People get into Thoroughbred racing or breeding for a wide array of reasons. For some it's about the handicapping or strategy in mating the right mare and the right stallion to create an athlete destined for greatness. For others, it's the thrill of competition and the idea that, by owning a racing stable, you in essence own your own sports franchise. For Ann Bakhaus, it was about her love of horses combined with a taste for competition that got her hooked.
That love of horses has carried Bakhaus on a whirlwind journey over the years, from breeding champion-turned-successful stallion English Channel out of one of the first broodmares she ever bought to developing her now-170-acre Keene Ridge Farm, which boasts iconic views of Keeneland Race Course and plays home to more than 50 mares owned by clients or by Bakhaus herself.
Also featured on Keene Ridge Farm is Bakhaus's recently completed Keene Ridge Equestrian, a division of her farm dedicated to the retraining and rehabilitation of her retired racehorses.
“This whole farm started with wanting what I didn't have as a child,” said Bakhaus as she sat in the Keene Ridge Equestrian visitors' center flanked by two of her dogs. The farm welcomes visitors each week through Horse Country Tours, and every tour begins with a video presentation and discussion of the farm in the visitors' center.
“My parents were always going to buy a farm. We grew up in an apartment house, living in part of it while tenants rented out other portions of it as apartments,” continued Bakhaus. “They always talked about one day having their dream farm, but they died never owning it. I think that's where my desire to have a farm came from.”
Bakhaus, who is president of her family-owned Kentucky Eagle, Inc., a large-scale distributer of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in Lexington, Ky., did not grow up riding. In fact, it was only in the past several years that she's spent any serious time in the saddle.
Instead, Bakhaus bred and raised her own horses, selling many at public auction and racing those that either didn't meet their reserve or did not make it to the auction ring. One of the first horses she sent through the ring was a feisty chestnut colt by Smart Strike out of her broodmare Belva, a daughter of Theatrical. The colt sold for $50,000 – a modest price for the upper-echelon of Thoroughbred sales but a satisfactory sum for a budding breeder.
The colt was eventually named English Channel and in the four years that he raced, he racked up six Grade 1 wins, including the Breeders' Cup Turf; set several track records; earned more than $5 million in purse money and was named Eclipse Champion Turf Male for 2007. His success on the track not only meant a promising career at stud for the grass specialist but ensured the offspring of his dam would be highly regarded in the sales ring.
“Belva really helped to build this farm [through the sale of her offspring],” said Bakhaus. “Everyone knows the stallions because they produce so many offspring in a given year, but the mares are just as important and sometimes I don't think they get enough credit. They can make or break a horse.”
Bakhaus has always been vigilant about where her horses ended up once their racing or breeding days were done. Since her first broodmare retired from breeding, the farm has had a pasture dedicated to her retired broodmares, as well as a cemetery that serves as their final resting place when their time comes.
For those who don't retire to breeding careers on her farm, Bakhaus created a training facility where they can let down from the track and transition to life as a riding horse. Dubbed Keene Ridge Equestrian and located on the back of her Thoroughbred breeding farm, the facility offers full care board to a small number of outside clients and transitions all of the Keene Ridge racehorses to life after racing.
“I've only gotten into riding in the past three years and I absolutely love it. I just enjoy trail riding around the farm or riding in our indoor arena, which has Polytrack footing from when they transitioned Keeneland from synthetic back to a dirt surface,” said Bakhaus. “Alexa Gerstel manages our retraining and boarding facility and does a fantastic job with things.”
Gerstel also teaches lessons out of Keene Ridge Equestrian, often using the retrained Keene Ridge racehorses as lesson horses.
“The best thing about it is that Ann really cares about these horses and their well-beings for their entire lives,” said Gerstel. “When a horse decides it's no longer interested in racing, she retires it back to her farm. It's a beautiful environment for them to go to, and after they get a few months to relax and let down, we start them back with a lot of ground work and under saddle training.”
Gerstel, whose background is in eventing, puts a foundation on the horses using dressage and also gets them started over small fences.
Also residing at the riding stable is Channeled, a full-brother to English Channel that Bakhaus bred and intended to sell. Unfortunately, a series of setbacks prevented Channeled from selling at public auction, then a fractured sesmoid in his final work before what would have been his first race ended his career before it even started.
Bakhaus breeds her own mares, as well as a small number of outside mares, to Channeled each year. While they will all have the right to return to Keene Ridge once their racing days are behind them in order to train for a new career, there is one in particular for which Bakhaus has plans.
“That first year I bought four mares to breed to Channeled and one by the name of Beat Your Feet ended up being diagnosed with a tumor behind her eye. We did surgery and it was cancerous. We knew it would come back, but we did everything we could to keep her comfortable,” said Bakhaus. “She gave birth to Channeled's first foal, Big Bad Zin. She was such a good mother. The day we weaned him was the day she passed away. He's still racing, but he is a gelding and when his time on the track is done, I'm hoping he'll become my riding horse.”
“I love every part of my farm and am truly blessed, but the riding stable is my happy place – my sanctuary,” she continued. “When you have racehorses, you hope some will be good, but you know some aren't going to be worth a toot, and they're going to need something else to do. Our riding and retraining stable is part of our entire business model, but it's become one of my favorite parts of the farm.”
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