An April Walk through the Horse Park
03 Sunday May 2020
03 Sunday May 2020
03 Sunday May 2020
Bull Dog’s gravestone stands in a pastoral setting on the ground of Carnahan House. This house was once the grand residence in the center of Coldstream Farm, which grew as its success did by acquiring land of other nearby farms, including McGrathiana Farm, where the winner of the first Kentucky Derby, Aristides, was bred.
McGrathiana was purchased later by C.B. Shaffer, along with a nearby farm called Coldstream. Shaffer gave the name Coldstream to all the holdings that made up the farm he purchased. He was also the owner of the farm when the house that would later be called Carnahan House, after the University of Kentucky purchased the property, was built.
It is likely Bull Dog’s stone was moved to its present location but not his remains. Still, it was awe-inspiring to stand before this homage to him and reflect upon what he contributed to the Thoroughbred breed.
According to Avalyn Hunter’s American Classic Pedigrees website, Bull Dog had a strong opportunity at stud due to his full brother Sir Gallahad III’s success as a sire. Of course, Bull Dog sired the incomparable Bull Lea, and that alone would be enough to ensure his name lived on. He earned standings in the top tier of the sire rankings numerous times, and also was a top broodmare sire later in his stud career.
Interestingly, Bull Lea became one of only four stallions to sire three Kentucky Derby winners, with his sire’s full brother Sir Gallahad III being one of the others.
In addition to Aristides, over the years and varying ownership, other top horses came from this land surrounding the last remnant, the grand home referenced above, of when it was devoted to raising horses. Hindoo, Jet Pilot, Myrtle Charm, and of course Bull Dog were some of the most notable horses that were bred and raised on the property, whether it was called McGrathiana, Coldstream, or Maine Chance Farm at the time those horses were bred.
Returning to the grounds of Carnahan House a week later, on May Day, fields surrounding what had been McGrathiana Farm, where Aristides was bred and raised, were beginning to be awash in yellow flowers. The older trees on the land immediately surrounding the house had sprouted leaves.
The surroundings were lovely and appreciation grew that so much of this land had been left undeveloped. As I first walked the grounds of Carnahan House, I wondered if broodmares had once roamed those fields while their foals played, and I could almost see it in my mind’s eye, even though the trees seemed old enough to have been on the grounds since it was a farm and therefore had been unlikely to be a pasture. Still, in a city that grows in leaps and bounds and overtook many sites that had once been on the outskirts of Lexington, I liked seeing this land remain mostly untouched.
I had also been curious if I could find Rose Leaves’ grave site and a few others of horses that once had lived at Coldstream Stud, but I also saw another source that said Bull Dog’s grave site had been moved and it was not clear if his remains also had.
I realized that must be the case, since the website I had consulted to try to find his grave site had an inaccurate location, and perhaps Rose Leaves’ grave site is no longer marked. If it is, it would likely be too difficult to find.
However, I drove around a little more and came across a historical marker denoting that I was standing in the midst of the land where Aristides had been raised. Many times in the past as I drove by that site, knowing it was the general vicinity of where he once lived, I had wondered how it looked when he was a resident. As it turns out, except for the road running through the land, and a business nearby, it is not that hard to envision how it may have been in that era, for it is mostly open land. Another nearby marker mentioned that Cane Run Creek had run through the property then as now. And what stood out to me, standing there, was how lovely and great it was to see a site that was a haven for birds and probably a few types of aquatic life, even near a heavily-traveled road in Lexington. There was a deep serenity in the flowing water and the bird songs, and I loved the coincidental discovery of the site where Aristides had once lived, for all the time I had wondered about it.
I also loved that it was on May Day I discovered this, blooming flowers cropping up on the land, a harbinger of spring that the day marks.
Before leaving the grounds of Carnahan House, I also looked inside of what had once been a grand home and it was still evident on the outside how it had though it had fallen into some disrepair and disuse.
With another attempt to locate the grave sites of horses besides Bull Dog, I found what appeared to be another grave stone. If it was, it was inscription-side down, and yet still confirmed what I had begun to suspect, given that Bull Dog’s gravestone was no longer where a website I had consulted mentioned it as being, and also since it had been moved, it was likely the other gravestones had too.
