this April 25, 2008 file photo, Street Sense is held
by Joe Mitchell at Jonabell Farm in Lexington, Ky.
Some of the best-known farms in Kentucky’s scenic
horse country are borrowing from another of the
state’s contributions to the good life -
Kentucky’s bourbon whiskey distilleries - in an
effort to win new recruits to an aging and shrinking
fan base. Taking cues from the overwhelming success
of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, they hope to develop
a thoroughbred trail with a more coordinated
outreach to fans.
MIDWAY, Ky. —
Camera-toting visitors to the grounds at Three Chimneys
Farm can get a glimpse of the pampered lives of
thoroughbred stallions — the star attractions that
frolic in lush paddocks or relax in stately stalls when
they aren't in the breeding shed.
Some of the best-known
farms in Kentucky's horse country are borrowing from
another of the state's contributions to the good life —
bourbon whiskey distilleries — in an effort to win new
recruits to horse racing's aging and shrinking fan base.
"I'd say they're
living the good life," said farm worker Anna Hair,
who recently led 15 tourists on a springtime tour of stone
buildings and manicured lawns amid sprawling pastures.
The farms are taking cues
from the overwhelming success of the Kentucky Bourbon
Trail, and hope to develop a thoroughbred trail that can
connect with fans.
Ahead of this weekend's
Kentucky Derby, nearly 30 horse farms have teamed up to
create the trail. Each member ponied up $10,000 to get the
initiative started through Horse Country Inc., a
Lexington-based, not-for-profit organization.
People visiting farms are
more likely to root for horses produced by those farms,
said Brutus Clay, co-owner and president of Runnymede Farm
near Paris, Kentucky. The goal is to keep those fans
connected to the farms in an ongoing way through social
"We actually might
have the most potent tool to convert fans," Clay
said. He was among the early supporters, known as the
"mule team," who pushed for the project.
Racehorses often spend just
a fraction of their lives on the racetrack, and there's
"a whole other story to tell" about the lives of
stallions, mares, yearlings and foals, he said.
"There's a certain
amount of romance to it," he said.
The tourism initiative
gained a foothold after a sobering 2011 study commissioned
by The Jockey Club that said horse racing was losing the
battle for new bettors and fans.
Without new growth
study predicted that thoroughbred racing's handle
would decline by 25 percent in the next decade and the
number of viable tracks would fall by 27 percent.
Horse racing enthusiasts
were older than fans of several other sports, the study
said, and the average age of racing fans was projected to
increase by 6 years by 2020.
The initiative gained more
momentum when a review by the Disney Institute — paid
for by a group of horse farms — pointed to the untapped
tourism potential of the Bluegrass region.
That got the mule team
thinking about another Kentucky staple — bourbon.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail,
featuring many of the industry's top-producing
distilleries, had 762,009 visits in 2015, up 22 percent
from the prior year's record pace, according to the
Kentucky Distillers' Association. When combined with the
Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, featuring a collection
of small distilleries, the two trails attracted nearly
900,000 visits last year.
The bourbon tourism venture
started in 1999 but didn't start hitting its stride until
about a decade ago, said distillers' association President
Gregory said he sees plenty
of potential for a thoroughbred trail, but said building
the brand of bourbon tourism "took a lot of hard work
There's plenty of star
power at farms participating in the Horse Country
initiative. Coolmore's Ashford Stud is home to Triple
Crown winner American Pharoah. Kentucky Derby winners
Animal Kingdom and Street Sense are at Darley's Jonabell
Farm. Gainesway features leading sire Tapit. Claiborne was
home to the great Secretariat, and fans still visit his
grave. Stonestreet is home to former Horse of the Year
Rachel Alexandra. Darby Dan was a filming location for the
Most participating horse
farms were fully booked for Derby week tours, and some
added tours or allowed larger tour groups to meet demand,
said Anne Sabatino Hardy, executive director of Horse
Bringing visitors to
working farms with spirited animals will be a balancing
act, Clay said.
During a recent tour at
Runnymede, visitors looked at a picture of an ultrasound
that a veterinarian had performed on a pregnant mare, Clay
said. The veterinarian took time to explain the process
and what the ultrasound showed.
"We were able to
observe in a respectful way that gave people an insight
into what a working farm is like, while not severely
compromising the operations of the farm," he said.
At the recent Three
Chimneys tour, the visitors clicked photos of Will Take
Charge, a leading sire whose career included wins in the
Travers and Pennsylvania Derby.
The chestnut stallion stood
calmly outside his stall. "He's a little bit of a
ham," Hair said.
Her one admonition was that
visitors not try to pet the horses, but she framed it as a
"It's not a great end
of a tour when a horse mistakes a finger for a
carrot," she said.