02/15/2005 12:00AM

Gaines's last request revealed

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - John Gaines, the founder of the Breeders' Cup and Gainesway Farm, was buried on Tuesday afternoon after a funeral that drew approximately 250 people to a small community-center church.

The funeral was held at the Newman Center at the University of Kentucky, a facility that Gaines had supported both as a philanthropist and a Catholic. The Rev. Tom Farrell, who presided over the funeral, said Gaines had worshiped at the center for 30 years.

Gaines, 76, died last Friday afternoon at a hospital in Lexington. Farrell said that Gaines's death "caught us all off guard" during his homily, and compared the death to the felling of a "mature and beautiful oak."

"A majestic tree is now missing from the landscape," Farrell said. "It leaves a void that nothing can fill, and together, we grieve his loss."

Farrell said that Gaines had made it clear during his estate planning that he did not want to be eulogized at his funeral. According to Farrell, Gaines requested in the 10 minutes prior to his death that his funeral be "simple."

"One thing was straightforward and clear: 'I want it to be simple,' he said," recounted Farrell. " 'Just put me in a pine box,' he said, 'and throw in some dirt. And underneath my name, I want you to inscribe the words: destination unknown.' "

Despite Gaines's final requests, his son, Thomas, and his daughter, Gloria, made brief remarks recounting their father's sometimes gruff but always enlightening conversation. Gaines was described by his son and daughter at various times as an "innovative horseman," a "Renaissance man," and a "man of literature."

"A great man cannot help himself," said Thomas Gaines during his eulogy. "He can see things that other men cannot see themselves, and his greatness lies in doing whatever is necessary to make his vision real."

In addition to his work in the Thoroughbred industry, Gaines was an international art collector and philanthropist. He led fund-raising efforts to establish the Gaines Center for the Humanities at the University of Kentucky, and led other fund-raising efforts for art and education that reportedly led to hundreds of millions of dollars in private donations.