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Remembering my first trip to the Bluegrass State
Above: Secretariat at age 7, at Claiborne Farm in 1977.
I first visited Kentucky in April 1977. At the time, my racing news came in the form of the Schenectady Gazette sports section and the Sunday New York Times. Remember when the Sunday Times used to run photos from Saturday’s first race at Belmont or Aqueduct? That’s how I came to know names like Sip Sip Sip.
This was before the days of e-mails and IMing, and, as such, I had no idea you could visit Kentucky farms until someone at the track mentioned it. Really? I could just send a letter and meet Secretariat?
I don’t remember sending out requests, but I do remember the responses – polite, affirmative replies on letterheads from magical places like Claiborne, Greentree, Darby Dan. My mom and I were soon on our way.
I’ll never forget how awed we were with the historical mansions and farms, the unbelievably rich green grass and, most of all, the horses – those famous horses, so many of whom I felt I knew through reading about them. Nashua wowed me the most. To me, he’d been a series of black-and-white photos, with Eddie Arcaro aboard in Woodward polka dots. In person, the 25-year-old stallion was absolutely smoldering. I had no idea at the time that the nice gentleman that brought Nashua out for this tourist was Clem Brooks.
We only shot a few rolls of film during the trip - perhaps 3? - and having to set the focus and exposure with a brand new camera was not fun. It’s hard to believe I snapped only two frames each of Nashua and Little Current.
But that doesn’t matter. The memories are more real to me than the photographs, and those memories have helped fuel my passion for the sport for all of these years.
Above: Top row - Foolish Pleasure (Greentree Stud), Kennedy Road (Spendthrift Farm), Hatchet Man (Greentree Stud). Second row - Stop the Music (Greentree Stud), Intrepid Hero (Spendthrift Farm), Drone (Claiborne Farm).
Foolish Pleasure was champion 2-year-old in 1974, won many stakes races, and he's in the Hall of Fame. Kennedy Road, a feisty stallion, was a champion in Canada four years in a row - champion 2yo (1970), champion 3yo, champion handicap horse in 1972, Horse of the Year in 1973. Hatchet Man (b. 1971) was a Grade I winning half-brother to Stop the Music.
Second row: Stop the Music, multiple stakes winner, half-brother of Hatchet Man, multiple track record setter, 'beat' Secretariat via DQ, successful and popular sire. Intrepid Hero, winner of the G1 United Nations Intl., at age 5. Drone, winner of all four of his starts, became a highly successful sire for Claiborne.
Above: High Echelon at Gainesway Farm. A multiple stakes winner, High Echelon won the 1970 Belmont Stakes.
Above: Tom Fool's gravestone at Greentree Stud. He died the year before our visit. The property is nowadays owned by Gainesway.
Above: Raise a Native at Spendthrift Farm at age 16. A brilliant racehorse - he set or equalled track records in three of his four starts - Raise a Native became one of history's greatest stallions.
Above: Clockwise from top left - Sir Wiggle, Empery, Cannonade and Mississipian, all at Gainesway Farm. Sir Wiggle, b. 1967, bred by Nelson Bunker Hunt and raced in the US, was out of a 13-time stakes winning Australian mare. Epsom Derby winner Empery, b. 1973, was raced in Europe and initially stood stud at Gainesway, before being sent to Japan at age 11. Cannonade, by Bold Bidder, is best known for winning the 100th Kentucky Derby (1974). Mississipian, bred by Nelson Bunker Hunt, was champion 2-year-old in France in 1973. He was sent to Japan for stud duties at age 11.
Above: Riva Ridge at Claiborne Farm at age 8. Of the Meadow Stable stars, he was my favorite.
Above: The beautiful Majestic Prince, first a record-priced yearling and then winner of 9 of 10 starts, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. At age 11 at Spendthrift Farm. Majestic Prince is now a Hall of Fame member.
Above: The kindly and undersized Gallant Man at Spendthrift Farm at age 23. Considered by many the greatest horse to never win a championship.
Above: Crimson Satan, champion 2-year-old of 1961 (age 18 in photo), and Master Derby, 1975 Preakness winner - both at Gainesway Farm.
Above: Bold Bidder at age 15 at Gaineway Farm. Bold Bidder, best known as the sire of Spectacular Bid, was co-champion male older horse in 1966. He looks like a sweetheart, doesn't he? Yet had a reputation for being very (very) difficult.
Above: The beloved Little Current at age 6 at Darby Dan Farm. Little Current won the 1974 Preakness and Belmont and was the champion 3-year-old colt. He was a sweetheart.
Above: Silent Screen (left), the champion 2-year-old colt of 1969, and Personality (right), champion 3-year-old colt of 1970 and Horse of the Year. I was told that the goat keeping company with Personality 'belonged' to Canonero II, but the goat preferred Personality's company.
