Wednesday, April 23, 2003 | 8:29 a.m.
Five hours before Wayne Newton appears onstage at the Stardust, he's cradling a 2-day-old Arabian colt and posing for a photographer while the foal's mother calmly watches the proceedings from a distance, not the least bit perturbed.
The two are reunited in time to join five other foals and mares in a grass pasture flanked by white fences and shady trees. Newton is just warming up. He next grabs the lead rope to the glistening stallion, WN Ibn Ali, who is prancing and snorting, clearly intent on impressing two mares in an adjacent paddock.
A few words from Newton and the stallion stands motionless, neck perfectly arched, all attention fixed on his owner. Not in Kentucky, this 52-acre ranch and home to Wayne Newton's Aramus Arabians is about 20 minutes barn-door-to-stage-door from the Strip.
For decades Newton has been a Las Vegas entertainment icon. Yet for 37 of those years Mr. Las Vegas has also been an award-winning Arabian horse breeder whose bloodstock can be found from Denmark to Australia.
Newton was honored with the Breeder of the Year Award in 1996, a coveted prize given by the Arabian Professional and Amateur Horseman's Association (APAHA). His farm has produced national champions in halter and performance in a variety of divisions.
Internationally, Newton-bred Arabians have won national championships in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Australia, South Africa and Brazil including the 2002 Brazilian National Champion Mare, WN Fawn Obsession. (Brazil is highly regarded for Arabian horses.)
"My two loves in life, from the time I can remember, were music and horses, and I couldn't decide which I loved more," Newton said, adding with laughter, "I can tell you which afforded the other."
At last count, Newton had 85 Arabians at the ranch itself, known as Casa de Shenandoah. Four more mares are due to foal this month (the spring foals to date include four boys and two girls).
Newton's fascination with horses began early, instigated by an uncle with a farm and horses in his home state of Virginia.
"I would beg my parents to take me to his farm," recalled Newton, who recently turned 61. "The first place that I'd head would be the barn, because I was sure there was a pony for me. There never was."
In sixth grade, the budding horseman simply took matters into his own hands, selling his bicycle and his parents' movie camera to buy a foal he'd found at a stable.
"Then, I had to explain to my parents not only had I taken their movie camera, but I now had something else that we had to feed," Newton said, laughing. "So that was my first horse."
Before plunging into Arabians, Newton raised thoroughbreds and quarter horses for a time. Then came Aramus, the namesake for which Wayne Newton's Aramus Arabians was founded.
"Aramus was the horse that got it all started for me," Newton recalled. "He was the horse that I just fell in love with, and he won more national championships than any horse in the history of the breed."
Many of the bloodlines still prevalent in Newton's herd can be traced to Aramus, a stallion imported from Poland, in addition to Spanish and Egyptian lines of Arabians used in the program now.
"I make all the decisions as to who's bred to whom, which ones are shown, which ones are kept," Newton said. "I try and at least do something every year for the 4H, 'cause the one thing that I breed into our herd deliberately, and without reservation, is temperament." (Incidentally, all Wayne Newton-bred Arabians can be identified by the "WN" all carry in their registered names.)
This time of year, the height of foaling season, Newton's work begins after he returns home from his six-night-a-week engagement at the Stardust.
"At this ranch, we have foaled to date about 620 babies," he explained. "I do most of the foaling myself."
Newton religiously stops by the barn each night he's in town, and the arrival of foaling season adds another dimension to those visits. The foaling barn, with its oversized stalls for pregnant mares, includes a special foaling stall that serves as the delivery room for generations of Newton's Arabians.
"It's amazing, particularly the maiden mares that are having their first babies," Newton said. "You bring them in that foaling stall and they settle right down. They don't necessarily know why, I don't think, but it's the fact that they were born there and their mothers were born here."
Among miracles witnessed in the foaling stall, Newton recalls one mare who apparently refused to have her foal while he was on the road. She was nearly a month overdue, uncomfortable and grouchy when he returned.
"When I got home, I went straight to the barn," Newton recalled. He convinced his wife, Kathleen, to sit in a corner of the foaling stall with him and wait.
"The mare came over and she nuzzled around my face and around my ear and went over and laid down and had her baby."
Typically, foaling is a family affair in the Newton household. Fernando Poli, manager and head trainer for Aramus Arabians, who also lives on the ranch with his wife, Renate (both natives of Brazil), describes the ritual.
"A night-watch person and camera in the stall ensures observation around the clock. If the baby comes, they call the main house, call my house, and we all run here," Poli said.
Normally, bets are taken -- is it a boy or a girl?
"If I'm not home, of course, my people are also trained to do the foaling," Newton notes.
From Day One, foal imprinting is used to establish a bond of trust with Newton's Arabians, which is immediately apparent in behavior.
"Here's a perfect example of it. He will get in your pocket if you let him," Newton said as the gregarious WN Fast Lane (not yet 2 weeks old) shows more interest in nearby humans than in his dam (mother).
The foals' early education includes everything from being groomed, wearing a halter and being led to becoming accustomed to horse trailers or even having their hooves trimmed.
"They don't get scared," Poli explained. "Everything you do to them is new and as soon as you do it nice, they understand and accept it."
Newton, who has performed live for more than 30 million people (at last count), remarked, "They're more than just horses, they're special souls. No matter what goes on at the club, or what goes on in town, or in my career, or anything that happens to one in life, the one place I always found solace was my horses."
Newton paused, then continued, "They have just been such an inspiration to me."
Newton's horse-breeding operation also has opened doors. When his late father, Patrick, was in need of a medical specialist, Newton contacted a renowned international heart surgeon halfway across the country, whom he'd never met, in hope the doctor would take his father on as a patient.
The physician immediately agreed. Newton later learned the doctor did so not because he was a noted entertainer, but because a horse trainer for a royal family overseas (the doctor was treating a member of the family) had said, "Some guy by the name of Wayne Newton raises the best Arabian horses in the United States."
Said Newton: "You never know how far-reaching something like that becomes when people have a love for animals and horses. Here, worlds apart, my father needs an operation and the best doctor in the world to do it, luckily, is a horse owner."
About 20 people are involved in the care of the 85 Arabians at Casa de Shenandoah.
"The upkeep is substantial," Newton acknowledged. "But we do a great deal of our own care that would ordinarily cost us a lot of money. For example, we ultrasound our own horses."
In terms of feeding a herd like Newton's, Poli remarked, "We buy hay by the ton."
Make that approximately 28 tons every 70 to 80 days, at a going rate of approximately $165 a ton.
Meanwhile the finishing touches continue on a new 37-stall barn at the ranch, complete with office, tack and laundry rooms, grooming stalls, feed rooms and wash racks with hot and cold water.
Landscaping is also in process.
"We're going to have a waterfall, we're going to have a stream," Poli said. "There are going to be fields, grass and paddocks for the horses. Even a hill of organic dirt."
Walter Mishek, publisher of The Arabian Horse Times magazine and longtime Newton acquaintance, remarked, "Wayne has always been well-known as an ambassador of the Arabian breed."
Even more importantly from a breed standpoint, Mishek notes, is Newton's ability to produce Arabians of a caliber that have won both national and international titles across professional, amateur and youth ranks.
"He's a person who's been devoted to the progress of the Arabian horse worldwide," Mishek said, citing Newton's devotion and passion for the love, history and romance of this special breed.
"Whether onstage or at home on his ranch, Wayne touches your heart," Mishek said. "Wayne never cheats you on a show or a horse. You'll always get more than your money's worth."