02/28/2014 4:40PM

O'Cains carry on at Saratoga Stud

Photo by Times Union/Skip Dickstein
From left to right, Dr. Lynwood O'Cain, Suzie O'Cain, stallion manaer Mike Brown and farm owner Rick Burke at the new Saratoga Stud facility, part of Burke's Irish Hill Century Farm in Stillwater, N.Y.

For more than two decades, two of the most recognizable faces in New York’s breeding industry have been C. Lynwood “Doc” O’Cain and his wife, Suzie. The couple became well known in the state while helming the stallion operation at the late Carl Lizza Jr.’s Highcliff Farm in Delanson, N.Y. However, following Lizza’s death and the dispersal of his stock, that identity has changed, as the O’Cains have worked to relocate and maintain the former Highcliff stallion roster.

Following several years of transition, the operation has found a new home at Rick Burke’s Irish Hill Century Farm in Stillwater, N.Y., about 15 minutes from Saratoga Race Course. Not only is the addition to the facility an ideal home for the six-stallion roster, headed by multiple Grade 1 winner and sire Congaree, it has allowed Burke to brand Irish Hill as a full-service operation, a mutually beneficial arrangement. The new stallion facility has been named Saratoga Stud.

“The transition has been going very well, seamless,” Suzie O’Cain said. “You had an existing stallion operation that had been highly and actively involved in New York for 23 years. And [Burke] had always wanted to expand into a full-service facility. ... It just seemed to suit everyone’s needs.”

Lizza, who campaigned 1981 Eclipse Award champion 3-year-old filly Wayward Lass, among many other stakes winners, had purchased the Highcliff property in partnership with Joseph Bartone in 1987. The O’Cains came aboard to manage the stallion operation and remained for more than two decades. Doc O’Cain, who has an extensive background in reproductive health care, served as the farm’s general manager and resident veterinarian, while Suzie O’Cain mainly handled stallion promotion and development.

Lizza died in July 2011, a few days following hernia surgery. He was 73 and had battled diabetes for more than 30 years; seven years prior, his left leg had been amputated due to the disease. Lizza, the New York circuit’s leading owner by winners in 2004 and 2005, had been watching his horses run at Belmont less than two weeks prior to his death, and his Flying Zee Stables would go on to win the owners’ title at that spring-summer meet.

At the time of Lizza’s death, the Flying Zee operation had about 285 horses, including racing stock, broodmares, and foals. Lizza’s widow, Viane, continued to race horses in the Flying Zee name that summer, but in the fall and winter, his estate moved to disperse the stock in several phases. The O’Cains looked to keep the Highcliff stallion operation functional while also perhaps moving it closer to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where they own a home. The couple first moved operations to Mill Creek Farm in Stillwater, taking about 65 horses, including the stallions and additional stock for longtime clients.

The following year, the roster relocated once more, as the six former Highcliff stallions joined eight studs already slated to stand at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds, making the operation the largest stallion facility in the state. Joe McMahon, who founded the operation with his wife, Anne, and Suzie O’Cain had previously worked together on the boards of several state organizations, including the New York Thoroughbred Breeders.

Suzie O’Cain said that during this transitional period, the couple found support from the various facility owners who hosted them, as well as from the owners of their stallions.

“The stallion owners have been so good to us and so loyal to Doc and I,” she said. “They’ve been so patient, and their support has been unending.”

For 2014, the operation moves to another new, but perhaps more permanent, home. The O’Cains hadn’t been personally acquainted with Burke, a fifth-generation farmer whose family had lived and worked at Irish Hill Century Farm since 1883, but knew of him through mutual acquaintances in the industry and later reached out.

The merger created opportunities for both parties, giving the O’Cains the opportunity to house and promote their stallions and carry out breeding operations, and allowing Burke, who had focused on broodmare care and sales prep, to brand himself as a “one-stop shop” for breeders in the state. Doc O’Cain’s veterinary expertise also is a beneficial addition for Irish Hill.

“He had a void in his program, and we had one in ours,” Suzie O’Cain said.

The new Saratoga Stud facility at Irish Hill hosted a stallion show in late January, as construction neared completion. The new stallion barn and breeding shed – which saw its first usage in February – are fully built, with only a few offices remaining to complete.

“The most important thing was to get the horses settled,” Suzie O’Cain said.

Saratoga Stud will debut with a six-stallion roster for 2014, a group that has moved together from Highcliff, to Mill Creek, to McMahon, to Irish Hill. No new additions were made to the roster for this year – a conscious decision, despite interest, in order to establish an identity for the new facility.

“We were approached by quite a few people with horses, and they were very nice horses that we put some consideration into,” Suzie O’Cain said. “But with this whole huge process [of building a new facility], we decided that the best thing we can do right now is restabilize our existing stallion roster. We wanted to get the horses where they needed to be, promote them, and put everything we have behind the horses we have. Because of the stallion owners’ faith and confidence in Doc and I, I felt really, really dedicated to re-establishing these stallions. I love every one of them. I really believe in every one of them.”

The roster is led by stalwart Congaree, who stands for an advertised fee of $7,500. The 16-year-old son of Arazi was a five-time Grade 1 winner during his racing career, including victories in the Hollywood Gold Cup and two editions of the Cigar Mile, for earnings of more than $3.2 million. His progeny have earned more than $13 million, led by multiple Grade 1 winner Jeranimo, Grade 1 winner Killer Graces, and graded stakes winners Mythical Power and Don’t Tell Sophia.

Bob and John, a Seeking the Gold horse who captured the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, is represented by seven stakes winners from his first three crops, while millionaire Cosmonaut had three winners, including a stakes horse, from just seven starters through Tuesday. Young stallions Maybry’s Boy and Stonesider have established themselves with New York-bred stakes winners, while the first foals by millionaire Smart Bid arrived this year.

As she focuses on her stallions’ careers, Suzie O’Cain is optimistic about the long-term future of the industry in New York, bolstered by additions to purses and breeder incentives from revenue generated by video lottery terminals at Aqueduct in recent years.

“New York is doing very well, and I think it’s going to continue to do well,” she said. “People are breeding in the state, and the sales are doing well, because people want to buy a New York-bred. And with the horse population [nationwide] shrinking, that affects supply and demand. ... It’s nice to see everyone happy at the sales again.”