Eric Reed keeps hoping at some point he will awaken to find that the events of early Dec. 18 did not happen and that it was all a nightmare.
Unfortunately for the veteran trainer, a devastating inferno that engulfed one of three barns at his Mercury Equine Center shortly after midnight Saturday was all too real, resulting in the deaths of 23 Thoroughbreds. The fire also claimed all of the facility's tack and supplies and because Reed’s office was located in the barn, he also lost valuable records and decades of trophies and other racing memorabilia.
“I keep trying to wake myself up,” Reed said Dec. 19. "I’ll close my eyes and pretend I’m going to wake up and it was all a nightmare. But it’s not going to be. We lost everything—tack, bridles, halters, shanks, feed tubs, hay, water tubs, seed; everything perished.”
The fire in the barn that mainly housed yearlings began shortly after midnight Saturday and is believed to have been started by lightning as there was a thunderstorm moving through Central Kentucky at the time on an unseasonably warm December night with temperatures in the 60s.
Reed said two of the six employees who reside on the property saw the flames shooting into the air and immediately called 911 and then began moving horses out of the large barn and succeeded in saving 13 horses.
The inferno, whipped by winds in excess of 20 miles per hour, spread quickly as Reed and his employees started moving horses from the barn to a nearby paddock while waiting for what seemed like an interminable amount of time for firefighters to arrive. As they worked in the pouring rain to rescue the animals, Reed said he and his crew called again to ask when the firefighters would arrive. He said it was later determined the fire-fighting units arrived some 39 minutes after the initial call, with the building already a total loss.
Reed said there is no doubt more horses could have been saved if the response time had been quicker. He noted that the training center, on property that once was the original Spendthrift Farm training facility, is located about five minutes from a fire station.
“We were in there, battling flames in a falling barn and they still weren’t here,” Reed said, adding that the training center’s foreman was a “hero” for jumping into help without putting any clothes on. “We did what we could do. It was a monsoon. It was almost like a bomb went off, it was so fast and so hot.
“The part of the barn that was on fire initially was where the tack room and office were and then it jumped to the stalls,” Reed continued. “If they had been here in 15 minutes we probably would have saved 20 horses. All we needed was some water to help us. I think they just made sure it didn’t spread.”
Reed said most of the horses in the barn were yearlings, but included among the horses that perished was Sombree, a stakes-winning daughter of Eskendereya who had been entered in next month’s Keeneland January horses of all ages sale. Another horse that died was scheduled to race Monday, Dec. 19, in Ohio.
The horses, owned by 15 different individuals, were not insured, Reed said, but the barn was covered, although any eventual settlement likely won’t cover the cost of a replacement building.
As word of Reed’s loss spread throughout the Thoroughbred community, other horsemen pitched in by loaning saddles and other equipment.
Also, retired jockey and Ohio racing official Mike Manganello set up a Gofundme.com fund-raising page to help Reed and Mercury Equine, with a $20,000 goal.