12/17/2003 12:00AM

Ex-Calumet manager dies

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Ewell Rice, who worked his way up from exercise rider to farm management at Calumet Farm during its heyday in the 1940's and 1950's, died in Lexington, Ky., on Monday. He was 78.

Rice, a World War II Navy veteran, was a popular and respected fixture in the horse industry. The Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club voted him its 1981 Farm Manager of the Year.

Rice started as an exercise rider at Calumet in 1942. In his first season of breaking yearlings for the farm, in 1946, he found himself in company with one of Calumet's best-ever crops, including 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation, champions Coaltown and Bewitch, and stakes winner Free America.

Rice's long tenure at Calumet also covered the development of such runners as 1947 Horse of the Year Armed; 1958 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Tim Tam; and Alydar, runner-up in all three Triple Crown races in 1978.

Rice was yearling manager at Calumet for 43 years but left the storied farm when owner Mrs. Gene Markey died in 1982 and the operation was taken over by J.T. Lundy. He worked for the next decade at the Hancock family's Claiborne Farm, from which he retired in 1995.

Funeral services were set for 2:30 p.m. Friday at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Harrodsburg Road in Lexington, with burial to follow at Lexington Cemetery.