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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Wild Ride of Calumet Farm

One of my favorite books, Wild Ride, by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach, published in 1995, chronicles the rise and fall of the famed Calumet Farm, home to two Triple Crown winners, nine Kentucky Derby winners, seven Preakness winners and bred and raced eleven Hall of Fame horses. The book describes how Calumet Farm reached the apex of thoroughbred racing and breeding only to fall mightily due to the greed and conniving dealings of J.T. Lundy.

The Farm was established by members of the Wright family in 1924, which had developed the Calumet Baking Powder Company that was later sold to General Foods, on the famed Versailles Road in Lexington, Kentucky. The glory years of the Farm of the 1940’s and 1950’s were highlighted by Triple Crown winners Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948), and marked by seven Derby winners in a seventeen year stretch. The Farm passed through the Wright family up through the 1960’s and into the 1970’s where its most famous sire Alydar made history by finishing second in all three of the Triple Crown races in 1978. As a stud, Alydar workload was taxing, breeding close to 100 mares a year (when the average stud was approximately 50 to 60) and averaging two covers per mare (mating at least 200 times per breeding season from mid-February to late June).

Following Lucille (Wright) Markey’s death in 1982, Calumet passed to her daughter, Bertha Wright, who hired her son-in-law, J.T. Lundy, to run the farm. It was Lundy who had intensified Alydar’s workload and sold and resold lifetime breeding rights to Alydar for as much as $350,000 each. The book goes on to describe the wheeling and dealing of Lundy with banks, accountants and partners which soon found the Farm in debt to the tune of $125 million. The book begins with the story of Alydar’s mysterious death in November 1990 and the collection of a $36.5 million insurance policy which led to various theories as to whether the death was not an accident, and concludes with the bankruptcy filing in 1991 and the sale of Calumet to the de Kwiatkowski family in 1992.

This book is a must-read for any beginning horse racing enthusiast as it takes you back to the golden years of racing, details the breeding game and traces how a racing behemoth lost its fortune in an unbelievable fashion.

Note: Lundy was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison in 2000, after federal prosecutors alleged that he and Gary Matthews, the chief financial officer of the farm, defrauded a Houston bank and paid bribes to obtain loans. Lundy and Matthews were ordered to pay $20.4 million each in restitution. Matthews was sentenced to 21 months in prison and was released in 2002. Lundy was released in January 2005.



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