Loblolly Stable's 'other half' isn't divorced from business Anthony, ex-wife maintain horse racing relationship

April 29, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Mary Lynn Dudley laughs when she is described as "the invisible, mysterious other owner" of Loblolly Stable, the outfit that has campaigned at least a half-dozen stakes-class 3-year-olds this spring and is usually represented by her former husband, John Ed Anthony.

It was she, after all, who designed the stable's yellow and chocolate brown silks after they looked good on her in a tennis warm-up suit.

She also names the stable's fillies, such as Zilla Peel, Gooseankle and Aztec Hill, the latter named after a place in Texas where her daughter, Page, went to summer camp.

"Last time I looked, I wasn't invisible," she said yesterday from her home in Little Rock, Ark.

But she says she has been "hiding in my garden this week, and I've been thinking maybe I should stay there."

If favored Prairie Bayou or his lesser-regarded stablemate, Marked Tree, wins the Kentucky Derby for Loblolly Stable, Dudley will accept the trophy along with Anthony, her ex-husband, and his current wife, Isabel.

If it sounds awkward, it is, Dudley said.

"When we divorced, the experience was traumatic," she said. "But Johnny and I have always worked well together. For instance, I have called him two or three times a day this week, and we're still just wonderful friends."

Anthony agrees. "We have a lot of confidence in each other, and getting a divorce didn't destroy our friendship."

When the couple split five years ago after 27 years of marriage, they kept the stable intact as equal partners.

"It was just impossible to divide, and the only way to have done it was liquidation," said Dudley, who since has remarried, to Robert Dudley, a judge on the Arkansas Supreme Court. "All three of my children are interested in racing, and, if we had had a dispersal, it would have washed out all that we had done.

"I know how hard we worked to build up this stable. I look back on how many hours I spent sitting at racetracks when I would have preferred to be at home with the children."

Since its inception about 20 years ago, Loblolly has bred 40 stakes winners and currently has 45 mares in its broodmare band. During the past three years, their horses have won more than $5 million and, after the first quarter of this year, nearly $2 million in purses.

"It started out just as a hobby, and we had a barrel of fun," Dudley said. "Then it got to be more serious, and now it's big business. Things that used to tickle us, we now look on as catastrophic. I think we've grown along with the stable."

Even though John Ed Anthony makes the day-to-day decisions -- "It can't be run by committee," he said yesterday -- large items such as how much money will be spent at sales and how many horses will be kept in training are decided jointly.

"John is a sale junkie," Dudley said. "It makes me so nervous. He'll call me from an auction and say he just saw a horse he fell in love with and had to buy. That's when I call my son, Ed, who is in the horse business in Lexington, and tell him, 'I can't get to the sale fast enough. Go out and hold down both on your father's hands.' "

Dudley said attending the Derby is nerve-wracking.

Disaster has struck two of the stable's five previous Derby entrants. In 1984, Vanlandingham fractured a bone and finished 16th, although he later recovered and became a champion. In 1987, Loblolly's favored Demons Begone bled profusely and was pulled up, finishing 17th.

"Those experiences toughened us, and now we almost come to the race anticipating disaster," Dudley said.

Prairie Bayou, a gelding and recent winner of the Blue Grass and Jim Beam Stakes, "is not the most beautiful or fancy horse we've run in the Derby," Dudley said. "But he tries so hard. He gets so far behind that I wonder if he is ever going to start to run. That's dangerous in the Derby, where there is such a big field."

Dudley doesn't make every big race -- she skipped Pine Bluff's Preakness win last year -- "because it's too emotionally draining to make it to all of them."

"It's a family joke who is going to be the jinx this week," Dudley said. "I called John the other day and asked him how much he'd pay me to stay away from Louisville on Saturday.

) "He said, 'Any amount.' "

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