Owner-breeder Frank Stella Dies at 87

Monday, May 6th, 2024

By Reg Lansberry

Frank Stella, an artist of the postwar era whose seminal talent encompassed multiple genres, propelling him to worldwide prominence for more than six decades, and which was abetted by a passion for thoroughbred racing and breeding, died at his home in the West Village of Manhattan on May 4. He was 87.

Stella’s modest racing and breeding operation at his 120-acre Delehanty Stock Farm, located in Dutchess County near Amenia, New York, produced a slew of accomplished New York-breds over several decades. His finest was multiple graded stakes winner Perfect Arc, a daughter of stallion Brown Arc, by the immortal Alleged, who captured the 1977 and 1978 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Stella bred, raced and co-owned the filly with the late Paul K. Sorren (Brazil Stable). Out of the Argentine mare Podeica (Petronisi-Indian Order, by Ovid), who won the 1987 Polla de Potrancas (Arg-G1) (Argentine One Thousand Guineas), defeating 1998 Racing Hall of Fame inductee Bayakoa (Arg), Podeica won at the allowance level in the U.S. before retiring due to injury.

Conceived and subsequently foaled at Delehanty on March 7, 1992, Perfect Arc was trained by Angel Penna Jr. Competing from age two through four, at three she was a perfect 7-for-7, all on turf. With Hall of Fame rider John Velasquez in the irons, Perfect Arc won the 1995 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (G1) at Keeneland Race Course, leaving Auriette (Ire) in her wake by two lengths on good turf in 1:49 4/5. At season’s end, she was named 1995 New York-bred Horse of the Year, champion three-year-old filly and champion turf female. Her perfect turf season included triumphs in the Rare Perfume Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park and Diana Handicap (then-Grade 3) at Saratoga Race Course.

In an abbreviated 1996 campaign, Perfect Arc added two wins in four starts, all on grass. She won the Noble Damsel Handicap (G3) at Belmont Park and finished second to champion Possibly Perfect in the Beverly D. Stakes (G1) at Arlington International Race Course. At year’s end, Perfect Arc was named 1996 N.Y. champion female. She finished her career with 10 victories in 13 starts (six stakes wins) and purse earnings of $668,230.

Retired to Delehanty, Perfect Arc’s broodmare career produced three winners from seven runners, though nothing remotely approaching her class. She is granddam of 2013 foal Starship Jubilee (Indy Wind—Perfectly Wild, by Forest Wildcat), a Grade-1 winner with earnings topping $1.6 million. Named Canada’s 2019 Horse of the Year and three-time champion female from 2017-2019, her initial eight runners were all winners.

Other homebreds raced by Stella, each of whom were retired to his broodmare band, were Southern Tradition ($379,125), Very True ($329,452), Island Sun ($316,804), and Fortunate Faith ($251,635), by Fortunate Prospect.

Stella was breeder of record for Fortunate Faith’s 2005 foal, Z Fortune, by Siphon (BRZ), who captured the 2008 Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds Race Track. Sold to Big Apple Racing for $80,000 out of the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July Yearling Sale by Eaton Sales, agent, Z Fortune was trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen for Zayat Stable (who would realize Triple Crown glory in 2015 with American Pharoah). At odds of 19.20-to-1 with Robby Albarado aboard, the multiple graded stakes-placed runner finished 10th to Big Brown in the 2008 Kentucky Derby (G1). His stablemate, Z Humor, finished 14th at odds of 63.60-to-1.

Z Fortune raced from age two through five (15-3-2-2) and amassed $432,942 in prize money.

Smitten by the racing bug in the early 1970s during a visit with Sorren to Hollywood Park, fully in keeping with the history of the turf, Stella was resolutely dedicated to breeding and racing on that surface. For that reason, his association with trainer Christophe Clement over the past dozen or so years proved ideal for both.

“Mr. Stella was a great owner and a very simple man. You would never have known that he was this great artist,” Clement said. “In fact, he and my wife shared the same birthday (May 12)! He never put any pressure on his trainer and always put the horse first.”

Delehanty’s newest foal, a colt by the Street Sense stallion Maxfield, out of Tent City, by Desert Party, was foaled on Derby Eve according to farm manager Jim Cassidy, who worked for Stella for nearly 50 years.

In 2009, Stella was among ten recipients of the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony. His renown through the decades and work exhibited in galleries and museums around the globe as well as in private collections aside, however, Stella relished the inherent challenge of studying pedigrees, planning matings for his mares, and naming foals. As he noted in a 1999 interview, despite the vagaries of commercial success and “fashionable opinions” about what constitutes art, he never wearied of the adrenaline-fueled rush unique to the Sport of Kings. He also appreciated that racing’s finish line provides the ultimate arbiter of success.

After saying there is “no level of success in the art world that can compare with success in racing,” Stella added, “There’s a kind of refreshing directness to the finish line, which I like. You don’t have that in the art world.”

Survivors include his wife, Dr. Harriet McGurk, their sons Patrick and Peter, three children from prior relationships, and five grandchildren. As of press time, funeral arrangements had not been announced.

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