Less than a half-mile past a sign that reads Town of Princetown on Mariaville Road in rural Schenectady County sits a red barn on a spacious piece of property where Artie Magnuson is writing the next chapter of his more than three-decade career in the Thoroughbred industry.
The red barn, adjoining tack room and office and surrounding 65 grassy and wooded acres are home to Across The Board Stables, a full-service breaking, training, layup and sales prep operation that opened for business last fall.
Magnuson opened Across The Board after working for Kiaran McLaughlin for 22 years, including 15 as his main assistant year-round out of Barn 11 on the Belmont Park backstretch. Magnuson grew up in nearby Clifton Park and his wife Kelly is senior counsel at the Colonie-based law firm Tully Rinckey after a successful career as a trial lawyer on Long Island and in New York City.
Magnuson, 50, said family played a key role in his decision to return to his roots in upstate New York.
"After decades down on Long Island we were really thinking about the kids," Magnuson said. "We have four kids, well one adult and three kids. Just a better way of life. Upstate here is a little bit different, the cost of living is better, it's beautiful, different pace.
"It's taken a while to adjust, to get the racetrack out of my head. We're so laid back, we're here all day, we get done what needs to get done, there's no pressure. I love the racetrack but it's hard to adjust, slow down and relax. You're always looking at your clock on the track."
The eldest of the Magnuson's four children, Michael, 23, is a key member of the Across the Board team as the operation's stable manager.
They initially started the business renting stalls at a farm in Gansevoort not far from Saratoga Race Course before moving to their current location in November. Magnuson's brother-in-law, Chris Weggeland, owns the property whose prior owners ran it as a layup and training facility. Magnuson says it might have also been used as a cattle operation way back and the farm's agricultural legacy is carried on in a way through its resident mascot, a pot-bellied pig named Lulu.
The equine residents at Across the Board range from just-turned 2-year-olds broken last fall and training under saddle this winter inside the farm's indoor arena to older horses turned out for the winter, either needing some R&R or waiting for the East Coast's turf racing season to return.
Earlier this month during a fairly typical morning as winter clung to its last breaths with spring on the way, Magnuson, his son, exercise rider Marco Acosta and Eric Berghammer went about their routine training the 21 horses who call Princetown home for the time being. Hanna Frederick is another key member of the team and she helps out in the afternoons.
Magnuson is quick to credit his team for getting the business up and running.
"Michael, he's the backbone to the operation; I couldn't do it without him," Magnuson said. "We've been lucky to find some good help."
Magnuson also credits many others with helping him get his start. The list of his clients is long and recognizable, from successful upstate New York horseman Seth Gregory, who sent him horses and helped show him the ropes in the early days, to trainers Todd Pletcher, Michael Pino, David Jacobson, Jay Bernardini, Toby Sheets, Kerry Metevier, Robbie Davis, Mike DeVito and veterinarian Scott Ahlschwede.
"We worked with some of Seth Gregory's weanlings, and yearlings," Magnuson said. "We've been around Thoroughbreds for decades but the weanlings, that was new for us. Seth took us under his wing, got us rolling, and showed us some things. He's been a big supporter of ours and a big promoter of ours. We couldn't have done it and had this much success without him.
McLaughlin was also very supportive of Magnuson's decision.
"When I told Kiaran of our plans, maybe last March or April, and right from the word go he said, 'come on up to Saratoga, work with me at Saratoga,' " Magnuson said. "I always stayed back on Long Island at Belmont. That was a blessing because it gave me months and months of having a job up here. My wife had already found a job. She does employment law in Colonie. It gave me months, all summer, for work. Then when Saratoga was done Mike and I were ready to get this business up and going.
"Mike and I last fall were originally thinking we need to get a layup place going, horses on vacation, and then we got a lot of calls for people with yearlings to break. So that was a lot of fun, we got good at it. We'd like to break a lot more this fall. We'd like to expand, add some more stalls and we have plenty of room. We were just outside Saratoga when we just got started. With more room here the sky is the limit."
Magnuson said the combination of the fact that the winter in upstate New York was especially mild this year and Across the Board offering indoor and outdoor training options never cost them a day of training.
A few days before cold temperatures and a light rain forced them inside, Magnuson and his crew were on the tractor harrowing a path from the main barn down to a lower field. He expects to use that area a bit more as the weather improves. It's big enough for about a 3/8-mile gallop and jogging area, working around the natural obstacles of the rural setting.
"We can go anywhere but we'd like to set up a little trotting track," Magnuson said. "We could be easily three-eighths of a mile. There's a lot of land out there. We have to figure it out. Maybe once out and around the beaver dam, something like that."
Magnuson laughed about the beaver literally taking up residence in a stream that cuts through the Plotter Kill on a portion of the property, but took it in stride if he truly needed to improvise on measuring out training distances from past experiences.
"In 1993 I went to Dubai with Kiaran. While they were building our track, we were across town using Zabeel's track, which was Sheikh Mohammed's place," he said. "(While still building the track) they put up rails in the sand (and when) we began to get out there were no poles. Kiaran used to say, 'back up to that tree over there,' or 'let him go to that yellow truck over there.'
"We did win a lot of races back then. Kiaran used to laugh. For a whole season we trained there. The next year they put poles in and Kiaran said, 'this track is less than a mile, I've been training them too short.' It was so funny. We had such a good time."
Magnuson and his crew seem to have having a similarly good time and most importantly, so do the horses.
A few are already back with their trainers and more are on the way with spring in the air and summer not far ahead.
"We had one training here in our arena, a nice big colt. Just doing a little jogging and exercise and that's fine, but I said to the owner, 'this horse needs to go south, gallop and be a racehorse. We're holding him back here,' " Magnuson said. "We're always thinking of the horse. We'd love to keep every horse here forever, but you really have to do right by the horses and the owners. It's sounds like the correct thing to say but it's really, really true. We want everybody happy when they get their horse.
"We hope that's our specialty; one or two months here to fatten them up. The one thing we will not compromise on is feed, proper hay, proper alfalfa. I've had a lot of people up here helping, give me advice, show me cheaper hay, how to cut costs and you need to when you're running a business but we're not going to compromise. When they go back to the track they need to be carrying good weight and they need to look good. Being on the track for years and receiving horses, there's nothing wrong with them coming off the farm and being a little shaggy, a little big, there's nothing wrong with looking a little wild. You really want to give the trainer something to work with. Put a foundation under them. Carry great weight."
Read more about Across the Board Stables.