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Loblolly's bad luck.

Celebrated Anthony Stable, Amid Big Year With $2.7 Million in Earnings, Shaken by Prairie Bayou's Death at Belmont

THE TRAGIC DEATH OF Prairie Bayou in the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel in the Triple Crown series, cast a pall on an otherwise exhilarating horse racing season for Arkansas' Loblolly Stable, which at the end of May had earnings of $2.7 million.

That compares with earnings of $2.1 million for all of last year for the John Ed Anthony-managed stable. Prairie Bayou had single-handedly earned Loblolly $1.4 million since 1992, coming in first or second in 10 of 12 career starts leading to the Belmont.

Coming into the spring racing season, Loblolly seemed like an invincible juggernaut destined to sweep the sport's pinnacle races.

But, as those races neared, the stable's leading horses faded, setting the stage for the emergence of an unlikely hero -- the consistent, come-from-behind gelding named Prairie Bayou.

"He wasn't supposed to be the star," says Chick Lang Jr., administrative director of Oaklawn Park and a follower of Loblolly's fortunes. "He was an over-achiever ... He worked himself up to where he was."

It was that scrappy, blue-collar quality that was so endearing. But Prairie Bayou's star was crossed. With one unpredictable, inexplicable misstep in the Belmont Stakes on June 5, he suffered a compound fracture of the lower left front leg and had to be euthanized by injection.

The tragedy shook the celebrated Loblolly Stable that had previously seemed almost certain to have a champion with longevity in Prairie Bayou. Because the horse was unable to breed, he was expected to race several more years.

"I heard someone say one time that racing is the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows, but when something like this happens, you begin to wonder, 'Are the highs high enough?'" says Mary Lynn Dudley of Little Rock, who co-owns Loblolly Stable with Anthony, her former husband, a multimillionaire timber baron in Hot Springs. "This was probably the worst single thing that we've ever had happen."

Double Whammy

The gelding's breakdown delivered Loblolly an emotional and economic double whammy. Not only did the tragedy extinguish a potentially lucrative racing career, but Prairie Bayou's inability to finish the Belmont cost his owners the $1 million Chrysler Triple Crown bonus.

Dudley and Anthony, who divorced in 1988 after nearly 28 years of marriage, would have automatically received the bonus as owners of the horse who had performed most successfully in the Triple Crown races.

With Prairie Bayou out, Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, fourth in the Preakness and seventh in the Belmont, picked up the bonus. Prairie Bayou was second to Sea Hero in the Kentucky Derby.

Prairie Bayou's owners carried what has been described as a modest insurance policy on him, but the amount has not been revealed.

Dudley acknowledges the bonus would have certainly helped to defray costs, as it did last year when it went to Loblolly's other Preakness winner, Pine Bluff.

"We made a profit last year purely and simply because we won the million-dollar bonus," she says. "This year we had a real good spring and we won a lot of races, but they weren't the $500,000 and $750,000 races, so this is going to hurt us.

"It's so incredibly expensive to keep these horses now -- the training is $75 to $100 a day per horse," says Dudley, noting that caretaking expenses of the stable's mares and foals also add up quickly. "And it's terrible when you think the business is so hard that you have to win a million-dollar bonus to break even."

Loblolly Stable, which takes its name from a pine tree, began humbly in 1971 when Dudley and Anthony bought three claiming horses from a friend.

"It was just all fun and games," Dudley says. "We did that for two or three years, just dealing in claiming horses. It was really more of a hobby. Finally, John Ed said, 'If we're going to do this, we need to do it the right way.'"

The couple began going to horse sales and buying higher-caliber horses. Among them were Cox's Ridge, Loblolly's break-through racehorse who won the 1978 Oaklawn Handicap, and Temperence Hill, Loblolly's first Triple Crown race winner. Temperence Hill won the 1980 Belmont Stakes and went on to receive the prestigious Eclipse Award as the top 3-year-old that year.

Interestingly, Cox's Ridge sired Prairie Bayou's father, Little Missouri.

Prairie Bayou's resiliency and his placid demeanor has been much eulogized, but his heritage also made him special, Dudley says.

