Horsemen Who Died in Plane Crash Remembered by Friends, Relatives, and Associates

Horsemen Who Died in Plane Crash Remembered by Friends, Relatives, and Associates
Photo: Brunacini family
George Brunacini, bred Travers winner Flower Alley.
By Ron Mitchell and
Leslie Deckard

One day after Comair flight 5191 crashed shortly after it left Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, three horsemen who were among the 49 victims were being remembered Monday by friends, relatives, and associates.

Listed among the victims were George Brunacini, who bred 2005 Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner Flower Alley; Central Kentucky horseman Dan Mallory; and trainer Jeff Williams. Brunacini, 60, operated Bona Terra Farm in Scott County, Ky. Mallory, 55, who operated Meadow Haven Farm in Bourbon County, Ky., and was a regular consignor to horse sales, was on the flight to attend the Fasig-Tipton Texas summer yearling sale at Lone Star Park. Williams, 49, trained 18 stakes winners, most for Woodburn Farm, including 1985 Ohio 2-year-old champion Astrotot.

Also listed among the deceased was 25-year-old Washington, D.C., resident Marcie Thomason, whose father, Bill Thomason, is financial and administrative manager of Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington.

In addition, Ottawa-based Standardbred horseman Lyle Anderson, who was returning to Canada after racing a horse at Lexington's Red Mile harness track, was among the crash victims.

The plane's co-pilot, James Polehinke, was the only survivor of the crash, which occurred on property adjacent to the airport owned by Nick Bentley. The crash site, near Versailles Road across the road from Keeneland Racecourse, is familiar to anyone who has attended the sales or races in Lexington. The early Sunday morning flight was popular due to its connecting arrangements in Atlanta with other national and international flights.

The initial investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the pilot incorrectly used a short 3,500-foot runway that parallels Versailles Road rather than the much longer 7,000 main runway for takeoff. The shorter runway is used by smaller, non-commercial craft and is for daytime use only; the longer path is used for commercial airliners. Flight 5191 departed in the pre-dawn darkness of Aug. 27.

On Monday, officials of the Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton sale companies remembered Mallory and Brunacini as hard-working professional horsemen.

"They were every day, morning to night people who worked hard on their farms," Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland sales director said of the two horsemen who sold horses through the auction company. "It's very sad." Russell said Mallory was a "low-profile guy who did his job as well as anyone could."

He remembered Brunacini, who had relocated to Central Kentucky from New Mexico about 10 years ago, as "a very pleasant person to be around. He was a great character. He was a good horseman. He did everything on his farm and at the sales. He bought good mares and raised good horses."

Walt Robertson, Fasig-Tipton president, said Mallory "had a real talent for bringing good horses to the sale. He just brought the horses here and let them speak for themselves. He wasn't old, but he was an old-school horseman."

One of Mallory's sons, Scott, works as a ring man (who holds the horses while they are in the sale ring) for Fasig-Tipton Texas and another son, Dale, had worked for the sale company in the past and is currently an outrider at Lone Star Park.

Terence Collier, Fasig-Tipton's marketing director, said Mallory bought him his first pair of cowboy boots, in Dallas, and also took him to his first rodeo.

Robertson said Brunacini was a "a good, class act" who had experienced his most successful sale consignment at the recent Saratoga yearling sale. Through Swinebroad-Denton, Robertson had also sold Brunacini his Bona Terra property.

Brunacini was on the flight to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a family birthday party, family members said.

"Nobody had more integrity," said Richard Brunacini, George Brunacini's younger brother. "He wanted to take care of everybody. He was a great family man."

"Everybody liked George," said a cousin, Ray Brunacini Sr. "He was very friendly. Anybody that did business with him had nothing but praise for him."

George Brunacini owned an appliance store and had a home in Albuquerque, where he was also involved in real estate development and the construction business.

"He was more and more respected in the breeding world every day," Richard Brunacini said. "He made excellent decisions."

According to John Engelhardt, director of publicity at River Downs, Williams entered the horse business through his association with polo ponies and the Dayton Polo Club in Centerville, Ohio. He went on to become an assistant trainer with W.E. "Smiley" Adams in the late '70s and began an association with Ohio's Woodburn Farm through the 1980s.

His brother Kim Williams is on the board of directors of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners and operates one of the state's most successful breeding operations, Fair Winds Farm in Waynesville.

"He was an outstanding trainer of young horses," said Dayton attorney Larry Denny, who had a decades-long association with Williams through both Thoroughbreds and polo ponies and who worked his way through college shoeing horses. "One of the best caretakers I'd ever seen. Jeff and I were partners. We'd buy lots of horses, I'd shoe them, he'd exercise them. We'd get green horses from Oklahoma, off the track, wherever, and he could teach them to turn, stop, and get them broke to mallet."

Delta Airlines, the parent company of Comair, set up a hotline for friends and family to call: 1-800-801-0088.

Comair Information Center: http://www.comair.com

The Associated Press and River Downs publicity also contributed to this report.

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