On a visit to Betty Moran’s glorious Brushwood Farm in June 2004, I first met Hard Spun. A spirited five-week old bay colt with a splash of white on his forehead he skittered down a hilly paddock with his mare Turkish Tryst.
Leaning on a paddock fence I watched the colt move effortlessly across the ground.
“If all goes well, he’ll be one of Danzig’s final colts running at the racetrack,” Moran said that day at her farm near Malvern, Pa. “Wouldn’t it be something if he could turn out a little special like his daddy?”
Hard Spun’s sire was born and raised at Marshall Jenney's Derry Meeting Farm in Cochranville. Danzig’s racing career (3-for-3) was cut short by an injury, but then he blossomed into one of the most important sires of the second half of the 20th century. Danzig topped the general sires list from 1991-’93 and a stunning 18 percent of his colts and fillies were stakes winners. He sired 107 graded stakes winners and 10 champions. His progeny earned $101 million.
On the racetrack Hard Spun carved out his own niche. In the group of top-tier three-year olds in 2007, the speedy colt was as tough as nails. He danced all the major dances and ran consistently well. Runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and the $5 Million Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hard Spun won six of 11 lifetime starts, earning nearly $1.4 million. The colt scored his Grade-1 stakes victory in the King Bishop at Saratoga.
It’s a sparkling, late morning as shoppers come and go beneath a yellow-striped awning of a gourmet market in downtown Kennett Square. Sitting at a small table two women are chatting, nibbling on sticky buns and drinking lattes. A pal waves as she scurries to a counter brimming with luscious artisan cheeses then on to a vintage cabinet filled with just-baked baguettes. Staff glides about the cozy space fielding queries and lending suggestions. At Talula’s Table the sense of community feels alive and well.
Proprietor Aimee Olexy greets me with a bright smile and we settle down at a broad oak table beneath a rustic chandelier. In the evening when the market closes its doors, that farm table becomes center stage for an eight-course feast that has been tagged “the toughest reservation in America.”
Fortunate diners get to put everyday life on pause and enjoy an exquisite, unhurried meal. Prospective patrons (8-12 a night) vie to book reservations a full year in advance. By point of comparison, the French Laundry in Napa, Calif. which has a mere 17 tables is lauded for its six month waiting list.
The one-seating-a-night tastings have garnered a mountain of accolades and sparkling reviews from the New York Times and Saveur.com to NPR and actor John Turturro who traveled down from Brooklyn with his wife.
The phone call came late one morning. In his Wilmington office David Hall got a tip that questioned the listed provenance of a painting purported to be Andrew Wyeth’s “Snow Birds” that was soon to go under the hammer at the famed auction house Christie’s in Manhattan. The 1970 painting, a watercolor and pencil on paper, might be a fake.
An assistant U.S. attorney who is the special prosecutor for the FBI Art Crime Team, Hall arranged for the painting to be sent to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford. Brushstrokes, composition, iconography and pigments were all methodically scrutinized. Using Betsy Wyeth’s meticulous records of the original painting, Mary Landa was able to identify discrepancies showing the picture was a skillfully executed forgery.
"It was an exact copy, with all the little squiggles, every figure in it was the same,” relates Landa, curator of collections at the River Museum and an authoritative source on Wyeth's work. “But it was clear that it was very stiff and didn't flow like Andrew Wyeth's work."
Had the painting been genuine, Christie's had expected it to fetch $300,000 to $500,000. The U. S. Attorney’s Office was notified and the painting was seized from the Florida-based seller who agreed to forfeit his interest in the artwork to the United States government.
America's Best Racing Jockey Club & NTRA Websites October 16, 2012
He’s baack! Well, sort of back.
If it’s early autumn, it must be time for the latest Dick Francis novel. A former spitfire pilot and jockey who ride for the Queen Mum, Francis carved a unique niche in a signature whodunit style with signature suspense and riveting plot twists that earned him some of the most prestigious mystery writer awards.
