Thursday, August 13, 2009

Danny is our hero and the Sheikh rocks at the horse sales.

He keeps Spa park in bloom
Gardener at Saratoga Spa State Park has been putting his touch on park's entrance

By LEIGH HORNBECK, Staff writer
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First published: Thursday, August 13, 2009

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Dan Urkevich, the gardener at the Saratoga Spa State Park, first turned a barren entrance to the park into a bountiful garden in 2000.
Under Urkevich's fastidious care, the beds to the left and right of the Route 9 entrance to the Avenue of the Pines have tripled in size since then.

"I look for tall, eye-catching plants you can see from the road," said the 50-year-old Mechanicville native who works for the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Urkevich says he chooses low-maintenance, invasive plants that will spread on their own for the garden, which contains about 70 percent perennials and 30 percent annuals.

You won't see Geraniums or many Petunias in Urkevich's beds because the old blooms on those plants must be pinched off in order for new flowers to bloom. Instead, the flower beds next to the avenue are filled with such specimens as bright yellow Heliopsis, lavender joe pye weed, tall purple Cleome and Veronica flowers, and the huge green leaves of elephant ear plants.

Urkevich works with Sunnyside Gardens in Saratoga Springs to try new things and grow bigger-than-average annuals, like the Salvia and Impatiens that line the road-side border of the beds. He also brings plants from home, including barrel-sized thickets of iris. Although the state park employs seasonal workers who cut the grass, Urkevich mows the grass around the beds himself.

Over years of gardening both at work and at home, he's learned what plants work best -- the ornamental grasses are pretty even in the fall as they change colors; the red bee balm has a stronger stem than the pink variation, so it will stand up to wind and rain; sedum, which looks like broccoli now, will turn pink in the fall -- hence the name of the variation Urkevich chose, "autumn joy."

Although Urkevich maintains a garden at home, much of his energy is channeled into the upkeep of the beds at the state park. He also plants beds in the medians on Route 9 near the park entrances, around toll booths in the park and at the Victoria Pool. In the winter he plows and does other maintenance work around the park.

The gardens draw visitors other than human admirers: honey bees, butterflies and finches. Urkevich also fights four-legged intruders such as woodchucks, chipmunks and voles that feast in the gardens. Voles destroyed the sunflowers this year, Urkevich said. However, he's humane toward the critters: the woodchucks he traps in cages and relocates to other parts of the state park.

The heavy rains this summer took a toll on the gardens, pushing apart flower stalks and driving holes in hosta leaves. But only the gardener's careful eye picks out the damage. For the passerby, the view is a bright welcome to the southern end of Saratoga Springs.

Leigh Hornbeck can be reached at 454-5352 or by e-mail at

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Royalty reigns at sales
Sheik leads buyers at Fasig-Tipton with $11.9M

By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
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First published: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Chuck Simon found himself shopping yearlings Tuesday next to one of the wealthiest men in the world, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The horse trainer from Saratoga Springs and his wife, Paula, stood in a freshly framed, new outdoor pavilion about five feet from the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates/ruler of Dubai during the final night of the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings auction.

Both men admired the animals on their way to the auction block. Both were looking for strong bloodlines. Only one was definitely buying. Only Sheikh Mohammed spent $2.8 million, the auction's highest price, on a single horse Tuesday, bringing his total for the two-day event to nearly $12 million spent.

"We don't usually play at this level," Simon acknowledged.

No buyers this year were on the level of Sheikh Mohammed, who made his first visit to the city in more than decade to shop horses and inspect his 106-acre Greentree Training Center horse farm at 36 Nelson Ave.

The "CEO of Dubai Inc." is a big horse buyer and breeder with an estimated worth of more than $12 billion, according to He bought Greentree two years ago for $17.5 million, and many believe he's the force behind a Dubai company's purchase of Fasig-Tipton, a Kentucky-based horse auction company, last year.

Millions in renovations were made to the East Avenue facility, with more to come. The work seemed to please His Highness. After scoping the main pavilion's art offerings, he walked through hundreds of people in the property's backyard with several bodyguards and his bloodstock agent, John Ferguson, stopping to sign autographs. Asked by a reporter how he liked Saratoga, the sheik said, "very much" and gave a thumbs-up sign. He later returned and said, "I love it here."

Ferguson on Tuesday purchased six yearlings for nearly $6.4 million, including $2.8 million for a colt sired by Storm Cat named On A Storm. Those purchases came after Ferguson bought six horses for $5.5 million on Monday, including all three yearlings that sold for more than $1 million that night.

Fasig-Tipton employees said Sheikh Mohammed's purchases helped boost this year's auction totals well above last year's. Figures were up in all categories.

The average price paid for a yearling at this year's sale was $328,434, compared with $295,738 last year. The sale generated more than $52 million in total sales vs. $36 million in 2008. A total of 160 horses sold and 45 did not, compared with 122 and 42 last year.

Dennis Yusko can be reached at 454-5353 or

2009 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearlings Sale

Number of horses that went on the block: 160

Total amount sold: $52,549,500

Number that didn't sell: 45

Average sale: $328,434

Top dollar horse: $2.8 million

Horses sold for more than $1 million: 4

Source: Fasig-Tipton

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