by Beth Herman (this
article was first published by DCMud on June 21, 2011)
(first appeared in The Equiery's April 2012 issue)
you listen quietly and long enough to sounds in the mist at
Glyndon, Maryland’s Sagamore Farm, Native Dancer’s
hoof beats will join up with your heartbeat.
And in 2007, smitten by the same dreams that were said to
have seduced Alfred G. Vanderbilt II, Maryland native son
and founder/CEO of Under Armour apparel Kevin Plank acquired
Sagamore, with a dream to revitalize Sagamore and the state’s
To pursue the dream of restoring Sagamore to her rightful
throne as not only one of Maryland’s most glorious.
Thoroughbred farms, but also one of its most state-of-the-art
farms—as it would have been during Vanderbilt’s
Plank hired arcitect John Blackburn to transform the decaying
historical landmark into a peerless 21st century breeding
and training operation—without sacrificing its provenance.
“Kevin had an outline and series of points—a program
of what he wanted to do—how he wanted to get there,”
explained Blackburn. “His goals were to restore the
farm, to build on that history and to develop his own thoroughbred
breeding operation that would, at some point, produce a Triple
A 10-year to 15-year master plan was established, with an
existing 20-stall broodmare barn and 16-stall foaling barn
part of an early phase of the renovation.
The mission of Blackburn was to update the barns using contemporary
principals and technology while maintaining the historical
integrity of the buildings. One of the primary challenges
was how to increase ventilation and introduce more natural
light and recycled materials without altering the exterior
aesthetics of the existing buildings.
The solution was to remove the large haylofts from each structure,
open-up the large broodmare stalls, and add skylights and
Dutch doors along the exterior to court natural ventilation.
“Both the broodmare and foaling barns instantly went
from dark to bright, like night and day” said Blackburn.
“You want as much light as possible, as early in the
season as possible for them,” Blackburn explained, “so
the horse cycles naturally, without the use of artificial
light.” Citing temperatures that parallel each other
both inside and outside the barn as key to the horses’
health, Blackburn also took measures to ensure smooth transitions.
And using the sun’s heat from the rooftop and skylight,
and the horse’s own heat and humidity (horses give off
a great deal of moisture), the architect worked to bring air
in low and exhaust it out high. “This creates ventilation
in the barn so it’s constantly venting whether it’s
winter or summer,” Blackburn said. Additionally, a fan
is typically placed high on a wall, directed into only one
area of a stall, enabling the horse to move in and out of
the breeze as needed.
“Going back to the health and safety of the horse, when
driving the design of a barn, you have to duplicate nature—where
they can control their environment,” Blackburn explained.
“As soon as you put horses in barns they lose that control,
so the barn now needs to provide them those choices.”
Where humans and sustainability measures are concerned, rubber
paver flooring, recycled steel in stall systems, recycled
wood finishes— from the original barn— in flooring,
cabinets and desks, and preservation of an existing exterior
concrete block frame and roof framing, as well as insulated
barn offices to reduce energy waste, were part of the design.
With the inception of Sagamore Farm’s most recent phase,
and particularly renovation of a 24-stall yearling barn, smaller
12x12 stalls will accommodate the younger horses, with sustainable
materials from the two previous barns applied here, along
with elements that include a signature Blackburn barns passive
energy system also seen in the previous two barns.
In 2009, Sagamore’s six-furlong (3/4-mile)
training track was refurbished with new rails and a
Tapeta surface, another Maryland product produced by
trainer Michael Dickenson – but with a twist that
is all Plank, as this Tapeta footing incorporates recycled
Under Armour fabric!
All longtime Maryland horsemen know about
the most famous barn at Sagamore, the 90-stall oval-shaped
training barn with an interior quarter-mile track—certainly
state-of-the-art at the time, allowing horses to be exercised
in-doors in inclement weather. Acknowledging that Plank probably
won’t need 90 stalls, the team is exploring how best
to redesign the behemoth building.
Another existing structure that fronts the track, and has
been gutted, is a former dormitory where employees were housed
and fed, along with an old blacksmith shop currently used
for storage. A stallion barn, home to Native Dancer, also
stands tall but devoid of life and purpose, with possibilities
that include transforming it into a museum to honor Sagamore
Farm’s most eminent equines.
Born at Sagamore Farm on February 20, 2008, Monzon was the
first Sagamore home-bred to compete in a Triple Crown race
since Native Dancer, finishing ninth. His sire is 1995 Kentucky
Derby and Belmont Stakes winner, Thunder Gulch, and his dam
is Shadow of Mine, making Monzon a direct descendant of Native
Dancer. While Sagamore Farm has yet to produce a winner of
a Triple Crown race, on November 5, 2010, its Shared Account,
a 46-1 shot, won the $2 million Breeders Cup Filly and Mare
Slowly but surely, Sagamore Farm and Sagamore bloodlines are
resuming their full glory!
A Rich History
There is perhaps no farm that quite captures the imaginations
of Marylanders more than the famed Sagamore Farm on Belmont
Ave. in Glyndon, Baltimore County. As described by Ross Peddicord
in a December 1999 Equiery article about Native Dancer, “Over
the years, Sagamore came to be thought of as “holy ground”
among Maryland horse people.”
Established in 1925 by the inventor of Bromo-Seltzer, Isaac
Emerson, Sagmore, the farm eventually passed to Emerson’s
grandson, Alfred G. Vanderbilt II as a 21st birthday present.
Vanderbilt eventually became president of Pimlico Race Course
and came to dominate Maryland racing through the farm’s
bloodlines, in particular those of Native Dancer.
Sired by Polynesian and out of the mare, Geisha by Discovery,
(a great Vanderbilt stayer and weight carrier of the 1930s),
the grey colt, winner of the Preakness, Belmont and 19 other
races, lost only once–to Dark Star in the Kentucky Derby.
“Quite literally, Native Dancer is in a class of his
own,” explained Peddicord in his 1999 article (which
you can read at www.equiery.com/archives). “Without
Native Dancer, there would be no Mr. Prospector. Or Northern
Dancer. Or Affirmed-Alydar “match races” in the
Triple Crown. Or an Easy Goer to give Sunday Silence the run
of his life. Or the Kentucky Derby winners Real Quiet and
Charismatic. Even Maryland’s triumvirate of great stallions
(Two Punch, Polish Numbers and Allen’s Prospect) all
are direct descendants from the “Galloping Grey Ghost”
of Sagamore, either through Native Dancer’s son, Raise
a Native (sire of Mr. Prospector), or his daughter, Natalma
(dam of Northern Dancer).”
The first crash of the Thoroughbred world in our generation
came as a result of the 1986 changes to the tax code, and
Vanderbilt sold Sagamore. For the next 20 years, Sagamore
would fade into genteel shabbiness until one day rescued by
a new prince…