Kentucky Farm Time Capsule: Before It Belonged To Kitten’s Joy, Almahurst Raised Exterminator

by | 11.07.2018 | 2:27pm
A painting of Exterminator and his pony companion, Peanuts

Central Kentucky is filled with properties that have produced quality horseflesh over the course of centuries, but few can boast the kind of diverse resume seen from Almahurst Farm, known today as Ramsey Farm.

Though its history pre-dates the formation of the state in which it resides, Almahurst's time as a nursery of racehorses essentially comes in three acts: first as a generational all-purpose outlet for quality racehorses, then as a producer of Standardbreds, and most recently as the home base for the two-time Eclipse Award winners as outstanding breeder, Ken and Sarah Ramsey.

The first documented ownership of the property, centrally located between Lexington, Nicholasville, and Wilmore, came in 1783 when James Knight obtained a 160-acre land grant from the governor of Virginia for his service in the French and Indian War. The Commonwealth of Kentucky would split from Virginia and become its own state nine years later.

The farm's racing heritage began with the great-grandsons of the original proprietor, with three brothers – William, F.D. “Dixie,” and Grant Lee Knight – each branching off in different directions. The most notable product from the trio's programs was Exterminator, who was born in 1915 to breeder of record Dixie Knight. However, many historical reports suggest that Exterminator's dam, Fair Empress, was actually owned by Knight's mother, Mrs. M.J. Mizner, and Knight received the credit for handling the paperwork side of the business.

Exterminator, who sold as a yearling for $1,500, went on to win the 1918 Kentucky Derby and retired in 1924 with earnings of $252,996 – nearly $3.7 million in modern funds. He is a member of both the U.S. and Canadian Racing Halls of Fame.

William Knight also delved into the Thoroughbred realm, with his most notable product being Claude, a horse who raced 108 times and won the California, Tennessee, St. Louis, and Canadian Derbies as a 3-year-old.

Grant Lee Knight took his interest in a different direction, establishing his part of the property to raise Standardbred runners.

His son, Henry Knight, inherited Grant Lee's stake in the farm, bought out his uncles' shares, and rechristened it Almahurst Farm, combining the name of his wife, Alma, with the word “hurst,” a wooded grove or meadow.

Though he was a key cog in operating the farm prior to taking it over, Henry Knight spent much of his earlier years as a salesman, first dealing in shoes, then moving up to Cadillacs, interrupted by a tour of duty in World War I. He eventually joined General Motors where he became a high-level special accounts representative.

Almahurst Farm blossomed under Henry Knight's watch, expanding the property to more than 2,100 acres and national prominence in both racing breeds. His first success was on the Standardbred side, breeding multiple world record-setter and Hall of Famer Greyhound. Knight operated by the theory of “buy in bulk, sell individually in small units.” This philosophy led to several big-ticket purchases including the entire equine stock of Emerson Woodward at Valdina Farm, totaling more than 100 horses, for $750,000. He had them all sold again within six months. With a business partner, Knight bought out the 171-head breeding stock and young horse interests of the late William G. Heils for $1 million.

An undated photograph shows the popularity of Almahursts' sales

On the distribution side, Knight was famous for “Knight's Night,” an evening of trade during the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sales set aside specifically for Almahurst products, which regularly raised the record for gross and average sale price for a single night's trade at the sale.

Knight never kept a racing stable, but to ask him, the best Thoroughbred he ever bred was Nail, a precocious gray colt who won the Futurity Stakes, Remsen Stakes and Pimlico Futurity for owner Fifi Widener.

With a combination of bulk and quality in his bloodstock interests, Knight became North America's leading breeder by wins and earnings in 1955, 1956, and 1957. However, Knight had retired from the Thoroughbred side in 1955, dispersing his stock for a then-record $1,035,800, and keeping his Standardbreds. He later pieced Almahurst apart to family and sold the remaining parcel.

S.A. Camp, a Standardbred breeder, bought the surviving 862.3 acres of Almahurst in 1960 for a reported $650,500 – roughly $5.6 million in today's funds. The farm then sold again in 1963 to P.J. Baugh, a state senator from North Carolina. The negotiations took place over a private dinner, and the closest thing to a legal document the two had available at the time was a napkin, on which they wrote down the terms and signed.

Baugh operated the farm as one of the country's biggest Standardbred operations for three decades, but concurrent declines in his health and Kentucky's Standardbred industry led him to put the farm on the market in the early 1990s. He stayed in the business, though, and retained the Almahurst name on a different property.

The Ramseys stepped in to buy and rechristen the then-378 acre property for $3 million in 1994. Among the horses they owned at the time was Kitten's First, the eventual dam of their champion runner and cornerstone sire Kitten's Joy.

Twitter Twitter
Paulick Report on Instagram