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Farm Owners Optimistic Vision


									E ver
Rick Trontz, with his wife Liz, has
  transformed a former cattle
   farm into a Thoroughbred
                                      Anne M. Eberhardt photos

                                                                 Farm Owner’s
                                                                 Optimistic Vision

By Lenny Shulman                                                in Kentucky roots, Trontz, owner of Hopewell Farm, makes up
                                                                for in unbridled energy. A bear of a man who moves like a

       entucky hardboots — the grizzled farmers who raise       jackrabbit, Trontz sits in front of his office desk rather than be-
       horses in the Bluegrass — aren’t supposed to spend       hind it, knowing he doesn’t stay put very long. It has taken
       their childhood in surf-friendly San Diego. Their moms   him only six years to turn Hopewell from a cattle and tobacco
aren’t supposed to be health-food nuts, especially in an era    farm into a showplace Thoroughbred facility.
when nobody knew what health food was. They usually don’t          Hopewell’s 585 acres lie majestically in the heart of Wood-
study business and economics at college.                        ford County, inside the corner of Old Frankfort and Pisgah
   Meet Rick Trontz, the new wave of hardboot. What he lacks    pikes. As Trontz traverses the spread, his pride is obvious in his

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rapid-fire delivery. Here are the lilac bushes                                                         same time comes off as the most relaxed
and oak trees planted by the dozens; there is                                                          character who is fun to be around.”
the aerated and fountained pond stocked                                                                   Reversing the path of his mentor and long-
with all manner of fish; here is where beauti-                                                         time friend, owner/breeder John Mabee, the
ful Elkhorn Creek cuts through the proper-                                                             late owner of Golden Eagle Farm who domi-
ty; there are the stallions he hopes to turn                                                           nated California breeding for many years,
into huge successes; here are the Indian bur-                                                          Trontz, 49, spent his early years in San Diego
ial grounds that lend character to the land.                                                           and migrated to the Midwest. As a child, he
The cell phone interrupts every two min-                                                               came to the Bluegrass to visit his uncle, Art
utes with callers asking about horses Trontz                                                           Baumohl, who for 18 years had a racing show
is selling at the Keeneland September year-                                                            on WLAP radio. Trontz’ aunt came from a
ling sale, but after each interruption Trontz                                                          farm family in Morganfield, in western Ken-
seamlessly picks up where he left off. Here                                                            tucky, that grew “the best tomatoes and corn
are the rebuilt, modern barns; there is an                                                             I ever put in my mouth. That’s how I got into
outdoor area under lights that helps bring                                                             liking farms,” said Trontz.
mares into season.                                                                                        Impressed with his uncle’s love of horses,
   “He has unlimited energy, and yet he           Warren Rosenthal, who owns the stallion              Trontz took a job at Liberty Bell Racetrack in
doesn’t come across like everything is a fire     Skip Away in partnership with Trontz.                Philadelphia as a groom for trainer Glen
alarm,” said Patchen Wilkes Farm owner            “He’s very good at what he does, and at the          Hild, a friend of Baumohl’s. “Although it

                                  Trontz has modernized Hopewell, rebuilding barns and planting dozens of new trees.

was the bottom of the                                                                                                 faster than my partners,”
barrel of racing, I                                                                                                   Trontz said.
learned how to re-                                                                                                       While the ink was drying
spect a horse, its phys-                                                                                              on the Hopewell purchase,
ical presence, and                                                                                                    Trontz made a sizable
how intelligent they                                                                                                  splash in the stallion busi-
are,” said Trontz. “It                                                                                                ness, purchasing, with
was there I learned                                                                                                   Rosenthal, the breeding
the horse game is like                                                                                                rights of the great racehorse
life — you can’t beat                                                                                                 Skip Away, a three-time
life and you can’t beat                                                                                               champion and 1998 Horse
the horse game. You                                                                                                   of the Year. Skip Away
can only hope to do                                                                                                   earned better than $9.6 mil-
well at times.” Hence,                                                                                                lion on the racetrack, sec-
the name of his farm.                                                                                                 ond only to Cigar, and won
   After gaining an                                                                                                   10 grade I stakes.
undergraduate de-                                                                                                        “He is what I like — a
gree from the Univer-                                                                                                 sound horse, a good phys-
sity of California San Trontz made a splash in the stallion side of the business when he and partner Warren Rosenthal ical horse, and a race-
                                                   purchased Horse of the Year Skip Away.
Diego, Trontz re-                                                                                                     horse,” Trontz said. “I had
turned to Kentucky to do graduate work in plowed back into the game, as he began to give up some pedigree, but that’s what I
business/economics at the University of claiming fillies off the track, buying mares, can afford. If you’ve got all of the above
Kentucky. He landed a job with IBM and and selling the foals they produced. Trontz plus pedigree, the cost is astronomical, and
then entered the horse industry, working also bought stallion shares and sold sea- it’s difficult to compete at that level.
for Fasig-Tipton Livestock Underwriters. sons for income, building up shares in bet-                     “Skip Away has a lot of potential, and
True to form, Trontz soon moved on, start- ter stallions. He bought part of Margaux he’s done well so far. His first crop are 3-
ing his own bloodstock and insurance con- Farm in Woodford County and then pur- year-olds now, and he’s had 16 stakes hors-
cern, Bluegrass Bloodstock. Profits were chased his own operation. “I wanted to go es and five stakes winners, but not the big