The horse's mother, Whiffling, gave birth to Prairie Bayou as a first-time mare. "That's kind of unusual, and he came out of one of our own stallions, so he was special," Dudley says.

Breeding and Buying

Loblolly has developed into a stable that breeds and buys horses. The stable has a broodmare band of about 36 boarding in Kentucky. About 35 other horses are trained by Tom Bohannan at Belmont Park, and most of them are 2-year-olds being groomed with next year's Triple Crown races in mind. The stable makes a winter stop at Oaklawn.

Another change in the stable's operations is that a whole team helps Anthony and Dudley make buying decisions on horses. The team includes an equestrian-minded British painter who Dudley says is gifted at identifying physically sound horses because of her studies in painting the equine form.

Because Dudley and Anthony invested so much of themselves in developing Loblolly and learning the business "by trial and error," she says they were reluctant to dismantle it when they divorced. A major consideration in that decision was their three adult children -- two sons and a daughter who are all in their 20s and share their parents' enthusiasm for the sport.

"John Ed and I laughed one time and said, 'Well, maybe by the time our grandchildren are running Loblolly, it will be a respected, well-known racing stable.' So it's happened a lot sooner than we anticipated, but I think that's only because of the time and effort we've put into it," she says.

Dudley and Anthony have both remarried -- she to Robert Dudley, an Arkansas Supreme Court justice, and he to the former Isabel Burton of Hot Springs.

But the former spouses remain close business partners, talking by telephone regularly and conferring on all major decisions involving Loblolly. They share many duties related to running the stable, down to naming horses.

"I name all the fillies, and John Ed names all the colts," Dudley says.

Anthony has a well-known penchant for naming colts after often obscure places in Arkansas. His horses bear names of small towns, creeks, valleys and bluffs that have some personal correlation to him or his family history.

Dudley says the business relationship has been termed "bizarre" by some observers such as reporters, who often feel compelled to share their own bitter divorce experiences spontaneously for contrast.

The extended families have meshed well, she says, though she notes that socializing is mostly business-related.

"We are at the racetrack at the same time when we have a horse running, and it's very cordial. Someone asked, 'How do you deal with all of these new people who have become involved because you're both remarried?' ... I just said, 'I feel like we have a larger cheering section now.'"

The Timber Baron

Although Dudley is very much a partner in Loblolly Stable, it is John Ed Anthony who is most identifiable with the stable and who oversees its operations on a daily basis.

He manages to do this while supervising a timber empire that started with a single sawmill and some timberlands founded by his grandfather.

Anthony, who declined an interview for this article, took over the family business at the age of 22 after his father died. He had just graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville as the first in his family to do so.

He is president of Anthony Timberlands Inc. and its lumber manufacturing subsidiaries, which are located in southern Arkansas. The business has been reported to have annual sales of about $125 million and to employ at least 500 people.

He has a reputation as an efficient manager, shrewd businessman and hands-on horse owner.

"I've never been of the opinion that anyone will attend to your business as well as you will," Anthony was quoted as saying in the May 21 issue of Thoroughbred Times.

"I wouldn't hire someone to run our family's sawmills and then expect them to do it without any involvement on our part, and I certainly don't expect our advisers to run the horse business for us without our direct involvement.

"Certainly, I don't try to train the horses myself, and I don't try to be the veterinarian, but I do expect to set the goals for our program and then to check every day to see how we're moving toward them."

Tom Bohannan, Loblolly Stable's personal trainer, says Anthony is "a horseman, not just an owner."

Bohannan says Anthony is also a very results-oriented person and a thoughtful decision maker.

"He's a real smart man who doesn't make snap-judgment decisions," Bohannan says. "He weighs the pros and cons of every decision before he makes one, and he's a very smart manager and reads and understands the way other people think."

Dudley says her former husband is extremely industrious, enabling him to be a hands-on manager in both his businesses worlds, but she adds that in the past few years he has delegated more responsibilities in the lumber business to others, including the couple's two sons.

"He is a real hyperactive, dedicated, doesn't-waste-a-minute, never-stops-moving kind of man, so I think that he would find it very hard if he didn't have horse racing to do," she says.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Loblolly Stable in Arkansas
Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jun 14, 1993
Words:1629
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