Local breeder Pons turns to prose Book details trials of a horse farm

HORSE RACING

December 20, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Gamblers who ever wondered how "the 2-horse" ever got to the starting gate might want to pick up a copy of Josh Pons' recently published "Country Life Diary."

Few people have chronicled the nuances of breeding racehorses more thoroughly than Pons, who spent three years writing about the daily joys -- and drudgery -- of life on a Harford County horse farm.

Raising a racehorse is a long, costly and laborious process. After finishing all 419 pages of Pons' book, a reader will never again wonder why people go nuts in the winner's circle, even if their horse has just won an $8,500 maiden claimer.

What those owners went through to get there is painstakingly explained by Pons.

But what makes his book special, and why the Blood-Horse Magazine has chosen to publish it after running it in serialized form since 1989, is the mixture of his insight -- brutally realistic at times, but at other moments, sheer poetry.

One day's entry will describe the mating habits of his stallions in detail.

Another will describe a hayfield in Virginia: "The bales looked surreal, dotting the landscape like so many Salvador Dali watches."

There are characters galore -- a teaser (the horse who excites mares before breeding) named Dew Burns; a mentally deranged foal nicknamed Rollaids, who wears a fedora; and a night watchman, actually a night watchwoman named Sue, who is knocked unconscious and misses the foaling of a mare after 50 bales of straw fall on top of her head.

"Glad she was raised a country girl," Pons writes.

There are poignant observations about Maryland racing personalities -- a description of Lynda O'Dea, looking "lonely" at a cocktail party after the death of Frank De Francis; Hal Clagett, giving a moving eulogy at the funeral of his wife, Julie, who died of cancer.

There's also a funny anecdote about Harford County horsewoman Sue Quick.

It's at the end of the breeding season, after Quick has spent innumerable days chronicling the heat cycles of high-strung mares and shipping them over to Country Life from her "satellite" boarding operation.

Quick is watching her favorite soap operas, lays back in her favorite chair with her feet up, drinks a glass of iced tea and exclaims, "I hate broodmares."

Pons, 38, said each day's entry took an hour to write. There are 1,072 individual entries. His wife, Ellen, drew 36 pen-and-ink drawings to illustrate the text.

So far, he has been at three book-signings in Maryland and Kentucky. One well-known owner-breeder, Virginia Kraft Payson, ordered 120 copies of the book (at $20 each) to give as Christmas presents.

Pons, who has won an Eclipse Award for his writing, will autograph copies of the book at Waldenbooks at Hunt Valley Mall today from 1-3 p.m.

"I think the reason people are connecting to the book is that it's so personal," Pons said. "I wanted to be instructive [about what actually goes on at a farm], but I also wanted to let my emotions show through."

Twelve families earn their livelihood from the 113-acre Country Life Farm and their fate, like that of the approximately 20,000 other horse farm and track workers in the state, lies with the future of the industry.

From Pons' book the reader gets to sense the soul of Maryland racing and a feel for the people who keep it going.

"We're not getting rich," Pons said, despite the current success of his stallions, which are owned by syndicates and not his family. "But if you are treading water in Maryland now, and surviving, it's a major accomplishment."

It is clear from the "Country Life Diary" what sustains the Pons family. It is their love for the thoroughbred, and like the book, the lifestyle is never boring.

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