02/13/2009 12:00AM

New Pa. farms give breeders options

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As the 2009 breeding season gets under way, four new major commercial stallion operations are in full swing within Pennsylvania.

The lure of riches from Pennsylvania's rapidly expanding breeding fund, enhanced by revenue from seven slots facilities now reeling in customers throughout the state, has led to the creation of four prominent breeding operations:

* Northview PA, a 171-acre facility in Peach Bottom that marks a bold strategic move by the Mid-Atlantic region's longtime leading stud farm, the Chesapeake City, Md.-based Northview Stallion Station.

* Penn Ridge Farms in Harrisburg is businessman Mike Jester's 130-acre vision come to life. It will serve as home to two of Pennsylvania's top three sires, Cat Thief and Real Quiet.

* Dana Point Farm in Lenhartsville, a full-service showplace that reveals the strong business commitment of California entrepreneur Gayle Gerth and its manager, well-established Pennsylvania horsewoman Maria Vorhauer.

* Walmac Pennsylvania at Regal Heir Farm, an enterprise linking one of Kentucky's major breeding farms with the locally prominent facility in Grantville, Pa., now owned by Michele Madonna.

Together, the four farms are offering 15 stallions in 2009. Eight of those horses are new to the state.

"We're not trying to high-tail it out of Maryland," emphasizes Tom Bowman, Northview's general manager, who co-owns the farm with Richard Golden. "We prefer to call it an expansion of Northview's presence in the region, rather than a relocation. It was a business decision that felt like the right move."

Northview PA is being launched with a roster of five stallions, none of whom are being "taken away" from Maryland, Bowman points out.

Fairbanks is entering stud at the new facility. Partner's Hero and Congressionalhonor have relocated from other farms in Pennsylvania. And young stallions Love of Money and Medallist, who previously stood at Northview in Maryland, were always intended for the Pennsylvania site, said Bowman.

Still in many ways a work in progress, Northview PA is "phasing in," in the words of Bowman.

"We'd obviously prefer to be completely set up for the start of this season but that's not going to happen," he said.

The eight-stall stallion barn is completed, but it won't be filled immediately, Bowman added.

"We'll start with these five stallions, and gauge the future based on demand," he said.

A 20-stall foaling barn was scheduled for completion in early February, and Northview PA was expected to begin boarding broodmares at that point.

Among Northview PA's many attractive features is its fertile pasture land, which has not previously been used for horses.

"It was a dairy farm and then a crop farm," said Bowman. "It's great soil, and we've had grass on it for a year now; fortunately we've had plenty of rain, which has helped to give it a good base."

David Farrell, who has overseen day-to-day operations at Northview Stallion Station for the past several years, has had his role expanded to include both sites.

Northview PA's stallion manager is Bud Emmons, a previous Northview employee who most recently worked at Hilltop Stable, a major sport horse facility in Colora, Md.

Penn Ridge Farms is technically beginning its second season, but it has mostly taken shape in the last year, with the completion of three new barns.

So far, more than perhaps any other farm in the state, Penn Ridge is "raising the bar as to what a good stallion farm is going to be like in Pennsylvania," said Mark McDermott, whose tenure as executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association extends back to the earliest days of racing in the Keystone State.

Managed by Patrick Morell, a native Pennsylvania horseman who relishes the career opportunity after two years of on-the-job training at Vinery in Kentucky, Penn Ridge puts the emphasis on racing performance in its stallions. All are Grade 1 winners.

Jester bought the land that would become Penn Ridge in 2006. His idea for a top-class breeding facility began to take shape the following year when 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet - a stallion Jester had helped bring to Pennsylvania - was given a major career boost by his son Midnight Lute's victory in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Midnight Lute's repeat victory in the 2008 Breeders' Cup added still more luster, but Real Quiet is not Penn Ridge's only shining star. Cat Thief, who moved to Penn Ridge from Overbrook Farm in Kentucky for 2009, ranks No. 1 on the Pennsylvania sire list.

Rounding out the Penn Ridge roster are proven sires Delaware Township and Trust N Luck.

Penn Ridge, which has 20 mares of its own, recently began offering accommodations for boarding mares; foal care is also available.

Dana Point Farm (named for its owner Gerth's hometown of Dana Point, Calif.) focuses not just on breeding services - it's also equipped to offer layup care, vanning, sales prep and consulting, and to help with stallion syndication.

"This might be the worst time in the world to start a business," said Vorhauer. "But we're willing to ride it out. We believe the future in Pennsylvania holds a lot of promise."

Dana Point's hopes are pinned on the widely heralded Kentucky transplant Wiseman's Ferry, along with proven sire Spartan Victory and young horse Fidrych.

Vorhauer, who previously owned and managed November Hill Farm in Perkasie, Pa., says Dana Point Farm arose from the unlikeliest of beginnings.

In October 2007, Gerth was attending a wedding in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., when she and Vorhauer met - at the New York Thoroughbred Breeders' Sales Co. fall mixed sale.

Intrigued by the Thoroughbred world, which was entirely new to her, Gerth bought the unoccupied Pennsylvania farm this past July.

Vorhauer has overseen the massive remodeling project, which includes three barns.

Located near Reading, and equidistant to Philadelphia Park and Penn National, Dana Point encompasses 68 acres, says Vorhauer, with another 38 acres soon to be added.

The property now known as Regal Heir Farm needs no introduction to Pennsylvania horsepeople.

Established as Reigle Heir Farm in the 1970s by Tom Reigle and his wife, Ann, the 80-acre farm operated under the Reigles' ownership until 2005, when it was purchased by partners Dennis Madonna and Bradley Jones.

Tragically, the new owners died in a helicopter crash while attempting to take aerial photographs of the farm in April 2006.

Since then it has been carried on by Madonna's widow, Michele, who has six stallions lined up for the 2009 season, three in conjunction with Walmac.

The Kentucky farm tested the market last season by sending Ecclesiastic to enter stud at Regal Heir. Ecclesiastic proved to be the most popular first-year stallion in the state, covering 69 mares.

This year Walmac is bolstering its Pennsylvania presence with 2008 freshman sire Eavesdropper and One Great Cat, who is fresh off the racetrack.

Like its Kentucky stallions, Walmac's Pennsylvania horses are eligible for its newly announced "breeders stimulus plan" that allows breeders to pay the stud fee from the proceeds of the future sale of the offspring or change the contract to a foal share arrangement within 30 days of foaling.

Bookings for Walmac's Pennsylvania division are handled by George Hills of Lexington, Ky.-based Anglo-American Thoroughbreds LLC.

Lauren Zagnit serves as Regal Heir's farm manager.

Also standing at Regal Heir are Freefourinternet, Senor Swinger, and Snow Ridge.

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