Farms in Focus

November 22, 2016 • Photos By David Coyle • Text by Lenny Shulman

One of the benefits of a thriving Thoroughbred horse racing industry is the infrastructure of scenic and productive farmland needed to raise and cultivate racehorses. This greenspace not only adds beauty to the environment while serving as an oasis from the surrounding asphalt jungle, but has also inspired farm owners to build architecturally soaring facilities to complement the sprawling paddocks. While mares and foals romp through fields as big as a small town, stallions often reside in barns resembling five-star hotels, surrounded by specialty swimming pools, training tracks, statues, and state-of-the art offices, ponds, and stone walls.

Combining function with beauty, Thoroughbred farms make willing models for the camera, and BloodHorse is capturing those images in a series of photographic farm profiles of stunning horse havens both in Central Kentucky and around the U.S. and the world.

  • Adena Springs
  • Winstar Farm
  • Lane’s End Farm
  • Ashford Stud

Adena Springs

Adena Springs Kentucky is still a young farm, not yet a decade old, but its design incorporates years of knowledge and insights gleaned by owner Frank Stronach, the most decorated breeder in North America over the past 20 years.

Stronach, who also maintains large Thoroughbred farms in Canada and Florida, decided to develop the 2,500-acre property outside Paris, Ky., as his Adena operation outgrew his former farm near Versailles. The present Adena was built to Stronach’s specifications, with accents on stunning architecture, pristine pastures, an impressive office atmosphere, and, above all, the safety of the horse in mind.

“Safety first is everything,” noted Adena Springs Kentucky general manager Eoin Ryan. “From the airy stalls to the rubber-brick walkways that cross every road, to the padded walls. The barns are not only pretty, but they have great air flow and ventilation.”

Currently 274 Thoroughbreds are on the farm, along with 250 Black Angus cattle. There is a nursery where Adena grows its own trees, which are planted to enhance the beauty of the farm and improve the air quality.

The paddocks, many 30-40 acres, benefit from the farm’s composting operation that takes manure, breaks it down, and spreads it back over the pasture.

“We never spray our pastures,” said Ryan. “We leave them as natural as possible and establish good grasses. Any runoff areas where excess water collects have been fenced off; anywhere the gradient is too steep is fenced off, all for safety.”

Stronach employed architect Steve McCasey to execute his vision for the structures on Adena Springs. McCasey has worked on several properties for Stronach, and there is a strong similarity among those projects.

Locally mined limestone gives the eight barns on Adena Springs a strong, attractive presence.

“Frank wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing but at the same time very healthy, functional, and safe for the horse,” said Dan Hall, who served as a consultant to Stronach on the development of the farm. “Frank insisted on things like large outside windows and great air flow. Frank loves landscaping, and his farms get even more beautiful as the plants mature.”

The results of Stronach’s attention to detail are displayed in the trophy cases lining the Adena office. The first pieces that grab the eye are the multitude of Eclipse Awards earned by Stronach as an owner and breeder, as well as by individual horses. Further hardware resides at Stronach’s other farms, but the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) trophy earned by homebred Ghostzapper was donated by Stronach to the nearby Old Friends retirement farm.

“That’s a lifetime of dedication to achieve those,” said Ryan. “They don’t come easy.”

It takes the kind of planning that is evident around Adena Springs.

Winstar Farm

No farm in Central Kentucky has been as aggressive as WinStar Farm in the 21st century in terms of growth—land, horses, and facilities. Since it was purchased by Kenny Troutt and Bill Casner from Art, Jack, and J.R. Preston in 2000, the former Prestonwood Farm has blossomed along Pisgah Pike in Woodford County just outside Lexington.

Now owned by Troutt and overseen by president and CEO Elliott Walden, WinStar Farm mixes the brand new with the historic to form one of the most impressive Thoroughbred nurseries in the world.

