Catesby Clay (left) with son Brutus Clay with Avaricity and her Hat Trick foal.

Catesby Clay (left) with son Brutus Clay with Avaricity and her Hat Trick foal.

Courtesy Catesby Clay

TOBA June Member of the Month

Catesby Clay carries on his family's regal legacy.

Runnymede Farm in Paris, Ky. is the matriarch of Bluegrass nurseries. Founded in 1867 by Colonel Ezekiel Clay, Runnymede has turned out stellar runners for nearly 150 years. Currently, Col. Clay’s grandson, Catesby, carries on the family’s regal legacy.

Most recently, Catesby Clay Investment bred Undrafted, who won the grade III Jaipur Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard on June 7. Now aiming for the July 12 Darley July Cup at Newmarket, Undrafted (Purim-French Jeannette, by French Deputy) sped the Jaipur’s six-furlong distance in a scorching 1:07.24 under jockey John Velazquez. The four-year-old Wesley Ward trainee is a handsome chestnut gelding owned by Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker. Consigned by Runnymede to the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Undrafted was purchased by Hat Creek Racing Co. for $50,000.

Clay sings the praises of his family’s land. He says, “It’s challenging, but we think that the Bluegrass is a wonderful place to graze horses—the rolling hills and limestone water—and Runnymede has had a memorable past and we’re working on the present and the future.” The farm is prime land for developing future runners, he notes. “..We have some hills which we turn out youngsters on to build out those hind rear muscles, you know…which is something missing in perfectly flat land. The farm has both and we think that’s very, very important. And, of course, the limestone, to build the strength in the bones, is very important, and really to give them time and not to rush them.”

When breeding Runnymede’s mares, Clay and the farm’s general manager, Romain Malhouitre, build on the royal blood flowing through their horses’ veins. Clay emphasizes trying to reproduce crosses that have already worked and working with successful Runnymede bloodlines. He observes that in creating a good racehorse, “the mares that have produced in the past, in the family tree, [are] very significant and you’re trying to keep mares and fillies that are of families that have produced in the past.” Malhouitre adds, “We have two to three foundation mares, foundation families, that have been here for a while.”

Such mares include multiple graded stakes winner Bizzy Caroline and her dam, Sacre Coeur. This pair traces in tail-female to Clay’s foundation mare, Kazadancoa, whose other Runnymede-bred descendants include classic-placed Tejano Run and Group I winner Palace Episode. But Runnymede isn’t afraid to borrow from another operation’s treasure trove. Twelve-year-old Pleasant Laughter traces to the blue hen No Class of Sam-Son Farm, while Avaricity is out of a half-sister to Irish Derby winner Law Society. Some recent successes bred alone or in partnership by Runnymede include Grade/Group I winners Agnes Digital, Divine Park, and Marylebone, as well as Undrafted. Though that gelding’s dam, French Jeannette, died in 2013, she left behind a Big Brown  colt, now a yearling.

Malhouitre estimates that, in a given year, about 50% of Runnymede mares go to proven sires. The other half visits unproven sires. He says, “When mares are young, we are trying to go to [a] proven sire just to give them the best shot we can…and after that, when the mares are proven, we go to [a] freshman or unproven sire.” For example, proven mares Sacre Coeur and Claire’s Smile are now in foal to 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb  and 2010 champion juvenile colt Uncle Mo , respectively, while newer mares Bizzy Caroline and Pinch Pie are pregnant to the covers of Malibu Moon  (also the sire of Orb) and champion sire Giant’s Causeway, respectively. Four-year-old Loveofalifetime, the farm’s only daughter of Lovington (also dam of Grade III winners Savorthetime and Rogue Romance), is in foal to 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid .

Catesby himself has deep roots in Kentucky. His father, Brutus (son of the original Col. Clay, who bred multiple classic winners), died when Catesby was three. After the young boy’s mother remarried to Senator Johnson N. Camden, they moved to his farm in Woodford County. Eventually, Catesby felt Runnymede’s siren song calling and returned home. His successes led him to be named the Thoroughbred Club of America’s Honored Guest in 2009; he’s also a chairman emeritus of Churchill Downs.

Catesby and his wife have eight children—five boys and three girls—who help carry on the family legacy. Son Brutus (pictured above) serves as Runnymede’s current president. Another son, Joe, is involved in the farm’s activities and recently attended Royal Ascot, while son-in-law David Blee has helped pioneer the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP). Though it primarily breeds to sell, Runnymede remains a Clay family operation. As Clay says, “We’ve always been very much involved in [racing and breeding] and [are] continuing to do so.”