State breeders score KO in fight over Two Punch

September 25, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

To Eleanor Ross, moving her stallion Two Punch to Kentucky was just like any other horse deal, something she said she expected to be "ho-hum."

Little did Ross realize she would become embroiled in a custody battle that gripped the state's horse-breeding community for the past three weeks.

The outcome of the battle -- an out-of-court settlement reached Friday that will keep Two Punch, the state's leading sire, in Maryland -- is a victory as impressive as any that will take place on the track in Saturday's ninth Maryland Million.

So the celebration has started early for the state's horse-breeding community. It will culminate Saturday at Laurel Race Course with a card of 12 races restricted to the progeny of Maryland stallions. Purses amount to $1 million. The Maryland Million, founded by ABC sportscaster and local horse breeder Jim McKay, is second only to the Preakness as the state's biggest racing event.

This year's expected star is a horse named Taking Risks, a son of Two Punch.

The wrangling over Two Punch -- who ranks first among Maryland stallions based on the 1994 earnings of his offspring -- began after Ross and Charles Taylor, her partner in ownership of Two Punch, agreed earlier this month to send the stallion to Kentucky. Ross presides over a vast equine domain called Ross Valley Farm, whose miles of white fences are visible from Interstate 83 north of Timonium. Taylor is heir to the famed Windfields Farm in Cecil County near Chesapeake City.

It was Taylor's father, billionaire Canadian industrialist E. P. Taylor, who founded Windfields about 25 years ago. He built a horse-breeding dynasty that faltered after the retirement of the farm's top sire, Northern Dancer.

Little did Ross know that moving 11-year-old Two Punch would rekindle emotions still raw from Taylor's decision six years ago to shut down Windfields.

"I kept thinking about the void this would leave in Maryland's thoroughbred industry," said Richard Golden, a Manhattan clothing manufacturer who owns the 600-acre Sycamore Hall Farm near the defunct Windfields.

Golden still remembers what he describes as "an empty feeling" DTC when he first learned that Windfields was shutting its doors and that its illustrious band of stallions would be relocated to other states. Windfields' best stallions, The Minstrel and Deputy Minister, were moved to Kentucky.

When Windfields closed, Golden, Allaire duPont, Tom Bowman and Bob Levy bought the 2,000-acre property. They subdivided it into smaller farms, which they resold with strict preservation easements. In a ceremony last year, Gov. William Donald Schaefer dedicated the contiguous parcels as the largest agriculturally protected area in Maryland.

Golden and his partners also salvaged three of the Windfields stallions -- Two Punch, Caveat and Smarten -- and stood them at the old Windfields breeding division, which they renamed Northview Stallion Station.

Golden took it as no small matter three weeks ago when Taylor's equine manager, Ric Waldman, telephoned Northview and said, "We're sending a van for the horse. Ross and Taylor have decided to move him to Kentucky."

"There's no question that losing a horse like Two Punch would have been a big blow to the state," Golden said. "We cannot afford to let the stallions that we develop get shipped off to Kentucky as soon as they gain recognition. This is not the message we want to project to our investors or breeders.

"The strength of a state's or region's racing and breeding program is in direct relationship to its stallion base," Golden said. "The quality of your product is reflected both in the racing handle and bloodstock sales."

Ross said she considered it a routine business decision to move Two Punch to Kentucky.

"My feeling was that Two Punch had gone as far as he could in his career in a regional market, be it Maryland or Florida or California, and that he deserved the chance to go to Kentucky, which has the best pool of mares in the world," she said.

Ross said she and Taylor were "very surprised" when Golden and his partners went to court and obtained an injunction that prevented them from moving the horse.

Golden and his partners said they had a signed contract that stated if Ross and Taylor wanted to sell Two Punch, the Northview partners had the opportunity to buy him first. They said their right of first refusal was violated when Waldman negotiated a deal to sell part of Two Punch to Kentucky breeder Fred Seitz, without notifying Northview first.

After three weeks of negotiations, Ross and Taylor relented and agreed to sell the horse to Northview.

On Friday, after the deal was struck, Golden and Northview syndicate manager David Hayden fully syndicated the horse in one day by selling 30 shares for $1.8 million. Windfields and Ross each retain two lifetime breeding rights in the stallion.

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