It is too difficult to identify if this stone I found is that of Rose Leaves, Etoile Filante, or Reaping Reward, yet it seems likely it is one of those. While it has not been left standing in a place of honor like Bull Dog’s, it still reclines in a peaceful site beneath a tree that had honeysuckle flowers growing alongside and stretching down towards the gravestone.
One other interesting note about this property, as its historic reign continued in the racing world, part of Coldstream Stud later became Maine Chance Farm. Part of the property retains that name, with another part being a research farm, both part of the University of Kentucky’s holdings, along with the nearby Coldstream property. As one who appreciates racing history deeply, it always stood out to me that there was a significance to getting to be on the Maine Chance property to take classes while enrolled in the University of Kentucky’s Equine Science and Management degree, with their resident horse herd, and later to work on the research farm and go past that part of the property on the way to work.
One of the barns on the Maine Chance property was one I could envision just as it would have been when Elizabeth Arden Graham’s horses resided there. The university still raises Thoroughbreds on-site, with the foals being handled by students through their yearling year to learn everything about raising a young horse and sales prep. It also stood out that where a training track had once been left a path evident near the entrance, traces of what once had been, much as Carnahan House, Aristides’ birthplace, and Bull Dog’s gravestone have their own stories to tell of the enduring significance this land gave rise to in the racing industry.
03 Sunday May 2020
It felt odd, like for many who love racing, to see this day dawn knowing it was not synonymous with Derby Day. Even knowing in advance it was going to be that way, ever since the horse racing bug bit me, meant it was hard to shake that notion. It was strange indeed to go to sleep the evening before and know that it would be another day, no early trip to Louisville in the cards to witness another day of the pageantry, anticipation, and excitement unfold. However, hopefully that will happen in September, with enthusiasts in attendance.
Since there would be no Derby Day this year on the first Saturday in May, I had turned to Steve Haskin’s book, Tales of the Triple Crown, reading the chapter on Monarchos before calling it a night, and then finding a different book to focus on something besides wistfulness at missing the Derby.
The chapter on Monarchos brought a lot of memories flooding back, and even with as many Derby winners as I’ve seen who used that victory as a springboard to even greater things in the overall trajectory of their careers, it hit me for the first time that Monarchos may well be the winner I identify with most strongly for sentimental reasons, and a large part of that is some of his story is intertwined with family memories. That means even more when one has lived away from family for years.
Besides the memories associated with family regarding Monarchos, there were two other aspects that drove that strong resonance of his Derby win and his life in the years to come. One was pedigree. Studying pedigrees has fascinated me since I was quite young, as a child watching racing on TV and taking notes about what broadcasters mentioned about horses’ sires and dams, and spreading from there to dive into lineages and how they could lead to excellence, whether it was one top horse from a particular sire and dam or a long string of notable descendants from a family branch.
Where pedigree strongly tied in with Monarchos was from the presence in his family line of Majestic Prince in the fourth generation. Though he won the Derby ten years before I was born, photos of him sparked my imagination and drew me to him in a way that words cannot explain. It was enough that he seemed like an epitome of what a top Thoroughbred should be. That one little link, tenuous as it was based only on photographs, meant Maria’s Mon was a horse I followed avidly during his race career, and when his son Monarchos showed promise, I was all in on him for the Derby.
I was still living in Tennessee, so I had no access to betting other than online but I believed in Monarchos so strongly I set up an online wagering account to bet on him to win the Derby. (Side note: betting does not have a big pull for me, so to set up that account and only ever use it to bet Monarchos was significant). Even that little memory is tied to family, as I was sitting in my grandmother’s home and placed the bet through her computer. Funny thing is, I had no idea how to withdraw the money from the online account when he did win but it didn’t matter. I was elated he got the victory and it was a special memory that the first time I ever bet the Derby, the horse I chose won. I didn’t ever bother to figure out how to withdraw the winnings, because what mattered was he won, but I did make sure to buy a large photo of him at the wire in the Derby.
While Monarchos did not repeat his Derby success (having sustained an injury, the Haskin book reminded me, that likely compromised his chances at winning again going forward and then led to his retirement not long after the Derby), he always meant a lot to me for fulfilling the promise of his family line, going back to a horse I wasn’t even alive to witness and adding another Derby triumph to that male line.
When I visited Kentucky for the first time the year after the gray colt’s Derby win, I went to as many horse farms as I could. Claiborne was tops on the list, to pay tribute to Secretariat with a rose for his gravesite on my mom’s behalf, as he had been her favorite horse, and to see Monarchos.
