Guest Blogger Lindsay Hunter writes about her trip to deliver a mare to the Claiborne Farm Breeding Shed last week...
As I headed out Paris Pike the cold edged winds buffeted the trailer from the west. Past the Country Club, past the Keeneland Training Center, on past Walmac and Spendthrift and Gainesway and Elmendorf. Past the old Greentree and the barn where the Gashouse Gang retirees used to hang out.
The cold grey sky matched the historic grey stone fences that lined Paris Pike. Signature landmarks in Kentucky, these 19th century dry stone walls where originally constructed by Irish and Scottish immigrant stonemasons, who taught their craft to the black slaves, who in turn became accomplished stone masons, building miles and miles of containing fences from the native limestone rocks readily available in the adjoining fields. At one time, the first macadamized (blacktopped ) road west of the Allegheny Mountains, Paris Pike is now a scenic 13 mile four lane ‘country road’ connecting Paris , and Maysville beyond it, to Lexington. The stone walls been carefully moved and reconstructed to accommodate the new and much safer road, and signs along the way denote the time of the original construction.
Entering the quaint town of Paris, I made my way along the antique alley of Main Street, turned right at the Family Dollar onto Hwy 627, over the railroad tracks, past the white water tower, and soon found myself at the main Claiborne Farm entrance ,passing the “No Visitors “ sign as I drove along the driveway.
Four generations of Hancocks have raised Thoroughbred horses on these Bluegrass acres, a true working nursery, no pretentious fancy iron gates, no state of the art stallion complex, just black tar tobacco barns with egg yellow doors and screens, same routines followed day in and day out.
But marvel at the horses that have called Claiborne ‘home’.
Visitors can schedule an appointment to tour the farm, and marvel at the Cemetery and the famous horses buried there. At the main farm, in a hedge enclosed area adjacent to the office, 20 stallions have headstones there. Round Table, Nijinsky II, Secretariat, Swale and Mr Prospector are all buried whole, deviating from the tradition of burying a horse’s head, heart and hooves (for intelligence, heart and speed ) . History makers like Gallant Fox, Bold Ruler, BlenheimII , Double Jay, Nasrullah , Hoist the Flag, Buckpasser and Riva Ridge are also interred here.
Across the road at Marchmont, (a division of Claiborne ) Forli, Conquistador Cielo, Damascus, Danzig, Easy Goer, Sir Ivor, Tom Rolfe, Unbridled and the first stallion imported from England by A.B. Hancock, Sir Gallahad III, are laid to rest in the cemetery.
As I pull into the parking area, I am second in line. The mare I have brought is the dam of a Breeders Cup winner and she is coming to the court of War Front, a son of Danzig, and winner of the Alfred C Vanderbuilt Breeders Cup, the Forego Stakes, the Tom Fool Handicap, Mr Prospector Handicap and the Deputy Minister Handicap, so he could flat run !
We are called to the breeding shed in succession, walking across the grass next to Stoner Creek that flows through the middle of Claiborne, where the white swans float among the bullrushes in the summer. In the whitewashed teasing stall, the teaser talks to the mare. She shows herself to be ready for breeding, and I catch her, running the shank through her mouth as all the mares at Claiborne are bred this way, turning her into the yellow padded wash stocks to get her tail wrapped and washed.
Barrett Midkiff from Taylor Made Farm is behind me, with a mare for First Samurai, and we chat about the weather (cold ) and Winstar’s new breeding shed (they have EVERYTHING, in doubles, and doughnuts ! )
Soon I hand off my mare to the shed crew, who greet me with warmth , it’s been half a year since I was here back in June, and they recall the double fudge peanut butter brownies I brought along that day. No doubt they’re angling for more treats !
War Front steps regally down the rubber brick lined walkway from the upper barn and I’m able to snap some photos with the sun behind him. The stallion manager takes him, and in no time at all has bred the mare. Barrett waits at the yellow gate for his mares’ turn and I bid them adieu and head back to the parking area. The mare loads easily, I close everything up, the new ramp is great, but still heavy , and truck in gear, off we go. I stop briefly at the office and take in a few more Breeding Shed Guides (Claiborne has the back cover ) and its off through town, down Paris Pike to the mare’s home farm.
In some ways it’s a step back in time to visit Claiborne. The staff have for the most part, grown with the farm, some were raised there and have been around Claiborne horses since they were kids. It’s always a privilege to drive through the bronze plaqued gate and be on such a historic Thoroughbred nursery.