HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY KENTUCKY
charles m. meacham
THE RACE HORSE INDUSTRY OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY
The Race Horse Industry and its Growth; Origin of the Thoroughbred; The Breeding of Race Horses; Christian County Racers.
THE THOROUGHBRED—ITS ORIGIN AND DEVELOP MENT
A paper compiled and read to The Athenaeum Literary Society of Hopkinsville in 1925 by Capt. Rodman Meacham.
When Caesar invaded the British Isles about the middle of the first century, B.C., he found the natives possessed of many excellent horses. They were small, but extremely hardy and were probably the result of the far-reaching commerce of the ancient Phoenicians, who are known to have visited the Mediterranean and Atlantic ports of Spain during the period of their maritime supremacy several centuries before the Christian era. Many Phoenician horses, of the type so generally used by the Saracens, found their way to the British Isles and became at least a part of the foundation stock on which later importations were grafted, ultimately resulting in the creation of the Thoroughbred.
It was not the practice of ancient warriors to use mares for war purposes, and as Caesar’s cavalry were mounted on pure Barb horses from the northern fringe of Africa it may be readily understood how his invasion was followed by admixture of blood, and resulted in marked improvement in the British stock.
Later, the Saxons and Normans brought with them a strong, heavy type of horse from the plains of Middle Europe and Queen Elizabeth, the Stuart kings, and Oliver Cromwell all displayed vital interest in the breeding of horses and imported Eastern sires from Arabia and Turkey.
In laying the foundation for this distinctive type of horse in England, the blood of many Barbs, Turks and Arabians was called into service. Cdrwen’s Bay Barb was a present from Muley Ishmael, King of Morocco, to Louis XIV and was brought to England after Mr. Curwen purchased him from the sons of Louis. The Belgrade Turk was taken from the Basha~w of Belgrade, Turkey, at the siege of that place by the Prince of Lorraine, whose minister at the Court of London sold him to Sir M. Willys. The Straddling, another Turk, was taken at the siege of Buda in the reign of James II and brought to England by the Duke of Berwick. Oliver Cromwell brought the White Turk.
In 1670, King Charles II imported a number of Barb mares for the royal stables, later known as “Royal Mares.” With these mares and other selected British stock, the real foundation of the Thoroughbred was laid during the next fifty years. The Byerly Turk was imported in 1689, the Darley Arabian in 1706 and the Godolphin Barb in 1724. From these three sires the King Herod, the Matchem and the Eclipse line originated, three great cornerstones of the Thoroughbred structure, which derived its speed and graceful lines from the Arabian, its strength and stride from the Turks, and its length and height from the Barb. The combinations developed a distinctive type, entirely different from any of the original progenitors.
Eclipse, so named because of the fact that he was foaled during the great eclipse of 1764, died in 1789. An exact measurement of every part of his body was made and recorded. One of his hoofs was superbly set in gold as a goblet and nearly half a century later was presented by the King of England to the English Jockey Club.
England was the birthplace of racing, as well as the land where the Thoroughbred originated and the sport has so long been first and foremost with all classes that it may well be called a “national habit.” History records the sport in England as early as 1174 and in the reign of Richard I, Knights ran over a three-mile course for “40 pounds of ready gold.” Public races were established at Chester in 1512. James I greatly encouraged the sport and still more rapid strides were made under Charles I.
During the seventeenth century, five classic races were established in England, The Two Thousand Guineas, the Epsom Derby and the Doncaster St. Leger for three-year-olds of both sexes, and the One Thousand Guineas and Epsom Oaks for three-year-old fillies. Of these, the Epsom Derby, established in 1776, is quite the most famous race of the world historically, although our own “Kentucky Derby,” which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1922, is gaining world-wide prestige. These classic races were established to enable breeders to determine the best strains of blood by actual test, certainly the only way to furnish conclusive evidence. These five races have continued to be run annually without interruption and today are the most coveted of any races run on the English turf.
The first Thoroughbred imported to America, of which there is any record, was Bulle Rock, brought from England to Virginia in 1730. He was said to have been sired by the Darby Arabian, out of a daughter of the Byerly Turk, previously referred to as among the most important progenitors of the Thoroughbred. The stock of the Old Dominion was vastly improved by his services, and during the following twenty years still further improvement was attained by the importation of Jolly Rogers, Janus, and Fearnaught. The Janus stock seemed to exceed all others for speed, durability and conformation.
