Kentucky Farm Time Capsule: Stonerside Helped Deliver On McNairs’ Lofty Goals

It isn’t uncommon in the Thoroughbred business for a newcomer to arrive on the scene, bank account loaded from another business, with their checkbook out and ambitions set on winning some of America’s best races. It is a little uncommon for such a newcomer to actually accomplish their goals in short order. Stonerside Farm saw just such a rise to success in the 1990s.

The land that made up Stonerside by then had changed many times. Boundaries had expanded and larger parcels had been divided up and put back together through the years. The earliest record of the property goes back to 1785, when a fifty-acre plot along Stoner Creek was traded by James Kenney to Michael Stoner, for whom the creek is named. The Kenney family seems to have lived there at least through the mid-1800s, based upon the family graveyard on the property.

At some point in the 1950s, banker Robert Lehmann (not to be confused with Robert Lehman of Lehman Brothers) began basing his Golden Chance Farm operation out of the property. Golden Chance campaigned 1970 Kentucky Derby winner Dust Commander and stood him at stud for three seasons after his retirement before selling him to Japan. Lehmann died in 1974 but his widow and children carried on Golden Chance, breeding hard-knocking fan favorite John Henry, which garnered the operation a unanimous vote for top breeder in 1981.

William du Pont III purchased a number of small farms in and around the original Stoner Creek property and combined them into a satellite facility for his Pillar Stud, but he ran out of cash before he could move horses onto it. Arthur Hancock III purchased the property from du Pont and used it the same way, as a satellite operation for Claiborne Farm.

While Hancock’s horses were grazing in the fields along Stoner Creek, Bob McNair was falling in love with Thoroughbreds for the first time. In 1994, he bought his first runner, a filly named Southern Truce, who won her first race for McNair and his wife Janice. That win set off a whirlwind funded by McNair’s business success. He started by building an empire of car-leasing businesses in Texas, and later built and sold utilities company Cogen Technologies in 1999 for $1.5 billion.

Around the same time, McNair sat down with horseman John Adger and told him, “I want you to understand this: All I ever want is 10 horses. I never want more than that. And for sure, I don’t want a farm.”

As often happens in the Thoroughbred business, those turned out to be famous last words. The McNairs bought Stonerside from Hancock later the same year, and would eventually pick up a training facility in Aiken, S.C. from Mac Miller and the former Greentree Farm estate in Saratoga.

Hancock and Adger acted as shepherds for the McNairs as they began their breeding business. By all accounts, they warned the couple – success in racing is measured by the occasional win in a major race, not by winning a majority of the time. Breeding and racing will both break your heart.

Bob McNair seemed to take these warnings to heart, with one condition.

“I told John I’m not in this to make money, but I’m not in anything to lose money either,” McNair recalled to The Blood-Horse. “If I’m just gonna give money away I’ve got two foundations. Businesses are supposed to make money and I think you can make money in the horse business.”

The McNairs bought horses in partnership with Hancock and began filling the 1,243 acres (which would grow to around 2,000 less than 15 years later). With the help of Adger, who became racing/bloodstock manager for Stonerside, the couple bought mares carrying the bloodlines of old Elmendorf Farm families, going back to Speak John and Prince John. They bought Jack Kent Cooke’s entire broodmare band when he dispersed in the late 1990s. They bought Angel Fever with Hancock, who would later produce a Mr. Prospector colt who sold for $4 million and became 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusiachi Pegasus.

Success came quickly. Southern Truce, the McNairs’ first horse, won the Grade 3 Miss America Stakes. Their second horse was Strodes Creek, who was second in the 1994 Kentucky Derby and third in the Belmont. They bought 25 percent of Touch Gold just before he upset Silver Charm in the 1999 Belmont. They were also partners in Coronado’s Quest, just as he took time out for a throat surgery but before he won the G1 Travers and Haskell.

In perhaps the most unusual accomplishment of all, the farm recorded positive cash flow in 1999, the year previous to a couple of feature articles about its work in the Blood-Horse and Houston Chronicle.

McNair was also awarded an NFL franchise in 1999 and became the owner of the Houston Texans. He often compared football and racing, particularly when express – ing frustration the latter couldn’t seem to grow the fan base of the former.

“We don’t have enough sports fans in racing,” he said. “It’s frustrating because racetrack operators cling to the notion that they have to cater to the gambling audience. I think they are wrong and you can go to racetracks and see the empty seats.”

In 2008, the McNairs announced they had sold Stonerside to Darley, which occupies the farm today. The decision was emotionally fraught, as it had been a place of relaxation for them and they had grown attached to the horses there. The sale price, according to newspaper reports, was rumored to exceeded $100 million. The deal included the Aiken training center, 2,000 acres at Stonerside, 80 horses in training, and 170 broodmares. Weeks later, Stonerside-breds Midshipman and Raven’s Pass won at the Breeders’ Cup for their new owner.

Today, the property serves as the nursery division for Darley’s American operation.

The post Kentucky Farm Time Capsule: Stonerside Helped Deliver On McNairs’ Lofty Goals appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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