A conversation with farm man and collector Richard Stone

by Murray Brown

It’s a long way from Wantagh, Long Island to a hard-to-find 10-acre homestead in Sadieville, KY. In the many years from that time until today, Richard Stone and his wife Linda have experienced numerous great memories and life experiences.

Richard is one of the last living links from the management of the great Castleton Farms. That’s not to say that Castleton is no longer in business. Today it’s a thoroughbred farm under entirely different ownership and management.

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Richard about the great road traveled from his days in Wantagh until now.

Even back on Long Island, the two abiding interests in Richard Stone’s life were horses and collectables and memorabilia related to horses.

Among his earliest memories are visits to riding stables on Long Island’s south shore and visits to the thoroughbred tracks Aqueduct and Belmont Park. Roosevelt Raceway was to come awhile later.

One of his earliest memories was seeing one of his heroes, the great Kelso, at Aqueduct.

His dad was an engineer who commuted daily to his office in New York City. He was transferred to Albany to administer the building of the Great South Mall project surrounding New York’s capitol building. While there, Richard went to Cobbleskill University (the alma mater of Billy Haughton and his son Peter) where he secured a degree in animal sciences. It was there that he met his wife Linda who was working as a groom at Saratoga Raceway. Richard also worked there in the summers that he was in the great northeast.

He then transferred to the University of Kentucky where he lasted only one semester because he was surrounded by horses, horse stables and racetracks and he considered them to be a better use for his time.

Shortly thereafter, in 1969, he was drafted and dispatched to Vietnam at the height of the war.

In Vietnam he was at first a truck driver and then became a truck dispatcher.

“I hated the army more than I hated Vietnam,’ he says.

“I served a total of 19 months in the army, 14 of them in Vietnam.” Upon his exit from the army on the west coast, he flew to Pompano to see Linda who was then working at the Glen Garnsey Stable.

“It was as always a top notch stable. Glen was the head man assisted by Dick Baker. Steve Waller and Russell White were also among the notables working there. I spoke with Glen about getting a job. He assured me that there would be a job waiting for me after I visited with my folks. I worked for Glen for five years. The first really good horse I had in my care was the top notch 2-year-old Alert Bret.”

Among his fondest memories was winning the Fox Stake with him.

“Alert Bret was a wonderful colt, but I knew in my heart that he wasn’t as good as his chief competitor, Nero. There was a great hullabaloo about his win in the Fox, since Nero was scratched from it because, he was drugged before the race. There were those who believed that Nero’s trainer might have been the druggist.

“It’s not for me to say,” says Richard, “but that was the prevalent feeling on the backstretch. After the incident, the stable hired a night watchman who was to assure that Nero was guarded 24 hours a day. I remember Glen saying that was great, but who was going to watch the trainer.”

Nero was the better horse. He went on to become a top 3-year-old and older horse, while Alert Bret never came back to his 2-year-old glory year.

Garnsey had a conversation with Dick Baker. “I just can’t beat him,” he said. “If I go to the top he comes from behind to beat me. If I come from behind, I can’t catch him.”

Dick said, “You’ve got to look him in the eye.”

That as it turned out was the only way that Alert Bret was able to accomplish the feat on the rare time that he was able to best Nero. He did that in world record time of 1.55.4 at The Red Mile. That might not sound like much today, but back then, it was amazing.

“Linda and I got married during that period. Linda was tired of grooming and switched to being the book keeper for the stable. We bought a small motor home which we took on the road. Those were wonderful days, especially on the far western swing. The Van Lenneps were frequent visitors at Pompano. They were very friendly and knew each of the grooms by name. Grooms sometimes slept on the shed row and were thrilled with the privilege of being able to do so.

“I received a job offer from Jerry Snyder who was Dan Hollibaugh’s Holly Lane Farm in the Bluegrass. As with every job I have ever held, I learned a great deal. I was in the presence of several very good horsemen and horses including Sonsam who was foaled there.

“When Holly Lane, specifically Dan Hollibaugh, encountered financial problems, Jerry Snyder introduced me to George Alexander with a chance to become the farm manager at his Chestnut Farm. I was hired by Mr Alexander. As with everywhere that I have worked, I met great people and learned a lot. Among the great people was Gerald Huntoon one of the best horsemen I have ever been around.

“I was responsible for most of the areas at the farm including leading the yearlings to pony. George Alexander was a hands on boss. One thing about George, he loved speed. He wanted his yearlings to trot as fast as they were able to all the time. We worked them really hard. I disagreed with his philosophy. I thought that they needed rest periodically and that their speed had to be rationed. The best leading horse that I was ever around was Super Juan. He could trot faster than any lead pony we had could run. I remember telling Gerald that this is our Hambletonian winner. He didn’t quite do that, but did manage to win a heat of the race for Howard Beissinger.

“I have often thought to myself that if the horses from Chestnut turned out well and there were several who did, they could handle anything.

“I became unhappy with life in remote Illinois. More specifically I missed the Bluegrass. I began sniffing for a new job. I approached Carter Duer, who was managing Castleton Farm at the time, looking for a job. Carter said to look him up, if I ever left Illinois. He would likely have something available at Castleton.

