Just beyond the fields belonging to Godolphin and Adena Springs’ farms, I arrived at the gate of Barbara Banke’s and the late Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Farm. As I was buzzed in through the wrought iron gates that hang between two brick walls bearing the crimson and gold Stonestreet Farm sign, I felt as though I was being given special access to another world — a world where perfectly manicured grass and trees line wooden fence lines danced upon by squirrels who, if they could talk, would undoubtedly say, “Welcome. I eat better than you. I am living better than you.” (As I came to learn, the groundhogs on the property also eat better than me.)
It was an escape from the sounds of the highway I had driven in on, an escape from the thoughts that may have consumed me earlier in the day, and the daily reality for the many mares who occupy the fields that I slowly drove past in awe.
I suppose this could describe any major farm in Kentucky or a drive down any road along the Bluegrass Farm Tour. But not just any farm is home to the accomplished broodmare band and homebreds of Stonestreet Farm, a roster whose depth is staggering. And only one farm in the world is home to the mare who I came to see: Tara’s Tango, or as I have always called her (for obvious reasons), Tara.
I have an enlarged photo of us displayed in my house and the same photo is included on my email signature and she is in the background of a page on the All About The Race website. I was even given a Breeders’ Cup hat bearing her name. Ok, so I may be flirting with fan girl status at this point. In fact, I’ll keep it real: it is a full-blown love affair — there is no shame in my fan girl game.
My admiration for Tara began in her two-year-old season (2014) after her first start at Del Mar simply because of her name. She broke her maiden that day. And, as an added bonus, a good friend of mine was the laser therapist for her trainer’s (Jerry Hollendorfer) barn at the time and he was able to send me regular photos and videos of her.
Let me just say that I am not one of those racing fans who falls in love with a new horse every other month just because they win a race. I need a connection. It was just a bonus that Tara turned out to have exceptional talent, retiring with three graded stakes wins, including the Grade I Santa Margarita, and over $800K in earnings.
Of course living in the racing-barren state of Georgia makes it hard to develop a real connection to any racehorse, so when I had the opportunity to go to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, her home base, I made up for lost time. Thanks to the generosity of Jerry Hollendorfer’s assistant trainer, Dan Ward, and her laser therapist, Steve Bourmas, I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours in the mornings and evenings with her during that week. I watched her train and watched her school in the paddock. Her love of peppermints and carrots was matched only by her love of neck scratches I learned during our first visit.
I watched Tara’s final start in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, where she finished an honest fourth, beaten just 2 ¾ lengths. I knew she was being retired and was relieved to learn she was going to be kept by Stonestreet Farm, who bred her and also owns her dam, Scarlet Tango, as opposed to being put into a sale. As fate would have it, I have a friend who has a connection at Stonestreet and that is how I was able to gain access to this “other world” off of Old Frankfort Pike in Midway, Kentucky.
Prior to my visit to the farm, I took a look at the Stonestreet Farm website to learn more about the farm. Its broodmares all have their own pages and they each read like a sales catalog page converted to layman’s terms, complete with career summaries, pedigree history, anecdotes and photos — with additional pages on their history, stallion interests, racing stable, training center, yearling sales and farm overview, I highly recommend the site to anybody who is interested in learning about how a leading, world-class horse farm is run (stonestreetfarms.com). But while their website is fully comprehensive, it could have never prepared me for its beauty in real life.
As I drove further into this 700+-acre equine and marmot oasis, I arrived at Tara’s barn. Her particular barn is reserved for maiden and barren mares. The farm staff, all of whom wore smiles on their faces, had brought Tara in from her pasture just to give her a bath for my arrival. Tara glistened from head to toe as they led her out from the barn. If horses can have a pregnant “glow,” she had it. She nickered for her girlfriends and fellow broodmares, Bounding (AUS) (described to me as “large and in charge”) and Tonasah, who were standing at the gate watching, surely wondering why their Sunday morning routine was being interrupted.
I had to stand in awe for a few moments before I even asked to approach her. Tara was simply regal, obviously having made a seamless transition from racehorse to broodmare.
I was told prior to my visit not to bring treats as they don’t feed them to the mares, so I brought the neck scratches that I know she loves. She tried to return the favor to the woman showing her with a few rubs from her nose. Unlike her life at the track, Tara, and the rest of the broodmares are turned out 24/7, even during feeding, save during times of inclement weather. She is no longer led by a chain across her nose, but a simple nylon lead with a bull shank. She shares a massive field with 20+ other mares, including her own mother. Interestingly, I was told that they don’t spend much time together.
Described by Dan Ward, as “the classiest and the coolest” while she was in training, she still displays the same class and presence of mind on the farm. She stood quietly for the 15-ish minutes I shared with her as we took pictures (complete with selfies) and I smothered her with attention, allowing me to enjoy every second. I left her with a bear hug around her neck and she returned to the barn where she was fitted with a fly mask and returned to her friends. Aside from a low knicker she let out and Bounding (AUS) chastising her for grazing in her space, it was a rather anti-climactic reunion.
Tara, named for a beloved nanny of Barbara Banke’s grandchildren, was bred to Medaglia d’Oro in February of 2017. She was the first mare that was covered from that band of maiden mares and she came in foal off of that one cover. Given the gestation of 11 months, she is expected to foal in mid to late January. She will be moved to Stonestreet’s main farm location about 30 minutes away to give birth. This is the same location where Rachel Alexandra resides (in case you were wondering). They will not make the determination as to keep or sell the foal until after it is born.
I have no doubt she will be an excellent mom.
Just as I was beginning to feel like maybe I was “fan girling” a bit too much, the herd manager chimed in with how he comes out to the field after work hours just to sit and take in the beauty of the farm and horses and freezes those moments in time with photos. The staff had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the mares and their produce and racing history, willingly answering every question I had about the farm.
The Law of Familiarity definitely doesn’t apply to them.
As I drove back down the paved drive to exit the farm, I looked for that smug squirrel again, thinking he would curse me for not sharing the donuts that I gave to the barn staff with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was already waiting at the barn door to pick up any falling crumbs. The wrought iron gate slowly opened to let me out, giving me just enough time to take one last look around — to let the rarity, the hospitality and beauty of my visit sink in — before I headed back out to reality
The moment was not lost on me.
Thank you, Stonestreet Farm. This Tara is a lifelong fan.