HEBRON — James and Virginia Curran have been breeding thoroughbreds at their East Hebron farm for four years, and things are starting to go well for their breeding and racing operation.
But spend enough time around horses and you’ll always learn something. Like the importance of taking time off, the calming influence of geldings on weanlings and the ingenuity of horses.
All in all, not a bad life.
The Currans were involved with thoroughbreds before they started breeding them, but said it was too labor-intensive.
“We did well with it, but we didn’t get any enjoyment out of it. Too many competing factors — the sale company’s going to take him, they’re not going to take him. So we’re breeding to race now,” James Curran said.
The Currans, whose farm is named Emerald Isle Farm and who race under the name Ginellen Racing, have seven mares ranging in ages from 3 to 16. They were only planning on six, but 3-year-old Antiguan Princess fractured a knee while taking the winter off in South Carolina, so she’s back and will be tried as a mare.
They usually have four mares in a given year, but it will only be three this spring because one miscarried. Next year, they plan on giving all the mares a year off.
“A lot of people don’t agree with that idea because they think you’re losing money because you’re not going, going, going,” James Curran said, “but I’ve found it’s so much better for the horses. I think you get a better foal.
“It just gives them a year to be a horse without carrying that extra weight and all the psychological stuff that goes along with being pregnant,” James Curran said. “They’re supposed to enjoy life, too. They can go back in those fields there, eat grass all day and they don’t have the burden of a foal, being pregnant. It makes me sleep better at night.”
The Currans started with a handful of geldings that they rode. That was to be the geldings’ only role, but it didn’t work out that way. When they were breeding, once they weaned the foals they used to switch them to a small yearling barn, but the young horses would put up some struggles. Then one day they brought a yearling filly next to one of the geldings.
“He was her protector, actually,” Virginia Curran said. “We were using him sometimes when we were trying to teach them to walk down to the paddocks. They would follow him. We would walk him, he would stand and wait and then they would follow, and then we would bring him back up.”
The young horses saw how the older horses acted and absorbed some things.
“I really just thought putting young horses in with these geldings, it was going to be a disaster, but it ended up that once we wean them, about four hours later they’re comfortable in the stall,” James Curran said. “Whereas when we had them down (in the other barn), it would take a couple of days. They have a sense of fitting in. They’re herd animals.”
Ginellen Racing, which uses Pat Kelly as its trainer, has had seven starters this year, compiling one win, four seconds and $102,500 in earnings. The top earner has been 3-year-old filly Wadadli Princess — Wadadli is the name of an Antiguan beer — with a second in a maiden race, her maiden win on Feb. 3 and two seconds in state-bred 3-year-old-filly stakes. She’s being aimed for another state-bred stakes, the 7-furlong Bouwerie, on Memorial Day (May 27).
Then there’s Big Paddy Brown, who has one second, one fourth and too much cleverness to his credit. Before he went to the racetrack, he would unlatch his stall and be waiting for Virginia Curran in the mornings.
“Every day he’d be standing, watching the two fillies and he wouldn’t run anywhere,” Virginia Curran said. “Like, ‘I’m guarding my ladies.’ The first time I thought someone’s messing with us. Did we miss somebody coming up here, you know? Then we put a second latch on.”
The Currans told Kelly about Big Paddy Brown’s reputation. Jim Curran said apparently Kelly gave him a disbelieving look.
“Well, the first day the horse is there,” James Curran said, “Pat comes walking out of his office and he’s standing right there looking at Pat — he’d let himself out of the stall. Then he had to put a screen up (to prevent it).”
“But he believed us,” Virginia added.
They also have a 2-year-old filly that has been at the racetrack since March 1, so they are hopeful she’ll have her first race by the end of the Belmont spring/summer meet.
So until the next races, the Currans will enjoy the solitude of their farm, with the north portion of Vermont’s Taconic Mountain range serving as a backdrop to the east.
“There’s no traffic back here, there’s no noise,” James Curran said. “We used to have two of the mares out here with the foals, and the deer would be up at the fence with the foals.”