05/03/2012 4:58PM

Calumet Farm changing hands

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Lexington's historic Calumet Farm has a new operator: Thoroughbred owner and breeder Brad Kelley.

The De Kwiatkowski Trust, which operates Calumet's owner, Kennelot Stables, announced late Thursday that it had entered a private purchase agreement with a new group, the Calumet Investment Group, to buy the famed farm. That group will lease the 798-acre farm to Kelley, who owns and bred Kentucky Derby contender Optimizer.

Calumet's sale price was $35,931,960, according to records filed May 3 with the Fayette County Clerk.

A sale to Kelley was widely rumored around the Bluegrass in the weeks leading up to the Derby.

Charles Middleton, trustee for the Calumet Investment Group, declined to identify the number or identities of any other members of the purchasing group, but he said the farm had been sold in its entirety and would not be developed. Kelley also owns Bluegrass Hall, the former Nelson Bunker Hunt property across Versailles Road from Calumet, and Hurricane Hall in Georgetown, Ky. He is reputed to be one of the nation's 10 largest landowners, with 1.7 million acres in New Mexico, Florida, and Texas. He owns about 30 horses in training and about 60 broodmares.

"There will be a transition period until July 15 for the current operation, and then there will be an orderly turnover of the property and facilities to Mr. Kelley's operation," Middleton said.

Current Calumet stallions Ice Box and Cactus Ridge, who became the farm's first stallions in at least seven years, likely will relocate.

"They'll stay there through the breeding season and would move someplace else, I assume," Middleton said. The breeding season traditionally ends by the first week of July. "The farm is going to be a Thoroughbred operation and hopefully one that is very successful that puts Calumet's name back in the highlights of the Thoroughbred industry.

"It's going to be a private operation," Middleton added.

The farm had not been listed on the market, but the farm's chairman of the board under Kennelot Stables, Bud Greely, said last month, "If somebody walks in, I'm a businessman, and if somebody walks in and puts down a big check that I can't refuse, why, I'll sell everything."

De Kwiatkowski, who died in 2003, paid $17,175,000 for Calumet in 1991 when the farm went on the auction block after collapsing into bankruptcy and a flurry of lawsuits under J. T. Lundy's management. At the time, de Kwiatkowski vowed that he would never develop even "a speck of grass" at the farm, a pledge applauded by racing fans, historians, and conservationists who had feared that the nursery's location at the intersection of Versailles and New Circle Roads would make it irresistible to developers.

Calumet began as a Standardbred operation, then went down in history as the leading breeder of Kentucky Derby winners with nine. Those include 1941 Triple Crown winner Whirlaway, 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation, and, most recently, 1991 Derby winner Strike the Gold.

The property includes a main house, additional guest and staff housing, dirt and turf training tracks, the stallion barn, and several broodmare barns, as well as numerous paddocks and pastures.

"Everybody's very, very excited," said Middleton. "It's one of the jewels of the Lexington area and in Kentucky. I think this is going to be a real positive for the horse industry."