Day At The Track

Standardbreds still prominent in central Kentucky

06:16 AM 29 Jul 2013 NZST
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Brittany Farms, harness racing harness racing harness racing
Brittany Farms in Woodford County is a leading producer of Standardbred racehorses.
Photo by Joe Kyle
Hunterton Farm and Sales Agency in Bourbon County is a leading seller of Standardbred racing prospects in Lexington.
Photo by Cindy Stewart
Steve and Cindy Stewart operated a Standardbred farm in New Jersey before buying Hunterton Farm in Paris. KY.
Photo by Hilary Spears

Central Kentucky is revered worldwide as prime property for raising racehorses. Major street names like Man o’War and Citation Boulevards and Sir Barton Way are reminders that some of the most famous Thoroughbreds were born and raised in the famed Bluegrass region.

But Thoroughbreds are not the only game in town. Standardbreds — also called harness horses and that race while pulling two-wheeled carts — have a longstanding presence in Lexington and surrounding areas. While benefiting from the region’s equine riches, the breeds’ two industries live parallel lives. Both have historic tracks (The Red Mile and Keeneland), both have locally based trade publications, and both have auctions in Lexington that attract international buyers.

“Kentucky is an absolutely great place to raise horses in general,” said Art Zubrod manager of George Segal’s Brittany Farms in Versailles.

There are many reasons for the area’s distinction, but one of the most obvious is the terrain. In addition to producing an abundance of nutrient-rich grass, the well-drained ground resists puddles and, therefore, inhibits proliferation of insects. The gently rolling fields provide natural exercise to strengthen young horses’ muscle and bone as they roam the fields.

Steve and Cindy Stewart, who own and operate Hunterton Farm and Sales Agency in Paris, came to further appreciate the Bluegrass area when they concurrently operated a New Jersey Standardbred farm for 10 years.

“Not all grass is created equal,” Steve Stewart said. “People don’t realize how good our grass is until they go somewhere else.”

While operating both facilities, Stewart used two vastly different feeding programs. All horses spent most of their time in pastures and were fed a grain mixture. The Kentucky horses thrived on the regimen but the New Jersey residents’ diets had to be fortified with supplements because the grass was less rich. He also noted that even after a severe drought, local grass quickly rebounds after steady rains.

Steve Stewart said his New Jersey farm had biting insects so menacing that horses would run from them.

“In other places, you see standing water in the fields, but here that does not happen,” he said. “We don’t have those ‘green heads’ here, just big horse flies. People in Kentucky don’t even know what a ‘green head’ is.”

Zubrod said Kentucky’s reputation could enhance horses’ value.

“It gives you somewhat of an edge,” he said. “People know that the Kentucky horses have advantages because they were raised here. People like to buy horses that were raised in Kentucky because they know their chances of getting a good horse is a little bit better. But that does not mean you can’t raise a champion [elsewhere.]”

Locally raised horses benefit from a wide array of quality services resulting from the area’s equine professionals expecting the best of everything from basic supplies to acclaimed health care. A by-product of those expectations is an abundance of readily available top-shelf goods and services to benefit horses and horsemen of all breeds.

“So many of the great veterinarians are here at the clinics and the [University of Kentucky’s research center],” Zubrod said. “It is serious business here.”
 

Standardbreds and storied past

The greater Lexington area is known for Thoroughbred history, but Standardbreds have their own storied past that includes The Red Mile track nestled near the corner of Broadway and Red Mile Roads on the fringe of downtown Lexington.

The track hosted its inaugural season in 1875 and is one of America’s oldest harness horse facilities. The Red Mile continues to conduct Standardbred racing. Racing resumes Aug. 4 and is highlighted by eight days of premium competition known as the “Grand Circuit” in late September and early October.

Several Standardbred farms boast a long history in the area, as well. Walnut Hall Stock Farm in northern Fayette County bills itself as one of the nation’s oldest farms continuously run by the same family. The original owner established the property as a Standardbred nursery around 1900 when he recognized the locale as prime real estate for horses during a visit. Through the decades, the land has been divided among descendants but continues as a leader among Standardbred breeding operations.

Brittany Farms and Hunterton Farm are relative newcomers to the scene but the properties have deep roots.

Brittany Farms, a few miles behind “The Castle” landmark in Woodford County, dates to the early 1800s and was operating as a Standardbred facility when George Segal purchased the property and some of the equine holdings in 1986. The farm continues to prosper and is known worldwide as a producer of superior racers.

Hunterton Farm was established in 1981 on 80 leased acres in Lexington before shifting its Kentucky branch to Paris in 1996 and expanding to 900 acres. The property, previously used for raising both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, is the final resting place of some of racing’s elite horses. The roomy pastoral cemetery features the graves of 1943 Thoroughbred Triple Crown hero Count Fleet and legendary Standardbred Nevele Pride.

The sales branch of Hunterton Farm annually ranks as a leading seller of horses at public auctions. The agency has sold the top-priced yearling at the Lexington sale for the past five years led by a $450,000 colt in 2011.

Stewart credits much of his success to his business partners and the land on which the animals are raised.

“There is something in Idaho that makes good potatoes, and there is something here that makes it a good place to raise horses,” he said.

by Liane Crossley (reprintd with permission by www.kyforward.com)

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