Last week, during a five-day whirlwind trip to Lexington, Ky., my daughters and I got an unexpected treat.
We were given a private tour of Kentucky’s oldest continuous Thoroughbred breeding establishment, Runnymede Farm, located outside Paris in Bourbon County, by Camden Clay, the great-grandson of its founder.
The tour was arranged by my friend Dawn Newman, owner of Fox Tale Stud in Coopersburg, Pa., who is related by marriage to the Clay family, and who thought I would be interested in seeing this historic property. And boy, was she right!
Despite the bitterly cold, blustery weather, with the temperature hovering around 10 degrees as we embarked near Runnymede’s 213-year-old stone barn, we heard the abbreviated story of Runnymede and followed Camden through the old breeding shed, up a tree-lined walk, and out onto a viewing stand, upon which some of the most stunning views of the farm could be seen.
Runnymede’s rolling hills from the viewing stand
Mares grazing on a gray afternoon.
Camden Clay points to a faraway site atop the viewing stand.
Another view of the farm.
The circa-1800 stone barn, formerly a church.
Since its founding in 1867, Runnymede Farm has been an important and vital part of the American thoroughbred industry. The 365-acre farm was originally established on family property by Colonel Ezekiel Clay, whose father was a member of the U.S. Congress and a breeder of thoroughbreds and champion cattle.
Runnymede (“Rolling Meadows”) is headed by family patriarch Catesby Clay, a grandson of Ezekiel Clay and Camden’s father, and one of the most respected breeders in the industry. Camden has seven siblings, including Brutus J. Clay III, who is the farm’s president, according to the Runnymede web site.
Horses foaled and/or raced by Runnymede are among the sport’s finest, including four members of the Racing Hall of Fame, many starters in the Triple Crown, and several champions in the U.S. and abroad. A partial list includes:
* Hanover – Hall of Fame member who won 17 races in a row at 2 and 3
* Agile -1905 Derby winner
* Roamer – Leading money winner of 1914; won 32-of-50 starts including Travers Stakes
* Miss Woodford – The immortal filly who won 16 straight races over three-year span; the first U.S. runner to earn $100,000
* Ben Brush – Derby winner 1896
* Count Turf – Derby winner 1951 bred and raised at Runnymede
* Angle Light – defeated Secretariat in the 1973 Wood Memorial
* Tejano Run – Gr. 2 winner, runnerup in 1995 Derby
* Partez – Placed in 1981 Derby
* Agnes Digital – 2001 Champion Older Horse in Japan, winner of 2001 Hong Kong Cup (Jpn-G1).
While the biting wind and finger-numbing cold cut our Runnymede visit a little short, it was still a delightful trip back in time, and one for which I am grateful to both Camden and Dawn.