10/14/2009 11:00PM

Memories of racing's Pleasantville


LEXINGTON, Ky. - For many employees of Overbrook Farm, the announcement that it would disperse its horses and cease operations was like a death in the family.

Founded by the late W. T. Young in 1972, Overbrook is most famous for standing Storm Cat, the leading sire who is now retired. Storm Cat will live out his days at the 2,300-acre property, Young's heirs have said, probably with Grade 2-winning gelding Clock Stopper as a companion. But the future is less certain for most of Overbrook's longtime staff, who will close the farm after the final dispersal phase in January.

The Overbrook team has unusual longevity, thanks, they say, to a deep respect and affection for Young and a loyalty to his dream of building the operation into a world-class breeding facility for Thoroughbred racehorses. The farm developed a reputation as a good place to work, partly because of the family atmosphere Young cultivated.

"Since I came here working in one of the foaling barns, I've got the horse families I've been familiar with for 20 years," said Beth Meredith, who has worked at Overbrook since 1987. "I'll be sad to see them dispersed and not be part of it anymore. We've got yearlings selling that are great-grandchildren of mares I knew or grandchildren of mares I foaled, that I delivered back in the 80s and 90s."

One of the first horses Meredith worked with was Terlingua, Storm Cat's dam who died last year at 32. The juvenile filly champion Flanders, the dam of champion Surfside, was another. Meredith foaled her dam, Starlet Storm.

Among the mares she'll miss the most, she said, is Storm Star, a 26-year-old pensioner.

"She actually lives behind my house on the farm, and I see her every day," said Meredith, 55.

Meredith got to know Flanders when the filly returned to the farm in 1994 after breaking down in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, which she won by a head over Serena's Song.

"She was turned out with Cinegita, who was her grandmother," Meredith said. "Cinegita had had 12 consecutive foals but just lost her 13th. She was arthritic and old, and they wanted someone to turn Flanders out with so she could have a buddy and not get running. It was neat to see them together."

Stallion manager Wes Lanter, a 10-year Overbrook veteran, fell hardest for Jump Start. A 10-year-old A. P. Indy horse, Jump Start will relocate to Ghost Ridge Farms in Pennsylvania.

"Storm Cat has his own plateau, but I really loved Jump Start," said Lanter, 45. "He came to me after the 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he was injured, and I started taking care of him."

Jump Start sustained a condylar fracture of his left foreleg in the Juvenile.

"Here he was, a 2-year-old that had been two months at a clinic in New York and was still on stall-rest here," Lanter said. "He had a license to be a real idiot, kicking the barn down, but he had so much class. He was the kindest horse you could ever be around. At 17 hands tall, he was a real gentle giant, and I'm really going to miss him."

It wasn't just the horses that made Overbrook special, employees said. It was the nature of the place.

"When I first came here it was like a throwback, because unlike so many other farms, we were breeding our own, racing them, and, hopefully, they'd come back and help restock the stallion barns," said Lanter, who lives on the farm. "You got to see the foals go from birth to yearling to the racetrack, and you were able to track that. It was a unique experience. You don't see that much anymore."

Tom Embry, an assistant yearling manager, has been at Overbrook for 15 years. Embry, 79, grew up on Briar Hill Farm north of Lexington and got his start riding a pony in front of the owner's truck, opening gates for him.

"Being here reminds me of how I grew up," Embry said. "Here I have a truck, and I drive around this farm looking at things, about like I did when I had that pony, seeing if anything is wrong and checking on the horses. I love it. I feel like I'm home. And I love these horses.

"I especially remember Flanders and Surfside. Flanders was a little more hyper than Surfside. You could turn Surfside out with other fillies, and when they started running, she'd drop her head and start eating. Then all at once, after they'd made a loop around the field, she'd look up and take off. And she'd pass all of them."

Like Meredith, many Overbrook employees have seen the farm develop from Lexington's best-kept secret to a famed showplace.

"I think Mr. Young wanted to keep it a little bit secret in the early days," Meredith said. "It felt neat to be part of it, being back here where no one even knew we were here.

"Times change. That's how life is, and I understand it," Lanter said of the closure. "But I'm going to miss this place."