Life on the Farm: Busy winter mornings

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While the sun cherishes its last hour of slumber, Joe McMahon silences his 5:45 a.m. alarm and rolls out of bed, pulling on a green quilted jacket and brown driving cap as he leaves his cozy brick home for a brisk 10-degree Sunday morning at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds just outside Saratoga Springs.

Heading down to the lower barns, his shepherd Rosie bounds alongside him as he feeds the stabled broodmares before the staff arrives to turnout at 7 a.m. He hops in his red truck and heads towards the stallion barn to feed and turnout the big boys before spending the rest of his day in the office analyzing pedigrees, checking in with his son selling horses at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale, working with clients and trainers and running errands before bringing in just before the sun sets.

McMahon and his wife, Anne, purchased 100 acres of land on Fitch Road in Saratoga in 1971 and have since grown what was originally a Christmas tree farm into the 1,000-acre full-scale breeding operation that it is today.

“I have a long history of marketing Christmas trees,” laughed McMahon, who bought his first horse with profits earned from selling trees for his uncle. “But that isn’t the reason we bought the farm. We loved the house and we loved the location and we thought it had a lot of potential as a horse farm. That was our idea all along. It was just convenient that we had a crop to sell, which was the Christmas trees, because it helped us finance the construction we needed to do on the barn. It worked really well.”

Beginning their operation with only a few broodmares, the couple’s hard work was graciously rewarded in 2000, when WinStar Farm’s mare Belle’s Good Cide foaled a leggy chestnut son of Distorted Humor who would grow into Funny Cide – the 2003 champion 3-year-old male and popular winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

“It gave us certainly much more exposure and it kind of showed to the world that New York had arrived, that New York could have a big time horse,” McMahon said. “It just moved New York breeding to another level. We had been in business already 30 years when that happened; it wasn’t like it was an overnight success or anything. It was something we had been trying for, I mean that’s everybody’s dream – to have a big-time horse, a Kentucky Derby winner. It was a gratification for the 30 years we’d already put in the business. Nice little reward there. I hope to do it again.”

Last proved to another pivotal year for the farm as it consigned Mo Diddley on behalf of breeder and longtime friend and clients Andy and Susan Beadnell at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale. The son of Uncle Mo out of Miss Bodine, by Vindication, was purchased for a sale record $450,000 by Everett Dobson’s Cheyenne Stables.

“Well it was definitely a highlight to sell the highest priced horse in the preferred sale ever,” McMahon said. “It was actually our son Mike’s breeding who designed that and booked the mare. Andy and Susan are long-term friends and clients and it was certainly something that worked out. Often times it doesn’t work out.

“Fasig-Tipton had told us they had 12 in the select sale by Uncle Mo and they wanted that horse in the select sale, too, but we made a decision based on our experience and decided we’d be better off being a big fish in a small pond and go to the preferred sale rather than the select sale. He really stood out in the preferred sale and it was good for the industry to sell a horse for that much money and kind of showcase the whole thing.”

The McMahons are optimistically looking toward 2017. With 15 foals already on the ground as of late January and many more to come, breeding season right around the corner and preparations for summer sales creeping up, the farm is booming with activity.

“So far this year it’s been about getting these mares booked,” McMahon said. “Working with Mike and John and putting our heads together to figure out who to breed who to and what makes sense. We’re thinking about a foal that’s going to arrive next year and we’re not going to sell until 2018.”

Joe and Anne McMahon’s sons John and Mike are heavily involved with the family business. John oversees the newer addition to McMahon of Saratoga at their neighboring Dodd Road location, focusing on broodmares and foals, while Mike owns Spruce Lane Farm and McMahon & Hill Bloodstock in Midway, Kentucky.

“We have two basic things going on,” McMahon said. “One is the commercial thing – really picking out stallions in Kentucky to have foals to sell at the summer sales. The other is to breed mares that we have in our inventory to support the New York market, and for the stallions Central Banker and Laoban because we’re also in the stallion business and we have to support them. The stallion show will be put on the front burner this morning.”

The stallion show at McMahon of Saratoga will be from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11. The McMahons will stand Central Banker and Teuflesberg in 2017, and is partners with Sequel Stallions on Forty Tales and first-year stallion Laoban.

Editor’s note: The Saratoga Special’s Shayna Tiller spent her winter break between semesters at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pa., working an internship at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds with plans to return throughout the spring semester. She’ll write about her experience monthly in her Life on the Farm diary through the winter, spring and summer.