When not attending some public assembly protesting against British oppression, Colonial Virginia 1ived out of doors. Fox hunting was a popular sport—the Thoroughbred the very thing for the chase. For overland travel, he was the fastest medium known. During a period when cross-country trips, forty, fifty or a hundred miles to visit friends, or to attend religious or political meetings were of daily occurrence, the Thoroughbred was as indispensable as the more rapid means of transportation are today. Practicing lawyers, judges in their circuits, pastors and elders on their rounds and bishops on their annual visitations found in him continued pleasure.
There was only one way to determine the best stock to breed from— competitive contests to eliminate the weak— and the race course was the natural outcome. These early races, which began in Virginia as early as 1718 and in South Carolina in 1734, were largely responsible for the steady improvement in the breed, and rivalry between the owners, communities and States was inevitable.
Virginia continued importations of the best blood from England and long before she became known as the “Mother of Presidents” she was the dam of the Thoroughbred that Presidents could not withstand. Here Jefferson and the Murat of his administration, Randolph, met Washington and Henry Clay on common ground. In 1789, Diomed, the winner of the first Epsom Derby in 1776, was brought to Virginia. He lived for twenty years, leaving a name and fame which will endure to the end of time in Thoroughbred history. He sired the celebrated horse, Monticello, bred and owned by Thomas Jefferson, but probably the most noted of his get was Sir Archy, considered by many to have done more to improve the stock in America than any horse before or since.
Washington maintained an extensive breeding establishment to provide horses for his own use and for the improvement of his neighbors’ stock. Among the famous stallions of their day at Mt. Vernon were Sampson, Magnolia, Leonidas, Traveler and Gift. Washington was not unmindful of the lowly side of agriculture, for his imported jacks from Spain and Malta were at the head of the mule industry of Virginia. He was a steward of the Alexandria Jockey Club and the races in Fairfax and adjoining counties of Virginia were the occasion of many notable gatherings. His horse, Magnolia, lost to one of Thomas Jefferson’s at the Alexandria meetings in 1790. The entire family at Mt. Vernon usually attended the races at Annapolis, in the adjacent colony of Maryland.
Washington and his friends set the pace for tidewater Virginia and their habits and customs influenced the widely dispersed Virginians as they passed over the mountains to create new commonwealths. The early settlers of Kentucky were mainly from Virginia and were therefore horse lovers by inheritance and habit. It took but a short while for them to find that the native bluegrass was a pasturage upon which the horses flourished mightily.
The Kentuckians were determined to equal or surpass Virginia in the breeding industry. They quickly realized the value of the Sir Archy blood and soon possessed, a majority of his produce, six of his sons standing near Lexington at one time. They also imported stock direct from England, among the importers being the great commoner and statesman, Henry Clay, who brought over imported Yorkshire and a band of mares for his Ashland stud.
In promoting their industry Kentucky breeders were wont to tell of the Thoroughbred’s superior qualifications for war. They pointed to early European conflicts which showed how the Turkish cavalry was made invincible through the Turkish progenitors of the English Thoroughbred. Later they cited the successes of the Southern cavalry in the Civil War until near the close of the war when the well-bred horses of the South had been captured by the Northern armies. General Morgan owed his escape on one occasion to Black Bess, a Kentucky Thoroughbred, and her celebrated twenty-mile run from Lebanon to Carthage. The wonderful achieveñients of Stuart’s cavalry would have been impossible without the Thoroughbred. Success and life itself often depended upon the slender thread of a pedigree. A scrub is incapable of either speed or endurance.
Kentucky soon took rank as the greatest breeding point for Thoroughbreds, and many of the English Derby winners were imported to cross on the native stock. Racing, which had commenced as early as 1787, continued until interrupted by the Civil War, when many breeding establishments were broken up, the horses taken for cavalry purposes and the industry completely paralyzed. For ten years after the close of the war things were at a low ebb. Yearlings sold for a hundred that would bring thousands today.
In 1872 Col. Lewis Clark was sent to England and France to make a thorough investigation of the system of stakes and the rules for racing, the result of experience extending over one hundred years. He returned after careful study of conditions abroad and in 1874 the Louisville Jockey Club was organized. Classic races for Kentucky were established, each modeled after similar events in England. The first Kentucky Derby was run at Churchill Downs on May 17, 1872, with fifteen, being won by Aristides before a crowd of ten thousand people.
