Merrymans bring plenty of horse sense to breeding business

September 19, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

No one knows the vagaries of the horse breeding business better than John and Kitty Merryman.

Take the Damascus Handicap today at Pimlico Race Course.

The Merrymans own and bred two of the 11 runners entered in the $50,000 stakes. Between them, the Merryman runners, Rebuff and Be Nimble, have won over $400,000.

But the dams of both of these big-money earners, who are fourth-generation Merryman-breds and are out of half-sisters, have quit producing.

Split Feather, dam of Rebuff, died having a foal.

Dance Every Dance, dam of Be Nimble, was given away after she developed conception problems. Even though the mare's son is one of the state's most consistent grass performers, Dance Every Dance is now being bred to a Cleveland Bay stallion (a non-Thoroughbred) in hopes of producing a superior riding horse.

Despite the ups and downs of the business, the Merrymans rarely fail to produce a top runner each year from a small band of seven broodmares at their 550-acre farm, The Orebanks, in Sparks.

Horses that roam their acreage as pensioners, including Maryland champion Twixt, now 23, recently retired Due North, and What a Fling as well as current broodmare Smart N Quick, have cumulatively earned more than $2.5 million.

"It seems like we have a broodmare for every one of our children," John Merryman said yesterday.

The Merrymans foal the horses at their farm, then ship them to their son, Edwin and his wife, Sass, to break as yearlings at their farm in Port Deposit.

Then the horses are split between four of the other Merryman children -- Katy Voss, Ann Merryman, Johnny Merryman and Lizzie Hendricks -- who are either trainers or are married to trainers.

"Katy and Ann usually get the offspring of mares that they once trained. Then we try to figure out which horses suit the training methods of our other children," Merryman said.

The Merrymans currently have 15 horses in training. Five are with Katy Voss at Laurel Race Course or her Howard County farm, Chanceland, which she owns in partnership with Bob Manfuso. Three are with Ann Merryman at Pimlico, three are with Johnny, and his wife, Frances, who lease Rolling Ridge Farm in Glyndon, and four are with Ricky and Lizzie Hendricks at Delaware Park.

"Most of our assets are either tied up in land or horses and the livelihood of our children depends on what happens in the industry," Merryman said.

Little wonder Merryman has strong feelings about the current problems in the industry, ranging from the distribution of purses to track management dragging its feet on developing off-track betting sites.

But who does he like today in the Damascus?

"Rebuff if it stays dry and Be Nimble if it rains," Merryman said. "Rebuff is the best horse, but he wants firm going. Be Nimble prefers it soft. Both are come-from-behind runners and those kind of horses can encounter traffic problems."

Among the Merrymans' current crop of 2-year-olds is the last foal out of Twixt. His name is Smart N Tough and he is in training at Laurel with Katy Voss.

NOTES: Mike Luzzi escaped serious injury in the seventh race at Pimlico yesterday when his mount Heading Home clipped heels with another horse. Luzzi was kicked in the back by another horse after he fell off his mount. A Pimlico official said Luzzi isn't seriously hurt, but was taken to Sinai Hospital for X-rays. . . . Mario Pino rode four winners on yesterday's card. . . . Pimlico management holds a Town Meeting in the grandstand starting at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow. . . . Jockey Mark Johnston is recuperating at his family's farm in Kentucky from a broken collarbone. During the Timonium break, Johnston fell off a horse he was riding at his grandfather's farm. . . . John's Ambition, winner of the maiden allowance 2-year-old race yesterday, is expected to run next Saturday in the Maryland Million Juvenile.

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