By Lucas Marquardt
When Country House (Lookin at Lucky) was put up in the Kentucky Derby, it was not only a success story for Guinness McFadden’s Blackwood Stables, who raised the colt, but for McFadden’s family. Owner-breeder Joseph Shields, who passed away in October, was McFadden’s uncle. His aunt, Maury Shields, with whom he remains very close, celebrated alongside her nephew on Derby day. The TDN’s Lucas Marquardt sat down with McFadden to talk Country House, the Derby, his family ties, and how he got into horse racing.
LM: You didn’t start out working in horse racing.
GM: I was living in Reno, working construction, having a good time, skiing, snowboarding, whatever, and the housing market crashed and I was kind of looking for something to do, and Jerry thought the horse industry would be nice. So I had been to the track a bunch but I had never really worked with horses. I didn’t watch horse racing. Back then, we didn’t have satellite TV and there was no TVG I don’t think. It wasn’t an option in Potter Valley. We’d go on vacation every year starting in the early ’90s and we’d always collect in New York, and invariably we’d end up at Belmont on occasion or two. Anytime we were with Maury and Jerry in Long Island in the summer, Jerry was going to the barn every morning. I did Blackwood in 2012. I think we got our first horse on Valentine’s Day 2012. We had to do a lot of fence work. We built the race track. We built a couple barns. It’s progressed quite a bit since 2012, putting in a new road and just all the stuff that goes along with normal farm maintenance.
LM: How big is the farm now?
GM: It’s 325 acres. We’ve got two divisions. One layup division in Midway and then we’ve got the main farm in between Midway and Versailles.
LM: When did you first start breaking horses for your uncle?
GM: I think the first year we had yearlings for him was 2012. He would have been part of the first crop. He was a big supporter.
LM:. Was Bill (Mott) giving you a lot of early feedback on the horse?
GM: After Jerry passed, and we were going through all the legal paperwork, I knew something was up because Bill kept checking with the racing office about twice a week to see if our paperwork was in line. He did tip his cap a little bit from that standpoint. From the start, Bill had been telling me that this was a throwback type of horse. The type that you could run a big, tough horse, that would eat all its feed and was extremely sound and had a good mind was easy on himself in the stall. He just looked like that type of horse.
LM: When they put his number up, what was going through your head and what kind of emotions were you feeling?
GM: I didn’t really know what was going on when I first walked down on to the track. I didn’t even realize what was going until we looked up at the board, and, yeah that was a long wait. A couple minutes in I started to feel pretty anxious. I didn’t see what had happened live. It wasn’t until I started to see the replays on the board that I had actually saw what had happened because it was difficult to see live in the race.
LM: You were there with your aunt. What was her reaction?
GM: Everyone was back in the box, and I don’t think they had quite realized what was happening. They were packing up and getting ready to leave. I think my aunt was on her way out. We were trying to get out quickly and beat the rush. I think once everyone then realized what was happening, they stayed. Maury and I are really close. It was super. She was a celebrity now. I couldn’t have been happier for her. They have put so much time and effort into the game that it was just really rewarding to see that.
LM: Talk about in hindsight what it has meant to you personally and to Blackwood as an operation.
GM: It’s a life-altering event. I have got so many more new friends now all of a sudden. I’m the same guy but now my opinion matters. It’s kind of silly. For Blackwood, it’s the same thing. It’s huge. We’re not doing anything differently tomorrow than we did yesterday but now all of a sudden there is another newfound level of credibility because we’ve had a Derby winner come through here. We’ve had a bunch of stakes horses come off the farm but the Derby is different. I don’t think we could’ve done any of this without the team we have here at Blackwood. The team that (co-owner) Matt (Hogan) has assembled is fantastic. I don’t think it would be possible without all these folks, men and women who love these horses and just take such good care of them.