The Bluegrass grows green at Kentuckiana

by Ray Cotolo

Kentuckiana Farms’ growth as a powerhouse consignor has also been a story of rehabilitating a jewel program once left dusted and withered.

Year to year, Kentuckiana Farms have held a large presence over their home grounds at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for providing quality from bloodlines and success on the racetrack. But they also operated in the once heart of harness racing — and of all horse racing, really — in Kentucky, a state that a decade ago only had the Grand Circuit come to Lexington and tracks that became essentially bushwood ovals.

Fast forward a decade, through years of lobbying and development on how to rebuild a robust Kentucky program. And now with time after a signature from Governor Andy Beshear, Kentucky is readying to open its third pari-mutuel track after shutting down several in the last 10 years. The state now offers a stakes program to the tune of several million dollars annually — for all calibers of Kentucky-resident horses — that draws competitors from every facet of North America back to the center of the Bluegrass.

“If you ask me, on a personal level, it’s very, very satisfying to see the rebirth of Kentucky racing,” Bob Brady said. “I’ve been here a long time. I came here in 1975 and it was great here. All the major farms were here, as far as Castleton and Almahurst, Stoner Creek. Then, once the stallions left, Kentucky kind of went by the wayside. So, now, to have all of this happening again, it’s just been very exciting to be part of the process… part of the building process to build it back. It’s just been really great to be a part of; people are moving here, people are buying farms and making investments. It’s just been great.

“It’s exceeding, not only our expectations, but it’s just going to get better and better. As the more eligible yearlings arrive, there will be better competition and I think they have a lot of growth here. We’re not finished. How about that? This is a program that’s in its infancy. It’s a developing program that’s going to get better as the years go by. I think we’re all very proud about what we’ve accomplished here.”

Kentucky’s investments into its harness racing programs have had buyers pulling from both pockets and then some to acquire eligible yearlings, and Kentuckiana is stocked. The farm will sell 119 yearlings through the five days at the Lexington Selected Sale from a goldrush of broodmares that has reasonably had prospectors migrating westward. Stakes-winning dams like Designed To Be, French Cafe, Tall Drink Hanover, Creamy Mimi, Asiago, Womans Will, To Dream On, Sterling Volo… On and on, are represented in the dynamite Kentuckiana consignment.

“This is the first time in several years where I really couldn’t tell you who my sale topper is,” Brady said. “To me, that’s a good position to be in. There’re multiple top-end, high-caliber yearlings. I like that fact. It’s a very balanced consignment this year.

“We’ve always been deep with the trotters, but this year the pacers are starting to close the gap. There’re really nice pacers, both colts and fillies, this year. We’re happy to have them. I think, if you look at the consignment, we’re very deep on colts, fillies, pacers, trotters, right across the board. It’s a lot of quality and a lot of really nice yearlings.”

Some of those nice yearlings include a filly out of French Cafe named A Family Affair, Hip #124. She’s a full sister to the undefeated filly French Champagne and out of a mare whose siblings include stakes winners French Laundry and French Wine. Another is a colt by Captaintreacherous named Captain Incredible, Hip #25. He is out of the mare Mattie Terror Girl, who is a full sister to speed freak and millionaire Drop The Ball. Greenshoe’s half-brother is Herecomesdajudge, Hip #112 and is the first Muscle Hill foal from world champion Designed To Be. On and on and on… a single paragraph, nay two, nor even three could do the consignment justice, and these are just some of its Day 1 offerings.

“Everybody that is here has steadily increased the quality of the broodmares and it’s now showing up at the sale,” Brady said. “The clients here have made the commitment to keep buying better and better mares and fillies and the overall quality of the consignment has just gotten better and better every single year.”

But the strength of Kentuckiana’s consignment is not only of its own doing, as Brady points out. Much like how Kentucky racing is being rebuilt not by one man but a village, Kentuckiana year in and year out provides ever-improving stock because of the community and relationships it has built and nurtured with its clients for decades. The success of Kentuckiana is a team effort pushing beyond just the consignment.

“The clients that we have, they are the best that you can get,” Brady said. “They are not just clients anymore, they’ve become our friends and family, basically. Most of the guys have been here for a long time. We really don’t take new people at this point.”

And so, with over 100 yearlings on offer from some of harness racing’s top families, and with many eligible to the fastest-growing breeding stakes program in North America, Brady is bullish on the Bluegrass and on harness racing.

“I think we’re going to have a really good sale,” Brady said. “If you look around the country, Keeneland sales were good. The Ohio sale was up 11 per cent, so I think people are going to want to buy quality. I think the reason being is that there’s a lot of money out there. If you look around North America, the purses are really, really good right now. [Standardbred breeding has] a better product than we used to have. People like quality and they can appreciate it. We’re looking forward to it. We have a lot of nice yearlings and we’re excited about the sale and I think it’ll be a good one.”