09/30/2016 12:16PM

September a month of big strides for the Crosses

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As her horses waited to go through the ring at the Keeneland September yearling sale, Kelli Cross could fully appreciate the value of standing on her own two feet.

The auction was a groundbreaking time for Kelli and Kenny Cross’s Sovereign Farm, which offered its first consignment at the premier auction under the Crosses’s own banner.

A year earlier, the chances of the Crosses fielding a consignment at all seemed remote.

In early August 2015, the Crosses were involved in a life-threatening car crash that sent them both to the hospital and facing months of rehabilitation. Kelli left with a shattered pelvis and spent the next couple months in a wheelchair. Kenny remained in the hospital for several months after the accident.

The couple has since recovered, but as with any such process, there was a period of adjustment. The accident forced the fledgling operation to downsize significantly from an operation that produced about 20 foals per year.

The Crosses are now working to rebuild their farm’s brand and horse population. Part of that process was establishing Sovereign Farm’s presence as a consignor, which took a big step forward in September with the help of those clients who stayed loyal through the hard times.

“We love the business,” Kelli Cross said. “Without our great contacts and great friends who are in the business, this last year would have been a little bit tougher, but it was a real community effort when we did get hurt.

“It’s been a personal growth experience in the past year just because of where we were then. To be honest, we’re just happy to be here. We both can walk, and we’re both above ground.”

Sovereign Farm had three horses in its first Keeneland September draft, selling colts by Temple City and Sidney’s Candy in Book 6 for a combined $35,000. Their first offering, a City Zip colt, was a $48,000 buyback in Book 3. Two were offered for clients, while the Temple City colt was bred by the Crosses.

It was the Crosses’s second auction consignment as an independent entity. In February at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky winter mixed sale, they sold a short yearling by Maclean’s Music.

Kelli Cross, the managing partner of Sovereign Farm, said that being at the helm of her own operation did not vary much from running the shed row under a larger consignor. The contacts and relationships Cross had established working for other companies helped make the transition to consigning one’s own more manageable. Where it differed, though, was in the personal stakes.

“It’s a lot the same as working for other people,” she said, “It’s a little bit more nerve-racking. We have a good mix – half the horses belong to us at the farm and half are client horses. When your own money and your own name is on the line, it’s a little bit different than working for somebody, but it’s been a good experience.”

Growing up in Central Kentucky as a self-described “horse show brat,” Cross started working at sales as a teenager and studied equine management at the University of Kentucky. Her first major job in the Thoroughbred industry was as broodmare manager at Stonewall Farm.

She began brokering private deals on broodmares in 2008, and the Crosses secured the property off Paris Pike in Lexington, Ky., that became Sovereign Farm about four years later.

“I think it was just time,” Cross said about hanging her own shingle. “I really enjoy doing a little bit of everything. We are kind of a smaller boutique operation, and while I enjoyed my time on the bigger farms, if you are in farm management or up above that, you don’t get the hands-on as much, and I enjoy doing the hands-on.”

Cross said she plans to use the operation’s size as a marketing point to offer clients a personal touch for their horses, from the broodmare band and sales ring to racing interests and layups. While Cross said she would like to see Sovereign Farm grow its client base and equine population, she wanted to maintain them at a number that still allowed her to deal with both groups individually.

Sovereign Farm also houses 10 to 12 Thoroughbreds at a time for aftercare group New Vocations. Their rehabilitation is monitored until they are able to begin training for their post-racing careers and, ultimately, adoption.

“I talk to all the clients, I have my hands on every horse every day, and most of the people we have working for us work directly with me,” Cross said. “It’s a great thing because a lot of our clients are actually friends and we have great relationships with them. It’s been really enjoyable.”