Hunter Rankin still feels the air change.
Every time he walks by the headstone for the greatest horse who ever trod the grounds at Sagamore Farm, the cares of a typical day recede ever so slightly.
“There’s something sacred about that area,” said Rankin, the president of Sagamore Farm. “It just feels different.”
That’s why visitors touring the Baltimore County farm finish up in the center of the property at the champions’ cemetery. And it’s why they linger a few extra seconds on the patch of ground where Native Dancer lies.
Those who want to see this special spot, along with the rest of the Glyndon farm restored by Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank, need only sign up for the free Three Diamond Club on Sagamore’s website. Club members are eligible for monthly Saturday tours conducted from March until October.
“This is a Maryland asset and an asset to the city of Baltimore, and we want people to be able to celebrate that with us,” Rankin said. “We get to experience this place every day, and we want to share that.”
When Plank bought the farm in 2007, his goal was not simply to restore a gem but to build a world-class racing operation. Several excellent horses are running under the Sagamore silks, but the thoroughbred game confounds even the most successful businessmen. And the farm has yet to produce the Triple Crown contender Plank envisioned.
What Sagamore offers, however, is a glimpse at the way stables used to operate, with an in-house trainer (Horacio De Paz), an on-site training track and horses who remain at the farm from birth to retirement. About 100 horses inhabit the farm, with 40 of those in active training.
Visitors see all facets of the operation in one place, a call back to the days when Alfred G. Vanderbilt bred a line of champions from the same spot. Native Dancer, the “Grey Ghost” and winner of the 1953 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, was the greatest of those.
He appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and when The Blood-Horse polled experts on the greatest U.S. thoroughbred of the 20th century, Native Dancer ranked No. 7. When the champion died at age 17, Vanderbilt laid him in a place of honor.
Plank might be a new-school CEO, but he reveres that history. Sagamore had fallen into disrepair before he bought it, but the 530-acre farm now features state-of-the-art buildings under the traditional red roofs, with miles of pristine fields and fencing greeting visitors.
Rankin said those arriving for the tour should make sure to pair up with Randy Lewis, the farm’s director of guest services. He knows all the best tales about the Vanderbilt years.
“Alfred Vanderbilt was one of the pillars of the sport, and we want people to know that story,” Rankin said.