Pillars - by Lenny Shulman

In Hollywood’s film industry, studios seek to develop a franchise—such as “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones”—that’s so successful they become tent poles that ensure the well-being of the company and, by extension, the industry for years to come.

Thoroughbred racing is fortunate to count within its ranks human pillars that have done similar yeoman’s work. It is one of the perks of this job to interact with such titans, but even at that we enjoyed an embarrassment of riches as October dawned.

First off was a visit with Dr. Larry Bramlage for a series BloodHorse is doing on how industry stalwarts spend their leisure time. Bramlage, through innovative surgery techniques, has allowed countless runners to continue racing careers that once would have been doomed, among them Personal Ensign. Along with his obvious medical skills, it’s the Doc’s dry sense of humor that we respect most. Asked to contrast horses with the cattle he raises to get away from the pressures of medicine, Bramlage said, “Cows first and foremost care about survival; that’s their focus. Horses, on the other hand, spend 24 hours a day figuring out ways to kill themselves.”

The following day, in honor of the upcoming Keeneland meet, we met with Ted Bassett, who has held every top-level job at the venerable racetrack. If he drank a certain brand of beer, Mr. Bassett would be considered “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” Ivy League-educated, Marine Corps Second Lieutenant in World War II, director of the Kentucky State Police, Breeders’ Cup president, and a key fundraiser for the Kentucky Blood Center and the National Marine Corps Museum, Mr. Bassett turns 95 later this month. Mention his age to him and he’s apt to break into song: “Younger than springtime am I, younger than springtime…” And the way he flings around Keeneland statistics for purses and graded stakes races, you actually believe him.

Speaking of music, we returned home from seeing Mr. Bassett to find a CD in the mail from one of our favorite people in the game, Stone Farm’s Arthur Hancock III, who happens to be as fine a writer and  musician as he is a horse breeder. The just-released disc is titled “Arthur & Arthur” as Hancock teams with his son Arthur IV, who is making a name for himself nationally as a superior banjo picker with his band The Wooks. The vocal harmonies between the two are so precise they have to come from the same family. Arthur III’s got a voice made for Country and Bluegrass, and the disc, available through iTunes or CD Baby, rocks from the first cut, “Going to the Races.”

The week closed with a Saturday morning visit to Lane’s End Farm for our “Farms in Focus” series. There, owner Will Farish explained the evolution of the world-renowned operation from an original 250-acre broodmare farm to what is today a 3,000-acre home to mares and two dozen of the continent’s top stallions. Lane’s End is the benchmark for showcase farms, and Mr. Farish proved a most-gracious host. After proclaiming my adoration for his pensioned superstar stallion A.P. Indy, Mr. Farish insisted we pay a visit to the stallion complex, where I got to love on my only hero athlete since Roger Maris while marveling how clear of eye and well he looks at 27.

Then Mr. Farish had A.P. Indy’s son Honor Code walked outside where we could take a long look at him. He’s every bit as impressive as his sire, with an added dash of elegance set off by a striking head that reminds us of a dinosaur. As many great horses as Mr. Farish has been around, it was telling to see the look of joy splashed across his face as he fed peppermints to his young stallion.
We, too, were smiling at our good fortune of spending time with these esteemed gentlemen.

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