State horse farm fights to stand strong

They buried the remains of Allen's Prospect outside his stall at the Pons family's Country Life Farm near Bel Air. A purple mum was planted in the freshly turned earth. A marker commemorating the 21-year-old stallion will be erected this fall.

"He was a genuine Maryland star," said Tom Bowman, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "He was remarkably fertile and remarkably consistent for a very long time. The Ponses will find another horse to fill his stall, but they won't replace Allen's Prospect."


Allen's Prospect is Maryland's all-time leading thoroughbred stallion in progeny earnings, wins, winners and number of foals produced, and his offspring have earned nearly $40 million. He was euthanized Sept. 3 after neurological problems developed following surgery to remove a tumor from under his jaw.

It wasn't merely the death of Allen's Prospect that distressed the Pons family, which owns Country Life Farm. It was also the timing of it. The Ponses' top stallion died on a Wednesday. The next day, they buried him. And the next day, a van pulled into the farm to take Malibu Moon, their most promising young stallion, to stand at stud in Kentucky.


"I look at my roster," said Mike Pons, the farm's business manager, "and in 48 hours we lost Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. And we've got to go to bat in the spring.

"We've got some stalls to fill."

While the farm reels from both the death and the sudden need to replenish its roster of sires, the state's racing enthusiasts mourn the loss of Allen's Prospect in personal ways. With an uncanny ability to produce winners for blue-collar owners, he became the people's sire.

A speedy son of the legendary Mr. Prospector, Allen's Prospect arrived at Country Life in the fall of 1986 when the Pons family was "hand-to-mouthing it, at best," according to Pons. The stocky stallion wasted no time showing that he had come to lead the way to better times.

In 1990, the first year his sons and daughters raced, they swept both stakes for 2-year-olds at the prestigious Maryland Million, a showcase for Maryland stallions. That was just the beginning. Allen's Prospect became the leading sire of Maryland Million winners with 14.

"That's when people started calling who'd never returned my calls before," said Pons of the 1990 sweep. "He put us on the map and kept us on the map."

Allen's Prospect was the reason Cigar, two-time Horse of the Year, was born at Country Life. Allen Paulson, who owned Allen's Prospect, regularly sent mares from Kentucky to be bred by Country Life stallions. One, Solar Slew, while awaiting a breeding at Country Life, gave birth to Cigar.

The Ponses bred Allen's Prospect to as many as 129 mares in one season, which lasts from Valentine's Day to the Fourth of July. As Pons often said, Allen would breed a tractor if it smelled right.


A high percentage of the foals made it to the races, and a high percentage won - often for people just as happy to win at Pimlico and Penn National as at Belmont and Churchill Downs.

He wasn't known for producing the best horses. Of his 57 stakes winners, only two won stakes that were graded, meaning ranked among the toughest. Nor did his offspring sell for top dollar at the sales or run classic distances as do the Triple Crown heroes.

But Allen's Prospect offspring did what their owners and trainers wanted. They won.

He led North America six times - 1995 and from 1998 to 2002 - in number of wins by his sons and daughters. For six of the last seven years, he was the leading sire by progeny earnings in Maryland.

For 17 years he bred mares at Country Life Farm, and his offspring are still running - and will be for the next decade. He bred 109 mares this year alone, and the foals born this year and last have yet to race.

Two days ago at Pimlico Race Course, a 6-year-old son of Allen's Prospect named Crossing Point broke the track record for five furlongs.


Four questionable stallions remain on the Country Life roster as the spring breeding season approaches. Carnivalay, 22, is at the end of his career, and Citidancer, 16, continues to suffer fertility problems. Storm Broker, 9, has been a disappointment, and the first runners of Unbridled Jet, 7, don't race until next year.

That's why losing Malibu Moon the same week as losing Allen's Prospect was so devastating. The 6-year-old son of A.P. Indy outgrew Maryland because of the success of his first runners, especially California stakes winner Perfect Moon.

B. Wayne Hughes, a wealthy California horseman, owned Malibu Moon 50-50 with Country Life. But Hughes' dream was to stand a stallion in Kentucky. At Hughes' behest, Country Life sold half its stake in the promising stallion to Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington. Malibu Moon will compete there for mares next spring.

The Ponses have landed one new stallion for 2003 and search for others. No Armistice, a 6-year-old son of Unbridled, will arrive at Country Life later this month. Hughes campaigned the sprinter in California, where he retired after 14 races with four wins and 11 in-the-money finishes. Hughes and Country Life struck the same deal as with Malibu Moon, 50-50 ownership.

But make no mistake. No Armistice is seen as possibly the new Malibu Moon, not the new Allen's Prospect, whom Mike Pons described as "the most single-willed horse I've ever seen. He never did a thing he didn't want to do. He was the alpha.

"Allen had the whole world figured out. Once we figured that out, life was simple. We just followed Allen."