02/11/2005 12:00AM

Great innovator John Gaines, 76, dies

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John Gaines brought the concept of the Breeders' Cup to reality in 1982. Shown in a recent photo (above), Gaines also was known for his astute syndication of stallions as a breeder.

John Gaines, whose lasting legacy will be conceptualizing the Breeders' Cup and seeing it through to become one of the great events in Thoroughbred racing, died on Friday in Lexington, Ky. He was 76.

Gaines was prominent in the syndication of stallions, and developed Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky. But he changed the sport forever when he brought together a fractious industry and got breeders to sign off on a single day of championship racing that would be televised by a major network. The first Breeders' Cup was run in 1984, and it has become second only to the Triple Crown races as the sport's biggest event.

John R. Gaines was born in 1928 in Sherburne, N.Y. He was introduced to racing by his grandfather Thomas, who had a successful Standardbred operation. Gaines's father, Clarence, was the founder of Gaines Dog Food.

Gaines started with Standard-breds, breeding Kerry Way, who won the 1966 Hambletonian, and he co-owned 1967 Hambletonian winner Speedy Streak.

But it was with Thoroughbreds that Gaines would become an icon. He developed the Thoroughbred version of Gainesway Farm in Lexington in 1962, and it became one of the Bluegrass state's leading breeding operations.

Over the years, Gainesway acquired, syndicated, stood, and managed the stud careers of Blushing Groom, Bold Bidder, Broad Brush, Lyphard, Riverman, and Vaguely Noble. Although Gaines always kept a small broodmare band, two of the mares he owned - Cosmah and Glowing Tribute - were each named Kentucky broodmare of the year. Cosmah was the dam of the top stallion Halo.

Gaines, either alone or in partnership - most notably with Olin Gentry - bred such prominent horses as Black Minnaloushe, Caller One, Exploit, and Imperial Gesture.

Gaines sold Gainesway in 1989 to Graham Beck. That completed a decade of high achievement for Gaines, marked by his founding of the Breeders' Cup in 1982.

Because of his work with the Breeders' Cup, Gaines earned the Eclipse Award of Merit for 1984. He earned the William H. May Award in 2001 from the Association of Racing Commissioners International for meritorious service to racing.

Gaines was a founder of the National Thoroughbred Association, from which sprang the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

Among Gaines's other achievements was conceiving the idea of the Kentucky Horse Park, a popular home for horses of all breeds and such great racing champions as Cigar and John Henry.

After attending Notre Dame University and graduating with a degree in English, Gaines did his graduate work in animal husbandry and genetics at the University of Kentucky, and was a major benefactor to that school. He was instrumental in helping develop the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, as well as the Gaines Center for the Humanities.

"John Gaines was a most amazing man," D.G. Van Clief, president of Breeders' Cup Ltd., and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said in a statement.

"He had an immense intellectual curiosity and capacity for learning, which made him, among other things, an expert in fields as diverse as art, literature, architecture, genetics, farming and politics. John also was a great market timer. He knew when to buy or sell, and that included launching his own ideas.

"Above all, he was a believer in the power of ideas. In addition to being the father of the Breeders' Cup, he'll be remembered as the founder of the Kentucky Horse Park."

Gaines is survived by his wife, Joan, a daughter, Gloria Gaines Callen, and son, Thomas. Funeral arrangements are pending.