With horse racing in his blood, Janney has temperament to win

March 01, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

Most of the racing lessons came from his father -- no better teacher -- and Stuart Janney III has moved to center stage as an owner of horses, respected for the knowledge, commitment and care he brings with him. Unobtrusive and reserved. No boasts or brags. He's a young gentleman of the old school who knows his subject but is much too smart to claim he has all the answers.

Janney has a problem child of a colt, a 3-year-old he named Coronado's Quest, who has strong Triple Crown possibilities. He has won five of eight races, was second twice and finished fourth when he drifted wide. He offers distinct Kentucky Derby potential, but further enlightenment will come from the Florida Derby on March 14. After seeing what happens, it'll then be decided whether he gives chase in the Blue Grass Stakes or the Wood Memorial.

"It's hoped he'll outgrow his emotional problems," says Janney. "It's all a question of how he progresses. The athletic talent is there. Trainer Shug McGaughey realizes certain things get him upset, or mad. None of the behavior problems showed in workouts or in his early schooling. He's not mean at all. He ran on Lasix the last time, and some trainers believe this also has a calming tendency. I'm confident he's going to mend his ways."

Coronado's Quest has unseated his rider, Mike Smith, and used up his pre-race energy by running off on his own and otherwise aggravating those around him. He could be a factor in the future but, for now, it's wait and see. Janney is gifted, with a realistic approach to his racing involvement. "At some point," he says, "you expect to be disappointed," a practicing philosophy that can't be minimized in life or in sports.

Some of that outlook may have been shaped by what happened to Ruffian. Janney, with his mother and father, witnessed their devastating loss of this strong, classic filly, who was on the lead in a match race against Foolish Pleasure at Belmont in 1975. Ruffian, owned by the late Stuart Janney Jr., and called by some the finest runner of her gender in the history of the sport, shattered a bone near the right front ankle and was put to sleep.

In the search for reasons to explain why it happened, a flock of birds that crossed her path has been frequently cited as a possible cause for Ruffian missing a step, injuring herself horribly and, because of her heart, continuing to try to run on three legs. It's been almost 23 years, but Janney agrees with a theory advanced by trainer Frank Whiteley that she was injured in the gate. "It's Frank's belief she was off balance and bumped herself before the race even started. Whatever happened, she maybe tried to compensate in running, and this brought on the injury. But it's all a guess."

Such an experience, the demise of Ruffian, was enough to make strong men cry. And they did. "Maybe that's why I prepare myself for a sense of disappointment," he rationalizes. His father, though, had much the same attitude, even before the Janneys watched what happened to Ruffian, the pride of their racing family. "She was so graceful and athletic," remembers Stuart. "Physically enormous, about 17 hands, and well-proportioned. There was all that excitement and exhilaration on the day of the race. I remember seeing her get off, to move effectively and then slow down. It only took a second to realize what was going on."

A glorious moment had been anticipated for the Janneys and all of racing. Instead, there was dark disappointment; deep depression. Stuart's parents were stunned, and a team of veterinarians worked almost 12 hours before informing them there was no hope for recovery. The only humane alternative was to make it as easy as possible on Ruffian -- a merciful ending and then burial at Belmont, not far from where she ran her last race and, as it evolved, died trying.

A shocking turn of events, the worst of luck. Stuart is attracted to racing because he revels in the challenge of the competitive aspect, thrills being around horses and enjoys associating with those involved in the sport. All compelling reasons for joining the club.

After being educated at Gilman School, Lawrenceville School, the University of North Carolina (class of 1970), where he was a member of a Top 10-rated tennis team, and the University of Maryland Law School, he joined the Baltimore law firm of Niles, Barton & Wilmer. Then he next served as assets manager for Alex. Brown & Sons Inc., before assuming chairmanship of the prestigious Bessemer Trust in New York.

He commutes to New York from his residence in Butler and spends time at Claiborne Farm, in Lexington, Ky., where most of his broodmares are based, and at the racetrack when he has horses running. His current stable of runners includes an even dozen, most of them bred at Claiborne. It's rare when he goes shopping at sales, but there was a period when he bought five fillies -- one a year. More for diversification than anything else.

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