Gus Koch, the manager of the Hancock family’s historic Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky., will retire at the end of the Keeneland September yearling sale. He was named the Farm Manager of the Year by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club in 2004, and he is a past president of the organization.
“It’s the right time both professionally and personally,” said Koch Sept. 13 of his decision to retire after a little more than 30 years at Claiborne. “We’ve got a lot of young men at Claiborne ready to step up and take on more responsibility. It’s their time.”
Koch, who will turn 63 Sept. 26, went to work at Claiborne in 1978 as the assistant farm manager.
“I’ve been battling cancer for 12 years,” Koch said. “I had kidney cancer and I lost a kidney, and then it went to my lungs and I lost a lung. I feel good; I feel fine. I’m working every day, but it’s time to spend some time with my family. I don’t want to look back and say, ‘Gee, I wish I had spent more time with them.’ I’m going to do it.”
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Koch was raised on a farm purchased by his late father, Charles Koch, who served as the editor of the Farm Quarterly and was also a freelance journalist. The younger Koch attended Miami University of Ohio and later joined the Marines and served in Vietnam. In addition to Claiborne, he worked at Stoner Creek Stud in Kentucky and in Canada and Maryland at Windfields Farm.
“There is no one best memory, just the people and the horses,” Koch said. “I’ve just had a dream position at Claiborne. Anybody in the horse business would have loved to have done what I have done.”
However, Koch admitted: “I always did have a special place in my heart for Nijinsky II. I worked for E.P. Taylor, and he (Nijinsky II) was born and raised in Canada. I worked for E.P. Taylor up there, and Nijinsky II’s sire, Northern Dancer, was at Windfields in Maryland when I was in Maryland. Then I came to Claiborne, and Nijinsky II was there (standing at stud). He was such a great horse. He had some medical issues, and we spent a lot of time together. He was my boy.”
Koch has 10 children, five sons and five daughters.
“All of my sons in one fashion or another ended up in the horse business, and one of my daughters Cecilia (Koch Adams) runs the Equine Scholars Program at Georgetown College (serving as program coordinator). I own Mt. Carmel Farm (near Cynthiana, Ky.) It adjoins Shawhan Place, which my sons Matthew and Charles have with Ted Kuster. They use my place, and I’m going to be helping them out, so I’ll have plenty to do.”
During Koch’s tenure, Claiborne stood such successful stallions as Danzig and Mr. Prospector in addition to Nijinsky II. Talented racehorses raised on the farm included Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, Pulpit, and Seeking the Gold. Pulpit stands at Claiborne; Easy Goer stood at Clairborne prior to his death; and Seeking the Gold, who was a stallion at Claiborne, was pensioned last year.
“He’s just been as good as it gets – not only as a manager but as a friend, and a human being, and a husband, and a father,” said Claiborne president Seth Hancock of Koch. “Every way you want to slice it, he’s been A-plus. There are special people in the world, and he’s one of them. He’s got a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Bradley Purcell, who recently has worked as the assistant farm manager under Koch, will become Claiborne’s manager, Hancock said.