01/05/2012 5:16PM

Q&A: Cordell Anderson


“Billionaire showman” Cordell Anderson is best known for his work in Keeneland’s auction ring as a showman, one of the people who hold horses during the bidding. A Lexington, Ky., resident, he has also worked for Taylor Made Farm, prominent 2-year-old consignor Murray Smith, and at racetracks from Jamaica to Kentucky.

Birthdate: April 6, 1956, in Trelawny, Jamaica

Family: wife, Lucinda; daughter, Tracey Ann; and stepsons William and Stephan

Do you remember your first day at Keeneland? Must have been about 1987 or 1988. I remember the first day. They were selling Life at the Top at Eugene Klein’s dispersal at the November sale. That was my first million-dollar mare [she sold for $1.9 million], on my first day. After that, all the nervousness was gone. I felt good. She wasn’t the first horse I handled that day, and, you know, working at a place like Keeneland on your first day, you’d get a little nervous, just making sure the horses would stay inside that ring. I watched how the other guys did it and got the hang of it, and I’m really good at it now.

What’s your secret to keeping a horse calm in the ring while the auction is going on? I think I’ve been around them so long, and I’ve learned not to get nervous. They can feel that nervousness, and when they feel it, it’s not going to be good for either one of you. You slow down the way you move and the way you talk to them, and you don’t stare them down in the eye all the time, because that can kind of intimidate them. When they come in the ring, I’m looking at how their eyes and ears are moving. Sometimes their tail will be switching around. What I don’t want to see coming through the door is one that’s already hyped up and acting crazy and comes running in there. Most of the time when they’re coming in, I try to hold my hand up, like a policeman when he blows his whistle, and say, ‘Whoa.’ That kind of makes them want to slow down. I don’t rush them into the ring, I let them stand so they get a good view of what they’re coming into, and then I walk them in. If they’re really good-minded, they’ll just walk right in. I try to circle them when they first come in. That way, everybody can take a look at them from the side and they can go on and show themselves. The good ones really will show themselves off. They’ll stand right there like, ‘Here I am, I’m ready. Take my picture.’
Sometimes the guys who take the tickets to be signed, sometimes that kind of spooks a horse. One of our bid-spotters gets really excited sometimes, and yells, “Hup!” when he’s got a bid. Sometimes that spooks them, too, and they’ll shoot forward and almost land on your feet.
You’ve got to watch everything, from the bid-spotter to the auctioneer. Sometimes the auctioneers will reach their hand out, and anything like that, that is unexpected to a horse, especially if it’s above them, will make them jump. They can jump on you or knock you over. You’ve got to pay attention.
I don’t really like for people to tell me a horse is crazy when they bring it to me. I’d rather just get the horse and figure it out myself.

How many horses do you think you’ve shown at Keeneland? Oh, gosh. Mr. [Ted] Bassett asked me the other day, ‘Do you keep a count of how many horses you’ve handled in that ring?’ I told him I tried to do it, but I couldn’t keep up with it. There were too many. I can’t even remember how many million-dollar horses. I remember after one July sale, just before they stopped the July sales [in 2003], I held about 15 horses that brought $1 million or more.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you in the auction ring? I had a weanling one time that couldn’t go anywhere without company. So when they brought him up, they had to bring another one up with him. When the man brought him up to the ring, he had this long stallion shank on him, and that weanling kept jumping around and hollering. When he jumped once, he came down and went right down on one side into the bushes around the ring. So I pulled back him up. He turned out to be pretty good and won a few stakes. Another time, I had a mare and one of her hind legs slipped out of the ring into the bushes.
The hardest part of the job is a horse that doesn’t want any part of the ring, to keep him inside the ring. And you’re standing up for a long time, but now that we have six people working, that helps. But you can’t stand there like a statue, you have to keep moving. We work one hour or one hour and a half, and we rotate. Three of us are on each team, and we rotate.

When you have a horse in the ring and it’s really starting to get bad, what can you do? I’ll ask the guys to open the door and send them out. Even the auctioneer will tell us, ‘If you think he’s going to get too crazy and have an accident, don’t be afraid to send them out, because it’s better to be safe.’ I got hurt once. I had a really freaky mare that was really bad. I was trying to keep her in there. I was trying to keep her head toward the auctioneers’ platform, and she kept trying to bolt through the door. She was pulling my arm against the platform, and I could hear something tear in my hand. After that, my hand started twitching. . . . I had an X-ray, and it had cracked a piece of my elbow. It still bothers me sometimes.
I got stepped on once, but not too bad. It really hurt, but it didn’t break any bones.

Do you have a favorite horse from among those you’ve handled in the ring? I have plenty of favorites, and it’s hard to pick one. I have a bunch, especially if they go on and win classic races like Hansel, Curlin, Drosselmeyer, Fusaichi Pegasus. I try to follow them at the races. I try to follow them, especially if they go to the Derby or something like that. I’ve held a lot of Belmont Stakes winners. I had A.P. Indy. But I didn’t have Zenyatta, Lisa [Douglas] did.

What did you think when Lisa became Keeneland’s first female showman? It was okay. You need to give them a chance, too. But I don’t want them to take over (laughs)!
– Glenye Cain Oakford