Alice Chandler: Forging a Bluegrass Legacy

Alice Chandler, above left at the 2007 Keeneland November breeding stock sale and at right with Mill Ridge’s $9.7 million yearling at the 2005 Keeenland September yearling sale, built a legacy at Mill Ridge Farm based upon putting the horse first. (Anne Eberhardt/Blood-Horse)

Alice Chandler has a life motto that has served her quite well.

“Take care of the horse, and it will take care of you.”

Those words surely describe Chandler’s life, especially in the years since 1962 when she founded Mill Ridge Farm and built it into one of Kentucky’s leading breeding farms.

“Alice Chandler richly deserves to be honored for her lifelong contributions to the Thoroughbred industry,” NTRA president and CEO Alex Waldrop said in 2009 when it was announced that Chandler was the recipient of the Eclipse Award of Merit. “Her remarkable achievements as an owner and breeder, and her service to a wide range of racing organizations over many decades, make her an exemplary choice for the Award of Merit.”

Chandler, who was born Alice Headley, was the daughter of Hal Price Headley, who passed away in 1962 and left four mares and 286 acres of land near Lexington, Ky., to his daughter, which became Mill Ridge Farm.

Alice at Beaumont Farm in 1963. (Blood-Horse photo)

Six years later, Chandler became the first woman to breed an Epsom Derby winner when Mill Ridge produced Sir Ivor. A son of Sir Gaylord out of Attica, one of Chandler’s original four mares, Sir Ivor was sold for $42,000 at auction and won the 1968 Epsom Derby – as well as the Washington, D.C. International Stakes later in the year - for owner Raymond Guest.

He later became a highly successful stallion and sired more than 145 stakes winners.

In 1970, Alice Headley married veterinarian Dr. John Chandler and together they worked tirelessly to turn Mill Ridge into a leading destination for top sires and mares.

Among some of the great horses produced by Mill Ridge under Alice Chandler’s leadership are 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given, both raised at the farm. Mill Ridge also stood the successful stallion Gone West. Mill Ridge also sold for $9.7 million future Group 2 winner Jalil, a Storm Cat colt out of multiple Grade 1 winner Tranquility Lake, by Rahy, at the 2005 Keeneland September yearling sale.

While turning Mill Ridge into a major force in the breeding industry, Alice Chandler became one of the most respected figures in the sport.

Chandler at Mill Ridge in 2005. (Blood-Horse photo)

Aside from the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2009, other honors bestowed on Chandler were recognition in 2006 by the Kentucky State Senate for her service and contributions to the racing and breeding industry, serving as the chairperson of the University of Kentucky Equine Research Committee and president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. She has also been a director of the Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland Association, and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

In 2008, Chandler decided to step down from her leadership position at Mill Ridge and turn control over to her son, Headley.

“I have lived a blessed life, doing just what I want to do: associate with the finest horses, clients, friends, and an industry that I love,” she said at the time. “Thankfully, I am in wonderful health, and I continue to be surrounded by a fabulous team that will skillfully lead us in the future. John has been such an integral part of the success of Mill Ridge, and he enthusiastically shares with me in the excitement of our future with Headley as managing partner. Headley has played a key role with Mill Ridge the past 30 years.”

Mill Ridge has continued to prosper under Headley’s leadership, assisting in the breeding of 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace and 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Oscar Performance.

There may be a new generation of the Headley family at the helm, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the philosophy of Alice Chandler.

At her Mill Ridge Farm, they still continue to take care of their horses and are rewarded in kind for their actions.

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