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one yet. We have the supporting cast; now             make it. It will teach you patience and hu-            end of the year, although those type’s of
we’re looking for the star. We’re off-Broad-          mility. People expect every horse to win               horses tend to sell better at sales because
way, but we’re close to hitting the Great             early as 2-year-olds, but these horses are             they’re pretty. Stallions like Cozzene and
White Way.”                                           more suited to getting later-developing                Broad Brush and Relaunch, it took awhile
   In addition to Skip                                                                                                           before their horses sold
Away, Trontz’ stallion ros-                                                                                                      well. I believe there’s a
ter includes Souvenir                                                                                                            lot of value in the mar-
Copy, a three-time stakes-                                                                                                       ketplace; you just have
winning son of Mr.                                                                                                               to look and find it.”
Prospector; Crafty Friend,                                                                                                          Value is essential in
who won five stakes and                                                                                                          racing today, when syndi-
earned nearly $1 million;                                                                                                        cation deals for top stal-
Royal Anthem, a winner                                                                                                           lions routinely spiral into
of nearly $2 million by the                                                                                                      the tens of millions of dol-
brilliant turf sire Theatri-                                                                                                     lars and just a handful of
cal; graded stakes winner                                                                                                        breeding establishments
K.O. Punch; and the new                                                                                                          can put them together.
arrival, David Copper-                                                                                                           Expensive does not nec-
field, a multiple graded-                                                                                                        essarily equate to success-
stakes-winning son of                                                                                                            ful, however. A stallion
Halo. It is a small but im-                                                                                                      needs to produce a cou-
pressive cast.                                                                                                                   ple of impressive winners
   “I like the stallion side of the business,”        horses; horses that can go two turns.                  of major races to make a big splash in the
Trontz said. “I know the odds are against             There’s more money there. You don’t see                business. “I try not to look at it like I’m com-
you, but I believe the ones we have can               many sprint sires on top of the sire list at the       peting against the bigger operations, even
Hopewell’s interesting features include a burial ground and an historic home (below), which is now the farm office. Some 150 horses, half of which are boarders,
                                                                        reside at the farm.

                                                                                                   after naming it, Trontz received confirma-
                                                                                                   tion from a doctoral student who came to
                                                                                                   the farm to analyze the Indian burial
                                                                                                   grounds for his thesis. After studying the
                                                                                                   area, the student told Trontz the tribe that
                                                                                                   had come through the area was called the
                                                                                                      Seems like it was meant to be.

                                    Trontz and “Skippy.”

though I am to a certain extent,” Trontz         this past summer of Kentucky Derby win-
said. “But you have to carve out your niche.     ner Ferdinand’s demise in a Japanese
I like to establish long-term relationships      slaughterhouse. Although it was erro-
with clients and focus on that. The harder       neously reported that the stallions would
you work, the better your luck gets, and the     be housed at Hopewell, Trontz said the
more business you can do.”                       group is close to a deal on a parcel of land
   Trontz keeps approximately 150 horses         outside Midway.
on the farm, half of which are boarders. He         “I think Old Friends is a terrific idea,” he
owns all or part of some 50 mares and em-        said, “and we are trying to set it up so that
ploys a workforce of 40. Trontz admits that      we are accountable for where every dollar
his wife, Liz, and their two children are not    goes. I came up with the idea with Midway
as horse-crazy as he is. Currently the fami-     resident and former Boston journalist
ly lives off the farm in Midway, but he and      Michael Blowen at a dinner party; we’ve
Liz have selected a site for a home on           had a fund-raising party here, and it’s get-
Hopewell with sweeping views of green            ting more exciting. I’m involved in every
paddocks. The farm’s two-story,                  aspect of it.”
columned office was once the main resi-             To anyone who witnesses the man’s en-
dence and served as home to former Ken-          ergy as he juggles several tasks, it is clear
tucky Gov. Louie Nunn.                           he is deeply involved in whatever he un-
   Although he has lost clients and friends      dertakes. That is why, even though he re-
Prince Ahmed Salman and John Mabee in            tains his bloodstock agency, Trontz just
the past couple of years, Trontz remains op-     wasn’t satisfied with simply advising. He
timistic about succeeding in the industry.       needed to play, too. “It’s easy to advise
He feels it is of paramount importance to        people,” Trontz maintained, “but it’s dif-
give something back. He has done work            ferent when you put up your own money.
with the Gluck Equine Research Center at         My definition of a consultant is a guy who
UK and is proud of offering English classes      knows how to make love 100 different
on the farm to Latino workers, as well as        ways but never had a girlfriend. You have
Spanish classes for Americans. Trontz is         to know what it’s like, and I think it’s easier
also a guiding force behind the Old Friends      to advise people if you’ve owned a farm,
organization that is seeking to bring no-        owned horses, and gone through every as-
table stallions back to Kentucky from over-      pect of the business — the trials and tribu-
seas so that fans have the opportunity to        lations and highs and lows.”
visit with and enjoy them. This movement            He admits initially to questioning his de-
has taken on greater import since the news       cision to purchase the farm. But some time

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