Founded in the 1700s by the Williams family of Tidewater, Va., and originally called Silver Pond Farm, the farm boasts several landmarks. The original farmhouse, smokehouse, pond, and one of the barns are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A visitor today, though, would be taken with the gorgeous facilities erected under the present ownership. The modern office used to be a tobacco barn. It replaced an office that once served as the homestead of the Williams and Preston families through the farm’s history.

Beautiful wood ceilings are set off by a central chandelier in the open area, and WinStar’s many triumphs, including victories in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes (both gr. I), come to life in its large—and growing— trophy cases.

WinStar has annexed several surrounding properties and now ranges across some 2,500 acres. Across Pisgah Pike is its highly regarded training division where horses enjoy early lessons and also rest and rehabilitation. Outside client horses are welcome and train on a state-of-the-art synthetic surface.

A new stallion facility was built under the direction of architect David Mansfield in 2013, and the extensive complex today is home to 22 stallions.

The barn has the soft lighting and rich wood of a five-star hotel. The spacious stalls are home to top stud horses such as Distorted Humor and Pioneerof the Nile, and there is plenty of room between the top of the stalls and the barn’s ceiling for proper ventilation.

Statues dot the property. Distorted Humor, who, like most of the stallions is ridden for exercise, can see a statue depicting him outside the stallion barn. Near the office is a statue of She’s a Winner, the dam of Bluegrass Cat. And a statue of another mare and foal graces the outside of the foaling barn.

The beautiful pond at the front of the property is stocked with fish for employee recreation. Some 24 residences for staff are on the property, along with 38 barns. Stallion paddocks average about three acres, while some of the paddocks for mares encompass 60 acres. There are some 140 miles of plank fencing on the property.

Most importantly, the land is rich in nutrients, and is reflected in the success of WinStar-owned and -raised horses, who excel at racetracks throughout the country.

Lane’s End Farm

In 1979 Will Farish bought 250 acres on Midway Road as a home for the broodmares he had been keeping on nearby Big Sink Farm as well as Hermitage Farm near Louisville, Ky., which was owned by his longtime partner Warner Jones. Thirty-seven years later, Farish’s modest broodmare operation has flowered into the nearly 3,000-acre Lane’s End Farm, a showcase property that stands two dozen of the continent’s top sires and includes fields for broodmares nearly as large as the original parcel.

“We’ve slowly built it up over a period of years,” Farish allowed modestly. “It’s a wonderful place and we anticipated that it would grow over time, but we didn’t expect that we would go quite as far as we have.”

With its brick buildings, columns, and dramatic archways, Lane’s End bespeaks beauty and solidness. Large picture windows provide a welcoming atmosphere and gorgeous views out into the spacious pastures and the dramatic stallion complex, which features a lovely courtyard to show the horses off to potential breeders, all under the watchful eye of the statue of Horse of the Year and two-time leading sire A.P. Indy, one of the keys to the success of Lane’s End.

The original parcel was a farm with what Farish described as “a beautiful old house on it.” After testing soil in the area, Farish proceeded to buy up the surrounding land, and then entrusted landscaper Morgan Wheelock to help plot out the operation.

“The land had such beautiful contour, and we wanted to bring that out a good deal more,” Farish noted. “We developed the fields and paddocks based on the contour, and let the roads follow that as well. The land itself told us where to go, and that’s the way we laid it out.”

The stallion complex at Lane’s End wasn’t built until a decade after the original purchase. The first stallions, including three owned by Paul Mellon as well as Dixieland Band, were originally kept on an annex section of the farm. The complex was then built to accommodate up to 24 stallions and was designed so that the studs could be shown off to greatest effect, and the courtyard accomplishes that, while an open room that looks over the grounds allows visitors to enjoy refreshments and watch the horses’ accomplishments on monitors.

The stallions live in oversize stalls that front wide walkways. In addition to the function-first barns, style is certainly present in the dramatic cupolas that grace the roofs. Inside, the dark, mahogany-type wood lends a richness to the barns, which were constructed for maximum ventilation. Not only were they built on higher ground, but the barns feature vents and ceilings to control air flow.

