Stonerside’s New Owners
The biggest news around the Aiken Training Track this fall is that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, has purchased Stonerside Stables from owners Robert and Janice McNair. The sheikh is the owner of Darley Stables and the leading partner in Godolphin Stables, both top international Thoroughbred racing outfits. Darley Stables also owns racing and stud farms in England, Ireland, Australia, France and Japan and was the leading owner of racehorses in England every year from 1985 until 1999.
In January, 2007, the sheikh bought Stonerside’s farm and training center in Saratoga Springs, for a reported $17.5 million. The current purchase, announced September 1, includes a 2,000-acre breeding farm in Kentucky, the training center in Aiken on Audubon Road, about 80 horses in training and around 170 broodmares, yearlings and weanlings. The McNairs retain ownership of their most famous homebred stallions, Congaree, Bob and John, and Stonersider, as well as the racing stallion Cowboy Cal, who ran in this year’s Kentucky Derby. The 3-year-old filly Country Star, who was named Aiken Trained Horse of the Year this past spring, was part of the Darley purchase.
At least in the short term, the sale will have little effect on Aiken or on the operations of the Aiken Training Track. Darley has pledged to keep the day-to-day organization the same, ensuring that Stonerside’s staff will retain their jobs. Tim Jones, who has been in charge of the Stonerside horses in Aiken for years, will continue to run things at the stable, now called Darley at Stonerside.
The Darley purchase does, of course, bring a bit more international flair to the Aiken community. Although there is no guarantee that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum will be visiting on a regular basis, it is certainly possible that either he or his influential wife might make an appearance. The sheikh is married to Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, daughter of King Hussein of Jordan and the only woman ever to represent an Arab nation in an Olympic equestrian event when she rode on the Jordanian show jumping team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She is currently serving a four-year term as president of the Fédération International Équestre (FEI), which is the organization that oversees international equestrian sports. Princess Haya is the sheikh’s junior wife. He is also married to Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum and has 17 children.
Aiken County Land Conservancy
The Aiken County Open Land Trust (ACOLT)has a new name, a new logo, a new website and promises to play a greater role in Aiken County land conservation in the future. Now called the Aiken Land Conservancy (ALC), the organization recently announced two major land acquisitions and the signing of several significant land conservation agreements. The ALC is in the final stages of acquiring Langley Pond, a well-known recreational boating area in the northwest corner of the county, as well as Boyd Pond Park, a former Savannah River Site recreation area. Additionally, the ALC has announced that Scott Riviere has agreed to sign a conservation easement on his 17 prime acres along Grace Avenue in Aiken’s historic horse district. Former ACOLT president Lee Dane will also sign a conservation easement on 300 acres of her Ridge Spring farm. This farm, which runs along the North Fork of the Edisto River, includes some ecologically significant areas, including a grove of Civil War era hardwoods.
Preserving open space is important to horsemen, and the new ALC is eager to work with members of the equestrian community who recognize the value of Aiken County’s rural character. The ALC preserves land through donations, purchases and conservation easements, all of which can offer significant state and federal income tax benefits.
“Working together we can slow the growth of urban sprawl and preserve many of our national treasures for our grandchildren and theirs,” said ALC executive director Dacre Stoker in a press release.
For more information about the ALC, check out the new website: www.conserveaiken.org.
North American Foxhunter Champion
Aiken resident Suzan McHugh, who rides with the Aiken Hounds, recently returned from a successful trip to Middleburg, Virginia, where she and her horse Dennis the Menace won the North American Field Hunter Championship. This is an annual competition held in honor of Theodora Randolph, who was master of Virginia’s Piedmont Hunt for over 40 years.
The competition begins with four days of foxhunting. Judges ride along with the field and pick out five outstanding horses each day. These horses return for the finals, held at Glenwood Park in Middleburg. There, the finalists engage in another hunt (this one a mock hunt led this year by Nelson Gunnel) during which judges select eight horses for an individual competition that consists of a handy hunter type course.
Suzan and Dennis the Menace were selected for the finals after their second day of hunting. Dennis the Menace is a 13-year-old Percheron-Thoroughbred cross who was bred in Virginia and raised hunting in the Middleburg area before he and Suzan moved to Aiken. Suzan, who has owned the gelding since he was 2, says that he was a bit excited on his first day out hunting, doubtless happy to be back on the familiar fields of his youth.
“He settled down after that,” says Suzan. “He was just brilliant the whole week. Of course I’m ecstatic that we won the championship, but, as I said to someone when we were out hunting, even if he hadn’t been selected for the finals, I couldn’t have been happier with him. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Winning the North American Field Hunter Championship wasn’t just good for Suzan, it was also good for the Aiken Hounds. The award brings not just prestige, but a $2,500 check to the winner’s home hunt.
Riding for Justice
John Harte, an Aiken-based lawyer who was once a regular on Aiken’s polo and hunt fields, had some good news about his novel, Ride For Justice. The Arizona Authors Association has announced that the novel is one of four finalists in its competition for the best published novels of 2008. The winner, to be announced at an awards banquet in early November, will be recognized in the Arizona Literary Magazine.
Ride For Justice is a western set in Civil War era Texas. It follows the adventures of the riders of Bar T Ranch during a time when (according to the author) “honor and a man’s willingness to answer the call of duty were more important than the color of his skin or the sound of his voice.”
You can buy signed copy of Ride For Justice at Southern Saddlery on Banks Mill Road or a regular copy at Aiken regional bookstores or online: www.rideforjusticeanovel.com.
Polo Ponies Change Hands
The annual autumn Aiken Polo Pony Sale couldn’t have happened at a worse time. With soaring gas prices (not to mention gas and especially diesel shortages in the Southeast), the stock market in freefall, and the worldwide economic climate as dark and stormy as it has been in anyone’s memory, there weren’t a lot of people eager to add top-priced horses to their strings. To say it was a buyer’s market would be an understatement.
Nonetheless, the sale, held Saturday, October 4 at New Bridge Polo and Country Club did help find some ponies new homes. Of the 80-some horses that entered the ring, 30 were sold. The top seller was a 6-year-old chestnut gelding named Denali, consigned by Ka’aina DeCoite and purchased by Alan Meeker for $20,000. Charlie Herrick of Banks Mill Feeds, who runs the sale, declined to give out official figures on the average price of horses sold. However, an informal survey puts the average at around $6,000, with many good playing horses going for under $5,000. Several extremely well bred and well-conformed young polo prospects from the New Bridge Embryo transfer program went for bargain-basement prices of $500 to $2,500. These were horses with famous sires and dams, some from the top polo bloodlines in America and Argentina. Many superior playing horses went through the ring without a single bid.
Given the disappointing results of the sale, it is not surprising that its future is in doubt. Although the event has become a regular feature on the Aiken polo calendar and people do come from around the country and the world to buy and sell horses (a few ponies will be going to new homes in England this year) it may be that the demand for this type of sale is just not great enough to justify it.
“The quality of the horses this year was phenomenal,” says Charlie Herrick. “It was the best it’s ever been. We just didn’t have enough buyers.”