By: Megan Arszman
One of the perks of living in Lexington, Ky. is that you’re in the “Horse Capital of the World.” Yes, we know that Ocala, Fla., has that same tagline, and the surrounding area of Fort Worth, Texas, could even be considered that as well, so perhaps we should say the “Original Horse Capital of the World.”
It might not be an area full of Quarter Horses, but we’re still talking equine royalty and equine millionaires. According to a study published by the Lane Report, a third of the United States’ Thoroughbred foal crop was born in Kentucky in 2010. Of those foals, a handful would go on to win races at tracks across the country—some small allowance races, some larger graded stakes races (i.e., the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Travers Stakes), and a select few will earn millions of dollars on the track and then turn around and make millions as sires and mares in the breeding shed.
Every November and January, Thoroughbred farms in Central Kentucky open their doors to the general public for their stallion open houses, held during the breeding season and all age sales at Keeneland Race Course and Sales Pavilion in Lexington. Mare owners looking to breed are able to get an up-close inspection of potential sires, and fans are able to see the horses that captured their hearts on the track, now standing just a few feet away.
I grew up watching and loving Thoroughbred racing, while showing my own Quarter Horses. To this day, my father’s favorite weekend pastime is turning on TVG and watching races taking place around the country. When my parents came to visit me in Lexington, I knew my dad would enjoy taking part in WinStar Farm’s stallion open house. What better way to brave the winter weather than by touring the impressive grounds, visiting the stallions, and enjoying a gourmet meal of warm corn chowder and roast beef sandwiches?
If you follow horse racing, some of WinStar’s stallions might sound familiar—Super Saver (2010 Kentucky Derby winner), Drosselmeyer (2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner), Distorted Humor (sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide), and Tiznow (two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic and sire to multiple champions such as Well Armed and Gemologist). All together WinStar stands 21 stallions in their palatial stallion barn. Stud fees range from $5,000 (Hold Me Back) to $100,000 (Distorted Humor), all to be paid when the foal stands and nurses the next year.
During the open house, admirers wait in anticipation as the stallions are paraded by one-by-one and set up for inspection. By now, these guys know their jobs—stand in a conformation pose, prick your ears, and look pretty. A couple might bite at their chains in anticipation, but most stand and wait patiently for reverence from their adoring fans. Handlers lead the impressive animals back and forth among the crowd, exhibiting their natural stride—typically long and effortless.
Mare owners may ask the stallion manager a few quick questions about temperament and how many foals are already on the books. Then, the stud will be taken back to his large box stall and the next is brought out.
By this time of the year, some still have their slick coats, depending on if they’ve spent some time in the Southern Hemisphere for their breeding season or if they were just retired from the track. All have dapples, are in good condition, and look to be perfectly happy in their new careers and home. And who wouldn’t? WinStar Farms is one of the top farms in the country, gracing more than 1,800 acres including a stallion barn, broodmare and foaling barns, training complex (complete with their own track). The facility was initially purchased by Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt in 2000, but is now solely owned by Troutt.
“[Owning such great champions] is beyond description,” Casner said during a previous interview. “To be around these truly incredible equine athletes is something very, very special.”