01/14/2005 12:00AM

Next best thing to restoring Sagamore

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It's difficult to imagine a more successful grand opening than the stallion showing held last Sunday at the Maryland Stallion Station.

More than 400 people, including numerous well-established breeders from Maryland and surrounding states, turned out for a firsthand look at the first major Thoroughbred operation constructed in Maryland in many years, and the five well-bred stallions set to stand there for its inaugural season.

Aris Melissaratos, secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, delivered a keynote message that emphasized the importance of Maryland's horse economy and the need for slots to bolster purses and the breeders' fund.

"We value your industry," said Melissaratos. "We're going to find a way to get it done."

Maryland Stallion Station, located on 100 acres adjacent to historic Sagamore Farm in Baltimore County, brings together many elements that offer hope for the future of Maryland breeding - with or without the introduction of slots.

Spearheaded by Don Litz, a longtime Maryland bloodstock agent, the Maryland Stallion Station draws upon a strong group of investors that includes additional general partners Herb May and David DiPietro, both of whom are in the financial investment business in Baltimore. Nearly 30 other investors, many new to the horse business, have provided the financial backing for the project.

Among the Maryland Stallion Station's greatest strengths is its close association with Lane's End, the world-renowned Kentucky operation of William S. and Sarah Farish. Lane's End has served as an investor, stallion source, and architectural inspiration. The 11-stall stallion barn and adjacent breeding shed at Maryland Stallion Station are near-replicas of the buildings at Lane's End.

Designed strictly for standing stallions, with no facilities for boarding mares, the Maryland Stallion Station is expected to bring significant business to broodmare facilities in the surrounding area. Farms gearing up for the influx include nearby Willowdale, Glengar, and Halcyon. Across the road at Sagamore Farm, Laura Delozier leases two barns that will serve as the main broodmare annex for Maryland Stallion Station.

Last but certainly not least, Maryland Stallion Station is bringing about a revival of interest in Sagamore Farm - the lifelong home of Native Dancer, and the jewel of the Maryland countryside while it was owned by Alfred G. Vanderbilt from 1933 to 1987. Litz had dreamed of purchasing the Sagamore property, which has languished for the past 17 years under the ownership of Baltimore real estate developer Jim Ward. When that proved impossible, Litz pursued the next best thing. Maryland Stallion Station sits on a tract of land that once was part of Sagamore, and overlooks that hallowed ground.

The horses moved into the Maryland Stallion Station on Dec. 31. It was a fitting start to the new year, as Rock Slide, a full brother to 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, was the first to step off the van. Four of the stallions stood at Shamrock Farms in Woodbine, Md., while the new facility was under construction. The fifth, entering stud in 2005, is $1,315,774-earner Bowman's Band, a graded-stakes-winning and multiple Grade 1-placed son of Dixieland Band. Bowman's Band, out of the stakes-winning Pleasant Colony mare Hometown Queen, is the best racing son of Dixieland Band at stud in the mid-Atlantic region.

Maryland Stallion Station's lineup also includes these young horses:

* Jazz Club (Dixieland Band-Hidden Garden, by Mr. Prospector), who entered stud at Shamrock in 2002.

* Outflanker (Danzig-Lassie's Lady, by Alydar), a proven sire from the family of A.P. Indy, who moved from Florida for the 2004 breeding season.

* Rock Slide (A.P. Indy-Prospectors Delite, by Mr. Prospector), who entered stud in 2004 as a stakes winner and graded-stakes-placed earner of $442,500.

* Seeking Daylight (Seeking the Gold-Play All Day, by Steady Growth), a Grade 2 winner of $244,710, entered stud in 2004. He is from the family of champions Izvestia and With Approval and classic winner Touch Gold.

Sadly, one horse did not make the move from Shamrock to the new facility. Eastern Echo, who stood under the Maryland Stallion Station banner last season and ranked among the region's leading sires, died of an apparent heart attack on Dec. 14.

Jim Steele, longtime manager of Shamrock, will supervise the breeding operation at Maryland Stallion Station.