An afternoon at OBS

As I’ve noted in previous posts about visits to breeding farms, the tours seldom include visits/attention to the broodmares and the foals. The emphasis is all stallions, all the time, and while seeing the stallions and learning about them is fascinating, I’ve always been a little disappointed that we don’t get to learn more about the mares, or to follow the results of the breeding as the offspring begin their racing lives. My visit to Journeyman Stud provided just this opportunity.

I was in Ocala during the select sale of two year olds in training, and following my morning trip to Journeyman’s farms, Crystal Fernung, Journeyman’s vice president, invited me to find her at the barn at the sales site, where she and her husband Brent, president of Journeyman, were selling three horses.

Walking ring on the Ocala sales grounds
With its own broodmare band of nearly forty mares, Journeyman breeds its stallions to all their mares, minus one or two to fill multi-year contracts to stallions in Kentucky; the farm also has the facility to break and train the young ones, so it’s not uncommon for a foal to be born, raised, broken, and trained all in the same place, before heading off to Ocala, Kentucky or Saratoga to be sold. Crystal and Brent are involved in every element of the operation, though the growth of Journeyman has made it a little more difficult to have the same hands-on (literally) involvement as they did earlier in their careers.

“For years,” Crystal said, “we ate as many dinners standing outside a foaling stall as we did our house. During foaling season, we’d put our dinner on paper plates, with those little wicker holders underneath because more often than not you got called to the foaling barn. We’d take a few bites, check the foal”—here, she extends an arm, simulating reaching into the birth canal—“OK, he’s all right, back to dinner, we didn’t think dinner with the smell of amniotic fluid was weird!”

Things are a little different now, she notes. “I know that we’ve got foals on the farm that are four or five days old, and I haven’t seen them yet. I’m having a hard time with that one.”

She still, though, makes sure that she’s there every time the foals are being trimmed. “We’ve been watching them, we know them. We use Steve Tucker to do the work on our foals; he is one of the best at doing correctional trimming, plus we work so well together and I trust his opinion.” For the first few months, either Crystal or Brent is there every time a foal gets trimmed.

On this day at Ocala, one of the two year olds for sale is a Journeyman homebred (Wildcat Heir – Choobloo), while the other two are by non-Journeyman stallions (A.P. Jet and Broken Vow). Crystal is hanging out by the barn, looking remarkably relaxed for a woman who stands to make or lose tens of thousands of dollars in the next few hours. She welcomes visitors enthusiastically, asks about the tour that morning, tells story after story about how Journeyman came to be, about raising horses, about breeding them. “I don’t care if a stallion is a half or full brother to some big horse or even who his sire or dam is to some extent. If he was a proven failure as a racehorse, if he didn’t win any substantial stakes against some substantial individuals, we don’t want him. I figure if the horse had all the benefits of good breeding and still couldn’t run, what are the chances of him siring any winners?”

Hip no. 100, Splendid Behavior, goes through the ring. The bidding stops and the dark bay colt hasn’t met his reserve, so back to the barn he goes. Hip no. 145 is being walked near the shedrow, getting ready for her close-up; Crystal is optimistic about this A.P. Jet filly, and undeterred by the non-sale of Splendid Behavior. “We’ll race him, and if he does good, we’ll try to sell him again.” No such worries about the filly, Big Sister; she meets her reserve and then some, selling for $60,000.

We can’t stay for hip no. 227, another filly (Broken Vow – Inherit); the sales results tell us later that she goes for $32,000. Having watched Big Sister go through the ring, we walk back to the barn to say good-bye, and Crystal tells us that Splendid Behavior has been sold privately; when it’s all over, Journeyman will have gone three-for-three. Crystal is entertaining some other visitors who have come by, and as we say good-bye, she promises to get in touch when she comes to Saratoga, where she spends at least a week every summer.

Crystal, Brent, and a Journeyman employee check out Big Sister before she goes into the ring

As we leave, I feel as though I’ve seen a good part of the life cycle of a Thoroughbred: a breeding; foals days/weeks old; young horses in training; colts and fillies going through the ring. Their next step is the race track, and there are at least two whose names will go in the watch list, so that I can continue to observe their progress. With luck, I’ll get to see them race in person one day, and I’ll think about my day at Journeyman and with the Fernungs, as they work with their foals, weanlings, yearlings, horses in training, mares, and stallions—and hope that these days, their food is spiced with something a little tastier than amniotic fluid.

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