It’s become a popular sight among tourists to Coolmore America’s Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky. Handlers bring out not one, but two Triple Crown winners at the same time. American Pharoah and Justify both stroll out of their respective stalls and put on a display for the throng of visitors, all snapping photos of the two champions.
It’s something that hasn’t been seen in over four decades — two stallions staying at the same farm, and Coolmore has them. Not since Affirmed and Seattle Slew stayed together at Spendthrift Farm in the late 1970s have two Triple Crown winners been housed at the same farm. But that’s how good Coolmore has it right now.
Coolmore has become the 800-pound gorilla in the stallion business, landing top-notch stallions each year to add to their arsenal of champions. It’s a huge step for a farm that had humble beginnings in the 19th century.
Coolmore Farm was originally a small farm in Ireland, but it was sold in 1975 to Irish businessman John Magnier, whose family had been associated with stallions since the 1850s, along with horse trainer Vincent O’ Brien and breeder Robert Sangster. Eventually, Magnier became the sole owner and developed it into a 7,000-acre multimillion-dollar business.
Coolmore’s beginnings in America started with Ashford Stud, a cattle farm owned by Col. Edmund H. Taylor Jr., the father of the modern bourbon industry. It was then known as Hereford Farm after the cattle that grazed the 465 acres.
It stayed that way until the late 1970s, when Dr. Bill Lockridge founded the stud farm with business partner Robert Hefner. Lockridge already had a mare called Bolero Rose that he had bought in 1965, who gave a filly named Crimson Saint – “one of four or five of the most perfectly conformed horses I have seen,” he wrote for Blood-Horse 12 years ago. Crimson Saint was bred to Secretariat, and the resulting filly, Terlingua, showed great potential as a 2-year-old.
In the early 1980s, Ashford Stud hit tough times, and Lockridge was asked by fellow breeder W.T. Young if he would sell his mares, including Terlingua, who was in foal to one of Ashford’s stallions, Storm Bird. Lockridge agreed to sell the mares. Terlingua’s foal? It was none other than Storm Cat, one of the most successful stallions of all time.
Lockridge sold Ashford to Coolmore in the fall of 1984, and its fortunes began to turn around. Storm Bird, one of Lockridge’s purchases in the 1970s, helped to establish Coolmore internationally through the 1980s. He sired 63 stakes winners, including 1990 Preakness Stakes winner Summer Squall, and of course, Storm Cat. Storm Cat’s son, Tabasco Cat, won the 1994 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, and from 2002 to 2007, the stallion commanded a stud fee of $500,000, the highest in North America at the time.
Better Times for Coolmore
The 1990s was a decade of growth for Coolmore. They acquired Jerrys Plains in 1996 and established Coolmore Australia, an 8,200-acre farm that has about 1,000 horses, including 600 mares that produce 300 foals each year.
In 1996, Thunder Gulch, the winner of the 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes retired to Ashford. He topped the general sire’s list in 2001. Giant’s Causeway was the sire of turf champion Bricks and Mortar, and Uncle Mo produced 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist.
They were soon joined by the two Triple Crown winners, creating a barn full of potentially spectacular sires. In Ireland, champion Galileo remains one of the most sought-after stallions in the world.
This year at Ashford Stud, Uncle Mo commands the highest stud fee, $175,000, followed by Justify ($125,000) and American Pharoah ($100,000).
And the rich get richer. Maximum Security and Carravaggio recently joined Ashford Stud, and Tiz the Law will join the roster after he races as a 4-year-old.