As bitter subzero temperatures melt into warm, dew-kissed mornings of spring, activity whirs around McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds in upstate New York.
Foals are popping out of mares faster than flowers can pop out of the ground. Workers buzz around the farm tending to foals more hastily than bees searching for a flower to pollinate. The quiet mornings of winter are a thing of the past as the farm launches into spring, with preparations for summer sales and racing well underway.
The McMahon’s 200-acre breeding farm plans to welcome nearly 90 foals into the world this season, following an all-time high of 118 last year. The numbers have grown considerably since the famed birth of 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, but the adoration that goes into each foal has remained the same.
“That was the first time we had three born in one night,” Anne McMahon laughed of Funny Cide’s birth at their Fitch Road farm in 2000. “The night he was born we had a chestnut mare who foaled first, so Joe and I ran down to the barn and she was in labor. Then, across from her a dark bay mare started foaling, so I stayed with my mare and Joe went to the dark bay mare. That was when the night watchman Donnie drove in. We told him we’d been stuck in this barn for a while and hadn’t had a chance to go check the other barn, and Funny Cide’s dam, Belle’s Good Cide was in labor.”
The spry chestnut son of Distorted Humor matured into the 2003 champion 3-year-old with $3,529,412 in career earnings and just one race shy of a Triple Crown sweep.
“A few years after that Joe and I decided to go to the Ocala sale and see the 2-year-olds and go on a ski vacation,” McMahon said. “And every time we went away our son John would have to come to our house and sleep on the couch and watch monitors so we started moving mares to his house. Another thing is about halfway through the breeding season Joe and I would be so worn out John would finish up the year’s foaling. We got old.”
The expectant mares now await parturition at the adjacent Dodd Road branch of the farm, near their son John’s home, in order to insure constant supervision and easy access for foaling that often occurs in the wee hours of the night. The foals are then moved over to Fitch Road where they are greeted by additional staff and other mare-foal pairs to begin their development into future racehorses.
While being a young Thoroughbred may seem easy compared to expected work later in life, it is not all green pastures and peppermints. As with any young offspring, foals are more susceptible to a wide range of illness and injury and must be closely monitored. Their days begin and end with temperatures being taken and a general health assessment, along with visits from the veterinarian multiple times throughout the week. Meanwhile, mares are assessed for optimum breeding schedules to ensure the highest rates of conception, and matched with stallions to produce the best racing prospects.
“Before we had the big, big farm, we had such a personal attachment to the horses,” McMahon said. “Joe and I did all the foaling and everything up until we had about 30 foals. So you get attached and it’s hard when things go wrong.
“The most beautiful thing is when you see a foal come out and kind of wiggle near mom and mom turns her head and they nicker and get licked and all. That’s the best part.”
Although it may be difficult to envision that the awkwardly long-legged foals clumsily romping around the fields will grow into the powerful equine athletes they are destined to be, as a breeder and owner McMahon looks at the 2017 crop with great optimism.
“We so need another good one,” she laughed. “Having a horse like that was so much fun. We’d love to live it again.”
Editor’s note: The Saratoga Special’s Shayna Tiller spent her winter break between semesters at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pa., spring break and upcoming summer break working an internship at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds. She writes about her experience monthly in her Life on the Farm diary through the winter, spring and summer.
Read the first installment of Life on the Farm.
Read the second installment of Life on the Farm.