During the past fifty years the breeding of Thoroughbreds in America has becOme largely concentrated in Kentucky with Lexington as the hub of the industry. Many of the wealthy breeders, with diversified interests in other states, have attempted to establish their studs elsewhere, notably in California, Wyoming and New York, but have eventually become convinced that the climate, waters and grasses of Kentucky are unequalled for the growth and development of the Thoroughbred foals. August Belmont, Joseph Widener, William C. Whitney, Harry Payne Whitney, James R. Keene and others attempted to breed their horses in the North but finally located in the Blue Grass region.
Breeding of Thoroughbreds in Kentucky is not confined to the wealthy owners who maintain their farms for the pleasure of breeding their own color bearers in the classic races from Saratoga to New Orleans, but numbers of small farmers and men of moderate means have one or two or half-dozen Thoroughbred mares and sell the colts as yearlings. More than two million dollars was paid for Kentucky bred yearlings this year, and Christian County was represented by two carloads at the Saratoga Sales in August. The highest priced yearling sold at auction at Saratoga in 1923 was shipped from Hopkinsville and brought the round sum of $21,000.
Space forbids the enumeration of famous Thoroughbreds produced in Kentucky. However the super-horses, Man O’War and Zev, who won over $300,000 on the turf and defeated the English champion, Papyrus, are two outstanding products of recent years.
In concluding this paper I can think of no better illustration of the hold that the Thoroughbred has acquired on the American people, than the following tribute to Churchill Downs written by Daniel O’Sullivan on the occasion of the Golden Anniversary at which 80,000 people from all over the United States, and several foreign countries, representing all walks of life, gathered to pay tribute to the Thoroughbred:
“Golden Anniversary of Churchill Downs: Sacred and priceless its memories; beyond all price its half a century of high ideals and honorable endeavor. What thoughts of departed friends and old favorites, stir the heart and throng the portals of the mind eager for utterance. Aristides, Day Star, Hindoo, Leonatus, Proctor Knott, Ben Brush, Old Rosebud and their fellows all under the turf which they did so much to ennoble. Gone beyond recall are those who lived the historic scenes we now celebrate. M. Lewis Clark, the peerless Judge, Gen. Abe Buford who confidently expected to meet his Thoroughbreds on the bluegrass fields of the New Jerusalem, the Clays, the Breckenridges, the Blackburns, the Johnsons, all gone into the shadows. But their spirits revisit the Downs, keep green its fields, and bright its paths, hover above it in kindly counsel, inspire its managers and pass judgment on their decisions.
“The month of May, caparisoned in her garments of gladness, violets blooming where she walks always claims Derby Day as her own. It is a name to conjure with, at once an inspiration and a delight. An infinite, cloudless sky spreads the benison of its silken tent over the scene. The brown ribbon of the course is unfolded as from a golden reel. Thoroughbreds pick their way daintily across the field or arch their prideful necks in preliminary gallops. Glad thousands occupy every coign of vantage, their faces radiant with joy and their hearts free from care. The stands are vibrant with unconcealed emotion. The air is electrical with expectation. A carnival spirit is everywhere. It is Kentucky’s annual tribute to the Thoroughbred, in which all America joins.
“At last the bugle sounds—its notes as thrilling as the Marseillaise. Fifty thousand spectators leap to attention at its command. A field of matchless Thoroughbreds file through the paddock gate and pirouette in the parade past the acclaiming stands, the jockeys swaying above the saddles, their colors dancing like painted bubbles in the wind. They face the starter. A brief delay while positions are being taken, a sudden swing into line, the barrier lifts, the flags fall and ‘they’re off’ in the race of the year. Sweeping past the stand fifty thousand hearts echo the rataplan of the. hurrying hoofs, and a wild chorus of approval follows the vanishing field. At every point of the swift journey excited partisans speed them on. The quarter is passed and the half is left behind and then begins the drive down the back stretch where the cavalcade readjusts itself into divisions, the leaders wearying of the pace, become laggards. Now comes the challenge at the crucial turn for home with the goal a full quarter of a mile away. There is a closing of the ranks, the vanquished drop back in the ruck and a new pace maker takes up the fallen guantlet. At his throat-latch, and saddle girth, and hard upon his heels crowd the contenders, their jockeys not yet ready to acknowledge defeat. The frenzied thousands, in grandstand, club house and lawn, shriek personal appeals to particular horses and riders to ‘Come on! Come on!’ Out of the thunder of a hundred hoofs comes the lightning flash of spurs, the whir of swiftly drawn whips, and the desperate duel is on to the wire where fame and fortune awaits. In the very last determinate moment, there flashes from the struggling mass a Thoroughbred that will not be denied, and in a whirlwind of speed he sweeps past the post a winner amid the applause of an enraptured multitude.