I got a photo with him, his coat still the dark gray of a young horse and still not looking like he was far removed from being in racing trim, even as he had nearly completed his first year at stud.
The following year, I moved to Kentucky, spurred by the visits to all the farms and how it felt like where I should be. That is where a second family memory, besides how strongly I remember being in in my grandmother’s house betting Monarchos (with the associated sense of what she means in my life, from being there in her home), came into effect. My mom came to visit and I made one farm appointment for her visit. I felt she needed to go to Claiborne herself, to see where Secretariat had lived and now lay at rest, and I also wanted her to meet Monarchos. I got a photo of her with him to add to the one of me with him the previous year. That is the only time my mom has been to any horse farms here, and the only famed horse I have a photo of her with.
Since I was in Kentucky every year of Monarchos’ retirement, and lived here for all but one, there were more opportunities to build memories with him.
I had two more moments in his presence before he passed, after the earliest days of his retirement.
One was when he moved from Claiborne, and I happened to be with a friend who took a detour by the farm where he resided, and sure enough we saw him grazing in a paddock. It stood out to just happen to drive by and see him there, for even in a place with a multitude of Derby winners, to see them grazing from the road is not common. And of course I loved that the winner was Monarchos. I don’t even think that friend realized his significance to me when she went by to try to spot him. Was purely serendipity, feeling even more special for that aspect.
In 2013, I connected with a group of people who came from multiple states to look at putting together a partnership for a racehorse, starting from scratch with breeding a mare to the stallion they were avid fans of. Since I had admired this stallion too as a racehorse, the idea was appealing to me and I joined in their activities that weekend. While the group ultimately was revealed not to be one I wanted to join in the partnership with, I will never forget the weekend they came to Lexington and all I got to be part of by considering joining their group. They had garnered some degree of national attention for how they followed the stallion they wanted to have the foal from, and this opened doors to experiences I likely would not have had otherwise. They knew about aspects of these horses I didn’t, and one of the people in the group happened to know that Monarchos’ groom was willing to have his charge “autograph” the book about him, Horse of a Different Color.
With a recommendation of an independent bookseller that sold the book, I went to be sure I had my copy in hand the day we visited Monarchos.
It was the longest amount of time I had spent in his presence, and it stood out what a rapport he shared with his groom, and how he had a patient mellow temperament as everyone in the group lined up to have their books “autographed” and get photos with him.
I had no idea what it meant to have a horse autograph a book. I never would have known of such a thing if this group didn’t happen to know about it.
When we all gathered that morning to see Monarchos, we opened the book to the first page, before the title page, and the groom had Monarchos stand on them long enough to leave a firm hoof imprint. In return, the group brought him a case of Guinness, I think. Some type of beer that was his favorite to thank him for doing that for all of us.
It shone how much Monarchos mattered to him, and how glad he was to share him with us.
While I was looking for the book I wanted to read to think of things besides missing the Derby on its usual day, that is when I came across this book Monarchos autographed, and also discovered a sizable amount of either his mane or tail hair, don’t recall which, that the groom had given us. It was a poignant and touching find, for I did not recall we had also been given some of Monarchos’ hair, and I treasure that link to the first Derby winner I ever bet on and that I was lucky enough to have such moments with and to receive that gift from on behalf of his groom.
After the autographs, Monarchos was turned out to his pasture and the group gathered to watch him romp and roll in the mud. Naturally, given his age, his coat had lightened tremendously and the careful grooming job was obscured in no time. Even that was enjoyable, though, to see him being a horse, enjoying free time, and his groom was content to stand and watch with us, further revealing what this horse meant to him on a personal level.
That is the beauty of racing and the horses we get introduced to through it, even from a distance in living rooms as we watch them run on TV in states that have no racing or places to bet, and then we get to know who they are and find that comes to matter even more than money bet or accolades earned. It is the personal connection, and in Monarchos’ case that he is one of the few horses I have shared with family members.
So while there are Derby winners who went on to achieve more than Monarchos did, the sum of what he meant as an individual cannot be quantified by that alone. Today he was the first Derby winner that came to mind as this day began, and for that I now realize he likely will always be the most significant from the standpoint of grabbing my imagination like Majestic Prince did and having that luster always remain.