“We’ve got vents in the bottom, and then built the ceilings like the old cattle barns so there’s a vertical airflow,” said Farish. “That way, if a horse gets sick on one end, the other guys aren’t going to get sick because the air flows vertically instead of horizontally. It was theoretical, but it has worked out and been very helpful.”

The signature sights at Lane’s End are the stallion paddocks that ring the complex and fit so well into the land’s contour. Each is four-five acres and gives the stud horses the chance to get their exercise.

The broodmare fields also take advantage of the spacious acreage. While most are in the 40-acre range, some are as large as twice that. Natural ponds dot the landscape.

Lane’s End’s greatest success stories are immortalized in stone. Besides the statue of A.P. Indy, which is the most recent commission, there are statues of Dixieland Band and Kingmambo, who went a long way toward building the world-class operation, near the stallion complex.

Lane’s End, at the same time venerable and modern, is the epitome of a top-shelf commercial Thoroughbred farm that attracts and impresses visitors to Central Kentucky from all over the world.

Ashford Stud

Having recently turned 100, Ashford Stud has never been so visible to the outside world or enjoyed a higher profile than it does today.

In residence is 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (above), whose stud rights Ashford wisely secured early in his racing career. The farm welcomes thousands of visitors annually who come to visit the first Triple Crown winner in American racing for 37 years.

The land on which Ashford today sits was originally part of a cattle farm owned by Col. Edmund Taylor Jr., who founded the Old Taylor Distilleries in Frankfort, just up Rte. 62. Known as Hereford Farm, it was a cattle operation until the late 1970s, when the veterinarian Dr. William Lockridge began transitioning the land just outside Versailles into a stallion operation.

Lockridge opened his stud farm, known as Ashford, in time for the 1982 breeding season, and it served as home to Storm Bird, the pricey stud Lockridge had purchased and who would go on to sire Storm Cat, one of the continent’s most influential stallions. Lockridge travelled to Ireland to inspect Storm Bird before his purchase, and stayed at Ashford Castle, which inspired his naming of the farm.

Lockridge bought his own quarry and some 20 stone masons worked on the walls and buildings between 1979 and 1982. Although the rock work is a combination of Kentucky and Indiana limestone, it has a distinct European flavor.

Lockridge converted a corn granary into the main stallion barn, building a new stone exterior and slate roof while refurbishing the interior with red oak. Visitors and breeders inspect the stallions in outdoor parade areas as well as indoors when the weather warrants it.

In 1984 John Magnier and partners purchased the farm as part of their Coolmore organization, and the land continued to nourish champions and elite sires such as El Gran Senor and Woodman. Classic winner Thunder Gulch arrived in the mid-1990s to become leading sire in 2001, and more recently Giant’s Causeway (above) has earned three sire titles here.

A life-sized bronze statue of Giant’s Causeway looks over the stallion yard, installed this year after its completion by English sculptor Charlie Langton.

A second installation, called Le Grand Jockey (by Isidore Bonheur) also graces the area.

A spring house surrounded by rolling gardens was originally constructed as an artist’s studio. It was briefly used as the farm’s main office before a new facility was completed 20 years ago.

The original 465-acre parcel has now grown to some 2,000 acres, which are home to 200 mares. The fields are plotted out along the natural contour of the land, and encompass up to 68 acres apiece. About 15 active stallions and the pensioned Thunder Gulch will inhabit the farm this coming season.

To handle the influx of visitors, Ashford has developed a visitor reception area near the stallion complex. Tours of the farm begin as tourists gaze upon the many trophies, photos, and memorabilia associated with Ashford stallions and the Coolmore operation worldwide. High-arched, beamed ceilings and large windows make this an attractive space.

Visitors are sure to be impressed not only with the stars of the Turf assembled here, but the Old World beauty transferred to the center of the Bluegrass region.