Toby Keith has been breeding and racing Thoroughbreds for nearly two decades. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)
For over two decades, Toby Keith has been a powerhouse in country music with twenty songs topping the Billboard Hot Country charts. Songs like “I Love This Bar” and “Red Solo Cup” have transcended country music and have infiltrated pop culture. He's sold over 40 million albums worldwide, been inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and collaborated with icons like Willie Nelson.
The singer/songwriter, whose full name is Toby Keith Covel, has also experienced success in a hobby he is passionate about: owning and breeding Thoroughbred racehorses. He is the owner of Dream Walkin’ Farms and has 300 to 500 horses in Oklahoma and Kentucky at any given time. He is a multiple stakes-winning owner.
Keith is one of fifteen celebrities chosen to be Breeders’ Cup ambassadors. In this role, he serves as a spokesperson for the event and the sport of horse racing.
“Racing is my hobby. I’m infatuated with the whole thing. It’s something I can do every day that I enjoy,” Keith said. “I enjoy researching pedigrees and picking out matings. I go all around the country to the races. I really enjoy it.”
Traveling with a group of friends who are also involved in the industry, Keith frequents tracks like Keeneland, Del Mar, Oaklawn Park and Prairie Meadows to watch his horses compete.
“We fly in, watch a race, eat a steak, drink a glass of wine and smoke a cigar. Then we fly back out. We love it.”
When Keith was a regional bar act in the early 1990s, he enjoyed visiting tracks like Sunland Park and Lone Star Park while he was on the road. However, his dad’s enthusiasm for the sport prompted him to get involved as an owner.
“My dad grew up in a little town called Bradley which is way down in south central Oklahoma. His buddies he grew up with had horses and raced them at Remington (Park). He got such a thrill out of going to the races with those guys. It was around ’95 or ’96, and I was starting to be successful. I said why don’t we get us one. So we bought a horse.”
The unraced horse was named Jack Branch. He was trained and entered in a maiden special weight at Remington Park. He won.
“The feeling was incredible. So then we bought another one. Then I bred a couple mares. Then I bought a farm,” Keith said. “I started breeding my own mares and going to the yearling sales.”
Keith named his stable Dream Walkin’ Farms. Dream Walkin’ is also the title song of one of his albums.
“When I built my farm, it was my dream farm. About the time I started building it that song came out. That was exactly what I was doing. I was dream walkin’,” Keith said. “I didn’t know I would be in the horse business this long. Here we are 17, 18 years later. Still rocking and rolling and loving it.”
KEITH'S RECKLESS JERRY IS RUNNER-UP IN THE SMARTY JONES STAKES
Known in the industry as being a student of pedigrees, Keith said it is not difficult to balance his singing career with owning a stable.
“My end of running my business is right here on my iPad. Sometimes I research pedigrees until 3 or 4 in the morning. I make a note to call my farm manager and tell him where I want the horses to go,” he said.
“Every one of them that you breed at your house you want to see do well. I love getting the matings right and then watching them grow into something. When you envision something in your mind and then it comes to be,” Keith said. “Like Smack Smack winning the Horse of the Year at Prairie Meadows and the Clever Trevor Stakes at Remington in 2013.”
Smack Smack, who won the Governor’s Cup Stakes at Remington in August, is one of Keith’s favorite horses currently competing. Others include a 2-year-old named Drinking Song, a 3-year-old named Hillbilly Royalty and a filly named Ghost Locket.
His favorite horse was Cactus Ridge. He was an undefeated 2-year-old who won three different juvenile stakes races. Cactus Ridge was headed to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile until he was sidelined with a knee injury.
“He was my first big freak show. He was the first guy who came out and blew peoples’ doors off. He won one race by 15 lengths. He wasn’t in second place a jump in his life,” Keith said. “And he was a pretty successful stallion. He stood in Kentucky.”
Another one of his favorites is Seeking Ms Shelley. Keith raced her, and now she is a mare on his farm.
“She was a homebred. She had colon problems, so she only got to start 28 times, but she raced until she was 7. She hit the board 90 percent of the time. She was sprinter. She was amazing,” Keith said. “She is in foal right now. She is going to start having babies.”
Keith said his goals for his stable are to continue to be successful. He is in the industry because it is his favorite hobby, and he loves it.
“Horse racing and breeding is not just a passing fancy or tiny hobby for Toby Keith,” Dale Day, track announcer for Remington, said. “It is a true passion. He is fully invested in trying to breed better horses and completely enjoys the sporting end of it. When he is not on the road performing, there is a better than average chance he is at the track watching his horses race and enjoying himself.”
Keith is a true ambassador for racing beyond the Breeders’ Cup and in his home state of Oklahoma.
“I try to promote the sport in any way I can,” Keith said. “I promote it in the music industry. If I am at the Del Mar or Churchill (Downs) or wherever, I’m willing to do what I can to support horse racing. It is something I am passionate about.”