Fair Hill: Delacour Stable on improve

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Fair Hill Training Center thrives, buzzes, percolates with Thoroughbred activity – just like the backside of a racetrack – with the associated horses, people, stories. ST followed Animal Kingdom and Toby’s Corner around for 60 days, and will keep some focus on the training center this summer.

Last week, I stopped in at the barn of trainer Leigh Delacour. She and her husband Arnaud operate a public stable with about 40 horses. Recently, most of them moved into the Perfect Sky II barn owned by Earle Mack and the rest are in stalls rented from Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center. Leigh, 30, worked for Graham Motion for 10 years. Arnaud, 35, spent seven years with fellow Frenchman Christophe Clement.

That background helps fuel the training operation, but is also responsible for their marriage.

Arnaud came to Delaware Park to run a horse for Clement and came close to spending the night in the car when area hotel rooms were booked. The Motions heard about the problem and insisted – Graham’s wife Anita is good that way – that Arnaud stay with them.

“Anita didn’t know him, they’d never met, she just said come stay at the house,” said Leigh. “It’s the international travel thing where everyone looks out for everyone else.”

And then Arnaud really scored points.

“The next week, Arnaud sent a big bunch of flowers to Anita as a thank you,” said Leigh. “The flowers cost more than a good hotel room would have. Ever since then, she was Arnaud’s biggest fan and kept telling me I had to meet him.”

Motion introduced Leigh and Arnaud and the rest is history.

The training operation started in 2007 and has included stakes winners Joharmony and Fareena among a quality group. The 2011 docket includes 14 wins, a 3-for-13 mark at Delaware Park and stakes-placings from Her Smile, Pink Pallet, Supreme and Box Office Queen. Lael Stable recently sent the Delacours 11 horses including Nicanor and Lentanor, full-brothers to Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Delacour entered Box Office Queen, a double winner at Tampa Bay Downs this winter, in Saturday’s John Rooney Stakes at Delaware. Supreme, owned by Fares Farm, was second in Pimlico’s The Very One Stakes the day before the Preakness and is aiming for the Buckland at Colonial Downs next weekend.

The Delacours’ training operation bears resemblance to their former employers’. Quarter sheets come out early and often. The horses go through lengthy sessions of “standing in” on the track before galloping. In the afternoon, you’re liable to see Delacour horses walking and picking grass in the paddocks adjacent to the barn.

Like all training operations, this one started small.

“We started with one horse, then we had three,” said Leigh. “We were renting 12 stalls (at Fair Hill) from Michael Moran and every day we looked at those stalls and did the math. How long could we survive with only three occupying the stalls and what if one of those three didn’t pay or something went wrong?”

Horses, many owned by clients of Motion and Clement, gradually filled the remaining stalls. They paid the bills, the stable grew, moved to bigger barns, went to Tampa Bay Downs for the winter. Owners now include Fares Farm, Wheelock Whitney, Stella Thayer and others. Recommendations from Motion and Clement mean something.

“The fact that they think enough of us to recommend us to their clients is important,” Leigh said. “They want their clients to be satisfied with the people they recommend. It’s your reputation. We strive to be really honest and straightforward. People want a fair assessment of their horses, these are big opportunities for us.”

Like Motion and Clement, the Delacours try not to get too up or down about their horses. The game does that to people who play it. The next win could come from anywhere, as could the next defeat, the next setback.

“I’m like Graham, I’m not enthusiastic, I’m optimistic about horses,” Leigh said. “You treat every horse the same, you work with them and develop them all the way to what you think their potential is. Horses perform to their personal best but who knows what day is their personal best? You can be happy with them, you can be optimistic about them, but you just never know where they’ll fit or how they’ll do.”