Trouble is Dick Francis died in 2010. Son Felix picked up the reins when he released his first book in the series, Gamble in 2011. Stoking the family business, the publisher emblazed the words “DICK FRANCIS’s BLOODLINE” at the top of the cover of this year’s release. The racing thriller fits the senior Francis’ formula: a first person narrative, a crime set in the world of high-stakes horseracing-- its reliable intrigue, pots of money and nefarious characters.
It marks the 50-year anniversary of his father’s first novel “Dead Cert” published in 1962. Over the years the mysteries have sold more than 75 million copies and have been translated into 35 languages including Japanese, and most recently Ukrainian and Georgian.
A champion jockey in Great Britain in the 1950s and ‘60s and later an English racing correspondent for sixteen years, the senior Francis lived and breathed the sport. As for Felix, he was an international-class marksman, the leader of expeditions to the Himalayas and the jungles of Borneo and a teacher of A-Level Physics. Felix gave up teaching to manage his father’s business affairs in 1991.
You don’t come across this notation very often. When Holy Bull made his first start as a 2-year-old on Aug. 14, 1993, Daily Racing Form used the phrase “super speed” to describe his effort.
Here comes Holy Bull. There goes Holy Bull.
A rare mix of raw power, brilliant speed and durability, Holy Bull rose from humble beginnings to become a formidable champion on the racetrack. Known to his legion of fans as “The Bull,” he knew he could put away his opponents, whether it was at 5½ furlongs or the classic distance of 1¼ miles. In his eight victories in 1994, his average Beyer Speed Figure was over 115, which is remarkable for a 3-year-old.
Perhaps the most popular racehorse since Secretariat more than 20 years before, Holy Bull was the “blue collar” hero. Hooking the best thoroughbreds in America, The Bull ran as hard, as fast, and as far as he could race after race.
In the summer of 1994 Holy Bull charged home to win the $500,000 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, scoring his 10th victory in 12 starts. Once more Holy Bull led every step of the way.
Growing up in Cahokia, Illinois, Don Coats’ back lot was the “go-to” spot for neighborhood kids. Beyond a menagerie of rabbits, chickens and homing pigeons it was home to a couple of madcap characters. Billy, a white goat, would regularly leap up on the hood of the family sedan. Butchy turned into the community terror, so much so that the combative black crow had his wings clipped. Seems the sheriff threatened to shoot the bird for dive bombing and scaring the bejeezus out of the local kids.
Once a frontier town on the banks of the Mississippi River, Cahokia’s wilderness and solitude sparked Coats’ lifelong passion for animals and the natural world.
During his teenage years, he spent summers driving a battered truck at his Uncle Leo’s farm working with the cattle, pigs and registered Suffolk sheep. While showing their prized sheep at the annual county fair, Coats discovered the amazing utility of the Border collie, a breed he has owned most of his life.
“When I was a boy my grandmother taught me early lessons of sewing and hand stitching that became the foundation of the small motor skills used in delicate, precise veterinary surgery,” remembers Dr. Coats, the beloved veterinarian who has practiced in Centreville for 43 years.
Throughout his life Dr. Albert Barnes was called a lot of things: cranky, controlling, and intellectually curious, to name a few. But primarily he was celebrated as an audacious art collector over a 40-year span.
After decades tucked away on a leafy campus in Merion, Pa., Barnes’ world-class collection of post-impressionist, early modern art, and avant-garde European works has relocated to a posh new building on the Parkway in Center City Philadelphia. It is one of the biggest art world stories on the year.
The move follows a decade of bitter debate over the future of this spectacular collection that in terms of numbers alone is estimated today to be worth between $20 and $30 million. Barnes died in a car crash in 1951. In his will he insisted that the paintings continue to hang in the Merion building in perpetuity. But Philadelphia power brokers eager to move the collection to a more central location fought a long legal battle to overturn the will.
In 2004 a Montgomery County, Pa. judge ruled the collection could be moved but demanded the Barnes Foundation would need to preserve the dimensions and the quirky “ensembles” of the artwork in original galleries in order to transfer the collection to its new $200 million home.
