Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Anne And Joe McMahon Celebrate 50 Years Of Raising Good Horses, Staying Close To Nature by Tom Pedulla|07.28.202107.28.2021|11:37am10:23pm Anne and Joe McMahon (photo courtesy of McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds) McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds has grown exponentially since Anne and Joe McMahon established it with a couple of broodmares in 1971, expanding from 90 to 600 acres that nurture approximately 250 horses. And it all started with Christmas trees. The initial tract of land the newlyweds purchased near Saratoga Race Course was filled with Christmas trees that yielded much-needed income. They also sold eggs and pigs and raised much of their own food to bolster their fledgling horse operation. “We didn't have much money because we spent it on the horses,” said Anne, recalling those lean early days. She is 70, three years younger than her husband. They initially thought in modest terms, eager to start a family and indulge the passion for Thoroughbreds that brought them together. “I never imagined in my wildest dreams it would be this big,” Joe said. “We thought we could have a small boarding operation here and raise a few horses of our own to sell or to race.” The establishment of the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund in 1973, when combined with the McMahons' relentless work ethic and their emphasis on staying close to nature, elevated the operation to unimagined heights. It did not hurt, either, that the farm became celebrated as the birthplace of 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide. The annual sale of Christmas trees eventually created space for pastures and more. Hay and soybeans are grown on site. The McMahons mix their own feed. “To make this all work,” Joe said, “we had to do it on an economic scale we could afford.” All five children – John, Mike, Jane, Kate and Tara – assist in some way. Quality is emphasized in every aspect. “If you go beyond the basics of good feed, good grass, good pasture, then you've gone a whole long way toward developing a good horse,” Joe said, adding, “We try to do the basics really well.” Jane, a farm manager, marvels at how far that philosophy has taken them. “The older I get, the more I appreciate what they've done,” she said. “They really had no connections in the industry and they really had to put their back into it every single day for 50 years. They didn't just walk in and buy the kind of bloodstock you need to be successful. They didn't have that kind of money.” Great care was taken in building a 14-person staff. “We're still small enough that our employees are our friends,” Anne said. “If they're not nice people, they're just not here.” They would prefer a larger crew. Help can be hard to find. “It certainly is a big issue. People are making money to stay home,” Joe said, referring to substantial ongoing government payments stemming from the pandemic. “We find it very difficult. I don't know anybody in the business who is not complaining about the same thing. We cannot get help.” McMahon of Saratoga took its cue from famed Claiborne Farm in staying close to nature. “We buy into the fact that they are animals. They need to be happy. They are not going to be happy living in a stall. That is not a natural place for them to be,” Joe said. “They need to be outside as much as they can be.” He believes the reward for doing that far outweighs the risk. “You put 10 or 15 yearlings together, they are going to play. They are going to fight. They're going to be tough on each other,” Joe noted. “But that's how they develop. In our opinion, that's what makes them good horses. It works. I can tell you it does.” John, Anne and Joe McMahon with some of the young horses raised at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds The farm stands Central Banker, New York's runaway leading sire and a son of crack sprinter Speightstown. Thirty-nine of Central Banker's first 78 runners were winners this year with earnings of more than $2.6 million. The McMahons' claim to fame will always be that they raised Funny Cide, a son of Distorted Humor. When he was foaled on April 20, 2000, there was nothing then or in his early days to suggest he would become special. Beyond a sturdy frame, he was an unremarkable foal. He brought only $22,000 when he went through Fasig-Tipton's New York Preferred Yearling Sale. Funny Cide made great strides after he was acquired by Sackatoga Stable, a Saratoga Springs-based partnership that turned him over to well-respected trainer Barclay Tagg. “When they get as successful as Funny Cide, it's like your kid becoming President,” Joe said. “It's beyond anything you could imagine.” [Story Continues Below] Anne and Joe watched in disbelief as the gelded Funny Cide pulled a surprise in the Kentucky Derby and added the Preakness. Those thrilling moments never fade. “When you have a horse run in a big race like that and he wins it, there is nothing like it,” Joe said. “I wish for every breeder that they would have a good horse because there is nothing like it.” And it all started with Christmas trees. Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications. If you wish to suggest someone as a potential subject for In Their Care, please send an email to [email protected] that includes the person's name and contact information in addition to a brief description of the individual's background.