Updated on 09/17/2011 11:50AM

Well-known McKathans play game well


There is hardly anyone in Florida's Thoroughbred breeding and sales industry who hasn't met, done business with, or heard of J.B. "Luke" McKathan. He is the father of J.B. Jr. and Kevin McKathan, the McKathan brothers so often associated with Bob Baffert. He is the father of Gary McKathan, presently learning the farrier trade in Ocala, the uncle of David McKathan, who has his own sales and training business in Ocala, and the husband of Jocelyn, once of the Eastern establishment hunter-jumper set and now the McKathan Thoroughbred pedigree pundit.

"My given name is James," McKathan said. "My grandmama gave me the nickname Luke after a Sunday comic strip character and it stuck. I come from southern Alabama, just over the Florida border. We, the family, were in the cattle business. That's where I learned how to get along with horses. You worked cutting horses, you know those fast buggers that could turn on a dime, and they took me to Quarter Horses."

McKathan decided early on that horses and not cattle was the business he wanted to be in. He began by following the Quarter Horse circuit from Florida to California.

"I did well with Quarter Horses but I was starving to death," McKathan said. "Thought I'd better switch over to Thoroughbreds. Needed to eat regular, you know."

McKathan, despite winning his share of Thoroughbred races, learned that getting stall space at tracks can be tough. Warren Wolf was the racing secretary at Charles Town and Wolf had a reputation for having a big heart and gave McKathan stalls when other racing secretaries wouldn't. McKathan shipped in and raced at Charles Town for the next five years. Later Wolf would help McKathan out with stalls at Tampa Bay Downs.

The late Clayton O'Quinn, of Grosse Pointe Stud Farm, is the man whom McKathan credits with giving him an all-important career boost. Both were in the Quarter Horse trade before switching to Thoroughbreds, and McKathan had met O'Quinn at a Quarter Horse meet in Louisiana.

"I always could get along with a horse, any kind of a horse," McKathan said. "Where Clayton helped me was in judging a horse. Look at the way he walks, Clayton would say. Then see how the horse is framed. You know it gets to be very expensive to pinhook a pretty horse. You have to find the horse who is okay but doesn't look it. Then, if you know your business, you can do some window dressing and make some money, too."

The McKathans keep some 50 mares on their nursery and training center north of Ocala. They sell the produce of these mares as weanlings, yearlings, and

2-year-olds in training. They also do their share of pinhooking. Lately they have been sending their precocious 2-year-olds to California for early racing where they can win a purse and sell the horse. It's proved to be a successful business plan.

Team McKathan, Luke and Jocelyn, don't always agree on pinhooking choices. Luke will readily admit that they disagree half the time, but they always work it out. She has, according to her husband, as good an eye for a horse as anyone in the county and is very capable when it comes to pedigree evaluations.

McKathan, ordinarily the ebullient optimist, is not so sanguine these days. "Florida's in trouble," McKathan said. "Something's got to change. I don't know what, but we need more money for average purses. Seems to me the horse business, considering costs and purses, was better off 25 years ago when I was at the track."

Team McKathan has had at one time or another a hand in developing a number of graded stakes winners, but no horse has more room in Luke's heart than Ponderosa Jane, a 1968 Florida-bred filly by Hilarious - Bad News, by Platter.

"Oh gosh, she sure was my favorite," McKathan said.

"I used to run her every Saturday whether she needed to or not, and I won a whole bunch of itty-bitty stakes with her. She was out of a mare named Bad News. You know how fast bad news travels; Ponderosa Jane was faster."