Historic Calumet Farm in Lexington, Ky. (Photo courtesy Horsephotos)
Baseball has the New York Yankees.
In basketball, it’s the Boston Celtics.
Football points with pride to the Green Bay Packers.
In horse racing, it’s Calumet Farm.
In a centuries old sport, no other stable has as long and as celebrated a history as Calumet Farm. Founded in 1924, it is still operational and this year made its 22nd start in the Kentucky Derby. On Saturday, Calumet won the Preakness Stakes with Oxbow, who is trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas and was ridden to victory by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens.
In between, Calumet has raced two Triple Crown champions. Its devil’s red and blue colors have been on display in the winner’s circle after the Kentucky Derby eight times, the Preakness eight times and the Belmont Stakes twice.
Eleven of its horses are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
To understand a major chapter in the history of horse racing, one simply needs to know about Calumet Farm.
It all started in 1924 when William Monroe Wright, owner of the prosperous Calumet Baking Powder Co., opened Calumet Farm on a 762-acre tract in Lexington, Ky. Originally intended for the breeding of Standardbreds for harness racing, when Wright’s son, Warren, took over the farm in 1932 following his father’s death, he shifted the focus to Thoroughbred racing and breeding.
While Calumet won its first Thoroughbred stakes in 1933 when Hadagal captured Belmont Park’s Champagne Stakes, its foundation for future success was put in place later in that decade.
In 1936, Calumet purchased breeding rights to English Derby winner Blenheim II and also purchased a yearling colt named Bull Lea. Together Blenhiem II and Bull Lea, who would become a five-time leading sire, would produce a galaxy of equine stars for Calumet.
The man who would turn all of those regally bred prospects into champions entered the scene in 1939 when Calumet hired Ben A. Jones as its trainer.
Jones and his son, Jimmy, would train for Calumet until 1964 and compiled numerous records that still stand. With its horses under the care of the two eventual Hall of Famers, Calumet was the nation’s leading owner 12 times and the champion breeder 14 times.
Ben Jones, who served as Calumet’s trainer until 1948, won the Kentucky Derby a record six times. He saddled a pair of Triple Crown winners in Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948), who became the first horse to earn $1 million.
Citation, horse racing's first million-dollar earner. Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.
Jones also developed great champions and stakes winners like Armed, Twilight Tear, Bewitch and Pensive.
After Ben Jones took over as Calumet’s general manager following the 1948 Kentucky Derby, Jimmy Jones became Calumet’s trainer and kept the winning tradition in bloom. While his father was credited as the trainer of 1949 Kentucky Derby winner Ponder and 1952 victor Hill Gail, Jimmy in 1957 won his first Derby with Iron Liege.
A year later, Calumet won the Derby and Preakness again with Tim Tam and seemed destined to register a third Triple Crown sweep until the son of Bull Lea’s daughter Two Lea suffered a broken sesamoid bone in the stretch of the 1958 Belmont Stakes and finished second.
Jimmy Jones was the nation’s top trainer five times (1947, 1948, 1949, 1957, 1961) and in 1947 became the first trainer to accumulate more than $1 million in purses in a year.
Following Jimmy Jones’ retirement in 1964, Calumet’s fortunes turned as it raced only 20 stakes winners over the next 13 years, a modest figure in comparison with its past glory days. It did, however, win the 1968 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Forward Pass under trainer Henry Forrest.
During those years, Calumet’s ownership shifted after the 1950 death of Warren Wright to his widow, Lucille, who married Admiral Gene Markey in 1952.
Calumet was under the care of the Markeys when the stable was revitalized by the hiring of trainer John Veitch in 1976.
Veitch developed the champion fillies Davona Dale, Our Mims and Before Dawn, but achieved his greatest measure of fame with Alydar, who would engage in a legendary rivalry with Harbor View Farm’s Affirmed. The two horses met 10 times, with Alydar winning on only three occasions. Together they engaged in three unforgettable duels in the 1978 Triple Crown as Alydar finished second to Affirmed each time, highlighted by Affirmed’s dramatic victory by a head in the Belmont Stakes after an epic duel.
Alydar receives a well deserved pat from trainer John Veitch. Photo courtesy Horsephotos.
After Admiral Markey died in 1980 and Lucille passed away two years later, Calumet was passed on to Mrs. Markey’s granddaughter, Cindy whose husband, J.T. Lundy, assumed day-to-day operations of the farm.
Under Lundy’s care, Calumet floundered. Alydar, who became a champion sire, died in 1990 under controversial circumstances, and Calumet began to crumble. By 1991, Lundy’s mismanagement had left Calumet bankrupt.
While Lundy would later be convicted of fraud and bribery and sent to prison, Calumet was sold in 1992 to Henryk de Kwiatkowski, who was best known for owning 1982 Horse of the Year Conquistador Cielo. Thanks to de Kwiatkowski’s intervention, the historic farm was saved from liquidation.
Calumet enjoyed little success on the racetrack under de Kwiatkowski, who passed away in 2003, but the farm’s grounds were preserved and returned to their lavish state during Calumet’s glory days.
SLIDESHOW TOUR OF CALUMET
In 2012, the de Kwiatkowski Trust sold the farm to the Calumet Investment Group, which is now leasing it to Brad M. Kelley.
Under Kelley in 2013, Calumet returned to the Triple Crown for the first time since 1996 with Oxbow. Winner of the Lecomte Stakes, Oxbow, trained by four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas, finished sixth in the 139th edition of the "Run for Roses" while bearing the Calumet Farm name but wearing Kelley’s black and gold silks. He boinced back admirably in the Preakness to give Calumet yet another classic triumph.
Over the years, much has changed about Calumet Farm, but much like the Yankees, Celtics or Packers the tradition is still very much alive and well and a reminder of past glory.