Maryland bloodstock agent Don Litz has long dreamed of bringing thoroughbred stallions to the Worthington Valley in Baltimore County.
His dream became real yesterday in a ceremony celebrating the start of construction on the Maryland Stallion Station, a new breeding operation situated on a hill overlooking historic Sagamore Farm in Glyndon.
Backed by Lane End's Farm of Kentucky, a top commercial breeder, and $7 million in investor capital, the stallion station is the first to open in Maryland since Cecil County's Northview Stallion Station opened in 1989.
"I feel like Dorothy; I have followed a yellow brick road to Oz," said Litz, who become fond of the valley while working as a manager at Sagamore in the 1980s, when it was owned by Alfred G. Vanderbilt.
Bringing his vision to life was a long shot. Litz had to find investors in a state in which racing is struggling, convince Lane's End to come on board and strike a deal to rent and lease 100 acres of farmland that once belonged to Vanderbilt.
"I know this: I have helped [Litz] fulfill his dream," said Ed St. John, owner of the hillside property on which a stable of stallions will reside for breeding to mares beginning next spring.
Among those present for the ceremony yesterday were Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith; Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the state's department of business and economic development; William Rickman, owner of Delaware Park, and Tim Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club.
The site will eventually include a 10-horse barn, paddocks and a walking ring.
Five stallions with stud fees ranging from $3,500 to $7,500 are on the Maryland Stallion Station roster. They all stood at Shamrock Farms in Woodbine this year.
The biggest name is Rock Slide, a 6-year-old full brother to Mineshaft, racing's 2003 Horse of the Year. Owned by Lane's End, Rock Slide was bred to 70 mares this year. His stud fee was $7,500.
The arrival of the stallion station is helping revive neighboring Sagamore, which has housed few horses in recent years and needed a facelift. Many mares booked to the stallions are being boarded there and at other nearby farms.
Laura Delozier, head of the stallion station's broodmare operation, estimated 28 mares had boarded at Sagamore and five foals were delivered there in 2004.
The foals are believed to be the first in at least five years to be delivered at the farm where racing legend Native Dancer is buried, Delozier said.
Sagamore owner Jim Ward, who bought the property from Vanderbilt, has put up new fencing and painted several barns.
"This is hallowed ground in my mind," Litz said yesterday, "and it's just great to see what's happening to it."