09/11/2003 11:00PM

Loss of two top stallions leaves a void


Maryland's breeding industry was shaken to the core when word came from the Pons family's Country Life Farm that perennial leading sire Allen's Prospect had been euthanized on Sept. 3, at age 21, following complications after surgery to remove a tumor under his jaw.

Then, just two days later, Country Life's rising star Malibu Moon, one of the nation's top 10 freshman sires, was on a van headed for Kentucky, where he will stand in 2004. The loss of two of the state's most prominent stallions - who could cover a total of nearly 250 mares in a single season, more than 10 percent of the state total - stirred up feelings much like those experienced in 1988, when it was announced that Windfields Farm, Maryland's preeminent stallion station, was closing its doors. Can the industry recover from the losses?

As history has proven, most definitely. One who readily agrees is Mike Pons, business manager of Country Life Farm.

"We can't rebuild Rome overnight, but we've got everything in place to fill the void," Pons said.

Country Life Farm currently is home to four stallions - the elder resident, 22-year-old Carnivalay, Grade 1 sire Citidancer, and younger stallions Storm Broker and Unbridled Jet. There are two farms carrying the Country Life banner - the original acreage in Bel Air, which was founded in 1933 by Adolphe Pons, and the broodmare division of Country Life Nursery at Merryland Farm in Baltimore County, where renovations are nearly complete for a training facility.

"This is just a snapshot in time," said Pons of the losses. "Within a month, we will most likely have two new horses in the barn." Through the success of Allen's Prospect and the connections the stallion helped make over 17 years at stud, the farm has extraordinary contacts, noted Pons. "We've been getting calls every day about new prospects."

Also amazing has been the outpouring of emotion from so many people over the death of Allen's Prospect, from calls, letters, and e-mails to flowers, said Pons. "It's humbling how much he touched people's lives and how much they loved him."

Many of the callers have stories to tell.

"We've had people stop us to say that Allen's babies helped get their training careers started, or put their kids through college. Allen's Prospect gained respect from trainers for getting solid horses. The impact this horse had on so many lives is incredible."

Allen's Prospect broke many barriers during his stud career. A prolific son of Mr. Prospector, Allen's Prospect covered more than 1,600 mares over 17 seasons, and was the state's top sire by mares bred more than a dozen times - his books would often exceed 100 mares a year, topped by 126 in 2001. In 2003, he covered 109 mares.

In addition to siring a large number of offspring, Allen's Prospect has had a high percentage of foals make it to the races (78 percent), and the majority of them are winners (81 percent). He led the nation six times by number of winners, including the last five years.

Allen's Prospect currently leads every category - money won, number of winners and number of wins - on Maryland's leading general and 2-year-old lifetime sires lists. Pons believes Allen's Prospect will have a great future through his daughters.

"He was a gift," said Pons. "He taught us so much and gave us the opportunity to learn how to handle a highly commercial top stallion. He was the alpha horse."