“And this is Derby Day at Churchill Downs.”
THE BREEDING OF RACE HORSES
BY MRS. WALKER WILLIAMS SMITH
Even in pre-war days there were a few thoroughbred race horses in Christian County.
Captain Darwin Bell had one or two brood mares and Mr. William J. Bacon, who lived over the line in an adjoining county, had Exchequer, the son of Planet.
While the war put an end to the industry, it did not kill the spark of enthusiasm in Captain Bell, which years afterward kindled the desire to produce race horses in his friend, Major S. R. Crumbaugh, and his son-in-law, Dr. M. W. Williams.
In the late eighties Major S. R. Crumbaugh bought Elkwood (a son of Eolus) and Dunboyne, together with a small band of brood mares. Dr. Williams bought a few mares.
In 1893 Dr. Williams sold his first yearling, a colt by Faustus, out of Lady Craft, for $1,750.00, a big price in those days.
In 1895 Dr. Williams bought Imp. Albert and John H. White, then a mere boy, had charge of Adelbert Stud. They made an immediate success and produced such horses as Mesmerist, the best two-year-old of his year and winner of $50,000.00, Bonnibert (holder of the world’s record for 1 1-8 miles for many years), Hatisoo, Jinks, Herbert, etc., making Albert the premier stallion of the United States for 1899.
In April, 1898, W. P. Norton bought Ornament and May Hempstead from Charles Patterson for $3,500.00 and brought them to Wenonah Stud near Hopkinsville. He had eight mares but sold out a few years later.
About this time Col. Cyrus S. Radford bought a half interest in Adelbert and the firm was known as Williams & Radford.
In 1906 Imp. Ornus became head of affairs at Adelbert and John H. White founded his Herbert stud with Herbert, a son of Albert, at the head.
In 1910 racing was put out in New York and the studs were practically sold out, Dr. Williams holding on to a few Albert fillies.
In 1911, a syndicate composed of Dr. Williams, White & Garnett, Edgar Renshaw, Ward Claggett and Nat Dortch bought Imp. Cyclades by Cyllene, out of Vale Royal by Buena Vista; he was stationed at Adelbert. Cyclades only lived a few years when the same syndicate bought Imp. Zeus, the sturdy son of Adam. Zeus was a high-class race horse, winner of the Adirondack Handicap, Walden Stakes, Woodstock Plate, King Edward Gold Cup and Canadian Derby, Bowie Handicap, etc. At this time there were about twenty mares in this county. Zeus is still living and at the age of twenty-one is vigorous and hearty; he has sent many stake horses away from the county such as Questionnaire (Troy Stakes), Lady Lillian (Canarsie Stakes), St. Maurice (Aberdeen Stakes), Budana (Clover Stakes), All Over (Tiajuana Cup). His get have won about $500,000.00.
In 1920 Messrs. White & Garnett bought Jack Atkins, a son of Sam. He died at Herbert Stud after one crop of yearlings by him had been. sold, selling for a total of $28,850.00.
They then leased The Finn from John E. Madden. At this time several other farmers joined the ranks of thoroughbred breeders. White & Garnett had added extensively to their brood of mares, and Messrs. Lucian A. Moseley, John Rives and B. P. Eubanks had each started in breeding with a few mares. Madden & Moseley sold their first yearling in 1920, a colt of Sea King, out of Eureka by Frank Gill, for $13,000.00.
The breeders realized splendid prices for the yearlings by The Finn, selling this crop for about $50,000.00.
Madden & Moseley sold a colt in this consignment for $21,000.00. This colt, “Flying Ebony,” was the Kentucky Derby winner of 1925.
Sir Martin by Ogden out of Lady Sterling made the season of 1923 at Mr. Moseley’s Riverview farm and Mr. Madden sent from Lexington twelve beautifully bred young mares to mate with him. The yearlings by Sir Martin were also much in demand and brought in a total of $55,000.00. A filly consigned by Rodman Meacham topped the sale at $8,000. Sweep On by Sweep, property of Mr. Coe, also made a season at Riverview farm. Then followed Capt. Alcock, Eliminator, and Spanish Prince II.
