Updated on 09/16/2011 6:58AM

Sugar Maple a sweet spot for Hayden


Dan Hayden is in the middle of his first breeding and foaling season as the manager at Sugar Maple Farm in Poughquag, N.Y., and he has the battle scars to prove it.

Hayden, 28, and two other other farm employees had just finished delivering an unusually large foal recently, an A. P Jet filly, when the foal's mother began to suffer from cramps in her uterus. The mare began thrashing around the birthing stall and clipped Hayden on his forehead with her hoof. Luckily, Hayden suffered only a small gash, and the foal and her mother came through the ordeal no worse for the wear.

Hayden, a native of Ireland, came to Sugar Maple Farm, one of the largest breeding operations in New York, last August when the previous manager, Frankie O'Connor, departed to open a farm in Kentucky.

Hayden brought a wealth of knowledge to Sugar Maple, a 550-acre farm 75 miles north of Manhattan in Dutchess County, and home to stallions A. P Jet, Distinctive Pro, Ormsby, Performing Magic, and Raffie's Majesty.

Unlike the positions he held at his other jobs, Hayden is the head man at Sugar Maple Farm, which is owned by Howard Kaskel, a successful breeder and owner in New York for two decades.

"This is a huge opportunity for a young person like myself," Hayden said. "I'm doing a little bit of everything here, and that will build my experience. It would be difficult to get a job like this in Europe."

Hayden became interested in racing as a child growing up at The Curragh in Ireland, where he tagged along with two uncles who trained Thoroughbreds. Hayden rode in some races but grew too tall for a career as a jockey and switched to the breeding end of the business.

During the 1990's, Hayden spent four years working in Kentucky at two breeding farms, Knockgriffin and Wimbledon, before returning to Europe, where he worked for six months at Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket, England. While at Dalham Hall Stud, Hayden looked after the American mares who were sent to be bred to Dubai Millennium, the English champion who died last year at 5 from grass sickness.

One of Hayden's responsibilities is to manage the bookings of the five stallions at Sugar Maple Farm. The farm has two hot young sires in A. P Jet and Ormsby, who will cover about 160 mares between them this season, and a well-established veteran in 23-year-old Distinctive Pro. Completing Sugar Maple Farm's stallion roster are Raffie's Majesty, a New York-bred champion who is represented by his first crop of 2-year-olds this year, and first-year sire Performing Magic.

Despite his age, Distinctive Pro, a son of Mr. Prospector, commands a stud fee of $10,000, which is second in New York only to Phone Trick's $25,000. Distinctive Pro has ranked among the top 10 sires in New York for the last eight years and has sired graded winners Quick Mischief, Bodacious Tatas, and Big Stanley. Distinctive Pro's progeny earnings exceed $29 million.

A. P Jet, whose stud fee is $5,000, was last year's leading second-crop sire in New York and ranked 22nd in the country. A. P Jet's stakes winners include Crispy Jet, Bluesbreaker, Jini's Jet, and Volley Ball.

Ormsby, a son of Carson City, hit the ground running last year with his first group of 2-year-olds and ranked second in New York among first-crop sires. Ormsby, whose stud fee is $3,000, was represented by five winners from 13 starters in 2001.

There are 80 mares boarded at Sugar Maple Farm, including two dozen owned by Kaskel. Hall of Fame trainer John Nerud, an influential breeder and a consultant to Sugar Maple, boards mares at the farm. Nerud, 89, is the majority owner of A. P Jet, whose sire, Fappiano, was bred and raced by Nerud.

On an unseasonably warm day toward the end of February, several young foals were outside, enjoying the mild weather in Sugar Maple Farm's spacious paddocks, with their mothers nearby. The newborn foals were either napping on the grass or trying to gain their balance on spindly legs.

Hayden, who considers himself lucky if he catches one hour of sleep a night during the busy foaling months, said that by the conclusion of the season, in early June, 65 foals will have been born at Sugar Maple Farm.

The impeccably maintained farm, which features a mansion used by Kaskel and his family on weekends, a small golf course, and man-made lakes filled with bass, is peaceful, even though the breeding season is in full swing.

Hayden said the farm's relaxing vibe is ideal for raising young horses.

"It's lovely here; so quiet and laid back," said Hayden, who lives in a house on the farm. "The staff is extremely good and calm with the horses. A yearling's whole attitude is built on how he was treated as a foal up to the time he leaves here. These horses are not going to want to run if they don't trust humans."

A staff of 25, many of whom live on the property in four employee houses, work at Sugar Maple Farm during the breeding season. Hayden's assistant is Jason Clark, whom Hayden first met while working in Kentucky. Hayden's younger brother, Niall, recently arrived from Ireland via Kentucky to work at the farm.

On this day, Clark and Hayden's brother assisted Hayden with the one scheduled breeding. On some days, as many as a dozen mares are covered at Sugar Maple. The mare arrived by van from a nearby farm for a date in the breeding shed with Ormsby. All went smoothly, and the mare was back on her van, headed home, only 20 minutes after her arrival.

When Hayden isn't in the breeding shed, he usually can be found making rounds with the farm's veterinarian, Dr. Jim Mort, or in the fields inspecting the farm's 35 yearlings. Nineteen of the yearlings are owned by Kaskel, and the majority of them will be sold in August at Saratoga in the select and preferred sales. Kaskel usually keeps and races several fillies. They will carry his green and white silks, the color scheme at the farm, before he adds them to his broodmare band.

The yearlings, a well-bred bunch, represent such sires as Cozzene, Real Quiet, Stravinsky, Hennessy, Swain, and A. P Jet. About 10 weeks before the Saratoga sales, Hayden and his staff will implement a regimented exercise and feeding program to get the yearlings in prime condition for the sales ring.

But it's not all about tending to the horses. At lunchtime each day, Hayden jumps in his truck and heads to the office, a Victorian-style house near the farm's entrance, where at least a dozen phone messages are usually piled on his desk. Some calls are from people inquiring about breeding to one of the farm's stallions or from mare owners anxious to hear news on impending births.

"I'm nearly always on the phone," Hayden said, nodding to the paddocks filled with stallions, yearlings, foals, and mares. "But you can't lose sight of what it's all about out there."