Eight years later, for some art lovers, the relocation is still a hornet’s nest. It was the precision of the Merion Barnes collection— the arrangement of art on the walls— that made the collection sensational. At the new Barnes almost nothing is out of place. Even down to the same mustard colored burlap that covers the walls where the pictures are hung.
For the past fifteen years I’ve been a contributing writer to a variety of national & regional magazines, prominent daily news-papers and websites. I have written about an array of topics such as arts & culture, chefs, food & drink, business entrepreneurs, travel, history, thoroughbred racing, and the animal and natural world.
I'm currently a regular arts & culture contributor to WFIT's website (the NPR radio station in Melbourne.), Vero Beach Magazine and Florida Today newspaper on a number of topics. Over recent years my work has been published regularly in Blood-Horse, Long Island Boating World and The Hunt and PA Equestrian magazines.
I am a regular contributor to the websites JustLuxe.com and SeeTheSouth.com. JustLuxe is an online magazine featuring the best of luxury lifestyle and travel, while SeeTheSouth features truly unique southern destinations. My travel articles also regularly appear in Florida Today, Long Island Boating world and the Delaware County Times, a major daily newspaper just outside Philly.
I've also contributed a variety of articles to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, the Delaware County Times, and the Montgomery County Newspapers. I have been an Arts & Culture correspondent for Newsworks, the website for WHYY-TV (PBS in Philadelphia). I have been a correspondent to ESPN.com, America's Best Racing, the Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.
After spending the past two decades in Wilmington, Delaware, my wife Jane, our Toller retriever Smarty and I have moved to Melbourne Beach, Fla. Located on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River, Melbourne Beach sits on the southern end of Florida's "Space Coast." The famed coastal highway A1A runs directly along the Atlantic. Melbourne Beach (pop. 3,000) offers unspoiled beaches with sparkling blue-green waters and thousands of beautiful seabirds and long-legged shorebirds.
Head north 35 miles on A1A and you arrive at Cape Canaveral, for decades our nation's gateway to exploring and understanding our universe. Today, Cape Canaveral is a hub for many of the most exciting new private space projects such as SpaceX, the rocket and spacecraft company founded by Elon Musk (manufacturer of Tesla vehicles). Upwards of 30 launches are planned in 2017.
Back down to earth traveling on two-lane A1A south from Melbourne Beach's compact business area brings you to a series of secluded and undeveloped natural beaches. Bonsteel Park's two-acre beach provides an excellent vantage point to catch glimpses of passing dolphins, while the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is recognized as the most important nesting area for loggerhead turtles in the western hemisphere. It's also home to the gigantic leatherback turtles.
Nearby is Sebastian Inlet State Park which connects the Indian River Lagoon with the Atlantic Ocean. Its jetty break is recognized as one of the surf world's high-performance hot spots. Three generations of world-class surfers have surfed here, including 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. The 600-acre park is also celebrated for world-class fishing, and plenty of seabirds and wildlife.
Through my writing over the past decade I have traveled to spectacular destinations such as Lake Tahoe, Calif./Nev. and Sun Valley, Idaho; Cody, Wyoming/Yellowstone Park; Saratoga Springs, the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs and Rhinebeck, New York; Port Clyde and Monheghan Island, Maine; Avalon and Stone Harbor, New Jersey; Middleburg, Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia.
Other travel adventures have included Tampa and St. Petersburg, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, Florida; and St. Simons and Jekyll Island, Georgia. My travel articles thoughtfully explore the history of the region along with museums, music and the arts, chefs and restaurateurs, wineries and craft breweries, outdoor and sporting adventures as well as profiling intriguing personalities of those regions.
In addition to my writing career I owned a marketing company where I represented a diversified list of clients in the areas of publicity, marketing and business development-- such as the famed Baldwin's Book Barn, Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Kahunaville restaurant chain. In another life I was the founder, publisher and editor of Life Sports Magazine.
Along with Jane and Smarty I look forward to writing about new adventures in Melbourne Beach, the "Space Coast" and other Florida destinations. That's Smarty below with his pals Willie and Nelson.