Bill Ryan, an attorney from Albany, New York, was so impressed with Darby Dan Farm during a trip to Lexington a few years ago that he wrote owner John Phillips a letter.
He didn't expect a reply, but he got one and a piece of a horse, too.
It all transpired a few years ago when Ryan and his wife Betsy made the trip to Kentucky for the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course. Before heading to the races for the day the two visited Claiborne Farm. During a tour of the famous Paris-based nursery, Ryan realized he left a crucial item for a day at the races back at the hotel.
"I cannot go to a racetrack without binoculars," Ryan said at the time.
When they left the farm it involved a hurried side trip back to the hotel for the binoculars. One obstacle down.
Another hurdle arose on the way to Keeneland - traffic. One car after another after another on the way to the racetrack.
The Ryans were eventually diverted along a different route to Keeneland, one that goes along Old Frankfort Pike and into the back entrance.
"We drove by a lot of beautiful farms and one of them was Darby Dan," Ryan said earlier this summer at Saratoga, remembering the drive well. "I had always been a fan of Darby Dan because I remember Little Current, Plenty Of Grace. And I studied their bloodlines."
Later, after the races, Ryan pulled out a pen and paper and wrote his letter to Phillips.
The letter led to a two-hour phone conversation and eventually Ryan and Phillips met when the latter made a one of his regular trips to Saratoga Springs that August.
"He's a man of letters," Ryan said. "He's very intelligent and respectful. I'm honored to be part owner with him."
The ownership Ryan spoke of was in the 2-year-old colt Manitoulin, who is entered to make his career debut Sunday at Aqueduct. A son of Awesome Again out of the late champion and inaugural Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Soaring Softly, Manitoulin is trained by Jimmy Toner.
He's entered in the sixth race, a $60,000 maiden special weight at 1 mile, for Darby Dan Farm Racing. Phillips owns half the colt and Ryan is part of a group that owns the other half.
Manitoulin is an island in Lake Huron. The word itself is Native American and translates to "home of the spirit" and Ryan said the Phillips family landed on the name Thanksgiving Day 2014.
Ryan had plenty to be thankful one Thursday morning this past August as he brought his wife and daughter to the barn to see how his boy was doing. Before Manitoulin trained Ryan chatted with Toner as he watched a set on the main track that included De La Rose Stakes winner Recepta.
"He's a very impressive gentlemen who cares about the horses," Ryan said of Toner. "He's patient, and that's what I like."
Ryan watched Manitoulin train from the rail not far from Toner's string in Barn 20 on the Saratoga backstretch that August morning, binoculars in hand and pleased with what he saw. He was excited at the prospects of Manitoulin making it to the races and carrying the Darby Dan Farm Racing colors. He hopes one day to own a filly with the pedigree and talent to run long on the grass, but for now he's enjoying the ride with Manitoulin.
And he won't need to be there in spirit when he runs at Aqueduct. He'll be there to see it for himself.
Equibase entries for Sunday's sixth race at Aqueduct.