He's Kentucky born and raised, but Tracy Farmer's biggest racing successes have come in New York.
There was Nick Zito-trained Albert the Great, a horse named for the late Albert Clay, a good friend of Farmer who bred the son of Grade 1 Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin. Albert the Great won the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park as a 3-year-old in 2000 and then added the G2 duo of the Suburban and Brooklyn at the Elmont, N.Y., track the following year.
Commentator, a New York-bred gelding by Distorted Humor, was a dyed-in-the-wool frontrunner for Farmer and Zito who won Saratoga's G1 Whitney in 2005 and came back for a repeat triumph in 2008. Sir Shackleton, a multiple graded stakes-winning homebred of Farmer's by Miswaki, ran second for Zito in the 2005 Woodward at Belmont, defeated by Saint Liam, who would go on to be Horse of the Year.
But nothing beats what Sir Winston did at Belmont Park on June 8, winning the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes by a length over favorite Tacitus, giving Farmer his first classic win after four decades in the game.
“This is the top,” Farmer said. “To do it with a horse we bred. And we didn't even think we'd enter the race. But we put him in the (G3) Peter Pan, almost won that and got a 100 Beyer Speed Figure. Our jockey (Joel Rosario) thought the distance wasn't a problem, and he thought he would win it.”
Trained by Mark Casse, the victory by the Awesome Again colt completed a big week for Farmer, who was under doctor's orders not to travel because of a persistent sinus infection and watched the Belmont from home in Midway, Ky., with wife Carol. Two days before Sir Winston's victory, Farmer's 2-year-old Sky Mesa filly Perfect Alibi ran second in the Astoria Stakes at Belmont. The day prior to the Belmont, the 3-year-old Into Mischief filly Devious Charm earned black type with a third-place finish in the Portofino Bay Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Florida and earlier in the afternoon on Belmont day, Lady Grace, a 3-year-old filly by Kantharos, ran third in the William D. Graham Memorial Stakes at Woodbine.
Demonstrating the ups and downs of the game, Sir Winston came out of his victory with a minor ankle injury that will cause him to miss the G1 Travers Stakes, though his connections are hoping the colt will return by fall.
“I've been working with Tracy for 16 years and it's great to see the realization of a dream,” said Kentucky-based bloodstock agent Lincoln Collins, a native of England who established Kern Thoroughbreds in 1989. “He's given back to the game. He's always taken defeat with equanimity. He's been in the game through thick and thin. He's one of the good guys. And Carol is very supportive of aftercare, very responsible and keen on making sure the horses all get homes.”
Farmer's Thoroughbred operation at his Shadowlawn Farm in Midway, is something of a hybrid between commercial and breeding to race. Among the horses he breeds, Farmer is more likely to sell the colts than the fillies, and he's not afraid to supplement his stable with yearling purchases. He's not selling any yearlings in 2019.
“To me, the people who have the toughest job and have to have the most dedication are those who breed to race at any level,” said Collins. “They don't get the credit that they deserve.”
Sir Winston was entered in the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale through Denali Stud and was bought back by Farmer for just $50,000. In fact, he didn't receive a single bid.
“He got one vet and three second looks,” said Collins. “The only reason we sent him into the ring was that someone had vetted him. As a matter of policy, we leave them in because we don't want to insult somebody who went to that trouble.”
The average horse that sells, Collins added, is vetted two or three times and has 10 to 15 second looks from potential buyers.
“Just think, all the millions spent on horses and we had no bid at $50,000,” Farmer said. “It's a hard game, though the opportunities are endless.”
Farmer bought Affirmed Dancer, second dam of Sir Winston, as a weanling for $150,000 at the 1999 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. The daughter of Triple Crown winner Affirmed won five or 14 starts, including the My Charmer Stakes at Turfway Park, and was graded stakes placed before entering the breeding shed. To the cover of 2005 3-year-old male champion Afleet Alex – winner of that year's Preakness and Belmont Stakes – Affirmed Dancer produced La Gran Bailadora, who won a G3 stakes among six victories from 25 starts over four years.
“It was early in Afleet Alex's career,” Collins said of the decision to breed Affirmed Dancer to the son of Northern Afleet. “He's not a popular horse, but the blood is good and with a bit of luck he could have won the Triple Crown (Afleet Alex ran a troubled third in the Kentucky Derby). I like those horses that were good 2-year-olds in New York” – a reference to Afleet Alex's wins in the G2 Sanford and G1 Hopeful.
Farmer credited Sid Fernando of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants for suggesting the mating of La Gran Bailadora to Adena Springs' Awesome Again.
“The nicking information is useful for what doesn't work as much as what does,” said Collins. “We take those recommendations that we may or may not act on, then look for the best physical matings to produce a good horse.”
Collins described Sir Winston as a “backward, leggy yearling. He was clearly a horse that was going to be a 3-year-old if he came together.”
A self-described history buff, Farmer named Sir Winston after the 20thCentury British statesman, Winston Churchill, himself a devotee of Thoroughbred racing.
“We couldn't get a name approved,” said Farmer. “You go through that process and I finally said, 'What about Sir Winston?' and that one got through. I'm a great admirer, have read all about him, including his racing endeavors. He had some funny quips.”
Farmer remembered a similar experience with Albert the Great. “We tried all sorts of names and they weren't accepted,” he said. “Finally, Carol said, 'Well, Albert Clay bred him. Let's call him Albert the Great.'” That one got approved by The Jockey Club.
Like all of Farmer's current horses in training, Sir Winston went to Mark Casse's training center near Ocala, Fla., run by general manager Mitch Downs, for early training. Then, like Casse-trained Preakness winner War of Will, he spent a good portion of his 2-year-old season training over the Tapeta synthetic surface at Woodbine.
Farmer said his good friend and fellow horse owner, John Oxley, convinced him a few years ago to give his horses to Casse to train.
Collins thinks it's an advantage to be with Casse, who with several divisions active at one time provides options to his owners. And, he added, despite the large number of horses he oversees, Casse is a good communicator.
“Mark is running a large and complex operation,” Collins said. “You have to get the best assistants and delegate to a lot of them. The engine seems to run smoothly.”
Farmer has been active in a number of industry organizations, politics and causes throughout his adult life.
In 2000, Farmer made a $2-million donation to the University of Kentucky to establish a research and education center to assist public and private organizations address environmental issues and develop solutions.
As a breeder and as chairman of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Farmer has spoken out on the need for medication reform in racing, and he and Carol are supporters of the Water Hay Oats Alliance, which is behind federal legislation to create independent, non-governmental national oversight of racing's drug policies.
“You have to be true to yourself,” he said of his commitment to various causes. “It was just the way I was raised.”
Farmer is worried about the cloud currently hovering over racing in the wake of the spike in fatalities earlier this year at Santa Anita, and the outcry from animal rights groups and many in the general public that followed.
“We have this PETA issue in California, and it's real,” he said. “You see what they did to dog racing in Florida. We have serious concerns, more serious than people in the Thoroughbred business want to admit.”
One thing that gives him confidence about the future of the sport, at least in his native Kentucky, is the economic stimulus racing is getting from historical horse racing machines.
“Gov. (Steve) Beshear and our racing commission put in historical horse racing,” Farmer said, “and it's going to mean Thoroughbred racing in Kentucky has a solid financial foundation for the next 100 years.”
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