10/08/2003 11:00PM

Lane's End invests in Maryland farm


The Maryland breeding industry is getting a powerful push in 2004, thanks to a new stallion farm backed by a phalanx of investors, including Kentucky breeding powerhouse Lane's End.

The Maryland Stallion Station, which is set to stand five stallions for the 2004 season, is a dramatic development in one of the nation's oldest and most historic Thoroughbred breeding regions. And it will be built on land that is part of breeding history.

The Maryland Stallion Station will occupy 100 acres that the investment group has leased from landowner Edward St. John, and the parcel includes some acreage that formed the core of the late Alfred G. Vanderbilt's fabled Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, Md. That link to history pleases Maryland Stallion Station founding partner Donald Litz, who says the new venture seeks to restore a dominant, high-caliber stallion roster to the region.

"Eventually, we plan to raise the bar to the level that the old Windfields Farm used to be in the 1960's and 70's, when horses used to stand for hundreds of thousands of dollars," Litz said.

The first five stallions at Maryland Stallion Station are Rock Slide, a full brother to Lane's End first-year stallion Mineshaft who will stand for a fraction of Mineshaft's $100,000 fee at $7,500; Outflanker, a former Florida horse, also at $7,500; Seeking Daylight at $6,500; Eastern Echo at $5,000; and Jazz Club at $3,500.

"We're looking for stallions by sires of sires and with female families richly laden with graded performances. We're looking for families with successful sires already in them. And we want dirt form along with a proven ability to show speed early, at ages 2 or 3."

Those stallions are in high demand, and Lane's End's participation could be key to acquiring them. The Farish family's Lexington-based stallion station controls some of the world's best bloodstock, starting with the highly fashionable and successful sire A.P. Indy. That brings plenty of clout to the Maryland Stallion Station, in terms of both reputation and access to potential stallions.

"Lane's End has the awareness of where these kinds of stallions are and whether they are available even before they come on the market," Litz said. "That's our advantage in having Lane's End as a partner: They're our eyes."

The benefit to Lane's End, Litz said, is in opening a new market for stallions. Litz, a bloodstock agent, got to know Lane's End's owner, Will Farish, through stallion season and share deals Litz handled for his clients. When he bought Jazz Club from Lane's End recently, Litz convinced Farish to keep a half-interest in the horse, and then he pitched the Maryland Stallion Station idea to him.

Farish - who had connections to the state through his late father-in-law, breeder Bayard Sharp - was enthusiastic about the plan, according to Litz. "I told him, this market is really hungry for new, well-bred stallions," Litz said, stressing that the Maryland Stallion Station should appeal to regional breeders, not just to those in Maryland.

That hunger might increase if slot machines come to Maryland racetracks and contribute more money to the area's purses. Farish's son, Bill - who is running the family's bloodstock interests while his father serves as United States Ambassador to Great Britain - has said that the possibility of slot machines at Maryland's racetracks was not a major factor in the family's decision to participate in the Maryland Stallion Station. But the prospect of slots has fueled growth in other markets, most notably New York, which also has attracted the participation of major Kentucky farms.

Slots, Litz believes, are "just a short-range benefit."

"Our industry generally is poised for a growth spiral," he said, citing TVG, telephone wagering, and similar developments nationwide that he thinks will spark growth.

Those are some of the points that lured between 20 and 30 investors to Maryland Stallion Station; each of those "unit-holders," as Litz calls them, has a fractional interest in all the stallions. Litz and two friends, investment bankers Herb May and David DiPietro, founded the operation on a business plan written by another friend of Litz's, a PriceWaterhouse Coopers partner named Chris Everett. Among them, these men recruited a wide range of partners: established breeders, people who always wanted to get into the Thoroughbred breeding business, and investors who had never been close to a horse but thought diversified stallion investment could yield healthy returns.

"We have college buddies, people we've worked with on Wall Street for 18 years, people who want to preserve land in Maryland's horse country, people who scoured it for investment possibilities," said DiPietro.

The Maryland Stallion Station will begin operations this year, but for the 2004 season it will stand its five stallions at Shamrock Farms in Woodbine, Md. In the meantime, Litz and partners are busily developing the facilities at their leased property. They're building a 10-stall stallion barn and paddocks that Litz plans to have ready for equine occupation by next summer. "We will not board mares on site, so we'll use satellite facilities," Litz said. "What will be good is that more satellite facilities will spring up to handle mares coming in."

That kind of optimism will keep the Maryland Stallion Station's investors buoyed, and the prestigious Lane's End connection won't hurt either. That connection will be obvious even in the architecture: Lane's End has given Litz the design plans for its Kentucky breeding shed and stallion barn, lending a familiar look to the Maryland Stallion Station.