Lifelong Kentucky Thoroughbred horseman Robert Estill Courtney Sr. has been named Honored Guest of the Thoroughbred Club of America's 72nd annual Testimonial Dinner. Courtney, owner of Crestfield Farm outside Lexington, Ky., will be honored at Keeneland Race Course the evening of Nov. 1.
The Testimonial Dinner, held annually since 1932, has saluted a number of the most distinguished figures in Thoroughbred racing, including Col. E. R. Bradley, Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane, Paul Mellon, jockey Bill Shoemaker, trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and three generations of the Hancock family of Claiborne Farm.
"Mr. Courtney typifies the kind of horseman who has been the underpinning of the Thoroughbred breeding industry for many generations," said TCA president Arnold Kirkpatrick. "He is as close to the land as to his horses, and all who have been associated with him have confidence in his word and his integrity."
Born on May 15, 1921, in Lexington, Ky., Courtney is the son of W. H. and Harriett U. Courtney. His father was President of First National Bank in Lexington and was the founding Treasurer of Keeneland. Drawn as a youth toward horses and farm life, Courtney kept his goal in sight as his early career ranged from agricultural studies at the University of Kentucky to working at race tracks and for farm implement and feed and hay companies. He also spent four years in the Army and was serving in occupied Japan when discharged from the service in 1946.
Courtney bought his first mare, for $50, at the age of 21. He later leased 100 acres, which he farmed at night while maintaining a day job. Eventually, his land purchases grew and he established a successful market breeding operation at Crestfield, where he raises horses for the yearling market as well as boarding mares for clients and partners.
At the 1972 Keeneland January Sale, Courtney purchased Hasty Queen II for $11,000. The mare produced six stakes winners for Courtney and Robert Congleton, and she was named Broodmare of the Year by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association. Hasty Queen II's best foal was Fit to Fight, which in 1984 became only the fourth horse to sweep New York's Handicap Triple Crown series of the Metropolitan, Suburban, and Brooklyn Handicaps.
Over the years Courtney has been deeply involved in the leadership of the Thoroughbred industry and was a driving force behind the establishment of the Kentucky division of the Fasig-Tipton Sale Co., which operates auctions from its headquarters on Newtown Pike in Lexington. He also is a past president of the Thoroughbred Club of America and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club and has served as a director of the Grayson Foundation to support equine research and as a trustee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
Courtney lives at Crestfield with his wife, Evelyn. One of their sons, Robert Jr., handles the day-to-day management of the farm. The Courtneys other son, Tom, is business manager of the farm.