Updated on 09/17/2011 12:52PM

W.T. Young dead at 85

Owner-breeder William T. Young built the legendary Overbrook Farm.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - William T. Young, the Kentucky businessman and philanthropist who built Overbrook Farm into a Lexington showplace and who owned Storm Cat, one of the dominant stallions of this era, died at his home in Gulf Stream, Fla., on Monday. He was 85.

Young had an extraordinarily long and successful career, first in business and then in the Thoroughbred industry. In both worlds, he seemed to have a golden touch.

Young didn't get involved in Thoroughbred breeding until he bought 110 acres south of Lexington in 1972, when he was 54. Although he never presented himself as a horseman, he nonetheless achieved great success. He designed Overbrook as an elegant, state-of-the-art facility, which now covers 2,400 acres.

Now home to 10 stallions and more than 100 mares, Overbrook bred or raced such champions as Timber Country, Flanders, Golden Attraction, Boston Harbor, and Surfside - and such classic winners as Grindstone, Tabasco Cat, and Editor's Note. Many of them were sired by Storm Cat and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, with whom Young enjoyed a long and close association.

But Young is most readily connected with Storm Cat, who was once such an unpopular stud prospect that Young let people breed their mares to him for free. Storm Cat now is the most fashionable and expensive stallion in the North America, with a stud fee of $500,000 and stables of champions to his credit. Storm Cat may be Young's most obvious legacy to the Thoroughbred sport, but he is not the only one. He might not even be the most important one, according to Lukas.

"He produced some of the great horses we were able to train," Lukas said Tuesday morning from his barn at Santa Anita. "But, in retrospect, that's a very small part of a much bigger picture. Anyone who met Bill Young was a better person for it. I know he was a great stabilizing force for me. I have a tendency to get a little opinionated and go off the deep end every once in a while, and he was a stabilizer against that. I don't think there's another person who could have had more influence on my career and in my life in general than Bill Young did."

William Thompson Young was born on Feb 15, 1918, in Lexington, Ky. He made his first fortune with a peanut butter company he founded in 1946 after serving in the Army during World War II. The peanut butter, named Big Top, became better known as Jif around the nation after Young sold his company to Procter and Gamble in 1955.

Young's business involvements were many and varied. After selling Big Top, he pursued warehousing and shipping businesses and founded W. T. Young Storage Co. and Lexington Cartage. He served as chairman of Royal Crown Co., was a substantial stockholder in the Humana health-care corporation, and served on the board of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Along the way, he gave his time and money to numerous charities and cultural organizations. He generously supported his alma mater, the University of Kentucky, most recently giving $5 million to build a library that bears his name.

"He wasn't a horseman in any sense of the word," Lukas added. "But he was a great people person, and I think a lot of the horse business really is people business."

Young needed all his people skills to convince local breeders to take a chance on Storm Cat, who became Overbrook's first stallion when he retired there in 1988. Storm Cat, a Grade 1 winner at 2 who lost the 1985 Breeders' Cup Juvenile by just a nose to Tasso, had some strikes against him, most notably imperfect conformation.

But Young had faith in his horse and applied himself to getting decent mares to the first Overbrook stallion. He called on local breeders, offering foal-share agreements in which he'd put up the stud fee in exchange for half-ownership of the resulting foal. He even gave some seasons away for free, although in his initial year Storm Cat was advertised with a $30,000 fee.

"There are certain consistencies between Mr. Young's approach to owning and managing Storm Cat and his approach to other business endeavors," said Ric Waldman, who manages Storm Cat for Overbrook. "The horse was out of favor with his customers, but Mr. Young's belief and conviction were so strong, he wouldn't hear of it and he persevered regardless. Mr. Young was not the type to dwell on the past. He was a futuristic thinker. If we were going through a bad stretch, instead of reeling his chips in, he'd sit down and say, 'Boys, what are we doing wrong? Let's fix this.' And he'd plow ahead."

There weren't many bad times in the Thoroughbred game for W.T. Young. One of those rare occasions was at the 1985 Breeders' Cup, when Tasso and Storm Cat flashed across Aqueduct's finish line nearly together. Young and his companions thought they'd won, and so they headed down toward the winner's circle with great cheer while the photo finish was under examination. They arrived just in time to see Tasso's number put up as the winner. Young was embarrassed by what he thought was his own presumptuousness, and he vowed never to make that mistake again. Things turned out much better 11 years later, when Grindstone won the Kentucky Derby by a nose over Cavonnier.

"I've had some great moments in racing, but that's the only time I ever let my guard down completely and the emotions poured," said Lukas, who trained Grindstone. "He'd had that embarrassing moment at the Breeders' Cup when he thought Storm Cat had won, so he said, 'I'm not moving until the race is official.' I had gone down ahead, and I was already in the infield when I saw him coming over. I'm unashamed to say I completely lost it. I don't think the Kentucky Derby was ever more popular than it was that day, because of who he was and what he meant to the commonwealth of Kentucky.

"He was the kind of man that, even if you only spent one day with him, when you went home and looked at yourself in the mirror that night, you said, 'I can be a better person.' His influence will last for a long, long time."

Young's wife, Lucy, died in 2002. He is survived by his son, Bill Jr., and his daughter, Lucy Young Boutin Hamilton, both of whom are co-owners of Overbrook. Funeral plans were pending at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home in Lexington.

William T. Young


1994: Outstanding breeder
1994: Timber Country*, juvenile male
1994: Flanders, juvenile filly
1995: Golden Attraction, juvenile filly
1996: Boston Harbor, juvenile male
2000: Surfside, 3-year-old filly
* Partnership


Kentucky Derby
1996: Grindstone

Preakness Stakes
1994: Tabasco Cat
1995: Timber Country

Belmont Stakes
1994: Tabasco Cat
1996: Editor's Note


1994: Timber Country, Juvenile
1994: Flanders, Juvenile Fillies
1996: Boston Harbor, Juvenile
1999: Cat Thief, Classic