Always stay close to nature

Friendly print, PDF and email

Why keeping stallions together in a stable is not always the best policy.

by Alan Leavitt

Howard Beissinger always said that you should always stick as close to nature as possible when it comes to horses. As many times as I’ve heard him say that, it took too long for me to really sink in.

As an example, when Dr. Lynda Stewart and I flew to Quebec to see Garland Lobell, he was stabled in a large barn completely surrounded by mares. There were no partitions in the walls of his stall. His stall was as open as the mare stalls, so he could sniff nose-to-nose with his neighbors anytime he wanted.

After he was syndicated and relocated to Walnut Hall, I put him in one of the huge stalls in our famous stud farm. If it was good enough for foundation sires like Scotland and Volomite, surely it was good enough for Garland Lobell?

Bad bad bad. Whereas Garland had been a laid-back, laid-back horse in his stable surrounded by mares in Quebec, he was a nervous, nervous horse in his new home in Lexington. In our stable, each horse’s stable door has a yoke, so the horse can stick its head out. Every time any of the other stallions in the barn took the opportunity to check things up and down the barn, Garland visibly fidgeted.

Their performance in the rearing shed was also affected. While housed with the other stallions in our barn, he did not breed as well as he did in Quebec. I mean, he had a problem accommodating his mares that he didn’t have before.

At this point, enter, stage left, Dr. Phil Hunt. He was the manager of a farm in Pennsylvania, where they had a trotter named Almost Perfect. As a racehorse, Nearly Perfect was a star. He feuded with Mack Lobell week after week at The Meadowlands, whipping him on occasion.

So when Nearly Perfect retired to the Gettysburg farm run by Dr. Hunt, he was quite popular with mare owners. And as stallion managers have been doing since time immemorial, and are still doing today, Nearly Perfect was stabled in the same barn as the other two stallions on the farm.

The only problem with the whole Almost Perfect thing, as we say in the detective trade, was that the horse had trouble calming down his mares. I personally got involved here, when I jumped at the chance to buy a stock in Nearly Perfect at a bargain price.

Since the mares at that time had to be inseminated on the spot, that is, at the stallion’s spot. I called Tad Egloff to tell him that he was sending him a mare that was reserved for Nearly Perfect. Tad’s reaction was the opposite of enthusiastic, to say the least.

As a shareholder in Nearly Perfect Syndicate, I received periodic reports from Dr. Hunt documenting his horse’s progress, or lack thereof, in the breeding barn. That went on for several years, and then Dr. Hunt informed our tough little group of remaining stockholders that he had made a drastic change to the Nearly Perfect routine, and that the horse was now being bred at a higher level with the one he had only dreamed of before. .

Following Beissinger’s directive to stay close to nature, Dr. Hunt had removed Nearly Perfect from the stud barn and reinstated him in a stall that housed only mares. He now he also threw it into a paddock where there were mares from both sides in the neighboring paddocks. Lo and behold, Nearly Perfect was now settling his mares into a better pace, as I said earlier, that previously belonged in the category of dreams.

Hunt explained that he could see that Nearly Perfect was intimidated by the other two stallions when he was in the barn with them. When he was moved, his personality changed and he for the first time took on the external characteristics that accompany a virile and sexually aggressive breeding horse.

Nearly Perfect became a moderate success as a progenitor after he returned to the wild. He sired several useful racehorses in addition to the classic filly Imperfection and the classic colt Sierra Kosmos.

Sierra Kosmos was an interesting story in its own right. He was trained and ridden by a true hobbyist, Rick Beinhauer, though that didn’t stop him from being a skilled rider who could hold his own against the big guys. His horse posted a record of 3 of 1: 53.4 and in two seasons of racing on the Grand Circuit he earned more than half a million dollars.

That was a good enough resume to earn Sierra Kosmos a spot at the Hanover Shoe stud complex. There he had modest success, landing three million dollar winning trotters, led by Jim Doherty’s best mare, No Nonsense Woman.

In parentheses, Jim Doherty was one of the last great coaches who was an equally skilled driver. I can still hear your wonderful New Brunswick accent, and our world is poorer for not having it in it. The same happens with the loss this week of Osvaldo Formia. I was lucky enough to get to know him well during my days as Howard Beissinger. He was a great horseman, but more than that, he was a wonderful human being. I like to think that maybe we’ll meet again one day, if I’m lucky.

As I have confessed before, it is almost a compulsion for me to do a five-generation pedigree of any horse that catches my eye. So I ran Nearly Perfect’s. He was on Songcan and off Exciting, for the Super Bowl. Songcan was a son of Florican, and Florican is also the sire of Nearly Perfect’s third dam, making him 2 for 4 to that horse.

In case you forget, when the sum of the generations in which the same name appears twice is six or less, that is called inbreeding. When the total is seven or eight, you have line breeding, and when the total is nine or more, that’s a crossover.

All that is known about Florican is that he raced as a Star’s Pride stablemate for the Arden Homestead Stable, the Gerry-Harriman family name.

He may well have been a timid breeder, though he wrote his name indelibly in the history of our sport when he sired Speedy Crown’s dam Mistletoe.

I also picked up another piece of information when I looked at the extended pedigree of Nearly Perfect. Her fourth mother is Kashaplenty, and therein lies a story.

Kashaplenty was bred by Castleton Farm, owned by automobile heiress Frances Dodge, the late Frances Dodge Johnson, later still Frances Dodge Johnson Van Lennep.

As the story goes, Frances was enjoying martinis with some horseman friends when they were joined by her husband, Fred Van Lennep, known to some of us know-it-alls as Freddie Van Fortunate.

“I named two horses this afternoon,” Frances told the assembled drinkers. “One for me and one for you.”

“What did you call them?” her straight husband responded on cue.

“The one I named for myself is Kashaplenty,” he said, and you can see it right there on the USTA record.

“And what is the name I have for myself, my dear?” Freddy asked.

“It’s not funny,” Frances replied, and with that you have the whole book on one of the most prominent marriages in our incredible sport.

But humor aside, both Fred and Frances made enormous contributions to our sport, which will live on as long as standard bred dogs are bred and raced around the world. And his generous spirit lives on in his lovely daughter Rikki and her equally lovely granddaughter, Elizabeth.