“We all know that there are no secrets in the horse business. Mr. Alexander got wind of my quest and we had a sit down. He went from him trying to get me to stay at Chestnut Farm to where he couldn’t wait to get me out.

“We returned to the Bluegrass. I looked up Carter Duer. ‘I know that I told you that I’d have something for you at Castleton, but something has changed. I’m leaving Castleton and I’m going to work for Tom Crouch at Kentuckiana Farms.’ I was jobless.

“I received an offer from the thoroughbred giant Calumet Farms. I thought about it, but I wasn’t looking to change breeds. John Cashman had been appointed to succeed Carter at Castleton. I got a call from Dr. Steve Conboy the farm veterinarian at Castleton. He said that John Cashman was interested in speaking to me about coming to work at Castleton. Was I interested? Yes I was. Within a few hours I got a call from John. As was typical of Cashman, he said let’s meet tomorrow. ‘What time?’ I said. 6.30 a.m., he responded.

“I was hired in February of 1980 initially to look after Castleton Farms Three. It was where the outside owned and transient horses at Castleton were kept. At the time, Russell White was in charge of the Castleton yearlings. Whitey and John did not see eye to eye. Russell White was succeeded by Doug Miller. Dougie decided that he really didn’t like farm life and went back to training horses.

John asked me, if I’d come to the main farm to be in charge of the farm’s yearlings. Would I ever. I stayed 20 years as the yearling manager.

“Then Mr. Van Lennep passed away. I knew from then, that it was only a matter of time before the dissolution of one of the greatest farms in the history of our sport.

“John Cashman knew the horse business from every aspect of it as well and probably better than anybody ever in it. He was placed in charge of dispersing the entire Castleton empire which include, breeding farms in five states, several racetracks here and abroad, Tattersalls, the Horseman & Fair World magazine and numerous other entities. I knew that the main farm would be the last to go.

“After the dispersal of all the horses, John asked me if I would stay through the sale of all the equipment, a large fleet of carriages and sleighs, memorabilia, trophies and everything else on the Farm. I was appointed as the curator of the literature, trophies, artwork, carriages and just about everything else that dealt with the history and tradition of this great farm.

“Very few realize how great a job Cashman did. After Mr. Van Lennep passed, the trustees of his estate cut off pretty much all cash infusions to the farm.

“I’ve heard so much criticism about him trading cheap broodmares for yearling credits. I’m sure those kind of mares were not the quality that John wanted, but he was up against a wall and had to make things work, which indeed he did.”

Who is your favorite horse ever?

“I suppose that would be Niatross. He was a great horse, both on and off the racetrack. He did it all. I’ve often wondered how good he might have become as a stallion if he had never left Castleton after those first amazing two years.”

You are as well-known and maybe better known for your huge collection of anything that pertains to the horse, including but not necessarily restricted to, art, literature, horse shoes — anything that you would care to name. How did this all evolve?

“It began from the first time I became aware of their existence. As a child I’d clip out things from newspapers. Back then there were seven New York City newspapers in addition to two on Long Island. Each day my father would bring two polar opposite newspapers, the New York Times and the New York Daily News home from work.

“I’ve always loved visiting used bookstores wherever my travels brought me. If my budget could handle what was available, and I wanted it, I would buy. As my income improved, so did my buying power. I have also been blessed to have several benefactors, Gerald Huntoon gave me a complete set of Wallace Registers, as well as USTA yearbooks and Sires and Dams and assorted literature. Mike Akoury who was the trackman at The Red Mile was a noted collector and was kind enough to bestow much of his collection to me.

“A lot of it came to fruition due to happenstance — being in the right place at the right time. Tom White used to have a small auction where he would sell books and art in conjunction with the Tattersalls Winter sale. Bob Jewell was a noted collector. Mr. Jewell had passed and Tom asked me to come with him to scour the collection. There were a limited number of pieces that Tom was interested in. There were numerous ‘jewels’ that did not interest him. I asked Mrs. Jewell how much it would take to buy the rest of the collection. ‘If you can get it all out of here by tonight, I’ll give to you free,’ she said. I did and it all remains a valuable part of the collection.”

What happens to all this great stuff after you are gone?

“I’ve made arrangements for my library to go to Keeneland’s horse library. It’s an incredible place that has just about everything related to the horse. It’s only weakness might be perceived in its paucity of harness horse literature. Hopefully my library will fill that hole. Beyond that, the Harness Horse Museum in Goshen can have all that they could use.”

How do you occupy your time in your golden years?

“Those golden years are not near as golden as they are made out to be. But all in all, it has been a more than satisfactory life. I was introduced to this great harness racing site Harness Racing History. I’m a frequent contributor to it. I’m a big reader. I’m in the midst of reading the new Somebeachsomewhere book. After I’m finished, the next book on my list is the one about Kelso. We live in a fairly secluded place far from where many people might consider to be civilized.”

Author’s Note: As of now I am planning to get to Lexington this fall. If I make it there, I am looking forward to visiting Richard and being able to see his remarkable collection.

Have a question or comment for The Curmudgeon?
Reach him by email at: hofmurray@aol.com.