Visit Horse Country: Hermitage Farm Connects Rich History to Modern Vision

The Life
Mare and foal enjoy the pasture at Hermitage Farm. (Courtesy of Hermitage Farm.)

Hermitage Farm became an important Thoroughbred stud farm nearly 100 years ago, its name associated with a long list accomplished racehorses and high-priced yearlings. Today, it still has a prominent place in the horse industry, and has become successful in other areas as well.

Located in Goshen, Ky., in Oldham County near Louisville, Hermitage is about an hour west from the edge of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region, which goes to show how fertile the entire central swath of the state is when it comes to breeding and raising horses. The surrounding land has been used for farming for nearly two centuries, but rose into stature as a Thoroughbred breeding entity during the late 1930s after being bought by Warner and Harriet Jones.

The Main House at Hermitage. (Courtesy of Hermitage Farm)

Warner Jones (1916-94) was one of the leading figures of the 20th Century in the Thoroughbred industry, setting a sales record for a yearling at North American auction when Seattle Dancer went for $13.1 million in 1985, co-founding the American Horse Council, and serving as a chairman of Churchill Downs in the 1980s and early 1990s to culminate decades of involvement with that iconic racetrack.

To this day, Jones is the only person to breed a Kentucky Derby winner (Dark Star, 1953), Kentucky Oaks winner (Nancy Jr., 1967), and a Breeders’ Cup winner (Is It True, 1988 Juvenile).

Jones made Hermitage a landmark in the Kentucky horse world, and businessman Carl Pollard continued to operate the property as a breeding farm after becoming principal owner in 1994. Pollard was a chairman at Churchill Downs from 2001 until his retirement in 2011, and his stakes winners included 2000 champion 2-year-old filly Caressing. As a broodmare, Caressing produced 2017 Travers Stakes winner West Coast, bred by Pollard and consigned as a yearling by Hermitage Farm.

Current owners Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson bought Hermitage from Pollard in 2010. Brown and Wilson, a Louisville-area business and philanthropic married couple, made a huge mark in the hospitality industry by opening the first 21c Museum Hotel in the Derby City in 2006; the brand has since expanded to numerous other cities including Lexington, Cincinnati, and Nashville. The Browns, who live at nearby Woodland Farm, where they raise bison, run Hermitage as a Thoroughbred farm but also as a prime event space for weddings, parties, and other functions.

Farm manager Bill Landes has worked at Hermitage since 1977 and was honored as Ted Bates Farm Manager of the Year in 2017 by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers’ Club. At Hermitage, services include boarding for mares, foals, and yearlings; sales prep for yearlings; layups and post-operative recovery; and training services for sport horses. Their consignments focus on the two major sales at Keeneland in September (yearlings) and November (breeding stock).

Mitole, who is the favorite to win an Eclipse Award as 2019 champion male sprinter this upcoming January, was raised at Hermitage as part of a longtime arrangement with late breeder Ed Cox Jr. dating back to the Warner Jones era.

Tours of Hermitage are offered through Horse Country and last about an hour. Visitors will start at the farm’s office and walk to the stud barn and meet Hermitage retirees. They will then make their way through other barns and meet either new foals (spring) or yearlings being prepared for sales (summer and fall). They’ll also get a full telling of Hermitage’s rich history and its influence on the Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky. To schedule a tour, click here.

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