Ralph Nester: Saratoga Sales, Bluebloods of Racing and Joe Namath

Yearling stories are one of the most pleasant memories of my life on Penowa Farms, and there were many.  I was getting this particular yearling ready for the Saratoga Sales in August of 1964.  It was my first experience with that.  He was a dark grey out of Native Dancer and he resembled his sire a lot and was out of a Dark Star mare, Staretta.   Dark Star was the only horse to beat Native Dancer, so the sales rep came to the farm and checked out our colt and he got the approval to go to Select Sales.   We took meticulous care of him of course, and soon August rolled around and we were on a van to Saratoga.

I rode in back with the colt for the six hour journey.   I was in awe of Saratoga Springs; I was 21 years old and managing a huge farm with a lot of responsibility.  I loved the challenge and had a great teachers, Mr. Sasso, owner of the farm, and of course, Dr. Wright.

Back to Saratoga… we unloaded and put our colt into the beautiful, but older barn stall with knee-deep golden straw and fresh alfalfa hay mixed with timothy.   We used alfalfa to keep the horses bowels from tightening up, it prevented a lot of colic and other problems.   We went to bed early as the  next day was a rise and shine at 4 a.m. and we had to clean stalls, feed and groom the yearlings.  There were many yearlings, about 200 I presumed.   I slept on a cot in the tackroom and woke to the hustle bustle of grooms from all over the country scurrying to get yearlings ready for the throng of possible buyers.   I remember the dim lights and waking up to the smell of fresh, golden straw and sweet smell of the timothy hay and rich smell of alfalfa.  The mornings had that warm moist smell that foggy mornings had.  I was living in a dream world, the soft snuffle of the yearlings,  blowing dust out of their noses and the excited whinnies, curiously looking over the screen door and wondering what was going on.  There were grooms holding the babies while they got a bath and walking in the walking ring.  We took pitchforks and stuck them into the ground in the wet spots from the showers at night to drain the water for appearance.  I learned this from older grooms from Kentucky who had been there many times before.

They were from all the top sales barns:  Gainseway,  Calumet, Spendthrift, Harry Love Consigner and more.  Then, when daylight came,  the potential buyers came: the Phipps, the Kellogs, the Morans, the Wyeths , Mrs. Henry D. Payson, the Henry Fords and many wealthy buyers from all over the world.  The trainers:  Arnold Winick, Bowes Bond , the Jennys the Sangsters, George Strawbridge, the Comptons, Bruce Miller,  Barclay Tag , more trainers and owners than you can imagine! Lucien Lauren, William Bell, the Meyerhoffs, EP Taylor, McDonald Benson!

Then, the excitement of the sales ring, seeing owners getting into bidding wars and getting a little tuned up on cocktails and spending money like it was play money, but it was for real.


There were numerous lawn parties and I went with Mr. Sasso, my  boss.  I knew no one. I was offered a drink by a nice lady. She was in a flowered dress and had her hair up in a bun.  She asked, “I saw you at the yearling show, do you have any good babies?”   I told her of our colt after she made me sit on bench with her.  She then asked, “Do you like football?”   I told her I loved it!  “What’s your favorite team?” she asked.  “The Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Colts” I replied.  She said,  “Well,  I’m partial to the Jets.”

I told her that they were a good team, she then replied, “I think we’ll win the Superbowl.”  I asked her why… “We have this young rookie quarterback that looks very promising, his name is Joe Namath.” She was Leah Hubbard Werblin, owner of the Jets.


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