03/27/2010 11:00PM

Old glory in the Bluegrass


They are like gems hidden in the Bluegrass, the historic, sometimes forgotten, remnants of racing and breeding empires. As central Kentucky's Thoroughbred farms have changed hands, divided, and become increasingly commercialized, some artifacts of the sport's history have been lost. But many have fallen into the hands of farm owners and managers who are serving as stewards to care for these sometimes fragile icons of Thoroughbred history. Some have rescued them from obscurity or certain ruin, others are guardians maintaining these jewels for the next generation. Here are four prominent Bluegrass farms that have enjoyed particularly glorious histories.

THE COLUMNS - Elmendorf Farm, Lexington

Elmendorf Farm on Lexington's Paris Pike has one of the Thoroughbred sport's most remarkable histories. Founded in 1874 by Milton H. Sanford as Preakness Stables, it bred Thoroughbreds continuously until 1997, when then-owner Jack Kent Cooke sold its broodmare band privately to Stonerside Stables.

Barbara D. Livingston
The columns at Elmendorf were originally part of James Ben Ali Haggin's mansion on the farm.

The farm's iconic Thoroughbred residents have included champions Baden-Baden, Miss Woodford, Springbok, and Protagonist; Horse of the Year and sire Salvator; classic winners Ben Ali, Apollo, and Kingfisher; sires Virgil (sire of Kentucky Derby winners Vagrant, Hindoo, and Ben Ali), Spendthrift, Speak John, and Verbatim; and Man o' War's sire and dam, Fair Play and Mahubah.

Several of those are buried around another Elmendorf icon: the four columns that originally were part of James Ben Ali Haggin's mansion on the farm, Green Hills. Joseph E. Widener purchased the core of the Elmendorf property in 1923 after Haggin's estate broke the farm up. He demolished the unoccupied Green Hills mansion six years later in order to avoid paying taxes on it. But he left the marble steps and pillars standing.

The first to use the pillars area as an equine resting place was Maxwell Gluck, who owned Elmendorf from 1950 70 1984. The flat gravestones for his Protagonist, Speak John, and Verbatim are located on a lawn in front of the pillars. Salvator also is believed to be buried on the farm, possibly behind a rock wall, but his exact whereabouts are unknown, said current manager Edward Stephens.

Also buried on the farm with unknown grave locations are Virgil and Salvator's sire, Prince Charlie; and Mr. Prospector's dam, Gold Digger, who does have a memorial. Fair Play and Mahubah are interred at nearby Normandy Farm, once part of Elmendorf; Fair Play rests under a large bronze sculpture of himself.

"We've had different events around them," Stephens, 63, said of the columns. "We used to hold weddings up there. Calvin Klein did a jeans commercial up there maybe 15 years ago, and Chevrolet did a commercial for the Chevrolet Venture van."

The columns also have been the scene of an annual Blue and White Cotillion and served as a landmark reference for visiting hot-air balloons.

Sadly, the columns were the setting for Elizabeth Lampton's memorial service in 2008. The widow of Dinwiddie Lampton, who bought the farm from Jack Kent Cooke in 1997, she died in a carriage driving accident at Elmendorf when her horses spooked. One of her Morgan horses, Saint, also is buried at the columns, said Stephens.

The Lampton family's American Life and Accident Insurance Co. owns Elmendorf. Gaines-Gentry Thoroughbreds leases most of the farm today.

MAN O' WAR'S STUD BARN - Mt. Brilliant Farm, Lexington

When Greg Goodman bought the old Faraway Farm in 2003, adding it to his Mt. Brilliant Farm, he also acquired a historic treasure: Man o'War's four-stall stallion barn.

Barbara D. Livingston

15px;">At Faraway Farm, an old Lexington city fire bell became a restored centerpiece.

Man o' War won all but one of his 21 lifetime starts. His sole defeat came in the 1919 Sanford Stakes at the hands of Upset, who carried 115 pounds to Man o' War's 130 and beat him by half a length. Man o' War didn't run in the Kentucky Derby but won the 1920 Preakness and Belmont.

His Faraway stud barn had been built to last and was in remarkably good repair, but it had been long out of use. The door on Man o' War's stall still hung on its track, and it bore brass letters spelling out his name. Goodman was thrilled and resolved immediately to fully restore the barn.

"It made the hair on the back of your neck stand up," said Goodman, 55. "It has unbelievable history, and it had been abandoned. There was no question about restoring and preserving it."

After someone stole the brass letters off the door, Goodman moved the door, still on its original track, into his office at Mt. Brilliant. Man o' War's name is still visible where the sun bleached the wood around the now-missing brass letters. For the barn, Goodman replaced the original with a door from another barn built in the same era.

"The restoration is complete," he said. "We had to redo the exterior doors and wood, but the interior is 90 percent original. We also put an interlocking brick floor in the aisleways, where the original was probably clay."

Among the items Goodman restored and left in place were the original weathervane, featuring a horse, and the barn's brass fire bell, which played a role in a well-known Man o' War anecdote.

"It's the old Lexington city fire bell," said Goodman. "Sam Riddle, who owned Man o' War, bought it. They used to ring it whenever Man o' War would breed a mare or when one of his progeny would win a stakes."

The barn's four stallion stalls are separated by two perpendicular aisles that intersect, and each stall has a back door opening onto an individual paddock.


Images from the restoration of Man o' War's stud barn in Lexington. Photos by Barbara D. Livingston.

New brass letters were added to the restored barn door after the originals were stolen.

