $4 or $5 million it would have helped to sustain the breeding business.”

The farm sold a majority of its breeding stock a year ago. Going to auction this week will be 48 pacing and trotting broodmares, 35 weanlings and 12 yearlings.

Listed among the weanlings is Hip No. 1309, Ideal Team Six, a full brother to this year’s outstanding juvenile pacing colt He’s Watching. Also in the sale will be He’s Watching’s dam, Baberhood. She’s carrying a foal by Rocknroll Hanover. The resulting foal will be Pennsylvania eligible.

Last year Perretti moved stallions from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. The move at such a late date showed the commitment the farm had shown to New Jersey even during bad times. The fact that Rocknroll Hanover’s first and last crop in Pennsylvania will be foaled in 2014 tells another side of the breeding business that sometimes legislators and governors don’t understand.

Rocknroll Hanover, arguably among the elite pacing sires in North America, passed away this year. He was a vital stallion based at Perretti Farm and the fact that he remained in New Jersey for so long despite the difficult climate in the Garden State proves just how deeply Perretti believed things would improve.

“We thought changes would come to help the breeding business in New Jersey,” said Perretti, obviously frustrated. “We’ve stayed in for the last six to seven years hoping that things would improve.”

Horses have been in the Perretti family’s blood forever. “We started out with quarter-horses and then standardbreds,” said Perretti. “Now we’re enjoying the thoroughbreds.”

Indeed, with his dad Bill retired and in Florida the family has shifted its interest towards the thoroughbreds. Perretti Racing Stable owns Forty Tales, a three-year-old multiple graded stakes winner.

“We’re having a lot of fun with the thoroughbreds. It’s exciting,” said Perretti.

The family operation invested in more than a dozen yearlings this fall that will be put in training in Florida so Bill can see their progress.

Although this will be the final auction of Perretti Farms owned breeding stock, the farm still has a pair of stallions - Lucky Chucky and Muscles Yankee - who will again move in 2014. The pair stood in Pennsylvania for 2013 but will stand at Winbak Farms in New York next year. “Lucky Chucky will stand for $7,500 and Muscles Yankee for $10,000,” said Perretti.

Muscles Yankee is still a vital trotting sire despite the fact that he will turn 19 in 2014. Not only has he produced Hambletonian winners Muscle Hill, Deweycheatumnhowe and Muscle Massive, he’s become a solid broodmare sire with credits that include Breeders Crown winner Spider Blue Chip and Kentucky Futurity champion Creatine.

Lucky Chucky’s first crop had a strong sale in Kentucky and should be well received in Pennsylvania this week as well.

Over the years Perretti Farms took a stand on pacing and trotting stallions that didn’t necessarily blend with the current trends. Some years back they elected to bring in the international trotting star Revenue S and allow him to breed to U.S. mares. It was more than a risky proposition considering that Revenue S was not a top two and three-year-old in this country and market breeders looked in that direction before mating a mare.

Revenue S didn’t turn into a commercial success, but without Perretti’s backing there would have been no Market Share to capture the 2012 Hambletonian or more recently win the Breeders Crown in an epic performance.

The same could be said in some way for Matts Scooter. Though he retired as an obvious champion, his pedigree was hardly fashionable during a period in the sport’s history where breeders were engrossed with Meadow Skipper-line stallions.

Without the Perretti commitment to a stallion like Matts Scooter, the sport would likely have never known of Somebeachsomewhere. That’s because Somebeachsomewhere’s sire, Mach Three, came from the tenth crop by Matts Scooter. Not all breeders have the vision to hold on to a stallion that long, especially ones that lack the pedigree buyers are paying for.

That for me will be the saddest part of this dispersal. While there’s no doubt many of these mares, weanlings and yearlings will go on to productive careers with new owners, Perretti Farms as a standardbred nursery will be no more. We’ve come to take some things for granted in this sport. Yet, in an arena that requires mavericks, who will step up to replace Perretti Farms? Who will take the torch and invest the money and time to keep bloodlines alive that would otherwise be lost?

Anthony Perretti, at 53, still loves his horses and he wouldn’t permanently close the doors on standardbreds. “If things change in New Jersey we could come back,” Perretti said, still somehow clinging to hope that the message will resonate in Trenton.