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Sagamore Farm history comes alive with visit from a Vanderbilt

The Baltimore Sun

Alfred G. Vanderbilt III didn't want to see Sagamore Farm in decay, so he didn't visit his dad's old horse farm for 48 years.

Friday, when he walked around the restored farm made famous by his father's great horses - the most memorable being Native Dancer - Vanderbilt said, "The farm looks great."

As a teenager, Vanderbilt used to fly in with his father, Alfred G. Vanderbilt Jr., who was given the farm in 1933 by his mother on his 21st birthday.

The younger Vanderbilt remembers the farm's beauty from those trips. He remembers his dad was captivated by the horses, that he was still running champions, like North Sea, who won Grade 2 and 3 stakes at Aqueduct.

He remembers Sagamore and its horses being what his dad loved "more than anything."

And he remembers the stories - of his dad sleeping in the Sagamore Farm barns the first year he owned the place so he could learn all he could about the business of thoroughbred racing.

And he remembers the story about the goodness of the water.

"The water here is sweet, sweeter than anywhere else," he said. "And the sweet water goes into the grass. The grass is eaten by the horses and creates the strength of the horses, the beauty of the horses. And I don't think there are any stronger horses or more beautiful horses than those that are bred and live at Sagamore.

"I remember that from my childhood," Vanderbilt, 62, said, smiling. "I'm not sure it was my dad who told me or someone here. You know there used to be a good 70 people who lived on the farm - there was a farrier, grooms and assistant trainers. And this was a legendary place. People had great enjoyment of creating legends, living legends." 

But times changed. His dad grew older, the economics of the horse racing business changed and his dad sold the farm.

"Dad fell in love with the farm as a child," Vanderbilt said. "It wasn't my life. It was his. But I greatly admired him and what he did here."

And though he had seen pictures of the farm in disrepair, Vanderbilt didn't want to actually see it.

"I didn't want to come here and see the worst of it," he said. "Then I heard it was starting to be restored. That this young man [Under Armour founder Kevin Plank] had bought it and was repairing fences and building barns. And it turns out to be true. He's doing a fantastic job."

Vanderbilt was in town for a memorial service for a member of an old family who used to work for his father on the farm. He hadn't planned to come to the farm, but then "it seemed like an ideal opportunity," he said.

He walked up a newly paved road to a new barn and shook Plank's hand. The two men spent about 10 minutes together, one reminiscing, the other telling his plans for the future.

"I wanted to hear his impressions of the farm," Plank said. "It was a great compliment to me when he said he was very comfortable here."

Vanderbilt was asked whether would return to the farm if Sagamore's 3-year-old Tiger Walk makes The Preakness field.

"Oooh, maybe then," he said.

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