The Magic of Foaling Season
Monday, January 23, 2017

Just before midnight on January 17, the most important, exciting and nerve-wracking time of the year began in earnest at Runnymede.

The first member of our 2017 crop arrived in the deep straw in our foaling barn when the aptly named Unbridled’s Song mare O Beautiful lay down and gave birth to a strong, handsome colt by Hard Spun.

He will be one of 30 foals we expect this year at the farm. All will enchant us with their big eyes, their soft muzzles, their long wobbly legs. They will show us the mystery and force of life as they emerge into the world and struggle to stand and nurse.

We await all of them with eager anticipation, knowing that they will carry us to our future.

“Foaling season is always a magic time. In the Northern Hemisphere, it starts at the beginning of the year, so there is a double meaning. We embark on a new chapter in life and a new adventure with an entire crop,” says Runnymede General Manager Romain Malhouitre.

This year will be particularly special, as three foals are expected at the farm by American Pharoah, a trio in the initial crop by the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

As befitting such an extraordinary racehorse, the mares in foal to him at Runnymede include two of our most special residents: Sacre Coeur, dam of the extraordinarily talented multiple Grade 1 winner Lady Eli as well as our graded stakes winner Bizzy Caroline, and Beautician, a runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

The third mare in our band in foal to American Pharoah is Margate Gardens, a five-year-old by Speightstown who is a full sister to speedy multiple stakes winner Bridgetown and a half sister to two other stakes winners. Her second dam is a full sister to Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold.

There are many other exhilarating possibilities in the matings that will yield the 2017 foal crop. A few examples: Bizzy Caroline is expecting a foal by top young sire Uncle Mo; the exquisitely bred Esprit de Vie, owned in partnership with Haras d’Etreham, is in foal to Medaglia d’Oro, and our group stakes producer Avaricity is due to the cover of Kentucky Derby winner and highly popular young stallion Orb.

As Malhouitre points out, the magic moment of birth—which defies ample description, no matter how many times a person has witnessed one living being producing another—only occurs after many months of planning, hoping and waiting.

“We have concentrated our thoughts on the mating probably 15 months ahead of the time the foal will be born, then we worked on getting the mare pregnant and then waited for 11 months during the gestation,” he explains.

“As January begins, anxiety sets in. Are we going to have a successful year? We all know that birth is one of the most dangerous times of any creature’s life, and we always wish for the easiest and healthiest foaling season, but we know from experience that nature will have its say and that we could lose a mare or a foal.

“Mares usually foal at night. When we receive the call from the night watchman, everything kicks into high gear. In about 30 minutes, the mare is going to show physical signs, become anxious and eventually break water and give birth.

“At this point, we are wired into our task: the world has collapsed around us and nothing matters except that moment. We watch every movement and expression that the mother gives us. We may have to help—most of them seem to need some assistance—and of course we want to do everything we can to ensure health and safety.

“Our horsemanship skills and the well-established routines we follow guide all our tasks at this critical time. We check the presentation and then back off and let the mare choose the place in the stall she wants to deliver, and we wait for the foal to appear.

“When the foal is born, we immediately try to determine some essential information. How lively and apparently healthy is the baby? Does it need help? How are its vital signs? We look themother in the eye and try to read if everything is well with her—without words, we ask her, ‘Have you come through this delivery all right?’

“Thankfully, most of the time everything is fine. We attend to a few details and we put the baby by his or her mother and step back.

“These are the very best moments anyone who loves horses could desire. We see the first breaths of a beautiful living creature, the sweet love of a mother for her newborn, and the instincts of both as they bond together. We hear the foal give its first nickers.

“There is usually a window of 20 minutes to 30 minutes when everything slows down, when we allow ourselves to dream and project into the future, musing on the hopes that are shared by all breeders. Our imagination runs free, and in our minds we see the foal from the time it first tries to stand, to galloping in the paddock at the dam’s side, to growing up and gamboling in the fields with fellow youngsters, to looking like a champion in the sale ring, to winning for the first time and then to capturing the biggest races of the world.

“As we daydream, the foal starts to get up, wobbling on its unsteady legs before crashing back down in the straw. We laugh and get back to reality. This road will be a long one.

“But this is the beginning and our emotions are high; we can’t wait to raise this young horse which, in our eyes, is the most stunning being on earth. There will highs and lows, but pride floods through us for the mare and the foal she has given us who may just grow up to be the next champion. Nobody can take this most special moment and experience away from us; at this time anything and everything seems possible.

“So, foaling is the result of plans and hopes. It is a very intense and extraordinary moment and a beginning of the fulfillment of our deepest hopes,” Malhouitre says.

Runnymede’s foaling barn is a dedicated nursery in which mares are watched 24 hours a day. There is a pharmacy room with the necessary medicines and tools for most any emergency case, and our staff is highly skilled.

“When a mare reaches the stage that she is preparing to deliver, the night watchman contacts the manager on call and both of them deliver the baby,” Malhouitre says. “We are lucky at Runnymede that often we have an extra person on hand. But a foaling cannot be too crowded with people or too noisy. Foaling is a very intimate moment for the mare, and all our actions are made in the quietest and most respectful way.

“Every foal and every broodmare matter, and our highest priority is that they are all going to be healthy,” he says. “Hopefully those clients, old and new, who have entrusted us with taking care of or purchasing their broodmares will be rewarded.”

With the 2017 season now underway since the birth of the Hard Spun colt out of O Beautiful, who hails from the family of champion Shared Belief and American Pharoah’s broodmare sire, Yankee Gentleman, Malhouitre feels that this year will exceed normal standards In several ways.

“This is a special year because we are expecting eight young mares to deliver their first foals. It is exciting—they all have their stories. Some are mares that we retired from racing; they came home and now they are home forever and will become the wellsprings of our story in the future. Breeders are nothing without their broodmares.

“We have some mares that we hope maybe will become new pillars of our program—mares purchased just 15 months ago from the best breeders in the world—and the moment of truth, when they show us what they can produce, is now just a few days away.

“Every year we are anxious to see the babies by new stallions, racehorses that we were cheering on not so long ago. Obviously, this year is even more special as we expect foals by American Pharaoh from some of our best broodmares.

“We also are awaiting the new foals from the mother and half sister of Lady Eli, as well as the mother and another close relative of multiple graded winner Collected. These mares are the second or third generation from families we have taken care of for years.

“At Runnymede, great racehorses have been raised for 150 years. The crop we await in 2017 will be the first to carry us into a new era, and all of us, owners and staff, can’t wait to greet the foals and enjoy the journey together.”