When Brice Ridgely first told his wife, Mary Anne, about the ad in the paper for two thoroughbred mares, she said: "You don't need any more horses."
Still, when Brice drove from their farm in Cooksville to look at the mares in Westminster, Mary Anne came along. Brice liked the mares, but Mary Anne couldn't take her eyes off a skinny yearling in the field. The yearling was a daughter of one of the mares.
"It broke my heart," Mary Anne recalls. "That scrawny little horse needed help. I told Brice: 'We're not going home without her.' "
So Brice made a deal: $3,500 for the two mares, another $3,500 for the yearling. That was 1997. The scrawny yearling blossomed into Vee Vee Star.
Three years ago at the Ridgelys' Spring Meadow Farm, Vee Vee Star gave birth to Declan's Moon, who last night was named winner of the Eclipse Award as the country's outstanding 2-year-old male racehorse.
"It's one of the greatest things that's ever happened to us," said Brice Ridgely, who attended the award ceremony in Beverly Hills, Calif. "This is something out here, I'll tell you. Everybody's just congratulating us, congratulating us, congratulating us."
Declan's Moon, named after a Ridgely grandson, Declan Kenny, is undefeated after four races and one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby, and Vee Vee Star, the $3,500 yearling, is worth about $2 million.
Although Brice Ridgely is listed as the breeder of Declan's Moon, and the Ridgelys still own Vee Vee Star, they don't own Declan's Moon. They sold him as a yearling for $125,000 at the Timonium auction to Samantha Siegel and her father, Mace Siegel. The Siegels, who live in California, turned over Declan's Moon to Ron Ellis, who trains at Hollywood Park in Southern California. Declan's Moon has run all four of his races in California.
Still, Brice Ridgely can't stop reminding people that Declan's Moon is a Maryland-bred and that Smarty Jones, last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, was a Pennsylvania-bred who helped that state's successful campaign for slot machines. Like most Maryland horsemen, Ridgely says Maryland's tracks need revenue from slots to increase purses - as tracks in Delaware and West Virginia have done and tracks in Pennsylvania will soon do.
"Maryland really needs to get behind this horse," Ridgely says. "I don't own him anymore. This is Maryland's horse. This is everybody's horse. Maybe the politicians will realize that if we had slots, then maybe the good horses wouldn't be leaving."
The sire of Declan's Moon is no longer in Maryland either. When the Ridgelys bred Vee Vee Star to Malibu Moon in 2001, Malibu Moon stood at Country Life Farm near Bel Air. After four years at Country Life, however, Malibu Moon became so popular that he was moved to a farm in Kentucky.
That's where Vee Vee Star is now, being bred again to Malibu Moon. Ridgely notes a second connection to Smarty Jones. His dam, I'll Get Along, was sold last year in foal to Elusive Quality (the same pair that produced Smarty Jones) for $5 million.
Vee Vee Star isn't worth that, at least not yet. The Ridgelys began getting calls from bloodstock agents wanting to buy Vee Vee Star after Declan's Moon's first victory. After his second win, one offered $600,000.
Declan's Moon has won two more races, including a prestigious Grade I stakes, and collected an Eclipse Award. His mother is worth about $2 million, Ridgely says, and that may be a conservative estimate. Agents still call, but the Ridgelys say simply they're not interesting in selling.
Brice, 57, farms 400 acres, grows hay, straw, corn and soybeans, raises cattle and breeds horses. Mary Ann, 56, is one of the leading sellers of real estate in Maryland for Long & Foster.
"The money doesn't mean anything to me," Mary Anne says. "You get it, you spend it, it's gone."
She still loves the scrawny yearling who produced a star.
"She's sweet, she's kind, she's gorgeous to look at," Mary Anne says of Vee Vee Star. "Her mother's the same way. You couldn't ask for two better mares to have on your farm."
Vee Vee Star's mother, Fabulous Vee, is one of two mares the Ridgelys bought from that newspaper ad eight years ago. Fabulous Vee is also in Kentucky being bred to young stallion Jump Start.
When the two prized Ridgely mares come home in April, they'll return to the paddock they share in front of the house. The Ridgelys will check on them often, making sure everything's all right.
Then they'll walk back to their house, past the "Farm Sweet Farm" sign at the head of the walkway and through the front door, next to the plaque that reads: "Birthplace of Declan's Moon."