In 1924 Mr. Moseley and Audley Farms, owned by Montfort and B. B. Jones, bought Spanish Prince II and added to their stock of brood mares. Spanish Prince II has been a very successful horse; he is the sire of Princess Doreen, the largest money winning mare in the United States, and has stood well up in the winning sire list for many years.
Messrs. White & Garnett in 1922 leased Imp. Donnacona from Geo. W. Loft. He is a very fashionably bred horse and was a success from the start; was leading sire of two-year-olds in 1926 and practically every get sent to market from this company by him has won.
About this time Capt. Rodman Meacham bought from Belle Meade Stud, of Nashville, a small bunch of select mares; he has sold from one of these mares two fillies and a colt for $20,300.
In the fall of 1925 Capt. Meacham leased from Harry Payne Whitney, the excellent race horse, Imp. Johren by Spearmint, winner of Belmont Stakes, Suburban Handicap, Lawrence Realization, Latonia Derby, Saratoga Cup, etc. From his first crop bred in Christian County he has gotten the good colt, Sir Johren, for which $50,000 has been refused. He has secured a return of Johren for the season of 1930 and also another fine sire, Blondin, a son of Broomstick.
In 1926 Messrs. White & Garnett sold Donnacona for $39,000.00 to divide the partnership with Mr. Loft and secured the beautifully bred Imp. White Satin by White Eagle, which is standing at Herbert Farm at the present time.
St. Henry by The Finn is dividing honors with Spanish Prince II at Riverview farm. There are about 150 brood mares in this county at the present time—Senator John L. Thurmond, of Gracey, and Cowherd & Altsheler being the latest recruits to the ranks of breeders.
W. J. Glover, J. J. Robertson, John Rives, and Joe Altsheler now have many fashionably bred mares and send many yearlings to the Eastern markets annually, the yearlings being the get of Christian County sires.
The year 1929 marked a great advance in the industry in the county. it the annual sale of yearlings in Saratoga, N. Y., twenty from Christian County were sold. A report for the New Era by Shelby Peace said:
“It remained for the Sominco Farms to produce the highest priced yearling of the evening, a colt by Johren and Slipper Day. This chestnut son of Johren was purchased by Mrs. M. H. West for $8,000 and she also purchased a Johren colt out of Good Shot for $4,000. The second high price of the evening also went to the Sominco Farms, William Zeigler, Jr., paying $7,500 for a bay son by Imp. Spanish Prince II out of East Wind. A bay filly by Johren out of Miccosoukee was purchased by the LaBrae Stable for $5,200. This filly was a perfect specimen of the thoroughbred runner and Meacham had expected a rather higher price, although some of his other yearlings brought better prices than he had anticipated.
At the Saratoga sales, 1929, 26 head of yearlings from Christian County were disposed of for a total of $68,900, which made an average’ of $2,650 per head. Farmers surely can raise the running horse at this average and make money.
In discussing the sale editorially the New Era said:
CHRISTIAN COUNTY RACERS
No county in the State has made more rapid progress in the highly lucrative industry of breeding thoroughbred race horses for the Eastern markets than Christian County, during the last twenty years.
Its development under the intelligent direction of a group of wide-awake young business men has been marvelous. At the present time there are half a dozen stock farms in Christian County that would do credit to Fayette or other Bluegrass counties, once considered the exclusive home of the thoroughbred.
The county has already put a Derby winner on the board and to show that this was not an accident, numerous sales are made every year for more than $5,000 for yearlings. Last year two were sold by one farm for $7,100 and $7,000 respectively. Forty or fifty colts and fillies were sent to market in 1928 that averaged in four figures. The most successful breeders in Christian County have taken up the business during the last ten years and their ranks are being swelled with a zeal that amounts to enthusiasm. The newest breeder in the county, who started less than two years ago, this season sent to market two yearlings that brought $2,400, as much as a tobacco crop of 30,000 pounds. The climate, feed possibilities, the pure fresh water and the pasture lands of fertile Christian County are all conducive to the splendid and rapid development of pure bred stock of all kinds. There is a growing demand for Kentucky race horses, not only in the United States, but in foreign countries as well. Breeding them is a pleasant and profitable business.
Cattle, sheep and hogs can also be made most profitable sources of revenue on the farm, but for the real mortgage lifter the royal thoroughbred stands in a class of his own.
Hats off to King Bucephalus.
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