There are three things that exemplify the best in the Thoroughbred industry: its history, the work ethic of its successful players, and their pure class. While assembling the “Milestones” section of this week’s year-end issue, several names of those who have passed in 2016 reminded us of why those three “legs” prop up the sport. We’ll focus on a special few Central Kentucky leading lights.
Few in the business had the work ethic of the late Ted Bates. The horseman, farm manager, and farm owner was so revered among his peers that the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club named their farm manager of the year award after him.
Bates, who passed in late January, was also instrumental in getting Fasig-Tipton reestablished as a sales company in Kentucky in the mid 1970s by getting the summer yearling sales off the ground.
The sales landscape of today would be very different without Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s July and October sales. But that is merely one testament to the man.
He also left his mark as an adviser and mentor.
Personally speaking, Bates set a moral standard and offered encouragement for a rag-tag fraternity at the University of Kentucky 30-some years ago. That service extended to the farm manager’s club.
“He really had a lot of interest in mentoring future farm managers,” said Hurstland Farm owner Alfred Nuckols Jr. “He was the kind of person you’d call for advice.
“He was also awarded the Hardboot Award (by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association in 2013),” Nuckols continued. “That is presented to one of the unsung people that exemplifies what the industry is all about. That epitomizes what Ted was to the horse industry. He was always there and his opinion was valued and he was extremely well regarded.”
Class—along with eloquence and sophistication—are but a few of the words that describe the late Lucy Gay Bassett, who died May 1.
The wife of former Keeneland president and Breeders’ Cup director James E. “Ted” Bassett, Lucy Gay Bassett was “one of the most wonderful persons I have ever known,” said Kentucky horseman John Williams.
Williams met Bassett in the early 1980s while he was general manager of Spendthrift Farm and looking to branch out and buy some land. Bassett was a farm real estate broker.
“I think I have a good feel for the land, but Lucy had a great feel for the land—she really understood the land,” said Williams.
Bassett also understood people and was a high-percentage breeder off her low-key Lanark Farm on Old Frankfort Pike near Midway, Ky.
While her husband ran the Breeders’ Cup, she might have one-upped him by breeding a Breeders’ Cup winner—2003 Distaff (gr. I) winner Adoration.
“She was just an elegant gal,” Williams said. “She enriched my life just having known her.”
Williams isn’t alone. Anyone who met her surely feels the same.
As in every year, important runners and important bloodlines are lost to the ages. One that comes to mind this year is Monarchos, surprise winner of the 2001 Kentucky Derby (gr. I). It may be recent history, but Monarchos rose to prominence in a remarkably short period of time—he broke his maiden Jan. 13 at Gulfstream and won the Florida Derby (gr. I) two months later—and ran the second-fastest Derby of all-time defeating the heavily favored Point Given.
While he only sired 19 stakes winners and in his waning days stood for $4,000 at Nuckols Farm near Midway, Monarchos did usher John Oxley, and his wife, Debby, into the most exclusive club in the game: Derby-winning owners.
The Oxleys have enjoyed 2016 with Classic Empire, the likely juvenile male champion and early favorite to land them a second Derby trophy in 2017. We’ll find out in the coming year if history can repeat itself.