08/31/2006 11:00PM

Horsemen mourn plane crash victims


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The crash of Comair flight 5191 in Lexington on Aug. 27 has left a deep scar in Lexington's Thoroughbred commu-nity. The crash killed 49 people, and among the dead were two well-known farm owners, Dan Mallory and George Brunacini, and Jeff Williams, a trainer based at the Thoroughbred Center.

Almost a week after the accident, local horsemen were still stunned by the loss, and at farms, feed stores, and sales company offices, the conversation often turned to personal reminiscences of their dead colleagues.

Mallory, 55, was the popular owner of Meadow Haven Farm in Paris, Ky. Jim Cullen, president of Cullen Bloodstock and a frequent partner with Mallory at the sales, was driving to Texas on Sunday when he got word of the crash. The pair were planning to meet at Fasig-Tipton's Texas yearling sale, where they were selling a colt together.

"He was a tremendously straight-shooter," Cullen said of Mallory. "His nickname was Honest Dan, for goodness sake. He was a thoughtful guy who shared his knowledge and seemed like he cared."

Their relationship dated back to the mid-1990's, when Cullen first stepped into the business with a foal-share partnership with Mallory. That first venture went extraordin-arily well, as the resulting Pioneering colt sold profitably and went on to become Sky of Gold, an earner of more than $203,000.

"He sold for $55,000 over at Fasig-Tipton," recalled Cullen, who was then a reporter at Thoroughbred Times. "That was more than my salary at the time, so, obviously, from that moment on, I loved Dan.

"You know, Dan never sold a bunch of fancy horses," he added. "He wasn't out there hustling the high-profile, big-dollar horses. But Dan has sold an awful lot of good, solid horses for fair prices. His business practices were very above-board, and he focused his attention on his horses."

He also took good care of his clients, Dot MacMakin remembered. MacMakin, a breeder now based in Kentucky, once hauled a pair of yearlings down from upstate New York for Mallory to sell, but her van broke down near Cincinnati.

"I asked Dan if he would call Sallee or one of the local van companies to come and get me," she said. "Dan showed up himself with a trailer. We didn't get back to his place until just about dawn. He was absolutely wonderful, a great guy and a great horseman."

George Brunacini's most recent accomplishment in the horse business is in the spotlight now: Flower Alley, the winner of the 2005 Travers who was to start as the morning-line favorite in Saturday's Woodward Stakes at Saratoga.

Brunacini, 60, who owned Bona Terra Farm in Georgetown, Ky., was known for his hands-on work ethic.

"If you walked up to the farm, you would have to ask to speak to the owner or manager, because he stood beside his workers, shoulder-to-shoulder," Robin Riesenbeck, who worked with Brunacini, told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

With his trainer and girlfriend, Emilie Fojan, he had worked to make improvements to the Georgetown property. Their hard work was paying off, and not just with Flower Alley. At the recent Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale, Bona Terra sold a pair of yearlings for a total of $900,000.

"George had a great year with us this year, probably the best year we can ever remember him having," said Fasig-Tipton marketing director Terence Collier. "And even before he could reap the fruits of it, this terrible thing happened."

Trainer Jeff Williams, 49, had had success as a trainer, most notably with Ohio's 1985 juvenile champion Astrotrot. But he was on the verge of returning to his first love: polo. Williams was traveling to Texas for a job interview with the Austin Polo Club.

The Ohio native grew up showing American Saddlebreds, and when he became a trainer, he often rode his own horses. And he was a tough competitor at polo, said Callan Strouss, who first met Williams in the late 1970's. Strouss is now manager at Lane's End's Oak Tree division in Lexington.

"My strongest memories of Jeff are that he was a dedicated lifelong horseman," Strouss said. "He was an extremely talented horseman riding, he was extremely talented at figuring out the little nuances of a horse in training. He was not only a good horseman on the ground, he could get on one's back and really solve problems and get inside a horse's head."

As of Friday, funeral plans for Williams and Brunacini had not yet been announced. A memorial service for Mallory was set for 3 p.m. Tuesday at Fasig-Tipton's sale pavilion in Lexington.

Memorial service for Thomason

Marcie Thomason, the 25-year-old daughter of Mill Ridge Farm executive Bill Thomason and his wife Barbara, also was among those killed on Comair flight 5191. A memorial service for Thomason is to take place on Monday at 11 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Lexington. Visitation was to be held on Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Main Street in Lexington.

* The Consignors and Comm-ercial Breeders Association has published a booklet, "OCDs in Sale Horses," which will be made available in the Keeneland sale pavilion by the start of the September yearling sale, Sept. 11-25. The booklet is designed to inform buyers and other interested parties about "developmental aspects and implications of OCDs in sale yearlings and young horses," a CBA release said.

* The Keeneland September sale's first two days, Sept. 11-12, will be broadcast live at 10 a.m. Eastern by HRTV, and on tape delay by TVG. In Ireland and the United Kingdom, it will be shown on Racing World.

* The Horse Farm Workers Educational Assistance Fund has awarded 29 scholarships to students whose parents work on Kentucky horse farms. To date, the fund has awarded 305 scholarships averaging $2,000 since its inception in 1996.

* The Jockey Club has updated its newcomers' guide to the Thorough-bred sport, "Thoroughly Thorough-bred." The 14-page booklet, produced in conjunction with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, is available through any of the three organizations.