08/18/2011 11:15AM

Q&A: Chris Baker

Email
Barbara D. Livingston

Farm manager at Spring Hill Farm, owned by the late Edward P. Evans, whose estate is selling his remaining bloodstock in upcoming months at Keeneland.

Birthdate: April 26, 1963, in Washington, D.C.

Family: wife, Diana; daughter, Emma

Got into racing because. . . We had a family interest with horses going back to my grandfather’s job in a bakery business in Pittsburgh, where he bought, sold, and tended to the 100-plus horses that pulled the wagons and delivered the bread. As a result of this exposure, my father always had a great interest in horses, which eventually led to the purchase of a stallion prospect at Waterford Park for $350 in the mid-1970’s. This led to the claim of several low-end mares from Charles Town, and before we knew it, we were in the Thoroughbred racing and breeding business.

What do you consider the highlights of what has been accomplished, both in terms of racing and breeding, in the 10-plus years you have worked for Mr. Evans? When I started with Mr. Evans, Raging Fever, Summer Colony, and Gold Mover were 2-year-olds and Gygistar was a yearling already getting started in Aiken, so I can’t take any credit for their achievements, but shortly thereafter came Saint Liam – who was a weanling when I arrived – along with Christmas Kid, Quality Road, Cat Moves, Malibu Prayer, and Buster’s Ready, all Grade 1 winners. There also were numerous Grade 2 winners, like Mini Sermon, Charitable Man, and A Little Warm, to name a few. According to Equibase, as a breeder, Spring Hill Farm and Mr. Evans raised the earners of more than $45 million on the racetrack in North America from 2001-2010. And this was done with crops of 60 or fewer foals per year over the entire time period, so we got a lot of bang for our buck. We also sold several seven-figure yearlings, including a $2.3 million Storm Cat filly, so we did pretty well commercially, also.

Who do you consider the best horse, or horses, who came off the farm while you were there? Saint Liam and Quality Road. Even though he was less accomplished on the racetrack in regard to earnings and Eclipse Awards, I rate Quality Road more highly because I believe he was the more talented and brilliant of the two.

It seems to an outsider that the quality of what was coming off that farm was getting better and better in recent years. The legacy has continued this year, with Buster’s Ready winning the Mother Goose, for instance. Do you feel as though the best was yet to come? Yes. We were constantly upgrading our stock and improving our management so that we were starting with horses that had the potential to be any kind. The old saying goes, “Breed the best to the best, and hope for the best.” We took it one step further by saying, “Breed the best to the best, and do the best by them, and great things will happen.” This philosophy, when well applied over time as it was by Mr. Evans, is demonstrated in his success over 40 years. We were constantly applying what we learned to improving things, so clearly, the best was yet to come.”

So I would imagine these upcoming sales must be extremely bittersweet, considering how much success you and Mr. Evans had together over the past decade before his death last Dec. 31: I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. At the farm, we have an outstanding staff that has contributed so much to Mr. Evans’s success, and we are all so proud of what our horses have accomplished, so we can’t help but feel a great sense of satisfaction for having been a part of something so productive. But at the same time, to have it end so suddenly, still in the prime of his life, is certainly a hard pill to swallow. I know that, foremost, we miss Mr. Evans, the man and his great character, but we also will greatly miss the opportunity he gave us all to share in his passion for the excellence in the Thoroughbred.

How many yearlings are selling at Keeneland in September, and what are the numbers of horses and types of horses who will sell at the breeding stock sale at Keeneland in November? We have 51 yearlings in September, followed, in November, by 55 foals, 78 mares, 22 2-year-olds, and approximately 20 older horses of racing age.

Keeneland has put together a terrific online informational packet on the dispersal: Keeneland has done a fantastic job promoting the dispersal, both online and in print. The packaging and audio-visual could not have been better. They were very fortunate, as were all of us associated with Mr. Evans’s Thoroughbred operation, to have great material to work with, and they did their best with it.

Is the farm, which is located in Virginia, being sold, too? Yes. It is a beautiful piece of land that has an innate charm that goes beyond the way it was kept and the improvements that were added over time. It also has proven to be a great place to breed and raise horses. I wouldn’t trade it for any other farm in the world in that regard. The results speak for themselves. I hope someone will buy it and utilize it for its obvious best use.

What are some of the qualities that made Mr. Evans such a success in racing? His unsurpassed, long-term passion for the sport; his profoundly strong intellect − with which he analyzed and surmounted the challenges that the business presents − and his great instincts for mating, problem solving, people, and business overall. He once told me that he considered success in breeding and racing to be the greatest challenge he has ever known. He, apparently, was up to the challenge.

Best horse seen? The best racehorses that I have had the privilege of being involved with during their active racing careers are Quality Road, Kotashaan, and A.P. Indy. All three of these horses did things other horses simply could not do, and they did them with ease. My favorite racehorse was Sandpit, because of his temperament, his integrity, and his durability. He was a teddy bear and an iron man all rolled into one horse, and very genuine every minute of every day. Ultimately, though, I believe that the two best horses I have ever seen were Northern Dancer and Secretariat, and I can’t separate the two of them.

What’s next for you and your family? I’m in the process of determining where the next great opportunity lies for me, and my family is on board to go wherever that opportunity exists. I believe that I have a lot to offer through my background and experience, and I hope to be able to utilize my skills to contribute to something as challenging and rewarding as what I had here with Mr. Evans. I spent the first 15 years of my career gaining animal-husbandry experience in breeding and racing, and further developed those skills during my 11 years here at Spring Hill. What I was very fortunate to gain through working so closely with Mr. Evans was a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the business side of the equation. To have been fortunate enough to gain equine experience from operations with Hall of Fame credentials, and then combine it with experience alongside a Yale undergraduate, Harvard MBA graduate, and successful Fortune 500 businessman that had no tolerance for incompetence, has been invaluable. I’d like to apply what I have learned, and am continuing to learn, to contribute to the breeding, growth, development, training, and management of exceptional racehorses. I just don’t know where I’ll be doing it.”