With 14 Kentucky Derby winners and many successful stallions having stood at the nearly century-old farm, Claiborne is among the most influential Thoroughbred breeding operations in American history.
And while it is the Hancock family that is most synonymous with the famous Claiborne name, another less recognizable family has played a key role in making the legendary farm the institution it is today.
The Boyle family has been living and working on the farm’s grounds near Paris, Ky., even before Arthur B. Hancock moved his family there from Virginia in 1912 and named it Claiborne. Dudley Boyle was born on the farm and in 1926 went to work for Hancock as a laborer. Boyle became a trusted employee during the early years of Claiborne and eventually worked his way up to head of maintenance.
As the farm was in large part still devoted to other kinds of agriculture at the time, Boyle helped herd cattle and sheep, raise tobacco, and build stalls and homes at Claiborne. In 1940, Boyle’s son Edmond was born, and it was not long before he too started working on the grounds.
“I remember tagging along with my dad when I was about 4 and watching him work,” said Edmond Boyle. “When I was 10, Mr. Hancock put me to work cutting weeds and other busy stuff just to keep us out of trouble. I made fifty cents a day and thought it was great.”
In 1959, after high school, Edmond Boyle began to work for Claiborne full time. By that time, Arthur B. “Bull” Hancock Jr. had taken over the farm’s operations.
Alongside his father, Boyle did much of the heavy labor on the farm—clearing land, building roads, laying out fences, taking care of animals, and constructing barns and houses, which included putting in water and service lines, and every other conceivable form of maintenance that a 3,000-plus acre farm needs.
“To this day I really don’t even know what my title is; I’m really the guy who just does everything,” laughed Boyle, who celebrates his 50th year of Claiborne service Feb. 21. “I do all the maintenance-related things, whether it’s the barns, the roads, or the upkeep of the houses, fences, and the farm. There’s probably not an acre of land around here that I haven’t worked on.
“There are 30 residences on the farm, so in a way we’re like a small town. When the contractors in (Paris) have a problem, they call us.”
Although Boyle is not a horseman per se, he has gotten to know the personalities of all the famous Claiborne stallions over the years by driving horse vans and doing work around the barns. He also dug the graves for most of them, including Bold Ruler, Buckpasser, Secretariat, and Swale, the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby in Claiborne’s colors.
“This is really all I ever wanted to do,” said Boyle, who worked alongside his father until he passed away in 1986. “This place is a wonderland. If there is a more beautiful place on earth, I don’t know it, so I’ve never had a desire to do anything else. I’ve worked for three generations of Hancocks (Seth is the current president) and they have all treated me like family. They are such great people to work for.”
As much as Boyle enjoys being part of the Claiborne family, his contribution is equally appreciated by the farm. Claiborne farm manager Gus Koch does not want to imagine how the place would operate without Boyle.
“He means so much to the farm,” Koch said. “He knows everything about the facility, whether it be water lines, electrical lines, or anything to do with maintenance. He is a walking Claiborne historian. And he’s such a nice, personable guy, too.
“It’s an amazing, three-generation relationship between the Hancocks and the Boyles,” he said. “It’s such a unique thing; you just don’t hear about this kind of thing anymore.”