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Tradition-rich Westwind Farm in spotlight with Sweet Reason
They say a good horse can come from anywhere.
But did they really mean to include a place as unlikely as Bowling Green, Ky.?
They must have because one of the leading 3-year-old fillies in North America – Sweet Reason, the winner of the Grade 1 Acorn and Grade 1 Test in New York in her last two starts – was bred in partnership by Beth Harris and her husband, Brent, whose extended family owns 1,000 acres of rich farmland less than 10 miles southeast of Western Kentucky University and the Bowling Green town center.
The Harrises co-bred Sweet Reason with Darley before selling her two years ago for $185,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale. The Harrises own the mare, Livermore Leslie, and agreed to partner with Darley in mating her with the young sire Street Sense in 2010.
“We’d partnered with the big farms a couple times before and had a little luck,” said Brent Harris. “This one really turned out well.”
Brent Harris, 56, and his brother, Mike, 57, are principals in Westwind Farm, a family breeding operation that traces its origins back more than 100 years. Their younger brother, Kevin, 51, also is a partner in the farm and works alongside them. About 250 acres of the farm are dedicated to their Thoroughbred business, while the rest of the land is leased out for other agricultural purposes.
“We do have folks in Lexington who’ll say, ‘Your farm is where?’ ” Mike Harris said as he slowly drove his pickup truck around farm property on a recent Sunday. “It is a little out of the way, but it’s a great place to raise a horse. The soil is just about perfect. There’s limestone just below the top layer, and horses really thrive on this land.”
Their business demands that they transport their horses and themselves quite frequently to the epicenter of the Thoroughbred world some 2 1/2 hours away in Lexington, and Brent Harris jokes that his truck and horse trailer probably could make the trip on autopilot.
Still, even if the Harrises could magically pick up their farm and plunk it down in the famed Bluegrass region for the sake of convenience, it’s doubtful they would. Their roots run deep in this picturesque patch of Warren County, located about an hour directly north of Nashville. Brent and Beth live in a beautifully rehabilitated house built two years before the Civil War; it’s a house once occupied by Brent’s maternal grandfather, a local legend named J.R. Bettersworth, who got this whole Thoroughbred thing going.
“There’s just so much family history here,” said Beth Harris, who moved to the area with her family from her native Illinois when she was 16.
Bettersworth’s daughter, Barbara, 80, is the mother of the three Harris boys; she and the boys’ father, James B. Harris, still live on farm property. Mike and his wife, Susan, raised three children on the farm, and their two grown sons, Justin and Tyler, both have become integral to the day-to-day workings of the farm. Kevin, a divorced father of three, lives on the farm, too.
For many years, champion Saddlebreds were bred and raised at Westwind, until J.R. Bettersworth decided to get into Thoroughbreds in the early 1960s. He befriended giants in the Thoroughbred industry such as Warner L. Jones Jr. while making a smooth transition prior to his death in 1988. Among other stakes horses, he bred My Juliet, who received the Eclipse Award as the champion sprinter of 1976.
Very few people are seriously into Thoroughbreds in this south-central region of the state. Others of note were David Garvin, the Camping World founder who lived near Westwind until his death Aug. 30, and Jurgen Arnemann, a Franklin, Ky.-area resident who was more heavily involved some 20 years ago than he is now. But that’s about it.
“We’ll tell our friends and neighbors what we do,” said Mike Harris, the farm president and manager, “and most of them don’t quite understand what we’re talking about.”
They would be impressed if they did.
The scope and duration of the Harrises’ involvement is epitomized by the success of Sweet Reason. Owned by the Treadway Racing Stable of Jeff Treadway and based in New York with trainer Leah Gyarmati, the bay filly was a divisional standout as a 2-year-old, winning the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga before finishing second at odds-on in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont and fourth as a lukewarm favorite in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita.
At 3, Sweet Reason has been even better in winning 3 of 4 races, with the Acorn and Test her two latest starts. She is being pointed to the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion on Sept. 20 at Parx as a final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Oct. 31 at Santa Anita.
Livermore Leslie, a 21-year-old mare by Mt. Livermore, was a decent racehorse trained throughout her career by Churchill Downs-based Rick Hiles, winning 6 of 33 starts for earnings of $205,192. Brent Harris bought her in foal for $26,000 at Keeneland in January 2007.
The mare’s first three foals to race following that acquisition were undistinguished, but with Sweet Reason being a multiple Grade 1 winner of more than $1.2 million, they were hoping to cash in on Sept. 13 at Keeneland when selling Hip No. 779, a Midshipman yearling filly out of Livermore Leslie. The consignor is listed as Bettersworth Westwind Farms.
“We’re hopeful this filly can make some of the hard work we put in around here pay off,” said Brent Harris.
Livermore Leslie lives in one of the half-dozen barns at Westwind. She currently has a colt by Shackleford being weaned from her and is in foal to 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb.
Sweet Reason is not the first major horse to come from Westwind. Santa Teresita, the winner of the Grade 1 Santa Maria at Santa Anita in 2009, was bred in partnership by Westwind and Stonerside Stable. Santa Teresita, by Lemon Drop Kid, was produced by the Gilded Time mare Sweet Gold, whom Westwind bought in 1998 at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale. Sweet Gold eventually produced a $1.05 million sales foal, eventually named Warners, who would become graded stakes-placed, and Sweet Hearth, a highweight in Italy and a stakes winner in France.
Among the other stakes winners bred by Westwind (co-bred in the name of Mike Harris) is Timber Reserve, the winner of the 2007 Pennsylvania Derby and an earner of $772,197. Westwind also produced a number of swift 2-year-olds owned by James Devaney, who dominated Kentucky racing in that category for a brief period in the mid-1980s.
“I bought probably eight or 10 stakes horses off them for Mr. Devaney,” said retired trainer Don Winfree, naming Betwixt n’ Between, No Joke, Don’t Hesitate, and Don’t Joke among them. “They raise as tough and as good a horse as anybody in this state. They didn’t always have the best bloodlines to work with, but the Harrises really did a terrific job.”
Years ago, Westwind stood stallions such as Grand Revival and Storm Brewing, but matings no longer take place on the farm; mares are vanned elsewhere and returned here after being pronounced in foal. About 25 mares live on the farm, about half of them boarders for outside clients; there also are separate barns for the nearly 30 yearlings and weanlings currently on the grounds.
The primary Westwind focus is breeding to sell at Kentucky auctions, although the occasional horse who isn’t sold will race for the farm. Theirs is a labor-intensive, seven-days-a-week operation; they bale their own hay and straw and sell the balance. There are six full-time employees: the three brothers, Mike’s two sons, and Kenny Duncan.
Although Westwind is a collaborative venture among the Harris family, “Mike and I usually have a mare or two on our own,” said Brent. “My wife and I just happened to get lucky with Livermore Leslie.”
Brent and Beth, married for 25 years, are humble people of conscience and commitment. Brent said he will have to miss the Breeders’ Cup because of a Christian mission trip to Jamaica. Beth, a third-grade teacher, is a serious long-distance runner who has competed in marathons throughout the United States. She said she will travel to Santa Anita again this year after introducing herself to Treadway in the paddock prior to the Juvenile Fillies last year.
“It’s a beautiful place,” she said. “It’s so exciting for us to say we bred a Breeders’ Cup contender. We all feel really fortunate that the hard work by Brent and Mike and the family is being recognized.”