Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lexington Horse Country: Memories from WEG

To make myself stop looking at photos of the devastation in Japan and stop worrying about the nuclear plant dangers, today I revisited some happy memories of my trip-of-a-lifetime to Lexington, Kentucky, for the World Equestrian Games last fall. While in Lexington, friend Ruth and I did more than immerse ourselves in dressage. We also took the Three Chimneys Stallion Tour offered by Blue Grass Tours. Wow.

Our tour guide had that soft, slow Kentucky drawl that I love and the wonderful southern courtesy. "Y'all having a good time?" He narrated the trip to and from 3 Chimneys, pointing out famous Thoroughbred farms along the way. I took photos while Ruth took notes and later sent them to me, bless her heart. Thanks to her, I can identify at least some of the pictures I took. We passed Bradley Farm, where Seabiscuit was born. Between 1920 and 1940, Bradley Farm, then known as Idle Hour, had four Kentucky Derby winners. Three Chimneys owner Robert Clay bought part of Bradley Farm for his mares and foals. So did Darby Dan Farm, connecting to another portion of its property by building a tunnel under the road.

It was thrilling to see so many famous Thoroughbred farms where horses I'd only read about or seen racing on television... or now via youtube.., had been born and raised. We drove through mile after mile of lovely rolling green fields lined with board fences and dotted with lovely barns and stately homes. Lexington is in the heart of bluegrass country and, for an exciting short time, so were we.

Then we arrived at Three Chimneys Farm. Oh my. Ruth and I were fascinated by the architecture as well as by the stallions and the history of the farm. The buildings were modeled after a farm in Australia that the owner had seen and admired. And some were built by Mennonites, without modern tools or nails.

Even the insides were beautiful. I loved the ceiling of this stallion barn.

But perhaps my favorite was the octagonal building housing a hot walker to keep the stallions in shape. I love octagons.

As westerners, we were thrilled to learn that Seattle Slew was the horse that made Three Chimneys famous... and rich. After retiring from racing, he stood at Three Chimneys for 17 years... with a fee of $800,000. His statue is the centerpiece of the farm.

Three Chimneys prides itself on how they manage their stallions. The studs are given 18 hours of turnout a day and have a personal groom who attends to their every need. Here is Smarty Jones who won two of the three Triple Crown races.

Stud fees are based not on a horse's racing career, but on the careers of his offspring and their offspring. Thus Smarty Jones stands for $10,000, while Dynaformer, who didn't begin winning until later in life and whom most of us have never heard of, stands for $150,000 because his son Barbaro and many of his other get have been big dollar winners.

We then saw the elaborate building for breeding mares. All precautions are taken to insure the safety of the mare and of the stallion, since all Thoroughbred breeding is done by live cover. One member of our tour asked why artificial insemination wasn't used. I have often wondered the same thing. The member of the stallion management team who gave the tour explained that the genetics of stallions like Dynaformer would be lost since everyone would want to breed to the race winners, who may or may not turn out to be the best sires. A stallion can only breed so many mares a year with live cover but could service many times that many from his semen. Thoroughbred stallion owners believe A-I would destroy the industry.

After our tour bus brought us back to the Convention Center in Lexington, Ruth and I spent the afternoon exploring the big horse expo going on there. Lexington was capitalizing on all the horse fanatics visiting from around the world for WEG. I'll save those memories for another time when I need to get away from world news.

No comments:

Post a Comment