Marvin Little Jr. was a self-made man who counted champion Hansel among the Thoroughbreds he bred

Marvin Little Jr. was a self-made man who counted champion Hansel among the Thoroughbreds he bred

Anne M. Eberhardt

Respected Horseman Marvin Little Jr. Dies

The Navy veteran and accomplished Thoroughbred breeder was 79.

Respected horseman Marvin Little Jr. passed away July 4 after a long battle with cancer. Born July 13, 1937, he died just shy of his 80th birthday.

Widely known as "Junior" within the industry, Little was born in Paintsville, Ky., and was a self-made man who never finished high school. After a stint in the Navy, he was planning to work in a factory, but a steel strike meant he took a job at Clovelly Farms near Lexington.

That began his equine education, and he was a devoted student. Farm manager Lars la Cour, along with farm owner Robin Scully, eventually recommended him for a job at the Hardin family's Newstead Farm near Upperville, Va., and Little worked his way up from yearling manager to farm manager of the historic operation. 

When Newstead underwent dispersal in 1985, world records were set. Handled by Fasig-Tipton, the dispersal grossed $46,988,000 and remains one of the largest in history. The highlight was multiple grade 1 winner Miss Oceana, who had raced as a homebred for Newstead. Offered in foal to Northern Dancer, she was sold for a then world-record price of $7 million. 

Little's success did not end after leaving Newstead. He moved to Kentucky, and when he did, he took his own horses with him. Included in the group was a colt by Woodman. That foal, later named Hansel, went go on to win both the Preakness Stakes (G1) and the Belmont Stakes (G1), and was named champion 3-year-old colt in 1991. Prior to his death June 13, Hansel was the oldest living winner of a Triple Crown race.

"My dad was a legend, and his dream was to breed the winner of the Kentucky Derby, but he never quite got there," said Teresa Little. "But he bred the winner of the Preakness and the Belmont. Hansel almost won it all for us, and he was a champion."

Little bred a number of notable stakes winners throughout the decades, including Kinsale King, who won the 2010 Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News (G1). According to his family, though, Hansel and Miss Oceana remained his personal favorites throughout his life.

In addition to horses, Little's other passion was the New York Yankees, and he was often seen sporting his Yankees cap.

He never retired from the Thoroughbred industry, and at the time of his death, he still owned about 20 broodmares. Little loved the horse business for all the great moments of joy it brought to him and his family, as well as for all the truly remarkable people and great friends he made along the way. 

Little is survived by his three children, Marilyn, Jeff, and Teresa, as well as five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 5-8 p.m. EDT July 6 at Hinton-Turner Funeral Home near Paris, Ky. Funeral services will be held July 7, at 1 p.m. EDT.