Updated on 04/19/2012 2:05PM

Calumet Farm: No deal yet after report of sale

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Following reports that a deal was in the works to sell historic Calumet Farm privately to billionaire Thoroughbred owner Brad Kelley, the chairman of Calumet’s advisory board said Thursday that no deal has been consummated yet.

The Paulick Report.com reported Wednesday night that Kelley, who owns Hurricane Hall and Bluegrass Hall, was close to making the purchase for an undisclosed amount.

A March 2012 property valuation estimated the 798-acre farm to be worth a fair cash value of $22,893,200, but local realtors said it could bring $30 million or more on the market.

"Calumet has not been sold," said Bud Greely, who serves as chairman of Calumet’s advisory board. "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. Everybody’s telling me about Brad Kelley, and I say, ‘Well, if he wants to come in and put down a big check, okay.’ But nobody’s put down a big check yet."

Asked whether reports of a deal in the works were inaccurate, Greely said: "I really can’t answer any of these things, to tell you the truth, right now."

Kelley could not immediately be reached for comment.

The current Calumet owner, a trust established by the late Henryk de Kwiatkowski, has not listed the farm publicly or as a pocket listing.

In March, Forbes estimated Kelley’s net worth at $1.7 billion, and he is one of the nation’s 10 largest landowners, holding 1.7 million acres in New Mexico, Florida, and Texas. Kelley, 55, became wealthy through his Commonwealth Brands tobacco and discount cigarette business, which he sold for $1 billion 11 years ago. His stable includes current 3-year-old colts Optimizer and Skyring. Optimizer, runner-up in the Rebel Stakes, is pointing for the Kentucky Derby while Skyring is entered in the Lexington Stakes on Saturday. D. Wayne Lukas trains both colts, Bluegrass Hall homebreds by Kelley’s stallion English Channel. Kelley lives in Franklin, Tenn.

According to The Land Report, Kelley is a wildlife conservationist who has collected rare species, including pygmy hippos and impalas, at his Florida ranch for the purpose of breeding them.

The 220-acre Bluegrass Hall, formerly Nelson Bunker Hunt’s Bluegrass Farm, is across Versailles Road from Calumet and adjacent to Keeneland Racecourse. Kelley’s other farm, 300-acre Hurricane Hall, is in Georgetown, Ky. He has about 30 horses in training and about 60 broodmares.

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 lawsuits under J. T. Lundy’s management; Lundy went to prison on counts of fraud, conspiracy, and bribery, but accusations that he had ordered the farm’s stallion Alydar killed for insurance money were never proved. Bidding from a spot under a red and white striped tent at the farm, de Kwiatkowski began at $11 million and outdueled Issam Fares. When the hammer fell, several thousand people on hand applauded, relieved that a Thoroughbred owner and breeder, rather than a developer, had bought the famed property, and de Kwiatkowski vowed that he would never develop even "a speck of grass" at the farm.

Long known as the crown jewel of Bluegrass farms, Calumet became famous first as a Standardbred breeding operation and then as the leading breeder of Kentucky Derby winners with nine, including 1941 Triple Crown winner Whirlaway, 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation, and, most recently, 1991 winner Strike the Gold. In early 2012, after at least seven years without standing a stallion, Calumet opened its stud barn again when it acquired the stallions Ice Box and Cactus Ridge.

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.