The Sugar Plum Farm story is rich with “a little health, a little history and a lot of horses.”
The distinctive spread at 96 Gilbert Road was once the site of Saratoga’s oldest brothel, which enhanced the colorful nightlife of the infamous casinos by Saratoga Lake, now all gone.
Ironically, the land was later owned by a New York State trooper, Raymond Kuchesky, who signed a contract to sell the property to the city of Saratoga Springs as an Open Space Program site, protecting it from development. When that plan stalled, Robin and Anthony “Tony” Malatino, who had saved Saratoga Spring Water Co. from extinction some years earlier, entered the picture. They proposed open space of another variety: a horse farm. At the end of 2004, the city released the retired trooper from his contract, and the following year, the couple bought the 76 acres that would become Sugar Plum Farm.
The Malatinos’ background is in wealth management and investment — Tony has more than 40 years in the business, having opened the second Capital District office of the merged investment giants Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, Discover & Co. in 1987. He and Robin manage Malatino & Associates at Morgan Stanley in Celebration, Fla., near Olrlando.
When Robin puts her mind to something, “it’s done,” Tony said. Their first endeavor together outside the investment industry was the acquisition of the Saratoga Spring Water Co. A “local boy” from Albany, Tony said he grew up drinking Saratoga spring water. A graduate of Phillip Schuyler High School and Siena College, he worked as a groom at the Saratoga Harness Track while a young man. When he heard that Evian was closing Saratoga’s century-old water company in 1992, he was appalled and called Robin, who was living in New York City. “Her 91 pounds of power and ‘can do’ immediately sprung into action. ‘Get me a meeting with Evian,’” she said, coming up to Saratoga and calling out the French company for ruining its only competition. The rest is “herstory.” The company was saved and all the workers brought back. During their tenure, it was Robin who introduced the brand’s distinctive blue bottle.
They’ve since sold the company, but the iconic blue bottle remains Saratoga Water’s flagship.
Their love for their animals is palpable. Tony has been a longtime horseracing enthusiast. In 1988, he bought his first Thoroughbred as part of a group of investors, a yearling named “WellWellWell,” for $22,000. The chestnut gelding’s winnings allowed Tony to buy out his partners for $19,000 and purchase a few more horses.
In 2002, after Robin read the book Seabiscuit, a gift from her husband, they attended the Fasig-Tipton sales in Saratoga, where she noticed a horse laying down in a stall. Robin remembered Seabiscuit liked to sleep laying down. Serendipitously, she caught the hip number on the horse and kept exclaiming to her husband, “Hip No. 007, Hip No. 007.” That night they purchased Hip No. 007 — a filly by Lemon Drop, out of Ionian Bride — Robin’s first Thoroughbred. Working from the sire name, she named her filly Sugar Plum Girl.
When Robin told Tony she wanted a farm in New York, he replied, “Find something in the city of Saratoga, and I’ll get it.” She did, to his surprise. The expansive property on Gilbert and Meadowbrook roads was within city limits. They owned 19 Thoroughbreds when Sugar Plum Farm was launched. The 19th century mansion, and former bordello, was razed in 2011, and nearly 80 flat acres were cleared to accommodate “the best little horse farm this side of Kentucky.”
No detail was overlooked or spared, with not one devil left in the details. The overall aesthetic of the layout is exquisite, boasting two glistening ponds upon approach, with expanses of luscious lawn surrounding the adjacent house. A circular driveway leads to the attached three-car garage, or to the arched, double-hung wooden and leaded-glass front doors. Seasonal flowers, planted by Tony, encircle the center, creating a courtyard effect.
The house, completed in 2015, was designed by Robin, who routinely works with architects and builders on estate homes in Florida. Tony said the “lodge effect” was achieved by the specially hewn, then stained, 12-inch boards brought in from Oregon. Ashlar masonry adorns the remainder of the structure, hewn and artistically designed in several patterns. These design elements are repeated in all buildings on the property, including the barns and workers’ quarters, creating a sublime continuity.
Perky goats named Thelma and Louise have a quaint log house with a nightlight and front and rear doors; it turns out that goats have a calming effect on horses. There are two receiving barns — one with five stalls, and a newly built one with six.
The impressive main barn is between the staff area and the main house. Lovingly referred to as the “Taj Ma Barn” by some, it is fit for royalty. The custom wood interior is flawless; the interior masonry and the 16-foot alley, spotless; every stall, immaculate. The towering center cupola contains a high-powered ventilation unit, with windows that shower abundant natural light. While touring the facility, Tony stressed the importance of every detail — all in consideration for the well-being, comfort and safety of its precious inhabitants. Every stall is half-open at one end and has out-facing doors to the alley in case of an emergency. There are no wooden doors or floors in the stalls. Rubber floor and wall mats ensure safety and comfort should the horses kick. Fans provide cross-ventilation in the summer; the mares and foals prefer cool temperatures and need to grow a thick coat in winter, but the barn has heaters, if needed.
Feed consists of the highest quality grains and alfalfa and is kept in a temperature-controlled room in the barn. Every year, the stallion shed opens on Feb. 15 with the promise of great progeny. The winter months are an important time in the life cycle, and the horses maintain their outdoor exercise and routine.
Tony repeatedly stressed, “Everything for the well-being of the horses” as we toured the property. Horses are tended 24 hours a day. Every stall is equipped with cameras that connect to the house in Saratoga and their Florida residence. The farm manager and Tony both check the camera relays every night.
At the time of our visit, their “Sire on Fire” stallion, War Dancer — who is marketed as “America’s Most Eligible Stud” — was at Rockridge Stud Farm in Hudson, having spent an eventful racing season in Saratoga. (An open house for breeders and owners was held in August, and the National Museum of Racing hosted a tour of the farm in October.) “Breeding with the Stars,” a campaign created by Robin to attract out-of-state mares to New York’s breeding program, was a resounding success. Holy Smokie by Holy Bull was chosen and brought, in foal, to New York as the first mare to be bred by Sugar Plum Farm, where she gave birth to a foal by Fast Anna.
As the winter wind flies, mares and foals will find cozy quarters and lots of love at the Malatinos’ farm in Saratoga Springs, “the city in the country.”
Johnnie Roberts is a fifth-generation Saratogian with a deep appreciation for aesthetics, philosophy and the arts.