Above: Hoist the Flag, a tough customer, at age 9 at Claiborne Farm. Hoist the Flag finished first in each of his starts (was DQed once) and was the favorite for the 1971 Kentucky Derby. He suffered severe leg fractures in his right hind leg following a pre-Derby workout, but he was saved for stud duty.
Above - Clockwise from top left: Four Gainesway stallions. Circle Home, stakes winner and full brother to Derby winner Cannonade, age 5. Canonero II, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner of 1971. Big Spruce, multiple Grade I winner and successful sire. Giacometti (IRE), 1971 stallion by Faberge.
Above: Creme dela Creme (above left and black-and-white), at age 14 at Spendthrift Farm's 'Nashua Motel.' He died very shortly after these photos were taken. Above right: Intrepid Hero, Spendthrift Farm, at age 5. The winner of the United Nations Invitational, Intrepid Hero died of a heart attack at age 8.
Above: Buckets at Spendthrift Farm. Not a bad roll call....
Above: Wajima at age 5 at Spendthrift Farm. Record-priced yearling ($600,000), champion 3-year-old (including four Grade I wins), world record syndication price ($7.2 million)...this stallion had it all. No wonder he was so relaxed.
Above: Two of the best of Greentree Stud. Arts and Letters, left, 1969 Horse of the Year/champion 3-year-old colt/champion handicap horse. Stage Door Johnny, right, 1968 Belmont Stakes winner and champion 3-year-old colt in TRA and Triangle polls.
Above: Domino's grave at Mt. Brilliant Farm, on Huffman Mill Pike near Man o' War's old farms, looks different nowadays. It was listed on the Lexington tourist map we used in 1977. It is still along the roadside, and visitors can still pull off the road to photograph it.
Above: The mighty Nashua at age 25 at Spendthrift's 'Nashua Motel.' Right, with caregiver and storyteller Clem Brooks. What a partnership.
I'm trying to find a picture of Master Derby, who was the 100th winner of the Preakness in 1975. Any ideas where I could find one?
My Dad never had a vacation, but while I was a child he took an extra day or two around Labor Day and took me each year to the horse farms. We lived just outside Washington DC so I had seen Nashua when he was at Belair Stud. I saw Citation, Tim Tam, Yorktown, and the wonderful trophy room. Ben Jones saddle from the Aga Khan. So many memories. I was at Calumet then and again when Forward Pass was born and again when Affirmed was moved to the paddock across from Alydar. I was there three days before he died. Stallion Station had Carry Back, Tomy Lee*, and several other fine horses. I could have had a parent that took me to Disney or Six Flags type places. I am so grateful to have seen a world at its peak that may never be seen again. We would sit and eat our sandwichs sitting under Man O War when his statue was at the side of the road before the Horse Park.
I love these pictures. I saved them in my email months ago and when I miss Lexington, I look at them. I worked on a farm near Midway, Ky, broodmares and babies, commercial operation and spent time going to the breeding shed with mares too. I got to see Cozzene in his last season at stud, he died soon after, Tiznow, Bluegrass Cat, and many more studs. It had been a lifelong dream of mine to work there in the heart of Thoroughbreds and bluegrass. Thanks for the pics.
These pitures of Hoist The Flag are lovely :) My Mares paternal Grandsire is Alleged so its amazing to see the history she has! i didnt realise untill i did some digging just how amazing her background is! Is Hoist The Flag still alive or not? Well thank you for these pictures :) < Hi Olivia, Thanks so much for your note and interest. I'm afraid Hoist the Flag died many years ago at Claiborne Farm - one online site mentions 1980, which would have meant he was 12. He was buried at the farm. Your mare definitely has some wonderful parentage! - Barbara >
Barbara, Thank you for sharing your memories and pictures of these magnificent thoroughbreds. I have not seen any of them in the flesh. I came to racing late in life. I'm just filled with deep gratitude. It was just so great to see color pictures of them. I have read about many of them, but your pictures are head and shoulders over anything I have seen and in living color. Your pictures and books have a quality that many don't possess. I don't recall seeing a picture of Drone and there he was! Riva Ridge looked a little underweight, or not well. It is like looking at a review of Whose Who of the racing world. Secretariat has always been my favorite, ever since I saw him on TV - I had never seen such magnificence and power. I loved horses as a kid and some years ago found life boring. So, I returned to my first love - horses. As I lived in NY, NY I found my way to Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga with camera in hand. But now, I have seen beautiful pictures of the history makers! Thank you so very much. NancyP
Dear Barbara: You brought back so many memories. I remember all of those beautiful horses and your photos are wonderful. Thank you so much.
My favorite picture bar none is the feed buckets!
What a treat to see these photos, Barbara! It must have been such a tremendous thrill to see all these horses on your first trip to Kentucky. Your DRF blog is so wonderful to read- I check in regularly and share it with all my friends!
This article brought back some good memories. We did the same thing in 1974,75 and 76 while at the Derby. mm
Would love to see a picture of my favorite bad boy, Rivalero, if it was wet, he was double tough!! very ironic since his Daddy ,Riva Ridge, hated the wet -