Three Chimneys Farm | Kentucky’s Clay family has built a large, diversified business
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Graceful Thoroughbreds grazing emerald green pastures behind well tended fences are a common sight in rural Kentucky.
Three Chimneys Farm has been a part of that landscape for 40 years, growing from 100 acres to a 2,300 acre operation. It has housed world famous stallions, including Kentucky Derby winners, which this year is set to run May 4 in Lexington.
The farm came together when Robert and Blythe Clay put 10 stalls into an abandoned tobacco barn and looked for boarders.
The boarding business grew and the stallion operation was added in 1984. The idea was to offer a boutique stallion facility where they would keep a smaller number of horses in posh surroundings. Many of the neighbouring farms had up to 40 stallions on their rosters.
Amish craftsmen were commissioned to build the barns, which house four horses in spacious stables.
“It is better than a five star hotel and the best room service ever,” said Sue Clark, one of the farm’s 100 employees.
Big name horses arrived, such as Seattle Slew, Chief’s Crown, Wild Again, Capote, Nodouble, Dynaformer and Rahy. According to the farm’s website, it has consigned $500 million worth of horses at public auction in the last 40 years. The sires’ progeny have earned nearly $1 billion and more than 1,000 stakes victories.
The Clays still own the farm, and their son, Case, is now company president.
Twelve stallions are on the roster now, including Big Brown, a 2008 Kentucky Derby winner. Last year’s winner, I’ll Have Another, was conceived at the farm.
Three Chimneys’ clients come from all walks of life, and employees from the farm’s corporate division advise owners on how to buy and train horses, when to race them, breeding plans and potential sales opportunities.
“Each of them is like a little business entity unto themselves,” said Clark.
“Some of them we may have partial interest in, some may be owned privately and others may be owned by a syndicate. Three Chimneys’ job is to make sure they get great care and service.”
The farm employs a full-time veterinarian, and there is a private laboratory on site to conduct digital X-rays, blood and semen analysis and other routine reproductive work.
The stallions are exercised daily on an outdoor track or indoor walker.
“We believe our stallions need to be physically fit as well as mentally fit,” said Clark.
Stallion manager Sandy Hatfield oversees the breeding side of the operation.
Breeding season is from the second week of February to July and mating occurs in morning, afternoon and evening sessions, seven days a week.
“Last year I had about 1,300 mares come through,” said Hatfield.
All breeding is natural because the Thoroughbred industry does not allow artificial insemination or embryo transfer. All sessions are videotaped to guard against fraud.
Each mare has a first time session and then receives an ultrasound 14 days later. It will come back for a second breeding if necessary.
The mares’ paperwork is checked when they arrive to verify their identity, age, past pregnancies and other health information. Strict biosecurity is observed to control problems such as contagious equine metritis, a sexually transmitted disease.
Teaser stallions are used to assess whether the mare is ready for breeding. The teaser is allowed to mount but wears a leather apron so it cannot penetrate.
The walls of the breeding shed are well padded and the flooring is made of ground up recycled tires.
Hatfield collects a sample after breeding to make sure the stallion ejaculated.
The breeding contract usually requires the stud fee to be paid when the foal stands and nurses the mare.
Breeding fees range from $3,000 to $35,000, depending on the stallion.