Visit Horse Country: The Unparalleled Legacy of Claiborne Farm

Events / Travel
Visitors meet and greet horses at Claiborne Farm during a tour.
Visitors meet and greet horses at Claiborne Farm during a tour. (Courtesy of Claiborne Farm)

Central Kentucky is the epicenter of the Thoroughbred world, its rolling landscape populated with dozens of farms that have made important contributions to the sport of kings through the years. A select few can lay claim to actually directing the path to progress for the entire industry, making decisions that have permanent, lasting impacts, shaping the breed itself – and perhaps no entity fits that criteria more than Claiborne Farm.

Claiborne, located outside of Paris, Ky., has been a leading stud farm for nearly 100 years. It was founded in 1910 by Arthur Boyd Hancock Sr., on land inherited by his wife. Arthur Hancock Sr. established Claiborne as an offshoot of Ellerslie Stud in Virginia, founded by his father, Civil War veteran Capt. Richard Hancock. Claiborne grew into a prominent role quickly through astute stallion purchases, including the acquisition of two horses from Europe – Sir Galahad III and Blenheim II – that would sire Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and Whirlaway, respectively.

By the middle of the 20th century, Claiborne’s leadership was renowned around the world – and incredibly, even better years were to come. Arthur Hancock Sr. ceded management of Claiborne to his son Arthur B. “Bull” Hancock Jr. in 1949, and the younger Hancock immediately found success with Princequillo, who originally stood at Ellerslie before that farm was sold in 1946 and then moved to Kentucky. That stallion became a leading sire and one of the most influential broodmare sires in history, his daughters including the dam of Secretariat.

Winter at Claiborne. (Courtesy of Claiborne Farm)

Secretariat’s sire, 1957 Preakness Stakes winner Bold Ruler, also stood at Claiborne as arguably the most successful stallion in the farm’s history, leading the North American sire list eight times, a record for sires of the 20th century (Bold Ruler’s sire, Nasrullah, led that list five times while at Claiborne at the end of his stud career). Every year from 1955-1969, a Claiborne stallion led the North American sire list.

Bull Hancock died in 1972, and his son Seth took over operations at Claiborne just as Secretariat was becoming a national sensation. Seth Hancock syndicated Secretariat as a stallion for $6 million before the horse won the Triple Crown, just one of Claiborne’s many successes over the last quarter of the 20th century. Claiborne owned 1984 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Swale and continued to build their legacy by standing Mr. Prospector and Danzig, both leading sires multiple times during the 1980s and 1990s. Overall, Claiborne stallions have led the North American sire list 29 times, and 10 Kentucky Derby winners have been foaled at the farm – most recently Orb in 2013. The list of accolades for Claiborne is long and continues to extend; read more about the farm in Keeler Johnson’s profile for America’s Best Racing.

Seth Hancock passed on leadership at Claiborne to his son Walker in 2015, making the farm a four-generation family-run business. Claiborne remains at the top of the industry by, as their saying goes, “doing the unusual unusually well.” Currently the farm stands the internationally renowned sire War Front along with promising young stallions such as the aforementioned Orb and Blame, who was co-owned by Claiborne during his racing career and handed Zenyatta her only career defeat in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Claiborne Farm’s hour-long tours are available year-round and are arranged through Horse Country. Guests will visit the farm’s breeding shed, tour the stallion barns, and lastly spend time at the farm’s historic cemetery, home to the final resting places for over 20 champion racehorses, including Secretariat, Pulpit, Nijinsky II, and Buckpasser along with many of the sires discussed above. Click here for more information.

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