While cleaning up the overgrown area around the barn, Goodman's workers discovered a long-forgotten equine cemetery.

"Some of the best broodmares in the world are buried back there, along with some daughters and sons of Man o' War and a couple of stallions from the farm," he said.

Christmas Star, Furlough, The Nurse, Creole Maid, Ace Card, Edith Cavell, Mars, Lady Comfey, and Golden Broom are among those interred on the old Faraway property.

"It was one of the reasons we wanted to buy that property," Goodman said. "It's exciting to be able to be a steward of that part of horse racing's history. It's a great honor to be able to take care of that land during our time."

ROUND BARNS AND DAIRY - Gainesway Farm, Lexington

Under James Ben Ali Haggin's ownership starting in 1897, Elmendorf also operated the world's largest dairy farm, and most of its central buildings were located on what is now the Graham Beck family's Gainesway Farm, a world renowned stallion operation.

Barbara D. Livingston
An aerial view of Gainesway's round barns and dairy.

Gainesway occupies some of central Kentucky's most productive and important Thoroughbred property. Its pastures and barns also have belonged to the Greentree and C.V. Whitney Farms before becoming Gainesway under the late John Gaines.

But traces - including three old round barns and a central milking barn - reveal this portion of the old Elmendorf Farm was once an immense and self-sufficient dairy that included its own railway line and tunnel system.

"Elmendorf Dairy was the leading dairy in the world at the turn of the century," said Ryan Martin, Gainesway horticulturalist and author of the forthcoming "Gainesway: The Stewardship of an Arboretum," due out this spring. "This place was one of the most high-tech dairy facilities in the world at that time."

The round barns, which now house Thoroughbreds, probably were built about a century ago for showing and selling cattle. Martin lives at Gainesway in a building that used to house the Greentree Farm office, near what was, before that, the Elmendorf dairy's heart. In his yard stands a large, century-old milking barn, apparently never used by subsequent Thoroughbred operations; it still has floor-to-ceiling tile in its milking rooms, some stalls, and a large kitchen.

"They did a lot of cooking in there," said Martin. "I met a woman once who remembered that they took the stoves out to recycle the metal during World War II. It would cook for the dormitory house."

Around the turn of the last century, the milking barn also was a division of the Lexington Power Company. It powered the farm and its light-rail system well before rural electricity was common.

"There was a railroad that ran from Lexington to Paris," said Martin, 37. "They would run light rail from the farm for dairy goods. C.V. Whitney's farm manager, Jouett Redmond, told me that in the early 1960s they were still shipping horses to Saratoga off of the rail line that ran through the farm.

"Below the stallion complex, stone buildings etched into the hillside were the butcher's shop, and they had four stone quarries that they built these stone structures out of," including Elmendorf's main house, Martin said.

The tunnel system runs under Paris Pike, connecting pastureland to Gainesway. The twin tunnels were used to bring cattle in and out between their fields and the farm's milking barns.

As a full-time horticulturist, Martin has dug up smaller artifacts of this long-forgotten aspect of Gainesway's history: Elmendorf milk bottles, old railroad spikes, and the like.

"We have a wall of memorabilia in my office of things we've dug up," he said. "It's amazing history."

COUNT FLEET'S GRAVE - Hunterton at Stoner Creek Stud, Paris

It's true: Count Fleet is buried on a Standardbred farm.

Count Fleet was a two-time champion, 1943 Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year, and an influential sire and broodmare sire. He died in 1973 at Stoner Creek Stud, which became a famous harness nursery after John D. Hertz died in 1961. Hertz's estate sold the 700-acre farm to Standardbred breeders Norman Woolworth, of five-and-dime fame, and North Carolina textile mill owner Paul Johnston. Count Fleet was a pensioner there, and Woolworth and Johnston agreed to care for the horse until his death.

Barbara D. Livingston

15px;">Some believe Count Fleet's remains are buried under the headstone of Nevele Pride.

After his 1973 death at 33, Count Fleet was buried in the Stoner Creek cemetery, where his sire, Reigh Count - the Hertzes' first Kentucky Derby winner (1928) - and his dam, Quickly, also have headstones.

Woolworth and Johnston, meanwhile, built a harness-racing empire at Stoner Creek Stud. Five Hambletonian winners came from there. The farm stood Nevele Pride, the fastest trotting horse of all time, as well as the famed pacing stallion Meadow Skipper. Both are buried near Count Fleet in the Stoner Creek cemetery.

There's a story that Count Fleet's body actually lies under the headstone for Nevele Pride, because Woolworth and Johnston decided Nevele Pride, who died in 1993, should have pride of place at a Standardbred farm's cemetery. Steve Stewart, who leases the Stoner Creek property now from a Swedish Standardbred breeder, said he thinks the story is apocryphal.

Former Claiborne Farm manager Gus Koch got his start at Stoner Creek when Count Fleet was pensioned there, and he said the old stallion still had plenty of personality.

"One idiosyncrasy he had is that he didn't stay outside in a storm or bad weather," Koch said. "Mr. Hertz had mandated that early on, and by the time I knew him, if there was even a little thunder, he was at his gate weaving back and forth, like he was saying, 'You boys get me in the barn right now.'"

Count Fleet's grave is not well known to the public, Stewart said, but it is still carefully maintained along with others in the cemetery.

"It's unusual because it's a very front-row center cemetery, not behind some hill, and it's very well done," said Stewart, 51. "But the history of the farm, both Thoroughbred and Standardbred, is very famous. It's almost like leasing Calumet or Claiborne, because Stoner Creek Stud is along those same lines."

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