Just over 20 years after Polish-born aviation magnate Henryk De Kwiatkowski bought Calumet Farm from a bankruptcy auction, promising to “not change one blade of grass,” the famed Lexington, Ky., Thoroughbred nursery that produced Triple Crown heroes Whirlaway and Citation is in the process of being sold to billionaire Brad Kelley of Franklin, Ky., the Paulick Report has learned from multiple sources with knowledge of the pending deal.
Details, including price, are not known at this time and efforts to reach Kelley were unsuccessful.
De Kwiatkowski paid $17 million at the March 26, 1992, auction, outbidding Lebanese businessman Isaam Fares, whose Fares Farm is adjacent to Calumet. Others, in recent years, have expressed interest in buying Calumet, but were unable to close a deal. Those with familiarity of Central Kenucky real estate values said the acreage, main residence, barns, and other buildings would be worth upwards of $35 million today. “But this is not just a farm,” said one Central Kentucky real estate broker. “This is Calumet.”
The farm has been held by a trust since the purchase by De Kwiatkowski, who died in 2003 after a relatively brief but successful run as a Thoroughbred owner and breeder. Among the horses he campaigned was 1982 Horse of the Year Conquistador Cielo, along with the influential sire Danzig, among others. His daughter, Arianne, and her children lived on Calumet Farm until a couple of years ago. Arianne De Kwiatkowski now resides in California.
Kelley, described as extremely private by those who know him, is ranked by Forbes magazine as the 263rd wealthiest American with an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion. He is said to be among the 10 largest landowners in America with holdings of more than 1.25 million acres in Texas, Florida, and New Mexico, many of them dedicated to wildlife preservation. He is owner of 403-acre Hurricane Hall off Georgetown Road near Lexington, and 222-acre Bluegrass Hall, the farm formerly owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt across from Blue Grass Airport in Lexington.
In December 2011, Kelley's Bluegrass Hall added two additioal parcels of land not far from Calumet: a 68-acre agricultural plot at the corner of Parkers Mill Road and Man o' War for $1,285,400; and 100 acres directly next to that parcel on Parkers Mill Road for $1,885,400. Other than the land on which the Man o' War golf practice facility now sits, Kelley owns all of the property bordering Man o' War between Parkers Mill and Versailles Road.
Kelley races in the name of Bluegrass Hall LLC. Among his current runners is homebred Optimizer, who finished second in this year's Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and is being pointed to the Kentucky Derby by trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Other trainers he's had horses with include Bob Hess Jr., Neil Howard, Jerry Quinn, Larry Sterling Jr., and, in Ireland, Dermot Weld. Kelley owns more than 50 broodmares and has various stallion interests.
Kelley, born in 1957 and now living in a Nashville, Tenn., suburb, made his fortune in the tobacco industry, creating Commonwealth Brands in Bowling Green, Ky., in 1991. Ten years later he sold the company to Houchens Industries for $1 billion in cash. It was the fifth-largest cigarette maker in the country with annual sales approaching $800 million.
Calumet, which borders Versailles Road just to the east of Keeneland, was built as a standardbred farm by William Wright in 1924. Upon his death eight years later, his son, Warren Wright Sr., transformed Calumet into a Thoroughbred operation that enjoyed unparalleled success as breeder of nine Kentucky Derby winners, more than anyone else. Calumet owned eight of those Derby winners. Calumet's first champion was the filly Nellie Flag in 1933 and its last one was Criminal Type, the 1990 Horse of the Year.
By the time Criminal Type was crowned champion, however, the farm had fallen deep into debt under the management of J.T. Lundy, who was married to a Wright family heir.
By 1991, Calumet declared bankruptcy, and all of the assets were sold at auction the following year. De Kwiatkowski flew in from his estate in the Bahamas the night before the sale and, after making the winning bid and pledging to keep it going as a horse farm, was given a hero's welcome by the large crowd on hand for the auction, held in an enormous tent on the Calumet property.
Calumet has operated as a boarding farm and sales consignor since purchased by De Kwiatkowski. The farm currently stands two stallions, Cactus Ridge and Ice Box, but has stalls for up to eight more in two stallion barns. There is a five-eighths-mile dirt training track, with an infield turf course, three broodmare barns with 20 stalls each, and a main residence that was completely refurbished under the supervision of the New York design firm Parish Hadley. In addition to the main residence and adjacent garage apartment, there is a log cabin guest house, and several managerial residences on the property. One of the most famous segments of Calumet is its horse cemetery, where the remains of many of its past champions, broodmares, and stallions now rest.
Editor's Note: To view a WKYT-TV news segment on this report, click here.
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