Visit Horse Country: Runnymede’s Century and a Half of Excellence

The Life
A pastoral paradise at Runnymede Farm. (Courtesy of Runnymede Farm)

Dating back to 1867 and the turbulent years following the end of the Civil War, central Kentucky’s Runnymede Farm boasts a history that in many ways has evolved in tandem with the growth of the state’s signature Thoroughbred industry.

Recognized as the oldest continuously operating Thoroughbred farm in Kentucky, Runnymede has made its mark on international racing and sales and had a lasting imprint on Thoroughbred bloodlines through horses such as Hall of Famers Ben Brush, Hanover, Miss Woodford, and Roamer – legendary stars bred by Runnymede in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Runnymede-bred champion Lady Eli. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Runnymede was founded by Col. Ezekiel “Zeke” Clay on property purchased by his father in bucolic Bourbon County northeast of Lexington. The estate, named Runnymede after the site in England where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215, soon became a leading farm in Kentucky, with Hanover and Miss Woodford its first star racehorses. Since the late 1950s, Runnymede has been operated by Catesby Clay, who currently serves as chairman and is grandson to Ezekiel, and his son Brutus Clay, the farm’s president.

Runnymede is the epitome of a small, family-run, high-quality Thoroughbred farm, with a select broodmare band and a reputation for making astute decisions when breeding its mares to the top stallions in Kentucky and elsewhere. Its most successful recent product is undoubtedly Lady Eli, the 2017 Eclipse Award champion turf female and one of the most popular racehorses of this decade. Runnymede also co-bred last year’s TVG Pacific Classic winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Collected.

“At Runnymede, we have our mares, and we pay for the privilege of having our mares covered by stallions, and then we have the foals and raise them and sell them as yearlings,” Brutus Clay said.

Recently at Keeneland, Runnymede consigned two seven-figure horses at the September yearling sale, led by a $1.1 million filly purchased by Godolphin.  The filly is by accomplished young sire Uncle Mo and out of the farm’s stakes-winning mare Bizzy Caroline, who is a half-sister to Lady Eli.

“Our end user is the Thoroughbred racehorse owner,” Clay said. “They buy our yearlings and go on to training. And we’ll keep a few fillies each year as a future line to our families, and reinvest in our bloodstock.”

Mares and foals at Runnymede. (Courtesy of Runnymede Farm)

One such filly is a half-sister to Lady Eli, out of one of the farm’s foundation mares, Sacre Coeur. The filly is by the young stallion and 2015 Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner American Pharoah, and needless to say, the Clays are excited about racing her as a 2-year-old next year.

Runnymede’s tours are conducted through Horse Country and last for approximately 1.25 hours. The farm experience for visitors varies by season, with tourists meeting broodmares and foals earlier in the year and in the summer and taking a more relaxed trip around the 365-acre property during what Brutus Clay calls “empty nest” season in the fall. Click here for more information and to schedule a tour.

“We try to touch upon a lot of different areas,” Clay said about the farm tours. “We give an overview of what our fundamental business is. We also try to explain why someone would want to own a racehorse in the first place. And when we do that we’re really talking about the emotional connection that people have with the horses.

“When someone buys a racehorse, they’re basically buying a ticket to an experience and a journey,” he added. “No one knows where it’s going to take them. And that’s part of the thrill. You know, not every horse ends up being a Lady Eli or a Collected and win Grade 1 races – so when it does happen and it’s so fleeting and elusive, when it does happen it makes it so you appreciate it all the more.”

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