Member of the Month
Robert Evans knows a thing or two about building dynasties. His father, Thomas M. Evans, and late brother, Ned, were successful owners and breeders, but Robert has matched his family members’ accomplishments. Owner of 2014 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Tonalist, a finalist for last year’s champion older male Eclipse Award, Evans also bred stakes winner Unitarian in 2015 (a grade II winner in 2014) to remain on top of the equine game.
Evans Sr. brought his entire family into the industry fifty years ago. “Well, my father decided to get in the business in, I don’t know, 1964,” Evans recalled. “He had a farm in Virginia raising cattle, and he thought horses would be more interesting. And he asked my brother Ned to learn about it with him and…I got interested at the same time.”
In 1965, Robert, who resides in Greenwich, Connecticut, and Ned bought their first horse together, and it’s been trips to the winner’s circle ever since. The brothers were friendly rivals before Ned passed away in 2010. Evans recalled, “There’s plenty of competition out there for horses in any race. No, I think we cheered for each other.”
As non-executive chairman of Crane Co., an industrial manufacturing company, Evans keeps his business acumen sharp. And as the breeder of innumerable quality horses and owner of a classic winner, he keeps his equine expertise honed. His highlights, of course, include Tonalist, who proved himself one of the most talented runners of his generation. Evans purchased Tonalist privately after the colt failed to meet a $195,000 reserve at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale.
“I actually liked his walk,” Evans remembered. “I thought he was correct. I thought he had a great walk and I thought had a great temperament, and Cathy Sweezey [who prepped the colt at her Timber Town Stable] pointed it out to me and also was a big advocate of his, saying he was one of the best horses she’d ever been around, and she’d really raised him.”
It didn’t hurt that Tonalist was by top sire Tapit and out of a mare by Pleasant Colony, a champion who raced as a homebred for Evans’s father. When Evans viewed Tonalist at the sale, he noticed that the colt sprawled out in his stall after each time he was shown, which reminded Evans of the way Pleasant Colony acted the night before his 1981 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) win.
In addition to his classic triumph, Tonalist took back-to-back editions of the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) in 2014 and 2015; he closed out last year with a victory in the Cigar Mile (gr. I). In 2016, Tonalist, who earned $3,647,000 in his career, will stand his first season at stud at Lane’s End Farm for $40,000.
Tonalist kept Evans cheering in the stands. Evans said, “He’s just a very good horse and it’s exciting to have a horse like that. We think he might’ve been the best, but he didn’t have the best luck in some of his races, and we certainly accomplished a lot anyway.”
Evans currently owns about 100 horses total and 40 broodmares. “I have a lot of Pleasant Colony in my whole broodmare band. Obviously, Tonalist has some,” he said. He plans to “breed quite a few of them to Tonalist and probably sell them next fall,” after which he aims for a slimmer broodmare band of 15 to 20. Many of those mares are boarded at his Courtland Farm in Easton, Maryland.
One of Courtland’s former residents was Evans’s homebred 2000 Broodmare of the Year, Shared Interest. He reminisced, “I was very close to her. I was very fond of her. I was very sad when she died. She’s buried at the farm.” A grade I winner, Shared Interest—by Pleasant Colony, of course—produced her weight in gold. From her, Evans bred 1999 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) winner Cash Run, whom he sold as a yearling for $1.2 million, and Forestry, who went under the hammer for $1.5 million as a yearling and captured the King’s Bishop (gr. I), also in 1999. Forestry went on to become an influential stallion, siring 2011 Preakness (gr. I) winner Shackleford, among others.
Last fall, he purchased a $1 million War Front filly at Keeneland September that hails from the family of blue hen Courtly Dee. “After 51 years, I ought to be able to recognize some of the significant broodmares,” Evans quipped. Specifically, “you look for good relatives and a good female family” in horses. The aim—to have “no mud in that pedigree”—has truly paid off.
Congratulations to Robert Shel Evans, TOBA’s February member of the month!