January 2019 Member of the Month: Ron Perry

Marley’s Freedom in the Winner’s Circle after the Ballerina Stakes

Ron Perry and wife Barbara Ranck-Perry are the TOBA January Members of the Month.

Chatting on the phone from Santa Anita Park, Ron Perry peppers his conversation with business metaphors and musical analogies. His enthusiasm speaks volumes of his esteem for those who choose to work with their Thoroughbreds and their Cicero Farms. Perry and wife Barbara Ranck-Perry rose to prominence in 2018 by racing two-time Eclipse Award finalist Marley’s Freedom.

“I look on this business as nothing but music on four legs,” Perry observed. On the recommendation of bloodstock agent Davant Latham, the Perrys attended the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling sale. They scooped up three fillies, whom they dubbed the “three little birds” after a Bob Marley song, to suit their stallion He Be Fire N Ice. The filly trio included a daughter of Blame, foaled and consigned by Joe Seitz’s Brookdale Sales, whom the Perrys bought for $35,000. She came to be known as Marley’s Freedom.

Named for an album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, Marley’s Freedom was bred in Kentucky by Jack Swain III. “We weren’t trying to buy a graded stake horse,” Perry recalled. “We didn’t quite have that in our heads.” At the time, the Perrys’ best runner was He Be Fire N Ice, a California-bred black-type winner who placed in two West Coast grade 2 turf races at five. The Perrys, who reside in San Diego, now stand the son of Unusual Heat–a second-crop stallion in 2019–at Ridgeley Farm near Hemet, California.

Perry recalled that He Be Fire N Ice “has this mind about him and he’s sane. He’s just an aggressive, athletic horse, that we always thought, had we been a better owner and put him in better situations…he should have been a graded-stakes winning horse.” Fire’s foals haven’t yielded much success yet, but the Perrys are enjoying the challenges involved in their own stallion. Ron noted, “But when you’re one-hundred percent of everything involved in that, it’s just kind of cool.”

After Barbara bred their first horse, Atticus Pomponius—named after Titus Pomponius Atticus, a wealthy Roman banker and writer, a member of the equestrian order—the Perrys decided to call their fledgling stable Cicero Farms. The historical Pomponius conducted extensive correspondence with the famed Roman orator Cicero, even funding some of the latter’s political campaigns. So, too, would the successes of their Atticus finance their future endeavors, the Perrys believed.

In anticipation of Atticus Pomponius’s successes, the Perrys decided to visit Churchill Downs for the 2008 Kentucky Derby (G1). In that race, they witnessed the tragic breakdown of Eight Belles, after which they vowed to attend every single one of their horses’ races—in case something ever happened. Eleven years later, Ron Perry can cite 238 races, at all of which the Cicero team has been in attendance. Usually, that means him and Barbara—or, on a handful of occasions with unavoidable commitments, either him or his wife. “Our weekends are lost,” Perry laughed.

After that Derby, the Perrys also swore not to return to Churchill until one of their horses brought them back there. This fall, Marley’s Freedom did so, finishing a good fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1). That came after a standout 2018 campaign, topped by a victory in the Ballerina Stakes (G1) at Saratoga and capped by a hard-fought triumph in the Go for Wand Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct. “After the Go for Wand at Aqueduct, [trainer] Bob [Baffert] wanted to give her a little bit of a walkabout and let her recover from the travel,” Perry said, as Marley’s Freedom had shipped coast to coast three times in four months.

But the hardy filly didn’t need much rest, he recalled: “In a week, week and half, she’s kicking down her stall, going, ‘Let me run.” Perry added, “She’s just resilient; nothing messes with her.” She is one of about half a dozen Cicero horses in training at Santa Anita; two are turned out, while seven newly-turned juveniles are being broken in Ocala, Florida, at Mayberry Farm.

While Barbara acts as racing manager, Perry said, “My job is to bring people to the track to root for our horse.” For the Ballerina, dozens of fans in the paddock donned Bob Marley shirts, one of which Perry wore under his dress shirt at that same race. The Go for Wand victory came at Aqueduct—located in Jamaica, Queens, which shares a name with Marley’s birthplace—and the filly is out of the Formal Gold mare Relaxing Green, whose name recalls Marley’s herb of choice. For 2019, they plan to stretch out Marley’s Freedom, hopefully around two turns, but he will enjoy every moment. If she manages to replicate her stellar 2018 form, perhaps Perry will arrange for Marley’s “Redemption Song” to be played as she prances to the winner’s circle.