'Yankee' could trot out a triple Standardbreds: Muscles Yankee, bred at the Frederick County farm started by former New York Yankee Charlie Keller, could become the first winner of trotting's Triple Crown since 1972.

October 08, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

YELLOW SPRINGS -- It's a great year to be a Yankee.

If baseball's American League East Division fails to supply enough proof, more evidence readily can be found at Yankeeland Farm in the rolling farm country of Frederick County.

Long a bastion for the breeding and sales of Standardbred horses, the Keller family operation is on the verge of producing trotting's 1998 Triple Crown champion.

Muscles Yankee has won the first two legs, the Hambletonian and the Yonkers Trot. All he needs to do is capture the third leg -- the Kentucky Futurity tomorrow night at the Red Mile in Lexington, Ky.

It would be the crowning achievement for the world-renowned farm established by patriarch and former New York Yankee Charlie "King Kong" Keller after his retirement from baseball in the 1950s.

"Winning the Triple Crown is beyond a dream," said Charlie Keller III. "Of course, we'd love to see it. That would add a lot of credibility to the farm."

Muscles Yankee, by top sire Valley Victory out of Maiden Yankee, would be the sport's first Triple Crown winner since 1972, when Super Bowl accomplished the feat.

Owned by a syndicate headed by Perretti Farm of New Jersey, the colt was sold by Yankeeland as a yearling and is the latest in a succession of top-grade Standardbred racers produced at the farm.

Foremost was Fresh Yankee, who was recently elected to the Trotting Hall of Fame. Her credentials included $1.3 million in earnings -- an astronomical figure in the 1970s when she raced -- seven world titles and more than 50 races in which she never finished worse than second.

There was No No Yankee, 2-year-old pacer of the year. And Smokin Yankee, 2-year-old trotter of the year. And Yankee Coed and Choice Yankee, who both earned more than $600,000. And Yankee Bambino, barely beaten in the Hambletonian, the sport's signature race.

"My dad just started calling all the horses Yankee, and most of them retain it," said Keller. "Some people who purchase change the name, maybe two or three out of a crop of 40 or 45 yearlings."

Yankeeland Farm is actually four farms in one, encompassing about 275 acres. Each segment of the operation is under the supervision of a family member: Charlie III's son Chaz, his nephew Dan Bittle and until he retired several years ago, brother Donald.

"Chaz and Dan are on the farm with the day-to-day duties," said Charlie Keller III. "And Brett Bittle [Dan's brother] trains the horses we run. I'm involved in a little bit of everything."

Traditionally, horses bred at Yankeeland rank in the top 10 annually in earnings and always produce one of the highest money-winning averages per starter.

Yankeeland concentrates on breeding and sales, racing its own horses only because they weren't purchased due to injury or other factors. It also retains several fillies to become broodmares.

"My dad decided he wanted to farm after he retired and he didn't want to milk cows, so that's how he got into this," said Charlie Keller III. "Delvin Miller sort of got him started.

"We follow thoroughbreds. Dad was a student of breeding. But we got involved in this side, got to know the people and the business, and we liked it."

pTC The stable includes about 70 mares, who either visit the stallions or stay on the farm to be bred by artificial means. Sales are made throughout the United States and Canada and, to a lesser degree, to European interests.

The Keller entourage has shipped to Kentucky for the biggest Standardbred sale of the year next week and plans to be in the audience when Muscles Yankee runs in the Kentucky Futurity.

"A Hambletonian winner is what you shoot for," Charlie Keller III said. "But a Triple Crown -- now, that's exciting."

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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