Alice Chandler has no intention of shooting craps in a fancy, glitzy casino. Wouldn’t be the same. Now 82, she harkens back to her youth when she would try to make her point in a tack room with the men on her dad’s Beaumont Farm. She loves recalling how at the tender age of 10, she won $600 and Triple Crown-winning jockey Smokey Saunders’ car.
“I came home bragging about it, and daddy made me give it all back,” she said smiling.
Daddy was Hal Price Headley, one of the founders of Keeneland and a famous breeder in his day. Today, Chandler’s Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington sits on part of the old Beaumont Farm. With land leased from her sister and brother, the 175 mares on the property roam 1,000 acres; her father had more than 4,000, much of it now subdivisions, shops, schools, and churches.
Chandler announced last week that her son, Headley Bell, was taking over the day-to-day operation of Mill Ridge. But Alice Chandler is not going anywhere.
“The time has come,” Chandler said from her farm office, her ever-present dogs by her side. “Really, Headley picked the time. I’m not as out there as I used to be. I’m tickled to death that there is someone ready to step in. I’m blessed to have four kids, and the three boys, Headley, Reynolds, and Mike, are all here working on the farm and are dedicated to the same ideals as myself.”
In fact, Headley Bell said, his generation and the next, the sixth on the property, are the ones who are blessed.
“Our intention is to keep going, whatever it takes,” he said. “We’re blessed to have this, and we all appreciate it.”
Chandler understands that times change and people—and industries—must change with them. But she likes to wax nostalgic. Where the Breeders’ Cup/NTRA offices are today used to be the site of a Beaumont Place training barn where Chandler schooled her jumper. She was practically raised at Keeneland, and with the track only a few furlongs from their land, she used to ride her pony down Versailles Road to the track each day after school.
She started Mill Ridge with less than 300 acres inherited from her father, and she had her first taste of success when selling a yearling colt by Sir Gaylord for $42,000 who turned out to be 1968 Epsom Derby winner Sir Ivor.
In recent years, Mill Ridge raised Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo and champion filly Sweet Catomine. Countless other stakes winners were either bred, raised, or sold by the farm in the intervening years.
When her father died, Alice Chandler started with three of his employees, now deceased, who, she said, “were like brothers to me.”
Headley Bell understands that, stressing that those who board mares at the farm are not just clients, but friends, and the employees are part of the Mill Ridge family. The average tenure of those who work at Mill Ridge is 20 years.
Chandler passes along two pieces of advice, and not surprisingly, they were handed down to her by her father—don’t hothouse your horses and take care of the land.
“Daddy was all about keeping it as close to nature as you could; doing it the way the horse wanted,” she said. “Land was a fetish with him. He was careful with what he bought; he did not buy bad land. It was one of his keys. I hope that they (her children) can continue with the land they have. It’s all good land, and good land is hard to get ahold of.”
Few have experienced as much in the Thoroughbred industry as Alice Chandler. Sure, she had the pedigree, but she earned her place in the industry by hard work and good horsemanship.
“Back in the old days it was more for the horse and less for the money,” she said.
If we don’t remember that, we could all crap out.