Rojan Farms’ Ellen Bongard passes away

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Ellen Bongard, a pioneer in the New York Thoroughbred industry whose family owned one of the oldest active breeding farms in the state, passed away suddenly Monday at the age of 77.

Born June 2, 1943 in New York City, Ellen Bongard was the daughter of the late attorney Bertram F. Bongard, who played a key role in the formation of the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund and New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. Ellen and her sister Barbara Bongard owned Rojan Farm in the Town of Northumberland near Saratoga Springs. Rojan Farm traces its roots to 1960, when the Bongard family bought the farm in Gallatin in Columbia County, about 90 miles south of Saratoga.

Rojan eventually moved north and became involved in several segments of the industry – breeding, raising, training, racing, selling and boarding. The Bongards also played a role in promoting and pressing for legislation that passed to help created the Breeding and Development Fund in the early 1970s.

“We realized we weren’t going anywhere until we got that going,” Ellen Bongard said in an article that appeared in The Saratogian in 2017. “Those people were the reason I stayed in the business. …

“I began my involvement in 1968, when I took my first yearlings to Kentucky. If you asked me about the view of New York breeding at that time I would call it miniscule. I mean, who bred horses in New York?”

Rojan stood stallions – including Santa Anita Derby winner An Act, Northern Dancer’s son Kick, Rare Earth, Back Bay Barrister and others – in the 1970s and 80s, and sold horses on the commercial market. The Bongards were also early supporters of offseason training at the Oklahoma Training Track in Saratoga, along with the Saratoga Trials conducted in June and July in the early 1980s at the Oklahoma.

A graduate of Scarsdale High School and Russell Sage College in Troy, Ellen Bongard is also credited with creation of The Bongard Room at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The room is used for conferences and honors other pioneers and legends of the state’s breeding industry.

Among the top runners bred by the Bongard family in recent years include In Te Domine, bred by Rojan and Barbara Bongard and winner of the $100,000 Statue of Liberty division of the New York Stallion Stakes in 2010 at Saratoga. Rojan sold the daughter of Freud as a weanling for $11,000 at the New York Breeders’ Sales Co.’s October mixed sale. In Te Domine also finished third in that year’s Riskaverse Stakes at Saratoga.

Fight On Lucy, a homebred daughter of Musket Man who appeared in the Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour with the Little Guys in the Sept. 2, 2018 edition of The Saratoga Special, would be Ellen Bongard’s final starter and winner.

The now 4-year-old filly finished sixth in the $100,000 Staten Island division of the New York Stallion Series Nov. 22 at Aqueduct. Fight On Lucy won a $55,000 allowance at 26-1 for trainer Pat Kelly and Ellen and Barbara Bongard and their partners Carla Skodinski, Ellen Petrino and Kathleen Condon.

Kelly also saddled Fancycase to a win at Saratoga Aug. 11, 2018 for the same partnership.

“She’s a homebred, probably one of the last ones,” Bongard said in the Aug. 12, 2018 edition of The Saratoga Special. “I happen to still own the oldest Thoroughbred farm in the state of New York. It’s been a great ride, interesting one, too. I liked every part of it and I’ve always said, take good care of the horse, keep horse breeding alive and open space. That’s what we’re losing the most. There’s a time for everything. After 65 years, don’t you think it’s time?”

Some of the same partners were also involved with Bongard when Rojan Farms homebred Saratiago won a 9-furlong turf maiden for state-breds at Saratoga in 2015.

“The nice people keep you going,” Ellen Bongard said in the 2017 article in The Saratogian. “Being a woman, it has never been easy. There are still a few who do breeding correctly. I fear they are dwindling. You must always keep in mind the horse, the land, and farming.”