More than 10 years have passed since the death of John R. Gaines, whose extraordinary contributions to the horse world and the Central Kentucky community were remembered on Monday morning during a ceremony unveiling a bronze plaque in his honor at Thoroughbred Park in downtown Lexington.
It was the kickoff to Breeders' Cup week, a perfectly appropriate time to pay tribute to Gaines. After all, this was the event he proposed back in the spring of 1982 at the annual “They're Off” awards luncheon held as part of the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville.
Just over 30 months later, on Nov. 10, 1984, the first Breeders' Cup was held at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif. It was an amazing accomplishment, not just for Gaines but for the entire Thoroughbred industry, overcoming politics and personal agendas and doing something that was the right thing for the game.
In 2006, a panel of experts commissioned by Blood-Horse Publications listed the inaugural Breeders' Cup as the No. 1 “moment” in the previous 100 years of horse racing. It was an innovation that has stood the test of time.
If all he did was start the Breeders' Cup, we would owe a debt of gratitude to John Gaines. But that was just one of many magnificent creations that emerged from his fertile mind and enormous heart over a lifetime of innovating and giving.
Gaines, who developed and was the original owner of Gainesway Farm in Lexington and revolutionized many aspects of the stallion business that we know today, also helped create the Kentucky Horse Park, a world-class facility that hosts major events for all equine breeds throughout the year. He was a founder of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Kentucky Equine Education Project and was instrumental in the development of the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky.
Gaines believed in education, in a very significant way. A poet and collector of fine art, he created the Gaines Center for the Humanities at the University of Kentucky (profiled here) and led the fund-raising efforts to build the university's exceptional W. T. Young Library, named for another pillar of the Lexington community and the well-known horseman who owned and operated Overbrook Farm. In starting the library campaign, Gaines remarked that “in keeping with our justly renowned tradition of Kentucky hospitality and generosity, we are building a home to help people reach their full human potential.”
Officials from the city of Lexington, University of Kentucky, the Breeders' Cup and Keeneland, which is hosting its first-ever championships this Friday and Saturday, all were on hand for the unveiling of the John R. Gaines plaque at Thoroughbred Park, as were members of his family, including widow Joan Gaines and son Thomas.
Thomas Gaines talked of how “special” this Breeders' Cup is to the entire community, which has embraced the event like no other city.
“From my family's perspective, we can only feel an immense amount of pride as the Breeders' Cup comes home to Lexington for the very first time,” said Gaines.
“If there's a lesson, or moral,” he added, “we can all share from this story – the story of the Breeders' Cup. It is this: When thoughts become big ideas, and those ideas become beliefs, and those beliefs turn into a vision, while it may take one remarkable individual to dream those dreams and then go make them happen, the Breeders' Cup, at its core, is a real-life story of what can be accomplished when a few individuals and then an industry unite behind a powerful dream.”
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