During an interview just before the calendar flipped to the year 2000, veterinarian Robert Copelan had this to say about W.T. Young: “I often wonder what would have happened had the phone been busy (the first time Young called). Meeting W.T. Young was that bolt of lightning; the most important thing to happen to me in my life.”
On June 9, Bill Young Jr. announced he was dispersing the horses of his family’s Overbrook Farm near Lexington, which his father had developed and operated until his death in January 2004 at age 85.
Copelan, a friend and advisor to W.T. Young for 25 years, was surprised by the announcement, but he understood that while Bill Young had the same astute business acumen as his father, he did not possess the same passion and enthusiasm for Thoroughbred racing and breeding. So, while Copelan hates to see Overbrook cease to exist, he takes satisfaction in the success the farm enjoyed and, more importantly, in the friendship he forged with W.T. Young.
“For me personally, he was the wisest man I ever met,” Copelan, who refuses to slow down from practicing veterinary medicine at age 82, said. “He had everything nailed down. I tried to make him laugh, and he didn’t laugh a lot, but I kept trying. We had some great times together. He was a serious-minded guy. He suffered no fools.”
W.T. Young was a business legend in Kentucky, from starting a small peanut butter company that was sold and became the mighty Jif, to starting a trucking firm and storage company, businesses his son runs today. He was generous to a fault in his help to the University of Kentucky, Transylvania University, and Shakertown.
But W.T. Young took special satisfaction in the development of Overbrook, from its first 100 acres to more than 2,000, from his first mare to many grade I winners and producers, and especially in Storm Cat, one of the greatest sires of this or any other time.
“He called me out of the blue,” Copelan said, recalling the conversation of 30 years ago. “He asked if I would come look at a horse he had purchased. I went the next day. “I’ll never forget we shook hands and I called him ‘Mr. Young.’ He said, ‘We’re about the same age, so I will call you Bob and you call me Bill.’ He began to call me more frequently, and it became an arrangement where I was there for his assistance at any time, any way I could help. We became great friends.”
Dr. Bill Lockridge arranged for Young to purchase three mares privately, and the Overbrook Farm owner hit the jackpot; that package included Terlingua, the dam of Storm Cat, and Cinegita, the granddam of champion Flanders and great-granddam of champion Surfside.
One day Copelan selected a filly at auction by the stallion named for him, and she was purchased for Young for $45,000. When told he could name her, Copelan suggested Boondi Queen, from the Rudyard Kipling poem “The Last Suttee.”
“He just looked at me and said, ‘You read too much,’ ” Copelan recalled, laughing.
Instead, Young named her Pat Copelan, after the vet’s wife, and she won the 1988 Adirondack Stakes (gr. II).
“Being a part of Overbrook, and seeing what Storm Cat accomplished, is one of the proudest things in my career,” Copelan said. “What set W.T. Young apart from anyone else is that he always wanted the person to whom he sold a horse to have the best deal.”
When Bill Young told Copelan of his decision to shut down Overbrook, Copelan said he was “overwhelmed. But the reasons Bill cited were all valid, they could not be argued about, they were his decisions, and they were sound decisions.”
And who would understand those reasons more than anyone else? “Yeah,” Copelan said, “you’re right. W.T. would completely understand.”